There were no unclean animals in the garden of Eden. This is why the phrase "You are cursed more than all cattle" strikes me.

Genesis 3:14 (NKJV)

So the LORD God said to the serpent: "Because you have done this, You are cursed more than all cattle, And more than every beast of the field; On your belly you shall go, And you shall eat dust All the days of your life.

  1. If the serpent is cursed "More than all" cattle and "More than every beast", are some other animals under less severe curses by implication? (i.e "more" for the serpent and "less" for some other animals)
  2. Does this phrase have any implications as regarding the clean/unclean distinction that existed between animals after the expulsion from Eden?
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    Crawling is considered “worse” than walking on four feet, which itself is “worse” than being bipedal.
    – Lucian
    Commented Dec 7, 2017 at 8:31
  • 1
    @Lucian It is cursed because it moves on its belly, eats dust and is in perpetual enmity with Man created in the image of it's creator. So the curse isn't restricted to its movement.
    – user20490
    Commented Dec 7, 2017 at 9:03
  • 1
    idiomatic expression Commented Dec 7, 2017 at 10:07
  • 1
    Please 1) stop making everything bold, 2) put actual question marks at the ends of your questions, 3) don't put a QUESTION heading on short questions like this, 4) use appropriate tags - "hermeneutical-approaches" should only be used on questions discussing specific approaches.
    – curiousdannii
    Commented Dec 9, 2017 at 0:15
  • @curiousdannii Thanks. But my questions have been downvoted in the past for not being understood. So that's why I embolden the texts to highlight the central points behind my inquiry.
    – user20490
    Commented Dec 9, 2017 at 4:20

3 Answers 3


The curse on the snake in Genesis 3:14 has no connection with the snake being an unclean animal.

The implication that other animals might have been cursed to a lesser degree cause by the translation "more than all" is a translation artifact. It does not exist in the MT, and this is the reason that I tagged this question with the "Hebrew" tag.

The Hebrew expression translated as "more than all" in the NKJV is מִכָּל, micol, which uses the prepositional "all of", כל, with the prefix מ, "from". So the simple translation, as well as the plain meaning in Hebrew, is "from all of" not "more than all". This is a superlative form in OT Hebrew that indicates that the snake is severely cursed, in a way that no other animal will ever be cursed, but with no implication that any other animal is or will be cursed.

Note that the KJV, AKJV and a plurality of the other translations use "above" rather than the NKJV "more than" to translate the micol superlative in Genesis 3:14. Using "above" avoids the implication that the other animals might have been cursed to a lesser degree, and preserves the quirky Hebrewism of the MT albeit at the cost of a loss in clarity (what does it mean "above all cattle and above all animals of the field"?), and is a better translation than the more literal "You are cursed from all of the cattle, and from all of the beasts of the field".

The micol or "from all of" superlative in the OT is formed by:

  1. a subject noun
  2. an adjective
  3. מכל, micol, "from all of"
  4. the name of some specific group or class of which the subject noun is a member

The name of the group or class provides the context for the superlative as well as the necessary subject of for the prepositional phrase "all of...".

In the MT the verse is:

וַיֹּאמֶר יְהֹוָה אֱלֹהִים אֶל-הַנָּחָשׁ כִּי עָשִׂיתָ זֹּאת אָרוּר אַתָּה מִכָּל-הַבְּהֵמָה וּמִכֹּל חַיַּת הַשָּׂדֶה עַל-גְּחֹנְךָ תֵלֵךְ וְעָפָר תֹּאכַל כָּל-יְמֵי חַיֶּיךָ

Later historical levels of the Hebrew language, following western languages, developed the superlative form b'yoter, ביותר, which is adjectival and not prepositional and therefore does not require the identification of a group or class context, which is left unspecified or implied by subject noun's implied class membership. This superlative form completely avoids the implied comparative.

To end this post with a blessing rather than a curse, note that in the OT, the micol superlative is sometimes contracted to just the letter מ, mi, "from", dropping the col, "all of", as in Judges 5:14 (KJV):

Blessed above women shall Jael the wife of Heber the Kenite be, blessed shall she be above women in the tent

for which the MT is:

תְּבֹרַךְ מִ נָּשִׁים יָעֵל אֵשֶׁת חֶבֶר הַקֵּינִי מִ נָּשִׁים בָּאֹהֶל תְּבֹרָךְ

In this verse, as well as in Genesis 3:14, there is no implication that other women are are necessarily blessed, but if any of them are, then Jael is the most blessed. This form of expression is peculiarly Hebrew and Jewish.


1) If the serpent is cursed MORE THAN ALL cattle and MORE THAN EVERY beast, are some other animals under less severe curses by implication.

