The Tree of Knowledge

Posted by on February 21, 2011 in Thoughts | 7 comments

9 And out of the ground made the LORD God to grow every tree that is pleasant to the sight, and good for food; the tree of life also in the midst of the garden, and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.” Genesis 2:9

According to the Christian religion, God made a Tree of Life, which could offer immortality to a person who eats of its fruit, and The Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil. Of course we’re all familiar with the story surrounding Adam and Eve, the first two humans on Earth. They were told specifically not to eat of the fruit of the second tree, or they would die. But what does this “knowledge” really consist of? Any why have a story that talks about it? If we read on further in Genesis, we see that God had also created a form of evil, a snake or serpent (which at this time had legs), which spoke with the voice of the devil, the voice of temptation.

“1 Now the serpent was more crafty than any of the wild animals the LORD God had made. He said to the woman, “Did God really say, ‘You must not eat from any tree in the garden’?”

2 The woman said to the serpent, “We may eat fruit from the trees in the garden, 3 but God did say, ‘You must not eat fruit from the tree that is in the middle of the garden, and you must not touch it, or you will die.’”

4 “You will not certainly die,” the serpent said to the woman. 5 “For God knows that when you eat from it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.”

6 When the woman saw that the fruit of the tree was good for food and pleasing to the eye, and also desirable for gaining wisdom, she took some and ate it. She also gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate it. 7 Then the eyes of both of them were opened, and they realized they were naked; so they sewed fig leaves together and made coverings for themselves.” Genesis 3:1-7

So the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil gave them the knowledge that they were naked (which is evil) and they sought to cover it (which is good). Presumably when they had no knowledge of good and evil, their nakedness was evil also, but because they were ignorant of it, it made them good somehow (try ignorance of the law if you ever get arrested for something, I’m sure it will turn out just fine).

God then went on to cures man with the need to work for to feed his family, and woman with painful childbirth and the monthly scourge of menstruation. And now we get to the crux of the situation. Men work, women have babies. It’s in the first few chapters of the bible, it is our curse for women being easily led astray, and therefore, women should be forbidden to work, and can’t be trusted. Especially not with snakes. (By the way, the snake was also cursed, he lost his legs and was forced to slither along the ground. This is why snakes are evil. No good animal would slither.)

So what are the ramifications of this? It’s a similar story in all three major Abrahamic traditions, Judaism, Christianity and Islam. All three religions say that the eating of the tree of knowledge is the beginning of all of man’s (and women’s) problems. But what is it within humanity that makes us have a need to have a beginning of evil? Well I’m not completely sure, but I’d say it has something to do with something animal within us, and within the natural world) that we don’t like to face up to.

Humans like to think that we are above the realm of other animals. We like to think that we’re special. We like to think that we have control, both over ourselves and our environment. But that’s not how it works. It’s precisely because of our animal nature that we don’t have control over ourselves, and it’s because of an extremely complex set of interactions between other goings on that we don’t have total control over our environment. This is all very frustrating for us. Our brains are advanced beyond those of our fellow animal brethren, and we can see the whys and hows of the way things could or should be, but we lack sufficient control over everything to make it so.

We do like to explain things also. We like to be able to see an occurrence and say “I know why that happened”. We find it ever so hard to explain things away like civilised human beings, and yet to admit that our shortfalls, our propensity to violence, our lustful thoughts, our wants for more, and our jealous of others), are all just complex manifestations of our animistic tendencies. We have progressed far, but we are animals, and the apple can’t fall that far from the tree.

So imagine, with our understanding of the world around us, our want to explain everything, and our ability to manipulate both beast and animal to our wills, what happens when a neighbouring tribe comes in and wants what we have. Obviously our animal tendencies tell us to protect it from them, violence erupts and suddenly there we have it! A manifestation of evil!

In the situation above, we can directly blame the neighbouring hordes for the evil, but where did that come from in them? That’s right, someone did something wrong once upon a time, and it’s their fault that this tribe got greedy. But then we extend the chain of blame back, and back, and back even more, until we lose track of the chain of events. Someone once-upon-a-time must ave done something really bad to have started this all. And why not a woman? After all, it’s men who do all the work, what are the women doing while the men are out?

But of course that’s not all, is it? Nakedness is a sin, and carnal lust is a sin. The sight of a naked body can arouse sexual desire, which for a male can be embarrassing and difficult to conceal. Is it the knowledge that someone else is lustful of another that we see as s evil? The bible proudly states that sex is good. It gives us more people, which is also good.

God blessed them and said to them, “Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air and over every living creature that moves on the ground.” Genesis 1:28

Then God blessed Noah and his sons, saying to them, “Be fruitful and increase in number and fill the earth.” Genesis 9:1

But we have to get at least partially naked to have sex right? And a male needs to get sexually aroused to actually have sex right? So nakedness is a sin because it may cause embarrassment to men.

