OT: Adam and Eve ate the fruit of the Tree of Life…

…or so says Bible scholar Jack Sasson (Bible Review Summer 2005). Here’s the gist (and with no attempt to find a Mormon hermeneutic):

In Genesis 2, Lord God (Yahweh Elohim) shapes a creature, Earthling (Adam, shaped out of the earth, adamah). As a mate for Earthling, he then fashions Woman from one of Earthling’s ribs. She is not yet named; as Woman she has not yet developed the function that her later name will imply.

Lord God has created a garden for his creatures, “with the Tree of Life in the centre of the garden, and the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Bad” (2:9). Only the Tree of Life is said to be in the “centre of the garden.”

Lord God then tells Earthling that he may not eat from the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Bad: “you must not eat of it; for as soon as you eat it, you shall die” (2:17).

After being tempted by the serpent, Woman replies, “We may eat of the fruit of the other trees of the garden. It is only about the fruit of the tree in the centre of the garden that God said, ‘You shall not eat of it or touch it, lest you die'” (3:2-3). Note that Woman misquotes Lord God. She says they are not allowed to eat the fruit of the tree in the centre of the Garden (= the Tree of Life), nor are they to even touch it.

Woman (to whom the commandment was never directly given) has identified the wrong tree! Noting this, the serpent reassures her: “You are not going to die” (Gen 3:4). Earthling and Woman then eat the fruit of the tree in the centre of the garden — the Tree of Life. They have broken no divine injunction, but are now divine beings, being immortal. Gods wear clothes, so Earthling and Woman make loincloths to separate themseleves from the animals.

Lord God is now faced with a problem: Earthling and Woman are now immortal. The Woman is to bear children and becomes Eve, the mother of all the living. Earthling is cursed to die. Human immortality is channelled from the soma to the germ plasm, immortality through procreation. Humans cannot again eat from the Tree of Life, so it is cut off from them. Lord God fashions coats of skins for Earthling and Eve to forever remind them of their proximity to animal life, the life of mortality.

Such is the rabbit hole of the Old Testament. Wanna take the blue pill or the red pill?


  1. Ronan: really interesting stuff. Thanks for this!

    The challenging core of this is the question of which tree Adam and Eve ate from, no? And this, in turn depends on the description of where in the garden specific trees were. It seems to me that the text is rather explicit on this point, though: Adam and Eve ate from the tree in the center of the garden, not from the other one. Furthermore, the emphasis on death and childbirth in the curses flows naturally from this interpretation, whereas it’s at least somewhat less thematically coherent in the reading that they ate from the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Bad.

    So, on this reading of the narrative, Lord God made a mistake, right? I mean, having failed to anticipate the negative consequences of Adam and Eve eating from the Tree of Life and therefore having failed to command them not to do so?

  2. Julie M. Smith says:

    I need to think about this more, but one thing about this that makes sense: Satan’s plan in the premortal life was to get all humans back to God, so having him get Adam and Eve to eat the fruit guarenteeing them immortality right away seems par for the course for him.

    This all raises something about this story that’s always been a lacuna for me: if Adam and Eve have not yet eaten the fruit of the Tree of K of G and E, then in what way can they be repsonsible for any decisions that they make? They don’t have any knowledge of whether it is even good to follow God!

    I had also thought about the fact that in the text the woman is never directly given the command not to eat, but since I sometimes toy with the ides of the primeval androgyne (did I spell that right?) that doesn’t always bother me.

    Of course, I can’t really buy into any theory that suggests that God ‘made a mistake’ in all this, so where do we go from there?

    Anyway, great, thought-provoking post. Thanks.

  3. Ronan,

    Awesome. Thanks for posting that.

    Sometimes I think we create a forced dichotomy in our minds: the tree of life, and the evil tree; forgetting that “good” is inherent in the “other” tree.

    Do you think that sometimes Christians (and Mormons) often forget that the “other” tree was the tree of the knowledge of good and evil?

  4. Satan’s plan in the premortal life was to get all humans back to God

    God’s plan too.

  5. RT, yes, I think that Sasson is on to something as regards the Tree of Life.

    RT and Julie, as for God making a “mistake”: so much depends on whether we take this account as accurately describing some kind of historical event or as a “myth” (in the positive sense). It seems that in the Hebrew mind, Yahweh often erred, a fact that was never theologically problematic for them. I can’t help thinking that we’re missing a thing or two from this story that would make everything obvious.

