Feeling a bit snacky late last night, I found myself in the kitchen. Once lingering inside still unsure about whether to go for some crackers or a chunky cookie, my eyes fell on the singled out apple on the counter that tempted me with its perfectly smooth, polished crimson skin promising to quench my thirst while filling in the tiny void in my stomach about to be reborn as hunger. After the first bite, I felt so good as if I was in heaven… or… wait… now the confusion started settling in… wasn’t it the apple… the forbidden fruit of the tree of knowledge of good and evil in paradise?… didn’t a bite out of an apple put in motion the events that led to Adam and Eve to be cast off the garden of Eden?
How could this marvelous fruit be the cause of the first sin, especially when it’s never been stated explicitly to be the culprit in the holy books or the ancient writings? I decided to dig in some more… both to the subject and the half-bitten apple in my hand… It was time to consult the holy texts, starting with the Genesis.
And God said, “Behold, I have given you every plant yielding seed that is on the face of all the earth, and every tree with seed in its fruit. You shall have them for food.Genesis 1:29
Seeds? Guess what! Apples have seeds! Fruit with seeds are safe! The answer seemed to be clear… the forbidden fruit couldn’t be the apple… Perhaps the moment when Eve was tempted into taking a bite off the forbidden fruit by the talking snake needs to be explored a bit more.
And the woman said to the serpent, “We may eat the fruit of the trees of the garden; but of the fruit of the tree which is in the midst of the garden, God has said, ‘You shall not eat it, nor shall you touch it, lest you die.”Quote from King James Bible
Still no direct mention of the apple here, but a fruit that can kill you by contact should hardly be even considered an apple. Perhaps, it’s some kind of poisonous fruit with no seeds within, but we’ll explore other options in another post. Wondering why the belief that apples were the cause of the original sin was so widespread, I dug in some more, and I could see the confusion and why it was to blame. Here’s a very condensed version of why:
- Malus is the Latin name for both apple and evil… It is very well known today that the first impression is crucial and image is everything, so you wouldn’t expect your child whom you named “Devil” or “Hellby” to be accepted with open arms amongst others and live in peace even in today’s evolved society. This was misfortunate on behalf of the apple as in fact, “malus” was the generic name for any kind of foreign fruit except berries, and nations across the world named all the strange fruits in their language in relation to that fact… e.g: tomatoes: love apples or golden apples, potatoes: earth apples, oranges: Chinese apples, datura: thorn apples…
- Although the homeland of the apple is scientifically proven to be Kazakhstan (hence the former name of its former capital city Alma-ata meaning father of apples), it is mostly agreed that the apple traveled through to the west from Syria and ancient Persia via the Silk road in reverse. Zoroastrianism, which was the religion of the pre-Islamic Persians, had a belief system based on dualistic cosmology of good and evil… a belief system that favoured the balance of opposites. Apples, having both sugar and sour taste perfectly represented this harmony through balance. Sounds just like the alleged fruit of the tree of knowledge of good and evil, doesn’t it? Perhaps, this chunk of the belief had travelled with the apple to the new lands.
- After the widespread of apples in Western lands, ancient artists often used it as a model in their works of divine art depicting deities and events of significance. The ancient Greek goddess Aphrodite, the Norse deity of fertility Idunn, and many other gods and goddesses were often painted holding, hurling or just looking at apples, which was basically why it was considered as the fruit originating from the heavens. Moreover, mythology frequently suggests apples to be closely linked with deities in stories like the apple of discord which started the war of Troy and the twelve labours of Hercules in which he had to retrieve golden apples from the garden of Hesperides as one of the tasks. So, seeing apples in divine art and reading or listening about them in mythology is more than enough to place them in paradise.
- Apples were often linked with immortality in mythology like the golden apples of Hesperides (or apples of immortality) that Hercules was tasked to retrieve and that Idunn in Norse mythology was the keeper of magic apples of immortality. Immortality is the one thing that separates man from god. Unlike gods, mankind can’t live forever. Well, ok, but Eve didn’t achieve immortality after eating the apple, so how does this work?… Remember it was the fruit of the tree of knowledge that was forbidden to touch or eat, and with apples symbolizing immortality, can it be something in the lines of what Dalai Lama once said: “Share your knowledge. It’s a way to achieve immortality.“
- Let’s leave mythology behind and fast forward to the time when Christianity was flourishing among the Celts and Romans in eternal conflict. Originating from Dionysus paganism, the Roman Catholics loathed the Druid faith influenced Celts. Just as grapes and wine were favoured by the Roman Catholics; apples and cider were the favourites of the Celts. The conflict started rising even more when Celts started calling the Catholic grape “corrupt”, while the Romans spread the belief that apples were “hellish”. The battle of throwing dirt on each other was clearly won by the Roman Catholics, as stories about how evil the apple was, linking it to the tree of knowledge of good and evil in Eden and from that moment on, it spread like wildfire. These stories became beliefs in short time. For instance, to prove that the apple was the devil’s fruit, one could slice the apple vertically to witness Eve’s vagina embedded in the core, or when sliced horizontally the apple core revealed a pentagram; the symbol for the devil, engraved in its centre.
Ancient stories about apples being the forbidden fruit and symbolizing evil, immortality, and knowledge have seeped into our souls as it continued inspiring more modern beliefs, art, literature and culture not very different from the ancient versions. From Snow White munching on a poisonous apple… all the way to Apple Inc. adopting a half-bitten apple as its logo symbolizing a bite (or a byte) taken out of knowledge… At least, the apple isn’t as sinful as it used to be… So, go now, get an apple and bite into it. You’ve earned it!
For “In the Trail of the Forbidden Fruit: Part II”, I am planning on featuring the tomato!
Further reading and references for this article:
- “In the Devil’s Garden: A Sinful History of Forbidden Food” by Stewart Lee Allen.
- “Apple: A Global History” by Erika Janik
- “Paradise Lost” by John Milton