Alternative Character Interpretation / Religion and Mythology
Egyptian Mythology: Set. He might be the heroic guardian of Ra, a jealous brother, or a chaotic god of evil. The darker interpretations were the result of politics and not reflected by all Egyptians. Unfortunately for Set, the latter two are the more well-known in popular culture, and his place as the Egyptian god of evil is used in many modern sources, such as the Forgotten Realms. There are also some interpretations who view him as...sort of evil but nothing compared to Apep/Apophis.
While it is common Christian dogma that God is a God of love and is all-caring, the Book of Job, in which God screws over an innocent man's life by giving Satan free hands to maim and kill any- and everyone related to Job over a bet with said incarnation of evil, can be seen as evidence for the contrary. Making it even stranger is how the entire book is Job condemning God while his accusers tell him that God is all-loving - and then, at the end, after lecturing Job on how he's not qualified to critique God, God turns around and attacks his accusers, saying that "you have not spoken the truth about me, as my servant Job has." One interpretation of Job is that Job wasn't speaking badly of God but was demanding an answer off him while Job's friends are telling him that he must be doing evil things since God only punishes the wicked. Job learns in the end that God doesn't have to tell him why bad things happen to good people (and vice versa) while Job's friends are told by God that good things and bad things happen to good and bad people alike, and they should stop judging others when things go bad for them.
Almost every major atheist author has done a critique of the Bible which treats God as an evil, ego-maniacal tyrant and murderer. It's required. Consider the familiar Exodus story, where God kills the firstborn sons of all Egypt in the 10th Plague, but passes over the Jews. It's laughably easy to treat the story as an example of God Is Evil. Those sons hadn't enslaved His chosen people. Their fathers had. Instead, He sent His angel to murder males whose only sin was being the firstborn son of an Egyptian (first born sons could have been adults as well, it was about birth order, not age). And as to some justifications for god slaughtering them: We are supposed to believe he's all-powerful and some interpretations even outright say that god "hardened the heart of the Pharaoh" making the whole "convincing" a bad excuse at best (even though according to Midrash, this is meant to be a statement of the Pharaoh being hardheaded from birth and not some kind of direct action from God).Even though the death of those Egyptian boys can be seen as a retribution for the many Israelite boys, who had been killed when Moses was a baby. And later on in the Bible, it is made clear that God didn't see this as a light matter, but a necessary evil to free his chosen people from slavery.
Mark Twain in Letters From The Earth gives us this treatment of a lot of events in the Bible. His depiction of the fate of the Midianites is brutal. The Skeptic's Annotated Bible does this to the entire Bible. Richard Dawkins goes through many accounts of Biblical events and comes to the following conclusion: “The God of the Old Testament is arguably the most unpleasant character in all fiction: jealous and proud of it”. He goes on to say that while the Old Testament God was harsh and cruel, He did stop when those who angered Him were dead. The New Testament added in Hell. Christopher Hitchens gave similar interpretations of the character of God of the Bible many times. Sam Harris did it as well.
One defense, at least grounded in certain reformist sects of Judaism, is that Ancient Hebrew is a very allusive language with slippage between literal and metaphoric meaning (i.e. a given passage can be simultaneously literal and metaphorical, and true meaning is to be derived from percieving both at the same time) and that this subtlety lost value in the translation from Hebrew to Ancient Greek (the Septuagint was translated during the Ptolemaic era). According to this, we are not supposed to interpret the God of the Old Testament as a personal god, but merely a personification of the laws of nature and the universe, given human characteristics as a result of limitations of language. The argument for this is God stating to Abraham that "I am that I am" (YHVH), meaning that God simply "is" (existence, universe, the air we breathe and so on). As such God punishing the Pharoahs and commanding the deaths of children is merely a disease that affects the highborn and spares the Israelites, who as a result of their survival of this and many travails should consider themselves a "chosen people" (as is clear in the name Is-ra-el, He-Who-Fights-God, bestowed on Jacob after he apparently wrestled an angel (literal) or resolved existential questions within himself (metaphorical) ). In this view, applying a character interpretation to God makes as much as sense as asking the "Meaning of Life", and hence justifies the existence of The Talmud.
