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Folk-Lore in the Old Testament:
Studies in Comparative Religion, Legend & Law
by Sir James George Frazer
   ©1918 - Now in Public Domain, i.e. Free to Copy
Table of
Contents &
Introduction
CHAPTER 1
Creation
of Man
CHAPTER 2
The Fall
of Man
CHAPTER 3
The Mark
of Cain
CHAPTER 4
The
Great Flood
CHAPTER 5
The Tower
of Babel

 
Chapter 2 - The Fall of Man



 

§ I.   The Narrative in Genesis

The temptation and the fall, the woman and the serpent   .    .    .    .    .    .  45
The two trees  .    .    .    .    .    .    .    .    .    .    .    .    .    .    .    .    .    .  46
The Tree of Life and the Tree of Death  .    .    .    .    .    .    .    .    .    .    .  47
The Creator's good intention frustrated by the serpent  .    .    .    .    .    .    48
The serpent's selfish motive for deceiving the woman  .    .    .    .    .    .    49
Widespread belief in the immortality of serpents  .    .    .    .    .    .    .    .    49
Story of the Fall, a story of the origin of death  .    .    .    .    .    .    .    .    .  51

 2.   The Story of the Perverted Message

Hottentot story of the Moon and the hare  .    .    .    .    .    .    .    .    .    .    .  52
Bushman story of the Moon and the hare  .    .    .    .    .    .    .    .    .    .    .   53
Nandi story of the Moon and the dog  .    .    .    .    .    .    .    .    .    .    .    54
Hottentot story of the Moon, the insect, and the hare  .    .    .    .    .    .    .    55
Bushman story of the Moon, the tortoise, and the hare  .    .    .    .    .    .    .    56
Louyi story of the Sun and Moon, the chameleon and the hare  .    .    .    .    .   57
Ekoi story of God, the frog, and the duck  .    .    .    .    .    .    .    .    .    .    .   58
Gold Coast story of God, the sheep, and the goat   .    .    .    .    .    .    .    .    .  58
Ashantee story of God, the sheep, and the goat  .    .    .    .    .    .    .    .    .    59
Akamba story of God, the chameleon, and the thrush  .    .    .    .    .    .    .    .   61
Togoland story of God, the dog, and the frog  .    .    .    .    .    .    .    .    .    .     62
Calabar story of God, the dog, and the sheep  .    .    .    .    .    .    .    .    .    .    63
Bantu story of God, the chameleon, and the lizard  .    .    .    .    .    .    .    .    .    63
The miscarriage of the message of immortality  .    .    .    .    .    .    .    .    .    .    65

§ 3.   The Story of the Cast Skin

Supposed immortality of animals that cast their skins  .    .    .    .    .    .    .    66
How men missed immortality and serpents, etc., obtained it  .    .    .    .    .    66
Belief that men formerly cast their skins and lived for ever  .    .    .    .    .    .  68
Belief that men used to rise from the dead after three days  .    .    .    .    .    .  71
How men missed immortality and the Moon obtained it  .    .    .    .    .    .    73
Bahnar story how men used to rise from the dead  .    .    .    .    .    .    .    .   73
Rivalry between men and serpents, etc., for immortality  .    .    .    .    .    .    74

§ 4.   The Composite Story of the Perverted Message and the Cast Skin

Galla story of God, the blue bird, and the serpent  .    .    .    .    .    .    .    .   74
Stories of the Good Spirit, men, and serpents  .    .    .    .    .    .    .    .    .   75

§ 5.   Conclusion

Original form of the story of the Fall of Man  .    .    .    .    .    .    .    .    .    .  76



 I.   The Narrative in Genesis

WITH a few light but masterly strokes the Jehovistic writer depicts for us the blissful life of our first parents in the happy garden which God had created for their abode. There every tree that was pleasant to the sight and good for food grew abundantly ; there the animals lived at peace with man and with each other ; there man and woman knew no shame, because they knew no ill: it was the age of innocence.1 But this glad time was short, the sunshine was soon clouded. From his description of the creation of Eve and her introduction to Adam, the writer passes at once to tell the sad story of their fall, their loss of innocence, their expulsion from Eden, and the doom of labor, of sorrow, and of death pronounced on them and their posterity. In the midst of the garden grew the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, and God had forbidden man to eat of its fruit, saying, " In the day that thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely die." But the serpent was cunning, and the woman weak and credulous : he persuaded her to eat of the fatal fruit, and she gave of it to her husband, and he ate also. No sooner had they tasted it than the eyes of both of them were opened, they knew that they were naked, and filled with shame and confusion they hid their nakedness under aprons of fig-leaves: the age of innocence was gone for ever. That woeful day, when the heat of noon was over and the shadows were growing long in the garden, God walked there, as was his wont, in the cool of the evening. The man and woman heard his footsteps,1 perhaps the rustling of the fallen leaves (if leaves could fall in Eden) under his tread, and they hid behind the trees, ashamed to be seen by him naked. But he called them forth from the thicket, and learning from the abashed couple how they had disobeyed his command by eating of the tree of knowledge, he flew into a towering passion. He cursed the serpent, condemning him to go on his belly, to eat dust, and to be the enemy of mankind all the days of his life : he cursed the ground, condemning it to bring forth thorns and thistles : he cursed the woman, condemning her to bear children in sorrow and to be in subjection to her husband : he cursed the man, condemning him to wring his daily bread from the ground in the sweat of his brow, and finally to return to the dust out of which he had been taken. Having relieved his feelings by these copious maledictions, the irascible but really kind-hearted deity relented so far as to make coats of skins for the culprits to replace their scanty aprons of fig-leaves, and clad in these new garments the shamefaced pair retreated among the trees ; while in the west the sunset died away, and the shadows deepened on Paradise Lost.2

In this account everything hinges on the tree of the knowledge of good and evil : it occupies, so to say, the centre of the stage in the great tragedy, with the man and woman and the talking serpent grouped round it. But when we look closer we perceive a second tree standing side by side with the other in the midst of the garden. It is a very remarkable tree, for it is no less than the tree of life, whose fruit confers immortality on all who eat of it. Yet in the actual story of the fall this wonderful tree plays no part. Its fruit hangs there on the boughs ready to be plucked ; unlike the tree of knowledge, it is hedged about by no divine prohibition, yet no one thinks it worth while to taste of the luscious fruit and live for ever. The eyes of the actors are all turned on the tree of knowledge ; they appear not to see the tree of life. Only, when all is over, does God bethink himself of the wondrous tree standing there neglected, with all its infinite possibilities, in the midst of the garden ; and fearing lest man, who has become like him in knowledge by eating of the one tree, should become like him in im-mortality by eating of the other, he drives him from the garden and sets an angelic squadron, with flaming swords, to guard the approach to the tree of life, that none henceforth may eat of its magic fruit and live for ever. Thus, while throughout the moving tragedy in Eden our attention is fixed exclusively on the tree of knowledge, in the great transformation scene at the end, where the splendors of Eden fade for ever into the light of common day, the last glimpse we catch of the happy garden shows the tree of life alone lit up by the lurid gleam of brandished angelic falchions.1

