Was the “Forbidden Fruit” in the Garden of Eden Actually an Apple? (2024)

Updated2 August, 2022 - 01:57 Sahir

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The forbidden fruit reference in the Bible and the story of how Adam and Eve were kicked out of the Garden of Eden is well known and used in all kinds of modern contexts. But was the forbidden fruit an apple or some other fruit? Why was the apple chosen to represent the forbidden fruit of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil? Here are a few explanations for this ancient and puzzling question.

These words, from Chapter II of The First Book of Moses or Genesis, have become synonymous with the “Forbidden Fruit,” i.e., the apple:

“And the Lord God commanded the man, saying, Of every tree of the garden thou mayest freely eat: 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.”

Believe it or not, the apple has been wrongly used as the forbidden fruit in popular theological culture. A cursory reading of the Bible does tell us that Adam and Eve were cast out of the Garden of Eden for not resisting the forbidden fruit, and thereby falling to temptation after the serpent guarding the Tree of Knowledge managed to manipulate Eve to trick Adam. The problem is that the older Hebrew Bible does not specify what fruit the forbidden fruit was, leaving it generic. So, why the apple?

Was the “Forbidden Fruit” in the Garden of Eden Actually an Apple? (2)

In this painting, The Garden of Eden and the Fall of Man or The Fall of Man painted by Peter Paul Rubens (figures) and Jan Brueghel the Elder (landscape and animals), the forbidden fruit tree bears many different fruits. (Peter Paul Rubens / Public domain)

Unravelling the Forbidden Fruit Apple Motif

In the next chapter of Genesis in the Old Testament, this stanza describes the temptation of Adam and Eve:

"When the woman saw that the tree was good for eating and a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was desirable as a source of wisdom, she took of its fruit and ate. She also gave some to her husband, and he ate.”

These two sentences have been used since they were first written down as a metaphorical reference to any indulgence or pleasure that the dogmas of religion deem illegal or immoral. The Hebrew word used for fruit here is “peri,” a generic term referring to the fruit hanging from the Tree of Knowledge. And they are still heavily referenced today in conversations, novels, and films.

Modern scholars and historians believe that a bastardization and possible misinterpretation of Latin might answer the question, “Why the Apple?” The Latin word mălum signifies “evil,” while the Latin word mālum, from the Greekμῆλον, means “apple.”

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The forbidden fruit translation error may have occurred due to an incident in the 4th century AD, when Pope Damasus ordered Jerome, an eminent scholar of scripture, to translate the Hebrew Bible into Latin. This is according to Robert Appelbaum, a professor emeritus of English literature at Uppsala University in Sweden. "The word ["malum"] in Latin translates into a word in English, apple, which also stood for any fruit ... with a core of seeds in the middle and flesh around it. But it was a generic term [for fruit] as well," Appelbaum told Live Science.

The translation, which included the language spoken by the “common man” and commissioned by the Catholic Church, is called Vulgate. As mentioned earlier, “peri” could have been any fruit: a fig, a grape, an apricot, or an orange. Jerome translated peri as malus, which at that time referred to any fleshy, seed-bearing fruit.

Was the “Forbidden Fruit” in the Garden of Eden Actually an Apple? (3)

A famous Roman statue of Aphrodite with the forbidden fruit in her left hand made with marble from Paros from the imperial period (late 1st century or early 2nd century AD) in the Louvre collection. (Jean-Pol GRANDMONT / CC BY 4.0)

The Apple in Classical Mythology

Despite its facetious Biblical origins, the apple continued to be the forbidden fruit in popular culture with links in other mythology. An apple started the legendary Greek Trojan War myth. In Norse mythology, the gods believed that their immortality was a product of apples. In the Arabian nights, a magical apple from Samarkand cures all human disease, long before the advertising campaign of 1866 told us, “an apple a day keeps a doctor away.”

In ancient Greece, Dionysus, the god of wine and fertility, apparently created the apple, presenting it to Aphrodite, the goddess of love. Thus began a practice of newlyweds in Athens eating an apple, to increase fertility, before entering the bridal chamber.

The most famous apple reference of all would have to be the Golden Apples of the Hesperides, in the private orchard of the goddess Hera. At Zeus and Hera’s wedding, branches with golden apples were the wedding gifts, again linked to sex and fertility.

One of the Twelve Labors of Heracles (Hercules) involved stealing the Golden Apples of Hesperides from Hera’s orchard. This involved tricking Atlas into retrieving the apples for him, whilst Heracles held up the sky in his absence.

The shape of an apple can also be connected with the shape of a woman’s breast, which could be another reason the apple is a fertility symbol and not really forbidden fruit at all if you were getting married or were married.

