Miss Simple, would you explain for us the significance of the talking snake?"
Sophia looked up from her copy of the text. She chewed absentmindedly on an errant strand of hair.
"Well," she ventured, "it's unusual."
"It is, as you say, unusual. But we're trying to determine what that tells us about the text."
"About the text?"
"What kind of story would you expect to find a talking snake in, Miss Simple?"
"A cartoon, maybe, or a joke?"
"Do you think this text is either of those?"
She puckered her appallingly painted lips in thought.
"Maybe a fairy tale?"
It was as close as she was likely to get; he decided to move on.
"Better. Someone else?"
Paulette Trent raised a finger.
"Exactly. And what is the purpose of a fable?"
"So we should expect a lesson from this text?'
Things were starting to move. He addressed Toby next.
"And would we expect the story to be literal?"
"I'm not sure what you mean?"
"Is the story intended—Sorry Jeremy. Just assume I'm speaking metaphorically, okay?—is it intended to be believed literally? Are we supposed to think that there was a real garden, a real talking snake, a real Adam and Eve?"
"Oh. No, I guess not."
"Exactly. If we take the text seriously, we must let it tell us how to read it. It does that by giving us clues—like the talking snake, in this case—which tell us it is not communicating on the literal level. So, Toby, would you care to venture a guess as to what the story is about?"
Toby was lost. The professor tried another tack.
"What are the names of the trees, Toby?"
"The tree of life, and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil."
"Let's focus on the first one. Does the name seem important?"
"And what happens in the story if one eats the fruit from the tree of life?"
"You live for ever."
"Do you think we are to take this as literal?"
"Then what do you think the fruit of the tree stands for?"
"Exactly. What about the names of the main characters? Does anyone know what the word 'Adam' actually means?"
"Thank you, Jeremy. And the name "Eve"—you should be able to help us here, Miss Simple, there's a hint in the text."
Sophia was trying to fit an eraser back into the end of her pencil. She looked up.
"Why does the text say the woman is named 'Eve'?"
"It says 'because she was the mother of all living'?"
"In fact, the Hebrew word means something like 'giver of life'. Given what we have already discovered, do you think the text is referring to an actual person, or to women in general? Ralph."
Ralph was also staring at Miss Simple.
"I… Oh. Women in general."
"Thank you, Ralph. So we have a story in which the main characters are symbols for all humanity, and for all women—all givers of birth, or life. They live in a garden, where they are free to eat the fruit of all the trees, including the Tree of Life—whose fruit is also symbolic. These two people are warned not to eat of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil.
"Does anyone have a guess what the fruit of Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil might symbolize?"
He looked expectantly at Jeremy. Jeremy, however, was still watching Miss Simple, who was the only one in the room raising a tentative hand.
The professor sighed.