It appears to be generally recognized that some confusion has crept into the account of the two trees, and that in the original story the tree of life did not play the purely passive and spectacular part assigned to it in the existing narrative. Accordingly, some have thought that there were originally two different stories of the fall, in one of which the tree of knowledge figured alone, and in the other the tree of life alone, and that the two stories have been unskillfully fused into a single narrative by an editor, who has preserved the one nearly intact, while he has clipped and pared the other almost past recognition.2 It may be so, but perhaps the solution of the problem is to be sought in another direction. The gist of the whole story of the fall appears to be an attempt to explain man's mortality, to set forth how death came into the world. It is true that man is not said to have been created immortal and to have lost his immortality through disobedience ; but neither is he said to have been created mortal. Rather we are given to understand that the possibility alike of immortality and of mortality was open to him, and that it rested with him which he would choose; for the tree of life stood within his reach, its fruit was not forbidden to him, he had only to stretch out his hand, take of the fruit, and eating of it live for ever.  Indeed, far from being prohibited to eat of the tree of life, man was implicitly permitted, if not encouraged, to partake of it by his Creator, who had told him expressly, that he might eat freely of every tree in the garden, with the  single exception of the tree of the knowledge of good  and evil.1 Thus by planting the tree of life in the garden and not prohibiting its use, God apparently intended to give man the option, or at least the chance, of immortality, but man missed his chance by electing to eat of the other tree, which God had warned him not to touch under pain of immediate death. This suggests that the forbidden tree was really a tree of death, not of knowledge, and  that the  mere  taste of its deadly fruit, quite apart from any question of obedience or disobedience to a divine command, sufficed to entail death on   the  eater.   The  inference   is entirely in   keeping with God's warning to man, " Thou shalt not eat of it: for in the day that thou eatest  thereof thou  shalt   surely die."2 Accordingly  we   may  suppose   that  in  the   original   story there were two trees, a tree of life and a tree of death ; that it was open to man to eat of the one and live for ever, or to eat of the other and die ; that God, out of good will to his   creature,  advised   man   to  eat   of  the   tree of life  and warned him not to eat of the tree of death ; and that man, misled by the serpent, ate of the wrong tree and so forfeited the immortality which his benevolent Creator had designed for him.

At least this hypothesis has the advantage of restoring the balance between the two trees and of rendering the whole narrative clear, simple, and consistent It dispenses with the necessity of assuming two original and distinct stories which have been clumsily stitched together by a botching editor. But the hypothesis is further recommended by another and deeper consideration. It sets the character of the Creator in a far more amiable light: it clears him entirely of that suspicion of envy and jealousy, not to say malignity and cowardice, which, on the strength of the narrative in Genesis, has so long rested like a dark blot his reputation. For according to that narrative, God grudged man the possession both of knowledge and of immortality ; he desired to keep these good things to himself, and feared that if man got one or both of them, he would be the equal of his maker, a thing not to be suffered at any price. Accordingly he forbade man to eat of the tree of knowledge, and when man disregarded the command, the deity hustled him out of the garden and closed the premises, to prevent him from eating of the other tree and so becoming immortal. The motive was mean, and the conduct despicable. More than that, both the one and the other are utterly inconsistent with the previous behavior of the deity, who, far from grudging man anything, had done all in his power to make him happy and comfortable, by creating a beautiful garden for his delectation, beasts and birds to play with, and a woman to be his wife. Surely it is far more in harmony both with the tenor of the narrative and with the goodness of the Creator to suppose, that he intended to crown his kindness to man by conferring on him the boon of immortality, and that his benevolent intention was only frustrated by the wiles of the serpent.

But we have still to ask, why should the serpent practise this deceit on man ? what motive had he for depriving the human race of the great privilege which the Creator had planned for them? Was his interference purely officious ? or had he some deep design behind it ? To these questions the narrative in Genesis furnishes no answer. The serpent gains nothing by his fraud ; on the contrary he loses, for he is cursed by God and condemned thenceforth to crawl on his belly and lick the dust. But perhaps his conduct was not so wholly malignant and purposeless as appears on the surface. We are told that he was more subtle than any beast of the field ; did he really show his sagacity by-blasting man's prospects without improving his own ? We may suspect that in the original story he justified his reputation by appropriating to himself the blessing of which he deprived our species ; in fact, that while he persuaded our first parents to eat of the tree of death, he himself ate the tree of life and so lived for ever. The supposition is not so extravagant as it may seem. In not a few savage stories of the origin of death, which I will relate immediately, we   read   that   serpents   contrived   to   outwit   or   intimidate man and so to secure for themselves the immortality which was   meant   for   him ;   for   many   savages   believe   that   by annually  casting   their  skins  serpents   and   other   animals renew their youth and live for ever.

The belief appears to have  been  shared  by the Semites ;  for, according  to  the ancient  Phoenician writer  Sanchuniathon, the serpent was the longest-lived of all animals, because it cast its skin and so renewed   its youth.1   But if the   Phoenicians   held  this view of  the serpent's longevity  and  the  cause of it, their neighbors and  kinsfolk the  Hebrews may well  have done the   same.   Certainly the  Hebrews  seem  to   have  thought that eagles renew their youth by molting  their  feathers ;2 and if so, why not serpents by casting their skins ?  Indeed, the notion that the serpent cheated  man of immortality by getting  possession  of a  life-giving  plant  which the higher powers had destined for our species, occurs in the famous Gilgamesh   epic, one  of   the oldest literary  monuments   of the Semitic race and far more ancient than Genesis.  In it we read how the deified Ut-napishtim revealed  to the hero Gilgamesh the existence of a plant which had the miraculous power of renewing youth and bore the name " the old man becomes young" ; how Gilgamesh  procured the plant and boasted that he would eat of it and so renew his lost youth ; how before he could do so, a serpent stole the magic plant from him, while he was bathing in the cool water of a well or brook ; and how, bereft of the hope of immortality, Gilgamesh sat down and wept.1 It is true that nothing is here said about the serpent eating the plant and so obtaining immortality for himself; but the omission may be due merely to the state of the text, which is obscure and defective, and even if the poet were silent on this point, the parallel versions of the story, which I shall cite, enable us to supply the lacuna with a fair degree of probability. These parallels further suggest, though they cannot prove, that in the original of the story, which the Jehovistic writer has mangled and distorted, the serpent was the messenger sent by God to bear the glad tidings of immortality to man, but that the cunning creature perverted the message to the advantage of his species and to the ruin of ours. The gift of speech, which he used to such ill purpose, was lent him in his capacity of ambassador from God to man.

