The History of the “Forbidden” Fruit (2023)

No fruit pops up so frequently in Western art, literature, and everyday speech as the apple.

An apple (cunningly labeled “to the fairest”) started the Trojan War. (Odysseus, later struggling to get home from it, yearns for the garden he had as a child, populated by apple trees.) The Norse gods owed their immortality to apples. The Arabian Nights features a magic apple from Samarkand capable of curing all human diseases—predating the belief that an apple a day will keep the doctor away, a proverb that first appeared in print in 1866. Robert Frost, Emily Dickinson, Christina Rossetti, and Dylan Thomas all wrote poems about apples; and everyone from Caravaggio to Magritte painted them.

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One place where the ubiquitous apple does not appear is in the Old Testament’s Book of Genesis. The original story of Adam, Eve, the snake, and the forbidden Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil mentions only an unspecified “fruit,” thus opening up centuries of debate over what the hapless First Couple actually ate. Various suggestions include everything from figs, grapes, and citrons to olives, apricots, bananas, pomegranates, and grapefruit. (Similar disagreements rage over probable locations of the Garden of Eden, which range from Turkey to Ohio, Mongolia, and the North Pole.)

The apple as Forbidden Fruit seems to have appeared in western Europe at least by the 12thcentury. Some researchers suggest that the apple got a bad rap from an unfortunate pun: the Latin malus means both “apple” and “evil,” which may have given early Christians ideas. A 1504 engraving by Albrecht Durer shows Adam and Eve with apples; and 16th-century paintings by Lucas Cranach and Titian show Adam and Eve under particularly tempting apple trees. Though Michelangelo’s Temptation and Fall on the Sistine Ceiling features forbidden figs, apples, increasingly, were held responsible for the Fall. By the 17thcentury, when Milton wrote Paradise Lost, the forbidden fruit was an Apple with a capital A.

Apples: Sour Enough to ‘Make a Jay Scream’

Apples, taxonomically, are members of Rosaceae, the Rose family, along with such other yummy edibles as pears, plums, peaches, cherries, strawberries, and raspberries. DNA analysis indicates that apples originated in the mountains of Kazakhstan, where the wild Malus sieversii—the many-times great-grandparent of Malus domestica, the modern domesticated apple—still flourishes.

There’s a lot to be said for domestication. Though Henry David Thoreau insisted that he much preferred the wild apple (“of spirited flavor”) to the civilized versions found in Massachusetts orchards, even he admitted that the occasional spirited bite was “sour enough to set a squirrel’s teeth on edge and make a jay scream.” The truth is that wild apples – grown from seeds—are generally pretty awful.

Apples are a victim of their own genetic creativity, a characteristic known to botanists as extreme heterozygosity. This ensures that an apple grown from seed won’t be anything like its parents. This is great for evolution, producing thousands of diverse apple varieties, adapted to every environment from North Dakota to New Zealand. For apple growers, though, intent on preserving selected favorites, the apple’s slippery genome is frustrating. In apples, the only guarantee of reproducibility is grafting, which is how our modern eating apples are propagated.

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Johnny Appleseed, Spreading Booze Throughout America

But not by Johnny Appleseed. John Chapman of Leominster, Massachusetts—a.k.a. the apple-toting, tin-pot-hatted folk hero—condemned grafting as wicked, insisting that the only road to a good apple was seeds. Chapman collected seeds by the bushel from Pennsylvania cider mills and ferried them west, where he established apple nurseries in Ohio, Indiana, and Illinois, and distributed wildly random seedlings to settlers far and wide. The mouth-puckering results almost certainly went primarily into cider and applejack. These weren’t great eating apples. What Johnny Appleseed was disseminating was booze. Eventually this backfired, as temperance activists fingered the apple as a source of alcoholic sin and demanded that the morally upright burn their apple trees.

Recently the apple as forbidden fruit has been back in the news. Joe Davis, bio-artist attached to geneticist George Church’s lab at Harvard Medical School, is preparing to create an apple tree that is—literally—a Tree of Knowledge. Davis’s project aims to incorporate Wikipedia into the apple genome. For this purpose, he plans to use the world’s oldest known apple, a 4000-year-old variety of M. sieversii.

