Genesis 3:1-5

While unseen in English translations, there is a connection between ’ish and ’ishah being “naked” and a serpent’s “cunning.” In this case, “cunning” is the shorter, sharper word.

It is a well-tested rhetorical process to overstate a proposition to engage another party in a knee-jerk denial. Such a disclaimer will usually contain its own overstatement. Now the battle of wit against innocence can be joined. This scene, in part, is quite evident in false statements made by today’s leading politicians. Every response is open to a “gotcha” moment. Defensive responses carry the seed of their own downfall.

Here “touch” is added to a proscription from eating or taking into one’s self that which will awaken continual distinction and choice—taking away a call to simple obedience. Adding “touch” as an intermediary between seeing and eating helps bridge the gap or desensitize a final bite. It is like cheating at bobbing-for-apples.

With this touching overstatement, the Serpent can jump to results, not process. The ante is upped. At stake is not just dying—which is not yet known—but shifted from some unknown state, “lest you die,” to an accusation that the creator has set up the creature. Since there is no known location for the deadly tree, one might inadvertently brush by and touch it. If touch is the same as eat—you’re doomed beyond any choice you make.

It takes but a slight sleight-of-hand to move the goalpost away from the negative of death (negative even if it is not known what it means) to the positive of knowing the difference between good and not-good. If only I knew this, I would escape doom through my own reasoning and not leave room for happenstance to devolve back into chaos (as unknown a state as death).

Look, the out is right before you. Just touch, but don’t eat. Unfortunately, like any newborn, anything touchable goes right to the mouth. Game over. Cunning wins.

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If you are interested in a recent example of how overstatement works to entangle people, you can check out this editorial by James Comey:

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