What might God have meant when He told the serpent the first of the things recorded in Genesis 3:15? He says "And I will put enmity Between you and the woman, And between your seed and her seed; He shall bruise you on the head, And you shall bruise him on the heel.” What did He mean when He said He would put enmity between the serpent and the woman? Is that referring to a special way that women in general hate evil more than men? Given that "her seed" refers to Jesus, can a case be made that this is saying Mary was a special enemy of the devil?
I would be careful about assuming that "her seed" refers to Jesus even though this protoevangeliun has been present since at least as early as the fourth century in Jerome's translation of the vulgate when he changed this pronoun from "he" to "she" because he had such high respect for Mary. Note the following:
1) Empereror Augustus's (the emperor up to 14AD), birth story involved him being conceived by Apollo in serpent form. There also archaeology has serpent shaped menorahs from the roman period (see pg 16 of this text from Princeton Seminary's dead sea scrolls project for an image of the find)
2) John 13:18, ("‘The one who ate my bread[e] has lifted his heel against me.’" - Psalm 41:9, john's custom translation to add the noun "heel" instead of the LXX's verb for "trickery") has the heel coming against Jesus, which has Jesus in the snake's position (receiving the heel). The word used is the same as that used in the septuagint. Also, all the gospels are then careful to have it clear that the Romans and the Jewish authority "strike jesus on the head" in the next scene at the start of the passion.
3) Jesus is of the seed of the Holy Spirit, not of man/woman.
Also, the serpent in all mythology represents eternal life. It sheds its skin and is reborn from Gilgamesh to Hercules and the Garden of the Hesperides. It is always the resurrecting principle in mythological motifs.
We find it repugnant today to think of Jesus as the seed of the serpent, but at the time (10th century BC to first century AD), this would have been seen as a great honor and means of power. The egyptians put the serpent on their forheads as symbols of kingship, etc. Judas (and the romans/jews) were the seed of eve. They brought the heel and Jesus would not strike it. He allowed the heel to fall and ended the enmity.
To answer your question as I see it: The enmity between the serpent and the woman is a poetically parallel to Genesis 3:22 where we are separated from the tree of life. Even though all art has the serpent wrapped around the tree of the knowledge of good and bad, the truth is that people believed that serpents were immortal unless actively killed (and then they would resurrect anyway). To be put at odds with the serpent is to be put at odds with life. It is to be in death.
See also John's comparison between Jesus and Moses's serpent in John 3:14-15 right before the most famous verse in the bible.
It's my take that first century jews saw Jesus and the serpent principle. I am not an "ophite" or anything like that. I do not believe that the serpent lied in Eden, I believe that Eve lied. Ophites thanked the serpent for giving us powerful knowledge of good and bad (kind of like Prometheus who gave us fire, stolen from the gods). I do not believe that at all. Mythologically, the serpent just told the truth and was associated with the tree of life, not the tree of the knowledge of good and bad. I think Eve acted against God's command, but was not a moral agent (did not know good and bad), so it makes no sense to say that she "choose to do the bad thing... she had no idea what that was (cf. Gen 3:22 - man came to know good from bad)."
Eve was exactly like a little kid that broke a lamp and blamed the dog.
Jesus even shed the white translucent linen bandages in the tomb in John 20 as a serpent sheds his skin, but this is so repugnant to christians since the second century because of the marketing problem against the Cult of Asclepius which you can see in the writings of Justin Martyr. You can still se that conflict today on the back of any catholic hospital ambulance. You'll see the cross in their logo, and then in the blue star of life and on the symbol of the American Medical Association and the World health organization, you'll see Asclepius' rod of healing and eternal life... which is the tree of life with the serpent wrapped around it.
Jesus ended the enmity between us and the tree of life by ending the enmity between us and the serpent. He let the heel land on him, died, and was reborn (because that's what serpents do). The cross then became the tree of life, and the eucharist is the fruit of life.
The serpent is a multivalent symbol, not just good or bad. It transcends those categories.
Edit: Here is the quote from Justin Martyr's Apology 21:1-2 (c155AD)
And when we say also that the Word, who is the first-birth of God, Jesus Christ, our teacher, was produced without sexual union, and that He was crucified and died, and rose again, and ascended into heaven, we propound nothing new and different from what you believe regarding those whom you esteem sons of Jupiter... Asclepius, who, though he was a great healer, was struck by a thunderbolt [because he resurrected people], and ascended to heaven...