One of the issues with alternate character interpretation is whether or not humans have the right to judge God's actions. Those who believe that take a literalist approach, citing the first action a human ever took of her own volition: The eating of the fruit. God explicitly states that humans became like him/them: Knowing good and evil, presumably on the same level. This can be interpreted to mean that God is just as beholden to human morals as man is to God's, just we don't have as much firepower to back it up. Complicating this, is the first action undertaken by Adam and Eve after tasting the fruit, is putting on clothes when before they were happy naked and engaging in sex without shame with God's approval, which casts a different light on what is implied by "original sin", since one could see it as God's disapproval of people feeling they need to be ashamed and cover themselves in his garden, and it is the awareness of shame that is the true sin rather than the actions itself, i.e. God was a hippie peacenik who envisioned Paradise as a free-love nudist colony and regarded humans as Sell Out for Refusing Paradise and putting on clothes and going out in the world to find a real job.
This interpretation have been around pretty much as long as there have been Christians. Notably the 1st-to-2nd century bishop Marcion of Sinope dedicated most of his career to prove the Old Testament/Traditional Jewish God to be incompatible with the God Jesus speaks of. God admittedly claims Himself to be the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob: His chosen people are the Israelites. Hence, salvation is possible only for them in the Old Testament, for his Covenant was with the Hebrews. Then came the New Testament: the Old Covenant gave way for Jesus, the New Covenant, opening the possibility of salvation to all.
According to some Gnostic interpretations, suffering is required for whatever the ultimate state of the universe is. From there, it goes that God lived and suffered as a human as a way of saying "Hey, I'm not just torturing you guys for my own jollies. I'm willing to pay the price as well."
The Jewish interpretation is rather different: God has a special covenant with the Israelites, but also made a general covenant with Noah after the Flood, which is why "The righteous of all nations have a share in the world to come."
Then there's the alternate interpretation that God is above interpretation. Since humans are mortal creatures, and extremely limited (barely removed from our tree-dwelling, poop-flinging ancestors), there's no way we could really begin to comprehend an infinite being such as God, and trying to apply our own views and interpretations is the height of arrogance.
Is God either Good Is Not Nice or Good Is Not Soft? Can He be both? For the "not nice" part, He does a lot of things which humanity will find cruel, disproportionate, and evil, but in God's mind, it's fair and just (not to mention that He has a very hot temper in dealing with his loved ones and He didn't have any qualms in ruining Job's life in order for him to prove his faith). For the "not soft" part, He is kind, loving, and merciful, but He won't hesitate to punish those who have done evil, especially if it's downright monstrous. He also has the willingness to protect humanity from the hands of Satan. For both tropes to be in play, He appears to be a nice guy, but He's mostly wrathful and downright vindictive to those who have committed a sin, including minor ones, and all of the brutal things He does doesn't really make Him a clear-cut nice guy others expect Him to be.
A simple explanation for the difference in God's behavior in the Old and New Testaments is that after he lived life through Jesus, He saw that things were not as perfect as he believed them to be for the humans. God apparently has to learn certain things, too.
Of course morality varies widely throughout cultures. You can never satisfy everybody. For some people he could be acting perfectly reasonably, but there will always be Values Dissonance. Then of course there is the possibility of Unreliable Narrator, someone could be exaggerating what happens because it sounds better.
There are about six different versions of the Taking of Hippolyta's Girdle alone, never mind the amount of times someone goes all Shrodinger and is either dead or living on a different continent which later comes to be named after them.
As war has becoming less accepted in the world modern interpretations of Ares make him increasingly evil, rather than just a force of nature. This is arguably also true of Hades, which is based on fear of death rather than the simple acceptance he commanded from the ancient peoples. This also applies to The Greek Gods: Are they callous, but ultimately nice?Are they outright malicious, seeing humans as toys?Are they just plain dicks? Or maybe, like humans, they're just complicated. Or are they merely forces of power beyond human comprehension and manifestations of a capricious formless universe that the ancients were better able to accept for what it is, rather than later attempts to make Gods relatable to humans?