To sum up, if we may judge from a comparison of the versions dispersed among many peoples, the true original story of the Fall of Man ran somewhat as follows. The benevolent Creator, after modeling the first man and woman out of mud and animating them by the simple process of blowing into their mouths and noses, placed the happy pair in an earthly paradise, where, free from care and toil, they could live on the sweet fruits of a delightful garden, and where birds and beasts frisked about them in fearless security. As a crowning mercy he planned for our first parents the great gift of immortality, but resolved to make them the arbiters of their own fate by leaving them free to accept or reject the proffered boon. For that purpose he planted in the midst of the garden two wondrous trees that bore fruits of very different sorts, the fruit of the one being fraught with death to the eater, and the other with life eternal. Having done so, he sent the serpent to the man and woman and charged him to deliver this message : " Eat not of the Tree of Death, for in the day ye eat thereof ye shall surely die ; but eat of the Tree of Life and live for ever." Now the serpent was more subtle than any beast of the field, and on his way he bethought him of changing the message ; so when he came to the happy garden and found the woman alone in it, he said to her, " Thus saith God : Eat not of the Tree of Life, for in the day ye eat thereof ye shall surely die ; but eat of the Tree of Death, and live for ever." The foolish woman believed him, and ate of the fatal fruit, and gave of it to her husband, and he ate also. But the sly serpent himself ate of the Tree of Life. That is why men have been mortal and serpents immortal ever since, for serpents cast their skins every year and so renew their youth. If only the serpent had not perverted God's good message and deceived our first mother, we should have been immortal instead of the serpents ; for like the serpents we should have cast our skins every year and so renewed our youth perpetually.

That this, or something like this, was the original form of the story is made probable by a comparison of the following tales, which may conveniently be arranged under two heads, " The Story of the Perverted Message " and " The Story of the Cast Skin."

§ 2.   The Story of the Perverted Message

Like many other savages, the Namaquas or Hottentots associate the phases of the moon with the idea of immor-
tality, the  apparent  waning and waxing of the  luminary being understood by them as a  real  process of alternate disintegration and reintegration, of decay and growth repeated perpetually.  Even the rising and setting of the moon is interpreted by them as its birth and death.1  They say that once on a time the Moon wished to send to mankind a message of immortality, and the hare undertook to act as messenger.   So the Moon charged him to go to men and " As I die and rise to life again, so shall you die and rise to life again." Accordingly the hare went to men, but either out of forgetfulness or malice he reversed the message and said, " As I die and do not rise to life again, so you shall also die and not rise to life again." Then he went back to the Moon, and she asked him what he had said. He told her, and when she heard how he had given the wrong message, she was so angry that she threw a stick at him which split his lip. That is why the hare's lip is still cloven. So the hare ran away and is still running to this day. Some people, however, say that before he fled he clawed the Moon's face, which still bears the marks of the scratching, as anybody may see for himself on a clear moonlight night. But the Namaquas are still angry with the hare for robbing them of immortality. The old men of the tribe used to say, "We are still enraged with the hare, because he brought such a bad message, and we will not eat him." Hence from the day when a youth comes of age and takes his place among the men, he is forbidden to eat hare's flesh, or even to come into contact with a fire on which a hare has been cooked. If a man breaks the rule, he is not infrequently banished the village. However, on the payment of a fine he may be readmitted to the community.1

A similar tale, with some minor differences, is told by the Bushmen. According to them, the Moon formerly said to men, " As I die and come to life again, so shall ye do ; when ye die, ye shall not die altogether but shall rise again." But one man would not believe the glad tidings of immortality, and he would not consent to hold his tongue. For his mother had died, he loudly lamented her, and nothing could persuade him that she would come to life again. A heated altercation ensued between him and the Moon on this painful subject. "Your mother's asleep," says the Moon. " She's dead," says the man, and at it they went again, hammer and tongs, till at last the Moon lost patience and struck the man on the face with her fist, cleaving his mouth with the blow. And as she did so, she cursed him saying, " His mouth shall be always like this, even when he is a hare. For a hare he shall be. He shall spring away, he shall come doubling back. The dogs shall chase him, and when they have caught him they shall tear him in pieces. He shall altogether die. And all men, when they die, shall die outright. For he would not agree with me, when 1 bid him not to weep for his mother, for she would live again. ' No,' says he to me,' my mother will not live again.' Therefore he shall altogether become a hare. And the people, they shall altogether die, because he contradicted me flat when I told him that the people would do as I do, returning to life after they were dead." So a righteous retribution overtook the skeptic for his skepticism, for he was turned into a hare, and a hare he has been ever since. But still he has human flesh in his thigh, and that is why, when the Bushmen kill a hare, they will not eat that portion of the thigh, but cut it out, because it is human flesh. And still the Bushmen say, " It was on account of the hare that the Moon cursed us, so that we die altogether. If it had not been for him, we should have come to life again when we died. But he would not believe what the Moon told him, he contradicted her flat." 1 In this Bushman version of the story the hare is not the animal messenger of God to men, but a human skeptic who, for doubting the gospel of eternal life, is turned into a hare and involves the whole human race in the doom of mortality. This may be an older form of the story than the Hottentot version, in which the hare is a hare and nothing more.

The Nandi of British East Africa tell a story in which the origin of death is referred to the ill-humor of a dog, who brought the tidings of immortality to men, but, not being received with the deference due to so august an embassy, he changed his tune in a huff and doomed mankind to the sad fate to which they have ever since been subject. The story runs thus. When the first men lived upon the earth a dog came to them one day and said, " All people will die like the Moon, but unlike the Moon you will not return to life again unless you give me some milk to drink out of your gourd and beer to drink through your straw. If you do this, I will arrange for you to go to the river when you die and to come to life again on the third day." But the people laughed at the dog, and gave him some milk and beer to drink off a stool. The dog was angry at not being served in the same vessels as a human being, and though he put his pride in his pocket and drank the milk and beer from the stool, he went away in high dudgeon, saying, " All people will die, and the Moon alone will return to life." That is why, when people die, they stay away, whereas when the Moon goes away she comes back again after three days' absence. If only people had given that dog a gourd to drink milk out of, and a straw to suck beer through, we should all have risen from the dead, like the moon, after three days.1 In this story nothing is said as to the personage who sent the dog with the message of immortality to men ; but from the messenger's reference to the Moon, and from a comparison with the parallel Hottentot story, we may reasonably infer that it was the Moon who employed the dog to run the errand, and that the unscrupulous animal misused his opportunity to extort privileges for himself to which he was not strictly entitled.

