The Trials of Adam and Eve and of Socrates–and of the Serpent

 I. For the American Bar Association Journal

George Anastaplo

I have discussed elsewhere the careers both of Adam & Eve and of Socrates–that is, in On Trial: From Adam & Eve to O. J. Simpson (2004) and in Human Being and Citizen (1975). Relevant essays from these two books may be found posted in See, also, G. Anastaplo, The Bible: Respectful Readings (2008).

Socrates was convicted of impiety by a panel of five hundred Athenians. The way he conducted thereafter the punishment-phase of his trial earned him a death sentence by a greater majority than had just convicted him. His recollection during the trial of the provocative consequences of his decades-long effort to remedy his ignorance could never be taken seriously by those sitting in judgment.

Adam and Eve were sentenced after having been asked by God to account for their forbidden eating. Eve readily blamed the Serpent for her misconduct and Adam in turn blamed the woman whom God had given him. They received sentences that continue to afflict human life.

Thus, Socrates offered a defense, as had Eve and Adam long before him. All three received death sentences, in effect. The Serpent is informed by God, “Because thou hast done this, thou art cursed above all cattle, etc.”

We are not told what the Serpent had known in advance about God’s decrees. Nor are we told what his motives were in so acting as to find himself punished as he was by God. Nor, it seems, is he given an opportunity to make even the kind of lame excuses that Eve and Adam had made. Did God know that the Serpent’s arrogance (if not also his “natural” malice) precluded such defenses?

We are left, then, with several mysteries: What had the Serpent expected would be done to him because of his exploitation of Eve’s curiosity? What did he hope to get from thus misleading human beings?  Does his punishment suggest that God believed that the Serpent had surely known what he was doing (even without eating any forbidden fruit)?

A critical difference between the Biblical and the Socratic approaches to serious misconduct may be noticed here. It is evident that the Serpent is treated by God as “someone” who deserved severe condemnation. That did not seem to be an occasion for invoking a Socratic insistence that misconduct is the result of ignorance, an insistence reflected thereafter in the still-challenging observation by Aristotle that all acts by intelligent beings somehow aim at the good. How, then, should the Serpent’s action be understood and what is the appropriate response by the thoughtful to such conduct?

George Anastaplo is Professor of Law, Loyola University of Chicago, and Lecturer in the Liberal Arts, The University of Chicago.


August 9, 2013

To:  Mr. James Podgers,
ABA Journal

From: George Anastaplo

You have probably learned by now that it must be a rare author who considers his text to be “lightly edited” if virtually anything is done to it. How does this sound as a compromise: either publish my essay as submitted or publish it with your editing, adding in a note (either at the beginning or at the end) the following information:

This essay, published here in an edited form, may be
seen in the author’s version at http://www.anastaplo.wordpress.

Can we agree on something like this? I do look forward to appearing (in some form) in your journal.

Best wishes,


To view materials from November 2013 ABA Journal, click here.

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