Getting It Wrong

I was amused when I saw the snake. Even more amused when I saw the apple beside it.

It was a half hour wait between trains, so we wandered down Offenburg’s main Street. We saw enough to mentally mark it down as a place for a Saturday excursion.

At first I thought the snake was part of a playground. Not surprising, given that there were children climbing on it. Then I saw the apple.

You probably know the story, or bits of it. Quite possibly everything you know is wrong. Certainly the sculpture is.

The slippery serpent of the Offenburg sidewalk is supposed to be representative of a Bible story. You know the one, Eve ate the apple and all the troubles of this world can be traced to that.

You may also remember that her excuse was that the serpent tempted her. It is one of the foundational myths of our culture – and I use the word myth in its scholarly sense, to denote a traditional story, not a tall tale.

Except what is depicted in this piece of art, which I find creative aesthetically, is theologically inaccurate. It is myth in the popular sense of the word – a not true story.

You won’t find mention of an apple in the Biblical account. What Eve picked was the fruit of the tree of knowledge of good and evil.

I suppose it could have been an apple. Or a pear. Or an orange. Or some fruit that grew only in Eden that we have never seen. The word apple doesn’t come into it.

Nor does the depiction of the snake match the Biblical description of the serpent. Can you see Eve being led astray by this worm? Me neither. The serpent we know today has its form as a punishment for deceiving Eve.

I suspect Biblical literacy is at an all-time low in western society. The average person in Europe 500 years ago couldn’t read nor write – but I would bet they knew their Bible stories better than most of us. Those of us who can read The Bible usually don’t.

Hundreds, maybe thousands of people walk by this sculpture every day. How many of them realize the sculptor got it wrong?

We have a tendency at times to take the easy way out. We don’t question things that we should. We accept what others say rather than doing our own research.

Sometimes that is not a big deal. I’m willing to accept your opinions on American football, a topic I know little about because I don’t really care. It just isn’t that important to me.

The Bible claims to contain God’s message of love to the planet and its inhabitants. In its pages are found keys to both life and afterlife. Yet most people, even in nominally “Christian” cultures, have never read it. They take someone’s else’s word for whether its message is relevant for their lives.

That doesn’t strike me as the smartest approach. As we can see in this sculpture, the popular impression of Bible stories may not be accurate. Which means you could be making decisions, such as to whether Jesus time on earth 2,000 years ago is relevant in the 21st century, based on inaccurate information.

Isn’t it time you found out for yourself?

2 comments

  1. The ‘fruit’ is most often depicted as an apple. Why be so specific about biblical wording? It is significant to have a biblical image in a public area these days.

    1. Good point/ Though in Germany, with its state church and centuries of history, there is already a fair amount of Biblically-themed public art.

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