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Abstract

Table of Contents

Part I

Part II

Part III

Part IV

Appendixes


     

Part I: The Intrusion of Death

Chapter 10

Towards The Identity Of The Forbidden Fruit:
(1) According To Tradition

 

Hast thou eaten of the tree,
whereof I commanded thee that
thou shouldest not eat?

(Genesis 3:11)

In the sweat of thy face shalt thou eat bread,
till thou return unto the ground;
for out of it wast thou taken:
for dust thou art,
and unto dust shalt thou return.

(Genesis 3:19)

 

     I do not really think that we shall ever be allowed to identify the poison with any certainty, for that would be to invite a search for an antidote. With our present sophisticated techniques of investigation, we might succeed! And my feeling is that the Lord would never allow such a thing to happen, because the consequences for man would be much the same as having allowed access to the Tree of Life which in the circumstances would have been worse than death.
     Our minds being what they are, however, it is difficult not to find ourselves wondering whether a single poison really could be responsible for the sorry plight in which man now finds himself both physically and spiritually, and whether such a poison could be derived from the mere eating of some particular fruit that

     pg.1 of 14     


was: (1) good for food, (2) pleasant in appearance, (3) in some way desirable to make one wise (possibly enhancing perception), as Genesis 3:6 tells us.
     I think it is not altogether impossible that the royal physician to Henry II of France, Dr. Jean Fernel, was correct in his belief that if the plants and herbs of the world were examined with sufficient thoroughness, we would find a remedy "for each and every human illness that exists."
(134) Whether he really meant that some single remedy would ultimately be found for all sicknesses alike is not clear, but I have the impression that this was in the back of his mind. A single cure implies a single cause at the first.
     Nearly a century ago, J. Cynddylan Jones suggested that "in the leaves of the Tree of Life was medicine for all forms of sickness." * He said, "Today, healing virtues are distributed in hundreds of plants, specific plants being remedies for specific diseases; but in the Tree of Life were probably concentrated the medicinal virtues of all the vegetable creation, and special virtues of its own in addition, and thus it was a universal panacea against all the evils of sickness."

     Even now we have some remedies (aspirin, for example) that have an extraordinarily wide application against all kinds of ills, which therefore certainly demonstrate that a single substance can be effective against a very broad range of common human ailments. Thus, it is not so entirely unreasonable to assume that at the very root of all human sickness there might lie some single basic defect in the body responsible for all other ills. If ever some plant extract should be found which could supply the single antidote, we should probably find, in effect, that we had discovered the identity of the Tree of Life.
     It will be well to set forth the characteristics that the poison in this fruit must have had in order to cause the effects which Genesis seems to indicate it did. These are as follows:

   (a) It must be a protoplasmic poison, a poison that ultimately causes the death of cells, and therefore the death of the body.
   (b) It must have a more immediate short range effect, such that a perceptive individual would very quickly observe its effects in others or in himself. It might be expected that the effect would in some way heighten awareness of one's own body.
   (c) It must be obtainable from a fruit that is otherwise good for food and pleasant to look at.
   (d) It must produce an effect that is inheritable. If I am interpreting the

134. Sherrington, Sir Charles, Man On His Nature Cambridge University Press, 1963, p.33, 34.
* Jones, J. C., PrimevaI Revelation: Studies in Genesis 1-VIII, London, Hodder & Stoughton, 1897, p.210.

     pg 2 of 14      

circumstances in Genesis correctly, the inheritable effect should be male sex-linked.
   (e) It must have a detrimental effect not merely on the body but also on behaviour, contributing as a consequence to man's moral, not simply to his physical, deterioration.
   (f) It must be potent in very small quantities, and ought to be capable of being neutralized in its physical effects but not in its moral effects, by some plant extract such as might have been derived from the Tree of Life.

