The Deeper Hebrew Meaning of the Biblical ‘Tree of Knowledge’

Yesterday we discussed the first out of the two special trees that were planted in the Garden of Eden: the tree of life and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.

The first tree is ‘the tree of life’ which appears in the original Hebrew as ‘Etz Ha-Cha’yim’ {עץ החיים} and today we will talk about the second tree which is known in Hebrew as ‘Etz Ha-Da’at.’ {עץ הדעת}

In the old Latin translation, the Hebrew word ‘Da’at’ {דעת} was translated as ‘scientia’ and this is the origin of the English word ‘science.’ However, the original Latin meaning of this word is actually ‘knowledge’ and not

‘science’ as we know it today.

Interestingly, in Hebrew both the word for ‘knowledge’ and ‘science’ share the same root Y-D-A {י-ד-ע} and so does the Hebrew word for ‘information’ (‘May’da’ {מידע}).

Some of you may recognize this Latin word -‘scientia’ – because of its appearance in the well-known Latin phrase ‘scientia potentia est’ which means in English ‘knowledge is power.’ This phrase is actually derived from the King James translation of Proverbs 24:5 (“A wise man is strong; yea, a man of knowledge increaseth strength.”).

The original Hebrew for ‘a man of knowledge’ is ‘Ish Da’at’ {איש דעת} – exactly the same Hebrew word as the quality we are discussing now.

Undoubtedly, the most ‘popular’ appearance of this word in the Hebrew language is found in the story of the ‘Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil’ or in Hebrew ‘Etz Ha-da’at Tov Va-ra.’ {עץ הדעת טוב ורע}  When mentioning the quality of ‘knowledge’ – we are not talking here about simply knowing things but rather the ability ‘to know the difference between Good and Evil.’

Interestingly, in popular culture, the fruit of the ‘Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil’ was an apple. However nowhere in the Hebrew Bible will we find any reference to the specific kind of fruit from this tree. The reason why the apple ‘was chosen’ is a pure coincidence which is based on the Latin translation of the tree name ‘lignumque scientiae boni et mali’ – where the Latin word for evil ‘malum’ (appears as ‘mali’ in the Vulgate) sounds almost the same as the Latin word for an apple (‘mālum’ in Latin).