Did any English-language translation of the Bible describe Adam and Eve as eating apples? If so, were the translations meaning to say that they ate some sort of fruit (an older meaning of "apple"), or specifically the fruit produced by Malus domestica (the current-day meaning of "apple" when there's a lower case "a")?

Related question on Christianity

  • 1
    I'm having trouble figuring out exactly what the question is. You can take a look at English translations of Genesis 3 and see that the word apple is not there (as noted in the C.SE question) - rather, fruit. Are you looking for more info on the Hebrew word behind that, or are you interested in how the cultural association with an apple developed, or something else?
    – Susan
    Oct 4 '14 at 15:06
  • @Susan I was meaning past, but presumably not present-day translations of the Bible into English. Oct 4 '14 at 15:10
  • Yes, the misconception in many people, that they were eating apples comes from the fact that all fruit was called 'apple' in old English, thus the translation. Oct 13 '14 at 10:09

I do not know of any English translations which explicitly list the fruit as being an apple. However, there is a Christian tradition that the forbidden fruit is an apple. Here are couple of reasons for why the forbidden fruit has come to be symbolized as an apple:

  • In Greek mythology, Heracles was required to pick the golden apples from Tree of Life in the center of the Garden of the Hesperides.

  • This tradition may stem from the language which the Vulgate uses. In Genesis 2:17 the Vulgate uses the following Latin:

       de ligno autem scientiae boni et mali ne comedas
       but of the tree of knowledge of good and evil thou shalt not eat

Here "mali" is the genitive of "malum" which means evil. However, "malum" can also mean apple. Hence, this pun may have been the starting point of the tradition that Adam and Eve ate apples.

Note that this viewpoint of the apple stands in contrast to Judaism. For example, on Rosh Hashanah apples are customarily eaten because they symbolize a sweet new year. The Talmud cites three opinions for what the forbidden fruit tree might have been. It could have been a grapevine, a fig tree, or a wheat stalk. As an example explanation, Rabbi Nehemiah claims it was a fig tree, logically referring to that Adam and Eve covered themselves with fig leaves after realizing they were naked.

  • 2
    This is a really far-fetched theory. There is no way that any reader of the Latin Bible would confuse mali and malum in this context.
    – fdb
    Oct 7 '14 at 16:13
  • @fdb You might be surprised, but the Talmud frequently makes comparisons between similar to the pun on malum. I see no reason why the same thing would not be happening with the texts of other religions. Oct 12 '14 at 14:48
  • 1
    How about a page reference for the Talmud?
    – fdb
    Oct 12 '14 at 14:57
  • It's not about confusing the words. It's a pun. :)
    – user862
    Oct 13 '14 at 20:38

From what I have been able to gather, this association has been a long standing interpretation, and an ill founded one at that. I will go into a couple of the possible reasons below that are not mentioned in Tim Biegeleisen's answer:

1. A mistaken interpretation of the Songs of Songs

A possible explanation is that it stems form a mistaken interpretation of the Song of Songs. According to the Interpreter's Dictionary of the Bible:

Association of the tree in the garden of Eden (Gen. 3:1-19) with the apple seems to stem from an early mistaken identification of the tree of Song of S. 8:5 with the story.

If you take the second half of Song of Songs 8:5 completely out of context, I can possibly see how that might occur (ESV):

Under the apple tree I awakened you. There your mother was in labor with you; there she who bore you was in labor.

After rummaging through the various commentaries I have, both ancient and modern, I was not able to find this particular interpretation of Songs of Songs 8:5 or Genesis 3:1-19, let alone even a hint that the fruit is an apple.

2. An interpretation drawn from literature

One of the oldest places in literature I have managed to find the fruit explicitly mentioned as an apple is John Milton's Paradise Lost 9.585:

Of tasting those fair Apples, I resolv'd

And 10.487:

your wonder, with an Apple; he thereat

Offended, worth your laughter, hath giv'n up

This interpretation, although not the oldest, may have popularised the notion of the fruit being an apple, at least in the English speaking world. It would not be the first time that Milton has popularised a phrase or idea in English speaking culture.

According to the footnotes in my version of Paradise Lost (Fowler, 1968) for 9.585, Milton may have drawn "apple" from Zacharias Ursinus' commentary on the Heidelberg Catechism:

But is the plucking of an apple such a great and heinous offence?

Ursinus wrote his commentary in latin. This could be a possible root of the mali/malum pun.

  • 2
    As a side note, I notice that the tree of Song of Songs is called "apple" in most Bibles, except the NEB and the HCSB which render it "apricot". I would like to start spreading the falsehood that Adam and Eve ate an apricot.
    – Peter
    Oct 13 '14 at 10:03

Even Wycliffe's translation used the word fruit, so I think the answer to this question must be a no. The confusion probably still stems from apple meaning generic fruit, but it wasn't because of any particular translation.

Therfore the womman seiy that the tre was good, and swete to ete, and fair to the iyen, and delitable in bi holdyng; and sche took of the fruyt therof, and eet, and yaf to hir hosebande, and he eet. (Gen 3:6)

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