The Tree of Life as Nurturing Mother

Before moving on further into the contents of the Orphic Gold Plates, I would like to look with more detail into a motif touched upon in my last post in this series.  I described how the Orphic inscriptions instruct the soul that they are to pass by the guardians in order to be able to meet Persephone, the “Mother Goddess” who will help them through the rest of their journey through the Netherworld.  Although she was the mother of gods and mortals, her births were parthenogenic (virgin births). It seems that this Virgin Mother Goddess was an essential part of many ancient forms of initiation into the Mysteries, where she was seen as nursing the “newborn” initiate with milk. The Mother Goddess was often symbolically identified as the Tree of Life.

In an earlier post, I discussed the idea that the fountain of living waters (in the Orphic tablets identified as the waters of the goddess Mnemosyne), from which the soul must drink in order to secure its salvation, was also to be considered equivalent to the white tree, the Tree of Life. This connection is made explicit in the vision of Nephi (1 Ne. 11:25), where he explains:

And it came to pass that I beheld that the rod of iron, which my father had seen, was the word of God, which led to the fountain of living waters, or to the tree of life; which waters are a representation of the love of God; and I also beheld that the tree of life was a representation of the love of God.

fountain_tree_of_life

In Egypt, the Tree of Life was often depicted as a goddess, or having a goddess within it, that nursed or poured forth living waters (or perhaps milk) to individuals.

Egyptian Milk Treetreegoddess3

In Nephi’s vision, remarkably, we also see this connection between the Tree of Life and the virgin mother.  In 1 Ne. 11, Nephi is shown the exceedingly beautiful and white tree that his father had seen in his dream. When Nephi asks the Spirit for the interpretation of the tree, he is immediately shown a rather unusual (to us) image — he is shown a virgin as beautiful and white as the Tree of Life.  This virgin, who we know as Mary, is presented to Nephi as “the mother of the Son of God, after the manner of the flesh” (1 Ne. 11:18).  Mary had the baby Jesus in her arms, and although we aren’t given this detail, was conceivably nursing the Child.  In response to his inquiry about the tree, this is what Nephi is shown — and he understands these images to represent the love of God.  It is amazing how this Book of Mormon vision fits so perfectly the ancient conception of what the Tree of Life represented.

Old Testament scholar Margaret Barker, who is an expert in the religious culture of Jerusalem at the time Lehi and Nephi would have been there, noticed the amazing similarity of the Book of Mormon account to her understanding of how the ancient Israelites would have pictured the Tree of Life. In her speech at the Worlds of Joseph Smith conference held at the Library of Congress in 2005, Barker expounded:

The Tree of Life made one happy according to the Book of Proverbs, but for other detailed descriptions of the tree we have to rely on the non-canonical texts. Enoch described it as perfumed, with fruits like grapes. But a text discovered in Egypt in 1945 described the tree as beautiful, fiery, and with fruits like white grapes. I don’t know of any other source which describes the fruit as white grapes, so you can imagine my surprise when I read the account of Lehi’s vision of the tree whose white fruits made one happy; and the interpretation of the vision, that the virgin in Nazareth was the mother of the Son of God after the manner of the flesh.

This is the Heavenly Mother (represented by the Tree of Life), and then Mary and her son on the earth. This revelation to Joseph Smith was the exact ancient Wisdom symbolism, intact, and almost certainly as it was known in 600 BCE.

(To read Margaret Barker’s full speech, see here. Also see here her speech given at BYU that touches on similar topics.)

Another great resource on this topic is Daniel Peterson’s article entitled “Nephi and His Asherah.” After discussing the image of “the Mother of the Son of God” and the Tree of Life in 1 Nephi, Peterson goes into a very informative discussion of how modern scholars have found much evidence for the worship of a Mother Goddess in Ancient Israel.  We know of the existence of this goddess from the Bible itself, which mentions the occasional purging of the “Asherah” (usually translated as “grove”, see 2 Kgs. 23:4–15; Judg. 6:25–30; 2 Chr. 34:3–7; 2 Kgs. 17:10) from the worship practices of the Israelites.  The grove, or asherah in Hebrew, was apparently a wooden pole, or more likely, a stylized tree that was set up or “planted” in holy places, often next to an altar. Peterson notes that the rabbinic authors of the Jewish Mishna (second-third century AD) explain the asherah as a tree that was worshipped.

