Tree of Knowledge

It’s been a while since I’ve posted with fun things I’m learning in Hebrew – it’s been busy. But here is something interesting I’ve learned this week…

We’re all used to the translations of Genesis 2:9 which says, “the tree of knowledge of good and evil.” However, in class, we talked about what a more accurate translation would be. First, the second “of” in the phrase is inaccurate. If we take it out, that leaves “the tree of knowledge, good and evil.” Second, we have to understand what tov and ra means in Hebrew. Truthfully, translating those words as “good and evil” isn’t accurate. When we translate them as such, we think in terms of morality or in cognitive terms, when they are actually experiential terms.

Tov can be thought of as positive or pleasurable experiences. It involves an aesthetic that is good in the eye (and experience) of the beholder and experiencer. “And God saw the light and it was good” – meaning, he experienced it and it was pleasant to him.

Ra can be thought of as a negative or painful experience. It is undesirable and injurious to the person seeing or experiencing it.

We also have to look at how the phrase itself functions. This phrase is most likely a merism, which is an expression which takes the beginning and ending of a series and uses it to denote everything in the middle. We use merisms when we say “A to Z” – we mean the whole alphabet. As a merism, this phrase “good and evil” means the range of human experience, from positive to negative, from pleasing to injurious, from pleasure to pain. This is the entirety of human experience.

“the tree of knowledge, pleasurable (experiences) through painful (experiences).”

This is not a tree of moral observance. Eating of this tree gave Adam and Eve the change to experience everything humanity could experience, from pleasure to pain.

So what does this mean when we’re talking about the tree of life versus the tree of knowledge, and how does this affect what the Fall means?

The choice for Adam and Eve was whether to trust God or to experience the world on their own. God put the choice out there because obedience cannot be based on having only one option. Adam and Eve sinned by choosing not to trust God, but to go their own way and experience human life on their own. To experience pleasure and pain and everything in between. And everything included death.

We can choose to trust God and receive life, or we can choose to experience things on our own and receive death. What will our choice be?


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