TREE OF KNOWLEDGE (THE FORBIDDEN ONE)
A cylinder seal, known as the temptation seal, from post-Akkadian periods in Mesopotamia (c. 23rd-22nd century BCE), has been linked to the Adam and Eve story. Assyriologist George Smith (1840-1876) describes the seal as having two facing figures (male and female) seated on each side of a tree, holding out their hands to the fruit, while between their backs is a serpent, giving evidence that the fall of man account was known in early times of Babylonia.
The phrase in Hebrew: טוֹב וָרָע, tov V’ra translatable as good and evil, may be an example of the type of figure of speech known as merism. This literary device pairs opposite terms together, in order to create a general meaning; so that the phrase “good and evil” would simply imply “everything”. It is equivalent to the Egyptian expression evil-good which is indeed normally employed to mean “everything”. In Greek literature, the concept is also used by Telemachus, “I know all things, the good and the evil” (Od.20:309-10). However, given the context of disobedience to God, other interpretations of the implications of this phrase also demand consideration.
In the phrase, tree of knowledge of good and evil, the tree imparts knowledge of tov wa-ra, “good and bad”. The traditional translation is “good and evil”, but tov wa-ra is a fixed expression denoting “everything”. To Harry Orlinsky, this phrase does not necessarily denote a moral concept. However, Robert Alter believes that there could be a moral connotation after all: When God forbids the man to eat from the tree of knowledge, He says that if he does so, he is “doomed to die”. The Hebrew behind this, is in the form used in the Hebrew Bible for issuing death sentences.