     There are two other considerations which it ought to satisfy. We should expect to find shadowy recollections of its characteristics reflected in the traditions of antiquity. And we should expect to find intimations of its identity in other parts of Scripture.
     Having set forth these specifications, it may occur at once to a thoughtful reader that alcohol satisfies the requirements. It is very tempting to make this equation. Tradition, what we know of the etiology of alcoholism, and the intimations in Scripture, all combine to reinforce this conclusion. Yet, personally, I doubt whether it was actually alcohol, at least not the common ethyl alcohol. Perhaps it was one of the higher alcohols which are far more potent. But I do believe that alcohol provides the most complete paradigm of the poison of which we currently have knowledge, and I believe that grapes as the source of the poison provide the best paradigm of the forbidden fruit.
     It is important to underscore the fact that a paradigm is not to be taken as the thing itself but only as a useful parallel. I want to emphasize this, because I have some doubts whether grapes or their by-product (ethyl alcohol) as we now know them, are precisely to be equated with the forbidden fruit or with the poison it was capable of generating. My reasons for saying this are chiefly that I have not yet been able to satisfy myself completely about certain statements in Scripture which it seems to me could hardly have been made (approving the use of wine and of grapes) if the latter really were the original forbidden fruit which has caused all our ills.
     The most serious of errors often arise by assuming as identical, things which merely correspond in obvious ways. The more nearly things are similar without being identical, the greater may be the danger of equating them. The more nearly a lie approaches the truth, the more dangerous it can be. So I should like to repeat that I do not yet believe that grapes, as we now have them, were the forbidden fruit or that alcohol was really the poison which introduced death to the human race though I believe they may come remarkably close to it.
     Thus we can usefully discuss the reality of that crucial event with some such fruit or by-product as a model, because it is close enough in

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many remarkable ways to assist our imagination, and it assuredly demonstrates that such a situation could indeed have existed with precisely the consequences to Adam and to Eve and to their descendants which the Genesis record clearly indicates.
     Having due regard, then, to the above cautionary observations, consider first the following gleanings from the literature of antiquity both pagan and Jewish; and then (in Chapter 11) some observations regarding what is known about alcohol and the etiology of alcoholism as a disease. Following this (in Chapter 12), we will examine certain intimations in Scripture which are interestingly illuminated if we assume that the fatal poison shared many of the characteristics of alcohol in its effect on both the body and the spirit of man.

     Many of the nations of antiquity have traditions of the Fall of man and relate the event in one way or another to the eating of a food or the drinking of a fruit extract. These traditions sometimes confuse the circumstances by assuming that what the tempter said was actually true; that the Tree of Knowledge was a tree whose fruit brought not only benefit to the eater in the form of a superior kind of wisdom (which in a sense it did) but also a higher kind of life (immortality like that of the gods). (135) Sometimes they state categorically that the offending substance was the juice of a fruit or an extract like the sap from a tree, and that it poisoned the body. Some of them clearly indicate that the result was inebriation, but they attach to this a kind of benefit in that the individual then transcends the ordinary limitations of human experience and enters into special communion with the gods. In some cases the plant or tree is identified by name, though the precise nomenclature of the original is not always clear in modern terminology.
     The earliest of such non-biblical traditions are to be found among the Cuneiform tablets of Sumeria and Babylonia. Here are some extracts from such early records as reported in the literature at the time when they were first found. It is necessary to say this because later collections of Cuneiform inscriptions do not always translate these same tablets in precisely the same way, and in some cases the names of the deities have been spelled differently. In 1895 Dr. T. G. Pinches, one of the earliest notable Cuneiform scholars in England, reported the finding of a tablet which begins thus: *

In Eridu grew a dark vine
In a glorious place it was brought forth.

134. See in Notes at the end of this chapter (p.14).
* Pinches, T. G. "On certain Inscriptions and Records Referring to Babylonia and Elam," Transactions of the Victoria Institute, London, vol.29, 1895, p.44.