In these stories a single messenger is engaged to carry the momentous message, and the fatal issue of the mission is set down to the carelessness or malice of the missionary. However, in some narratives of the origin of death, two messengers are dispatched, and the cause of death is said to have been the dilatoriness or misconduct of the messenger who bore the glad tidings of immortality. There is a Hottentot story of the origin of death which is cast in this form; They say that once the Moon sent an insect to men with this message, " Go thou to men and tell them, ' As I die, and dying live, so ye shall also die, and dying live.' " he insect set off with this message, but as he crawled along, the hare came leaping after him, and stopping beside him asked, " On what errand art thou bound ? " The insect answered, " I am sent by the Moon to men, to tell them that as she dies, and dying lives, they also shall die, and dying live." The hare said, " As thou art an awkward runner, let me go." And away he tore with the message, while the insect came creeping slowly behind. When he came to men, the hare perverted the message which he had officiously taken upon himself to deliver, for he said, " I am sent by the Moon to tell you, 'As I die, and dying perish, in the same manner ye shall also die and come wholly to an end.'" Then the hare returned to the Moon, and told her what he had said to men. The Moon was very angry and reproached the hare, saying, " Darest thou tell the people a thing which I have not said ? " With that she took a stick and hit him over the nose. That is why the hare's nose is slit down to this day.1

The same tale is told, with some slight variations, by the Tati Bushmen or Masarwas, who inhabit the Bechuanaland Protectorate, the Kalahari desert, and portions of Southern Rhodesia. The men of old time, they say, told this story. The Moon wished to send a message to the men of the early race, to tell them that as she died and came to life again, so they would die, and dying come to life again. So the Moon called the tortoise and said to him, " Go over to those men there, and give them this message from me. Tell them that as I dying live, so they dying will live again." Now the tortoise was very slow, and he kept repeating the message to himself, so as not to forget it. The Moon was very vexed with his slowness and with his forgetfulness ; so she called the hare and said to her, " You are a swift runner. Take this message to the men over yonder : ' As I dying live again, so you will dying live again.'" So off the hare started, but in her great haste she forgot the message, and as she did not wish to show the Moon that she had forgotten, she delivered the message to men in this way, " As I dying live again, so you dying will die for ever." Such was the message delivered by the hare. In the meantime the tortoise had remembered the message, and he started off a second time. " This time," said he to himself, " I won't forget." He came to the place where the men were, and he delivered his message. When the men heard it they were very angry with the hare, who was sitting at some distance. She was nibbling the grass after her race. One of the men ran and lifted a stone and threw it at the hare. It struck her right in the mouth and cleft her upper lip ; hence the lip has been cleft ever since. That is why every hare has a cleft upper lip to this day, and that is the end of the story.1

In a story told by the A-Louyi tribe of the Upper Zambesi, the messengers of death and of life respectively are the chameleon and the hare. They say that Nyambe, whom they identify with the sun, used to dwell on earth with his wife Nasilele, whom they identify with the moon. But Nyambe retired to heaven from fear of men. Whenever he carved wood, men carved it also ; when he made a wooden plate, so did they. After he had withdrawn to the sky, it happened that Nyambe's dog died. He loved the animal, and said, "Let the dog live." But his wife said, " No, I won't have it. He's a thief." Nyambe still persisted. " For my part," said he, " I love my dog." But his wife said, " Throw him out." So they threw him out. By and by Nyambe's mother-in-law died, and his wife said to him, " Let her live," just as Nyambe himself had said to her about his dog. But Nyambe answered, " No, let her die and be done with it. I said to you that my dog should live, and you refused. It is my wish that your mother should die for good and all." So die she did for good and all. After that the husband and wife sent two messengers, a chameleon and a hare, to men on the earth. To the chameleon they said, " When thou art come to men, say to them, ' Ye shall live'; but as for thee, O hare, when thou art come to men, say to them, ' Ye shall die once for all.'" The chameleon and the hare set off with their messages. Now the chameleon, as he went, kept constantly turning about, but the hare ran. So the hare arrived first, and said that men should die once for all. Having delivered his message, the hare returned. That is why, when men die, they die once for all.1 From this Louyi legend it would appear that human mortality resulted from a domestic jar in heaven, the deity falling out with his wife over his dead dog and mother-in-law. From such seemingly trivial causes may flow such momentous consequences.

The Ekoi of Southern Nigeria, on the border of the Cameroons, attribute human mortality to the gross misconduct of a duck. It happened in this way. The sky-god Obassi Osaw one day thought to himself, "Men fear to die. They do not know that perhaps they may come to life again. I will tell them that sometimes such a thing may happen, then they will have less dread of death." So he stood up in his house in the sky, and called a frog and a duck before him. To the frog he said, " Go to earth and say to the people, ' When a man dies, it is the end of all things ; he shall never live again.' " To the duck he said, " Go tell the earth folk that if a man dies he may come to life "again." He then led them a little way and showed them the road, saying, " Take my message. Duck, you may go to the left hand. Frog, keep to the right." So the frog kept on to the right, and when he came to the earth he delivered his message of death to the first men he met, telling them that when they died it would be an end of them. In due time the duck also reached the earth, but happening to arrive at a place where the people were making palm oil, she fell to gobbling it up and forgot all about the message of immortality which the good god had charged her to deliver to mankind. That is why we are all mortal down to this day. We are bound to go by the message of the frog ; we cannot go by the message of the duck, which never reached us.2

The story of the two messengers is related also by the Negroes of the Gold Coast, and in their version the two messengers are a sheep and a goat. The following is the form in which the tale was told by a native to a Swiss missionary at Akropong. In the beginning, when sky and earth existed, but there were as yet no men on earth, there fell a great rain, and soon after it had ceased a great chain was let down from heaven to earth with seven men hanging on it. These men had been created by God, and they reached the earth by means of the chain. They brought fire with them and cooked their food at it. Not long afterwards God sent a goat from heaven to deliver the following message to the seven men, " There is something that is called Death ; it will one day kill some of you ; but though you die, you will not perish utterly, but you will come to me here in heaven." The goat went his way, but when he came near the town he lit on a bush which seemed to him good to eat; so he lingered there and began to browse. When God saw that the goat lingered by the way, he sent a sheep to deliver the same message. The sheep went, but did not say what God had commanded her to say ; for she perverted the message and said, " When you once die, you perish, and have no place to go to." Afterwards the goat came and said, " God says, you will die, it is true, but that will not be the end of you, for you will come to me." But the men answered, " No, goat, God did not say that to you. What the sheep first reported, by that we shall abide." 1 In another version of the story, also told at Akropong, the parts of the goat and the sheep are inverted ; it is the sheep that bears the good tidings and loiters by the way to browse, and it is the goat that bears the evil tidings, and is the first to deliver them. The story ends with the melancholy reflection that " if only the sheep had made good speed with her message, man would have died but returned after death ; but the goat made better speed with the contrary message, so man returns no more." 2