    David, did they eat the fruit of the Knowledge Tree? Yahweh told them they would die right then and there if they did. If not, how did they gain the knowledge necessary to make their decision?

    The beauty of these stories is their depth. After millennia, we still grapple with them. That’s why the Bible rocks!

  6. Last Lemming says:

    This is a real stretch. God only commanded Adam and Even not to eat of the fruit of one tree–the tree of knowledge of good and evil. See Gen. 2:17

    But of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, thou shalt not eat of it: for in the day that thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely die.

    When God confronts them, it is clear that it was the fruit of the tree of which they had been commanded not to eat that they had eaten. See Gen 3:11.

    And he said, Who told thee that thou wast naked? Hast thou eaten of the tree, whereof I commanded thee that thou shouldest not eat?

    How, then, could it have been the tree of life?

    I think perhaps “midst” is being overinterpreted here. I don’t know what the Hebrew word being translated is, but “midst” does not have to be the very center. It could also be anywhere except around the edges, which would cover any number of trees.

  7. Of course, I can’t really buy into any theory that suggests that God ‘made a mistake’ in all this, so where do we go from there?

    You mean, that the whole Fall was entirely a mistake, ala JW’s?

    It is plain from the text that this is not the case. In Gen. 2:5 it says there was no man to till the ground, and then, after the Fall, in Gen 3:23, it says the Lord cast the man out to till the ground. In other words, the Lord intended there to be a man to till the ground in the first place, and brought about the means to accomplish that.

    Also, there is nothing in the text to suggest A&E were not actively eating from the TofL prior to eating from the TofG&E. They are only banned from the TofL afterwards.

  8. betok = in the midst/middle

    OED = midst = “The middle point, part, or position”

  9. harpingheather says:

    Article of Faith #8:

    We believe the Bible to be the word of God as far as it is translated correctly; we also believe the Book of Mormon to be the word of God. (emphasis added)

    Genesis 3:22-23

    And the Lord God said, behold, the man is become as one of us, to know good and evil: and now, lest he put forth his hand, and take also of the tree of life, and eat, and live forever,

    Therefore the Lord God sent him forth from the Garden of Eden, to till the ground from whence he was taken.

    Moses 4:28-29

    And I, the Lord God, said unto mine Only Begotten; Behold, the man is become as one of us to know good and evil; and now let he put forth his hand and partake also f the tree of life, and eat and live forever,

    Therefore I, the Lord God, will send him forth from the Garden of Deve, to till the ground from whence he was taken;

    Unless God Himself got it wrong about which tree they ate from, I’d say that they ate from the Tree of Knowledge. Besides, looking at the verses involved, it makes sense to assume that the Tree of Life and the Tree of Knowledge were put at the center of the Garden together.

    Genesis 2:9

    And out of the ground make the Lord God to grow every three that is pleasant to the sight, and good for food; the tree of life also in the midst of the garden, and the tree of knowledge of good and evil.

    Moses 3:9

    And out of the ground made I, the Lord God, to grow every tree naturally, that is pleasant to the sight of man; and man could behold it. And it became also a living soul. For it was spiritual in the day that I created it; for it remaineth in the sphere in which I, God, created it, yea, even all things which I prepared for the use of man; and man saw that it was good for food. And i, the Lord God, planted the tree of life also in the midst of the garden, and also the tree of knowledge.

    The trees are mentioned being created and placed together. Assuming that one tree was at the center and the other wasn’t seems like a forced reading.

  10. Note that Woman misquotes Lord God….
    Woman (to whom the commandment was never directly given) has identified the wrong tree!

    Don’t miss the importance this implies! Finally, biblical basis to show that men are unable to relay correct information adequately!

  11. Eric Russell says:

    Interesting post. But it still doesn’t explain whether or not Adam had a belly button.

  12. Interesting post.

    I would just like to remind folks that even Bruce R. McConkie was willing to read partaking of the fruit as figurative. I’m really not sure that any trees actually existed, so arguing about their proximity to each other may be moot.

  13. Jared,
    Now that I can buy. Remember: OT scholars consider Genesis 2-3 to be an aetiology — how we got here from there. Why death? Why pain? Why childbirth? Why thorns and briars? And the beauty of the aetiology is that the Hebrew mind did not require Yahweh to act in a rational (to us) manner.

