Even the most casual student of the Bible knows that Adam and Eve were cast out of the Garden of Eden because they ate the forbidden fruit. Have you ever wondered what kind of fruit brought such dire consequences to them and all of their descendants? As it turns out, lots of people have many different answers. Which — if any — are correct?
The incident that ended up casting its long shadow over everything that would happen since is recorded in the second and third chapters of the book of Genesis. After creating Adam, “The Lord God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to work it and take care of it. And the Lord God commanded the man, ‘You are free to eat from any tree in the garden; but you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat from it you will certainly die.'” (Gen. 2:16-17).
At some unspecified point after this, the serpent tempted Eve to eat the fruit. “When the woman saw that the fruit of the tree was good for food and pleasing to the eye, and also desirable for gaining wisdom, she took some and ate it. She also gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate it. Then the eyes of both of them were opened, and they realized they were naked; so they sewed fig leaves together and made coverings for themselves.” (Gen. 3:6-7).
The word fruit appears in Hebrew as פֶּ֫רִי (pərî ). What kind of fruit was forbidden?
For many in the West, the conventional wisdom is that our first parents were banned from Eden for eating an apple. This notion may have arisen out of a misunderstanding or an intentional pun. Mălum is Latin for evil. Mālum, on the other hand, is derived from the Greek μῆλον, which means apple.
According to a number of Jewish traditions, the forbidden fruit was a grape. Rabbi Meir, the Zohar, the midrash of Bereishit Rabah, and the Greek Apocalypse of Baruch all point to the fruit of the vine being the delicacy that Adam and Eve found too desirable to pass up.
Immediately after partaking of the forbidden fruit, Adam and Eve realized they were naked and sewed fig leaves together to hide their nakedness. On this basis, some have pointed to the fig as being the object that earned Adam and Eve their banishment from Eden. The most famous depiction of the fig as the forbidden fruit was painted by Michelangelo in his masterpiece fresco on the Sistine Chapel ceiling.
Based upon the theory that the Garden of Eden was located in the Middle East, some scholars have proposed that the forbidden fruit was the pomegranate, an indigenous fruit of the region. The association of the pomegranate with knowledge of the underworld as provided in the Ancient Greek legend of Persephone may also have given rise to an association with knowledge of the otherworld, tying-in with knowledge that is forbidden to mortals.
Another theory will resonate with sufferers of celiac disease. Some consider wheat to be the source of all evil in the world. In Hebrew, wheat is “khitah”, which has been considered to be a pun on “khet”, meaning “sin.” Rabbi Yehuda proposes that the fruit was wheat, because “a baby does not know to call its mother and father until it tastes the taste of grain.”
Once sin entered into the world, it spread like a pervasive fungus. (Read about the fungus that is the largest living thing on the planet.) It shouldn’t be surprising, therefore, that some consider the mushroom to be the forbidden fruit of Genesis. A fresco in the 13th-century Plaincourault Abbey in France depicts Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden, flanking a Tree of Knowledge that has the appearance of a massive Amanita muscaria, a psychoactive mushroom. Terence McKenna proposed that the forbidden fruit was a reference to psychotropic plants and fungi, specifically psilocybin mushrooms, which he theorized played a central role in the evolution of the human brain. Earlier, in a well-documented and heavily criticized study, John M. Allegro proposed the mushroom as the forbidden fruit.
Other candidates have been proposed over the years, including carob, citron, and the pear. The simple fact is that we do not know. The Bible simply describes it as a fruit, with no further qualifiers.
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