What a concept. The human condition summed up in one simple action involving fruit hanging on a tree. Deciphering this entire chapter would take post after post after post. So for now, I’m going to just focus on the concepts I’ve come to understand regarding this phrase.
It’s not necessary to believe there was in fact a Garden of Eden, that there was in fact a talking serpent taunting Eve into eating the “forbidden fruit” as it were, and that God in fact created the world in 7 days. The Old Testament is a compilation of stories-very powerful stories brimming with truth, but stories nonetheless. These stories were written thousands of years ago to an audience with very different thoughts, ideas and languages. You have to read between the lines to figure out what it’s really saying—ESPECIALLY the book of Genesis.
For the sake of this discussion, accept for a moment that there is a God, that he created us, and he created us with an intellect, an imagination, creativity, curiosity, emotions—abilities unlike anything else on this earth. Humanity was created complete as we are today, all of these abilities in tact. Additionally, accept that we were fully aware of ourselves as a whole: mind, body and spirit united and complete.
The story is set in Eden, a region in Mesopotamia. According to biblical scholars, Eden is also a Sumarian word meaning “fertile plain”. In Hebrew, “delight”. So we have a garden in a region in Mesopotamia; a garden on a fertile plain; a garden of delight (or as the Greeks called it, a “pleasure park”—I like the Greek translation the best.) (NAB note to GEN 2:8)
I’m pretty certain that any place called a “pleasure park” would have all the great things that we as humans desire naturally—sex, food, creative outlets, the ability to learn, grow and express ourselves. I infer from this analysis that humanity is created in a condition (not a time or place, but a condition) whereby we are able to grow and enjoy being human beings.
“Out of the ground the LORD God made various trees grow that were delightful to look at and good for food, with the tree of life in the middle of the garden and the tree of the knowledge of good and bad.”
So if a garden isn’t really a garden, the trees must not really be trees, and might instead be all things that allow us to express our humanity. The fruit of these trees are the nourishment of our humanity—the objects of our human passions, which nourish our humanity and allow it to grow. We know what all these things are: endeavors that we enjoy today, which allow us to express ourselves. The tree of life in the middle of the garden is the central source of our passions and nourishment. The tree of life was God.
Now, let’s look at the phrase, knowledge of good and bad—in the Latin vulgate (translated from the Hebrew and Greek in the 4th century by a man unequalled in his knowledge of the ancient languages) reads: lignumque scientiæ boni et mali. Lignumque=A tree that has. Boni=good. Mali=bad. The word “scientiae” can mean not only knowledge of, but also skill of. So the “forbidden tree” is not just the understanding of what is good and what is evil—but a fruit that feeds our ability to BE EVIL. The more we seek evil, the more evil we will become.
We can conclude that the point of the Garden of Eden is not to demonstrate a factual account of creation, but to explain that once we choose to not just accept evil, but allow it to feed us, we will become evil. Therefore, exercise caution in your daily life, avoid the fruit from that tree whenever possible.