The Serpent Lesson: Adam and Eve at Home in Ohio

By BROOK WILENSKY-LANFORD

In the beginning, the Lord God created man in Adams County, Ohio, just north of Peebles and south of Chillicothe.

On the very western edge of the Appalachians, in the craggy countryside of southern Ohio, the three branches of a small river called Brush Creek converge in a valley lined with pitch pine and chestnut oak trees. A steep rocky bluff rises one hundred feet above the riverbed. And on top of this bluff lies an ancient mound of soil, waist high, built in the shape of a serpent. The snake’s head—120 feet long and 60 feet wide—faces the north end of the bluff, overlooking the river. From there, the snake’s body stretches southward 1,300 feet in loose waves, and ends in a tightly curled triple spiral.

The Serpent Mound, one of the largest Native American earthworks in North America, was opened up to the public in 1901. At the time, archaeologists knew it was the work of an ancient tribe they called the “Mound Builders.” But no one could say for sure who the Mound Builders were, what they believed, or why they built a 1,300-foot serpent on a cliff overlooking a river. There were many theories, but only one that involved fruit, temptation, and sin.

The Reverend Edmund Landon West, a preacher born and raised in Adams County, believed the Mound marked the actual site of the Garden of Eden, and in 1901 he began to spread the word.

“There is now, yet to be seen on the Earth’s Surface, and near Lovett’s Post Office, in Adams County, Ohio, the figured lesson of a large Serpent, which gives wonderfully clear and faithful testimony to the facts given by Moses.” The facts as West saw them: Adam and Eve were given eternal life, but the serpent of sin tempted Eve, they ate of the forbidden fruit, and as punishment, God took away human immortality. Since then, we have been cursed with death—not to mention war, slavery, and all the other sins. West believed the snake was created “either by God himself or by man inspired by Him” in the early days of Creation—not the first day, but soon thereafter—as a “mighty object lesson” in the dangers of sin. Let all humanity, for all ages, know that the wages of sin are death: it happened here first.

The whole story was right there in the shape of the mound itself. According to West, the triangle shape emerging out of the snake’s long neck was its open jaws, and the soil oval just north of the jaws had to be the “fruit of deception,” which the snake was in the process of eating.
For if God were going to use an image of the Serpent to symbolize the Fall of Man, as a warning that it should not happen again, how better to represent the “one sad event” than to show the serpent “in the act of itself eating fruit, when it is well known that serpents do not eat fruit?” The three coils at the end of the serpent’s tail represent “the writhings and twistings of the body” in the painful throes of its inevitable demise.

Though the mark of Eden was now plain as day to West, it had taken him years to recognize the serpent lesson. He was born in 1841 and grew up “attending school and Sunday School . . . within one mile and in sight of the Serpent.” Both sides of his family had been farming in the Brush Creek Valley for two generations. And yet, as a boy, he had heard very little about this unusual local landmark near the post office. Its mysteries, he assumed, were “sealed thoughts intended for others.” He went about his life, eking out a living on the hilly Appalachian farmland. The serpent’s meaning wouldn’t be revealed to West for decades, and it would happen through a unique collaboration of science and religion.

In 1861, when West was twenty, he attended school in nearby New Vienna, Ohio. The New Vienna Academy was founded by James Quinter, a preacher in the German Baptist Brethren Church, which traced its roots directly back to eight religious dissidents in Schwarzenau, Germany, in 1708. The academy was the first German Baptist school in existence. The German Baptists were against anything that made their church more worldly, including, as they saw it, paid ministry, missionary work, or religious education—including even Sunday school. The Brethren believed in simplicity. They needed no other creed, no other text, no education other than the Bible itself. They wanted only to follow the life of Jesus, as expressed in the New Testament, word for word.

The “Schwarzenau Brethren” had first split from the predominant German Lutheran church over the sacrament of baptism—who should receive it, and how it should be performed. Brethren believed the Bible prescribed baptism only for adults able to make a conscious choice—not infants. And because in Romans 6:1-4 it is written “we are baptized into [Christ’s] death,” and because at the moment of his death, Jesus’ head fell forward, the Brethren baptized believers by immersing them in water in a forward direction, not backwards, as was traditional. These practices made the Brethren outcasts subject to persecution, and in the early eighteenth century much of the Brethren community immigrated to the United States, where they formed close-knit religious communities in Pennsylvania.

