There are, of course, many fundamental questions students must grapple with when they open a Chumash (Torah). One is: Are Tanach (Biblical) narratives literal, metaphorical, or figurative?
Great commentators have weighed in on this subject when it comes to Gan Eden (Garden of Eden), in general, and the snake episode in particular. Fairly they ask: Is it for real? Did the snake – even generously allowing for a crafty one – strike up a conversation with Chava (Eve)? Do the verses not read: ‘He said…She said…’?
Q: How might Bible students approach this topic: Did the snake speak?
A: Jews believe in miracles. Furthermore, Judaism posits that the infinite Hashem can and has communicated with His creations. Commonly this is called prophecy.
Having prefaced that, there is another crucial thing to keep in mind. Hashem created man to be rational and thinking. Indeed, it’s that ability that sets him apart from the animal kingdom.
Here’s the crux of the matter. Simply, if the Creator desires man to abandon or set aside his reason or intellect, then the Tanach should give an introductory word that something peculiar is going to transpire. This gives us an opportunity, so to speak, to mentally switch gears. Call it a heads-up.
Thus, in Bamidbar (Numbers) a verse states: ‘And Hashem opened up Bilaam’s donkey’s mouth and she spoke.’ We do believe that a supernatural event occurred whereby that lowly pack animal talked - literally. However, we do not find such an introduction in the Gan Eden narrative with Chava and the snake. Hence, there was not, strictly speaking, a verbal conversation between those two ‘conversationalists.’
What, then, did happen? Plausibly, Chava observed the snake climbing up the Tree of Knowledge of good and evil. He actually partook of its fruit. In her mind, the sight shook her, causing her to project a virtual dialogue. If the snake could have talked, she imagined, then it would have verbally taunted her to partake of the fruit, owing to the fact that its fruit was, clearly, not toxic or medicinally harmful.