In an Ashantee version of the story the two messengers are also a sheep and a goat, and the perversion of the message of immortality is ascribed sometimes to the one animal and sometimes to the other. The Ashantees say that long ago men were happy, for God dwelt among them and talked with them face to face. However, these blissful days did not last for ever. One unlucky day it chanced that some women were pounding a mash with pestles in a mortar, while God stood by looking on. For some reason they were annoyed by the presence of the deity and told him to be off; and as he did not take himself off fast enough to please them, they beat him with their pestles. In a great huff God retired altogether from the world and left it to the direction of the fetishes ; and still to this day people say, " Ah, if it had not been for that old woman, how happy we should be!" However, God was very good-natured, and even after he had gone up aloft, he sent a kind message by a goat to men on earth, saying, " There is something which they call Death. He will kill some of you. But even if you die, you will not perish completely. You will come to me in heaven." So off the goat set with this cheering intelligence. But before he came to the town, he saw a tempting bush by the wayside, and stopped to browse on it. When God looked down from heaven and saw the goat loitering by the way, he sent off a  sheep with the same message to carry the joyful news to men without delay. But the sheep did not give the message aright. Far from it: she said, " God sends you word that you will die, and that will be an end of you." When the goat had finished his meal, he also trotted into the town and delivered his message, saying, " God sends you word that you will die, certainly, but that will not be the end of you, for you will go to him." But men said to the goat, " No, goat, that is not what God said. We believe that the message which the sheep brought us is the one which God sent to us." That unfortunate misunderstanding was the beginning of death among men.1

However, in another Ashantee version of the tale the parts played by the sheep and goat are reversed. It is the sheep who brings the tidings of immortality from God to men, but the goat overruns him, and offers them death instead. In their innocence men accepted death with enthusiasm, not knowing what it was, and naturally they have died ever since.2 of British East Africa the two gospel messengers are a chameleon and a thrush, whom God sent out together to find people who died one day and came to life the next, and to bear the glad tidings of immortality to men. So off they set, the chameleon leading the way, for in those days he was a very high and mighty person indeed. As they went along, what should they see but some people lying like dead by the wayside. The chameleon went up to them and said softly, " Niwe, niwe, niwe" But the thrush asked him testily what he was making that noise for.  The chameleon mildly answered, " I am only calling the people who go forward and then come back," and he explained to the thrush that these seemingly dead folk would rise from the dead, just as he himself in walking lurches backward and forward before he takes a step. This argument from analogy, which might have satisfied a Butler, had no effect on the skeptical thrush. He derided the idea of the resurrection. Undeterred by this blatant infidelity the chameleon persisted in calling to the dead people, and sure enough they opened their eyes and listened to him. But the thrush rudely interrupted him and told the dead people that dead they were and dead they would remain, nothing could bring them to life. With that he flew away, and though the chameleon stayed behind and preached to the corpses, telling them that he had come from God on purpose to bring them to life again, and that they were not to believe the lies of that shallow skeptic the thrush, they turned a deaf ear to his message ; not one of those dead corpses would so much as budge. So the chameleon returned crestfallen to God and reported the failure of his mission, telling him how, when he preached the glad tidings of resurrection to the corpses, the thrush had roared him down, so that the corpses could not hear a word he said. Thereupon God cross-questioned the thrush, who stated that the chameleon had so bungled the message that he, the thrush, felt it to be his imperative duty to interrupt him. The simple-minded deity believed the lying thrush, and being very angry with the honest chameleon he degraded him from his high position and made him walk very slow, lurching this way and that, as he does down to this very day. But the thrush he promoted to the office of wakening men from their slumber every morning, which he still does punctually at 2 A.M. before the note of any other bird is heard in the tropical forest.1

In  all  these versions  of the  story the  message is sent from  God  to  men,   but   in   another  version, reported  from Togoland in West Africa, the message is dispatched from men to God.   They say that once upon a time men sent a dog to God to say that when they died they would like to come to life again.   So off the  dog  trotted to deliver the message.   But on the way he felt hungry and turned into a house, where a man was boiling magic herbs.   So the dog sat down and thought to himself, " He is cooking food."   Meantime the frog had set off to tell God that when men died they would prefer not to come to life again.   Nobody had asked  him  to  give that message ;   it  was a  piece  of pure officiousness and impertinence on his part.   However, away he tore.   The dog, who still sat hopefully watching the hell-broth  brewing,  saw  him   hurrying   past   the   door,  but   he thought to himself, " When I have had something to eat, I will soon catch froggy up."   However, froggy came in first, and  said  to  the  deity, " When  men  die, they would  prefer not to come to life again."   After that, up comes the dog, and says he, " When men die, they would like to come to life again."   God was naturally puzzled, and said to the dog, " I really do not understand these two messages.   As I heard the frog's request first, I will comply with it.   I will not do what you said."   That is the reason why men die and do not come to life again.   If the frog had only minded his own business instead of meddling with other people's, the dead would all have come to life again to this day.   But frogs come to life again when it thunders at the beginning of the rainy season, after they have been dead all the dry season while the Har-mattan wind was blowing.   Then, while the rain falls and the thunder peals, you may hear them quacking in the marshes.2 Thus we see that the frog had his own private ends to serve in   distorting   the   message.   He   gained   for   himself the immortality of which he robbed mankind.

In Calabar a somewhat different version of the same widespread story is told. The messengers are a dog and a sheep, and they go backwards and forwards between God and men. They say that for a long time after the creation of the world there was no death in it. At last, however, a man sickened and died. So the people sent a dog to God to ask him what they should do with the dead, man. The dog stayed so long away that the people grew tired of waiting and sent off a sheep to God with the same question. The sheep soon returned, and reported that God said, " Let the dead man be buried." So they buried him. Afterwards the dog returned also and reported that God said, " Put warm ashes on the dead man's belly, and he will rise again." However, the people told the dog that he came too late; the dead man was already buried according to the instructions of the sheep. That is why men are buried when they die. But as for the dog, he is driven from men and humiliated, because it is through his fault that we all die.1

