There is much conjecture as to the identification of the tree and fruit denoted by the Hebrew word tap·puʹach. The word itself indicates that which is distinguished by its fragrance, or scent. It comes from the root na·phachʹ, meaning “blow; pant; struggle for breath.” (Ge 2:7; Job 31:39; Jer 15:9) Regarding this, M. C. Fisher wrote: “Relationship [to na·phachʹ] seems at first semantically strained, but the ideas of ‘breathe’ and ‘exhale an odor’ are related. The by-form puah means both ‘blow’ (of wind) and ‘exhale a pleasant odor, be fragrant.’”—Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament, edited by R. L. Harris, 1980, Vol. 2, p. 586.
Several fruits have been suggested in place of the apple, including the orange, the citron, the quince, and the apricot. The main objection raised to the apple is that the hot, dry climate of most of Palestine is unfavorable to apple culture. However, the related Arabic word tuffah primarily means “apple,” and it is notable that the Hebrew place-names Tappuah and Beth-tappuah (probably so named because of the prevalence of this fruit in their vicinity) have been preserved in their Arabic equivalents by the use of this word. (Jos 12:17; 15:34, 53; 16:8; 17:8) These places were not in the lowlands but in the hill country, where the climate is generally somewhat moderated. Additionally, the possibility of some climatic variations in the past cannot be completely ruled out. Apple trees do grow in Israel today and thus seem to fit the Bible description satisfactorily. William Thomson, who spent many years in Syria and Palestine in the 19th century, even reported finding apple orchards in the area of Ashkelon on the Plains of Philistia.—The Land and the Book, revised by J. Grande, 1910, pp. 545, 546.
The apple tree (Pyrus malus) is mentioned mainly in The Song of Solomon, where the expressions of love by the Shulammite’s shepherd companion are likened to the pleasant shade of the apple tree and the sweetness of its fruit. (Ca 2:3, 5) The king compares the Shulammite’s breath to the fragrance of apples. (Ca 7:8; see also 8:5.) In the Proverbs (25:11) appropriate, opportune speech is likened to “apples of gold in silver carvings.” The only other reference to the apple is at Joel 1:12. The common tradition as to the apple’s being the forbidden fruit of Eden is without any Scriptural basis whatsoever. Similarly, the expression “apple of the eye” is found in the King James Version (Ps 17:8; Pr 7:2; and others) but is not a Hebrew expression, the literal translation being “the pupil of [one’s] eyeball.”