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Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil

fruit adam eve eating

The Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil is described in the narratives of Genesis 2-3. It was located in the *Garden of Eden and was, among all the other beautiful and fruit-bearing trees, specifically singled out by *God to be avoided by *Adam and Eve. God had directed Adam not to eat the fruit of this tree because it would cause Adam’s *death (Genesis 2:17). A crafty serpent however, suggested to Eve that knowledge rather than death would result from eating this forbidden fruit (Genesis 3:1-5). The subsequent disobedience of both Adam and Eve in eating this fruit caused their expulsion from paradise.


Because Adam and Eve are described (Genesis 3:7) as covering their nakedness (of which they first became aware after eating the forbidden fruit) with aprons sewn of fig leaves, the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil may be represented as a fig tree, although it is more often rather unrecognizably stylized. As the Latin term for “evil” (malum) also means “apple,” this tree may also be shown as an apple tree.


It features in illustrations from the early Christian through late Gothic period in scenes of the temptation and fall of humankind, often centrally located, flanked by the standing or seated figures of Adam and Eve. A serpent may be shown twining itself around the base of the tree or winding through the branches, sometimes holding the forbidden fruit in its jaws. A little *demon or dragonlike form may also assist or play the role of the serpent, handing the fruit to Eve, who eats and offers fruit to Adam. Later medieval representations will show the serpent with a female face or as a half-lizard, half-female form. When not engaged with eating the fruit, Adam and Eve may stand to either side of the tree covering themselves with leaves.


Legends of the *True Cross also suggest that the *cross upon which *Christ Page 250  was crucified was created of wood ultimately derived from a shoot or branch of this tree. Typologically then, the sins of Adam associated with this tree are redeemed by Christ’s later sacrifice on the same tree.

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