Also we have from Justin's Dialogue with Trypho, 69:3
And when he [sc., the devil] brings forward Asclepius as the raiser of the dead and healer of the other diseases, may I not say that in this matter likewise he has imitated the prophecies about Christ?
Asclepius was confounded with Zeus and was the Physician God of healing and judgment and salvation for the Greeks/Romans. He had been around since Homer introduced him in the Iliad (c800BC, similar time to Eden story). The early church had a big marketing problem trying to push their Physician/Salvation/God-Human-Hybrid in the context of Asclepius who was entrenched even with a temple to Asclepius just north of the temple at Bethesda. When communicating to the Jews, using serpent imagery made sense... When pivoting to preach to the gentiles (e.g. Justin and others), serpents would need to be demonized. Hence you get the anachronistic interpretation of serpents that we receive today. You also see a bit of this in Paul too who was a preacher to Gentiles. John, on the other hand, was squarely pointed towards Jews.
Also, the pronoun "he" in Genesis 3:15 refers to her seed as a singular noun. It is better translated (IMO) as it or they. The noun for Seed (zera) is singular but refers to the line of people. See Genesis 12:7 where Abraham's seed (noun masculine singular) is promised the land, or how in Genesis 7:3 where many animals are taken to the Ark in order to preserve the "seed." In fact, there are NO instances of the term "zera/seed" in the hebrew bible of the typical hebrew plural (e.g. with -im on the end of the masculine noun).. "Zerim" or something similar is simply not a word. The term itself refers to the whole line, so pronouns to it always appear singular.
The seed is an "it," not a "he." It is translated he because it is a masculine noun and tradition forces most translations to go that way. The common english bible (CEB) is a legit modern translation not part of some esoteric sect, and it translates this as "they" for exactly these reasons.
The famous text of Gen 3:15 created a metanarrative that is alluded to throughout Bible history - two groups, the seed of the woman (the righteous) and the seed of the serpent (the wicked), would be mutually antagonistic. Sometimes the seed of the woman is also called, "sons of God", etc. Here are some examples:
- 1 John 3:10, By this it is evident who are the children of God, and who are the children of the devil: whoever does not practice righteousness is not of God, nor is the one who does not love his brother.
The Bible regularly uses this metaphor for "sons of the devil":
- John 8:44, You belong to your father, the devil, and you want to carry out his desires. He was a murderer from the beginning, refusing to uphold the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks his native language, because he is a liar and the father of lies.
- Eph 2:2, in which you used to walk when you conformed to the ways of this world and of the ruler of the power of the air, the spirit who is now at work in the sons of disobedience.
- Matt 13:38, The field is the world, and the good seed stands for the people of the kingdom. The weeds are the people of the evil one,
Similarly, "sons of righteousness" and "sons of God" is often used in well-known places like Matt 5:9, 45, Rom 8:14-19, 1 John 3:1, 2, Phil 2:15, John 1:12, Gal 3:26, 4:6, etc.
Paul and Revelation take this one step further. In Gal 3:16 we find, *The promises were spoken to Abraham and to his seed. The Scripture does not say, “and to seeds,” meaning many, but “and to your seed,” meaning One, who is Christ. (See also v29).
The original story in Gen 3 of a woman being harangued by a serpent with a prophecy about offspring is taken up in unmistakably similar language in Rev 12, where, as per Gal 3:16 above, we have Gen 3:15 interpreted Messianically. This has been the dominant interpretation ever since. Ellicott observes (on Gen 3:15):
And I will put enmity between thee and the woman. Referring -
To the fixed and inveterate antipathy between the serpent and the human race (Bush, Lange); to that alone (Knobel).
To the antagonism henceforth to be established between the tempter and mankind (Murphy); to that alone (Calvin, Bonar, Wordsworth, Macdonald). And between thy seed and her seed. Here the curse manifestly outgrows the literal serpent, and refers almost exclusively to the invisible tempter. The hostility commenced between the woman and her destroyer was to be continued by their descendants - the seed of the serpent being those of Eve's posterity who should imbibe the devil's spirit and obey the devil's rule (cf. Matthew 23:33; 1 John 3:10); and the seed of the woman signifying those whose character and life should be of an opposite description, and in particular the Lord Jesus Christ, who is styled by preeminence "the Seed" (Galatians 3:16, 19), and who came "to destroy the works of the devil" (Hebrews 2:4; 1 John 3:8).