This isn’t as far-fetched as it sounds. Church and a number of other researchers have proposed that DNA may be the data storage venue of the future. A single droplet of DNA is capable of storing 700 terabytes of data – that’s the equivalent of 14,000 50-gigabyte Blu-Ray discs—and it’s impressively stable. Unlike magnetic tape that needs to be replaced every five years or so, DNA can survive for thousands. The trick is to convert data into binary code based on A, G, C, and T – the four nucleotide bases that make up DNA – and use the result as a blueprint to synthesize a DNA sequence. Davis plans to insert his Wikipedia-coded DNA into a bacterium capable of transferring its genome into an apple cell. This won’t change the taste, smell, or appearance of the apple, but each treated fruit will carry, hidden among its genes, a chunk of extra info—say, the Wikipedia entry on apple trees, snakes, Genesis, or applesauce.

Apples: The Fruit of Knowledge

All of Wikipedia can’t fit into one handy apple. Each tiny bacterial carrier can only cope with a few thousand words—which means the whole of Wikipedia, some two and a half billion words long, may require an entire forest of apple trees. (One critic guesses 666,000 trees.) And eating such an apple, sadly, won’t make any of us more knowledgeable. Retrieving the info from apple DNA will require a DNA sequencer and some decoding software. On the other hand, this may be just as well. Most M. sieversii varieties are what apple growers refer to as “spitters”—because the common response to the first mouthful is to spit it out, fast.

The 50-acre orchard at USDA’s Plant Genetics Resources Unit in Geneva, New York, has what may be the world’s largest collection of apple trees—some 2500 different varieties from all over the world. Among the latest additions are varieties of M. sieversii, the apple’s ancient ancestor from Asia, laden with beneficial genes not found in our modern and monotonous apple crop. Whereas a century ago, Americans grew thousands of varieties of apples, nowadays we’re down to just a handful, among them McIntosh, Jonathan, and Red Delicious—which last, a lot of people argue, may be red, but it isn’t exactly delicious. Genetic uniformity in crops seldom pays off, and the American apple—attacked by pests on all sides—now needs a battery of chemicals in order to survive. Ancestral genes may give our apples the resistance and versatility they need—to say nothing of a new battery of flavors, colors, and shapes that we’ve forgotten apples ever had.

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When it comes to information, M. sieversii doesn’t need Wikipedia.

Luckily for us, it already has plenty.

This story is part ofNational Geographic’s special eight-monthFuture of Foodseries.

References

FAQs

Who ate the forbidden fruit first in the Bible? ›

Eve picked the forbidden fruit and ate it. Adam was with her and he ate it, too. Their eyes were opened and their innocence, lost. They ran from God and His presence soon after, and were expelled from the garden, paradise lost.

What did God say about the forbidden fruit? ›

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. '"

Why did the woman eat the fruit of the forbidden tree? ›

For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” Since the woman sought wisdom, she ate the fruit of the tree, and gave some to Adam to eat too.

What was man's punishment for eating the forbidden fruit? ›

For succumbing to temptation and eating the fruit of the forbidden tree of knowledge of good and evil, God banished them from Eden, and they and their descendants were forced to live lives of hardship.

Why was the book of Adam and Eve removed from the Bible? ›

First Book of Adam and Eve Part 1 - YouTube

Did Adam and Eve go to heaven? ›

After all, they disobeyed God's command to not eat of the fruit of the tree of knowledge. God is the One who decides who does or does not enter heaven. There's no place in the Bible that says they were saved. But there is no place in the Bible that indicates the couple was lost, either.

What tree did God say not to eat from? ›

Narrative. Genesis 2 narrates that God places the man in a garden with trees of whose fruits he may eat, but forbids him to eat from "the tree of the knowledge of good and evil." God formed woman after this command was given.

Where does God say not to eat the fruit? ›

but God did say, `You must not eat fruit from the tree that is in the middle of the garden, and you must not touch it, or you will die. '" "You will not surely die," the serpent said to the woman. "For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil."

Who created God? ›

We ask, "If all things have a creator, then who created God?" Actually, only created things have a creator, so it's improper to lump God with his creation. God has revealed himself to us in the Bible as having always existed.

What was the forbidden fruit a metaphor for? ›

The term “forbidden fruit” is a metaphor for anything that is desired but not moral, legal or permissible to indulge in.

Why is it called an Adam's apple? ›

‌The Adam's apple — also known as the laryngeal prominence — is the cartilage that wraps around the front of your larynx — or voice box. The name "Adam's" apple possibly come from the story of Adam and Eve in the Bible — where Adam ate an apple, the forbidden fruit, which became lodged in his throat.