Was the “Forbidden Fruit” in the Garden of Eden Actually an Apple? (4)

Adam and Eve by Albrecht Dürer painted in 1507 AD prominently features the forbidden fruit connecting both panels with the snake almost forgotten in the upper righthand corner. (Albrecht Dürer / Public domain)

The Apple in Medieval Europe and Popular Culture

The apple became a big theme in post-classical Western European art and culture by at least the 12th century AD. Renaissance paintings also featured the apple. German artist Albrecht Durer’s famous First Couple engraving of 1504 shows Adam and Eve beside an apple tree. In 1533, Lucas Cranach, borrowing from Durer, depicted a glowing ruby-like apple, with a luminous Adam and Eve in the center, in his painting titled Adam and Eve.

Other major Renaissance artists also used the forbidden fruit theme but chose fruits that were not apples. In Ghent Altarpiece by Hubert and Jan van Eyck, 1432, the fruit was a citron. In Eve Tempted By the Serpent, by Italian Defedente Ferrari in the early 1520s, the fruit was an apricot. And in The Fall of Man by Peter Paul Rubens, 1628-29, it was a pomegranate. Michelangelo's masterpiece, The Sistine Chapel, features a fresco with a serpent coiled around a fig tree.

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What sealed the deal for the apple as the forbidden fruit in Western consciousness was English poet John Milton’s seminal work Paradise Lost (1667). In this work Milton used the word “apple” twice to refer to the forbidden fruit. During this voluminous 10,000-line poem, Milton vividly describes the apple "as being fuzzy on the outside, and extremely juicy and sweet and ambrosial,” as Eve takes the mythical bite. In his earlier work from 1644 titled Areopagitica Milton described the fruit of knowledge of good and evil as an apple.

These two works cemented the status of the apple as the forbidden fruit and were strongly color linked to create Christian imagery. The red (the color of blood), round (fertility), golden (greed), and sweet-tasting (desire) apple is the symbol of temptation and sin. Interestingly, Islam’s representation of the forbidden fruit has always been a fig or an olive.

Top image: “Forbidden fruit” was written in the Bible in reference to the ‘apple’ of Eden that led to Adam and Eve being banished from paradise for tasting of the Tree of Knowledge. But was the forbidden fruit really an apple or some other fruit? Source: funstarts33 / Adobe Stock

By Sahir Pandey


Adams, C. 2006. Was the forbidden fruit in the Garden of Eden an apple? Available at: https://www.straightdope.com/21343798/was-the-forbidden-fruit-in-the-garden-of-eden-an-apple.

CPFF. 2019. What was the forbidden fruit in the Garden of Eden? Available at: https://commonplacefacts.com/2019/07/21/what-was-the-forbidden-fruit-in-the-garden-of-eden/.

Martyris, N. 2017. 'Paradise Lost': How The Apple Became The Forbidden Fruit. Available at: https://www.npr.org/sections/thesalt/2017/04/30/526069512/paradise-lost-how-the-apple-became-the-forbidden-fruit?t=1657570781601.

Rupp, R. 2014. The History of the “Forbidden” Fruit. Available at: https://www.nationalgeographic.com/culture/article/history-of-apples.

Taylor, A.P. 2021. Was the 'forbidden fruit' in the Garden of Eden really an apple? Available at: https://www.livescience.com/what-was-forbidden-fruit-in-eden.html.

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    Pete Wagner wrote on 2 August, 2022 - 13:57

    The 'apple motif' goes all the way back to the ancient Persians, but it was the ancient Greeks at that time who created it. It’smeaning has been twisted to divert from the original purpose, which was a warning by and to the ancient Greeks to be wary oftraveling Semites (as they were called, meaning semi-man, a product of Sumerian/alien men and aboriginal women, who appeared somewhat snake-like to the fair-haired ancient Greeks), arriving as merchant/traders bringing in goods from other places. The threat was the acceptance or desire of the product (creating the fall) leading to areliance upon the merchant–adevil’s trick of sorts to gain control of the people. The BIG red apple was not well known to the ancient Greeks, as it came only at that time from the Persian highlandswhere it was either native or cultivated. The ancient Greeks only knew of crab apple sized apples, so it was an appropriate metaphor. When the merchant (serpent) arrived in the village with a cart of big red apples, people/women got interested. But it wasn’t just apples, it was anything that could be sold, where a demand could be created by savy salesmanship. This would lead to trading, first barter butsoonafter coinage (slices of non-ferrous metalrods)for payment, which because coins were durable would lead to accumulation by the trickiest/greediest. This led to themoney tyrants,taxes, and loss of freedom for the villagers. The motif implies that women were the serpent’s most susceptiblecustomer base, probably due to their village nature as homemakers just wanting to adorn their‘nests’ with nice things that provide pleasure and comfort. The motif was probably created by an wise old ancient Greek man living humbly, romanticizing about the long-gone Golden Age, where everybody had what they wanted and needed, and nobody had any money.

    Nobody gets paid to tell the truth.

    Guillaumé wrote on 2 August, 2022 - 09:14

    It wasn’t an apple. Itwas a mushroom. It was at the base of a pine tree. It was Aminita Muscaria, the true source of knowledge. Soma.


