The Talmud lists three contradictory opinions about the identity of the unnamed fruit eaten by Adam and Eve in Garden of Eden: that it was a fig, a grape, or a kernel of wheat; Moses Naḥmanides, meanwhile, contends that it was a citron. But in the West, for centuries, it has been understood to be an apple. In Temptation Transformed, Azzan Yadin-Israel seeks to determine how this came to be so, debunking some widely held explanations in the process. Philip Getz writes in his review:
In 12th-century France, apples began showing up in Christian depictions of “the Fall of Man,” everywhere from the Cathedral of Notre Dame to illuminated Bibles and psalm books. These red and gold apples supplanted the previous identification of grapes and figs as the forbidden fruit with which the serpent tempted Eve and Eve tempted Adam.
Yadin-Israel is not the first to discuss this erroneous identification of the forbidden fruit with the apple. In 1646, Sir Thomas Browne published a book called Pseudodoxia Epidemica: or, Enquiries into Very Many Received Tenets and Commonly Presumed Truths, also known by the simpler title Vulgar Errors, which is what it cataloged. Book 7 concerned biblical misconceptions, first among them being that the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge was an apple. Browne suggested that some authorities had identified that as the forbidden fruit because in Latin the word malum means both “bad” and “apple.”
This neat explanation was taken up by modern scholars, including the distinguished 20th-century German Lutheran scholar Gerhard von Rad and, more recently, Ziony Zevit in a widely read book called What Really Happened in the Garden of Eden? Whatever did happen in the Garden of Eden, Yadin-Israel demonstrates that this linguistic misunderstanding never occurred, no matter how plausible it sounds. It turns out that the word malum so rarely appears in Latin translations of Genesis that this explanation is certainly false. In fact, the word was specifically avoided precisely because of its malevolent resonance.