According to the Jewish tradition God commanded Adam and Eve not to eat from the tree that was to give free choice and allow them to earn, as opposed to receive, absolute perfection and intimate communion with God at a higher level than the one on which they were created. According to this tradition, Adam and Eve would have attained absolute perfection and retained immortality had they succeeded in withstanding the temptation to eat from the Tree. After failing at this task, they were condemned to a period of toil to rectify the fallen universe. Jewish tradition views the serpent, and sometimes the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil itself, as representatives of evil and man's evil inclination.
Judaism generally recognizes no "evil" other than the evil actions of human beings. Eve's only transgression was that she disobeyed God's order. Adam and Eve were expelled from the Garden and had to live ordinary, human lives.
Rabbi David Fohrman of the Hoffberger Foundation for Torah Studies, citing Maimonides' Guide for the Perplexed, states that "the tree did not give us moral awareness when we had none before. Rather, it transformed this awareness from one kind into another." After eating from the Tree, humanity's innate sense of moral awareness was transformed from concepts of true and false to concepts of good and evil. Genesis describes the tree as desirable (3:6), and our concepts of good and evil, unlike our concepts of true and false, also have an implicit measure of desire.
In Christian theology, the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil is connected to the doctrine of original sin. Augustine of Hippo believed that humanity inherited sin itself and the guilt for Adam and Eve's sin. By eating of the fruit of the Tree, Adam and Eve sought to be like God. For a debate about the Western doctrine of original sin and the Eastern doctrine of ancestral sin, see . There is a minority of Christians that affirm the doctrine of Pelagianism, which believes every individual faces the same choice between sin and salvation that Adam and Eve faced.
Similar trees appear in other religions. In the closest, most relevant comparison, the iconic image of the tree guarded by the Serpent appears on Sumerian seals; it is the central feature of the Garden of the Hesperides in Greek mythology, where the guardian serpent receives the name Ladon. In Buddhism, the Buddha became enlightened under the Bodhi tree. While the biblical tree is usually interpreted as representing sensual pleasure, the Bodhi tree gave pure transcendent knowledge. In Vedic Hinduism, the Tree of Jiva and Atman is usually interpreted as a metaphor concerning the soul, mind, and body. In the Norse sagas, the ash tree Yggdrasil draws from the magic springwater of knowledge. To many who believe the Bible is filled with parables, the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil is actually a library or some other form of educational writings.
The process of maturation occurring in the incidents around the tree describes, in an abstract way, the splitting of the human consciousness into the limited context of conscious thought and the underlying all-aware subconscious.
The Book of Enoch 32:4, dating from the last few centuries before Christ and purporting to be by the antediluvian prophet Enoch, describes the Tree of Knowledge: "It was like a species of the Tamarind tree, bearing fruit which resembled grapes extremely fine; and its fragrance extended to a considerable distance. I exclaimed, How beautiful is this tree, and how delightful is its appearance!"
In the Talmud, Rabbi Meir says that the fruit was a grape. Another Talmudic tradition suggests that Eve actually made and drank wine. Rabbi Nechemia says that the fruit was a figwhile Rabbi Yehuda, is that the fruit was wheat.
In Western Christian art, the fruit is commonly depicted as an apple, (they originated in central Asia). The source of this apparently lay in a Latin pun: by eating the malus (apple), Eve contracted malum (evil).
Proponents of the theory that the Garden of Eden was located somewhere in what is known now as the Middle East suggest that the fruit was actually a pomegranate. This ties in with the Greek myth of Persephone, where her consumption of six pomegranate seeds leads to her having to spend time in Hades.