Who Wrote the Bible? ›

Even after nearly 2,000 years of its existence, and centuries of investigation by biblical scholars, we still don't know with certainty who wrote its various texts, when they were written or under what circumstances. READ MORE: The Bible Says Jesus Was Real.

Who did Adam blame for eating the fruit? ›

Adam goes straight to the Big Guy in the Garden of Eden: “The woman YOU gave me God made me eat the forbidden fruit!” Adam blames God.

What does the apple symbolize in the Bible? ›

In the Old Testament, the apple was significant of the fall of man; in the New Testament, it is an emblem of the redemption from that fall. The apple is represented in pictures of the Madonna and Infant Jesus as another sign of that redemption.

Where is the tree of life now? ›

The Tree of Life (Shajarat-al-Hayat) in Bahrain is a 9.75 meters (32 feet) high Prosopis cineraria tree that is over 400 years old. It is on a hill in a barren area of the Arabian Desert, 2 kilometers (1.2 miles) from Jebel Dukhan, the highest point in Bahrain, and 40 kilometers from Manama.

What are the 7 hidden books of the Bible? ›

Did you know that the Catholic Bible contains seven books that are not included in the Protestant Bible? These special books of the Bible—Sirach, Wisdom, Tobit, 1 Maccabees, Judith, additions to Daniel, and Esther—contain harrowing stories of family, resurrection, and prayer.

What language did Adam and Eve speak? ›

The Adamic language, according to Jewish tradition (as recorded in the midrashim) and some Christians, is the language spoken by Adam (and possibly Eve) in the Garden of Eden.

Why did Eve eat the apple? ›

Biblical story

And the serpent said unto the woman, Ye shall not surely die: For God doth know that in the day ye eat thereof, then your eyes shall be opened, and ye shall be as gods, knowing good and evil. Desiring this knowledge, the woman eats the forbidden fruit and gives some to the man who also eats it.

Who was the first person to go to heaven alive? ›

Sacred Scripture teaches that Enoch and Elijah were assumed into heaven while still alive and not experiencing physical death.

Where did Jesus spirit go when he died? ›

At death his Spirit went to the Father in heaven, and then returned to be clothed in the resurrection body, in which he appeared to the disciples over a period of 40 days before the ascension. The statement in John 20:17 tells us that the ascension of the resurrected Christ had not yet happened.

How old is the Earth according to the Bible? ›

Concerning the age of the Earth, the Bible's genealogical records combined with the Genesis 1 account of creation are used to estimate an age for the Earth and universe of about 6000 years, with a bit of uncertainty on the completeness of the genealogical records, allowing for a few thousand years more.

Where is Garden of Eden located today? ›

The location of Eden is described in the Book of Genesis as the source of four tributaries. Various suggestions have been made for its location: at the head of the Persian Gulf, in southern Mesopotamia (now Iraq) where the Tigris and Euphrates rivers run into the sea; and in Armenia.

Who kicked Adam and Eve out of the garden? ›

Because Adam and Eve had eaten the fruit of the tree of knowledge of good and evil, the Lord sent them out of the Garden of Eden into the world.

What is the fruit of the tree of life? ›

What does the fruit of the tree represent? (The gift of eternal life.) Nephi saw that Jesus Christ, because of his love for us, would be crucified for our sins so that we might repent and gain eternal life.

Was the forbidden fruit a pomegranate? ›

The pomegranate is also said to be found in the Garden of Eden according to Ancient Iranian Christianity and was believed to be the real forbidden fruit rather than the apple.

Was the forbidden fruit a fig? ›

Michelangelo's Forbidden Fruit Was a Fig.

Who ate the apple first Adam or Eve? ›

When Eve is tempted by the serpent and eats the forbidden fruit, Father makes Adam choose between Him and Eden, or Eve. Adam chooses Eve and eats the fruit, causing Father to banish them into the wilderness and destroying the Tree of Knowledge, from which Adam carves a staff.

Who is the 1st person in the world? ›

ADAM1 was the first man. There are two stories of his creation. The first tells that God created man in his image, male and female together (Genesis 1: 27), and Adam is not named in this version.

Who is the 1st God in the world? ›

Who is Brahma? Brahma is the first god in the Hindu triumvirate, or trimurti. The triumvirate consists of three gods who are responsible for the creation, upkeep and destruction of the world. The other two gods are Vishnu and Shiva.

Which is world's oldest religion? ›

The word Hindu is an exonym, and while Hinduism has been called the oldest religion in the world, many practitioners refer to their religion as Sanātana Dharma (Sanskrit: सनातन धर्म, lit.