Logically I do not believe that one can draw such a conclusion.

It may be that some animals were cursed more than others (although Genesis doesn't seem to say this), but the fact that in this specific instance one specific animal is cursed more than other animals does not necessarily imply that there exist other animals among the remaining animals that is similarly cursed more than the other remaining animals.

One might infer that there are other animals subject to varying degrees of curse, but the text does not necessarily imply this. It amounts to a difference between induction and deduction.

2) Does this phrase have any implications as regarding the clean/unclean distinction that existed between animals after the expulsion from Eden.

I don't believe so.

In Genesis 3:14, the serpent is singled out because it cooperated with the devil in deceiving Eve (Because thou hast done this ...). There is nothing else in the Genesis text (I think) that would imply any other animal bore any similar culpability, either in an absolute sense or relative to the other animals.

If certain animals were characterized as clean or unclean for some event dating back to Genesis, one would perhaps expect some sort of allusion to the event in Leviticus (11). In the section of Leviticus describing small land animals, though, there is no such allusion: snakes (serpents) are simply enumerated with all other unclean small land animals (11:41-42).

The Masoretic Hebrew word appearing in the text here for serpent is נָחָשׁ (nāḥāš), also translated as "snake". The word appears 31 times in the Masoretic Text, but in none of the 26 times it appears outside of Genesis 3 does the text make any reference to the curse. In the Septuagint, the word is ὄφις (ofis) and the results are similar.

So if there is a connection of the serpent, let alone any other animal, being declared clean or unclean because of what transpired in Genesis 3, Scripture seems to be silent about it. Further, there seems to be no connection understood in the Talmud1 or in any writings of the Church Fathers.2

1. See, e.g. Rashi's commentary on Genesis 3:14 and Leviticus 11:41ff
2. e.g. Ephrem the Syrian (306-373), Commentary on Genesis II.XXIX.2; Ambrose (337-397), On Paradise XV.73-47

  • Noah knew about clean and unclean birds. How did he know this. This was long before Leviticus 11
    – user20490
    Commented Dec 7, 2017 at 15:45
  • What made them unclean. 1) how they eat. 2) how they move. 3) their natural disposition towards man.
    – user20490
    Commented Dec 7, 2017 at 15:46
  • Perhaps I am mistaken, but I think the first mention of snakes being unclean is in Leviticus. The point I was trying to make was that if nothing in Scripture even attributes uncleanness to the snake for what transpired in Genesis, then it would seem that we would not expect any animal to be declared clean or unclean because of Genesis.
    – user33515
    Commented Dec 7, 2017 at 15:47
  • That's very similar to the points along which the serpent was cursed. The snake is a natural enemy of man. More so than any other creature on earth. But there are other creatures that are natural enemies of man too. How did this come about outside eden
    – user20490
    Commented Dec 7, 2017 at 15:48
  • I think that would be a good basis for another question (What was the basis for some animals being declared clean or unclean according to Scripture?). I'm not sure it's been asked here, but maybe it is on Christianity SE or maybe Judaism SE.
    – user33515
    Commented Dec 7, 2017 at 16:17

It may be worthwhile to look at the question from three dimensions

  1. What does it mean being cursed more than all cattle and more than every beast?
  2. Are the cattle and beasts cursed?
  3. The law separated between clean and unclean animals, does it mean unclean animals are cursed? What is the spiritual significance of uncleanliness?

Cursed more than all cattle and more than every every beast here also means degraded to the lowest level. To understand the context let us read the curse upon Ham:

Genesis 9:24,25

24 And Noah awoke from his wine, and knew what his younger son had done unto him. 25 And he said, Cursed be Canaan; a servant of servants shall he be unto his brethren."

Here Canaan was cursed to the lowest rank among his brothers. From this context we can get a better understanding of the Genesis 3: 14 scripture

God cursed sin and the author of sin, the serpent. The lower order animals did not sin. If scripture interprets scripture, the figurative type in Revelation 12 can help to bring out more light.

Revelation 12:9,10

9 And the great dragon was cast out, that old serpent, called the Devil, and Satan, which deceiveth the whole world: he was cast out into the earth, and his angels were cast out with him. 10 And I heard a loud voice saying in heaven, Now is come salvation, and strength, and the kingdom of our God, and the power of his Christ: for the accuser of our brethren is cast down, which accused them before our God day and night.