The Romans took this in the opposite direction, revering their Mars as a hero, as opposed to the childish and violent Ares of Greek myth. Technically, Athenian myth - the rivalry between Athens and Sparta was represented in that of Athena and Ares. The Spartans undoubtedly had a more positive view of Ares. He still wouldn't have been a nice guy, though - the Spartans had no use for nice guys. And besides, the Spartans' most important gods were Artemis Orthia and Athena of the Brazen House. Likewise, Athena was also regarded as a war god, especially in The Iliad but she represented a more orderly approach to warfare, one that tolerated great and brutal violence (like the sack of Troy) for the greater goal of conquest/subjugation, rather than Ares who represented the spirit of battle, fighting and survival. So between Athena and Ares, it's more a question of degree rather than kind. The Romans took the tack of giving Mars jurisdiction over farming as well, and thus over soldiering for the defense of one's crops. In other words Mars was a god of soldiers (militiamen to be precise) and Ares was a god of war.
The myth of Heracles is mostly known in the Theban version, where Hera appears as his inveterate enemy, but things probably looked very different in the unrecorded traditions of Hercules' native Peloponnesus, in particular his home town of Argos, where Hera was the most important deity. His name ("Glory of Hera") and episodes like Hera suckling the infant Heracles and eventually agreeing to him marrying her daughter Hebe have been seen as traces of a more positive portrayal of their relationship.
Some scholars argue on whether Sisyphus should be seen as a tragic figure punished by the gods with task he will never be allowed to finish or a Determinator who never gives up, no matter how many times he fails.
Helen who followed Paris to Troy, then returned to her husband Menelaus during the fall of the city. Did she follow Paris of her own volition, falling in love (or in lust) with him and being unhappy in an Arranged Marriage? Was she abducted? Was she brainwashed by Aphrodite who favors Paris? During the ten-years-long war, was she kept against her will or was she free to surrender herself to her husband to avoid more killings? Her decision to return to Menealaus while Troy was burning: did she genuinely regret of having left him or did she calculate her best chance of survival? Depending on the interpretations, Helen is either a Woobie or a Karma Houdini.
The Hindu religions of India and the Iranian religion of Zoroastrism: both derive from an older indo-iranian religion system mirrored their pantheon: in India, there are the good Devas (gods) and the bad Ashuras (demons), in Zoroastrism, there are/is the good Ahura and the bad Devas/Dehas/Deshas. For example, Indra is a powerful God of rain in India and once was one of the God Lords (before Vishnu and Shiva grew more popular), while in ancient Zoroastrism Indra is an evil demon of drought and whirlwinds. It probably confused the Zoroastrians big time when they entered India.
Early Christian tradition was practically an exercise of Alternative Christology writ large. Each of The Four Gospels included in the Bible present a different version of the Jesus story, ranging from the very human Jesus of Mark, to the stoic Jesus of Luke, to the Word-Incarnate of John. Other non-canonical Gospels of the day presented Jesus as a full-human whom God adopted, a full-deity only pretending to suffer and die, a human who was possessed by the spirit of Christ, or even a fictional allegory for transcendence of a person's inner spirit over their bestial inclinations.
Jesus is subject to several interpretations, either loving and preaching social justice and championing the little guy or issuing stark warning about end times and repentance. Just ask a socially conservative Republican and a Christian liberal about Jesus' character and how it applies to their personal philosophy. Either way, he isn't above flipping tables, scaring hypocrites out of temples, and yelling obscenities at political figures.
This website makes a case of Jesus being the son of Satan who came to lead people astray. The site is completely serious and relies heavily on textual analysis of the original Greek.