Who ate the apple first Adam or Eve? ›

When Eve is tempted by the serpent and eats the forbidden fruit, Father makes Adam choose between Him and Eden, or Eve. Adam chooses Eve and eats the fruit, causing Father to banish them into the wilderness and destroying the Tree of Knowledge, from which Adam carves a staff.

Who ate the forbidden apple? ›

In the biblical story, Adam and Eve eat the fruit from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil and are exiled from Eden.

Who committed the first sin? ›

Roman Catholicism. The Catechism of the Catholic Church says: By his sin Adam, as the first man, lost the original holiness and justice he had received from God, not only for himself but for all humans.

What was the first sin called? ›

original sin, in Christian doctrine, the condition or state of sin into which each human being is born; also, the origin (i.e., the cause, or source) of this state.

Why is it called an Adam's apple? ›

‌The Adam's apple — also known as the laryngeal prominence — is the cartilage that wraps around the front of your larynx — or voice box. The name "Adam's" apple possibly come from the story of Adam and Eve in the Bible — where Adam ate an apple, the forbidden fruit, which became lodged in his throat.

Who Wrote the Bible? ›

Even after nearly 2,000 years of its existence, and centuries of investigation by biblical scholars, we still don't know with certainty who wrote its various texts, when they were written or under what circumstances. READ MORE: The Bible Says Jesus Was Real.

Where is the Garden of Eden located today? ›

The location of Eden is described in the Book of Genesis as the source of four tributaries. Various suggestions have been made for its location: at the head of the Persian Gulf, in southern Mesopotamia (now Iraq) where the Tigris and Euphrates rivers run into the sea; and in Armenia.

What does the apple symbolize in the Bible? ›

In the Old Testament, the apple was significant of the fall of man; in the New Testament, it is an emblem of the redemption from that fall. The apple is represented in pictures of the Madonna and Infant Jesus as another sign of that redemption.

What fruit was on the tree of knowledge of good and evil? ›

In Western Christian art, the fruit of the tree is commonly depicted as the apple, which originated in central Asia. This depiction may have originated as a Latin pun: by eating the mālum (apple), Eve contracted malum (evil).

What does the fruit symbolize in Genesis? ›

Therefore, the “fruit” (and its consumption) is identified with the original sin. It is believed that the original sin lies in the fact that man closes in on himself instead of opening himself to the actions of God. In other words, it is the sin of pride.

What is the deadliest sin in the Bible? ›

Of the seven deadly sins, theologians and philosophers reserve a special place for pride. Lust, envy, anger, greed, gluttony and sloth are all bad, the sages say, but pride is the deadliest of all, the root of all evil, and the beginning of sin.

Is everyone born a sinner? ›

Babies are not born sinners! No person is a sinner until he or she violates God's spiritual law (1 John 3:4). Babies do not have the capability to commit sin. Logic and common-sense dictate that the idea of “original sin” is contrary to the very nature and character of God.

What is Lucifer's sin? ›

Counter-Reformation writers, like Albertanus of Brescia, classified the seven deadly sins each to a specific Biblical demon. He, as well as Peter Binsfield, assigned Lucifer to the sin pride.

Who was born without original sin? ›

By having Mary free of original sin resulted in both Mary's and Jesus' conceptions being miraculous. The concept of the immaculate conception -- that Mary was conceived without sin while a pre-embryo circa 20 BCE --- gained support in the church.

What does the forbidden fruit represent? ›

The term “forbidden fruit” is a metaphor for anything that is desired but not moral, legal or permissible to indulge in.

What was the second sin? ›

If, as the Old Testament tells us, the First or Original Sin was the knowledge of good and evil, then the knowledge of clear speech was the “Second Sin,” At Babel, God punished man for this transgression with the Divine Confusion, and we have been misleading each other ever since.

Videos

1. What was the Forbidden Fruit? | BIBLE THEORY
(Bible Thump)
2. What The Church Doesn’t Want You To Know About Adam and Eve
(The Infographics Show)
3. NKY History Hour: Forbidden Fruit: The Story Behind the Fiery Beverly Hills Supper Club Inferno
(Behringer-Crawford Museum)
4. Dr. Ray Hagins- What Is The Forbidden Fruit?
(Sean A)
5. The Untold Truth Of The Garden Of Eden
(Grunge)
6. Was the bibles forbidden fruit really an apple?
(NWS TODAY)
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