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     This is not very much to go on, but the tablet as a whole is clearly a reference to the beginnings of human history. The "glorious place" seems obviously to refer to the Garden of Eden. The problem here, however, is to decide whether this dark tree perhaps the word shady might be equally appropriate was the Tree of Knowledge which was forbidden before the Fall or the Tree of Life which was forbidden after the Fall. The tablet does not state whether the tree was forbidden only that it was there; and therefore we really have no clue as to which of the two trees the writer had in mind: only that it was a vine.
     The following year, W. St. Chad Boscawen published a translation of a fragment of a tablet which reads as follows: *

(1) The great gods, all of them determiners of Fate,
(2) Entered, and death-like the god Sar filled.
(3) In sin one with the other in compact joins.
(4) The command was established in the Garden of the god.
(5) The asnan fruit they ate, they broke in two:
(6) Its stalk they destroyed;
(7) The sweet juice which injures the body.
(8) Great is their sin. Themselves they exalted
(9) To Merodach, their redeemer, he appointed their fate.

     As rendered by Boscawen, himself no mean Cuneiform scholar, the picture seems clearly to reflect the circumstances of the Fall and to connect it with an act of disobedience which was viewed as a great sin. I had considerable difficulty in tracking down the source of this excerpt from the Cuneiform literature, chiefly because when I did finally find it modern renderings are substantially different. This is actually a translation of the last nine lines of Tablet III of an Akkadian creation tablet. The same passage (1.130-139) as translated by E. A. Speiser reads as follows:**

(1) All the great gods who decree the fates
(2) They entered before Anshar, filling (Ubshukirma)
(3) They kissed one another in the Assembly
(4) They held converse as they (sat down) to the banquet
(5) They ate festive bread, poured (the wine)

* Boscawen, W. St. Chad, The Bible and the Monuments, London, Eyre and Spottiswoode, 1896, p.89.
** Speiser, E. A., "Akkadian Myths and Epics" in Ancient Near Eastern Texts, edited by James B. Pritchard, Princeton, 1969, p.65, 66.

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(6) They wetted their drinking-tubes with sweet intoxicant.
(7) As they drank the strong drink, (their) bodies swelled
(8) They became very languid as their spirits rose
(9) For Marduk, their avenger, they fixed the decrees.

     It will be seen that there are marked differences between the two renderings. We have numbered the lines in order to assist the reader to see to what extent they match.
    It seems important to examine this circumstance with care for several reasons. First of all, it should be understood that there are problems even yet in the reading of the Cuneiform text. The problems arise from the fact that each Cuneiform sign does not represent a letter of an alphabet which always has the same sound value, but may have as many as twenty different sound values. For example, the sign may be read with the following sound values: UM, UMU, UD, TAM, PAR, HISH, and some other alternatives. There are certain guides to indicate to the reader which particular sound value the sign is carrying in any given circumstance. But these indications are not always clearly understood even by modern Cuneiform scholars, and different scholars sometimes adopt different readings for the same sign. Let me illustrate in completely modern terms what can be involved in translating a tablet. Let us suppose some particular sign could be read either as CR1 or HOC, and this sign in a particular sentence could be followed by a second sign which is known to have two alternative values which are KEY and KET. I suspect that if it were known that the tablet was recording something to do with a game, an English Cuneiform scholar would almost certainly read it as CRICKET; whereas a Canadian Cuneiform scholar would almost certainly read it as HOCKEY.
     Any such analogy can be misleading, but this is the nature of the problem, and when we compare the renderings of earlier scholars with those of later scholars we sometimes have an analogous bias, only the bias is not between English and Canadian sporting interests but between a not unnatural tendency among earlier scholars to look for reflections of the biblical story in contrast to the almost total indifference indeed, even hostility towards such a goal among modern scholars. Looking at the two renderings by Boscawen and Speiser, one has to admit that Speiser's knowledge of Cuneiform was far greater than that of his predecessors because he was standing on their shoulders. On the other hand, it must be admitted that Boscawen's rendering makes much better sense on the whole.
     At any rate, even Speiser's translation, if we use Boscawen's as a background, does suggest that a beverage described as a sweet intoxicant with harmful effects both on body and spirit was involved. And

     pg.6 of 14     


admittedly, it is not easy to discern the figures of Adam and Eve since the chief characters in this little play are said to have been "all the great gods."
     In a most useful little handbook on Archaeology and the Bible, S. L. Caiger gives a translation of a small fragment of a Cuneiform tablet, which also seems to have some bearing on the Fall, though it, too, is far from clear as to its meaning: *

