The tree of the knowledge of good and evil (Genesis chap. 2, verse 9)

The Lord God made all kinds of trees grow out of the ground—trees that were pleasing to the eye and good for food. In the middle of the garden were the tree of life and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.

That Eden’s Garden was a very special place! In addition to standard fruit trees there were two mysterious trees: the tree of life and the tree of knowledge of good and evil.

What was the life’s tree? When God will drive out Adam and Eve from the garden of Eden (Genesis 3:22) he motivates his action in this way: “He must not be allowed to reach out his hand and take also from the tree of life and eat, and live forever.” Therefore, the tree of life gives immortality. And the second? Which powers would donate to man?

It is not easy to answer this question. In Genesis 1:1 we reads that “God created the heavens and the earth.” The extremes (heaven and earth) indicate that God created all that exists (between heaven and earth). The ancient Jews, in fact, had no expression to express a whole, such as “universe” or “cosmos”. So, what does it mean the expression “good and evil”?

First of all, the word “knowledge” – in Hebrew “yadah” – had a broader meaning than a simple intellectual activity. In other words, “to know” doesn’t mean just “to think” but also “to make experiences”. The best way to understand something is to make experience of that thing. Therefore, rather than of knowledge of good and evil, it would be the “experience of good and evil”. But if this expression indicates a totality, then we should say “any experience of good and evil” or, even more simply “every type of experience.”

Therefore it is not a fruit’s tree like others. This is not even a tree, because the tree represents the acquisition of a  competence: that of being able to do everything, without limits or censorship. Therefore, the two trees give competences that are beyond the realm of humanity, because they belong only to God: the immortality (“tree of life”) and omnipotence (“the tree of knowledge of good and evil “). Why God puts man in a garden where there are trees edible and trees, so to speak, inedible (to humans)? It may be that the Garden was the God’s residence?

Perhaps the Hebrew phrase “to make something to grow” should be translated not as a simple past (“God made to grow”) but as a past perfect simple “God had made grown.” Also in the previous verse (Gen 2:8), it could be better to translate “he had planted a garden” and not “he planted a garden”. By this I mean that the Garden of Eden existed before God put man in it. In the garden, in fact, lived other beings, but it is still early to talk about that …

Simone Venturini


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