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Table of Contents

Part I

Part II

Part III

Part IV

Part V

Part VI

Part VII


Part IX


Part II:  The Nature of the Forbidden Fruit

Chapter 2

The Testimony of Tradition

     A FEW CENTURIES ago, tradition concerning early human events was believed without question. But about seventy-five years ago a complete swing of the pendulum had occurred. And just when traditions were being gathered and collected most usefully from many previously unknown sources. it became the fashion to consider them as interesting, but quite untrue. However, as archaeology came into its own, one confirmation after another of often the most unlikely details came to light, and today secular traditions are treated with a great deal more respect.
     Yet after all is said and done, one cannot really prove anything by an appeal to such a source. But where it is found that traditions which refer back to some common event present a concordant testimony in terms which are slightly discordant, their testimony is of some significance. It is generally agreed in a court of law that where several independent witnesses agree too closely in their testimony, one should suspect collusion and question the value of their statements. In those ancient traditions which refer back to the Fall of man there is just that measure of agreement and disagreement that has the ring of truth.
     For example, sometimes the forbidden fruit comes from a good tree and sometimes from a bad tree; at times the consequences were just great enlightenment and at others great darkness. In some instances the being who tempts man is good and in others evil. Most of these contradictions can be resolved simply enough when we have the true account which is presented in Scripture as a guide. The tree was both good and evil, the consequences were both gain and loss. But it is not unnatural for people to suppose that a being who introduced man to an advanced kind of knowledge must be good. And the judgment itself, in so far as death was introduced, was in a way a blessing in disguise.

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     To illustrate this last point: in a book entitled The Origin of Death According to African Mythology, the author, Hans Abrahamson, has given a pretty exhaustive account of the subject. (16) He began with the most widespread and prevalent African myths of death, originating through a perverted message, some act of negligence or unwise choice on the part of men, or through opening a fatal bundle in which death resided. A divine ordeal is then illustrated and discussed. This leads to a consideration of "discord" in the first family, under four subheadings, and then to myths of death caused by human beings engaging in sexual intercourse, regarded as a practice forbidden by the Creator. According to the author the notion of death sometimes shows traces of the influence of the Eden story, but the traditions are couched in such terms that he felt they have not originated from Christian or Jewish sources.
     Rather unusual, in Abrahamson's opinion, is the contention that death is good and is desired by man as an expression of life weariness resulting from his wickedness. In most of the traditions the initiative is taken by the High God or by some other Divine Being who permits death to enter the world.
     In India, one primitive group have a tradition of the Fall which contains certain details that bring us a little closer to the clue we are seeking. S. H. Kellogg, who believed that these people did not borrow their story from Christian sources, gave the following account:

     The Santals have a tradition . . . that in the beginning they were not worshippers of demons as they are now. They say that, very long ago, their first parents were created by the living God; and that they worshipped and served Him at first: and that they were seduced from their allegiance by an evil spirit, Masang Buru, who persuaded them to drink an intoxicating liquor made from the fruit of a certain tree.

     S. L. Caiger, in a most useful little handbook of archaeology and the Bible, gave a translation of a small fragment of a cuneiform tablet which professes to identify the tree: (18)

My King the cassia plant approached;
He plucked, he ate.
Then Ninharsag in the name of Enki
Uttered a curse:
"The Face of Life, until he dies,
Shall he not see."

16. Abrahamson, Hans, "The Origin of Death: Studies in African Mythology," reviewed in Man, September, 1952, p.137.
17. Kellogg, S. H., Genesis and the Growth of Religion, Macmillan, New York, 1892, pp.60, 61.
18. Caiger, S. L., Bible and Spade, Oxford University Press, 1936, p.19.