My King the cassia plant approached;
He plucked, he ate,
Then Ninharsag in the name of Enki
Uttered a curse:
"The face of life, until he dies, shall he not see."

     This same extract is rendered slightly differently by S. N. Kramer, but the import of the words is essentially the same. The identity of the fruit as coming from a cassia plant does not help us very much. But we do note that the effect was to exclude the eater from the presence of his god until he has paid the penalty of death.
     We have to conclude, I think, that the only light at present available to us from the Cuneiform literature is very indistinct, a rather odd circumstance in view of the tremendous number of tablets that have been translated. It is to the pictorial representations of the Fall that we have to turn in order to find any unequivocal reflection of the Genesis story.

Figure 4. The Seal of Adam and Eve and the Serpent

      An ancient Babylonian seal, one of many seals that have been discovered by archaeologists, reproduced in Fig. 4 as a line drawing taken

* Caiger, S. L., Bible and Spade, Oxford, 1936, p.19.
Kramer, S. N., From the Tablets of Sumer, Indian Hills, Colorado, Falcon's Wing Press, 1956, p.174.

     pg.7 of 14     


from George Smith's The Chaldean Account of Genesis (published in 1880), * clearly shows the temptation scene, with the tree in the centre, an erect serpent standing presumably behind Eve. The forbidden tree looks suspiciously like a trained vine with two clusters of grapes. Adam and Eve are each reaching out a hand towards the fruit. The shape of the tree itself which tempts one to assume it might be a vine, may not of course signify anything more than the artist's sense of symmetry.
     In 1932 E. A. Speiser of the University Museum of Pennsylvania, discovered a seal near the bottom of the Tepe Gawra Mound twelve miles from Nineveh. He dated this seal at about 3500 B.C. It is the picture of a naked man and a naked woman walking as if utterly downcast and brokenhearted, followed by a serpent. The seal is about one inch in diameter, engraved on stone, and is now in the University Museum in Philadelphia. Speiser considers it to be "strongly suggestive of the Adam and Eve story." It is shown below in Fig. 5.

Figure 5.

* Smith, George, The Chaldean Account of Genesis, new edition, revised and corrected by A. H. Sayce, London, Sampson, Manton, Searle & Rivington, 1880, p.88.
Speiser, E. A., quoted by H. H. Halley, Pocket Bible Handbook, Chicago, published privately, 19th edition, 1951, p.68.

     pg.8 of 14     


     Even in the matter of pictorial representations from the earliest periods we therefore admittedly have little enough to go on. From later millennia (B.C.) we do seem to have more specific data. Many years ago, Francois Lenormant reported the finding of a curiously painted vase of Phoenician manufacture, probably of the sixth or seventh century B.C. * This had been discovered in an ancient sepulchre in Cyprus. It exhibits a leafy tree "from the branches of which hang two large clusters of fruit" while a great serpent advances with an undulating motion towards it.
     The American Journal of Archaeology some years ago carried an article by Nelson Glueck reporting on the general findings in Palestine and elsewhere during the years of excavation immediately prior to 1933. He mentions that:

     In one of the two tombs discovered southwest of the Jewish colony of Hadra, a lead coffin was found. On one side it is decorated with an arch which rests upon two twisted columns. Under the arch a naked body holds a serpent in his right hand and a bunch of grapes in his left.

