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The Tree of Knowledge, painting by Lucas Cranach the Elder

In the Book of Genesis, the tree of the knowledge of good and evil or the tree of knowledge (and occasionally translated as the tree of conscience, Hebrew: עֵץ הַדַּעַת טוֹב וָרָע, Etz haDaat tov V'ra) was a tree in the middle of the Garden of Eden. (Genesis 2:9) A companion tree, the Tree of Life, was in the garden, also. God directly forbade Adam (Eve having not yet been created) to eat the fruit of either tree. A serpent later tempted Eve, who was aware of the prohibition, to eat the forbidden fruit from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil (Genesis 3:1-6). The serpent had suggested to Eve that eating the fruit would make one wise. Eve and then Adam ate the forbidden fruit, and they became aware of their nakedness (Genesis 3:6-7). After this, in order to deny them access to the tree of life (and, hence, immortality), God banished the couple from the garden and forced to survive through agriculture "by the sweat of [their] brow" (Genesis 3:19-24). God set a guard about the garden to protect the tree of life from Adam, Eve, and their descendants.

A similar story is mentioned in the Qur'an, the holy book of Islam.


Translation Issues

God forbids Eve to pick the fruit from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil
marble bas-relief by Lorenzo Maitani on the Orvieto Cathedral, Italy

Gordon and Rendsburg[1] have suggested that the phrase טוֹב וָרָע, translated good and evil, is a merism. This is a figure of speech whereby a pair of opposites are used together to create the meaning all or everything, as in the English phrase, "they searched high and low", meaning that they searched everywhere. So the tree of the knowledge of good and evil they take to mean the tree of all knowledge. This meaning can be brought out by the alternative translations tree of the knowledge of good and of evil (the word of not being expressed in the Hebrew) or tree of knowledge, both good and evil. The phrase occurs twice as applied to the tree, Genesis 2:9, Genesis 2:17. It also occurs twice as describing the knowledge gained Genesis 3:5 and Genesis 3:22 where it may be translated perhaps with knowledge, both good and evil.

In Judaism

According to the Jewish tradition God commanded Adam and Eve not to eat from the tree that was to give free choice and allow them to earn, as opposed to receive, absolute perfection and intimate communion with God at a higher level than the one on which they were created. According to this tradition, Adam and Eve would have attained absolute perfection and retained immortality had they succeeded in withstanding the temptation to eat from the Tree. After failing at this task, they were condemned to a period of toil to rectify the fallen universe. Jewish tradition views the serpent, and sometimes the tree of the knowledge of good and evil itself, as representatives of evil and man's evil inclination.

Judaism generally recognizes no "evil" other than the evil actions of human beings. Eve's only transgression was that she disobeyed God's order. Adam and Eve were expelled from the Garden and had to live ordinary, human lives.

Rabbi David Fohrman of the Hoffberger Foundation for Torah Studies, citing Maimonides' Guide for the Perplexed, states that "the tree did not give us moral awareness when we had none before. Rather, it transformed this awareness from one kind into another." After eating from the Tree, humanity's innate sense of moral awareness was transformed from concepts of true and false to concepts of good and evil. Genesis describes the tree as desirable (3:6), and our concepts of good and evil, unlike our concepts of true and false, also have an implicit measure of desire. [3]

In Christianity

In Christian theology, the tree of knowledge is connected to the doctrine of original sin (Gen 2:17 and 3:1-24).


Catholic teaching

Catholic interpretation goes back to Augustine of Hippo, who taught that the tree should be understood symbolically but as a real tree - similarly to Jerusalem being both: real city and a figure of «Upper Jerusalem», heavenly city. Another example was Sarah and Hagar, real persons representing two covenants: Old and New (Gal 4,24n).[2] The bishop of Hippo underlined that the fruits of that tree were not evil by themselves, because everything that God created was good (Gen 1:12). It was disobedience of Adam and Eve, who had been told by God not to eat of the tree (Gen 2:17), that was obnoxious and caused disorder in the creation.[3] Augustine taught also that humanity inherited sin itself and the guilt for Adam and Eve's sin.[4] This doctrine of inherited guilt was accepted by the Roman Catholic Church at various Councils, including Carthage (418), Second Council of Orange (529), and Council of Trent (1546)[5]. Catechism published after Second Vatican Council states clearly that Adam and Eve's "human nature depraved of original holiness and justice" is "transmitted by propagation to all mankind" (CCC 404). Consequences of the original sin, which remain in the human nature even after baptism, are not bound to sexual dimension alone, but "it can refer to any intense form of human desire (...) It unsettles man's moral faculties and, without being itself an offence, inclines man to commit sins" (CCC 2515).[6] By eating of the fruit of the Tree, Adam and Eve sought to be like God.

Other Christian Traditions

Some Christians debate over the Western doctrine of original sin and the Eastern doctrine of ancestral sin.[7]) There is a minority of Christians that affirm the doctrine of Pelagianism, which believes every individual faces the same choice between sin and salvation that Adam and Eve faced and that ultimately each person can by themselves and without God's assistance (grace) overcome sin or temptation. There are some non-denominational Christians who do not accept the idea of original sin, because they believe that we are not born into sin, we are born into a sinful world. Therefore children are innocent until an age of accountability and the decision to accept Jesus Christ is possible with full understanding. Illuminism as per gnostic mysticism has been associated with the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. To the Christian, the tree of life is Jesus Christ, and not by higher knowledge, but only by faith in the atonement brought by His blood, true life in Him can be found and restored.

In Islam

Muslims believe that when God created Adam and Eve, he told them that they could enjoy everything in the Garden but this tree, and so, Satan appeared to them and told them that the only reason God wouldn't want them to eat from that tree is that they will become Angels or become immortals.

