Volume 47, Issue 2, 2016
James F. Patterson
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.