But by the late nineteenth century, the Brethren, like seemingly everyone else in America, were moving westward, and James Quinter saw the need for more formal religious training and wider communication. He would spend thirty years as editor of the major Brethren newspaper The Gospel Messenger. But his school in New Vienna lasted only three years; in 1864 church pressures and the strain of the Civil War forced Quinter to close its doors. But Quinter’s school had made an impression on Landon West.

Perhaps he was attracted to the simplicity of the Brethren way of life. No complex theology was needed; deeds were more important than words. The Brethren of southern Ohio, unlike other Christian denominations, wore their faith on the outside, in their everyday life and practice. Women covered their heads. Men had beards, trimmed square, starting further down on the cheeks so that believers could exchange the traditional cheek-kiss known as the “kiss of peace.” German Baptists did not wear mustaches alone, because in ancestral Germany only the military wore mustaches—and the German Baptists were pacifists: Along with the Mennonites and Quakers, they are one of the historic “peace churches” who have categorically condemned war in all cases as sin.

Still, during the Civil War, some Brethren felt that the sin of slavery trumped the sin of war. Some enlisted but refused to kill. Landon West made a different compromise. At age twenty he was stricken with typhoid, which kept him bedridden for months and left him too weak to join the Union Army. However, he did pay for a substitute to take his place. Several months later, twenty-one and recovered, West was baptized into the German Baptist Brethren Church. He dove into his new religious life with conviction and tremendous energy. His friend John Garman had overseen the building of a new German Baptist meetinghouse in the Brush Creek Valley, and West was the first person elected to the ministry in the new church. He also married John’s daughter Salomé, and with his father-in-law he traveled the area every Sunday preaching humility, denouncing evil, and urging a return to the basic truths of the Bible. As he would write later, “The Bible is our main witness, the faithful and the true one, and is always good and always sure. It tells nothing, promises nothing, and proves nothing but what is both good and sure.” We need all of it, and we need not a word more “to insure to us the favor of Heaven’s King.”

In an early photograph, West’s scraggly beard crawls up his cheeks, and he does wear a faint mustache, which accentuates his pronounced frown. His heavy-lidded eyes bore into the camera as if scrutinizing its soul and finding it severely wanting. This was a man who’d survived typhoid and would suffer for years from arterial sclerosis and other health conditions. He came by the unblinking intensity honestly, and it served the hard work of building churches in farm villages.

West described himself as a “Minister of the Gospell,” but the Brethren did not have a paid clergy—they feared that paid ministers would become “merchants” of God’s Word, beholden to their consumers rather than God Himself. Pastors had to find ways to make a living outside the church, which wasn’t always easy. Since Brethren congregations in Ohio villages were tiny, it was normal for congregations to join forces with other local churches on Sundays, creating a larger, collective congregation. West helped establish new churches at Strait Creek, Marble Furnace, and May Hill, and they all joined his Sunday rotation. At one point he had six congregations to visit every week. His wife Salomé died young in 1873, and West regrouped, bringing his three children to live with his brother.

In 1877 he was inducted into the second level of the ministry, which allowed him to administer baptisms and the twice-a-year ritual replication of Jesus’ Last Supper called the “love feast,” where believers washed each other’s feet, ate together, and received communion. Soon West became an elder, responsible for his congregations’ spiritual health, and for representing them at the church-wide Annual Conference in Elgin, Illinois, where rulings on theological and practical issues were hammered out in discussion by consensus.

In the 1880s however, consensus was getting harder to achieve. Aside from the longstanding debates over Sunday schools and the paid ministry, the Brethren had to reckon with the many modern innovations that some perceived to be encroaching on their hard-won, sacred simplicity. What was to be made of carpeting or credit unions? Did the installation of a lightning rod in a farmhouse imply simple practicality or a lack of trust in God’s providence? This last question acted, literally, as a lightning rod, catalyzing days of impassioned—sometimes tearful—debate.

During this tumultuous period, certain factions of West’s church began to lobby for opening the sacred “love feast” and its attendant communion to non-members of the German Baptist church. They thought this might give outsiders a better impression of the practices they knew looked bizarre from the outside. And besides, if there was only “one faith,” the faith of Christ, then all men should be one, whether church members or not.