     A coffin seems a particularly appropriate setting for a picture of a man in his youth, naked, and holding in either hand the elements out of which physical death may have found its way into human experience. The tradition of the forbidden fruit as being the product of a vine is widespread, though it is not always a grapevine that is in view. The Jewish people themselves, however, seem to have favoured the grape as the offending fruit, and this concept is clearly reflected in the Book of Enoch. The Book of Enoch has always had a special interest for the Christian because it is the one book quoted from in the New Testament which is non-canonical and is not bound with the Bible even when the Apocrypha is included. The allusions to it are not infrequent and it is generally held that the title, "the Son of Man," was taken from it. In Chapter 32 the writer of the book tells how he went in search of the Garden of Eden and he says (verses 3 and 4):

     And I came to the garden of righteousness, and I saw the mingled diversity of those trees; many and large trees are planted there, of goodly fragrance, large, very beautiful and glorious, also the tree of wisdom; eating of it one learns great wisdom.
     It is like the carob-tree and its fruit is like the clusters of the vine, very good.

* Lenormant, F., in Contemporary Review, Sept., 1879, p.155.
Glueck, Nelson, "Palestinian and Syrian Archaeology," American Journal of Archaeology, Jan-Mar., 1933, p.164.

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     The writer of the book then goes on to tell how he questioned his angelic guide about this particular tree (verses 5 and 6):

     And I said, "This tree is beautiful. How beautiful and pleasant to look at!"
     Then the holy angel Raphael who was with me, answered and said unto me, "This is the tree of wisdom from which thy old father and thy aged mother who were before thee, ate, and they learned wisdom, and their eyes were opened, and they learned that they were naked, and they were driven out of the garden."

     Paul Isaac Hershon in his Rabbinical Commentary on Genesis, states that against Genesis 3:6 and the words "the Tree was good for food," there is this rabbinical comment: *

     Some of the sages say that it was a fig tree and that was why they plucked the leaves from the fig tree to cover their shame; for as soon as they had eaten of the tree of knowledge their eyes were opened, and they were ashamed to go about naked.
     But some sages say that the tree was a vine. Eve pressed the grapes and gave Adam red wine to drink, as red as blood.

     The same author, in another work, in commenting on Genesis 1:27 quoted from the Talmudic Tractate Sanhedrin (folio 70, col. 1) as follows:

     The Holy One, blessed be He! said to Noah, Thou shouldest have taken warning from Adam ("the man of the earth") and not have indulged in the use of wine as he did. Hence Noah is called (Gen. 9:20) "the man of the earth." This accords with the Rabbi who maintains that the forbidden tree was a vine.

     According to Louis Ginsberg in his Legends of the Jews, Origen in commenting on Genesis 9:20 maintained that Noah's vine was an off-shoot of the Tree of Knowledge, and Ginsberg observes that the same view is reflected in the Jerusalem Targum.
    So far, then, we see various traditional identifications of the tree.
The Cuneiform

* Hershon, Paul Isaac, Commentary on Genesis, London, Hodder and Stoughton, 1885, p.27
Hershon, Paul Isaac, Genesis with a Talmudical Commentary, London, Bagster and Sons, 1881, p.67.
Ginsberg, Louis, The Legends of the Jews, Philadelphia, Jewish Publication Association of America, 1955, vol.V, From Creation to Exodus, p.190, note 59. Dr. Alfred Edersheim, himself a Hebrew Christian and author of that great classic, The Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah [London, Longmans, Green & Co., 1900], in a lesser known work of his, notes that a number of rabbis held this view (See his The World Before the Flood, London, Religious Tract Society, no date, p.55).