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     For the reader unfamiliar with early Mesopotamian mythology, Ninharsag and Enki were deities. This little fragment for all its polytheistic colouring nevertheless has preserved one element of the story. Man could not come face to face with God again except by passing through death. The term "the face of life" probably means "the face of Him who is the source of life" (cf. Exodus 33:20; John 14:6).
     The same author gives another version of the Eden story from a tablet which indicates a condition of perfect harmony in nature prior to the Fall. The biblical Adam is represented by one whose name is given as Enki, whom we have seen in the previous tablet as a deity. It was quite customary to deify important figures, and as a matter of interest the name is probably composed of two words En and Ki meaning Heaven and Earth -- appropriate enough in view of the fact that Adam stood as a link between heaven and earth. The tablet runs as follows:

In Dilmun, the Garden of the gods,
Where Enki and his consort lay,
That place was pure, that place was clean,
The lion slew not, the wolf plundered not the lambs,
The dog harried not the kids in repose,
The birds forsook not their young,
The doves were not put to flight.
There was no disease or pain. . . .

     This picture remarkably parallels that vision which Isaiah had of the future when the Lord should return to reign in righteousness (Isaiah 11:69; 65:25).
    W. St. Chad Boscawen gives another version which has been found on a cuneiform fragment as follows:

The great gods, all of them determiners of Fate,
Entered, and death-like, the god Sar filled.
In sin, one with the other in compact joins.
The command was established in the Garden of the god.
The asnan fruit they ate, they broke in two:
Its stalk they destroyed
The sweet juice which injures the body.
Great is their sin. . . .

     Like many other such cuneiform texts the meaning is not altogether clear. Not only are some of these fragments in rather mutilated condition but the translation of cuneiform itself still presents

19. Ibid.
20. Boscawen, W. St. Chad, The Bible and the Monuments, Eyre and Spottiswoode, London, 1896, p.89.

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some problems. It is interesting to find, however, in what is evidently a very early tradition, that it was the juice of a fruit which injured the bodies of "Adam" and his consort. This, of course, makes the assumption, which may or may not be justified, that this tablet is a recollection of the events in Eden.
     One of the most complete of these early stories is known as the Adapa Myth. It is not necessary to detail it here, for much of it does not have to do with that particular aspect of the Fall with which we are concerned. However, George Barton has given a translation of some of the sections that are not mutilated, which seem clearly to reflect the Eden story. In the third tablet, referring evidently to the action of one of the gods, on line 16 we find the words, "The sickness which he placed in the bodies of the people."
(21) This is followed in line 19 by the words, "Destruction shall fall upon him." This again is not as clear in meaning as one would wish, but we might be justified perhaps in viewing this as a reference to the Tempter upon whom judgment was pronounced after he had robbed man of his original perfect health. One thing which may be noted about all these fragments is that they all seem to have in view a real fruit containing a real poison which had very real material consequences. It is not, I think, because the writers did not have a sense of spiritual values that they laid so much emphasis upon the physical effects of the Fall. The sense of sin in cuneiform literature is well marked and some of the penitential psalms are remarkable for the real sense of unworthiness that they reveal. It seems that the emphasis in these traditions must rather be the result of a conviction that the Fall of man in the form in which we find it most completely stated in Genesis was sober history. In these traditions at least, there is not merely allegory. This is history -- though distorted.
     By now the reader will probably have begun to surmise something of the nature of the forbidden fruit. The Santal tradition says it contained an intoxicating liquor. Another fragment speaks of it as having a certain sweetness but being injurious to the body. In a paper first published in the Transactions of the Victoria Institute some time ago, T. G. Pinches told his audience of the finding of a cuneiform tablet which opens thus:

In Eridu grew a dark vine,
In a glorious place it was brought forth.

21. Barton, George A., Archaeology and the Bible, American Sunday School Union, Philadelphia, 1933, p.322.
22. Pinches, T. G., "On Certain Inscriptions and Records Referring to Babylonia and Elam," Transactions of the Victoria Institute, vol. 29, 1895, p.44.