Some Buddhist and New Age philosophers have theorized that Jesus was not God Incarnate, but rather a man who had a spiritual experience that his religious education could not account for (possibly something akin to samadhi), and went around calling himself the Son of God because that was the closest analogue to his experience that Judaism could offer. Some have even theorized that at some point during the unrecorded years of his life, Jesus may have wandered eastward and studied the principles of Buddhism to try and gain a better understanding of what happened to him.
Alan Watts: If Jesus had been born in India, and went around saying, "I'm God!" They wouldn't have condemned him; they would have said, "Congratulations, you figured it out!"
As a Deist, Thomas Jefferson believed Jesus was an ordinary human and that all the miracles and stuff were added to the story later to make it more exciting or whatever. Nevertheless thinking that Jesus Was Way Cool, he created what's generally known as the "Jefferson Bible", which is basically the New Testament with all the supernatural elements removed.
Judas, from The Bible, is frequently given a sympathetic Alternate Character Interpretation - usually because the narrative seems to imply that without his "betrayal" Jesus would never have been arrested, and hence could not be tried or executed, and without which, the greatest mysteries upon which the Church is founded would have never come to pass.
In most of the Bible, In Mysterious Ways suffices as an explanation, but when we're talking about one of Jesus' close personal friends, other explanations are equally interesting. In the 20th-21st Century, Judas is a subject of lively revisionist debate. If Jesus' crucifixion was part of God's plan, and if in the Gospel of John, Jesus tells Judas "What you are about to do, do quickly", is Judas meant to be condemned for betraying Jesus anyway, even if he regretted it and punished himself for his actions, or should he be pitied and sympathized with for playing a no-win hopeless role that nonetheless leads to man's salvation.
The musical Jesus Christ Superstar is one of the most famous examples of the idea that Jesus was going to be arrested regardless of who betrayed him, or even if someone betrayed him. Judas, not Jesus, is the main character, and he betrays Jesus to the Romans not because he wanted the money, but because he was afraid; he believed that the crowds Jesus was drawing were becoming more and more radical, and he felt he needed to end things before large-scale violence broke out. The final scene consists of the entire cast, including Judas, in Heaven, singing a reprise of the title song and wondering what the significance of Jesus's life and death actually was. However, various interpretations of the show have also had Judas reprise the song from Hell, including a 2000 film version which has Judas taunt and goad Jesus on as he carries his cross.
Real World Example: According to the Cainite and Gnostic interpretation in the Gospel of Judas, Judas Iscariot didn't betray Jesus out of greed for money, but acted on Jesus' secret orders, because Jesus believed that his crucifixion was a part of God's plan, which would make Judas an instrument of divine purpose. The translation sponsored by National Geographic is an extreme Macekre of the original text - to the point that it omits the word "not" from a couple passages, completely changing their meaning. *Sigh.*
A secondary alternative character interpretation of Judas is that his "betrayal" was more of a Chessmaster ploy gone wrong. Judas wanted Jesus to stand trial and win. It would push Jesus's ministry to the forefront of the Jerusalem scene, and ironically Jesus's worst enemies would help fund it. His subsequent dismay was completely predictable.
A slightly modified version of the above would be that Judas fully believed in Jesus but was dismayed that, as the son of god, he wasn't forcibly casting the Romans out of Israel; merely quietly going around preaching and doing good works. By betraying him to the Romans, Judas hoped to bring it to a head so Jesus would have to show himself to be the Messiah, either turning the Romans to worship him or simply driving them out. When Jesus allows himself to be crucified, Judas is distraught as his plan has come to naught and commits suicide in shame and sorrow at the loss of both his friend and Messiah.
In Lamb: The Gospel According to Biff, Christ's Childhood Pal has an alternate interpretation similar to The Last Temptation in Film examples. But with eastern magic and judo powers, pun included. Judas is left mostly to the reader's interpretation, but appears to have done what he did because Joshua asked and was one of his closest disciples after Mary and Biff. The original characters can have their own alternate character interpretations: Notable examples include the exact nature of Balthazar 's feelings toward Joshua, and whether Joy was a cold The Stoic who snapped after the slaughter of her adoptive family, or was the most affectionate but tried to hide it. One character, the second wise man even intentionally made and lampshaded an alternate character interpretation of himself (two, if you count when they first meet him).
