4 This is the account of the heavens and the earth when they were created, when the Lord God made the earth and the heavens.
5 Now no shrub had yet appeared on the earth[a] and no plant had yet sprung up, for the Lord God had not sent rain on the earth and there was no one to work the ground, 6 but streams[b] came up from the earth and watered the whole surface of the ground. 7 Then the Lord God formed a man[c] from the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living being.
8 Now the Lord God had planted a garden in the east, in Eden; and there he put the man he had formed. 9 The Lord God made all kinds of trees grow out of the ground—trees that were pleasing to the eye and good for food. In the middle of the garden were the tree of life and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.
. . .
15 The Lord God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to work it and take care of it. 16 And the Lord God commanded the man, “You are free to eat from any tree in the garden; 17 but you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat from it you will certainly die.”
18 The Lord God said, “It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a helper suitable for him.”
19 Now the Lord God had formed out of the ground all the wild animals and all the birds in the sky. He brought them to the man to see what he would name them; and whatever the man called each living creature, that was its name. 20 So the man gave names to all the livestock, the birds in the sky and all the wild animals.
But for Adam[f] no suitable helper was found. 21 So the Lord God caused the man to fall into a deep sleep; and while he was sleeping, he took one of the man’s ribs[g] and then closed up the place with flesh. 22 Then the Lord God made a woman from the rib[h] he had taken out of the man, and he brought her to the man.
23 The man said,
“This is now bone of my bones
and flesh of my flesh;
she shall be called ‘woman,’
for she was taken out of man.”
Genesis 3 (NIV) “The Fall”
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.
8 Then the man and his wife heard the sound of the Lord God as he was walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and they hid from the Lord God among the trees of the garden. 9 But the Lord God called to the man, “Where are you?”
10 He answered, “I heard you in the garden, and I was afraid because I was naked; so I hid.”
11 And he said, “Who told you that you were naked? Have you eaten from the tree that I commanded you not to eat from?”
12 The man said, “The woman you put here with me—she gave me some fruit from the tree, and I ate it.”
13 Then the Lord God said to the woman, “What is this you have done?”
The woman said, “The serpent deceived me, and I ate.”
14 So the Lord God said to the serpent, “Because you have done this,
“Cursed are you above all livestock
and all wild animals!
You will crawl on your belly
and you will eat dust
all the days of your life.
15 And I will put enmity
between you and the woman,
and between your offspring[a] and hers;
he will crush[b] your head,
and you will strike his heel.”
16 To the woman he said,
“I will make your pains in childbearing very severe;
with painful labor you will give birth to children.
Your desire will be for your husband,
and he will rule over you.”
17 To Adam he said, “Because you listened to your wife and ate fruit from the tree about which I commanded you, ‘You must not eat from it,’
“Cursed is the ground because of you;
through painful toil you will eat food from it
all the days of your life.
18 It will produce thorns and thistles for you,
and you will eat the plants of the field.
19 By the sweat of your brow
you will eat your food
until you return to the ground,
since from it you were taken;
for dust you are
and to dust you will return.”
21 The Lord God made garments of skin for Adam and his wife and clothed them. 22 And the Lord God said, “The man has now become like one of us, knowing good and evil. He must not be allowed to reach out his hand and take also from the tree of life and eat, and live forever.” 23 So the Lord God banished him from the Garden of Eden to work the ground from which he had been taken. 24 After he drove the man out, he placed on the east side[e] of the Garden of Eden cherubim and a flaming sword flashing back and forth to guard the way to the tree of life.
24 That is why a man leaves his father and mother and is united to his wife, and they become one flesh.
25 Adam and his wife were both naked, and they felt no shame.
The notion of a tree representing life is not unique to the Jewish scriptures, nor to Christian and Islamic interpretations of those scriptures. We have discussed the concept of a tree as representing humankind’s condition of being capable of both good and evil, and with knowledge to distinguish the two.
In the second story of creation as told in Genesis 2, very is as a second tree, the fruit of which Adam it is forbidden to eat: that is the tree of life. Mythologically, it represents the connection between the heavens, accessed by its height, and the underworld, accessed by its roots, expressed in its canopy through branches and twigs which sprout from the main trunk.
In the Power of Myth, conversations of Bill Moyers with Joseph Campbell, Campbell explores the mythical implications of the second story of creation told in Genesis 2: once Adam and Eve had eaten the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil, threatening the exclusive province of God’s wisdom and knowledge, God had to expelled them from Paradise before they ate of the Tree of Life, which would grant them full equality with God.
Whereas eating the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil empowers humankind as well as burdens it with the duty to make the choice between good and evil and to take the consequences for those choices, the lack of the benefits of the fruit of the Tree of Life further burdens humanity in that each man and woman’s venture into the world of space and time is limited by death.
Similar concepts of the Tree of Life are expressed in ancient myth throughout the Mesopotamian region independent of the story as told in Genesis: ancient Persia, ancient Babylon, ancient Egypt, and ancient Assyria.
Even in China there was an ancient Taoist story of a peach tree, the fruit of which would bestow immortality. During the 1990s, archaeological diggings of a sacrificial pit revealed three bronze trees representing a scene consistent with that myth.
In 1998, when my grandmother, Ruth Bond Fitz Randolph, was expected to turn 100 years of age, the Bonds and Fitz Randolphs planned a family reunion at Camp Harley Sutton, near Alfred, New York. Her husband’s brother, Rev. Elmo Fitz Randolph, spoke at the reunion’s Sabbath worship, in which he expanded the concept of the family tree with the notion of grafting, intended to represent marriage into the family and its enrichment of the tree and its fruits.