I'll give you all a second to think about the correct answer to this question based on the text of Genesis 1-3....
The answer is the latter, an "unspecified fruit." When he was going over the quiz answers with his class, one student became particularly indignant. She raised her hand with an angry look on her face, "I've gone to Catholic school for 14 years. Are you telling me that all of my teachers were lying to me when they told me it's an apple?" To which my husband responded, "If they taught you this, they were mistaken. There certainly is a long tradition of associating the fruit with an apple, but the text does not specify that it's an apple."
The student didn't let the issue die there. "This is official Catholic Church teaching," she insisted. "Everyone just knows that Adam and Eve ate an apple." Jeff pulled out his pocket-sized Catechism, and he assured her that it was nowhere in the Catechism that the fruit from Genesis was an apple. He also offered her extra credit if she could locate where in Genesis 1-3 the fruit was identified as an apple. Finally the student crossed her arms and closed her mouth.
Since this was in the section on Judaism, Jeff went on to talk about several midrashic interpretations of the passage, one which identifies the fruit as grapes, and another that identifies it as figs. There's nothing patently wrong with variously interpreting the fruit, especially for the allegorical juice (no pun intended). Grapes as the fruit, for example, has a strong tradition because of the association with wine and drunkenness that causes trouble later in Genesis. The figs tradition, meanwhile, is interesting to Christianity in that it makes possible one explanation for Jesus' cursing of the fig tree in the gospel of Mark. I have a hunch that the apple tradition comes from Augustine (probably among others), who would have had a lot of fun playing with the Latin words for evil and for apple.So I guess Jeff shouldn't be too surprised that a student would be absolutely convinced that the fruit in Genesis is an apple. Perhaps for those raised in the Catholic tradition, it's kind of commonsensical- one of those Bible "facts" that we just all assume we know. As testament to this, Jeff's office neighbor polled a listserve of Catholics (not in academia), and found that 22% of them thought the apple in Genesis was dogmatic, an official Church teaching. For the most part, Jeff just found the incident amusing.
That is, until he checked his email a couple hours letter and found a scathing email from the student. "I answered today's quiz based on my previous knowledge. I understand that you drop our three lowest quiz grades, but I didn't want to waste my cushion on a topic that I know. I've been a practicing Catholic for 18 years, and I attended Catholic schools for 14 years. You are basically saying that my parents wasted thousands of dollars on my education and that all the Catholics I know are wrong on this" and so on (my paraphrase).
Well, Jeff's never had his Catholic orthodoxy challenged by a student before, so he was a little taken aback. The real issue of course, was not his orthodoxy, but the text. It's a text-based course and it was a text-based quiz. Upon re-examining the student's quiz, he found she had correctly answered one out of the ten questions (she erroneously answered that the sun was created on the first day, and human beings on the seventh, for example). His Muslim student, on the other hand, had received ten out of ten. Which student do you think actually read the text? Clearly not the one who relied on "previous knowledge."
My husband is a convert to Christianity who was in many ways led to Catholicism because of (and through) the Bible, so he is continually surprised at the seeming ignorance of many Catholics when it comes to Scripture, which is a crucial part of what constitutes tradition.
I told Jeff that he should tell the student to look on the bright side, something like, "I'm not saying your parents wasted thousands of dollars on your Catholic education. I'm saying you're getting money's worth in my class."