This religious symbol represented the Tree of Life and also the goddess named Asherah.  We learn from the Canaanite/Ugaritic texts that the goddess Asherah was the consort (wife) of the high god ‘El.  She was the Mother Goddess, the Queen of Heaven–but like her counterparts in other cultures, she was also called the Virgin.  She was often depicted as nursing her divine offspring.  The sacred tree was her symbol.

Many scholars now believe that Asherah was worshipped legitimately in Israel for centuries, despite the Bible’s description of her worship as foreign custom to be abhorred.  The Bible does tell us that Abraham “planted a grove” and called upon the name of the Lord (Gen. 21:33).  Some have calculated that an asherah stood in the Temple of Solomon (perhaps even in the Holy of Holies) for a full two-thirds of its existence.  We know that the asherah wasn’t permanently removed until the time of the Deuteronomistic/King Josiah’s reforms (see here and here), which we read about in 2 Kings 23.  Furthermore, archaeologists have found thousands of small clay figurines in Jerusalem and the surrounding areas that are believed to have represented Asherah, the Mother Goddess. These figurines often depict a woman nursing a child and generally have what appears to be a tree trunk for the lower half of the body.

ASHERAH

(For more on the archaeological evidences for Asherah worship, see William G. Dever’s book Did God Have a Wife?: Archaeology and Folk Religion in Ancient Israel)

Daniel Peterson concludes that “Belief in Asherah seems, in fact, to have been a conservative position in ancient Israel; criticism of it was innovative.” ((Daniel C. Peterson, “Nephi and His Asherah,” in Journal of Book of Mormon Studies, 9:2 (Provo, UT: Maxwell Institute, 2000) 16-25))

Margaret Barker goes into this topic in many of her books. For her, the asherah tree in the Temple of Solomon was likely the true menorah (see, for example, her book Temple Theology: An Introduction, p. 78, 90-91). According to Barker, it had originally been located in the Holy of Holies next to the Cherubim Throne. In one ancient version of Psalm 96:10, it apparently read: “The LORD reigns from the tree” (Justin Martyr, Dial.Trypho 71). A number of ancient texts describe the Throne of God in the Garden of Eden as being next to the Tree of Life. The asherah/menorah in the Holy of Holies also represented Wisdom and had cups of olive oil with flames continually lit. The Zohar (Lev 34b) describes the relationship between Wisdom, the oil, and the Tree of Life:

Take Aaron and his sons with him, and the garments. Rabbi Hiya quoted here the verse: ‘For with thee is the fountain of life, and in thy light we see light’ (Ps. 36:9). The fountain of life, he said, is the supernal oil which flows continually and is stored in the midst of the most high Wisdom, from which it never separates.  It is the source which dispenses life to the supernal tree and kindles the lights. And that tree is called the Tree of Life because it is planted on account of that source of life.

The asherah in the Holy of Holies would have represented the Tree of Life, Wisdom, and the Mother Goddess. She was (at least originally) the Wife of El-Elyon, God Most High, and the Mother of the LORD, Yahweh.  From her flowed living waters, the fountain of life, the holy oil that gives eternal life. This is all very much in line with the beliefs of the Egyptians and Greek/Orphic traditions discussed earlier.

As Barker alludes to in her Library of Congress speech, the wickedness that Nephi refers to in the beginning of 1 Nephi, and which Lehi preached against, very well could have been King Josiah’s purge of the Temple, and the removal of its sacred objects, including the asherah. The Tree of Life was removed from its position alongside the Throne of God, and was smashed and burned. The Queen of Heaven had been rejected. The holy anointing oil, which was used to anoint both kings and high priests, was lost. Lehi and Nephi would likely have been against these reforms, desiring to preserve the more ancient traditions.

