Eve’s Orchard

One of the innocent pleasures of autumn is apple picking. Not living in the country, many of us rely on the local orchards that open their trees and furrows to the public during the fall so we can feel once again in touch with nature. It may be only temporary, but this farm life is authentic and revitalizing – especially under a cerulean blue October sky. So it was that we joined our anonymous friends to pluck fruit and feel a part of the organic world away from laptops, palms, and cells. Picking apples always brings Eden to mind. In fact, no matter how secular the class I teach, if I ask students what picking fruit from a tree – usually I have to throw in the snake as well – represents, invariably most guess Adam and Eve. Of course, in the patriarchal world of the Bible, Eve gets the rap for taking the first bite, but a more sensitive reading reveals maybe this was what God intended all along.

Tasty fruit of knowledge

Within a generation of the origins of Christianity, a negative spin had been placed on that fateful fruit. This was the willful disobedience of sin rearing its ugly head in Eden. Of course, Genesis does not refer to the act as a “sin” – the word first occurs in the story of Cain and Abel. The human striving for knowledge, for the prerogative of the divine, the sadder but more informed life, was now a matter of blame. In the Greco-Roman cultural milieu where men set the standards, woman became the harbinger of sin and decay. Adam stood chastely by, happily clueless until Eve insisted he try this brand of iniquity. Pure fiction. And yet it is this version that has retained cultural currency in the western world. Blame it on Eve.

The patriarchal version


So much of our reading of the Bible is based on prior expectations. Even Bible translators know that they can’t go too far a field from the standard that the KJV set. When western Bible readers first cut their teeth on English prose, it was the dulcet tones of Elizabethan English that captured their attention. And the mores of Shakespearean England combined with the harsh repressions of a simmering Calvinism led to a Bible choked with sin to the point that a little fruit enraged the creator as much as fratricide just a chapter later. The fruit had rotted on the tree, and women were to blame. Perhaps it is time that we recognize the filters before our eyes when we approach the Bible. If we can understand that the patriarchalism is not the point, but merely the cultural shading of the time, we can release the message that the fruit is good. The temptation was not to become evil, but simply to become human.

4 thoughts on “Eve’s Orchard

  1. Rich Griese

    It’s funny how the Genesis 3 story says “fruit of the tree of the garden of good and evil”, yet everyone seems to jump to it being an apple.

    Speaking of apples, my favorites are apples that come at the very end of the apple season, the Spies and Wine Saps. Nothing like a nice tart apple.

    Cheers! RichGriese@gmail.com

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    • Steve Wiggins

      Right you are, Rich! No apple mentioned in the Genesis account! Scholars tend to think the apple comes from the closeness of the words “apple” and “evil” in Latin. Since this is a myth with an unnamed variety of fruit, there’s no telling what our author had in mind. By the way, we were picking Winesaps — one of NJ’s most popular varieties.

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  2. I LOVE this post. Thank you so much. And I always wondered why an apple? Why not a kumquat?

    You would know better than I, but I believe the Manichaeans were the ones who believed the snake in the garden was actually the first incarnation of Jesus in his continuing efforts to save mankind. When I went back and read Genesis 3 from that point of view, it really opened up for me. I realized how doctine had influenced my reading of scripture, causing me to see what I was told rather than what was there.

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    • Steve Wiggins

      Thanks, Piper.

      That’s one of the things my students frequently say as well — they were taught how to understand the account rather than reading it for what it does and (more importantly) does not say. It is a sorely misused text. I’m not sure how far back the idea of the Jesus/serpent role goes, but it does sound Manichaean.

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