This trope applied to Judas is the premise of "Three Versions of Judas" by Jorge Luis Borges. According to the protagonist, Norwegian theologian Nils Runeberg, Judas is either 1) a loyal follower who intuitively understood the Kabbalistic truth that, for God to lower himself to become a man and die, it was necessary that a human being make a parallel sacrifice: to become a traitor and thus condemn himself to damnation; 2) a radical ascetic who believed that he was not worthy of righteousness, and therefore chose the most ignoble infamy to debase himself; or 3) Messianic Archetype, who truly made the ultimate sacrifice to redeem humanity: not a few hours on the cross, but eternal torment and lasting ignominy, being reviled as the worst of all sinners. Runeberg interprets the backlash engendered by his third thesis as a confirmation that God did not want his secret name to be known. He dies in the streets of an embolism (or something), ranting that his only desire is to join his Redeemer in Hell.
Judas: Jesus's willing collaborator and enabler of Christ's death and resurrection.
King Arthur: Try this one: Morgan le Fay is supposed to be Arthur's archenemy. She supposedly hated him because he owed his birth to the fact that his father, Uther Pendragon, murdered her father, Gorlois, and raped her mother, Igraine. Now let's look at what she actually did to her half-brother: she exposed the fact that his wife, Guinevere, was cheating on him with Lancelot. She herself slept with Arthur and gave him the son and heir, Mordred, whom his wife never gave him. Then, after Arthur and Mordred go to war over a misunderstanding, and Arthur kills Mordred at Cammlann, receiving a mortal wound himself in the process, Morgan carries him to Avalon to be healed. So, her undying enmity for her half-brother was exposed by her exposing the fact that his wife was cheating on him, then sleeping with him and bearing him a son, and then, after he kills their son, forgiving him and healing him. Perhaps, far from hating him, Morgan loves her brother, albeit in an unhealthy way, and is trying her best to be good to him.
Morgan as Mordred's mother is mostly a recent innovation - in older material, that's usually Morgause (or Anna, if we go back to when Arthur wasn't his father). Morgan in her earliest appearances is just a healer, then becomes an enemy of Lancelot and Guinevere but not too ill-disposed towards Arthur; it's only by the later Middle Ages that she's mostly evil, and really only in modern interpretations that she becomes the Arch-Nemesis - mostly because she's the only "bad guy" who's there right through the story, so if you want Arthur to have an archnemesis she fills the role better than anyone else. (In most versions, btw, she tries but fails to expose the adulterers - it's Mordred and Agravaine who succeed. This in itself has been subject to a bit of alternate character interpretation: modern versions often make Mordred an Diabolical Mastermind exposing them as part of his plot to bring down Camelot, whereas in earlier versions it seems to be a genuinely well-intentioned plan devised by Agravaine; things go south accidentally, and Mordred seizing power afterwards is pure opportunism.)
To be fair to Lot's daughters, they seemed to really believe that they and their father were the only three people left on Earth. So that is why they thought that they needed to get pregnant by him: they believed that they had no other choice if the human race was to survive! Of course, they must have realized very soon how wrong they had been. But they did it in a panic and out of ignorance rather than out of some creepy lust for their own father.
Anyone in the The Mahabharata and the Ramayana has had alternative character interpretations attached to them and it is not just in modern times. Kamban Ramayana, the first regional translation of the Ramayana in something like the seventh century portrays Ravana from being the Big Bad to sympathetic Anti-Hero whose one moral flaw was women and similarly, the Orissan interpretation of the Mahabharata portrays the protagonist, Prince Pandavas, as an Jerk Ass for participating in the Kurushetra War. Region, gender and class/caste all influence one's interpretation of both these epics.
