If the “fruit of the tree” was “desirable for gaining wisdom” why did God advise them not to eat this fruit? Was God trying to keep them in ignorance? Why did God say, “you will die” if they even touched the fruit if it would allow them to gain wisdom? This would make God out to be deceptive, if not dishonest.
This mistranslation is grounded in the interpretation that this story in Genesis is to be taken literally.
Rather, this is an allegorical story that uses symbolism to describe our fall from the spiritual world to the physical world. ‘Eden’ symbolically represents the spiritual world, while ‘Adam’ represents each of us, and ‘Eve’ represents the community of the spiritual world (here that part of the community that fell with us). The ‘part’ (mistranslated to ‘rib’) taken from Adam is our nature to care for God. The ‘tree of life’ represents love for God and the ‘tree of knowledge of self-centered pleasure and pain’ (mistranslated to the “tree of knowledge of good and evil”) represents the choice we all have to not love God - making love for God our choice. The ‘fruit’ of this tree symbolizes our potential to become self-centered and envious of God, while the ‘serpent’ represents our desire to become independent of God and disobey God.
This symbolic interpretation of the text allows all the pieces to fall together, and it clarifies the translation of this verse. The reason God told them that they would die if they ate the symbolic fruit was because they would die: They would die spiritually. They would lose their love for God, and their intimate loving service relationship with God. This is the worst kind of death, because it means the loss of our loving relationship with our Best Friend.
This loving relationship with God is the source of our happiness and fulfillment. Without it, we are like fish out of water. Just consider a fish out of water: It flaps around, gasping for its natural environment. This is no different than we are acting here in this physical world without our relationship with the Supreme Person. We run around from one desire to another, looking for happiness and fulfillment – yet never finding it. We go from one goal to another, always seeking a new one once the current one is reached. Why? Because these goals are not satisfying. We also go from relationship to relationship – between friends, family, marriage and so on – looking for that perfect person who will fulfill us, but never finding that person.
Why? Because that person we are seeking – that relationship we are seeking – is the Supreme Being, and our loving relationship with Him.
This relationship was cut off as soon as the symbolic Eve and the symbolic Adam – each of us as individuals and our community of associates – decided that it wasn’t enough to please God and do what the Supreme Being considered best for us. We wanted more, and we wanted it all.
But we can’t have it all. This is because we are not God. We are God’s loving servants by nature: Our role is to care for the Supreme Being. Our role is to play with the Supreme Person. Our role is to please the Supreme Being. When we function within these roles, we are fulfilled because this is our inherent nature - why we (the spiritual beings) were created.
But since love requires freedom, we must be given the choice to love and please God, or to chase around the idea that we can go it alone – and achieve happiness for ourselves without the Supreme Person.
This is confirmed in this verse. The Hebrew verse does not indicate that the fruit was “desirable for gaining wisdom.” The Hebrew חמד (chamad) definitely means desirable, but this is followed by שכל (sakal), which is its adjective. שכל means ‘to be prudent, be circumspect’ or ‘to look at or upon, have insight.’ Yes, the symbolic fruit was desirable, and the symbolic Eve certainly desired it. But the desire came as she gazed upon the fruit, and contemplated what she would gain if she (symbolically) ate it. The correct translation of this phrase, instead of ‘desirable for gaining wisdom’ would then be (re-translating the whole sentence):
When Eve saw that the fruit of the tree looked good to eat, and was attractive and desirable, she contemplated upon it, and then picked some and ate it.
Contemplation is the key word here. Not only was the symbolic fruit attractive, but it became the subject of contemplation. While something can look attractive and desirable, it is contemplation that breeds our lust for it. We must first contemplate that for which we have become attracted to in order for our desire to become resolute.
This verse is wise not only in its description of our fall from the spiritual world: It also can be applied to our ongoing existence. The physical world – designed by the Supreme Being - constantly presents us with choices. We are typically presented with a choice to do something that we know deep within is right, and the choice to do something we know deep within is either wrong or not so right.
Yet when we contemplate the attractiveness of the wrong choice – in other words, how it will benefit us in some way – that contemplation seals our desire. That contemplation provides the impetus to execute that choice we know deep within is not the right choice.
And once we follow the path given by that choice, we spiral downward into the abyss of the results of that activity and its related activities.
So what did the symbolic Eve contemplate, and what does it mean? In this case, her contemplation was upon what she (each of us) could achieve for ourselves if we disregarded God’s desires and decided that our desires are more important. This, of course, is a self-centered contemplation.
Sometimes, for example, we might find ourselves in a daydream in the middle of the day. Here we are, in the middle of something, and we suddenly coast off to a place of contemplation. What are we contemplating during a daydream? For most of us, we are contemplating something for ourselves – something we achieve or accomplish. It may be sex, money, power or prestige. In other words, we are selfishly pondering our future.
This is the kind of contemplation that captivated the symbolic Eve before she ate of the symbolic fruit. She got lost in self-centered contemplation about what she might attain if she ate the fruit. This is what we all did before we decided that we would rather please ourselves than please the Supreme Being. This is what we all did before we decided that “I” am the most important thing in my life.
And this is our ongoing disease, and the cause of all the suffering that takes place within the physical world. The human form part of the physical world on this planet is populated by billions of living beings, each of whom believes that they are the most important person: Each of us believes that we are to be pleased first. Therefore, we each seek our own pleasure, typically at the expense of others.
This understanding from this verse and event is confirmed by this statement from the Gospel of Philip:
"There are two trees in the spiritual realm – one produces beasts and the other produces devotion. Adam consumed from the tree that produces beasts. He became animalistic and gave birth to beasts." (Gospel of Philip 91)
The world of beasts
The physical world is the world of beasts. It is designed for those who wanted to escape from their relationship with God. So God designed this world for us self-centered souls who have abandoned our real nature of loving and caring for God and all His other children – instead caring about ourselves first. This is why the physical world maintains a strict system of cause and effect. Every self-centered activity we decide to do has a consequence. This is designed to rehabilitate us, to help us understand that self-centeredness is not our real nature. While we seek our happiness and fulfillment in self-centeredness, we remain unhappy and empty. This physical world is therefore like a classroom.
If we take this clear view of this verse in Genesis, we can begin to see our own past. We can see that each of us feels, deep inside, that we are missing something, and that we have lost something. This something is our intimate relationship with the Supreme Person. We lost this because we contemplated selfish happiness without Him. And once we contemplated that, the Supreme Being – the most gracious and wonderful Person – gave us that freedom. Even though it saddened Him – and continues to sadden Him – He granted us our wish to be away from Him.
So how do we return home to Him? We can simply turn to Him. We can feel sorry for our self-centeredness. We can ask Him to help us return to our loving relationship with Him. We can begin to contemplate Him and His nature, rather than our next desire. We can say His Holy Names to help us contemplate Him. Should we do this, He will hear us, and He will begin to work His magic to bring us home to Him.
This is because while we left Him, He never left us. He has always been with us, hidden from view by our identification with these physical bodies. Our Best Friend has always been waiting for us to turn to Him and return home to Him, because He loves each of us.