Christianity Knowledge Base

The Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil was the tree in the middle of the Garden of Eden that God had commanded Adam and Eve to not eat from. The Bible gives no specifics on what type of fruit or other foods it produces; the only thing it says about this tree is that it gives "the knowledge of good and evil" to whoever eats from it. Adam and Eve are the only people to ever have eaten from it, and thus all of the human race has "the knowledge of good and evil". Upon Adam and Eve eating it, they realized they were naked and covered themselves. It is commonly depicted in popular culture as an apple tree, although this is probably not an accurate portrayal of the tree's identity, which is theorized to be a peach or pomegranate.

The Fall of Man[]

In Christian theology, the tree is closely connected to the doctrine of original sin. The Apostle Paul wrote that sin and death entered the world through Adam, but that Jesus saved us from the penalties of sin and death Romans 5:12-21; 1 Corinthians 15:21-22. Western Christianity generally affirms St. Augustine's doctrine that all of humanity has inherited both sin itself and the guilt for Adam and Eve's sin. By eating of the fruit of the Tree, Adam and Eve chose to substitute their own knowledge of good and evil for God's. However, since human knowledge is limited, human morality is inherently flawed. From God's perspective, human morality is depraved, although different denominations debate whether this depravity is total or partial, and to what degree humanity can freely choose to follow God's morality. By contrast, Eastern Christianity believes that the fruit of the tree distorted humanity's nature; sin itself is inherited, but not the guilt for Adam and Eve's sin. A minority of Christians affirm the doctrine of Pelagius, which states that while Adam and Eve set a bad example by eating from the tree, their sin does not directly affect the rest of humanity. Rather, Pelagianism states that we all face the same choice between sin and salvation that Adam and Eve faced.

According to a medieval Christian legend, the Tree of Knowledge was the source of wood for the True Cross. In some interpretations, the Tree of Knowledge represented the cross, while the Tree of Life represented Jesus Christ. Martin Luther's Christmas sermons used this analogy.

Gordon Hugenberger notes that courts were often set up near trees in the ancient Near East. For some capital offenses, the condemned was hung from a tree Deuteronomy 21:22. Meredith G. Kline compares the Garden of Eden to a temple: The garden was a rectangle bounded by four rivers, and the temple was also a rectangle. God was present in the temple-garden, and Adam was the priest. The priest's duty was not only to obey God, but also to deal with offenders such as the serpent. Adam and Eve were thus meant to judge the serpent, but instead listened to the serpent and disobeyed God.

The fruit of the tree[]

The Book of Enoch 31:4, purporting to be written by the antediluvian prophet Enoch, describes the Tree of Knowledge: "It was like a species of the Tamarind tree, bearing fruit which resembled grapes extremely fine; and its fragrance extended to a considerable distance. I exclaimed, How beautiful is this tree, and how delightful is its appearance!"

In Western Christian art, the fruit is most commonly depicted as an apple. One possible reason for this arises from a medieval pun. It was a source of humor to monks that the Latin word for evil was similar to the word for apple. Thus it was often said that by eating the malus (apple), Eve contracted malum (evil). There is, however, no textual or historical evidence by which to argue the literalness of this image.

Ethno-botanists have proposed the iboga plant (Tabernanthe iboga) as the Tree of Knowledge. The bark of the root contains a dissociative substance, ibogaine, which has been traditionally used in Bwiti religious ceremony in Central Africa. Other hallucinogens, in particular the Fly agaric mushroom, have also been proposed as the Tree.

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