Did You Know ... The Fruit of the Tree of Knowledge was NOT an Apple?

Imagine the scene. The serpent is speaking to Eve. He is tempting her with the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil. Eve is holding in her hand an item of produce. A fruit. The fruit. The fruit which, when eaten, will violate God's Law, break man's covenant with God, and open the floodgates of sin and death into a hitherto pristine Earth. 

What does the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge look like? 

Did you imagine in the cradle of Eve's hand an ... apple? 

Wrong! It wasn't an apple. Did you know that the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil was NOT an apple? 

If not an apple, then ... what was it?

[Also, stay tuned for my comic strip at the end!]

First off, if you don't believe me, re-read Genesis 3 (reproduced below). 

I promise you, the word "apple" doesn't appear anywhere in Genesis 3:1-7:

Now the serpent was more subtle than any other wild creature that the Lord God had made. He said to the woman, “Did God say, ‘You shall not eat of any tree of the garden’?” And the woman said to the serpent, “We may eat of the fruit of the trees of the garden; but God said, ‘You shall not eat of the fruit of the tree which is in the midst of the garden, neither shall you touch it, lest you die.’” But the serpent said to the woman, “You will not die. For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate; and she also gave some to her husband, and he ate. Then the eyes of both were opened, and they knew that they were naked; and they sewed fig leaves together and made themselves aprons.

Isn't that weird? If you're like me when I was first told this, you might be feeling like this is some kind of trick. It's not. 

So, where did we get the idea that the fruit of Original Sin was an apple? Why does every Children's Bible and every Sunday school class have an image of Adam, Eve, and the apple? 

Why does every painting ever of the Fall of Man depict an apple? Was Michelangelo just lying to us? Milton? 

No! It's a pun. A Latin pun, no less. 

To get to the bottom of this, we have to go all the way back to the fourth century A.D. when Pope Damasus I asked his secretary to translate the Bible into Latin, the so-called "vulgar tongue." 

That translation became known as the Vulgate, and the secretary was Saint Jerome. Saint Jerome would spend the better part of the next 15 years in the city of Bethlehem, translating the Bible from Hebrew and Greek.

In the Hebrew Bible, a generic term, peri, is used for the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil. In his book Aguecheek's Beef, Belch's Hiccup, and Other Gastronomic Interjections, Professor Robert Appelbaum -- Yes! the professor's name is actually Apple-baum! -- describes the biblical provenance of the apple. [1]

Appelbaum, a professor of English literature at Sweden's Uppsala University, says that St. Jerome had  several options for translating peri. "But he hit upon the idea of translating peri as malus, which in Latin has two very different meanings. As an adjective, malus means bad or evil. As a noun it seems to mean an apple, in our own sense of the word, coming from the very common tree now known officially as the Malus pumila."

The Malus pumila is the species name of the apple tree. 

So malus means bad or evil like "malice," but it's also a word for apple. St. Jerome made a pun!

So, if the Fruit of the Tree of Knowledge wasn't an apple, what was it?

Re-read the passage from Genesis 3, above. Though you won't find the word "apple," you will find the name of another fruit ...

What fruit is mentioned specifically in Genesis 3? 

... and they knew that they were naked; and they sewed fig leaves together and made themselves aprons.

Fig! It is much more likely that the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge was a fig. 

The Hebrew word peri could be basically any fruit. According to Appelbaum, "Rabbinic commentators variously characterized it as a fig, a pomegranate, a grape, an apricot, a citron, or even wheat. Some commentators even thought of the forbidden fruit as a kind of wine, intoxicating to drink."

In Saint Jerome's time, even the word malus could refer to any fleshy, seed-bearing fruit, such as a pear, a peach, or even a fig.

Michelangelo actually gets it right: 

Michelangelo, Sistine Chapel, The Fall of Man and the Expulsion from Eden

Look at the leaves in Michelangelo's depiction of the Fall. Those are fig leaves! Before reading this, didn't you, like me, just assume it was an apple tree?

It was actually a 1504 engraving by Albrecht Dürer that marks the shift from fig to apple, from the Italian Renaissance to the Northern Renaissance. 

Wait ... Fig Leaf Clothing?

So, we've had the First Sin, right? Original Sin. For more on what actually happened at the Original Sin and how this relates to Lent and Jesus' Temptations in the Desert, read this.

Next, God shows up in the Garden. Adam and Eve hide. They know they messed up. 

God says, "Where are you?" (As if He didn't know.) 

Slowly, they creep out of hiding, and God asks, "Who told you that you were naked? Have you eaten of the tree of which I commanded you not to eat?"

Game over. Adam and Eve confess their sin. Sort of. Adam points his finger at Eve, God, and the serpent, but not himself. Adam blames every other person on earth, but himself. Eve is far more contrite. 

So what is this? The First Confession in human history. 

We've now had the First Sin and the First Confession - what comes next? 

The First Penance in human history.

Let me ask you a question. A Louisiana boy like myself takes fig trees and summer fig-picking for granted, but have you ever felt a fig leaf or fig sap? It's probably the itchiest substance known to mankind. 

Now imagine making clothes with fig leaves and covering your private areas with these extremely itchy leaves. Bad idea! 

Here's that COMIC I promised: 

Those fig leaf clothes were the First Penance! I would even argue they were the first "hair shirts." 

This isn't my joke. The credit belongs to my Scripture professor, the eminently amazing Dr. Brant Pitre. Please go read all of his books:

So the Apple's Not an Apple - What If the Serpent's Not a Serpent?

Now, what if I told you the serpent wasn't really a serpent?? What if the little garter snake in Dürer's 1504 engraving, above, isn't at all what is depicted in the Bible? For that, stay tune for next week's post! 

Also, what happened after the Fall and Original Sin? What was God's plan to fix what Adam and Eve messed up? Read about the Protoevangelium here - this is where God lays out his plan of redemption with three prophesies. 

[1] Read m
ore about the Latin pun here.


  1. The first confession was not contrite. It may have been an invalid confession. They were blaming each other.
    If they would have been truly contrite maybe things would have been different.

    1. Possibly, that's interesting. I would say that Eve's confession was much more contrite than Adam's.

  2. Scott Smith is correct according to my research. The clue to the fruit from the tree of knowledge of good and evil is the mention of fig leaves being used to cover their nakedness. Not addressed by Scott Smith is what was the fruit on the Tree of Life that bestows immortality if eaten? The Bible has the answer. Note that in Genesis God stations the Cherubim to prevent access to the tree (Gen 3:24) by Adam and Eve. Later, we are told that Solomon decorated the Temple in Jerusalem with Cherubim and Palm Trees (1 Kings 7:36, Ezekiel 41:25)). Palm trees bear dates as their fruit. Ergo the Date Palm is apparently the Tree of life in the Garden of Eden.