Fruit as a Sexual Metaphor in Religious Writings

Posted by on May 17, 2014 in Featured, Thoughts | 3 comments



In my previous post, “Why Are Religions Obsessed With Sex?” I raised the idea that the fruit in the Garden of Eden was a metaphor for the act of sex and sexual congress, and I was questioned about this link, being informed that the readers had never seen any translation of the bible that made this connection. I had heard this metaphor referred to a few times, neglected to give any links or examples of this connection and its prosaic purpose in the old writings, so I did a little research, and found an excerpt from a book titled “Forbidden Fruit – Ancient Near Eastern Sexual Metaphors” by Ronald A. Veenker from Western Kentucky University. In this example Veenker shows a long tradition of the use of the fruit metaphor, from Mesopotamian writings of Gilgamesh and Ishtar, through to the Talmud of the Hebrews and Old Testament of the Christians.

All very interesting, I know, but how does this affect the religious beliefs of Jews, Christians and Muslims today?

As I said in my previous post of the opening passages of the bible, “You don’t have to be a rocket scientist to realise that the fruit in the story is a metaphor for having sex, and once this perspective is placed upon the story, the rest of it becomes much a much darker tale.” This was a rather short explanation, but given the blog format I thought it better to skip over the intricacies of the metaphor in favour of using that as a starting point for the conversation. My apologies for not linking out to supporting material. However, it is a metaphor worth exploring, for once this connection is made, the whole code of ethics as set up in the Old Testament places all of human folly and pain on the idea of succumbing to the natural desires of procreation.

From Genesis:

And the LORD God commanded the man, saying: ‘Of every tree of the garden thou mayest freely eat;

but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, thou shalt not eat of it; for in the day that thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely die.’

Taken literally, the the action of eating the fruit represents disobeying god, but metaphorically it represents the act of sex, the “good” being the act of reproduction, and the “evil” being the act of indulging in pleasure. “Knowledge” is still used in this sense, in the phrase “carnal knowledge” which is applied in a legal courts today. But it is the fruit that is of interest here.

In popular culture, the fruit is represented as an apple. Of course, the apple we know today is nothing like the apple that would have been around at the time of the writing of the Old Testament. In fact, the historical apple would be barely edible by today’s standards. It is far more likely that the fruit used as a biblical metaphor was in fact meant to be a fig, for figs were plentiful in the Middle East at the time of the writings. If you look at a fig, when cut open, it bares some resemblance to the female genitalia (some imagination is required here), and when on the tree, the fig is prominent and “sticks out”, much like the human penis (again, use your imagination).

Adam and Eve, after eating the fruit (read “after having sex”):

…  the eyes of them both were opened, and they knew that they were naked; and they sewed fig-leaves together, and made themselves girdles.

In the above linked article, Veenker explores not only the metaphor of fruit, but also the metaphor of eating. Sex involves much more than  just the genitals; the mouth is used nearly as much or more in the act of copulation, from a kiss all the way to oral sex. The metaphor of “eating” also applies to the satiating of sexual desires, which, like hunger, can be fulfilled once the act is complete.

But Veenker takes this metaphor one step further, showing that not only the fruit and the act of eating can be a way to describe sex, but that metaphor of the garden can be descriptive of the genitals and the act of sex. In describing an ancient Sumerian poem which reads:

Vigorously he sprouted,

vigorously he sprouted and sprouted,

watered it — it being lettuce!

In his shaded grove of the desert bearing much yield

did my darling of his mother,

my barley stalk full of allure in its furrow,

water it — it being lettuce,

did my one — a very apple tree bearing fruit at the top —

water it — it being a garden!

he writes:

Now, let us look at the “garden” metaphor in more detail : In the royal love song “Vigorously he sprouted,” one can see the germination of a metaphor dealing with the vulva. In line one “lettuce” can be understood as a female’s labia majora and labia minora. In the next line the words “shaded grove” or “black garden” work to crystallize the vulva image further ; it can now be seen as nothing less than a reference to the pubic hair which surround the labia. Next, in line three, the poet uses the word “furrow” to accentuate the garden image, the image of the vulva, already “plowed.” And finally, in the fifth line, “the apple tree bearing fruit at the top” (the penis) “watered” (emitted semen into) the female’s “garden” (the vestibule of the vagina).”

