That we have, in the Mosaic account of the "fall," a phallic legend, is evident from other consideration, connected with the narrative. The most important relate to the introduction of the serpent on the scene, and the position it takes as the inciting cause of the sinful act. We are here reminded of the passage already quoted from Clemens Alexandrinus, who tells us that the serpent was the special symbol of the worship of Bacchus. Now, this annual holds a very curious place in the religions of the civilized peoples of antiquity. Although, in consequence of the influence of later thought, it came to be treated as the personification of evil, and as such appears in the Hebrew legend of the fall, yet before this the serpent was the symbol of wisdom and healing. In the latter capacity it appears even in connection with the exodus from Egypt. It is, however, in its character as a symbol of wisdom that it more especially claims our attention, although these ideas are intimately connected--the power of healing being merely a phase of wisdom. From the earliest times of which we have any historical notice, the serpent has been connected with the gods of wisdom. This animal was the especial symbol of Thoth or Taaut, a primeval deity of Syro-Egyptian mythology, 13 and of all those gods, such as Hermes and Seth, who can be connected with him. This is true also of the third member of the primitive Chaldean triad, Hea or Hoa. According to Sir Henry Rawlinson, the most important titles of this deity refer "to his functions as the source of all knowledge and science." Not only is he "the intelligent fish," but his name may be read as signifying both "life" and a "serpent," and he may be considered as "figured by the great serpent which occupies so conspicuous a place among the symbols of the gods on the black stones recording Babylonian benefactions." 14 The serpent was also the symbol of the Egyptian Kneph, who resembled the Sophia of the Gnostics, the Divine Wisdom. This animal, moreover, was the Agathodaemon of the religions of antiquity--the giver of happiness and good fortune. 15 It was in these capacities, rather than as having a phallic significance, that the serpent was associated with the sun-gods, the Chaldean Bel, the Grecian Apollo, and the Semitic Seth.
But whence originated the idea of the wisdom of the serpent which led to its connection with the legend of the "fall"? This may, perhaps, be explained by other facts which show also the nature of the wisdom here intended. Thus, in the annals of the Mexicans, the first woman, whose name was translated by the old Spanish writers "the woman of our flesh," is always represented as accompanied by a great male serpent. This serpent is the Sun-god Tonacatl-coatl, the principal deity of the Mexican pantheon; and the goddess-mother of primitive man is called Cihua-Cohuatl, which signifies woman of the serpent. 16 According to this legend, which agrees with that of other American tribes, a serpent must have been the father of the human race. This notion can be explained only on the supposition that the serpent was thought to have had at one time a human form. In the Hebrew legend the tempter speaks; and "the old serpent having two feet," of Persian mythology, is none other than the evil spirit Ahriman himself. 17 The fact is that the serpent was only a symbol, or at most an embodiment, of the spirit which it represented, as we see from the belief of certain African and American tribes, which probably preserves the primitive form of this supposition. Serpents are looked upon by these peoples as embodiments of their departed ancestors, 18 and an analogous notion is entertained by various Hindu tribes. No doubt the noiseless movement and the activity of the serpent, combined with its peculiar gaze and marvellous power of fascination, led to its being viewed as a spirit-embodiment, and hence also as the possessor of wisdom. 19 In the spirit-character ascribed to the serpent, we have the explanation of the association of its worship with human sacrifice noted by Mr. Fergusson--this sacrifice being really connected with the worship of ancestors.
It is evident, moreover, that we may find here the origin of the idea of evil sometimes associated with the serpent-god. The Kafir and the Hindu, although he treats with respect any serpent which may visit his dwelling, yet entertains a suspicion of his visitant. It may, perhaps, be the embodiment of an evil spirit, or for some reason or other it may desire to injure him. Mr. Fergusson states that "the chief characteristic of the serpents throughout the east in all ages seems to have been their power over the wind and rain," which they gave or witheld according to their good or ill-will towards man. 20 This notion is curiously confirmed by the title given by the Egyptians to the Semitic god Seti (Seth)-Typhon, which was the name of the Phoenician evil principle, and also of a destructive wind, thus havlng a curious analogy with the "typhoon" of the Chinese seas. 21 When the notion of a duality in nature was developed, there would be no difficulty in applying it to the symbols or embodiments by which the idea of wisdom was represented in the animal-world. Thus, there came to be, not only good, but also bad, serpents, both of which are referred to in the narrative of the Hebrew exodus, but still more clearly in the struggle between the good and the bad serpents of Persian mythology, which symbolized Ormuzd, or Mithra, and the evil spirit Ahriman. 22 So far as I can discover, the serpent-symbol has not a direct phallic reference, 23 nor, after all, is its attribute of wisdom the most essential. The idea most intimately associated with this animal was life, not present, but future, and ultimately, no doubt, eternal. 24 Thus the snake Bai was figured as guardian of the doorways of those chambers of Egyptian tombs which represented the mansions of heaven. 25 A sacred serpent appears to have been kept in all the Egyptian temples, and we are told that "many of the subjects, in the tombs of the kings at Thebes in particular, show the importance it was thought to enjoy in a future state." 26 The use of crowns formed of the asp, or sacred Thermuthis, given to sovereigns, and divinities, particularly to Isis, 27 the goddess of life and healing, was, doubtless, intended to symbolize eternal life. This notion is quite consistent with the ideas entertained by the Phoenicians as to the serpent, which they supposed to have the quality "of putting off its old age, and assuming a second youth." 28