Professor Roychowdhury interprets Amba as a Yandere whose murder of Bheeshma was motivated by his refusal to marry her. The main evidence for this theory is that Amba devotes years and years to getting revenge on Bheeshma specifically... not Salva (her ex-lover, who cast Amba out and called her a whore) or her dad (who offered Amba's hand in marriage even though she liked someone already). And she only does that after trying every possible option to get Bheeshma to marry her. Vyasa explicitly states that the two loved each other, but couldn't be together because of honor.
Ramesh Menon interprets Amba's story as one of Grey and Grey Morality which had to happen because destiny said so. (Bheeshma shouldn't have abducted Amba, Salva should have accepted Amba back, and Amba herself should have been brave enough to speak up before Bheeshma's chariot reached Hastinapura or compassionate enough not to blame Bheeshma - who was only following Kshatriya tradition - to the extent that she devotes her life to getting revenge on him.) In Menon's translation, Bheeshma's death is a Mercy Kill which he recognizes as such and accepts.
Native American Mythology: Coyote. He's portrayed as everything from God's best friend to a parallel to Satan. In some stories, he's the hero. In others, the villain. He is sometimes portrayed as an absolute badass, or as The Chew Toy. In some stories, he creates the World out of kindness. In others, he does stuff like placing the stars by kicking over the table they were on because another of the Animal People wouldn't let him make a constellation of his own, or releasing the sun and moon into the sky because he was too curious to leave the box they were in closed. He can be a real Jerkass, or even The Woobie.
Noah's drinking: innocent mistake because the fermentation process was different after the flood, simple drinking habit he'd always had, or his way of dealing with all he had seen? Perhaps some combination thereof.
Loki. Should you casually make mention of him as a 'bad guy', you will be chastised by both his hurt/comfort-obsessed fangirls and mildly saner (if snootier) fans of the earlier Eddas, who'll point out that most of the versions of the myths in which he's a bastard date from relatively late in the game. Turn around and say he's a good guy, however, and numerous people will pat you on the head and say, "Awww, that's adorable. You actually think there are good guys in these stories."
To be fair, even in the grimdark interpretation of Norse Mythology, Loki's penchant for "mischief" does set him apart on quite a few occasions for simply going too far for even the tastes of the most sadistic among the Asgardians.
Odin, dear gods, Odin. He's portrayed as a Big Good in modern times, but this is... arguable... for a number of reasons: first off, one of his nicknames is Oathbreaker, meaning that he is FAMOUS for committing one of the biggest sins in Norse Myth, breaking his word. Further, Odin sacrificed his eye to gain wisdom, and allowed himself to be hung by his neck from the World Tree for nine days to gain knowledge of runs and magic. This means he is capable of making any sacrifice for power, regardless of cost (case in point, when Loki was bound, on Odin's orders, Loki's son was murdered and his guts were turned into iron chains to bind him. Which means Odin had an innocent person murdered so he could get back at Loki, who admittedly did kill Odin's son Baldr). Also, Valhalla: the only real condition that you have to meet to get in is to die fighting. It doesn't really matter which side you were on, or what kind of person you were, you just had to die in battle, although there was still a limit - murderers, adulterers and oath-breakers (the scum of the Earth as far as the Norse were concerned) were sent to Náströnd, the nastiest part of the underworld, regardless of how they died. If you were badass enough that no one could ever kill you and you died of old age or illness, then through no fault of your own you went to the cold, dreary and comparatively very boring Hel, although the Norse, as a people rich in reivers, pirates and warriors, had a very good chance of dying fighting, and would prefer to do so anyway. Odin wanted his paradise filled with the roughest, toughest, hardest bastards who ever lived, so that when Ragnarok came, he'd have an army of the best soldiers who ever died to fight for him - although in all fairness, he only got half of the honorable dead. The other went to Fólkvangr, where his wife Freya ruled.
And naturally, alternative views to this abound, with many viewing his sacrifices as appropriate to what he gained (and he was the only one who suffered from them anyway), and his desire to have an amazing army backing him when Ragnarok to be quite reasonable, considering what Ragnarok would be like.
