Was the fruit of the Tree of Life from which Adam and Eve ate really an apple?

October 19, 2022 by Rabbi Raymond Apple
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Ask the rabbi.

Rabbi Raymond Apple


Q. Was the fruit of the Tree of Life from which Adam and Eve ate really an apple?

A. The text (Gen. 2:7) doesn’t say a word about apples. All it speaks about is the fruit of the tree of knowledge of good and evil.

Whatever fruit it was, Adam was warned not to eat it. He disobeyed, as did Eve, and their punishment was expulsion.

Now was it literally a piece of fruit that they ate, or was the “fruit” allegorical?

How, after all, could eating a physical piece of fruit be wrong? And why should anyone think the text is talking about an apple when apples are regarded so highly later on in the Bible?

Surely the verse is teaching a moral lesson, and the word “fruit” is not to be taken literally.

As an analogy, remember that we have common idioms such as “the fruit of one’s deeds”, which no one takes literally as a reference to apples, oranges or any other specific fruit category.

The lesson the Torah is teaching is that there are some kinds of indulgence (hence the word “eat”) that are out of bounds.

In this case, there is a clear sexual implication; when Adam and Eve replaced purity and holiness with sensuality and lust, their Garden of Eden was over.

However, the belief that there was an actual apple must have come from somewhere.

In the Midrash, there are suggestions that the fruit that symbolised the forbidden indulgence could have been a fig, grapes, wheat, quince, pomegranate, nuts or the “apple of paradise”, i.e. the etrog (citron).

This last view is promoted in the Septuagint and elsewhere, and Nachmanides, in fact, sees the name etrog as deriving from an Aramaic root denoting passion or desire.

In time, the word “apple” may have come to be the general term for any fruit, and when Biblical and post-Biblical writers said (e.g. Song of Songs 2:5) that apples were good for one’s health, they may have been thinking of fruit in general.

It was early Christian writers (e.g. Jerome) who identified Adam’s sin with an actual apple, perhaps because they misconstrued the Greek references to the apple of paradise or possibly because the shape of the apple suggested a sexual connotation.


Q. How is it that some rabbinically qualified people take on jobs outside the rabbinate?

A. This was always the case.

Because of the principle, “Do not make the Torah a spade to dig with” (Avot 4:5), Talmudic rabbis practised a variety of professions; one was even a gladiator.

The concept of the rabbi was quite different from the modern idea of a congregational minister. The rabbi was no more (or less) than a learned layman. Certain professions became particularly common among rabbis, especially medicine.

The modern spread of yeshivah learning has created thousands of rabbis who work in industry, commerce and the professions. Indeed, when the Lubliner Rav, a great rosh yeshivah, was asked where he was going to find congregational posts for his 300 students, he said he expected only one would be a community rabbi but hoped the other 299 would be learned enough to appreciate their congregational colleague.

Rabbis who work in other areas ought to be able to exert a subliminal spiritual and ethical influence and to raise the quality of society from within.

Whatever the profession he chooses, a rabbi must always ensure he is a role model of morality and decency.


3 Responses to “Was the fruit of the Tree of Life from which Adam and Eve ate really an apple?”
  1. Robert Hagedorn says:

    They are supposed to eat the allowed fruit (Genesis 3:2) from the Tree of Life, and this fruit has never been identified as an apple. The myth of the apple fruit that begins with Jerome’s incorrect interpretation of the Septuagint, as Rabbi Apple(!) states, is that it is the forbidden fruit in the following verse (Genesis 3:3) from the other tree, the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil. So what do they eat?

    For thousands of years, the identity of the forbidden fruit eaten by Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden story has been unknown. If the fruit is the traditionally believed apple, or another literal fruit, it would simply be called by its literal name, and not the fruit of the tree of knowledge of good and evil. Because eating a piece of this literal fruit would give only knowledge of the literal fruit’s taste, not knowledge of good and evil. So…

    If literal fruit is not the fruit in the world’s oldest and greatest mystery story, then what is the fruit? Why are the two super secret trees assigned the mystical names “tree of life” and “tree of knowledge of good and evil?” Is the talking snake Evil Angel speaking words, or does the talk represent something more subtle? Could two men have yielded to Adam and Eve’s temptation? Why would a smart man and woman eat from a forbidden fruit tree, instead of from one that is NOT forbidden, especially when both “trees” are right next to each other in the center of the Garden? How is the couple’s disobedience of the very first commandment to be fruitful and multiply while in the Garden linked to their decision to make only fig leaf aprons, instead of complete clothing, in this incomprehensible narrative, with its guesswork of interpretations and its hints of sexual behavior?