These traditions were preserved in many texts of the intertestamental period, including the Enochic literature and many apocalypses. The imagery was still alive in early Christianity. The book of Revelation, a vision which takes place in the heavenly Holy of Holies, sees the Tree of Life again placed beside the Throne of God (Rev. 1:12; 2:7; 22:1-2,14). Peterson mentions a Coptic version of the record called the Apocalypse of Paul, which relates a vision that, in this detail at least, strikingly resembles the vision of Nephi: “And he [the angel] showed me the Tree of Life,” Paul is reported to have said, “and by it was a revolving red-hot sword. And a Virgin appeared by the tree, and three angels who hymned her, and the angel told me that she was Mary, the Mother of Christ.”

The Catholic Church, of course, continued to emphasize the importance of this view of Mary as the Mother of the Son of God. In that tradition, Mary virtually becomes the Mother Goddess of ancient times. Not surprisingly, she is often depicted as nursing the divine child.

polyptych-quaratesi--madonna-and-child-with-angels-4436-mid

Peterson further explains:

But Nephi’s vision goes even further, identifying Mary with the tree. This additional element seems to derive from precisely the preexilic Palestinian culture into which, the Book of Mormon tells us, Nephi had been born.

Of course, Mary, the virgin girl of Nazareth seen by Nephi, was not literally Asherah. She was, as Nephi’s guide carefully stressed, simply “the mother of the Son of God, after the manner of the flesh.” But she was the perfect mortal typification of the mother of the Son of God. ((Ibid.))

The recognition of a Mother Goddess was an integral part of most ancient religions. She was almost always connected to the Tree of Life and/or Waters of Life and was responsible for giving eternal life, immortality, and godhood.  In the Bible, although her symbol was repeatedly condemned and desecrated, largely due to late reform movements with rather dubious intentions, she was also remembered as Wisdom, God’s helper in the Creation.  She was seen as the Mother and Nurturer of the gods. While many tried to extinguish her status and importance, righteous people longed for the return of the Tree of Life to its rightful place beside God’s own throne.  While there is much, much more that could be said on this topic, I just wanted to share some thoughts which I hope are helpful.

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11 Comments

  1. Posted July 13, 2009 at 9:13 am | Permalink

    This connection between Mary and the tree of life was something I had recently noticed myself in the last few days. It made perfect sense to me–the tree bore the fruit, and Mary bore the Son of God. We’re trying to get to the fruit. Of course this interpretation could become uncomfortable in large group settings, since it could tend to Marian worship.

    • David Larsen
      Posted July 17, 2009 at 10:00 pm | Permalink

      Michaela, thank you so much for your insights on this. I think Mary is very important to God’s whole plan. Of course I don’t think that she should be venerated in any strong sense of the word, but she was the chosen vessel to bear the Son of God, and was certainly chosen because she was a highly exemplary individual. I think some have taken admiration too far and made her equivalent in status to a Heavenly Mother or Queen of Heaven, where she should be seen as an earthly/mortal model of that ideal Celestial Mother– Christ’s mother “according to the flesh” and not his Heavenly Mother.

      Heidi, my dear sister! I’m so happy you shared your feelings on this. I’m afraid my post didn’t touch on the practical application of these principles much, but I’m glad you found some inspiration in the idea of the supremely loving, nurturing, blessing Mother in Heaven. Although we don’t talk about Her much, I believe its good to think of Her, love Her, and to want to be like her. Heidi, you’re a great mum to your little cuties–they’re so lucky to have you! May the Lord bless you that you will constantly enjoy the perfect fruit of the Great and Beautiful Tree.

  2. Heidi
    Posted July 16, 2009 at 2:47 pm | Permalink

    Thank you David for posting this. I have had a burned out mom week and I needed to be reminded of what I am reaching for as a mother and hoping I can provide a piece of for my kids. If all of us could help each other taste of the fruit of pure, unconditional love, we might all have the strength to push forward and meet a new day.

