Previous research on Gen 3:15b, known as part of God’s curse to the snake, has highlighted the interpretation difficulties with regard to the verb שוף. However, the ambiguity involves more words as well as the grammar of the verse. This article revisits the curse proposing an ambiguous reading as the Hebrew text offers it. First, the lexical ambiguity of the words שוף, ראש, and עקב enters multiple ideas of hurting, guarding, threatening and blowing; head and poison; heel and crafty trickster. Secondly, the grammatical structure of the verse adds to the indefinite nature. The words ראש and עקב can function as relative accusatives as in the traditional rendering or as vocatives or appositions to subject or object. Thirdly, the deliberate confusion allows connecting small and larger narratological units. It reveals a play between two characters, the snake and God, trying to outclass each other in terms of craftiness. Thus, the ambiguous language in Gen 3:15b is not a problem; it is the key to interpretation.
The Journal of Hebrew Scriptures (JHS) is an internationally peer-reviewed, open-access journal established in 1996, to foster scholarly research on the Hebrew Bible, ancient Israel’s history, and cognate fields of study.