One can also read Peter:

2 Peter 2:1-4

1 But there were false prophets also among the people, even as there shall be false teachers among you, who privily shall bring in damnable heresies, even denying the Lord that bought them, and bring upon themselves swift destruction. 2 And many shall follow their pernicious ways; by reason of whom the way of truth shall be evil spoken of. 3 And through covetousness shall they with feigned words make merchandise of you: whose judgment now of a long time lingereth not, and their damnation slumbereth not. 4 For if God spared not the angels that sinned, but cast them down to hell, and delivered them into chains of darkness, to be reserved unto judgment;

The serpent was cursed because he was the cause of the original sin, the serpent is a symbol of sin and deceit and uncleanliness.

Let us examine the subject from a broader perspective.

Genesis 3:13,14

13 And the LORD God said unto the woman, What is this that thou hast done? And the woman said, The serpent beguiled me, and I did eat. 14 And the LORD God said unto the serpent, Because thou hast done this, thou art cursed above all cattle, and above every beast of the field; upon thy belly shalt thou go, and dust shalt thou eat all the days of thy life:

Micah 7:9-17

9 I will bear the indignation of the LORD, because I have sinned against him, until he plead my cause, and execute judgment for me: he will bring me forth to the light, and I shall behold his righteousness. 10 Then she that is mine enemy shall see it, and shame shall cover her which said unto me, Where is the LORD thy God? mine eyes shall behold her: now shall she be trodden down as the mire of the streets. 11 In the day that thy walls are to be built, in that day shall the decree be far removed. 12 In that day also he shall come even to thee from Assyria, and from the fortified cities, and from the fortress even to the river, and from sea to sea, and from mountain to mountain. 13 Notwithstanding the land shall be desolate because of them that dwell therein, for the fruit of their doings. 14 Feed thy people with thy rod, the flock of thine heritage, which dwell solitarily in the wood, in the midst of Carmel: let them feed in Bashan and Gilead, as in the days of old. 15 According to the days of thy coming out of the land of Egypt will I shew unto him marvellous things. 16 The nations shall see and be confounded at all their might: they shall lay their hand upon their mouth, their ears shall be deaf. 17 They shall lick the dust like a serpent, they shall move out of their holes like worms of the earth: they shall be afraid of the LORD our God, and shall fear because of thee.

Also in the vision of Peter concerning God receiving the Gentiles, the gentiles were represented as the unclean animals, but through Christ they are cleansed and accepted:

Acts 10:11-16

11 And saw heaven opened, and a certain vessel descending unto him, as it had been a great sheet knit at the four corners, and let down to the earth: 12 Wherein were all manner of fourfooted beasts of the earth, and wild beasts, and creeping things, and fowls of the air. 13 And there came a voice to him, Rise, Peter; kill, and eat. 14 But Peter said, Not so, Lord; for I have never eaten any thing that is common or unclean. 15 And the voice spake unto him again the second time, What God hath cleansed, that call not thou common. 16 This was done thrice: and the vessel was received up again into heaven.

From the new testament light Paul puts it this way:

Romans 14:14,15

14 I know, and am persuaded by the Lord Jesus, that there is nothing unclean of itself: but to him that esteemeth any thing to be unclean, to him it is unclean. 15 But if thy brother be grieved with thy meat, now walkest thou not charitably. Destroy not him with thy meat, for whom Christ died.

The unbelievers in the new testament were associated with uncleanliness, represented in the unclean animals.

1 Corinthians 7:14

14 For the unbelieving husband is sanctified by the wife, and the unbelieving wife is sanctified by the husband: else were your children unclean; but now are they holy.

2 Corinthians 6:14-17

14 Be ye not unequally yoked together with unbelievers: for what fellowship hath righteousness with unrighteousness? and what communion hath light with darkness? 15 And what concord hath Christ with Belial? or what part hath he that believeth with an infidel? 16 And what agreement hath the temple of God with idols? for ye are the temple of the living God; as God hath said, I will dwell in them, and walk in them; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people. 17 Wherefore come out from among them, and be ye separate, saith the Lord, and touch not the unclean thing; and I will receive you,

The unclean beasts were prefigures of sinners, unbelievers. Uncleanliness is a type of sin, unbelief.

Isaiah 52:11

11 Depart ye, depart ye, go ye out from thence, touch no unclean thing; go ye out of the midst of her; be ye clean, that bear the vessels of the LORD."

Leviticus 7:21

21 Moreover the soul that shall touch any unclean thing, as the uncleanness of man, or any unclean beast, or any abominable unclean thing, and eat of the flesh of the sacrifice of peace offerings, which pertain unto the LORD, even that soul shall be cut off from his people."

  • Thanks Samuel. I'm still reading your answer. Pls put all biblical passages in quote blocks for easy reading.
    – user20490
    Commented Dec 7, 2017 at 13:43
  • I don't see where this really answers the two questions posed.
    – user33515
    Commented Dec 7, 2017 at 16:43

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