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Augustinian Studies

Volume 47, Issue 2, 2016

James F. Patterson
Pages 181-200

Augustine’s Fig Tree (Confessiones 8.12.28)

This article simultaneously expands and refines the interpretive space within which we understand Augustine’s statement that he lay down under a fig tree when he converted to Christianity in 386 (conf. 8.12.28). It rejects the claim that this fig tree is a reference to Nathanael’s fig tree at John 1:48 on both philological and contextual grounds. Nathanael is an Israelite in whom there is no deceit (John 1:47), but this is inconsistent with the Augustine whose life is narrated in conf. 1–8. Instead, Augustine’s fig tree is best interpreted in the context of the fig leaves of Gen. 3:7, the withered fig tree of Matt. 21:18–22 and Mark 11:12–14 and 20–25, and the good and bad trees of Matt. 7:15–20 and Luke 6:43–45. Together, these biblical passages indicate that the Augustine who lay down under the fig tree was still a liar by profession and deceived in his philosophical beliefs. Thus, his departure from the tree is symbolic of his conversion from the mendacious life he once led as a Manichee and rhetorician.