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     The phrase "a dark vine" might be rendered a "vine of darkness." Although there is a sense in which it brought light, there is a more terrible sense in which it brought Adam and Eve into darkness. The "glorious place" is presumably Eden. Some years ago the Rev T. Powell read a paper before the same Institute in England which was entitled, "A Samoan Tradition of Creation and the Deluge." (23) In this story the vine again figures prominently. It is said that the gods planted it expecting it to turn out to bear a beautiful fruit -- but it bore worms. Out of these worms, so the tradition says, four human beings were finally created, who settled local areas within the vicinity of Samoa.
     From a cylinder seal we have an impression by some Babylonian artist of what the scene in Eden was like. These seals were used like a miniature rolling pin to make an impression on a blob of clay which then identified the sealed package as belonging to a certain individual known by his particular seal. We have given an illustration of it here which, however, does not show too clearly the detail of the original. Actually it is a man and a woman seated on either side of a tree whose leafy branches run straight out on either side in a very formal pattern. Two clusters of fruit hang down near the base of the trunk. Behind the man is a representation of a serpent. Both figures reach forward to pluck the fruit.

Fig. 6 � The Seal of Adam and Eve amd the Serpent as shown in a wodcut appearing in Smith's "Chaldean Account of Genesis."

23. Powell, T., "On the Samoan Tradition of Creation and the Deluge," Transactions of the Victoria Institute, vol.20, 1886, p.154, 155.

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     From another photograph of the same seal impression we have redrawn the tree itself so as to show more clearly the actual shape of the fruit. Although our interpretation of what may be intended may not, of course, be correct, it would certainly require no great stretch of the imagination to suppose that the artist was trying to show two clusters of something like grapes hanging down.

     The formal arrangement of the branches may be merely an artistic device, but it could also be the result of observing the branches of a vine which had been trained along some artificial support.
     The Book of Enoch has always had a special interest for Christians in view of the fact that it is the only non-canonical book quoted in the New Testament and is not bound with the Bible even when the Apocrypha are included. The allusions to it are not infrequent, and it is generally held that the title "the Son of man" was taken from it. In chapter 32 the writer of the book told how he went in search of the Garden of Eden:

     Finally I came into the Garden of Righteousness, and saw a many coloured crowd of trees of every kind, for many and great flourished there, very noble and lovely; and the tree of wisdom which gives life to anyone who eats it. It is like the Johannis bread tree: its fruit is like a cluster of grapes, very good.

     The writer of the book then went on to tell how he questioned his angelic guide about this particular tree:

     I said, Fair is this tree and how beautiful and ravishing its look, and the holy angel Raphael who was with me answered and said to me, This is the tree of wisdom of which thy forefathers, thy hoary first parent and thy aged first mother, ate and found knowledge of wisdom: and their eyes were opened and they knew that they were naked: and they were driven out of the Garden.

     Some years ago, Francois Lenormant mentioned the finding of a

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curiously painted vase of Phoenician manufacture, probably of the 6th or 7th century B.C. (24) This had been discovered in an ancient sepulcher in Cyprus. It exhibits a leafy tree "from the branches of which hang two large clusters of fruit," while a great serpent advances with an undulating motion towards it.
     The American Journal of Archaeology some years ago carried an article by Nelson Glueck reporting on the general findings in Palestine and elsewhere during the years of excavation immediately prior to 1933. He mentioned:

     In one of the two tombs discovered southwest of the Jewish colony of Hedra, a lead coffin was found. On one side it is decorated with an arch which rests upon two twisted columns. Under the arch stands a naked boy who holds a serpent in his right hand and a bunch of grapes in his left.

     A coffin is a particularly significant background for a picture of man in his youth, naked, and holding in either hand the elements out of which physical death may have found its way into human experience. As a matter of fact, although commentaries rarely mention it, it appears that some of the great Jewish rabbis understood that "the Tree of Probation" was the vine.
     Paul Isaac Hershon, in his book, A Rabbinical Commentary on Genesis, stated that in Genesis 3:6, against the words "that the tree was good for food," there is this rabbinical comment:

     Some of the sages say that it was a fig tree and that that was why they plucked the leaves from the fig tree to cover their shame: for as soon as they had eaten of the Tree of Knowledge their eyes were open, and they were ashamed to go about naked.
     But some sages say that the tree was a vine. Eve pressed the grapes and gave Adam red wine to drink, as red as blood.

