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Author Topic: Heavenly Mother, the Tree of Life, Nephi and Proverbs--I want more  (Read 167 times)


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Hi all!

I know some of your are going to be more familiar with this concept than I am, so I'm wondering where I can find good information on it. For those who don't know what I'm talking about, but are interested, let me give you the basics as I understand it, interpreted through my own lens.

First, set aside Heavenly Mother and the Gospel, and let's get some background.

Ancient Israel was basically polytheistic. People often try to bring this up as some revelation of how Judaism and Christianity are wrongly interpreting things, and that our entirely theological basis is weak. Well, this isn't really the case. If you start at Exodus and keep reading what you will find is that this isn't some hidden secret--Israel's polytheism, and God's displeasure with it, is one of the major themes of the entire Old Testament! The books say time and time and time again how Israel kept wanting to worship the gods of the lands they were in (in this case the Canaanite pantheon and related deities) and the prophets kept trying to get them to cut it out with generally meager and temporary success. In other words, Israel worshipping the true God as we understand it was the exception rather than the rule.

Here's where we get into the historical and theological point of contention. Some people want to say (whether they believe there is any such thing as a real God or gods or not) that the original Old Testament sources more or less supported the worship of these various pagan deities, and it was only later elites that tried to edit or suppress that fact out of the history. Well, at this point you just have to make a decision. The text is clear that there was the pagan polytheism I spoke of, and the text is clear that (at a minimum) the later prophets condemned this practice. So you can decide to believe that :

1) This criticism was a new thing and God had previously let them believe that all of those pagan gods existed (and possibly even that it was acceptable to worship them in some sense) and really just expected them to put him first. Ie, it was a false belief but he didn't bother correcting it.
2) The same as 1, but that's actually the truth of it, and Baal and Asherah and all the gang are real beings that it's okay to worship.
3) The criticism of the prophets of this polytheism wasn't new, and God has been commanding them not to worship the gods of their neighbors the whole time (as the current texts would indicate).
4) Whatever else you can think up.

I'm going to go with 3 because, well, the others don't make any sense (given the nature of the pantheons worshiped) within latter-day saint religion.

Now, let's leave that background behind, and move into things that do make more sense from a latter-day saint perspective.

Proverbs speaks of "wisdom" in feminine and personified ways. Neither of these are particularly proof that an actual being is being spoken of here, because all nouns are gendered in Hebrew (as far as I known), and personification is a normal mode of communication. But from a latter-day saint perspective we also have a) knowledge of the existence of a Heavenly Mother, and b) the Book of Mormon, with some interesting parallels in 1 Nephi.

I'll here list some of the most interesting elements of the Proverbs verses, and the 1 Nephi parallels.

Proverbs 8:22 "The LORD possessed me in the beginning of his way, before his works of old."

"Possessed" might refer to marriage in this context. Some translations prefer to render the verb as "created", but if you want to take that approach then it is much less likely to be referring to Heavenly Mother.

The account continues, speaking of how she was basically with him before the world was created, and was laboring with him every step of the way, etc, culminating (for me) in these verses:

Proverbs 8:30-31 "Then I was by him, as one brought up with him: and I was daily his delight, rejoicing always before him; Rejoicing in the habitable part of of his earth; and my delights were with the sons of men."

Other translations have "as a master architect" instead of "as one brought up with him". Either seems cool to me, though they convey different thoughts entirely. While it might be nothing, the context also seems to imply that this is all going on before the earth is habitable--which would require that she was talking about living on another world with him (the "his" doesn't appear to be a necessary part of the translation, so it's irrelevant). What is more significant is that it seems fairly clear that we are discussing a time period before humans existed on the earth, and yet she is delighting in them! She starts off in the next verse starts off addressing us "sons" or "children", which might suggest a contextual maternal role for her.

