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    Was it really an apple? – Ask the Rabbi

    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”) which 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.

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