According to Genesis 3:7, after Adam and Eve discovered their nakedness, they sewed fig leaves together and made themselves coverings. Although I am fairly certain that a literal Adam and Eve actually did make literal coverings for themselves out of literal fig leaves, I also believe that there is a profound reason why the Bible places such major emphasis on the fig in this story. If the word "fig" were not important, the author could have simply said "they sewed leaves together." If it were not important that those leaves were fig leaves, the word "fig" could have been omitted entirely. Therefore, it is reasonable that the "fig" was used deliberately in this story as an important clue to the nature of their transgression.
Figs are mentioned frequently throughout the Bible. In the King James Version, the word "fig" (singular) occurs 41 times in 39 verses. "Figs" (plural) occurs 25 times in 22 verses.
Figs were regarded as sacred among the Hellenes. According to myth, Dionysius, a libidinous god, placed a phallus made of fig wood on the grave of Polyhymnos. To this day, the phallus carried at Dionysian festivals is carved of fig wood. The fig tree is still worshipped as a phallic symbol. Among the Romans, the fig account, because of its productiveness, was consecrated to Priapus. According to Greek and Roman mythology, Priapus was the god of procreation, guardian of gardens and vineyards, and personification of the erect phallus. An image of Priapus was often used as a scarecrow in ancient gardens. Priapus was so associated with phalluses that the representation of a phallus was sometimes referred to as a priapus.
But not only have figs symbolically represented the male sex organ; they have represented the female sex organ as well. According to H. M. Westropp:
The kites or female organ, as the symbol of the passive or productive power of nature, generally occurs on ancient Roman Monuments as the Concha Veneris, a fig, barley corn, and the letter Delta.The fig was also significant in ancient Baal worship. The fig-cone was carried by the Assyrian Baal. The fig has a similar significance in numerous processions.
When we add to these the various forms of tree worship, we see to what an extent the products of nature were used as symbols in the worship of sex. In modern society, we have an obscene gesture known as "giving the finger." We make a tight fist and extend our middle finger. This gesture has been around for ages. The Greeks considered it a most contemptuous insult. It implied that the person to whom it was addressed was addicted to unnatural vice. It meant the same thing to the Romans.
Sometimes, this gesture was referred to as "giving the phallic hand." And since the fig was a well-established phallic symbol, this gesture was also known as "giving the fig." The Italians called this gesture "fare la fica," meaning "to make or do the fig." In Spanish, it means "to give a fig." The French say, "faire la figue." This phrase can be traced clear back to the thirteenth century. In 1309, the term "make with his fingers the fig" was used during judicial proceedings in Paris against the Templars.
In a 1449 document, a rude individual was said to have "made figs with both hands." Evidence suggests that this phrase first made its way into the English language during the reign of Queen Elizabeth. It had been passed on from Spain, a close ally at the time. The English phrase was "to give the fig" (dar la higa). Writers in the Elizabethan age called it "the fig of Spain." Thus, ancient "Pistol, in Shakespeare:
"A figo for thy friendship!--The fig of Spain." Henry V, III.
The phrase has been preserved in many countries down to modern times. This form of showing contempt is still well known among the lower classes of society in England. It's been preserved in most countries in Western Europe. We still say in English, "a fig for anybody," or "a fig for anything." This does not mean that we consider them to be as worthless as a fig. What it does mean is that we hold them in contempt. It's the modern equivelent of giving them the finger.
Giving one's enemy "the fig" or "the finger" has also been used as a hex or a goodluck charm. According to an Italian legend, the king held his hand in his pocket at the battle of Solferino. He gave his enemy "the fig" as a means of protection against their gun shots. Emblems of this hand gesture have been made from a variety of materials, such as bronze, coral, lapis lazuli, and chrystal. They have been worn throughout the centuries as necklaces to ward off evil spirits. I guess you might say they were giving the devil the finger. The use of this amulet is still common in Italy, and especially in Naples and Sicily.
The Eden narrative does not specify what kind of fruit the forbidden fruit was. In the early Middle Ages, it was often identified as a fig. However, an irresistable pun eventually settled the matter for Christianity. "Malum" in Latin meant both "apple" and "evil."