Now we can get into the Book of Mormon, and compare components of Nephi's vision and conversation with the Spirit of the Lord in 1 Nephi 11, with some of Proverb's statements about Wisdom (as well as the Tree of Life). I'm going to add in an additional element that is relevant. The tree of life and Mary are directly correlated. Ie, Mary is a symbol of the tree of life (or vice versa). This, among other things, sets a precedent (postcedent?) of the personification of wisdom/the tree of life being represented as an actual person (and hence, strengthens the possibility that it may also be intended to refer to Heavenly Mother). I'm going to put in bold the texts in 1 Nephi that connect to Proverbs, and underline the Proverbs texts. I'm going to put in teal (for lack of a better option) the texts in 1 Nephi that connect Mary and the tree of life.

1 Nephi 11:8-11 "And it came to pass that the Spirit said unto me: Look! And I looked and beheld a tree; and it was like unto the tree which my father had seen; and the beauty thereof was far beyond, yea, exceeding of all beauty; and the whiteness thereof did exceed the whiteness of the driven snow. And it came to pass after I had seen the tree, I said unto the Spirit: I behold thou has shown unto me the tree which is precious above all. And he said unto me: What desirest thou? And I said unto him: To know the interpretation thereof..."

Proverbs 3:13-15 (see also 8:10-11) "Happy is the man that findeth wisdom, and the man that getteth understanding. For the merchandise of it is better than the merchandise of silver, and the gain thereof than find gold. She is more precious than rubies, and all the things thou canst desire are not to be compared unto her."

1 Nephi 11:14-15,18,20 "...Nephi, what beholdest though? And I said unto him: A virgin, most beautiful and fair [ie "white"] above all other virgins...And he said unto me: Behold, the virgin whom thou seest is the mother of the Son of God, after the manner of the flesh."

1 Nephi 11:20-23,25 "And I looked and beheld the virgin again, bearing a child in her arms.* And the angel said unto me: Behold the Lamb of God, yea, even the Son of the Eternal Father! Knowest thou the meaning of the tree which thy father saw? And I answered him, saying: Yea, is is the love of God, which sheddeth itself abroad in the hearts of the children of men; wherefore it is the most desireable above all things. And he spake unto me saying: Yea, and the most joyous to the soul...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.

Proverbs 3:15 "She is more precious than rubies, and all the things thou canst desire are not to be compared unto her."

Proverbs 3:18 "She is a tree of life to them that lay hold upon her: and happy is every one that retaineth her."

*Note that the child born in Mary's arms is a correlation with the fruit born in the branches of the tree in Lehi's dream--symbolically equating Christ with the fruit. Tangential, but really awesome.

So the purpose of this post is I want more. Is there any scholarly research that delves at all into this, without conflating a concept of God's wife with Asherah as in interpretation 1 or 2 that I defined at the beginning? Note that I don't object to the possibility that Asherah may have been used as a divinely sanctioned term for Heavenly Mother at some point (just like Baal might have been a sanctioned term for God as some point), but the discussions I've seen seem to just focus on pagan polytheism taking interpretation 1 or 2 (or a non-religious stance) rather than focusing on a wife of Yahweh viewed in harmony with the message of the Israelite prophets. I have actually read some stuff on this before, but I can't find it again and just run into a lot of less useful stuff when I start googling it now.

Thanks for any help.


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Re: Heavenly Mother, the Tree of Life, Nephi and Proverbs--I want more
« Reply #1 on: May 16, 2019, 05:08:05 pm »
This is one of my favorite scholarly pieces on the subject:

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Re: Heavenly Mother, the Tree of Life, Nephi and Proverbs--I want more
« Reply #2 on: May 18, 2019, 11:21:50 pm »
Thanks! I think that's the big one I read before. One of the things I'd be interested in is seeing how other research might help with some of the weaknesses of the theory. For instance, it was obvious to Nephi that the tree of life represented "the love of God". The article leaves that part unaddressed. I didn't seen anywhere in Proverbs where wisdom or the tree of life is connected with the love of God. I can't really think of an example from anywhere else in the Bible either. It seems like a big hole I'd like to see filled.
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Re: Heavenly Mother, the Tree of Life, Nephi and Proverbs--I want more
« Reply #3 on: May 19, 2019, 12:06:44 am »
It seems like a big hole I'd like to see filled.
I like my Gospel holy. Or is that wholly.  ;)


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