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Tree of Life
TREE OF LIFE. A special tree in the Garden of Eden (
TREE OF LIFE (עֵ֤ץ הַֽחַיִּים; LXX, τό ξύλον τη̂ς Ζωη̂ς). The tree of life, along with the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, was originally placed by God in the Garden of Eden. There was no command given to Adam not to eat of it. When Adam and Eve were expelled from the Garden of Eden, the reason for the act was, “lest he...eat and live forever” (
In the NT only the
The motif has been common in most pagan religions also. In contrast to the Bible, the life it symbolizes is the natural power of reproduction, resident in plants, animals and man, personified by gods and goddesses. The cosmology related to it is nature-bound, whereas in the Bible it is tied to a positive, spiritual relationship between God and man.
From ancient Mesopotamia have come cylinder seals and other art objects which depict a tree and figures of perhaps divine beings.
On clay tablets written in cuneiform script are recorded many of the ancient myths of the people who lived there. In many of these mythical stories, sacred trees of varied kinds play a more or less prominent role. Rather than being in an earthly paradise where man was living, as in
In temples, belonging to pagans, the vital life principle of nature would be represented by a grove of trees or the trunks of trees with branches lopped off. In some cases, a wooden post or a block of stone planted in holes, so they stood upright, would be adequate. The rites associated with these symbols were concerned with magically inducing life in the fields, in the herds or in the family. Hence, it was closely bound with procreation, with birth and with growth. These rites would also be aimed at curing barrenness, bringing rain, and preventing death.
E. O. James, The(1966); G. Widengren, The King and the Tree of Life in Ancient Near Eastern Religions (1951).
International Standard Bible Encyclopedia (1915)
The expression "tree of life" occurs in four groups or connections: (1) in the story of the Garden of Eden, (2) in the Proverbs of the Wise Men, (3) in the apocryphal writings, and (4) in the Apocalypse of John.
1. Thein the Garden of Eden:
The tree was in the midst of the Garden, and its fruit of such a nature as to produce physical immortality (
The interpretation of the story is a standing problem. Is it mythical, allegorical, or historical? Opinions vary from one of these extremes to the other with all degrees of difference between. In general, interpreters may be divided into three classes:
(1) Many regard the story as a myth, an ancient representation of what men then conceived early man to have been, but with no historical basis behind it. All rationalistic and modern critical scholars are practically agreed on this. Budde in his Urgeschichte says there was but one tree, that is the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, and the intimation of a tree of life is an interpolation. Barton has endeavored to show that the tree of life was really the date-palm, and the myth gathered around this tree because of its bisexual nature. He holds that man came to his self-realization through the sexual relation, and therefore the date-palm came to be regarded as the tree of life, and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. But this difference came in later when the knowledge of its origin became obscured. He calls attention to the fact that the sacred palm is found in the sanctuary of Ea at Eridu. All such interpretations are too obviously based upon a materialistic evolution hypothesis.
(2) There are those who regard the entire story as literal: one tree would actually impart physical immortality, the other the knowledge of evil. But this involves endless difficulties also, requires tremendous differences between the laws of Nature then and now, vast differences in fruits, men and animals, and an equally vast difference in God’s dealings with man.
(3) We prefer to regard it as a pictorial-spiritual story, the representing of great spiritual facts and religious history in the form of a picture. This is the usual Bible method. It was constantly employed by the prophets, and Jesus continually "pictured" great spiritual facts by means of material objects. Such were most of His parables. John’s Apocalypse is also a series of pictures representing spiritual and moral history. So the tree of life is a picture of the glorious possibilities which lay before primitive man, and which might have been realized by him had not his sin and sinful condition prevented it. God’s intervention was a great mercy to the human race. Immortality in sin is rendered impossible, and this has made possible an immortality through redemption; man at first is pictured as neither mortal nor immortal, but both are possible, as represented by the two trees. He sinned and became mortal, and then immortality was denied him. It has since been made possible in a much higher and more glorious way.
2. A Common Poetic Simile:
This picture was not lost to Israel. The "tree of life," became a common poetic simile to represent that which may be a source of great blessing. In the Book of Pr the conception deepens from a physical source of a mere physical immortality to a moral and spiritual source of a full life, mental moral and spiritual, which will potentially last forever. Life, long life, is here attributed to a certain possession or quality of mind and heart. Wisdom is a source and supply of life to man. This wisdom is essentially of a moral quality, and this moral force brings the whole man into right relations with the source of life. Hence, a man truly lives by reason of this relationship (
3. The Apocryphal Writings:
The apocryphal writings contain a few references to the tree of life, but use the phrase in a different sense from that in which it is used in the canonical books: "They shall have the tree of life for an ointment of sweet savour" (2 Esdras 2:12). Ecclesiasticus 1:20 has only an indirect reference to it. Ethiopic Enoch, in his picture of the Messianic age, uses his imagination very freely in describing it: "It has a fragrance beyond all fragrances; its leaves and bloom and wood wither not forever; its fruit is beautiful and resembles the date-palm" (24:4). Slavonic Enoch speaks thus: "In the midst there is the tree of life .... and this tree cannot be described for its excellence and sweet odor" (8:3). 2 Esdras describing the future says: "Unto you is paradise opened, the tree of life is planted" (8:52).
The Apocalypse of John refers to the tree of life in three places (