Why fig trees were the model for the fruit of the Tree of Knowing Good and Evil

Now that Tu B’shvat is over we can speculate why Adam and Eve covered-up using fig leaves.

Following the end of the Last Glacial Maximum (post 19,000 years ago), human hunters and wolf populations came into close proximity given their attraction to the same kind of prey. This increasing interaction, through mutual scavenging of kills from wolves drawn to human campsites, may have started a mutual relationship between the two species that eventually led to dog domestication.

A few thousand years later in the Land of Israel, at the Gilgal archaeological site in the Jordan Valley near the city of Jericho, an assortment of 11,400-year-old figs were found that may be the fruit of the world’s earliest form of agriculture.

Archaeologists say the find suggests Stone Age humans may have been cultivating fruit trees two to three thousand years before the domestication of cereal grains like wheat, and legumes like peas and beans.

Previously, the oldest cultivated fruits were thought to be olives and grapes found in the eastern Mediterranean that were dated at about 6,000 years old.

The nine carbonized figs were small but ripe and showed signs of having been dried for human consumption. The agricultural revolution—when ancient humans began to domesticate crops—is now increasingly seen as a long and multifaceted transition, as humans gradually shifted from scattered planting of wild grains to farming with domesticated varieties.

The researchers’ case that the Gilgal fruits were deliberately cultivated rests on an idiosyncrasy of fig genetics. Normally, pollination by specialized wasps is required for fig trees to bear edible fruit. Occasionally, however, a mutation occurs that allows the fruit to develop from unfertilized female flowers, a process known as parthenocarpy.

Some figs grown commercially today are of this variety. Apparently, also the Stone Age figs at Gilgal.

Microscopic analysis revealed that the figs lacked embryonic seeds, a distinguishing feature of the mutant form, in which fruit are produced without pollination. The mutation does not survive in nature for more than a single generation and that means the fig trees at Gilgal could not have been reproducing naturally.

The large cache of fruit fragments recovered from the site suggests that humans were maintaining the mutant trees by planting live branches in the ground. Fig trees are particularly amenable to this common horticultural technique, called vegetative propagation.

Additional fig remains have been recovered from other sites throughout the Middle East, and at least some appear to be of the Gilgal variety. This suggests that choice trees were being transported and planted to increase agricultural yield at different locations.

Although planting shoots of fig trees may be simple, early fig farmers would have had to wait several years for their reward. This suggests relatively long-term ties to the land and perhaps new social and economic arrangements prior to the full-scale adoption of an agricultural lifestyle.

As objects of long-term interest and care, fig-trees may also have had religious significance.

Figs and fig wasps have evolved to help each other out: Fig wasps lay their eggs inside the fruit where the wasp larvae can safely develop, and in return, the wasps pollinate the figs. More than 700 of paired species, each of one fig tree and its special wasps, have co-evolved in the tropics worldwide, with each fig tree species having its own species of pollinating wasp.

There are 800 to 1,000 types of fig trees including subspecies. Some mystics say there are 616 basic species of fig equivalent to the number value of the word HaTorah. Over 100 different species of birds feed on Fig tree species. The mutual relationship between a fig tree and a fig wasp has evolved for millions of years.

Fig trees were the model for the fruit of the Tree of Knowing Good and Evil because figs and fig wasps have evolved to help each other out: Fig wasps lay their eggs inside the fruit where the wasp larvae can safely develop, and in return, the wasps pollinate the figs.

But what happens when a wasp lays its eggs but fails to pollinate the fig?

The trees get even by dropping those figs to the ground, killing the baby wasps inside, reports a Cornell University and Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute study published in the Proceedings of the Royal Society B.

The findings suggest that when members of one species in a mutually beneficial relationship [Brit] fail to hold up their end of the bargain, sanctions may be a necessary part of maintaining the relationship; and that is why fig trees became the model for the fruit of the Tree of Knowing Good and Evil.

About the Author
Rabbi Allen S. Maller has published over 450 articles on Jewish values in over a dozen Christian, Jewish, and Muslim magazines and web sites. Rabbi Maller is the author of "Tikunay Nefashot," a spiritually meaningful High Holy Day Machzor, two books of children's short stories, and a popular account of Jewish Mysticism entitled, "God, Sex and Kabbalah." His most recent books are "Judaism and Islam as Synergistic Monotheisms' and "Which Religion Is Right For You?: A 21st Century Kuzari" both available on Amazon.
Related Topics
Related Posts
Comments