Our Odd View of the Tree of Knowledge


When the Roman Catholic hierarchy was routinely confronted by pagan beliefs, pagan sites, pagan Gods, they deliberately intended to “swallow up” the paganism by re-writing a legend or myth, by building a church on top of an old temple, by changing a pagan god into a local hero.

Would it make sense to think that the Roman Catholic church had some special intention behind the effort? Perhaps some of the time. But sometimes the purpose is just to make sure that the next generation doesn’t fall into pagan and idolatrous ways!

The Tree of Knowledge is a reasonable translation of the Sumerian god Ningishzida; in fact, literally, the deity was called the “Tree of Good”! The Sumerians were quite able to visualize a deity as a serpent and as a tree Simultaneously!

For the Jewish priests to “swallow up” an old God from the Old world view, requires no special explanation. And it would make more sense to look at what the Jewish writers thought of the story of Eden as the first filter for understanding the Eden story.

Good day to all!

I suggest we need to distinguish between what is the implicit difference between the idea of Adam and Eve being an archetype and being individuals (which I see as being necessary)

(I am sure my observations have already been posted about a million times here, so forgive me if this is out of place.)

My Question to the discussion Adam & Eve and the Tree is Morality before Mortality?
We have been discussing archetyping at length which is easily debated concerning morality. However, mortality is more appropriate to an individual than an archetype.

The Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil is illustrated in Adam and Eve’s response to having eaten. They cover themselves because the feel naked.

What do we feel if we are caught naked? Embarrassed! Yet we often fail to see the obvious in the word itself em(my)-bare-ass! This is humorous at least, but the thought I get to is actually buried under that first laugh.

The Knowledge of Being Mortal

Having eaten, they suddenly understand that they are going to die! They now have a fear of death, which is perhaps not fully cognizant to the other living human outside the garden.
Their first action is to cover themselves. They feel threatened. The first response of anybody who feels threatened is to cower and cover!
Two actual humans are introduced to another being who is (presumably teaching them as he walks with them in the garden). The time was “ripe” for Elohim to introduce his purpose in creating the world in the first place. So he gives them a question via the tree. I am presuming at this point Elohim has awakening in them something not experienced previously. So when that knowledge is suddenly introduced, they cower and cover in both embarrassment and fear of death.

Yes, this could be archetypal, but I defer to scholarship on the “particularity” required for some points of theology in the Genesis account.

Notice in Revelation that the final thing thrown into the Lake of Fire is Death. The Scriptures are carefully crafted and reading Genesis and Revelation together (reading the last chapter of Rev in conjunction with the first chapter of Genesis) shows the recovery of Eden that was lost. If Death is the Final thing into the Lake of Fire (after Satan) then we should read Genesis looking for Mortality as the thing to be addressed before Morality (Evil). Obviously it is “Death” by the very proscription for the tree.

The Tree of Life, then would have enabled them to understand or experience life without mortality in some way we cannot at this juncture understand.

So the discussion of morality is fine for an archetype, but the discussion of mortality, both implicit in the Tree of Good and Evil, requires individuals.

I am new here and enjoying the discussion.


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Do you agree that, based on God’s own words, if He had left Adam & Eve in the Garden - - even after having eaten from the forbidden tree - - that they would have been able to maintain their immortality by eating from the Tree of Life?

I can’t get some Christians to even agree to this idea … so I need to know where you stand with it.

Yes. Because Elohim never never goes back on a promise.

IE Abraham being the Father of many nations. Even after he sins in begetting Ishmael, Ishmael turns out to be “a son of promise”, but not “the” son of Promise. And the result is twelve chosen grandsons begetting tribes versus twelve great -grandsons begetting tribes. Each becomes a nation that is at war with its cousin’s nation and a religion at war with his cousin’s religion. The current state of the mid-east.

Another example is the promise of Abraham being incredibly capable of begetting wealth.That ability is part of how he made a nation and his offspring have largely inherited that capability. Yet when fallen away from YHWH’s promise, they are incredibly hard-headed and selfish with their money and capabilities. I know personally having spent some time in close relationship with some Orthodox Jews and a close friend with one who was a Rabbi and left his calling and faith–and better for it! (an almost Christian at this time. I’m working on him!).

The threat of even more disaster was real if they ate of both trees. By removing it he was protecting them anbd allowing an alternative to everlasting enslavement to evil with no recourse.

Example: The Tower of Babel was not about punishing the nations. It was about protecting the Children of Seth from the evils of the other nations. How do I know this? If you replace “The Lord” with “YHWH” and read the Bible multiple times, it becomes clear that the Name YHWH is always used in conjunction with a relationship with his people *as promised in Exodus 3:14. Any time Elohim is used (sans YHWH with it) it is in judgement or dealing with the world.
For example: The account of Noah. The name YHWH stops before the actual flood account, and is not used until after. A references to deity god is Elohim until after the Noahic covenant. Then YHWH is used again. And that is only one example throughout the entire OT.