  3. Ferreira
    Posted July 18, 2009 at 10:28 pm | Permalink

    Thank you for your insightful posts.

    I believe Margaret Barker’s speech at the Worlds of Joseph Smith Conference is also published by BYU Studies here:
    http://byustudies.byu.edu/shop/pdfsrc/44.4Barker.pdf

  4. rocky
    Posted October 10, 2010 at 5:11 am | Permalink

    I dont agree with the comment that the tree symbolizes mary…….. 1 ne ch. 11 could not be more clear on the matter, nephi desires to know what the tree is and the spirit of the lord (H.G. in the form of a man) shows him the birth of christ and his ministry. It clearly states that the tree represents “the love of god” read John 3:16 for god so loved the world that he gave his only begotten son. The vision goes on to say that when they arrived at the tree they “fell down” 1ne 8:30 and then in 11:24 it relates that they fall down to worship christ. Pres packard stated that the tree of life vision is the central message in the book of mormon. Clearly the message of the book of mormon is that we should all come unto christ The same way the world is supposed to come unto the Tree. we enter in at the gate by faith repentance and babtism 2 ne 31: 17-20. then we continue on the path by holding to the rod of iron and the HG is our guide. The tree is Christ and so is the fountain of living water next to it (11:25). The fruit Christ bears is represented by eternal life it has the ability to “make one happy”. what is eternal life? john 17:3 ….”coming to know God and Jesus Christ whom he has sent. so how do we do that? by partaking of his gift the atonement and becoming cleansed and sanctified like god is. how? by partaking of the Sacrament each week and utilizing the cleansing power of the atonement. the fruit is not just the sacrament tho, rather it is our lifelong process of “coming to know god and christ” through use of the atonement. This is labeled clearly in alma 5;34 and alma 5:62 clearly states that to partake of this fruit one must be a member of his church. more evidence that the fruit represents the sacrament and the life long process of coming to know god through using the atonement, is that in 1 ne 8: 28 is that some have tasted of this fruit(sacrament/atonement process) and after have fallen away (less active).

    Also Compare the four types of people in the vision to the 4 types of soil in mathew 13. in verse 4 the seed by the wayside that never gets “root”(side note roots are symbols for entering into covenants with god in jacobs allegory of the olive tree. they never get roots or in other words never covenant and enter in at the gate by being babtized.) this type of soil would be the people who just head straight to the great and spacious building from the very begining 1ne 8:31. Then the type of seed in a stony place that is planted in soil, but doesnt get quite enough depth of root so that when the Heat/trials/mocking come upon them they wither away. compare that with the group of people in verse 1 ne.24-28 that fall away. compare the soil with “thorns” and “cares of the world” to the group of people in 1 ne 8:21-22 that when the mist of darkness arises they lose their way. And finally the fourth group of people goes with out saying are the rightous ones who “continually hold fast to the rod” and make it to the tree and heed not those in the building 1 ne 8:30,33. Its interesting to compare why out of the 3 groups of people who had entered in at the gate and commenced on the path toward the tree(i.e. members of the church) only one group stayed to inherit eternal life. What were the differences ? Do you want to know if you will make it? well the group in verse 21 and 22 headed towards the tree/christ which is good if your a member, but they never even held on to the iron rod/the word of god/the scriptures/the Word who is a Name for Christ( John1:1).
    The second group in verse 24-28 “clinging” to the rod made it to the tree partook and then fell away. why did they fall away? Notice the wording difference from “clinging”(i.e. barely holding on – elder Bednard) and to the final group who inherit eternal life who did “continually hold fast to the rod”
    So the members of the church who will make it and enjoy eternal life will be the ones who “continually” elder Eyring might replace that with “daily” Scripture study”. Remember what happened to those who were just casually holding the rod yeah they partook of the fruit but eventually their loose grip allowed them to get distracted and fall away. anyways hope this helps if anyone actually reads it.