West struggled with these issues, and ended up coming down on the side of keeping the ceremony private. He did believe there was only one true faith, but he knew that even within a small community like the farming towns of southern Ohio, friends and neighbors could hold wildly differing religious views. As he wrote in his 1880 pamphlet called Close Communion, “One need not go to China, or to Salt Lake City, to find extremes in doctrine, for these can be found here.” So while an open communion might be an agreeable idea, we’ll never know, because “We cannot know the tree but by its fruits.”

The only fruits the German Baptists could trust were those of their own tree. Church members adhered to a rigorous moral code, holding themselves upright above “the evildoers who abound everywhere.” What if the non-member attending communion had, unbeknownst to the German Baptists, committed adultery, or some other sin? Allowing such criminals in the eyes of God to participate in the love feast would be the end of the church altogether. No, concluded West with determination, “We must know who is in and who is out to have a church at all.”
His words were sadly prescient. Soon enough the German Baptist Brethren would know who was in and who was out. In 1881, the year after Close Communion was published, the church formally split into three groups. A conservative leader so frustrated by the Annual Conference’s refusal to condemn liberalism split off and created the Old German Baptist Brethren. At the same time, a liberal church leader was “disfellowshipped” from the main church and formed his own denomination, The Brethren Church.

The four German Baptist churches in Adams County, which had shared congregations and pastors, became divided. Landon West found himself pulled in two directions. He was conservative—he opposed open communion and paid ministers. He was progressive—a stalwart advocate of Sunday-school education and of opening the faith to the “colored” who had endured the horrors of slavery. So he stayed put with the middle-ground group of Brethren, still the largest division of the three. Since many of the best pastors in Adams County had gone with the new progressive church, West took on preaching duties at even more congregations.

In this active period in the wake of the split, West met and married Barbara Landis, daughter of two prominent German Baptist families from Miami County, about a hundred miles northwest of Adams County. In 1882 they moved to a farm near Barbara’s family in Pleasant Hill. There they had five more children.

Around this time, the Serpent Mound began to get renewed attention. It had been surveyed and documented in accounts of Native American culture long before, but in 1885 Francis Ward Putnam, Professor of American Archaeology and Anthropology at Harvard’s famed Peabody Museum, passed through Brush Creek Township on a field mission. He marveled at the amazing size of the remarkable earthwork, which was then suffering “the effects of age and neglect” on the property of Mr. Lovett—owner, presumably, of Lovett’s Post Office. Upon Putnam’s return to Boston, he drafted a letter to the Boston Herald setting forth the Mound’s value as a Native American artifact. The letter, widely republished, came to the attention of Miss Alice Fletcher, described by an Ohio historian as “a noted Indian enthusiast.”

Miss Fletcher brought the matter of the Mound’s preservation up for discussion at a lunch party in Newport, Rhode Island, with some of Boston’s leading ladies, who promptly printed a circular and raised six thousand dollars for the restoration of the site, which was in turn promptly undertaken by the Peabody Museum. The Mound—which had been damaged by a tornado in the 1880s and neglected by Lovett—was returned to “a most excellent and attractive condition.”

As the Mound was restored, West’s health was failing. He suffered from recurrent bouts of erysipelas, a severe and contagious disease that caused his skin to turn red, swell, and peel. Though his presence in church was no longer an everyday occurrence, he was still well enough to appear on special occasions. He preached the first services at Cassel’s Run in 1887 and organized another new church in 1888. In 1890 he conducted a revival in New Carlisle along with Pastor Hixson, one of those progressive pastors who had left the Adams County Brethren church years earlier. Perhaps in his worsening physical condition, church divisions started to seem less important to West.

In the meantime, Professor Putnam had visited Columbus, Ohio, for a meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, where he met Mr. E.O. Randall, Secretary of the Ohio Historical and Archaeological Society. They struck up a conversation about the Serpent Mound. Putnam made Randall a deal: if the Society could agree to “accept, repair and suitably preserve and guard the property,” Harvard would turn the ownership of the property over to them. Randall and the Society got to work on their end of the deal.

In 1890, in his late 40s, West officially—if reluctantly—retired as presiding elder at his Twin Valley and Circleville ministries. He still attended the Annual Conference, and was part of a special delegation to Canada to advocate for missionary work, but gone were the days of circulating between six hill-country congregations every Sunday. Barbara West purchased from her brothers a fifty-acre parcel of her family’s land just north of town, less than a mile from the Pleasant Hill German Baptist Church. West could preach, farm, and live all within a twenty-minute horse-and-buggy ride. His physical radius thus reduced, West’s mental energies began to roam, and his thoughts turned to the Serpent Mound.

