Early Christian scholars often took the forbidden fruit to be an apple, maybe because of the irresistible pun suggested by the Latin “malum”, which means both “apple” and “evil.” One early Latin translation of the bible uses “apple” instead of “fruit.” A contributing factor no doubt was that apples were a lot more popular in Europe than in the Middle East, where it’s generally too hot for them to thrive.
The apple wasn’t the unanimous choice for forbidden fruit. Carved depictions of Adam and Eve with apples are found in early Christian catacombs and on sarcophagi. The apple was the favored representation of the forbidden fruit in Christian art in France and Germany beginning around the 12th century. Byzantine and Italian artists however tended to go with the fig.
It is easy to understand why the apple was chosen as the most likely temptation in the garden of Eden because it has a lot to recommend it: They are red (blood) or golden (greed), round (fertility) and sweet-tasting (desire). For good or for bad, it is almost certainly true that the apple was not the fruit that Eve used to tempt Adam. The main reason for this is that the climate in the garden was just not suitable for growing apples. Apples grow mostly in cool weather such as we have in the northeast. The actual location of of the garden of Eden is a matter of some speculation, but some scholars place it in the Mid East – more specifically in Persia (Iraq) near an area close to both the Tigris and Euphrates rivers, in what we call now the “cradle of civilization”.
It appears that the apple was not the forbidden fruit, and Adam never ate an apple. The real forbidden fruit was probably an apricot or a pomegranate. But why do we think it was the apple? Sometime in the 8th century, the Celts believed that apples contained divine wisdom, and when you ate an apple you were taken to a kind of paradise. This is because the the Celts associated apples with the sun. The Celtic word for apple is “abal” which is said to be a derivative of the Greek word for the god Apollo. The whole story takes on an additional twist when you consider subsequent history. When Columbus was on his was to the new world he got lost and landed in South America. It was there that he gazed upon the Orinoco River in Venezuela and assumed it was the gateway to the Garden of Eden. When Columbus returned back to Spain, he brought with him an amazing new fruit that he called the “poma amoris”, or the “love apple”. Today we call this rather tasty fruit a tomato.
Although early Christians ate apples, they remained cautious of eating tomatoes for 150 years. Of course they were not eaten whole and never in their natural state. The tomato is a member of the nightshade family (which is a poison) and is not a vegetable at all but the berry fruit of a vine. Spanish conquistadors brought tomatos back with them to Spain where they were not accepted as edible but viewed with great suspicion as poisonous, as were other various members of the nightshade family such as the mandrake, potato, and eggplant.
Americans and Northern Europeans remained skeptical of the strange fruit and it took until the late 1700’s – early 1800’s for the fruit to gain popularity in both England and America. In 1820 in New Jersey, Robert Johnson announced he would disprove all fears of the forbidden fruit and publicly eat a tomatoe. He survived to the astonishment of the crowd, of whom several of the ladies had fainted.
Legend has it that Mr. Johnson did indeed set up the very first tomato canning factory in New Jersey. Can this be true? We don’t know, but Camden, New Jersey is the home of the Campbell soup company, and their signature product is canned tomato soup, so perhaps it is true after all!