  5. rocky
    Posted October 10, 2010 at 5:41 am | Permalink

    Mary might be symbolically identified “with” the tree of life, but not “as” the actual tree. It does make sense that there should be a close association as the Tree did come out of her womb. Even the above picture could illustrate that and that she watered/nurtured it with her milk.

    • David Larsen
      Posted October 11, 2010 at 3:50 am | Permalink

      Hi Rocky,
      This was a very helpful comment. I appreciate you taking the time to post it here.
      In this post I never meant to say that the Tree of Life in Nephi’s vision was meant to represent Mary alone. You are right that it is very clear that the tree represents “the love of God” and that this principally represents Jesus Christ. However, I wanted to also emphasize the fact that in some way, perhaps rather indirectly, Nephi also sees that the Mother of the Son of God is associated with the tree in his vision. I’m not negating what you’ve said here, but in my post I wanted to bring out the Mary association because of its parallels with ancient ideas.

      Interesting enough, in the ancient world the idea of the Tree of Life seems to be associated with both the king/messiah and also the king’s mother — and, by association, the Son of God and his Heavenly Mother. This is the ancient tradition that Margaret Barker — a non-LDS biblical scholar — recognized when she read this passage in 1 Nephi. The concept may be somewhat foreign to us, but the ancients didn’t seem to have a problem seeing both the Mother and the Son represented by the same symbol. Perhaps the reason for that is, as you noted, that the One comes from the Other. Symbols can be rather complicated and multi-layered at times — the important point to me is that the Book of Mormon picks up on a very prevalent ancient tradition regarding the Tree of Life.

  6. Posted October 15, 2010 at 1:07 pm | Permalink

    David Bokovoy had these things to say about it on MADB (forgive the length):

    In 1998, Daniel Peterson published a fascinating proposal concerning a possible Book of Mormon allusion to the Northwest Semitic goddess Asherah. Peterson’s article featured in the festschrift for John L. Sorenson and republished two years later in an abbreviated version for the Journal of Book of Mormon Studies argues that the symbol of the Tree of Life in Nephi’s vision directly correlates with an early Northwest Semitic connection between the goddess Asherah and the sacred tree.

    Peterson’s insightful reading suggests that the connection between the female goddess and the sacred tree illustrates why “Nephi, an Israelite living at the turn of the seventh and sixth centuries before Christ, would have recognized in the otherwise unexplained image of a virginal mother and her divine child an answer to his question about a marvelous tree and, derivatively, a profound statement about the depth of God’s love for humankind” (Peterson, 207).

    In my estimation, Peterson’s 1998 observation remains one of the most interesting connections identified thus far between the Book of Mormon and the ancient Semitic world. I’ve been thinking that now, over ten years later, it’s perhaps time to revisit the topic.

    In the Old Testament, the term ’asherah appears a total of 40 times and functions in two separate ways. ’asherah can function either as a proper noun designating a Northwest Semitic goddess “Asherah” or as a reference to an “asherah,” i.e., a sacred religious/cultic object. Though biblical texts employ both separate meanings for the term, “a cultic object appears most commonly denoted, which can be ‘made,’ ‘cut down,’ and ‘burnt.’”Nicholas Wyatt, “asherah,” Dictionary of Deities and Demons in the Bible (Leiden: Brill, 1995), 188.

    As Peterson’s study illustrates, the vision in 1 Nephi 11 seems to draw upon the traditional link between the sacred tree and the divine female, i.e. Asherah in the presentation of Mary, the mother of Son of God. This, in my estimation, is a very strong, exciting analysis. I believe that a careful reading of the text, not only sustains Peterson’s argument, but in fact, reveals that the Book of Mormon vision draws upon both separate biblical meanings of the ’asherah.