  14. Julie M. Smith says:

    LOL, David J, I hope that you caught my shorthand!

  15. Last Lemming says:

    Webster’s New Collegiate: midst – the interior or central part or point.

    “Interior” being less precise than “central,” I think my argument holds.

    I’m certainly willing to assume this is all figurative, but we still must correctly identify the figurative tree from which A&E ate. The question then becomes, were more than one figurative trees in the figurative “midst” of the figurative garden? If no, then the identity of the tree whose fruit they ate is ambiguous. If yes, then the usual interpretation that it was the tree of knowledge of good and evil is entirely consistent with the text.

  16. One of the important points here is Eve’s remark not to touch the tree. That was never in the original commandment, she added that. It is something we all seem to do…we add to the commandments thinking it makes it better, or safer or stronger or whatever. We don’t drink Coke, we don’t watch R rated movies, we don’t eat rare cooked meat…there’s a whole list of things we think we should do….but they aren’t “real” commandments. We’re just like Eve!

  17. Why are people using the OED to explain a Hebrew word (thok)? They have lexicons for this (HALOT, BDB, etc.).

  18. using OED

    And Webster’s too.

    It has always puzzled me too that people come out of the temple thinking they saw a depiction of historical reality during the presentation of the endowment.

  19. Don,

    Some ancient Jewish commentaries elude that Eve’s addition of a commandment not inherently given to her is where the “fence of Torah” idea was born. For example: “You will not take the name of Yahweh God in vain” is turned into “Don’t even say his name. Ever.” The word “vain” is almost totally ignored in the “fence of Torah” interpretation.

    Gotta love the rabbis.

  20. Lemming,
    According to the Hebrew, Lord God caused every tree to grow, “with the tree of life in the middle of the garden, and (new clause) the tree of knowledge of good and bad.”

    Eve ate the fruit of the tree in the middle of the garden.

    Make of that what you will.

    Personally, I think it’s supposed to be ironic: God didn’t want them to have knowledge, but they proved that they had it anyway. So he cursed them for trying to get immortality. And it’s kind of funny too. Imagine this scene was acted out: the audience would be crying at Eve, “Wrong fruit!”

    Irony upon irony. And I wouldn’t suggest anyone try to make Genesis fit a Mormon view of the universe. Genesis was not written by Mormons, and the Book of Moses can’t help: I think most of us take it (the JST) as an “inspired version” of the story, not a return to some ur-tale of absolute truth.

  21. To make that Hebrew-talk clearer: I think there would be a way of making it explicit that the Life Tree and the Knowledge Tree were both in the middle of the Garden, but the Hebrew makes that claim (explicity) for the Life Tree only.

    But you can be implicit too…

    And as RT suggested in comment # 1, the curse seems to flow better from the Life Tree. It makes more sense in context, otherwise you have God saying, “You’ve eaten the Knowledge Tree…let’s see…OK, I curse you with…having to have a painful labour.” More logical would be God saying, “You think you’re immortal now, do you? Well, I’m going to transfer that immortality to procreation. Your seed will be forever, but you will die.”

    Anyway, all conjecture. So, was the fruit of the Tree of Life a nectarine too?

  22. Tim Jacob says:

    I would just like to remind folks that even Bruce R. McConkie was willing to read partaking of the fruit as figurative.

    This is possible considering that Adam and Eve had no real need for food, given their state.

    The inclusion of not even touching the fruit may have come from Adam, not from Eve. If God didn’t give Eve the commandment to not partake of the fruit, it must have come from Adam, who may also have included the “don’t touch it” commandment.

  23. We’re just like Eve!

    Well, we’re all related to her.

    Maybe I’m a bit oversensitive about anything that could be an insult towards Eve, but I don’t see why us being like her would be a bad thing.

  24. Andermom, I guess it only makes it a bad thing if we follow her example and “add” to the commandments. That’s my whole point, she added to the commandment, we do the same thing.

  25. Completely pointless, but I just HAD to say, WHY did you have to say, fruit? Hee. I seem to be obsessed with peaches and bananas, lately.

    Even, tomatoes. Roasted or otherwise.