When they went near this tree they became aware of their nakedness and realized the size of the mistake they had made. As a result of their sin, they were removed from heaven and placed on Earth to live and die. Consequently, they repented to God and asked for his forgiveness and were forgiven. It was decided that those who obey God and follow his path shall be rewarded with everlasting life in Heaven, and those who disobey God and stray away from his path shall be punished in Hell.

Trees in other religions

Illustration from the Ockelbo Runestone, Sweden.

Similar trees appear in other religions. The same story with male, female, serpent and tree can be found - 22 centuries before the version of the story we know from the Bible - depicted on a mesopotamian cylinder seal, so the later versions are - more than probable - copies of the original.[citation needed] In the closest, most relevant comparison, the iconic image of the tree guarded by the Serpent appears on Sumerian seals; it is the central feature of the Garden of the Hesperides in Greek mythology, where the guardian serpent receives the name Ladon. In Buddhism, the Buddha became enlightened under the Bodhi tree. In Vedic Hinduism, the Tree of Jiva and Atman is usually interpreted as a metaphor concerning the soul, mind, and body. In the Norse sagas, the ash tree Yggdrasil draws from the magic springwater of knowledge. To some who believe the Bible is filled with allegories, the tree of the knowledge of good and evil is actually a library or some other form of educational writings.[citation needed]

Freudian (psychological) interpretation

A rather Freudian interpretation is that knowledge of good and evil, or simply good and bad, refers to the recollection of a memory with an implied judgement. This is a natural process for neurological systems (humans and animals) to make to avoid pain or gain pleasure. However, human consciousness includes extensive recollection and teaching such as by the use of books, which could be called a fruit from the tree of knowledge. It is clearly distinguishable from the simple awareness of other animals. This allows human beings to make deliberate choices that they consider beneficial even if they include an element of pain.[citation needed]

The process of maturation occurring in the incidents around the tree describes, in an abstract way, the splitting of the human consciousness into the limited context of conscious thought and the underlying all-aware unconscious.

New Age interpretation

According to some, the tree of the knowledge of good and evil in Genesis may mean the beginning of dualistic thinking, and the Garden of Eden represents the previous spiritual world, a world of enlightened mankind, a world of oneness. Ishmael, a 1992 novel by Daniel Quinn, discusses the tree of the knowledge of good and evil as representing the story of the Fall Of Man.

Fruit of the tree

The pseudepigraphic Book of Enoch 32:4, dating from the last few centuries before Christ and purporting to be by the antediluvian prophet Enoch, describes the tree of knowledge: "It was like a species of the Tamarind tree, bearing fruit which resembled grapes extremely fine; and its fragrance extended to a considerable distance. I exclaimed, How beautiful is this tree, and how delightful is its appearance!"

In the Talmud, Rabbi Meir says that the fruit was a grape.[8] Another Talmudic tradition suggests that Eve actually made and drank wine.[9] Rabbi Nechemia says that the fruit was a fig[8] while Rabbi Yehuda, is that the fruit was wheat.[8]

In Western Christian art, the fruit is commonly depicted as an apple, (they originated in central Asia). The source of this apparently lay in a Latin pun: by eating the malum (apple), Eve contracted mālum (evil).[10]

Proponents of the theory that the Garden of Eden was located somewhere in what is known now as the Middle East suggest that the fruit was actually a pomegranate, this is due in part to the fact the pomegranete was native in the region[11]. This ties in with the Greek myth of Persephone, where her consumption of six pomegranate seeds leads to her having to spend time in Hades[12].

See also


  1. ^ Gordon, Cyrus H.; Rendsburg, Gary A. (1997). The Bible and the Ancient Near East (4th ed. ed.). New York: W.W. Norton & Co.. ISBN 0-393-03942-0. OCLC 35785632. 
  2. ^ Augustine, On the Literal Meaning of Genesis (De Genesi ad litteram), VIII, 4.8; BA 49, 20
  3. ^ Augustine of Hippo, On the Literal Meaning of Genesis (De Genesi ad litteram), VIII, 6.12 and 13.28, BA 49,28 and 50-52; PL 34, 377; cf. idem, De Trinitate, XII, 12.17; CCL 50, 371-372 [v. 26-31;1-36]; De natura boni 34-35; CSEL 25, 872; PL 42, 551-572
  4. ^ The City of God (Book XIII), Chapter 14.
  5. ^ Cf. Decree Concerning Original Sin (June 17, 1546)
  6. ^ Cf. Council of Trent, DS 1515.
  7. ^ See Hughes, Antony. "Ancestral Versus Original Sin: An Overview with Implications for Psychotherapy". Cambridge, Mass.: St. Mary Orthodox Church. Retrieved 2006-05-11. 
  8. ^ a b c Berachos 40a; Sanhedrin 70a. CF [1], accessed September 7, 2006.
  9. ^ Bereishis Rabah 15:7; 19:1; Zohar Bereishis 36a and Noach 73a. CF [2], accessed September 7, 2006.
  10. ^ Adams, Cecil (2006-11-24). "The Straight Dope: Was the forbidden fruit in the Garden of Eden an apple?". The Straight Dope. Creative Loafing Media, Inc.. Retrieved 2008-10-06. 
  11. ^ "Purdue New Crops Profile". 
  12. ^ "Encyclopedia Mythica article on Persephone". 

Bible wiki

Up to date as of January 23, 2010

From BibleWiki

Stood in the midst of the garden of Eden, beside the Tree of Life (Gen 2:3). Adam and Eve were forbidden to take of the fruit which grew upon it. But they disobeyed the divine injunction, and so sin and death by sin entered our world and became the heritage of Adam's posterity.

This entry includes text from Easton's Bible Dictionary, 1897.

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