21 January 2010

The Temple Symbolism of the Tree of Life and the Tree of Knowledge

A mural from the Court of the Palms at Mari dated to 1750 BCE is an example of how temple and garden themes were combined anciently, even outside of Judaism. J. R. Porter writes of how the scene depicted above “strikingly recall[s] details of the Genesis description of the Garden of Eden. In particular, the mural depicts two types of tree,” one type clearly being a date palm, “guarded by mythical winged animals[—the Assyrian version of the] cherubim.” In the symmetrical side panels at the far left and right of the mural, two men climb each of the two date palms; the tree on the right can clearly be seen as harboring a dove.

“The lower half of the central panel shows figures holding jars from which flow four streams,” with a seedling growing out of the middle, recalling the streams that flowed out from underneath the Tree of Life in the Garden. The streams originate in a basement room that might be seen as providing an ideal setting for ritual washings. “The upper scene may depict a king being invested by the Mesopotamian fertility goddess Ishtar: Eve has been associated with such divine figures.” Note the king’s raised right hand, perhaps an oath-related gesture. His outstretched left arm receives the crown and staff of his office.

In many traditions, sacred trees are identified with a human king, or with the mother of a king, whether human or divine.10 Like the two figures witnessing the investiture, two others near the trees raise their hands in worship and supplication, suggesting a parallel
between the tree and the king himself. Like the tree, the king is an “archetypal receiver and distributor of divine blessing.” ...

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