John Derbyshire: An Off-Topic But Original Observation About Genesis

Another totally off-topic post.  Yeah, yeah, I`ll get my own blog.  Meantime, thanks to for their hospitality.

People have been scrutinizing the Bible for quite a few centuries now.  It would seem to be impossible that anyone could come up with an original observation about any biblical story.  One of my readers may have done just that, though.  At any rate, his observation is new to me.

Background:  My daughter recently acquired a pet snake, a ball python.  I wrote about this in a Taki`s Magazine piece, with some commentary on the snake being fed with a live mouse.

My reader liked the piece and emailed in thus (reproduced with his permission ─ thanks, Paul):

I enjoyed the snake piece very much and sent it to my 30-year-old son, who, at about your daughter`s age, also had a python. What struck me about his pet`s feeding was (a) that the mouse seemed to have no anticipation of what awaited it and frisked about merrily (apparently) until, suddenly, its bones were quickly crushed; and (b) that the poor snake in order to nourish itself had to go through a long and painful process which resembled giving birth in reverse, even to the need for a long rest in recovery afterwards.

This made me wonder if the Book of Genesis wasn’t on to something more natural-history oriented than one would have suspected, in its coupling the curse on the woman with the curse on the serpent. I was moved to more pity for the snake than for the mouse.

I`m not sure I want to think too much about that; but such originality in observation doesn`t come along every day, so I record Paul`s here for posterity.

(It is of course always possible that some 14th-century Swiss monk I never heard of made the woman-serpent link.  I`d rather not know.  I choose to go on believing that my readers are a superbly gifted elite, more than equal to any medieval scribbler.)

A favorite of my childhood was R.M. Ballantyne`s Martin Rattler.  Ballantyne is best known for Coral Island, which is indeed very good if you skip over the occasional sermonizing. (It was a favorite of George Orwell`s.)

Martin Rattler is almost as good.  How could any red-blooded nine-year-old male resist a book that opens with the words: “Martin Rattler was a very bad boy.”  The young-teen Martin is carried off from England to Brazil by a chain of accidents, and Ballantyne introduces all the weird fauna of the Amazon basin.  The book includes this description of the feeding habits of the anaconda: 


The reptile commences by patiently watching, until an unfortunate animal strays near to where it is lying, when it darts upon it, encircles it in its massive coils, and crushes it to death in an instant.  Then it squeezes the body and broken bones into a shapeless mass; after which it licks the carcass all over, and covers it with a thick coating of saliva.  Having thus prepared its mouthful, the anaconda begins at the tail and gradually engulfs its victim, while its elastic jaws, and throat, and stomach are distended sufficiently to let it in; after which it lies in a torpid state for many weeks, till the morsel is digested, when it is ready for another meal.  A horse goes down entire, but a cow sticks at the horns, which the anaconda cannot swallow.  They are allowed to protrude from its mouth until they decay and drop off.

They don`t write kid fiction like that nowadays.