Ancient Sumerian and Mesopotamian writings predate the writing of The Talmud by centuries, and the imagery used in their writings had a huge influence on the writings of the ancient Hebrews. Many of the metaphors and stories come directly from the theses earlier texts. So with this in mind, one could see that the entire story of the Garden of Eden in Genesis can be interpreted as a sexual metaphor, not just the act of copulation surrounding the eating of fruit. What does this say of the story of the Garden of Eden, and the religions that base themselves upon these opening stanzas?

Again, from Veenker:

“… since we believe that the “eating of fruit” refers metaphorically to sexual intercourse, the context of Genesis 3 clearly establishes that act as a transgression and, therefore, sexual intercourse as a sin.”

In today’s language, terms like “forbidden fruit” are still used by uncreative advertisers to evoke sex and sexual imagery. The fact that it is “forbidden” makes it all the more alluring, but adds to the sense of shame people feel surrounding the taboo of sex. If the Garden of Eden story is in fact a metaphor for sex, the fruit a metaphor for the act of sex, and the reprisals from the god-figure are seen as rightful retaliation, then of course sex will be seen as shameful and sinful. This shaming of sex, the blaming of woman for the sin, and the tendency for people to hide sex behind a veil of disgust and regret, much of this can be blamed on the attitudes foisted upon us by religious teachings to the masses. In some examples it has been taken to the extreme, not directly because of the writings but the interpretations of the adherents to these religions, and their willingness to partake in the shaming culture of religious teachings.

We have a long way to go to bring about a revolution of sex and sexuality in the modern world, but being aware of where these ideas originate, what they were intended to do, and how they emerge in contemporary society, is half of the battle in trying to bring about change.

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  1. Martin, I picked up this web address on a site called Academia.Edu where my Forbidden Fruit piece is available.  Do you have an email address that you would share with me?  I am interested in your blog as well as your location.  Thanks for your interest,  Ron Veenker.

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  2. This is such old,old info. I am 60 & my high school drop out parents always referred to the Eden story as a *sexual*
    metaphor, for heaven’s sake! Do you think you are a genius or something?
    Perhaps using this metaphor as a lesson to contain your passions for the *good* in life instead of the *evil* & *hurt* of misplaced unrestrained passion is a better idea. Give it some thought instead of merely exhorting people to ignore the lessons of the past!

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  3. After reading your thoughts on the garden of eden and all it entails, I must agree with how you presented it. Early societies seem to have a real need to control it’s people. I know rules need to be in place for people to live in close quarters. So they don’t kill each other. I know this is off topic, but I am wondering why sex had to be the way to that control.
    Why couldn’t food for example be the tool to use? Hunger would have been a good choice and maybe even easier to control. Whereas sex is usually done behind closed doors and easier to keep secret. You know…too much food leads to gluttony and eventually to an early death and the to hell! Something like that.
    Was sex used by the early religions a easier way to control women? Men seem to have had the problem of needing to know the children they were providing for were his. I believe that trust has been the eternal issue. Maybe I answered my own question, as to food or sex was to be the controlling factor. Either way, I believe that trust is at the bottom of the issue with men and women.
    As for the various religions, its all about control of people.; their coins, bodies, and yes their thoughts.

    Why didn’t the early writers just come out with what they really wanted? Why fruit instead of just sex?
    I suppose as the rules were laid down, they did become more direct. Do as the rules say or go to hell!
    The idea of original sin and all it’s blame sure has cause untold suffering and pain. Seems to me mankind loves to wallow in that sort of world.
    I know I have rambled on…my apologies!

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