Though he no longer lived in Adams County, he had been paying attention to the news about the Serpent Mound in the intervening years. That first fall in Pleasant Hill, in 1901, West started talking to newspaper reporters about Eden.

He had heard various theories about the purpose and origins of the Mound, but he didn’t believe them. It could not be a large gathering place—there was not enough room on either side of the snake mound for large crowds to gather without falling off the cliff. He had heard that the “snake” might be a made-up symbol; he wasn’t having it. The soil-serpent’s jaws, he said, were in realistic proportion to the rest of the snake’s body. How did he determine this? He went out and “measured living serpents.” A daunting task, but one that proved to West that this snake wasn’t just some figurative rendering, it was meant to represent the “real” snake of the Garden of Eden.

Reverend West even incorporated Professor Putnam’s research into his own. Putnam had tested the soil of the Mound to determine its age, and he discovered that the soil of the mound was much older than the soil nurturing the trees and farms in the surrounding area. Therefore, according to West, the snake must have existed before Noah’s Flood, which would have washed away all the rest of the topsoil around, leaving only the Mark of Eden.

Native Americans could not have built it. No, the “noble dimensions and perfect proportions of this majestic figure” suggested to West “the hand and intelligence of a divine creator with limitless resources.” This left West in a quandary, since even by the late nineteenth century it was well-known that the Serpent Mound was created by Native Americans, and “fairly intelligent” ones at that, as the New York Times put it in 1894, when it reported a local fox-hunter’s discovery of Native grave sites near the Mound.

West neatly solved this problem by agreeing with the scientists: the “Mound Builders,” not the Native Americans, built the Serpent Mound. Of course the scientists believed that the Mound Builders were Native Americans, but West saw things differently. He believed that the Mound Builders were America’s first people: Christian people who “most assuredly” knew something of the Bible events recorded in the Serpent Mound.

And because of those burial sites discovered nearby, we could tell for sure that the Mound Builders “had wars, and burials, thus showing that they were of the one human family,” the family that began with Adam and Eve. They were just like us: they died because they had sinned in the eyes of God. They made their mark, and then they were swept away by Noah’s flood. The Indians—the ones who “yet dwelt” in parts of America in 1901—didn’t show up until after the Flood. (West didn’t say so, but it was implied that these “Red men” were not like us.)
West wasn’t the first to draw a line between imagined ancient Americans and the present-day Indians who “yet dwelt” in America, nor would he be the last. It was a useful divide. If America was a land unspoiled by human contact—a renewed Eden—what were the settlers to make of the Native Americans who were already here? Were they an idyllic race representing a pre-Fall Paradise? Or were they a troubling reminder that the land was not in fact laid out by God for Europeans? Splitting Native American history in two—pre-Flood and post-Flood, as West would put it—allowed West to have it both ways.

And now, at the turn of the twentieth century, the American Eden had yet another new beginning in store. Ohio’s population was starting to expand, bringing in not just German Baptists from Pennsylvania but other “Pilgrims” from Europe, “in various tongues and colors,” in search of an independent way of life. These new immigrants had found “a free and peaceful home in the wilderness of America.” And hadn’t the prophet Isaiah foretold that in the last days, all Earth’s “wilderness should be made like Eden”?

Ohio had Eden’s requisite abundance: hills, valleys, rivers, forests. An unexpectedly wide variety of trees grows near the Serpent Mound, including chestnut, pine, sourwood, red cedar, yellow oak, maple, willow, sycamore, elm, cork elm, cottonwood, and the Ohio buckeye. That’s almost—as the Bible describes Eden—“every tree that is pleasant to the eye and good for food.”

West even had an Ohioan solution to the problem of the four rivers of paradise. One mile north of the serpent, he said, the three main streams of the Brush Creek all come together and flow southward, where they join the fourth branch of the Creek near the snake’s head. “Thus giving four streams of water, as Moses names, to form a Union of one stream, at the very head of the serpent, which here marks the land of Eden.”
West believed in the literal truth of every word of the Bible. But he also paid careful attention to what the Bible didn’t say. When reporters asked him how he could go against the commonly held belief that Eden was somewhere in “the East,” in Asia, West noted, accurately, that nowhere in the Bible does Moses actually write that Eden was in Asia.

