An old posting on a recurring topic:
I certainly do not claim to have done exhaustive research, but I would
like to present what I have found concerning Gan Eden account as
In the first place, there is no source that I could find that holds that
the whole of the Gan Eden account is allegory. Such as opinions
concerning an allegorical interpretation exist, they pertain only to the
nature of the "Nachash", the serpent in the story. The opinion that the
serpent was not a real live creature, while distinctly a minority view,
is the view of the Sfornu on the episode (Bereishis 3:1) with the
serpent and the "Efodi" Commentary on the Moreh Nevuchim (Ibn Tibbon
edition, II:30, pp. 51-52).
In my opinion, this is clearly not the Rambam himself's position, and I
invite readers to peruse the Moreh themselves (p. 356 in the Pines
I note that the Abarbanel mentions that the Rambam himself holds the
episode allegorical, but he clearly was influenced by the Rambam's
commentators, whom he calls the Rambam's "friends."
The Abarbanel himself, however, is critical of the Rambam (according to
his understanding of him). The Abarbanel, in fact, uses reasoning that I
used in my previous postings: It is incorrect to take texts that the
Torah conveys as actual factual description and interpret them
allegorically! He does give some novel interpretations of the events in
Gan Eden, but all true to a factual perspective.
The Sfornu's view does have legitimacy, however, because it has a source
"And the serpent: Rabbi Yitzchak said, this is the yetzer hara [evil
inclination]. R. Yehuda said, the serpent was an actual serpent. They
came befor Rabbi Shimon [b. Yochai]. He told them, certainly both
opinions are one. The serpent was Samael and he appeared on [in?] the
serpent, and the visage of the serpent is that of the Satan and all is
(Zohar Chadash 35b; Torah Sheleima vol. 2 p. 252) (readers not familiar
with that work should understand that it is an exhaustive, comprehensive
and encyclopediac compilation of all Chazals and most Rishonim and many
Acharonim on Torah she'bi'ktav)
(We see, BTW, from the Zohar Chadash that those that equate the serpent
with the evil inclination thus need not dismiss its actual existence,
but rather see it as "evil incarnate" (see the Nefesh HaChaim 1:6 in the
Now, to me it seems quite clear that R. Shimon b. Yochai rejected R.
Yitzchak premise that it was only the yetzer hara and R. Yehuda's
premise that it was only an actual serpent, but rather explained to them
that it was both. Nevetheless, the Sfornu is perhaps entitled to adopt
the opinion of R. Yitzchak.
I could not find any Chazal or Rishon that takes the rest of the account
of Gan Eden as allegorical. Indeed, the Ramban in his commentary 3:22
and in the "Toras HaAdam" (Kisvei Ramban vol. 2 p. 295 in the Mossad
HaRav Kook edition) takes great pains to stress that Gan Eden and all
the events that occured therein actually existed in this world, and that
references to a spiritual Gan Eden in Chazal, refer to a parallel
spiritual realm that also really exists, and that the events that
transpired in Gan Eden below also transpired in that Gan Eden on high.
Again, I only checked Rishonim at my ready disposal, but these seem
pretty clear. Rabbinu Bechayei takes the view of the Ramban, of
course.The Ibn Ezra as well is adamantly opposed to allegorical
interpretation (See Nechama Leibowitz's "Iyunim" p. 14 as well). So is
R. Sa'adia Gaon.
So far the Sfornu is all I found. Bear in mind: a) that he too takes
the rest of the Gan Eden account as literal; b) that he was not adverse
to the surreal (see his link of "Tumah" and demons in his "Kavanos
HaTorah"; c) the Sfornu himself weaves in and out of the allegory in
3:14. The last point causes me to wonder if the Sfornu is actually
engaging here in exegesis - perhaps this is actually homiletics?
Yet, be that as it may, the Sfornu only makes this jump here where he
can cite verses from Nach (and where we find basis in Chazal) in which
the tern "Nachash" is used as an express allegory for the Evil
Inclination and the Power of Fantasy. The Sfornu certainly did not take
the Flood as allegorical - there is no basis for that, even according to
the Sfornu's non-mainstream approach here. Thus, although according to
Tradition, as previously mentioned by other MJ posters, there is
precedent - albeit slim - for an "allegorical" interpretation of a
highly specific aspect of the Gan Eden account, there is no such
tradition in the case of the Flood.