In these stories the origin of death is ascribed to the blunder or willful deceit of one of the two messengers. However, according to another version of the story, which is widely current among the Bantu tribes of Africa, death was caused, not by the fault of the messenger, but by the vacillation of God himself, who, after deciding to make men immortal, changed his mind and resolved to make or leave them mortal; and unluckily for mankind the second messenger, who bore the message of death, overran the first messenger, who bore the message of immortality. In this form of the tale the chameleon figures as the messenger of life, and the lizard as the messenger of death. Thus the Zulus say that in the beginning Unkulunkulu, that is, the Old Old One, sent the chameleon to men with a message, saying, " Go, chameleon, go and say, Let not men die." The chameleon set out, but it crawled very slowly and loitered by the way to eat the purple berries of the ubukwebezane shrub or of a mulberry tree ; however, some people say that it climbed up a tree to bask in the sun, filled its belly with flies, and fell fast asleep. Meantime the Old Old One had thought better of it and sent a lizard post-haste after the chameleon with a very different message to men, for he said to the animal, " Lizard, when you have arrived, say, Let men die." So the lizard ran, passed the dawdling chameleon, and arriving first among men delivered his message of death, saying, " Let men die." Then he turned and went back to the Old Old One who had sent him. But after he was gone, the chameleon at last arrived among men with his joyful news of immortality, and he shouted, saying, " It is said, Let not men die !" But men answered, " Oh ! we have heard the word of the lizard ; it has told us the word, ' It is said, Let men die.' We cannot hear your word. Through the word of the lizard, men will die." And died they have ever since from that day to this. So the Zulus hate the lizard and kill it whenever they can, for they say, " This is the very piece of deformity which ran in the beginning to say that men should die." But others hate and hustle or kill the chameleon, saying, " That is the little thing which delayed to tell the people that they should not die. If he had only told us in time, we too should not have died ; our ancestors also would have been still living ; there would have been no diseases here on earth. It all comes from the delay of the chameleon."1

The same story is told in nearly the same form by other Bantu tribes such as the Bechuanas,1 the Basutos,2 the Baronga,8 the Ngoni,4 and apparently by the Wa-Sania of British East Africa.5 It is found, in a slightly altered form, even among the Hausas, who are not a Bantu people.6 To this day the Baronga and the Ngoni owe the chameleon a grudge for having brought death into the world by its dilatoriness. Hence, when they find a chameleon slowly climbing on a tree, they tease it till it opens its mouth, whereupon they throw a pinch of tobacco on its tongue, and watch with delight the creature writhing and changing color from orange to green, from green to black in the agony of death ; for so they avenge the great wrong which the chameleon did to mankind.7

Thus the belief is widespread in Africa, that God at one time purposed to make mankind immortal, but that the benevolent scheme miscarried through the fault of the messenger to whom he had entrusted the gospel message. 

§ 3.   The Story of the Cast Skin

Many savages believe that, in virtue of the power of periodically casting their skins, certain animals and in particular serpents renew their youth and never die. Holding this belief, they tell stories to explain how it came about that these creatures obtained, and men missed, the boon of immortality.

Thus, for example, the Wafipa and Wabende of East Africa say that one day God, whom they name Leza, came down to earth, and addressing all living creatures said, " Who wishes not to die ?" Unfortunately man and the other animals were asleep ; only the serpent was awake and he promptly answered, " I do." That is why men and all other animals die. The serpent alone does not die of himself. He only dies if he is killed. Every year he changes his skin, and so renews his youth and his strength.1 In like manner the Dusuns of British North Borneo say that when the Creator had finished making all things, he asked, " Who is able to cast off his skin ? If any one can do so, he shall not die." The snake alone heard and answered, " I can." For that reason down to the present day the snake does not die unless he is killed by man. The Dusuns did not hear the Creator's question, or they also would have thrown off their skins, and there would have been no death.2 Similarly the Todjo-Toradjas of Central Celebes relate that once upon a time God summoned men and animals for the purpose of determining their lot. Among the various lots proposed by the deity was this, " We shall put off our old skin." Unfortunately mankind on this momentous occasion was represented by an old woman in her dotage, who did not hear the tempting proposal. But the animals which slough their skins, such as serpents and shrimps, heard it and closed with the offer.3 Again, the natives of Vuatom, an island in the Bismarck Archipelago, say that a certain To Konokonomiange bade two lads fetch fire, promising that if they did so they should never die, but that, if they refused, their bodies would perish, though their shades or souls would survive. They would not hearken to him, so he cursed them, saying, " What! you would all have lived ! Now you shall die, though your soul shall live. But the iguana (Goniocephalus) and the lizard (Varanus indicus) and the snake (Enygrus), they shall live, they shall cast their skin and they shall live for evermore." When the lads heard that, they wept, for bitterly they rued their folly in not going to fetch the fire for To Konokono-miange.1

The Arawaks of British Guiana relate that once upon a time the Creator came down to earth to see how his creature man was getting on. But men were so wicked that they tried to kill him ; so he deprived them of eternal life and bestowed it on the animals which renew their skin, such as serpents, lizards, and beetles.2 A somewhat different version of the story is told by the Tamanachiers, an Indian tribe of the Orinoco. They say that after residing among them for some time the Creator took boat to cross to the other side of the great salt water from which he had come. Just as he was shoving off from the shore, he called out to them in a changed voice, " You will change your skins," by which he meant to say, " You will renew your youth like the serpents and the beetles." But unfortunately an old woman, hearing these words, cried out " Oh ! " in a tone of skepticism, if not of sarcasm, which so annoyed the Creator that he changed his tune at once and said testily, " Ye shall die." That is why we are all mortal.3

The people of Nias, an island to the west of Sumatra, say that, when  the earth was created, a certain  being was sent down from above to put the finishing touches to the work. He ought to have fasted, but, unable to withstand he pangs of hunger, he ate some bananas.  The choice of food was very unfortunate, for had he only eaten river crabs, men would have cast their skins like crabs, and so, renewing their youth perpetually, would never have  died.  As it is, death has come upon us all through the eating of those bananas.1 Another version of the Niasian story adds that " the serpents on the contrary ate the crabs, which in the opinion of the people of Nias cast their skins but do not die ; therefore serpents also do not die but merely cast their skin." 2

In this last version the immortality of serpents is ascribed to their having partaken of crabs, which by casting their skins renew their youth and live for ever. The same belief in the immortality of shell-fish occurs in a Samoan story of the origin of death. They say that the gods met in council to determine what should be the end of man. One proposal was that men should cast their skins like shellfish, and so renew their youth. The god Palsy moved, on the contrary, that shellfish should cast their skins, but that men should die. While the motion was still before the meeting a shower of rain unfortunately interrupted the discussion, and as the gods ran to take shelter, the motion of Palsy was carried unanimously. That is why shellfish still cast their skins and men do not.3

