Note: this answer originally addressed an earlier version of this question.
Response to Claims that Knowledge was not actually on the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil
In addition to God's command to not eat from the tree of knowledge in Genesis 2, Genesis 3 mentions several times that the eating of the fruit from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil would give increased knowledge and wisdom. The increase in knowledge is what the serpent used to entice Eve into eating of the fruit:
4 Then the serpent said to the woman, “You will not surely die. 5 For God knows [ידע] that in the day you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing [ידעי] good and evil.”
6 So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, that it was pleasant to the eyes, and a tree desirable to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate. She also gave to her husband with her, and he ate. 7 Then the eyes of both of them were opened, and they knew [ידע] that they were naked; and they sewed fig leaves together and made themselves coverings.
-Genesis 3:4-7 (NKJV)
- The serpent says the tree contains knowledge that can be obtained by eating of it.
- Eve sees the pleasantness of the tree and that it can make one wise.
- The eyes of Eve and Adam are opened after they eat from the tree. Their knowledge increased and they now know they are naked (דעת “knowledge” is derived from ידע “to know”).
8 And they heard the sound of the Lord God walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and Adam and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the Lord God among the trees of the garden.
9 Then the Lord God called to Adam and said to him, “Where are you?”
10 So he said, “I heard Your voice in the garden, and I was afraid because I was naked; and I hid myself.”
11 And He said, “Who told you that you were naked? Have you eaten from the tree of which I commanded you that you should not eat?”
12 Then the man said, “The woman whom You gave to be with me, she gave me of the tree, and I ate.”
13 And the Lord God said to the woman, “What is this you have done?”
The woman said, “The serpent deceived me, and I ate.”
-Genesis 3:8-13 (NKJV)
Here again the focus is on eating from the tree. God's questions to the man in verse 11 demonstrate that man would only have known of his nakedness if he had eaten from the tree God said not to eat from. דעת should not be better understood as “devotion” because man gained knowledge by eating the fruit from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.
- Is the tree in the Garden of Eden better understood as "the tree of devotion..." rather than "the tree of knowledge..."?
No, because even if the rest of the sentence was ignored you would still have to take into account that “knowledge” דעת has the letter “he” ה prefixed to it. The “he” ה would require it to be
but of the tree of the knowledge...
If דעת really did mean “devotion” then the sentence would be
but of the tree of the devotion.... However, this brings us back to the problem of needing prepositions because
- the tree of devotion...to what?
“Tree of devotion of good and evil” can't really be defended here, mainly because it doesn't make sense in English or in Hebrew. דעת is properly rendered knowledge even by the JPS 1985 in Genesis 2:17.
Original Response to Revision 2
No, it cannot be “the tree of devotion to good and evil” because the phrase lacks any preposition that would be required for this rendering. Here is the phrase in question:
ומעץ הדעת טוב ורע
but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil (NKJV / ESV)
but from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil (NASB)
ומעץ: “but of the tree”
of [in the sense of ‘out of’] (NKJV / ESV) or
Note that the phrase “the tree” by itself would normally be העץ
However when the mem מ is prefixed to a word like in the above example, the he ה is dropped (“the tree” normally being העץ is not always the case as עץ can refer to a single tree in particular, which would then still be referred to as “the tree” without a prefixed he ה, but for simplicity I won't go into detail now).
הדעת: “[of] the knowledge”
טוב: “[of] good”
ורע: “and evil”
“The tree” is the object and the rest of the phrase describes the attributes of the tree.
- What kind of tree is it? It is the tree of knowledge.
- What kind of knowledge? The knowledge of good and evil.
If the sentence were to be “the tree of devotion to good and evil” it would require additional prepositions, such as lameds ל. Also the he ה prefixed to “knowledge דעת” would have to be dropped. The sentence would then appear like this:
ומעץ דעת לטוב ולרע
which could then be literally rendered as “but of the tree of devotion to good and to evil....”
Concerning Isaiah 11:2 in the NET, notice that the corresponding translator's note gives the more proper rendering:
6 tn Heb “a spirit of knowledge and fear of the Lord.” [...]
“a spirit that produces absolute loyalty to the Lord” is more of an interpretive rendering of the actual phrase, as is the JPS rendering. Here is the Isaiah 11:2 phrase:
רוח דעת ויראת יהוה
The Spirit of knowledge and of the fear of the Lord. (NKJV)
the Spirit [spirit(NASB)] of knowledge and the fear of the Lord. (ESV / NASB)
Notice that there are no lameds ל. When prefixed to a word, a lamed ל can mean to or for (in addition to several other meanings1). So strictly speaking, the JPS rendering of
A spirit of devotion and reverence for the LORD.
is not correct, though as I said earlier it is more of an interpretation. All translations have a certain amount of interpertation, since they would be essentially unreadable to most people otherwise. But in the case of Isaiah 11:2, readings such as the NKJV, ESV, and NASB are the more accurate.
Genesis 2:17 cannot be rendered as “the tree of devotion to good and evil” due to the lack of required prepositions. The rendering of “the tree of the knowledge of good and evil” is correct not only from the grammar, but from what happens to Adam and Eve in Genesis 3 when God says in verse 22:
Behold, the man has become like one of Us, to know good and evil. (NKJV)
הן האדם היה כאחד ממנו לדעת טוב ורע
Note the lamed ל above in bold. The man came to know good and evil by eating the fruit from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. Tree is the noun, while knowledge and good and evil are acting as adjectives to describe the tree.
1 See Gesenius's Hebrew Lexicon entry for ל, namely (6), (7), & (8) on pages 423-424.