    A lone exegesis combines all six questions for one answer, using only evidence in the dreamlike Bible chronicle, for an intelligent and sensible explanation of the world’s oldest and greatest fruit mystery. This evidence in the Genesis 2 and 3 Bible story identifies the fruit as carnal pleasure. The solid evidence offers no support for historical fruit identity opinions. But, even with the evidence, is this unique exegesis the correct exegesis?

    Bad Day in the Garden

    They eat the fruit, but what do they eat?
    We lift the veil, for a wary peek.
    Through a forest of mystery hiding it all,
    We see a body, naked and weak.

    “The Random House Dictionary of the English Language” defines allegory as “a representation of an abstract, or spiritual meaning through concrete, or material forms; figurative treatment of one subject under the guise of another.” It’s difficult to imagine a better definition than this one. But it’s even more difficult to imagine anyone making any sense of the second and third chapters of Genesis by taking everything in the two chapters literally. When was the last time someone went into a grocery store and bought some knowledge of good and evil fruit?

    Although most elements in Genesis 2 and 3 represent something else, there are a number of facts in the story that can be taken at face value.

    1. Adam and Eve have real human bodies.
    2. Adam and Eve are not wearing any clothes.
    3. God has forbidden them to do something.
    4. They have disobeyed God.
    5. God has punished them both for their disobedience.

    The above five facts form the basis for the religious beliefs of many people who are not interested in allegories, and of many who are. But there is an all-important sixth fact, the knowledge of which would do no harm to anyone’s religious beliefs.

    This BODY is the Garden in whose center grow
    The two famous trees, but nowhere a weevil.
    Here is the tree of life and the one
    Of knowledge of good and knowledge of evil.

    This sixth fact is the key that unlocks the door, opens it, and solves the mystery: both trees are in the center of the garden. This fact is so important that it is mentioned, not just once, but twice: Genesis 2:9 and Genesis 3:3. (In Genesis 3:3 the tree of life is not specifically mentioned, but we know it is there, because we were told it is there in Genesis 2:9.) Technically, both trees could not occupy the center of the garden at the same time, unless they were entwined. But, there is no evidence for entwinement here. What these two verses tell us, is that both trees are very close to each other.

    Because the two trees are right next to each other
    Care must be taken to avoid the one bad.
    For the fruit of both trees is pleasure,
    So the pleasure is there to be had.

    To be fruitful and multiply eat from the first.
    But eat from the second and no one conceives.
    So here we go now: one, two, three–
    Pleasure, shame, fig tree leaves.

    God’s first commandment to Adam and Eve was to be fruitful and multiply. To be fruitful and multiply, eat from the first. But eat from the second and no one conceives. Adam and Eve eat from the forbidden second tree, and as a result, produce no children while in the Garden of Eden. Instead of engaging in the procreative process as commanded, they use, as a procreative organ, a delivery system designed for delivery, but not for delivery of children.

    This material is not just a brain teaser, nor hopefully is it an example of sophomoric cleverness. It’s really quite simple: explanations of certain fearful mysteries buried in the story for thousands of years, have been exhumed by using verse, rather than prose, to more easily reveal these explanations. The quality of the verse is both irrelevant and unimportant.

    Please note: some parts of the story are totally acceptable as both symbolic and literal narrative, at least up to a point. For example, the symbolic garden can be juxtaposed with a literal garden, complete with fruit trees. Other sections can be taken as literal accounts, extra material such as Genesis 3:20-21, in which Adam gives Eve her name and God shows compassion for the pair by clothing them in animal skins for warmth, before evicting them from the garden, symbolic and literal, into the graceless and cold outside world where they forfeit their gift of eternal life they would have had if they had eaten only from the tree of life. (Genesis 3:22)

    Preliminary Wrap

    The Genesis story tells us in Genesis 2:9 and 3:3 both trees are in the center of the Garden. So the forbidden Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil is right next to the allowed tree, the Tree of Life, and its fruit. If the forbidden fruit from the forbidden tree is literal fruit, the eating of this fruit would give only knowledge of the fruit’s taste, not knowledge of good and evil. But the covering of the genitals with fig leaf aprons following the eating of the “fruit” does indicate sudden acquisition of knowledge of good and evil, a knowledge that results in a certain type of shame. It is difficult to understand how eating literal fruit results in this type of shame. And it is difficult to understand how normal and necessary physical relations between Adam and Eve result in this type of shame, since the first and only specified commandment to them is to “Be fruitful and multiply” in the Garden, a commandment they disobey, because no children are produced until after the eviction from Eden, and after they have normal and necessary physical relations for the first time in Genesis 4:1. But their obedience is too late: guardian cherubim and a flaming sword prevent reentry into the Garden.