Add to this our animal nature. Some people lack the control to not have sex when aroused. Or at least it would seem so, because women get raped all the time world wide (there is also the dominance that some men get off on, but that is something else again). So men get embarrassed, the then have to have sex? This is carnal lust, and it is evil. Rape is evil. (At this point I think it would be a good time to draw your attention to Deuteronomy 22:28-29, Deuteronomy 20:10-14, and of course Zechariah 14:1-2. Hmmm…)

Drawing back from our Tree of Knowledge. I have seen this referenced when the religious speak out against science. While I think this is a misinterpretation of the idea of “knowledge” when it comes to the Garden of Eden, people still claim that science, and the search for further knowledge is ungodly. I agree wholeheartedly! It is ungodly! the more you learn, the more you want to learn, and in many cases you come to the conclusion that there is no God. It would be a really good argument, if it weren’t for the fact that “knowledge” in this case means “self-awareness”.

Just a couple of things I might add at this point. Most men, probably 99+% of men, never commit rape or murder. There also seems to be a trend toward what might effect men specifically, not women, in all these rules and regulations from God. I’m starting to see a trend here.

I don’t need to spell it all out to you. But I will.

The Abrahamic religions, without exception, have crafted their books so as to hold women down. They label them as untrustworthy, weak, lustful, seducing harlots. Women, from the very outset, have been set up to bear the brunt to set up for a man’s world. This misogyny continues into today’s society where women are denied access to their own reproductive freedom in the name of the religious establishments. Don’t get me wrong here, women have it comparatively well in western cultures, but it is still far from equal.

How can we continue to revere any religion whose very foundations are built upon the inequality of humankind? How can we, as thinking animals, condone the religions, like these, which seek to keep women out of the way while men get on with the “real work”? Well, men, I’ve got some news for you, we had our chance, and look where the world is now.

Times have changed folks. Get with the program.

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  1. Great post! That’s an interesting and more accurate way to view the story of genesis. You’re right; it certainly doesn’t deal with general or scientific knowledge but rather with self-awareness–awareness of nakedness, arousal, shame, immortality, etc.

    Even as a little girl I recognized just how unfair the story is in it’s portrayal of women. I’ve also always wondered at how the story is interpreted in a way that shows women in such a negative light. When it comes down to it, the story could also show that Eve (and all women after her) was smarter/more curious than Adam. Maybe she thought that it was ridiculous that her all-powerful, all-good god had made such a silly rule and then sent an evil animal (that he made himself) to show her how ignorant she was of herself and the world. It’s always seemed to me that you could derive this message from genesis, too: not that women are wayward or untrustworthy, but curious and brave, recognizing hypocricy (even within god) and understanding that knowledge (self-awareness, as you point out) is worth the pain that can come with it. Of course, no matter how you interpret it, it’s an unbelievable story and should no way apply to ANYONE or ANYTHING today. Thanks!

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  2. “99+% of men, never commit rape or murder”. hum, sounds a little low, especially for rape. Wikipedia has the yearly rape rate in the US at 90k, i.e. 0.028%. This doesn’t sound like much, but most people live for more than a single year, so the risk of being raped goes up for every year of life. If we, conservatively, say that an individual is at risk for 40 years, the risk of an individual being raped within their lifetime goes up to 1.12%. We know that rape is mostly under reported, so we can multiply that number by something between 2 and 10 (for 50% to 90% overall reporting rates). So we can reasonably end up with a ratio of at least 2.5% individuals being raped in their lifetime. Most rape is by a close friend or family (I volunteer in a sexual violence counselling center) so this means that at least 2% of the population commit rape (the vast majority (i.e. 95%+) of which is male on female).

    “Murder and nonnegligent manslaughter” rates are about 20% of rape, but reporting is better. It therefore seems reasonable to say that less than 1% of individuals commit murder.

    My main point is that conflating yearly incidence with cumulative risk leads to one assuming that people are much nicer than they really are.

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    • Ok 2% then… It was a guess and I forgot to fact check it. But my point remains, right? It illustrates that *most* people can control themselves.

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    • Wow, I really disagree with your calculations there. Some people get raped more than once. Some people are serial rapists or serial murders and commit 20 such crimes before they are caught. These people would totally mess up your percentages. 2% of Americans being rapists is REALLY a stretch.

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  3. But what really IS the tree of knowledge of good and evil? Do a search: The First Scandal.

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    • That is an interesting take on the story. Readers can find it here.

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  4. Way to go, nice job…by the way you missed out how pissed off God really was by not mentioning the thistles…. women (eve) are also responsible for the curse of thistles. If you are a goat hearder thistles are a big deal…not to mention the thorns..

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