According to the Book of Genesis, God placed two trees in the center of the Garden of Eden: the Tree of Life and the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil. He commanded Adam and Eve that they were not to eat the fruit of the latter tree for "when you eat of it you will surely die." (Genesis 2:9, 16-17). And wouldn't you know, Things Went Badly (Genesis 3:1-24)
The Serpent promised Eve that if she ate the Forbidden Fruit, she would be like God, knowing both Good and Evil. Apparently, the initial effect was that Adam and Eve suddenly noticed that neither of them was wearing any clothing; so what they got was embarrassment and guilt. Some1 regard the tree as a metaphor for mankind becoming sapient (or, to retain the mythic element, its cause…).
But what kind of fruit was it? In Western Christian culture, it is generally referred to as an Apple, possibly because of a Latin pun: by eating the malus (apple), Eve contracted malum (evil). Also, in the Middle Ages, the word "apple" was frequently used as a generic word for "fruit", just as "corn" was used as a generic term for "grain". Some traditions have held that the tree was a fig tree, since Adam and Eve straightaway used fig leaves to make clothing for themselves2. Other biblical scholars speculate that the fruit was a pomegranate, since that fruit grows in Mesopotamia where Eden is thought to have been located.
People frequently shorten the name to the "Tree of Knowledge", thereby giving the impression that somehow Knowledge itself is Evil. Another popular interpretation is that it has something to do with Sex. Not sure what, but with Eve being naked and all, Sex has to figure in there someplace. Given the tie in to "knowledge of Good and Evil" being tied into the fall from paradise3, this may be something to do with Jesus' teaching (Mat 18:3) “Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven".
The Gnostics, unsurpringly, have a somewhat different take, holding that sacred wisdom is the key to overcoming the snares of the demiurge and escaping confinement in the mortal realm. This would seem to be the reverse of the story of Genesis…
Game and Story Use
- Okay, having written the entry, now I can't think of any game applications. Help me out here.
- Focusing on the fruit:
- So, maybe we need a page on Apple, Pomegranate, and other Deadly Fruit or Magic Fruit or Fruit Symbolism? I mean, in addition to this apple, there's the one from Snow White, and the one that starts the Trojan War. In addition to this Pomegranate, there's the one from the tale of Persephone. (I think the TV Tropes Wiki calls it How Do You Like Them Apples, but their site is down right now, so I can't verify.)
- In a very irreverent game, an NPC could serve up some very interesting fruitcake, fruit salad (especially the kind with jello and/or mini marshmallows), or a peanut-butter-and-knowledge-jelly sandwich made from this particular tree.
- In a more serious game, the Fruit of Knowledge could be a symbolic mark that bars entry into Eden, or the Tree of Knowledge could be a spiritual artifact that acts as the source of all human wisdom. And of course, since this is a theological thing, you could just rip off Neon Genesis Evangelion and use lots of fake symbolism.
- A purely gamist interpretation could use fruit from this tree as granting an enormous boost to appropriate characteristics - if one dose could raise a species to sapience…
- Of course, a second dose could always reverse the first…
- Don't expect a good armor class if your game is set in the garden of Eden. You can't jump straight from fig-leaf to plate-mail.
- More generally, the guardians of Eden may allow passage of the gate to anyone who genuine doesn't have knowledge of good and evil … animals, children … psychopaths …