Thus not a few peoples appear to believe that the happy privilege of immortality, obtainable by the simple process of periodically shedding the skin, was once within reach of our species, but that through an unhappy chance it was transferred to certain of the lower creatures, such as serpents, crabs, lizards, and beetles. According to others, however, men were at one time actually in possession of this priceless boon, but forfeited it through the foolishness of an old woman. Thus the Melanesians of the Banks' Islands and the New Hebrides say that at first men never died, but that when they advanced in life they cast their skins like snakes and crabs, and came out with youth renewed. After a time a woman, growing old, went to a stream to change her skin ; according to some, she was the mother of the mythical or legendary hero Qat, according to others, she was Ul-ta-marama, Change-skin of the world. She threw off her old skin in the water, and observed that as it floated down it caught against a stick. Then she went home, where she had left her child. But the child refused to recognize her, crying that its mother was an old woman, not like this young stranger. So to pacify the child she went after her cast integument and put it on. From that time mankind ceased to cast their skins and died.1 A similar story of the origin of death is told in the Shortlands Islands 2 and by the Kai, a Papuan tribe of north-eastern New Guinea. The Kai say that at first men did not die but renewed their youth. When their old brown skin grew wrinkled and ugly, they stepped into water, and stripping it off got a new, youthful white skin instead. In those days there lived an old grandmother with her grandchild. One day the old woman, weary of her advanced years, bathed in the river, cast off her withered old hide, and returned to the village, spick and span, in a fine new skin. Thus transformed, she climbed up the ladder and entered her house. But when her grandchild saw her, he wept and squalled, and refused to believe that she was his granny. All her efforts to reassure and pacify him proving vain, she at last went back in a rage to the river, fished her wizened old skin out of the water, put it on, and returned to the house a hideous old hag again. The child was glad to see his granny come back, but she said to him, "The locusts cast their skins, but ye men shall die from this day forward." And sure enough, they have done so ever since.3 The same story, with some trivial variations, is told by natives of the Admiralty Islands. They say that once on a time there was an old woman, and she was frail. She had two sons, and they went a-fishing, while she herself went to bathe. She stripped off her wrinkled old skin and came forth as young as she had been long ago. When her sons came from the fishing they were astonished to see her. The one said, " It is our mother"; but the other said, "She may be your mother, but she shall be my wife." Their mother overheard them and said, " What were you two saying ? " The two said, " Nothing ! We only said that you are our mother." " You are liars," she retorted, " I heard you both. If I had had my way, we should have grown to be old men and women, and then we should have cast our skin and been young men and young women. But you have had your way. We shall grow old men and old women, and then we shall die." With that she fetched her old skin, and put it on, and became an old woman again. As for us, her descendants, we grow up and we grow old. But if it had not been for those two young scapegraces, there would have been no end of our days, we should have lived for ever and ever.1

Still farther away from the Banks Islands the very same story is repeated by the To Koolawi, a mountain tribe of Central Celebes. As reported by the Dutch missionaries who discovered it, the Celebes version of this widely diffused tale runs thus. In the olden time men had, like serpents and shrimps, the power of casting their skin, whereby they became young again. Now there was an old woman who had a grandchild. Once upon a time she went to the water to bathe, and thereupon laid aside her old skin and hung it up on a tree. With her youth quite restored she returned to the house. But her grandchild did not know her again, and would have nothing to do with his grandmother ; he kept on saying, " You are not my grandmother ; my grandmother was old, and you are young." Then the woman went back to the water and drew on her old skin again. But ever since that day men have lost the power of renewing their youth and must die.2

A variant form of the Melanesian story is told in Anei-tyum, one of the New Hebrides. There they say that once an old man took off his skin before he began to work in his garden. He then looked young. But one day his two grandchildren, finding his skin folded away, pierced it through, making many holes therein. When the old man put it on again he shivered with cold, and seeing the holes in his skin he said to his grandchildren, " I thought we should live for ever and cast our skins and become young again ; but as you have done this we shall all die." Thus death came into the world.1

Another Melanesian tradition ascribes the introduction of death to purely economic causes. In the days when men changed their skins and lived for ever, the permanence of property in the same hands was found to be a great inconvenience ; it bore very hard on the heirs, who were perpetually tantalized by the prospect of an inheritance to which it was legally and physically impossible that they should ever succeed. All this time Death had resided either in a shadowy underground region called Panoi or by the side of a volcanic vent in Santa Maria, it is not quite certain which ; but now in answer to the popular demand he was induced to come abroad and show himself. He was treated to a handsome funeral of the usual sort; that is to say, he was laid out on a board and covered with a pall, a pig was killed, and the mourners enjoyed a funeral feast and divided the property of the deceased. Afterwards, on the fifth day, the conch shell was blown to drive away the ghost. In short, nothing was left undone to soothe and gratify the feelings of the departed. So Death returned down the road to the underground region from which he had emerged ; and all mankind have since followed him thither.2

While some peoples have supposed that in the early ages of the world men were immortal in virtue of periodically casting their skins, others have ascribed the same high privilege to a certain lunar sympathy, in consequence of which mankind passed through alternate states of growth and decay, of life and death, corresponding to the phases of the moon, without ever coming to an end. On this view, though death in a sense actually occurred, it was speedily repaired by resurrection, generally, it would seem, by resurrection after three days, since three days is the period between the disappearance of the old moon and the reappearance of the new. Thus the Mentras or Mantras, a shy tribe of savages in the jungles of the Malay Peninsula, allege that in the early ages of the world men did not die, but only grew thin at the waning of the moon and then waxed fat again as she waxed to the full. Thus there was no check whatever on the population, which increased to an alarming extent. So a son of the first man brought this state of things to his father's notice, and asked him what was to be done. The first man, a good easy soul, said, " Leave things as they are " ;  but his younger brother, who took a more Malthusian view of the matter, said, " No, let men die like the banana, leaving their offspring behind." The question was submitted to the Lord of the Underworld, and he decided in favour of death. Ever since then men have ceased to renew their youth like the moon and have died like the banana.1 In the Caroline Islands it is said that in the olden time death was unknown, or rather it was only a short sleep. Men died on the last day of the waning moon and came to life again on the appearance of the new moon, just as if they had wakened from a refreshing slumber. But an evil spirit somehow contrived that when men slept the sleep of death they should wake no more.2 The Wotjobaluk, a tribe of south-eastern Australia, related that when all animals were men and women, some of them died and the moon used to say, " You up again," whereupon they came to life again. But once on a time an old man said, " Let them remain dead " ; and since then nobody has ever come to life again, except the moon, which still continues to do so down to this very day.3

The Unmatjera and Kaitish, two tribes of central Australia, say that their dead used to be buried either in trees or underground, and that after three days they regularly rose from the dead. The Kaitish tell how this happy state of things came to an end. It was all the fault of a man of the Curlew totem, who found some men of the Little Wallaby totem in the act of burying a man of that ilk. For some reason the Curlew man flew into a passion and kicked the corpse into the sea. Of course after that the dead man could not come to life again, and that is why nowadays nobody rises from the dead after three days, as everybody used to do long ago.1 Though nothing is said about the moon in this narrative of the origin of death, the analogy of the preceding stories makes it probable that the three days, during which the dead used to lie in the grave, were the three days during which the moon lay " hid in her vacant interlunar cave." The Fijians also associated the possibility, though not the actual enjoyment, of human immortality with the phases of the moon. They say that of old two gods, the Moon and the Rat, discussed the proper end of man. The Moon said, " Let him be like me, who disappear awhile and then live again." But the Rat said, " Let man die as a rat dies." And he prevailed.2

