I recently read Isaac Asimov’s In the Beginning, in which he basically annotates Genesis and compares it to the modern scientific view of the origins of the universe, Earth, life, humanity, etc. Not much in it was new to me, but there was one thing I hadn’t known, if indeed it is true.
Regarding the tree of knowledge of good and evil, whose fruit Adam and Eve were forbidden to eat, Asimov writes:
“Good and evil” is a Hebrew idiom meaning everything (since every thing is either good or evil; to know both is to know everything), so that the fruit of the tree conveys knowledge generally.
This interpretation makes more understandable (in the context of the narrative) God’s fear that Adam and Eve would become too god-like if they ate from both the tree of knowledge as well as the tree of life, since they would be immortal and all-knowing.
Asimov of course was ethnically Jewish, though non-practicing, and IIRC his father was an observant Jew who sent young Isaac to Hebrew school in his youth. So I’m inclined to accept his word on this. OTOH, I have caught Asimov relating false urban legends once or twice (like the story of the southern state that passed a law making pi equal to three, based on the description of the basin in Solomon’s temple in I Kings), so I’d be more assured if I had confirmation from some of our Hebrew-speaking members.
Is it true that “good and evil” in Hebrew is an idiom for “everything”? And is there good reason to believe that the idiom goes back to the time of the composition of the Genesis story (more specifically, the J-document version), so that this represents a valid interpretation of “knowledge of good and evil” in this context?