So, the answer is yes.

I don’t really understand how your discussion supports your answer to my question.

I would have answered that God set up the Angel and the flaming sword because Adam and Eve could still benefit from eating of the Tree of Life. … even after the first sin!

[Edit: “first son” was supposed to be “first sin”]

I was explaining why he set up the Angel! I wanted to explain why the obvious was done!

So what you are saying is that the tree was symbolic of our shortfalls as humans in understanding the intentions of the God who created us. Is this not why we argue that the story itself should not be taken literally? The creation story is very rich in symbolism, and some of it is lost if it is restricted and limited to a literal interpretation.

I think you’re on the right track, Brad, and as you probably know, yours is [close to] the prevailing understanding of what kind of knowledge the phrase “knowledge of good and evil” refer. More specifically, the “knowledge” gained by eating of the fruit was carnal knowledge, i.e., sexual awareness and the ability to procreate. In contemporary terms, to eat the fruit analogically represents puberty.

Here’s Nahum Sarna’s discussion of Ibn Ezra’s view of this knowledge:

“Ibn Ezra, followed by many scholars today, understood carnal knowledge to be intended meaning of the tree of knowledge of good and bad since the first human experience after eating the
forbidden fruit is the consciousness of nudity …; moreover, immediately after the expulsion from Eden it is said, “Now the man knew his wife Eve.”

Why were they expelled?

Because immortal beings who reproduced would soon destroy the garden so God had to prevent access to the tree of life, hence their necessary expulsion.

I’ve written extensively about this interpretation and teach it in my Genesis creation class here at the U. of Montana. If you, or any interested participants in this thread, are interested I have an essay here including a survey of the 5 of the other interpretations and why they were rejected.

The story is a beautiful and profoundly deep allegory of the relationship between the human and evil. The surrounding pagan religions believed that evil was largely (but not always) caused by nature (nature gods). This story demythologizes the pagan belief that evil is inherent in nature and posits that evil is soley the result of human choice. Only humans were offered the choice of becoming moral agents.

If you want even more details (including the technical translation), you might want to click over to this commentary for (Genesis 2:16-17)



This view does tie in nicely with the nature of the curse that went with Expulsion:

“Unto the woman he said,
I will greatly multiply thy sorrow and thy conception;
in sorrow thou shalt bring forth children;
and thy desire shall be to thy husband…”

A close look at the sequence of these phrases is certainly tied to the sexual act.
And it even suggests that there would have been much less conception within
the realm of Eden - - perhaps one that would suggests that eventually God would
allow Adam and Eve to age and die … which would require a replacement level of
childbirth - - perhaps 2 new children every several thousand years!

Thanks for the response George. I believe you’re correct to tether sexual reproduction to the expulsion. And, just to carry this thought a bit further, note the following two points:

First, when God confronts Eve He has procreation in mind.

Why procreation and why is God telling Eve about conception and the consequent pain of childbirth? Some context might be helpful. Suppose a circumstance arises in which a husband and wife learn that their child has engaged in sexual intercourse. Would the parents sit the child down and discuss with her the risk of physical trauma inherent in a head-on car crash or some other ghastly fate entirely unrelated to her choice? No, they would talk to her about the risk and consequences of getting pregnant (among other things).

Well, the reason why God brings up procreation (i.e., conception and childbirth) is likely because Adam and Eve engaged in sexual intercourse immediately upon acquiring erotic awareness and Eve may have already become pregnant. Additional context supporting this idea is provided when we remember that before acquiring this knowledge neither were shy about their nakedness in each other’s presence. Afterwards that changes. Once this knowledge is acquired they feel compelled to cover their genitals.

Second, what’s the evidence for sexual intercourse?

As for sexual intercourse, a contextually and grammatically correct reading of Genesis 4:1 strongly suggests that Adam and Eve engaged in sexual intercourse sometime prior to being expelled from the garden. Here’s my translation of the Hebrew,

4a And the man proclaimed his wife’s name Eve, because she was [the] mother of all the living. 4b Now the man had known his wife Eve, and she conceived and bore Cain, saying, “I have produced a man together with the LORD.” (My emphasis)

The Hebrew verb yada (יָדַע) is grammatically structured as a past perfect verb, i.e., an action that had been completed sometime in the past.

As I mentioned in the post to which you responded, this story uses the consequences of choice (in this case choosing mortal life over immortal life) to claim that sin is completely within the human realm. Unlike the pagan religions surrounding the ancient Hebrews, nature plays no role in sin. “The gods made me do it” justification of the pagans does not work in God’s moral order. The control of sin is entirely within the human, moral realm NOT in nature.


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And that’s an important theme that runs throughout Gen. 1-11. Good to see you again. Hope your class went well.