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records speak of it as a Cassia plant or an Asnan fruit. The Book of Enoch speaks of it as a Carob tree. The Talmud favours the grape vine. There is, of course, the famous apple which some scholars believe arose from a mistranslation. It happens that in Latin the word for an evil thing and the word for apple are the same, malum. The tree of good and of evil in any Latin rendering may possibly have been rendered by someone as a good apple tree.
     There is another tradition to which Francois Lenormant refers:
*

     The most ancient name of Babylon in the idiom of the first settlers in that region was "the Place of the Tree of Life," and even on the coffins of enameled clay of a date later than Alexander the Great, found at Warka (the ancient Erech of the Bible and the Uruk of the inscriptions) this Tree appears as the emblem of immortality. Strange to say, one picture of it on an ancient Assyrian relic has been found drawn with sufficient accuracy to enable us to recognize it as the plant known as the Soma Tree by the Aryans of India, and the Homa of the ancient Persians, the crushed branches of which yield a draught offered as a libation to the gods as the water of immortality.

     It might be argued that we have here better evidence to support a theory that it was the Tree of Life which was a vine rather than the Tree of Knowledge. But I think that Satan had something to do with this confusion in tradition, even as he had much to do with the confusion in Eve's mind. If we are dealing with a fruit capable of fermentation, it is not surprising that the apparently heightened prophetic insights which have often been claimed by priests under the influence of alcohol might soon transform something that was actually a poison into an ambrosia of the gods.
    The soma or horna tree is generally considered to be the Asclepias acida, a tree associated in the Vedic hymns with the god Soma, just as the Asnan fruit may have been associated with the goddess Ashnan. It was important in Vedic ceremony, in the words of one encyclopedia, "because of its alcoholic character . ." In one hymn, those who have drunk the juice of the plant are said to have exclaimed together, "We have drunk the soma: we have become immortal: we have entered the light: we have known the gods!" Such a sequence reminds us of the assurances given by Satan when he tempted Eve to take the forbidden fruit.
     Dr. Gordon R. Wasson, in an interesting paper on psycho-active drugs, speaks of the Indo-Aryans and the Soma as follows:
(136)

* Lenormant, Francois, The Beginnings of History, New York, Scribners, 1891, p. 85, 86.
136. Wasson, Gordon R., "Fly Agaric (Amenita muscaria) and Man," in Ethnopharmacological Search for Psycho-Active Drugs, edited by Daniel H. Efron, published by U.S. Department of Health, Education and Welfare, Public Health Services Publication, no.1465, 1967, p.413.
 

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      An Indo-European people who call themselves Aryans conquered the Valley of the Indus in the middle of the second millennium B.C. Their priests deified a plant which they called Soma, that has never been identified: scholars have almost despaired of finding it. The hymns that these priests composed have come down to us as the Rig Veda, and many of them concern themselves with Soma.

     This plant, Soma, was an hallucinogen. The juice was extracted from it in the course of the liturgy and forthwith drunk by the priests who regarded it as a divine inebriant. It could not have been alcoholic for various reasons: for one thing, fermentation is a slow process which the Vedic priests could not hurry.
     As we shall see, Wasson's last observation is not entirely justified, for there do exist fruit extracts which will ferment within a few hours in warm weather. One wonders whether such fruit juices were not originally drunk simply because they were sweet and pleasant to the taste, and that their intoxicating character after fermentation was an accidental discovery. The undesirable effects of intoxication may have come as a surprise in view of the original harmlessness and sweetness of the extract. It may be that this circumstance was responsible for the belief held by some people that this was really the work of the devil, turning sweetness into bitterness and corrupting man's taste. In some parts of the world it is specifically believed that it was evil spirits who persuaded man to take the first intoxicating liquor. Dr. S. H. Kellogg gives a tradition from India which he believes owes nothing to borrowing from Christian missionaries. His account is as follows: *

      The Santals have a tradition . . . that in the beginning they were not worshippers of demons as they are now. They say that, very long ago, their first parents were created by the Living God; and that they worshipped and served Him at first: and that they were seduced from their allegiance by an evil spirit Masang Buru, who persuaded them to drink an intoxicating liquor from the fruit of a certain tree.