    As a religius symbol, the ’asherah consisted of a live tree, a tree stump, or a wooden pole. Early on in Northwest Semitic thought, the tree was used as a symbolic designation for the goddess Asherah and an analysis of the Bible suggests that “the symbol of the Asherah was a general feature of Israelite religion.” Mark S. Smith, The Early History of God: Yahweh and the Other Deities in Ancient Israel (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2002), 109.

    Most biblical references to the ‘ahserah however indicate that by the time of the Israelite monarchy, the object was seen as a religious item connected with Yahweh, rather than the Northwest Semitic goddess. We learn from 2 Kings 13:6, that the cultic symbol of the ’asherah remained in Samaria throughout King Jehoahaz’s reign. The fact that this religious icon was not discarded during this perioud suggests that the ’asherah was not objectable to Jehoahaz’s father Jehu who deposed King Ahab and his Phoenician consort Jezebel, both loyal followers of the cult of Baal.

    2 Kings 10 states that Jehu was a faithful follower of Yahweh who conducted a complete religious reform of the Israelite temple in Samaria, removing all non-Yhwistic elements of worship and massacring the followers of Baal. Yet 2 Kings 13:6 indicates that despite this reform, the ’asherah remained in the temple following Jehu’s cleansening. The fact that the ‘asherah served at this time as an acceptable cultic object suggests that the wooden symbol was identified at this point historically with Yahweh, rather than another deity, including the female goddess.

    The Bible itself presents evidence that like Asherah, the Israelite god was manifested in wood. Deuteronomy 33:16 specifically states that Yahweh is the deity who dwells within the bush. A possible connection between the Israelite deity and the sacred tree may also appear via Judges 6:11 which describes the mal’akh or “messenger” who appeared to Gideon under a turpentine tree. Similarly, the biblical account appears to link the sacred tree with deity in the account of Abraham planting a tamarisk tree in Beersheba in order to invoke the name of Yhwh-El-Olam (Genesis 21:33).

    Archeologically, these biblical connections between Israel’s deity and the sacred tree can now be interpreted in light of two pithos, the first from Kuntillet Ajurd which contains the famous inscription:

    “I bless you to Yhwh of Taman and His asherah”

    And the second inscription on its gate bench shrine that reads:

    “[Belonging] to Yhwh of Teman and His ’asherah.”

    In addition, a similar expression also appears in a Judean inscription discovered in Khirbet el-Qom, a location west of Hebron, which dates to the second half of the eighth century. The inscription contains the following lines:

    “Blessed by Uriyahu to Yhwh! Save him [or: He saved him] from his enemies by means of His ‘asherah… and by his ’asherah.”

    These ancient inscriptions beg the question, what did it mean therefore for an Israelite to bless someone by Yahweh and his ’asherah?

    Careful scholarly analysis of these incantations has shown that the blessing invocations via the Israelite deity and his ‘asherah cannot refer to the Northwest Semitic goddess Asherah. Amongst the most compelling arguments for this position includes the fact that the word ’asherah appears with the third person masculine singular pronominal suffix “his” and such attachments never appear in Hebrew and/or other Canaanite languages with proper nouns. See the comprehensive grammatical discussion by Ziony Zevit in Religions of Ancient Israel: A Synthesis of Parallactic Approaches (Continuum, 2003), 403-4.

    Instead, the evidence suggests that the Israelite inscriptions refer to a sacred wooden object or “tree” that functioned as a cultic symbol connected with Yahweh. As biblical scholar Benjamin Sommers has concluded:

    “It is altogether likely that [the] tree or pole was originally seen as an embodiment of the goddess Asherah in Bronze Age Canaan, just as stelae and betyls embodied El, Baal, and other gods… [yet] in Israel by the eighth century Yhwh had taken over cultic objects associated with asherah’s cult, and the authors of these inscriptions referred to Yhweh’s ’asherah-pole as a cult object belonging to that God.” The Bodies of God and the World of Ancient Israel (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2009), 47

    Hence, the “tree” appears to have functioned in these incantations and in certain biblical texts as an incarnation of Israel’s deity and his ability to love/bless his followers. Whereas the Bible has always included references to the ’asherah as a cultic icon, it has only been in recent years that archeological discoveries have led biblical scholars to conclude that the tree occasionally functions in the Old Testament as a legitimate religious symbol for Israel’s deity.

