Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil

Contributed by Rabbi Geoffrey W. Dennis

The tree at the center of the Garden of Eden. God forbade the primordial couple from eating its fruit, but at the prompting of the serpent, they did anyway.1

Because it is the source of the fall of humanity, it is sometimes also called the "Tree of Death."2 The exact type of fruit that Adam and Eve ate was a matter of rabbinic debate. Candidates put forward include: grapes, pomegranates, etrogs, and figs. One Sage even argued for wheat, but his colleagues ridiculed him for that claim. Fig has been the most obvious choice, because only a few verses later it is described how they made garments of fig leaves.3 There is also a Talmudic tradition that the leaves of the Tree contain the knowledge of magic and consuming them grants one such gnosis.4

The Tree of Life is linked to Atara (Keter) in the Sefirotic system.5

Article copyright © 2004 Geoffrey Dennis.


French and German artists commonly depicted an apple in their works from the twelfth century onward. John Milton's Areopagitica (1644) explicitly mentions the fruit as an apple.