  26. Brother Brigham said that Adam and Eve were already resurrected and immortal beings when they were placed here, so what they ate or didn’t eat is kind of a non-starter for me.

  27. Genesis was written how many years after it supposedly occurred? It was oral tradition passed down and contextualized through many cultures traditions. Thus Brigham Young was probably the most literally true, but the story as written is figurative and true (in the good myth sense)… what can we learn about our state from it… our condition, our choices, our relationship with God, etc. which later revelations make clear. It is a beginning to the story of God’s Family planted on earth, each story figurative and meaningful for us today like all good stories, myths and truth is-the same yesterday, today and forever-if we get it. And it is individualized–different for you and me based on our need, our spiritual development, thus the idea of pondering/contemplating when we read and looking for the pearl without price hidden for us in our unique need today, which could be different tomorrow, levels upon levels.. The Kabbalists knew this. The great revelations on the Work in the Spirit World came from pondering scripture, as did the First Vision, and most visions, dreams, etc. of all who have ears to hear and eyes to see. They are like tumblers in the lock that opens us up to the Holy Ghost’s channel… read, ponder, pray… click, click, click and it opens. What do the two trees mean for your lives, and what does the choice of eating one or the other do for you? As in the Temple, we must think of ourselves as respectively Adam and Eve… It is for us… not history to memorize… It is to wake us up… As Truman Madsen, I think, said of the initiatory experiences before the Endowment… a patriarchal blessing for every part of our bodies… I think Scripture, like the all ordinances, are keys to open the locks on Truth that is for our day to day lives, we are not alone, we have TNT (President Benson’s term for Todays News Today) both for our individual life, family, work, calling, etc… if we use the keys… Two trees today, Knowledge of Good and Evil… Live forever… How I handle my parenting today, how I treat other drivers, how and what I think of my customers/my coworkers, how I focus on my wife, what I think about when I don’t have to think, what I do… all agency, all choices, for good or evil.. The Two Ways are Before Us moment by moment.. and thank heaven for repentance when we choose to sin… but if we do so habitually, prefer yelling to listening, prefer getting to giving… put down, not uplift… Every moment is a perfect judgment time… until the next.. Enough…

  28. So Ronan, what about the commandment to multiply and replenish the earth (Gen 1:28)? I have always understood that they were not able to produce children in Eden (although I am not sure if there is scriptural support for that), and therefore could not comply with the commandment to multiply in their un-fallen state. They had to disobey the fruit commandment in order to obey the multiply one.

    I see this whole story as an intentional construct created by God, Adam and Eve were just rats in a maze, and the fruit was the cheese. They were supposed to eat the fruit to get the whole process going. Satan was just a pawn — there must be opposition in all things. Eden had no oppositon, so God introduced Satan to get it all started.

    One other question, how long did they hang out in the Garden before finally giving in?

  29. Porter,

    First, let me say that I’m not saying Sasson is right. Second, Sasson would say that Gen 1:38 doesn’t make any difference to Gen 2-3 because it belongs to a different account (the Priestly tradition).

    As for Satan being a pawn, well, elsewhere in the OT “satan” is seen doing God’s bidding (see Job, Book of).

  30. Yes, I’ve felt after careful reading that if there must needs be an opposition in all things “that wickedness might come to pass”,that certainly someone had to be sacrificed. No matter how you slice it, for now it does certainly appear that way.Else there had to be another devil waiting in the wings to come down and play his part. And! that may very well have been the case.I’m sure that at sometime before, Jehova,Michael,Lucifer, Gabriel and others were shown the devils from ages before that had fallen.One would ask,”well, satan knew the plan of salvation before he fell,how that Adam would need to fall in order for a saviour to be needed, so why didn’t satan just leave Adam alone? And prolong the saviour,satans’ enemy, from comming into action. No fall, no saviour, right? But satan didn’t know all of God’s mind and probably thought that God would change the original plan and so satan decided to go for broke.But how does one explain Judas? He appears to have been sacrificed as well.A patriarch in the church told me that the reason for judas, was that Jesus needed an opposite, as apparently one was not be found in satan.I personally believe that satan was sacrificed, no offense to my Maker because I meant none. If that is true though, we just probably cannot comprehend the whole matter.Lucifer was good in the beginning, so something had to get into him and it is a coincidence that he would start acting up just around the time that an opposite to goodness was needed.

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