Have you ever wondered just what fruit God deemed ‘forbidden’ and thus out of bounds for Adam and Eve? And, why create a perfectly edible fruit and then prevent folk from eating it? I often wonder whether it was off-limits only to humans, or did the prohibition apply to animals too? Was it seasonal?
Truth be told, we know nothing about the ‘forbidden fruit’ other than that it was not poisonous or else the whole story would have ended right there.
Perhaps the most common modern postulation holds that the forbidden fruit was an apple (variety unknown). But given that the wild ancestors of our current day apple, Malus domestica, today still grows freely in the mountains of Central Asia, and unless we are willing to concede that southern Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, and Xinjiang, China constitute the Garden of Eden, it is unlikely that our forbidden fruit was an apple. Blame Botticelli and Co. I say.
Why? Renaissance painters added elements of Greek mythology to their biblical paintings and that is how the apple ended-up in the hands of Eve in all those paintings.
Generally, in Greek mythology, apples were held in high esteem. To toss an apple to someone was seen as an expression of love and to catch that apple would be seen as accepting that love.
Plato once wrote: “I throw the apple at you, and if you are willing to love me, take it and share your girlhood with me; but if your thoughts are what I pray they are not, even then take it, and consider how short-lived is beauty.”
There are great similarities between the Garden of Eden and the mythical Garden of the Hesperides in which was to be found a single tree or grove of ‘golden apples’ with immortality-giving properties. The Hesperides were nymphs and their blissful garden was located near the Atlas mountains in North Africa at the edge of Oceanus, the world-ocean. Given this location and a few other factors, some now argue the golden apples are more likely to have been oranges, not apples.
So, how did we get to the link between ‘apple’ and ‘bad’? Most likely, because in Latin the word for ‘apple’ mālum and ‘evil’, mălum are similar.
One other fruit that is a strong contender for the ‘forbidden fruit’ is the pomegranate, or pōmum “apple” and grānātum “seeded”.
And given that the Garden of Eden are often placed at the at the headwaters of the Tigris and Euphrates in northern Iraq (ancient Persia), which is also where the pomegranate originated from, it appears to be a more suitable candidate than the apple.
Few, if any, fruits are so widely embedded in religious symbolism as the pomegranate.
For ancient Egyptians it symbolized prosperity and ambition.
In Greek mythology Persephone was captured by Hades and taken to live with him in the underworld as his wife (making her off course the goddess of the Underworld). Her mother, Demeter’s (the goddess of the Harvest) grief ceased all things green to grow, which in turn, caused Zeus to get on Hades’s case. After getting scolded by Zeus, Hades tricked Persephone into eating six pomegranate seeds, which meant for six months each year she had to stay in the Underground. And so the Greeks explained the seasons: six months of greenery and six months of bareness. Is the similarity between the stories of Eve and Persephone not striking?
When the scouts brought Moses fruits to show the fertility of the “promised land”, they laid pomegranates at his feet. According to the Book of Exodus the robe of ephod worn by the Hebrew High priest had pomegranates embroidered on the hem, and according to the Books of Kings, the capitals of the pillars in front of Solomon’s temple in Jerusalem were engraved with pomegranates. It is also said that the very Solomon designed his coronet based in the pomegranate’s crown.
Pomegranates are also identified as one of the Seven Species of fruits and grains enumerated in the Hebrew Bible as being special products of the Land of Israel. In mystical Kabbalah, one is promised entry into the Garden of Pomegranates.
In the Qur’an, pomegranates grow in the gardens of paradise and it mentions the pomegranate three times as part of good things God creates.
Furthermore, the pomegranate also symbolizes fertility in ancient Persian, Chinese and Hindu cultures.
So is this the forbidden fruit? You decide, but I feel that it is closer to the truth than the apple.
I grew up with pomegranate trees everywhere. Few people I knew back then did not have one or more pomegranate trees somewhere in their backyard or garden. And between March and May, we’d pick these fruits, break them open, use our tongues to jiggle out the juicy arils and cover our faces and clothes in bright red juice in the process. Much to the annoyance of our mothers, I have to admit.
Sadly, pomegranates have disappeared from our gardens. These days, if you are lucky, you could buy them, but they are expensive. And as our urban garden have grown smaller and developers proceed to cover all of our soil with brick and asphalt, chances are that these fruits will never again be part of our culinary experience.
The recipe is for a traditional Persian dish, Khoresh Fesenjan, or if you like: chicken stewed with walnuts in pomegranate juice. It is truly delicious in that old-world kind of way.
Pomegranates are in season right now, and several stores do have stock, so go on make it, you might just get to taste the forbidden fruit after all.