    So to summarize, the term ’asherah can function in the Bible either as a proper noun designating a Northwest Semitic goddess “asherah,” or as a reference to an “asherah,” i.e., a religious/cultic “tree” that functioned as a physical incarnation of Israel’s deity and the medium by which he could bestow divine favor.

    Returning to the topic of Nephi’s vision, Peterson’s study clearly shows that the account contains a link between the first Israelite nuance, whereby the vision features a connection between the female goddess and the sacred tree. Based upon the evidence I have presented, I believe that Nephi’s vision can also be shown to contain an additional link with the second attestation of the traditional Israelite ‘asherah, i.e., as a sacred tree that functioned as a physical incarnation of Israel’s deity and the medium by which he could grant divine favor.

    In the course of the vision, the Spirit of the Lord appears asking Nephi the question:

    “Believest thou that thy father saw the tree of which he hath spoken?” (v. 4).

    When Nephi answers the question with his testimony, the Spirit responded with praise, saying,

    “Hosanna to the Lord, the most high God; for he is God over all the earth yea, even above all” (v. 6).

    From a literary perspective, this praise appears to connect the most high God who is “above all” with the later description offered of the tree which is likewise defined as being “above all” in verse nine. According to this reading, the tree reflects God. He, or more specifically, his love is “above all things.”

    When Nephi understands the various religious meanings connected with the sacred tree, he provides his own explanation, specifically stating that the tree “is the love of God, which sheddeth itself abroad in the hearts of the children of men; wherefore, it is the most desirable above all things” (v. 22).

    As a biblical-like ’asherah, the sacred tree in Nephi’s vision provides a physical incarnation of Israel’s deity and his ability to love/bless his followers. In so doing, the tree of live appears to function as a symbol that relies directly upon the two traditional ways the ’asherah was interpreted in biblical tradition, providing a connection between Mary, the mother of the Son of God and the Asherah, and an additional link between God and the Asherah, i.e. a cultic/religious symbol that functioned as a physical incarnation of Israel’s deity and his love.

    The interesting point that I’m trying to express with this thread is that the tree serves very much like an idol/statue in traditional Near Eastern thought. It became a manifestation of God incarnate. Clearly later biblical traditions found this idea religiously offensive and the ‘asherah was interpreted as a dangerous religious icon, yet in earlier forms of Israelite belief and in Nephi’s vision, the tree serves as a physical incarnation of God and denotes his power to grant favor. I suspect there’s also a direct link with the Nehushtan or brazen serpent.

    In addition to the connection Dan offers, I believe this represents a profound Semitic link.

  7. Posted October 15, 2010 at 1:10 pm | Permalink

    Margaret Barker has a new article that might be helpful in this regard:

    “The Images of Mary in the Litany of Loreto,” Usus Antiquior 1:2 (July 2010)

    http://www.margaretbarker.com/Papers/USU_Barker.pdf

    • David Larsen
      Posted October 19, 2010 at 5:53 am | Permalink

      Hi Walker,
      Thanks for posting this material from Barker and Bokovoy. Wonderful stuff! I am now reading through Barker’s paper and it makes great sense. It reminded me of something I read recently that argued that in many ancient cultures the royal throne was supposed to represent the womb of the king’s divine mother. Interesting then that some early Christians saw similar imagery in the divine chariot-throne in relation to Mary.

  8. adam rosa
    Posted November 4, 2010 at 12:58 pm | Permalink

    This is amazing stuff. I am nor a scholar nor an educator. But I am a man of great faith and belief in the supreme being. It amazes me how these interpretations are so detailed and meticulous, that any one in particular could be as credible as the next. Please, keep me informed and add me to any kind of mailing list or or discussion that I could participate in.

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