      On the whole, there is a certain concordance in this testimony both from pagan and Jewish sources. In the first place, man's down-fall was associated with the eating of a fruit. This action brought with it both a gain and a penalty. In some cases the gain is a superior kind of wisdom, prophetic wisdom, and in others it is "knowing the gods," whatever this signifies. On the other hand, most of the traditions see it as an act of disobedience which of necessity also involved the penalty death. The Rig Veda, however, is an exception in

* Kellogg, S. H., Genesis and the Growth of Religion, London, Macmillan, 1892, p. 60, 61. 

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this regard, for though the drink was intoxicating, it also was supposed to have guaranteed immortality.
     In spite of this kind of contradiction, one has a feeling there is a link between all these accounts and that they bear witness to the fact that the human race is truly one and had one father Adam and one mother Eve, a knowledge of whose early history thus became the common property of all their descendants, i.e., mankind. The inconsistencies and contradictions of these traditions may actually strengthen our confidence in the original account in Genesis in the same way that a certain type of contradiction in the testimony of several witnesses to a crime may furnish the best proof that they have not borrowed their story from one another but are recollecting the original event without collusion among themselves.
     Two facts seem to stand out: the fruit of some kind of tree was involved and the extract of the fruit was an intoxicant, a poison; whether it was some form of alcohol or not is a moot point, but it is a not unreasonable surmise

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NOTES

135. (See p.4) The nations of antiquity often have traditions that seem to be reflections of the two Trees in the Garden of Eden, though the role of the two trees is sometimes reversed. There was in the old world in classical times a very widespread association in certain festivals between the drinking of an alcoholic beverage (which might be seen as a recollection of the forbidden fruit) and the acquisition of immortality (which would seem to be related rather to the Tree of Life). The ancient gods of Greece and Rome drank fermented wine (nectar) or ate a food associated with such wine (ambrosia) to preserve their immortality.
     Ambrosia was commonly described as the "food of the gods," and nectar as the "drink of the gods." There is no question that both were related and sometimes the terms were used interchangeably, or reversed in meaning. The ancient Greek Poetess, Sappho (seventh century B.C.) and Anaxandridas (d. 520 B.C.) both say that ambrosia was a drink. Homer refers to it however as like an ointment or an oil for anointing the bodies of the dead to preserve them from corruption, whereas he describes nectar as resembling red wine and states that its continued use brings immortality [Iliad, XIV, 170; and XIX, 38].
     The word ambrosia is held by some authorities to be of Greek origin, composed of a (not) and brotos (mortal), i.e., not mortal, immortal. Liddell and Scott suggest an etymological connection with the Latin root MORT-.
     Homer also refers to ambrosia as being an unguent for the treating of wounds, an observation again reflected in the widespread use of fermented wine in the same connection. This practice is observed in Luke 10:34, where the good Samaritan treated the severely wounded man that he found beside the road on his way to Jericho by "pouring oil and wine" into his wounds.
     Ambrosia was a central element in several Festivals observed in Greece (and elsewhere) in connection with Dionysus, "the god of peasants." It was a time of celebration for the grape harvest and, according to Johannes Tzetzes (c. 11201183) a Greek author who wrote commentaries on Homer and Hesiod, it was held when the must of the newly harvested grapes had fermented. Other non-Hellenic peoples adopted these festivals but turned them into orgies which the more sober Greeks felt were "scandalous."
     Hindu mythology has a drink termed Amrita, believed to be derived from Sanskrit a- (not) and a root word related to the Latin mort-, and the Greek brot-. The gods of the Scandinavian pantheon preserved their perpetual youth by eating apples guarded by one named Idun. It is tempting to see this guardian figure as a corruption of the word Eden!
     Clearly, there has been preserved among the nations a certain connection between alcohol and immortality, a reversal of the biblical connection obviously, and perhaps an illustration of just the kind of reversal that mythology experienced when it made the serpent the symbol of health.

     pg.14 of 14     

Copyright © 1988 Evelyn White. All rights reserved

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