According to West, people only assume that the Garden of Eden was in Asia because the Bible says that Noah’s Ark landed on top of Mount Ararat, and there is a Mount Ararat in what’s now Armenia. But Noah didn’t start out on Mount Ararat. God created Adam in Ohio, and all the generations between Adam and Noah lived there. Then came the Flood, which lasted five months. Noah built his Ark on the Mississippi River and was “given a floating” downriver with the help of the prevailing currents, which were doubtless strong during such calamitous rainfall. For the sake of argument, West assumed that at an average speed “of only two miles per hour,” Noah could travel 48 miles a day. So 7,500 miles in five months—the distance between the Gulf of Mexico and Armenia—was hardly a stretch.

Once you start to take the Bible at its word, you can get in trouble. Strictly speaking, the Bible doesn’t say “Armenia” either. It says the Ark settled in “the mountains of Ararat,” which some scholars think is actually an ancient typo. If you accept the premise that the Bible’s Eden story originated with the Babylonians—and most scholars would—the geography doesn’t fit neatly. The mountains of Armenia were outside the known world of the ancient Babylonians. On the other hand, the mountains of “Urartu,” in the northern part of what’s now Iraq, were not. Hebrew words consist only of consonants, and in translation, sometimes the wrong vowels get assigned. That’s what likely happened with Noah’s arrival point. The mountain now known as Ararat was likely named after the Biblical typo; Armenians nearby still refer to it as Mount Massis.

But wherever the Ark landed, said West, from the time of the Flood to the time of Plymouth Rock, people had had to rely on oral tradition to perpetuate the Eden story. This was unfortunate, because for all those years the Serpent Mound, “this perfect illustration of thought and of history” was right here in Ohio. “For people to now say there was no such a land as Eden is no honor to them, to our race, or to our Creator, who has been so careful of it as to locate it, to name it, to describe it, to mark it and preserve it even until now.”

The Columbus correspondent for the St. Louis Republic wrote a lengthy article expounding on West’s theory: “Preacher Says Ohio Was Garden of Eden; holds that the Famous Serpent Mound Marks the Exact Home of Adam and Eve.” The story was picked up in Chicago, Omaha, and even as far away as New York. The Elyria [Ohio] Reporter ran a story from the Chicago Record-Herald in which West’s theory is considered “certainly ingenious if not always convincing.” Still, the reporter recommended keeping an open mind.
“It certainly cannot be maintained by any good American that there are insurmountable reasons why the Garden of Eden should have been located in some Turkish province rather than in the grand old State of Ohio. Let us not, therefore, be too ready to cry down the theory of the Rev. Mr. West.” (Had the Elyria Reporter known of Dr. George C. Allen’s nineteenth-century theory that the Garden of Eden had begun at the North Pole and then rotated around the world and landed under Cincinnati, he doubtless would have considered it to be corroborating evidence.)

The good-humored Secretary of the Ohio Historical Society, Mr. E.O. Randall, played a large role in propagating West’s theory. First he printed the Herald article in the quarterly journal of the Ohio Historical Society. Then he reprinted the theory—or as he called it, a “fancy”—in the annual anthology of the journal the following April of 1902, with a caveat: “The following article is not exactly archaeology nor history though it contains something of each. It is, however, so unique and entertaining that we reproduce it as it has been given to the public in the daily press. Here is food for the ‘higher critics,’ the Egyptologists, archaeologists and the Biblical students of all classes.”
West was proud that his theory had reached those outside of the church. He kept multiple copies of the Historical Society publications. The entry for Landon West in the Brethren Encyclopedia notes that he received “wide recognition” for his “carefully presented” theory. At a time when European critics and archaeologists were getting worldwide attention for shaking up our ideas about the Bible, and attaching them to the faraway banks of the Euphrates, in some Turkish province, this German Baptist preacher had come up with a homegrown solution. And who wouldn’t rather have Eden nearby?

A sixty-mile state road had just been built passing right over the Brush Creek. You could drive right up to the Serpent, through the new gateway, onto the grassy lawn “where the serpent picture lies for all to see.”

In October 1907, Randall published the second edition of a 128-page booklet about the Mound—“an attempt to present in popular form all that is worthy of publication” about the Mound, “the origin and purpose of which was still a mystery.” It was a popular mystery; the first 1,000-copy edition of the booklet had apparently sold out, and visitors were clamoring for more. On page 93, under the heading “Curious Theories,” Randall again reprinted West’s Garden of Eden fancy. Randall called West’s idea “amusing,” “ridiculous,” “curious” and “fantastic.” But he still published it. He was willing to do anything to bring more people and more attention to the Mound.

