Augustine begins Book 2 of the Confessions by recounting the unrelenting hunger and restlessness he felt as an adolescent. Overwhelmed by his pubescent lust and desire to be loved, he describes himself as having been “engulfed in a whirlpool of sins” (Conf. 2.2.2).

Without a clear path to lead him out of this confusion (or an arranged marriage to give him a sanctioned way to satisfy his lust), the teenaged Augustine found himself amid many temptations during his gap year from school. It was during this time that he, bored and eager for companionship, joined some other boys his age in stealing pears late at night.

The adult Augustine agonizes over this peccadillo. Why did he do it? What was the point of a theft when he had no need for pears and there was nothing particularly appealing about them? What was it that made the theft nonetheless feel so good?

Clearly, decades later, the theft still haunts him, and he struggles to determine exactly what his motivation was.

He offers several possible answers: It was pleasurable because it was forbidden. He was in love with his own ruin. He wanted to imitate God, even if only perversely. He did it because his friends were doing it. He would not have done it alone (2.4.9-2.9.17).

Perhaps it was a combination of these possibilities. It seems Augustine, after all this time, still does not know for sure.

Here is where I think the parallel to Genesis is most salient. Genesis 3:4-6 reads:

“But the serpent said to the woman, ‘You will not die; for God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.’ So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate; and she also gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate.”

We learn a few reasons why Eve eats. In addition to the serpent’s claim that if she eats of the fruit her eyes will be opened and she will be like God, Eve herself recognizes that the tree produces good fruit, that it is beautiful, and that it could make her wise.

But we don’t learn anything about why Adam eats; the text states only that he is given fruit by his wife, and he eats it.

Why? What was going through his head? Did he also think that the tree was good and beautiful and could make him wise? Was it that he wanted to be like God?

We can’t know for sure. The text doesn’t tell us.

The text merely states that Eve hands Adam the fruit, and then he eats.

John Milton in Book 9 of Paradise Lost suggests that it is this social relationship, this affection Adam has for Eve, his wife and only companion, that matters most here:

“She gave him of that fair enticing fruit

With liberal hand. He scrupled not to eat,

Against his better knowledge, not deceived

But fondly overcome with female charm.” (9.996-999)

It is possible that Milton’s interpretation of Adam’s decision to eat is correct. Adam knew it was wrong, but he did it because of his affection for Eve.

Augustine certainly indicates that pleasure (whether sinful or otherwise) is greater when it is shared in community. He stole the pears at least in part because others were doing it, and much of his pleasure came from doing the deed together with others. The importance of the social, both for Augustine as a teenager in Thagaste and Adam in Eden, cannot be denied.

But is that ultimately the reason they each took the fruit?

In the case of Adam, we cannot know for certain. In case of Augustine, the question is still open.