The Upotos of the Congo tell how men missed and the Moon obtained the boon of immortality. One day God, whom they call Libanza, sent for the people of the moon and the people of the earth. The people of the moon hastened to the deity, and were rewarded by him for their alacrity. " Because," said he, addressing the moon, " thou earnest to me at once when I called thee, thou shalt never die. Thou shalt be dead for but two days each month, and that only to rest thee ; and thou shalt return with greater splendor." But when the people of the earth at last appeared before Libanza, he was angry and said to them, " Because you came not at once to me when I called you, therefore you will die one day and not revive, except to come to me." 3

The Bahnars of eastern Cochin China explain the immortality of primitive man neither by the phases of the moon nor by the custom of casting the skin, but apparently by the recuperative virtue of a certain tree. They say that m the beginning, when people died, they used to be buried at the foot of a tree called Long Blo, and that after a time they always rose from the dead, not as infants, but as full-grown men and women. So the earth was peopled very fast, and all the inhabitants formed but one great town under the presidency of our first parents. In time men multiplied to such an extent that a certain lizard could not take his walks abroad without somebody treading on his tail. This vexed him, and the wily creature gave an insidious hint to the gravediggers. " Why bury the dead at the foot of the Long Blo tree ?" said he ; " bury them at the foot of Long Khung, and they will not come to life again. Let them die outright and be done with it." The hint was taken, and from that day men have not come to life again.1

In this last story, as in many African tales, the instrument of bringing death among men is a lizard. We may conjecture that the reason for assigning the invidious office to a lizard was that this animal, like the serpent, casts its skin periodically, from which primitive man might infer, as he infers with regard to serpents, that the creature renews its youth and lives for ever. Thus all the myths which relate how a lizard or a serpent became the maleficent agent of human mortality may perhaps be referred to an old idea of a certain jealousy and rivalry between men and creatures which cast their skins, notably serpents and lizards ; we may suppose that in all such cases a story was told of a contest between man and his animal rivals for the possession of immortality, a contest in which, whether by mistake or guile, the victory always remained with the animals, who thus became immortal, while mankind was doomed to mortality.

§ 4.   The Composite Story of the Perverted Message and the Cast Skin

In some stories of the origin of death the incidents of the perverted message and the cast skin are combined. Thus the Gallas of East Africa attribute the mortality of man and the immortality of serpents to the mistake or malice of a certain bird which falsified the message of eternal life entrusted to him by God. The creature which did this great wrong to our species is a black or dark blue bird, with a white patch on each wing and a crest on its head. It perches on the tops of trees and utters a wailing note like the bleating of a sheep ; hence the Gallas call it holawaka or " the sheep of God," and explain its apparent anguish by the following tale. Once upon a time God sent that bird to tell men that they should not die, but that when they grew old and weak they should slip off their skins and so renew their youth. In order to authenticate the message God gave the bird a crest to serve as the badge of his high office. Well, off the bird set to deliver the glad tidings of immortality to man, but he had not gone far before he fell in with a snake devouring carrion in the path. The bird looked longingly at the carrion and said to the snake, " Give me some of the meat and blood, and I will tell you God's message." " I don't want to hear it," said the snake tartly, and continued his meal. But the bird pressed him so to hear the message that the snake rather reluctantly consented. " The message," then said the bird, " is this. When men grow old they will die, but when you grow old you will cast your skin and renew your youth." That is why people grow old and die, but snakes crawl out of their old skins and renew their youth. But for this gross perversion of the message God punished the heedless or wicked bird with a painful internal malady, from which he suffers to this day ; that is why he sits wailing on the tops of trees.1

Again, the Melanesians, who inhabit the coast of the Gazelle Peninsula in New Britain, say that To Kambinana, the Good Spirit, loved men and wished to make them immortal. So he called his brother To Korvuvu and said to him, " Go to men and take them the secret of immortality. Tell them to cast their skin every year. So will they be protected from death, for their life will be constantly renewed. But tell the serpents that they must thenceforth die." However, To Korvuvu acquitted himself badly of his task ; for he commanded men to die, and betrayed to the serpents the secret of immortality. Since then all men have been mortal, but the serpents cast their skins every year and never die.2

A similar story of the origin of death is told in Annam. They say that Ngoc hoang sent a messenger from heaven to men to say that when they reached old age they should change their skins and live for ever, but that when serpents grew old they must die. The messenger came down to earth and said, rightly enough, " When man is old he shall cast his skin ; but when serpents are old they shall die and be laid in coffins." So far so good. But unluckily there happened to be a brood of serpents within hearing, and when they learned the doom pronounced on their kind, they fell into a fury and said to the messenger, " You must say it over again and just the contrary, or we will bite you." That frightened the messenger, and he repeated his message, changing the words thus, " When the serpent is old he shall cast his skin ; but when man is old he shall die and be laid in the coffin." That is why all creatures are now subject to death, except the serpent, who, when he is old, casts his skin and lives for ever.1

§ 5.  Conclusion

Thus, arguing from the analogy of the moon or of animals which cast their skins, the primitive philosopher has inferred that in the beginning a perpetual renewal of youth was either appointed by a benevolent being for the human species or was actually enjoyed by them, and that but for a crime, an accident, or a blunder it would have been enjoyed by them for ever. People who pin their faith in immortality to the cast skins of serpents, lizards, beetles, and the like, naturally look on these animals as the hated rivals who have robbed us of the heritage which God or nature intended that we should possess; consequently they tell stories to explain how it came about that such low creatures contrived to oust us from the priceless possession. Tales of this sort are widely diffused throughout the world, and it would be no matter for surprise to find them among the Semites. The story of the Fall of Man in the third chapter of Genesis appears to be an abridged version of this savage myth. Little is wanted to complete its resemblance to the similar myths still told by savages in many parts of the world. The principal, almost the only, omission is the silence of the narrator as to the eating of the fruit of the tree of life by the serpent, and the consequent attainment of immortality by the reptile. Nor is it difficult to account for the lacuna. The vein of rationalism, which runs through the Hebrew account of creation and has stripped it of many grotesque features that adorn or disfigure the corresponding Babylonian tradition, could hardly fail to find a stumbling-block in the alleged immortality of serpents ; and the redactor of the story in its final form has removed this stone of offence from the path of the faithful by the simple process of blotting out the incident entirely from the legend. Yet the yawning gap left by his sponge has not escaped the commentators, who look in vain for the part which should have been played in the narrative by the tree of life. If my interpretation of the story is right, it has been left for the comparative method, after thousands of years, to supply the blank in the ancient canvas, and to restore, in all their primitive crudity, the gay barbaric colors which the skilful hand of the Hebrew artist had softened or effaced.

Oct.2002

 
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