It sounds like he only took in the second best warriors, maybe some first-rate ones. The best warriors are the ones who have gone through hell and survived it, and they get sent to Hel from dying of old or illness. What was the quote from Gaiden Senji from the elder scrolls games? "The best techniques are passed on by the survivors".
Odin used the Valkyries note meaning (roughly) "the Choosers of the Slain" to select who was going to end up in Valhalla after a battle. Exactly how this worked is unclear, sometimes their mission seems to be to make cause someone to die in battle even if they were an unkillable badass; at other times they seem to have just collected the pick of the crops after the battle was over. Either way, this could be used by the skalds to explain why a great hero had fallen ("Odin sent for him") or to comfort the survivors ("your friends are probably feasting in Valhalla now"). In any case, the Valhalla myth seems to have provided motivation for courage in battle.
Alternatively, Odin killing Loki's son may be more of Values Dissonance justice than morally suspect revenge. The Code of Hammurabi, which had the phrase "an eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth" among other things, specifies that a house builder whose work fails and kills the owner will be killed, but if it kills the owner's son, the builder's son will be killed. The idea of justice being proportional to the crime rather than equal to the crime (perhaps adjusted for differences between the victim and perpetrator) is a relatively recent development.
Incidentally, contemporary historical sources describe Pilate as a typical iron-fisted Roman overlord, quite unlike his biblical portrayal as an ineffectual ruler who only sentenced Jesus because he was pressured. One way to reconcile this is to assume that Jesus was so awesome that even Pilate thought he was innocent. Another is that the authors of the Gospels were deliberately whitewashing the Romans and demonizing the Jews for propaganda reasons. Others have brought up that Pilate may have worked out that the religious leaders were trying to manipulate him, and given his hatred of the people he ruled under he would be inclined to go against them out of spite.
Russian Folklore: Baba Yaga - depending on the work, she's either the most common Wicked Witch who Eats Babies and lives on a house on chicken legs, flying on a mortar and pestle. Other times; she may be a crone...but is sought out for her wisdom or has guided lost souls.
Genesis, the first book of The Bible, depicts The Serpent as a simple talking snake. Later Christian interpretations cast The Serpent as Satan (in disguise!), whereas the Gnostic texts of the fourth and fifth centuries depict the snake as a teacher of humanity. One interpretation of the Serpent paints him similar to Prometheus from Greek mythology: defying God to make humanity more intelligent and independent, suffering damnation for his efforts.
And Satan is the simple character compared to God, who put the tree there in the first place. Is he following a ineffable plan the mere attempt to comprehend which would destroy our puny minds? A petty tyrant looking for a way to torture us and call it our fault? A genuinely compassionate being, foiled by an equally powerful adversary? A loving parent, leading but not pushing us into growing up, and developing free will and responsibility? Or maybe he just has the right to say what can and can't be done with his own stuff, like a land-lord renting the house but not the garage? Or perhaps it's an allegory meant to convey that God understands that for mankind to truly love him they have to be given the option not to. Or is that just too reasonable?
In Atlas Shrugged John Galt's interpretation of Genesis is that after eating the fruit humanity gained morality and after that (when they had to begin working) productivity, main virtues.
There's also the idea that he is metaphor for sex and the loss of virginity.
There is also the idea that Adam and Eve left the Garden more or less voluntarily because once their eyes were opened they realized it was completely and utterly dull.
Jewish Interpretation: before the knowledge of good and evil, Adam and Eve were static creatures unable to create things. They left because the garden, being perfect, was too small for them. they were subsequently given a broken world to fix together with God.
One interpretation of Genesis is that the first man Adam was split into male (ish) and female (ishshah) halves, neither having primacy (rather than thinking of Adam as "first" and Eve as "second"). [And thus god was not forgetful, nor was the same story told twice]
Satan, a truly evil heartless bastard out to get humanity simply because God loves them so much, as mentioned above God's former number one son seeing his master for the evil bastard and attempts to stop him from creating a truly tortured creature, man, yet fails and is sent to hell, OR a man jealous of how humanity is given free will and favor over god's fully devoted servants whom were there first and done much more for god than man could possibly dreamed of. The final straw was being forced to bow down to a being so undeserving.