    I am a graduate of History from the University of Delhi, and a graduate of Law, from Jindal University, Sonepat. During my study of history, I developed a great interest in post-colonial studies, with a focus on Latin America. I... Read More

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    Was the “Forbidden Fruit” in the Garden of Eden Actually an Apple? ›

    In the Vulgate, Genesis 2:17 describes the tree as "de ligno autem scientiae boni et mali": "but of the tree [literally 'wood'] of knowledge of good and evil

    knowledge of good and evil
    In Jewish tradition, the Tree of Knowledge and the eating of its fruit represents the beginning of the mixture of good and evil together. Before that time, the two were separate, and evil had only a nebulous existence in potential.
    https://en.wikipedia.org › wiki › Tree_of_the_knowledge_of_...
    " (mali here is the genitive of malum). According to the Bible, there is nothing to show the forbidden fruit of the tree of knowledge was necessarily an apple.

    Was the forbidden fruit really an apple? ›

    The Forbidden Fruit and the Origins of Poverty. The forbidden fruit is commonly thought of as an apple, but the Bible never actually says what fruit it was. Regardless, the effects of Eve and Adam eating it were fatal.

    What kind of fruit was the forbidden fruit? ›

    Rather than a broad, general term for "fruit," it took on a narrower meaning: "apple." Once that change in meaning became widely accepted, readers of the Old French version of Genesis understood the statement "Adam and Eve ate a pom" to mean "Adam and Eve ate an apple." At that point, they understood the apple to be ...

    What fruit was on the Tree of Knowledge? ›

    It was disobedience of Adam and Eve, who had been told by God not to eat off the tree (Genesis 2:17), that caused disorder in the creation, thus humanity inherited sin and guilt from Adam and Eve's sin. In Western Christian art, the fruit of the tree is commonly depicted as the apple, which originated in central Asia.

    Was the forbidden fruit a pomegranate? ›

    In the Quran, pomegranates grow in the Garden of Paradise and are referred to on multiple occasions as God's good creations. 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.

    What tree did Adam and Eve eat from? ›

    The Old Testament tells of Adam and Eve, our progenitors. They lived in paradise in total innocence until the serpent (the devil) enticed them to eat the forbidden fruit from the tree of knowledge. As punishment for their disobedience, God banished them from Paradise.

    When did humans start eating apples? ›

    Approximately 750,000 years ago: early Paleolithic food gatherers in (modern) Kazakhstan, central Asia, discovered sour crab apples growing wild in the forest. Approximately 8,000 years ago: Neolithic farmers in (modern) Asia cultivated wild apples. c. 1300 BC: Egyptians began planting orchards along the Nile Delta.

    What was the forbidden fruit in the Garden of Eden? ›

    As to which fruit may have been the forbidden fruit of the Garden of Eden, possibilities include an apple, grapes, a pomegranate, a fig, carob, etrog or citron, pear, quince, and mushrooms.

    What did Adam and Eve really eat? ›

    Over the years, rabbis have written that the fruit could have been a fig, because in the Hebrew Bible, Adam and Eve realized they were naked after eating from the tree of knowledge, and then used fig leaves to cover themselves.

    What was the tree of life in the Garden of Eden? ›

    According to Jewish mythology, in the Garden of Eden there is a tree of life or the "tree of souls" that blossoms and produces new souls, which fall into the Guf, the Treasury of Souls. The Angel Gabriel reaches into the treasury and takes out the first soul that comes into his hand.

    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 where the Tigris and Euphrates rivers run into the sea; and in Armenia.

    What does the apple represent in the Bible? ›

    As a result, the apple became a symbol for knowledge, immortality, temptation, the fall of man and sin.

    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, approximately 6 kilometers (4 miles) from Jebel Dukhan, the highest point in Bahrain, and 40 kilometers from Manama.

    What do apples symbolize? ›

    In various mythologies, apples are used as a symbol of love, beauty, and wisdom.

    Was the forbidden fruit alcoholic? ›

    Forbidden Fruit Liqueur was first created in the late 1800s and became a well-known ingredient in many classic co*cktails. After the product was acquired from the original producers by the Jacquin Company, it stopped being made in the 1970s as they repurposed the bottle design for their new Chambord Raspberry Liqueur.

    Who is the snake in the Garden of Eden? ›

    The serpent is then cast into the abyss and sealed within until he is released (Revelation 20:1-3). In Christian tradition, the "ancient serpent" is commonly identified with the Genesis serpent and as Satan.

    What is the fruit of the tree of life? ›

    Saint Albert the Great taught that the Eucharist, the Body and Blood of Christ, is the Fruit of the Tree of Life. Augustine of Hippo said that the tree of life is Christ: All these things stood for something other than what they were, but all the same they were themselves bodily realities.

    What is the real meaning of forbidden fruit? ›

    Definitions of forbidden fruit. originally an apple from the tree of knowledge of good and evil in the Garden of Eden; it is now used to refer to anything that is tempting but dangerous (as sexuality) type of: enticement, temptation. something that seduces or has the quality to seduce.

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