Good to see you again. Hope your class went well.

Thanks for remembering, Jay. Yes, the course went very well - certainly beyond my expectations and those of the faculty committee who approved the course. Class was oversubscribed which suggests that there is a real hunger for ‘meaty’ biblical content out here in the hinterlands of Western Montana. The demographics were really fun - we had a Catholic priest, a Messianic Rabbi in the class … and a Hebrew scholar who really kept me on my toes.

If there was one downside, I had hoped to garner a few more scientific types, but all I found were physicians - there’s something about God that physicians seem to latch onto more than other scientifically-based professions. But, most students were lay people many of whom were very knowledgeable.

What I learned was that people really seem to appreciate biblical understanding as it emerges out of controversy. We spent a lot of time talking about the various views of the representation of time in the first creation story and sexual awareness in Genesis 2 and why certain views seemed to win out.

Sorry, for rambling, but I’m in the midst of preparing for this fall’s class and I’m stoked.



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That’s great! An old friend of mine lives in Missoula, but you won’t find him lurking around any Bible classes, unfortunately. Sounds like an interesting group. Teaching is always more fun with a class that is engaged.

Interesting observation. I’d say that is true, just judging by the number of docs who hang out here. They’re forming a cabal …

I agree, as long as the controversy doesn’t turn into all-out war!

I have written a trilogy about this topic called Torn Between Two Worlds, that goes into all the details of WHY the garden was created as it was based on the work of the enlighten Greeks. Socrates is an honorary title which describes the goal of his life: to expose the sophisticates - to expose rhetoric. Socrates, and the enlightened founders of science, saw in The Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil as the prince of Rhetoric - this is the definition of rhetoric: good and evil. Socrates peeled away rhetoric to discover Wisdom. Wisdom is Life - The Tree of Life. (Remember, the first Christians were Greek decedents of these enlightened people.)

Genesis tells us the Garden was in Paradise, the same place that Jesus tells the criminal next to Him where they meet after they die. (Luke 23:43) This first test of Adam and Eve occurred in Paradise, and ethereal place outside of the material world. It is not until the Fall from Paradise, that God enacts His second plan of Restoration.

So he drove out the man; and he placed at the east of the garden of Eden Cherubims, and a flaming sword which turned every way, to keep the way of the tree of life. (Genesis 3:24)

So, between Genesis 3:24 and Genesis 4:1 God created the Material world. About 13.7 billion years later, Adam and Eve started their second chance. This time incarnated into Human bodies. The bible does not mention the huge time span because it is not important for the story of restoration. All we need to know from the story is that Adam and Eve had a simple test to pass, and failed. So, they were given a second, much harder test to pass, as we all have.

I am not sure how to interpret this. Do you mean that Adam & Eve’s first chance in Paradise preceded theBig Bang?
Al Leo

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In the Septuagint, the Greek translation of the Old Testament, the word “evil” in the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil is the word, “ponēros”. It comes from a word that means “to toil, to labor.” God intended man to live from The Tree of Life, from His life, which is a life of resting in Him, which is eternal. I believe the trees were both actual trees and mediators at the same time. It is also correct to say God put the tree there to establish free will. But the main objective was a matter of life and death. Only God is good and trying to be good apart from God is evil, laboring in vain. It’s a hard way that leads eventually to death.

Now guess what the sister word for poneros is in the Arabic? It is the word Jihad! It has the same meaning as our Greek bible uses, “poneros.” These words have the same implication -To toil or labor, the spiritual struggle within oneself against sin or to be good apart from being in union with God’s Spirit. An extensive study of the Hebrew word will also give the same meaning. Every religion in the world tries to live off this tree, trying to get right with God by toiling, laboring to be good, trying not to sin.

In other words, working and laboring to be good apart from a union with God is evil according to the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. When Adam and Eve failed to trust the Truth /Grace of God they failed in the obedience of faith which could only be given by God’s Grace, they died spiritually. They were then left with a human spirit which lost connection to God’s Spirit which is eternal. See Strong’s definition of grace.

Like Adam and Eve, we all have a tendency to live off the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil by trying to be good, and not living of the Tree of Life which is, the life of God, the grace and the faith of Jesus Christ in us the hope of glory. That is what Jesus came for, that we might have life. He is that Tree of Life. The other Tree only brings death.

I hope this clears up the meaning of The Tree of The Knowledge of Good and Evil. When you look for Jesus and how it is His desire to work in us, both to will and do of His good pleasure, then there will be no toiling or striving, only resting that is found in Him. Rest is found in His kingdom of “righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit. For if we serve Christ in this way, we will be pleasing to God and even approved by men.” Romans 14:6. He who has Christ has eternal life, he who chooses The Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil will perish.

All these worlds are yours except Europa. Attempt no landing there.

“Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone.” -Colossians 4:6

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