    Adam and Eve execute a double disobedience when they eat of the forbidden fruit–they fail to procreate, by doing what they are forbidden to do. And they fail to procreate, by not doing what they are commanded to do. Both failures occur simultaneously. The fruit in the Garden of Eden is not forbidden carnal pleasure, but forbidden nonprocreative carnal pleasure–nonprocreative carnal pleasure derived from a specific forbidden physical act.

    Postscript: Traditional Identity of The Fruit Persists

    The widespread belief that the fruit is an apple has its genesis in the 12th century, based on Saint Jerome’s earlier 4th century Vulgate translation, in which he substituted the later corrected “malum,” meaning “apple,” for “malus,” meaning “evil,” to identify the forbidden fruit Adam and Eve ate. And this error remains the apex identity reaching us in the 21st century, still based on no evidence for the existence of a literal fruit. But to end on a positive note, the acceptance of the evidence-based exegesis of the identity of the fruit in the world’s oldest mystery story is at last making headway, as increasing numbers of people manage to set aside the emotions and feelings spinning them in circles, and acknowledge–at least until a better exegesis appears–the evidence in the Bible story of the talking fruit snake. This long-forgotten exegesis explains everything as it superimposes the allegorical Eden Garden upon its literal counterpart. The exegesis offers enlightenment for the untrue and oft repeated, “Only God knows what fruit they ate.” Yes, a Deity would know what “fruit” they “ate,” but the evidence in the Genesis story reveals the Deity’s knowledge of the fruit’s identity to anyone who wishes to know, and has the courage to overcome their emotional resistance and uneasiness resulting from being exposed to this knowledge. Would this exposure be eating forbidden knowledge once again? Would a Deity want us to remain ignorant of the Genesis story’s meaning? No to both questions, because our garden is not their Garden–we are not living in the Garden of Eden’s state of grace. And secondly, the evidence in the story clearly tells us that Adam and Eve did not disobey the “be fruitful and multiply” Genesis 1:28 commandment for the purpose of acquiring knowledge of good and evil. Their acquisition of this knowledge was a byproduct of their disobedient behavior, which was to experience nonprocreative physical pleasure by eating allegorical fruit from the allegorical wrong tree in the center of an allegorical garden, while at the same time quite possibly living in a literal garden with literal fruit trees and literal snakes that do not talk to women.

    Just Another Doctrinal Neologism?

    Is this exegesis beginning with Genesis 1:28, continuing through Genesis 2 and 3, and concluding with Genesis 4:1 just another neologism? No, it is not. If the exegesis is only another neologism, but not the exhumation and revelation of the original story, then not only do the individuals who first hear the story have absolutely no idea what the story means, but neither does the original storyteller. Imagine the storyteller saying, “Sometimes I just say things. I don’t know what they mean.” It is somewhat difficult to imagine this event happening.

    If it does happen, then the original storyteller tells the story while having no understanding of the words being said, unless the storyteller decides to deliberately disguise and beautify the story, to hide its true meaning. This will certainly require complex ability, to intentionally mystify at the very dawn of human consciousness. It will also require the original listeners to not ask the original storyteller any questions about this new story–a story that makes no sense. So, the mystification probably happens later. And, of course, when it does, everyone will know the meaning of the entire story. For a while.

  2. william h rocheblave says:

    thank you, rabbi, for giving a lesson on Adam and eve. From a different perspective that helped me see from another view of Adam and eve. That I wouldn’t have thought anything sexual about that scripture.

  3. Liat Kirby says:

    I should like to see further discussion of the sexual aspect of the Garden of Eden situation. For purity and holiness alone won’t allow propagation, whereas the sexual appetite normal to human beings will. There is no reason why all of this can’t be combined – indeed, that’s what makes for the finest relationship. And, from my reading, Jewish law and custom celebrates sexuality, at least within marriage, so this flies in the face of the Garden of Eden story and Adam and Eve?

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