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The Forbidden Fruit

Was the Fruit of the Tree of

Knowledge of Good and Evil Really an Apple?


By: David Deschesne

Editor/Publisher, Fort Fairfield Journal

February 9, 2011, p. 8

The Forbidden Fruit

The third chapter of Genesis gives an account of Eve, then Adam, transgressing God’s word and eating the forbidden fruit of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil. The popular version of the story in most of today’s Sunday schools and society’s vernacular is that fruit was an apple. However, the Biblical account does not mention what type of fruit they actually ate.

The original Hebrew word translated into “fruit” is פּרי (per-ee’)1  which means generically a fruit, such as a pineapple, fig, apple, orange, banana, etc. In Christian tradition, the fruit is generally thought to be an apple, both because it was a popular fruit in Europe and because the Latin translation of “bad” [or “evil”] is malum which also means apple.2   However, the Biblical account does not specify exactly what kind of fruit.

“Three primary meanings are covered by Hebrew [per-ee’]: (1) the fruit of a tree (Gen. 1:12); a vine (Zech 8:12); or a fig tree (Prov 27:18); (2) the fruit of the womb, i.e. children (Gen 30:2; Duet 28:4, 11; Ps 21:10, 127:3); (3) fruit as the consequences resulting from an action, e.g. ‘reward’ (Ps 58:11, Prov 11:30).3

Per-ee’ can also be used in the context of to be fruitful, or productive. First-fruit is contained in the meaning of per-ee’, which symbolizes the first produce harvested from a field, a first paycheck, or first-born offspring. Per-ee’ also is used to mean a reward for or result of effort expended, such as in the metaphors “fruit of your labor” or a bad person “bearing bad fruit”.

Whichever meaning is intended depends on the interpretation of what the “Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil” was. But, at any rate the word “apple” is not used or implied in the Biblical account.

The Book of Jasher has an abbreviated account of the eating from the forbidden tree, but never even mentions fruit—only “to eat from the tree...” and “took from the tree...”4


The Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil

The Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil - the forbidden tree - could have been an actual tree with real, physical fruit, or it could have been describing a thing or state of being existing in the spiritual realm that Adam and Eve were to avoid. Prior to the fall from the Garden, Adam and Eve were quasi spiritual/physical beings. While they had human form, they did not need to eat physical food and were able to communicate directly with God and His angels.5

In Biblical vernacular, “good and evil” is a colloquialism for knowing everything, such as to know the good and bad things—or omniscience. One interpretation of the forbidden tree considers this quest for omniscience to be “as the gods”, to be the transgression.

There are three interpretations about what eating of the fruit of the forbidden tree actually meant; the Ethical, the Intellectual and the Sexual interpretations.

The Ethical Interpretation. Eating from the Tree of Knowledge of good and bad (or “good and evil” as most older translations render it) provided man with moral discrimination and thereby made him capable of committing sin. Yielding to the serpent’s temptation and eating the fruit were two parts of the same act; once it was done, the relationship of man to God was essentially changed. Man’s expulsion from Eden meant that he could never return to his former state of ethical indifference; he had become a “choosing” creature.

Intellectual Interpretation. In the Bible, the expression “good and bad”(ורע טוב) sometimes means everything (Duet. 1:39; II Sam. 19:35), as when we say, “I know its good and its bad features,” meaning that I know everything about it that can be known. The tale may therefore be understood to say that primal man ate of the Tree of Omniscience. Having tasted of it, man forever after will attempt to know everything; he will, in other words, play the part of God.

Sexual Interpretation. The Eden story may also be read as the discovery not of man’s ethical or intellectual knowledge, but of his sexuality. This is suggested by the Hebrew word for “knowledge” ( דעת ), which has the meaning of experience, especially of sexual experience. Note that the story of the expulsion from Eden begins with a discovery of nakedness and sexual shame (Gen 3:7). Reading the tale in this light we see a link between the Tree of (Sexual) Knowledge and the Tree of Life. The latter, whose fruit would have bestowed earthly immortality, is no longer accessible. Man must now perpetuate his species through procreation, in the same way as other creatures do.6

The sexual interpretation is furthered by the Gnostics, who believe the “tree of knowledge” was the sexual climax.

The Hebrew word for Eden, is עדן ay’den, which means “pleasure, voluptuous, delightful.” which suggests that in the Garden there already existed a perpetuating state of pleasure, relaxation and bliss—all attributes of the climax—but that as quasi spiritual/physical creatures, the orgasm (i.e. the fruit of the tree of knowledge) was to be avoided because it would upset that state or condition that they enjoyed. The prohibition against orgasm likely does not extend to purely physical humans because after the fall the state of the spiritual/physical body was changed to purely physical and we became as all the other creatures, requiring sexual intercourse to procreate and continue our existence.

“All three interpretations do justice to the story, although there is some textual objection in each case. Whatever intent went into the earliest strands of the story, the three major themes outlined above have been thoroughly interwoven so that the fabric of the text exhibits not one theme but all and each is discernible, depending on the light in which the text is viewed.”7


1. Strong’s #6529

2. . The Torah: A Modern Commentary, ©1981 Union of American Hebrew Congregations, W. Gunther Plaut, ed., p. 35, footnote 6.

3. Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament, Vol. II ©1980 Moody Bible Institute, p. 734.

4. Jasher 1:10

5. see First Book of Adam & Eve LXV:4-10 (food) and LV:3 (angels)

6. The Torah: A Modern Commentary, pp. 38-39

7. op cit.