I thought a lot about the nature of the tree when I was writing my novel Creation and Fall. Here’s what I came up with, which isn’t necessarily what actually happened, but which is at the very least a plausible modern reinterpretation:
After the serpent had tempted Adam and Eve, Adam thought, “If she eats it, I will do the same, because I could not bear to be apart from her; we must share in the same fate. She will not die alone, but neither shall she have knowledge which I do not share.”
Seeing Adam nod his head, Eve plucked the fruit from the tree. It gave way with a soft, crisp, barely audible snap. Adam watched, dumbfounded, as she closed her eyes and took a small bite of the fruit.
She chewed it briefly and forced herself to swallow it, almost gagging. It did not taste sweet, but bitter and piquant, and she grimaced as the taste of it seemed to fill not just her mouth, but her entire being. Her eyes watered uncontrollably.
Adam stood by, uncertain, but still said nothing. He merely gazed at his wife, trying to discern what effect, if any, the fruit had upon her. He took her in his arms, but still remained quiet, studying her face.
After only a few moments, a slow smile spread across Eve’s face, and her eyes seemed to twinkle with delight and mischief. “It is delicious,” she said, dreamily. “Wonderful…” She took another bite, larger than before, and although the taste was still bitter the bitterness was somehow pleasing to her. Her smile widened, and her face was beaming. “It is working! I am becoming wise… I feel… amazing!”
Eve rapidly finished eating, broke off another one of fruits, and gave it to her husband, saying, “Take this, and eat it, and become like God!”
So although Adam was afraid, he did as his wife asked, and ate of the fruit. As he did so, he said to himself, “She has told me that the fruit is good for food, so if any ill comes of this, she is to blame.” Like Eve, he had trouble swallowing it, because it had such a strong taste, unlike any fruit or vegetable he had eaten before. He almost spit it out, but observing Eve as she took another bite of the fruit, he forced the acrid fruit down his throat.
Adam stood without moving. Time did not seem to pass, or, rather, the amount of time that had passed from his eating of the fruit seemed indeterminate. Somewhere he saw his wife dancing around the tree, plucking at the low hanging fruit. Looking down, he saw the fruit still in his hand and he wanted another bite before quite understanding why. He had the sensation of vast understanding, and power, though also of not being able to articulate exactly what it was that he understood, or why it was that he felt power. All he knew was that he wanted more of the fruit, and so he finished the fruit in his hand. Though it was bitter and strong, its taste seemed to awaken his senses. He quickly joined his wife in gathering the fruit from the tree, lest she gather more than he.
The two of them continued picking and eating the fruit, in silence, and their appetite for it seemed insatiable. For a moment Eve considered saying “let’s climb the tree and get more,” but the words wouldn’t come, and an instant later the unspoken suggestion vanished from her lips. Nevertheless, she began to climb the tree, eating as she went unsteadily up, the juice of the fruit dribbling down her face and onto her chest. Adam clambered up after her, using both his hands and feet to make his way up, awkwardly clinging to the withered branches of the tree while maintaining his grip on the fruit he had not yet devoured. They lost awareness of one another, and focused on plucking and eating more of the fruit.
When at the same time they each spied the fruit hanging far off a thin branch, and saw that the other had also seen the fruit, they became aware of one another not as helpmates, but as competitors. Although there was still fruit higher up the tree in other branches, they each desired the particular fruit that hung precariously from the far branch, and they rushed recklessly at it.
Eve arrived first, because she had started closer to the fruit’s position, and she lunged wildly to reach it. Her hands were slippery from the juice of the fruit, and so she lost her grip momentarily on the branch she clung to for support. As she saw Adam coming, she stretched her arm out as far as it would go, and though she could just touch the fruit, she could not grasp it. Adam almost fell, but swung his arm around the branch and pulled himself up. However, the shifting weight, along with a dizziness that had overtaken Eve as she consumed more of the fruit, caused Eve to flip, and she fell headfirst into the mud below. Adam paid her no heed, but put his weight on the thin and withered branch in hopes of reaching the fruit. His grip slipped away as the branch broke under his weight, and he too fell headlong into the muck.
Before they lost consciousness, Adam and Eve each heard the serpent hiss as it said, “Now you are like me.”
Satan brought Adam and Eve to a low place, a deserted valley, filled with nothing but rocks baking under the intense glare of the sun. The serpent crawled in and out of the spaces between these, kicking up a hot dust that stung their eyes. Their heads were swimming from the effects of the fruit, and as they sat up they each vomited out undigested bits of it, which spattered on the rocks of the hot desert. Their bile evaporated almost immediately in the sun’s extreme heat. Their mouths were scorched by the acrid aftertaste.
They retched again and again. Even as they heaved, they looked up yearningly at the fruit now high above them, out of their reach forever. When the spasms in their stomachs subsided, they collapsed, each instinctively curling up tightly into balls to minimize their skin’s surface area. Despite this the sun’s hot light seared their very bones. They clamped their eyelids shut against the fire, but it penetrated nevertheless so that bright blood redness filled their sight. They would have groaned, but they still could not speak or even utter a sound, so they convulsed, stupefied by pain and fear, while Satan accused them.