16. It is so with Genesis, where it is necessary to see great moral truths under material figures, which, taken literally, are as absurd as any of our fables taken literally; the scenes and dialogues attributed to animals, for instance.
Adam personifies humanity. His individual fault is but a figure of the general feebleness of mankind, in whom the material instincts predominate, which man knows not how to resist. *
The tree of life is the emblem of spiritual life. As the tree of knowledge represents the conscious knowledge of good and evil, which man acquires by the growth of intelligence and use of free will, by virtue of which he chooses between the two; it marks the point at which the soul, ceasing to be guided by instinct alone, takes possession of liberty, and incurs responsibility for action.
The fruit of the tree emblematizes the object of the material desires of man. It is an allegory of temptation, and employs under the same figure the influences which lure toward evil. By eating, is meant his succumbing to the temptation. It grows in the midst of a delightful garden, in order to show that seduction accompanies pleasure, and to recall to mind at the same time, that, if man allows material joys to preponderate, he attaches himself to Earth, removing himself far off from his spiritual destiny. **
The death with which he is menaced if he infringes the divine law is the warning of the inevitable physical and moral consequences which the violation of divine law entails upon him — the violation of those laws which God has engraved upon his conscience. It is very evident that corporeal death is not signified, since, after his fall, Adam lived on Earth many years; but spiritual death is unquestionably referred to the loss of acquisitions that result from moral advancement. The image employed is the loss he experiences by his expulsion from this delightful garden.
* Today, it is a well known fact that the Hebrew word “haadam” is not a proper noun, and that it means: “man in general, humanity;” that in itself destroys all the structure created around Adam’s personality.
** In no text is the fruit specially mentioned as an apple. This word apple is only found in infantile versions of it. The Hebrew word is peri, which means the same as in French (“fruit”), but without specification of species, and can be taken in the material, moral, or figurative sense. With the Israelites there is no obligatory interpretation. When a word has many acceptations, each one understands it in his own way, provided the interpretation is not contrary to the rules of grammar. The word peri has been translated into the Latin malum, which signifies “apples” and all other fruits. It is derived from the Greek mélon, participle of verb mé’o, “to interest,” “to take care,” “to attract.”