Cider Musings

Forbidden Fruit.


The story of Eve and the Apple.

Not wanting to get into the theology and factuality of the stories in Genesis, the story of Adam and Eve and the Forbidden Fruit is interesting with regards to apples. - their absence.

In the fourth century AD Pope Damasus asked his secretary St Jerome to translate the Bible into Latin the most used language  of Europe in the day, from Greek and Hebrew , hence the the Vulgate Bible written in the so-called "vulgar tongue." Genesis was originally written in Biblical Hebrew in the 5th and 6th Centuries BC.


Saint Jerome  spent the better part of the next 15 years in the city of Bethlehem, translating the Bible from Hebrew and Greek from AD 383  - 404

In the Hebrew Bible, a generic term, ‘peri’, is used for the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil.

Appelbaum, a professor of English literature at Sweden's Uppsala University, ( yes thats his name, wonderful in this context) says that St. Jerome had  several options for translating peri. "But he hit upon the idea of translating peri as malus, which in Latin has two very different meanings, -as an adjective, malus means bad or evil. As a noun it seems to mean an apple, in our own sense of the word, which comes from the very common tree now known officially as the Malus pumila.

So malus means bad or evil like "malice," but it's also a word for apple. St. Jerome made a pun!

The story doesn't end there. "To complicate things even more," says Appelbaum, "the word malus in Jerome's time, and for a long time after, could refer to any fleshy seed-bearing fruit. A pear is also a kind of malus which is a genus of 50+ species in the family Rosaceae .

Given that apples do not grow well in hot climes perhaps there are better contenders?  A lot of contenders have been postulated but look at the leaves in Michelangelo's depiction of the of the Tree  of Knowledge  on the Sistine Chapel 1508-12. Fig leaves not apple leaves. It’s therefore not an  apple tree but a Fig tree!

It would also be logically that after eating the forbidden fruit a fig Adam and Eve would clothe themselves in the leaves of the same tree All the early paintings I have seen show fig leaves. Apple leaves are too small. Fig trees grow much better in the Fertile Crescent than apples. The Garden of Eden is thought to have been in the Northern part of this. Michelangelo's Sistine Chapel fresco also features a serpent coiled around a fig tree.

It was actually a 1504 engraving by Albrecht Dürer that marks the shift from fig to apple, from the Italian Renaissance to the Northern Renaissance. Albrecht Dürer's famous 1504 engraving depicted Adam and Eve counterpoised beside an apple tree. It became a template for future artists. Art historians have offered a lot of clues to this story.