Early in 1908, Randall successfully lobbied the Ohio General Assembly for the then-lavish sum of $500 to build an observation tower overlooking the earthwork. The Columbus Wire and Iron Works Company won the contract, and the 6,000-pound tower—twenty-five feet tall with an eight-square-foot platform on top—was transported south to Adams County and erected near the Serpent’s tail.
Finally, reported Randall, “from the platform the observer may see and carefully study the entire length of the serpent which heretofore could not be viewed entire from any one point, owing to the irregular convolutions of the Serpent.” The new development wasn’t lost on West. He took the new visibility as his opportunity to finally broadcast his theory himself. He had an 18-page pamphlet entitled Eden’s Land and Garden with Their Marks Yet to Be Seen printed for him by a friend in nearby Troy (one copy by mail: 6 cents). He printed his pamphlet because he hoped that people would see the marks. And now they could.

West didn’t want others to make the mistake he had as a boy, of assuming the “serpent lesson” was “sealed,” or “intended for others.” West had given up trying to keep communion closed. His lesson was intended for everybody, German Baptist or not. His pamphlet reads more as a sermon than a theory. It repeats itself. There are lots of exclamation marks. Rules of evidence do not apply. Because Reverend West used the word “fruit” for “sin” and the word “death” for “losing our immortality,” it is easy to misread his pamphlet as a treatise against the consumption of poisonous fruit. Like a sermon, West’s theory is original and deeply felt. And like sermons, the Eden theories of Bible believers like West are only as convincing as the person behind them. Reverend West believed that the Bible is the Word of God, and Moses was a “writer of history.” Given these beliefs, when confronted by an unexplained thousand-foot-long snake, what was the preacher supposed to think? The way he saw it, he hadn’t gone out in search of Eden, Eden had come to find him.

The Mound, this majestic symbol of ancient history, needed a spokesperson. “It has not sought to court or please the opinions of people but to teach and give faith to all people.” Now that Eden had been “definitely located,” what did he want to happen next? According to West, all of mankind, whether they were church members or not, Bible-readers or not, had a tremendous opportunity to learn the “object lesson” of the Serpent Mound. The lesson was simple: sin no more. And stick together. In the chaos at the turn of the century, the need for stability was strong. When West was a boy, the whole of Adams County had consisted of just a few farming families, many of whom had belonged to the four united German Baptist churches. Now there were “over 500 styles of religion” in the world and fifteen houses of worship in Brush Creek Township alone. In fact, Brush Creek Township didn’t even exist anymore; now it was called Peebles. In 1908, West’s church had agreed to change its name from “German Baptist Brethren” to the “Church of the Brethren” to avoid confusion with either Germans or Baptists. Everything seemed to be changing at all times. His country, his family, and his church had all split and re-formed themselves in his lifetime. Even God’s Word did not mean what it used to. But the Serpent hadn’t changed; it hadn’t crumbled, split, or been washed away. Indeed, it had been restored to its past glory and become more and more prominent. This gigantic mark, universally readable, had clearly survived for eons, “through floods and flames.”

And now, finally, its day had come. The earthbound illustration had “even more power than is now shown in the Bible.” Much as it must have saddened him to say so, West now realized that “the Bible cannot unite the people on any one thing.”

If the Bible wasn’t universal and transparent, that left the serpent lesson as “the only mark of unity that our world, with its nations, races, and religions, now has.” What was the lesson of the traditional symbol of original sin? “This great serpent lesson shows the mark to unite all humanity in one line of descent that goes back to creation, showing things in common to all people.”

One might have expected a message along the lines of “Repent, ye sinners, or burn in hell!” But by 1908, Reverend Landon West was sixty-seven years old. He would live for eight more years, eventually dying of a cerebral hemorrhage in 1916, but his constant poor health may have made every day feel like his last. His daughters had married, his sons were seeking education elsewhere. He had once been full of hellfire and brimstone, but it had all been preached out of him. He just wanted humanity to have a second chance to follow the rules. “Had Eden’s tempted ones stood united in loyalty, to God’s law, their peace, their liberty and happiness would have continued.” And as long as humanity refused to give up sin, the serpent lesson would stand.

Brook Wilensky-Lanford is the author of Paradise Lust: Searching for the Garden of Eden.

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The Serpent Lesson: Adam and Eve at Home in Ohio

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