Consider, Satan doesn't do anything evil in the entire Bible. In Genesis, he teaches Adam & Eve good and evil and is cursed for it. In Job he's acting specifically with God's approval. He supposedly rebelled against God, along with 1/3 of the Angels, but what's wrong with rebelling against an oppressive ruler? He "tempts" Jesus by offering him wealth, power and prestige. Most of the worst acts in the Bible are done by God, on God's orders, or by humans acting of their own free will.
Ah but did Satan teach Adam and Eve the ideas of Good and Evil, or did he merely convince them to eat the apple and watch them become filled with sin? With Job, was he merely following orders, or was he secretly wishing to inflict pain on Job all along? After all, he was the one who brought it up in the first place and not once did he ever object to any of God's orders which, considering that satan's as rebellious as he is, doesn't make sense. For Satan rebelling against God consider how life in Heaven was, most accounts claim it was paradise before Satan rebelled, just like it was in Eden before the serpent screwed things up. Tempting Jesus was indeed a bad thing, because Satan was pretty much saying "Hey, if you stick it to your old man right now I'll give you whatever you want!"
Satan comes from the Hebrew word "Ha-Satan", which translates to "opposer." There are many ways you can interpret that:
Satan is the opposer as in the rebel. He's antagonising God because he thinks its the right thing to do. Because he just wants to be free. He's not corrupting us, he's freeing us. The reason he tempts Jesus is that he's trying to convince Jesus to live his own life, because the path he followed lead to his rather painful death and a lot of horrible things throughout history would be done in his name. This is the interpretation by Satanists and most dysthiests/atheists who think God Is Evil.
Satan is the opposer as in the accuser. He's the ultimate Secret Test of Character, trying to corrupt humans to detect the righteous from the wicked. He never fell. The reason he tempted Jesus was because it was a test to prove that Jesus was worthy to be God's prophet. This is the interpretation by most Jews.
There are also a few interpretations on what kind of monster Satan is. Is he simply like the Joker, wanting to cause as much hell as possible for no earthly reason while knowing that he's gonna go down? Or is he causing all of the hellfire and mayhem even while knowing he's gonna lose because he knows it'll break God's heart to see his people being tormented so.
According to the Qur'an, the Virgin Mary was a single mom (but still a virgin), and Jesus uttered the whole "first stone" speech at a few days old, in the defense of his mother, and not the unnamed woman caught in adultery. He also ascended to heaven before he was crucified because god wanted to spare him from the a horrible painful death.
It's explicitly stated in Genesis 3:22-24 that God was afraid that Adam and his as-yet-unnamed wife would eat of the Tree of Life and live forever, thus becoming like Himself. Since immortality is seen as abnormal for humans, this would seem to indicate that when God created both humans and Eden, He included mortality in the design plan:
And the LORD God said, Behold, the man is become as one of us, to know good and evil: and now, lest he put forth his hand, and take also of the tree of life, and eat, and live for ever; Therefore the LORD God sent him forth from the garden of Eden, to till the ground from whence he was taken. So he drove out the man; and he placed at the east of the garden of Eden Cherubim, and a flaming sword which turned every way, to keep the way of the tree of life.
Immortality was supposed to be the natural state of humanity, which Adam & Eve lost by sinning. Their punishment was to die, so allowing them to eat from a tree that would make them immortal would be allowing them to escape that punishment.
The whole Cain and Abel story. Was God being arbitrary? Was Cain unfairly treated? Was Abel an asshole that was never recorded? Did Abel actually earn the prize? Was it a Secret Test of Character Cain failed miserably? Or was Cain denied the prize for the evil in his heart? Or did he even understand what he had done before it was too late, or did he repent afterwards?