Monday, November 26, 2007

1. Symbolic Significance of Trees
Historically, trees have had profound symbolic significance in many cultures. This is especially true in the ancient Hebrew culture, as well as among their neighbors, the Canaanites.Trees in the BibleThe word "tree" occurs 202 times in 172 verses and the word "trees" occurs 146 times in 134 verses in the NKJV. These references involve trees as poetry, metaphor, pagan worship, parables, rebukes from God, and as pictures of God's restoration. The Bible often uses the image of trees to vividly illustrate God's teachings, reprimands, and prophecies. People are often likened to trees in Scripture. In Psalms 1:3, a righteous man is likened to a tree:

"And he shall be like a tree planted by the rivers of water..."

So although there were literal trees in the Garden of Eden, we should not dismiss the idea that the mention of those trees in the Eden narrative are being used by the author in an attempt to communicate a profound theological truth.

How Did Tree-Worshipping Canaanites Influenced the Jews?
God promised the descendents of Abraham the land of Canaan as an inheritance(Exodus 6:4). When the Jews exited Egypt and journeyed towards that Promised Land, they were surrounded by tree-worshipping Canaanites. The Canaanites were a Semitic people who inhabited parts of ancient Palestine. Since the cultic practices of the Canaanites was a continuous snare to the Jews, some scholars interpret the Eden narrative as a polemic attacking Canaan's idolatrous fertility rites. In other words, there was some point of comparison between the idolatrous behavior of the Canaanites that seduced many of the Jews, on the one hand, and the nature of the transgression of Adam and Eve on the other hand. But what was that point of comparison?

The Canaanites had many odd religious practices, not the least of which was the worship of trees. But why would anyone worship trees?

Actually, many ancient religions worshipped trees; they regarded them as sacred. Perhaps one reason is, trees are rooted firmly in the earth while reaching up towards the sky. Plus, an ancient belief was widespread that spirits inhabited trees. A tree of great antiquity was often regarded as a "tree of life" or a "cosmic tree." The stump of a tree symbolized the "the earth's navel," while the tree's top represented Heaven. Cosmic trees were regarded as bridges between the human and the divine.Ancient tree-whorshippers may have looked to trees as a means to evoke the favor of the gods of fertility. According to The JPS Torah Commentary on Genesis:

Fertility cults flourished in connection with such trees, and this form of paganism proved attractive to many Israelites (Nahum M. Sarna, The JPS Torah Commentary: Genesis, Philadelphia: Jewish Publication Society of America; 1989 p. 91.).

In ancient agrarian societies, many cultures worshipped their favorite fertility gods and goddesses in order to insure a bountiful harvest. The Canaanites were a prime example.

The Canaanite religion was strongly influenced by Mesopotamian and Egyptian religious practices. Like other people of the Ancient Near East, Canaanite religious beliefs were polytheistic, worshipping many gods. The chief male god was El, who was later replaced by his son Baal. The chief female goddess was Asherah, also known by many titles, such as "Walker of the Sea," "The Mother Goddess," "The Queen of Heaven" and "The Mother of All Living."