     A. Edersheim, himself a Hebrew Christian, well versed in the lore of his own ancient people, said that there were some rabbis who believed that when Noah left the Ark to become a husbandman, he planted a vineyard from a slip of a vine that had strayed out of Paradise. (27)
     At the beginning of this chapter, we pointed out how traditions may become confused and details transposed so that sometimes what was bad became good and what was a source of death became a source of life. Thus the Tree of Knowledge came in some cases to be

24. Lenormant, Francois, Contemporary Review, September, 1879, p.155.
25. Glueck, Nelson, American Journal of Archaeology, January-March, 1933, p.164.
26. Hershon, Paul Isaac, A Rabbinical Commentary on Genesis, Hodder and Stoughton, London, 1885, p.27.
27. Edersheim. A., The World Before the Flood, Religious Tract Society, London, no date, p.55.

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confused with the Tree of Life, as was evident in the Book of Enoch where we are told that the Tree of Wisdom (i.e., Knowledge) gave Life to all who ate of it, although the rest of the story clearly indicates that the writer is not actually referring to the Tree of Life. Now that we have explored the view that the forbidden fruit was some kind of fruit containing a juice which was potentially a poison, there will surely be some who will say, "You don't really think that the forbidden fruit was a grape?" To this we must reply, first, that that view has the support of traditions; secondly, that a fruit capable of producing alcohol in some form supplies us with a poison that seems to fulfill all the conditions set forth in chapter 1; thirdly, that with this as a clue, many passages of Scripture take on a new significance and greatly tend to confirm the interpretation; and fourthly, that it is not absolutely necessary to argue for a grapevine so long as it was a fruit from which could be derived a form of poison of very similar nature that would act upon the body in a very similar way. This last requisite may have been stated in a rather redundant fashion, but it is in the nature of a specification. Some further details of this specification will be given in due course.
     With these interjected remarks we may therefore proceed to consider certain traditions of a slightly different kind. Lenormant told us in another place:

     The most ancient name of Babylon in the idiom of the first settlers in that region was "the Place of the Tree of Life," and even on the coffins of enameled clay of a date later than Alexander the Great, found at Warka (the ancient Erek of the Bible, and the Uruk of the inscriptions) this tree appears as the emblem of immortality. Strange to say, one picture of it on an ancient Assyrian relic has been found drawn with sufficient accuracy to enable us to recognize it as the plant known as the Soma Tree by the Aryans of India, and the Homa of the ancient Persians, the crushed branches of which yield a draught offered as a libation to the gods as the water of immortality.

     It might be argued that we have here much better evidence to support a theory that it was the Tree of Life which was a vine rather than the Tree of Knowledge -- for after all this is what the discovery implies. When the tradition speaks of the Tree of Life, we probably have really a reference to the Tree of Knowledge, the same confusion having occurred as we have seen in the Book of Enoch. The Soma or Homa Tree is generally considered to be the Asclepias acida, a tree associated in the Vedic hymns with the god Soma. It was important in Vedic ceremony, in the words of one encyclopedia, "because of its

28. Lenormant, Francois, The Beginnings of History, Scribners, New York, 1891, pp.85, 86.

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alcoholic qualities. . . ." In one hymn, those who have drunk the juice of the plant are said to exclaim together, "We have drunk the Soma; we have become immortal; we have entered the light; we have known the gods!" All these assertions can be related to the assurances given by Satan when he tempted Eve to take the forbidden fruit. Moreover, there is a beautiful association of ideas in certain biblical passages which seem to mark this vine for what it was -- a false vine. The Lord Jesus said, "I am the true vine" (John 15:1): the Psalmist said "Taste and see that the Lord is good" (Psalm 34:8).

     And this brings us to a consideration of the many references in Scripture to the grapevine, which reveal its influence in human history and have rendered it the special object of both praise and blame. After this we shall examine in what way it fulfills the exact requirements of our theory from the points of view of genetics and biology.

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Copyright © 1988 Evelyn White. All rights reserved

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