Mormonism's "Tree of Life"

by Rocky Hulse

August 7th, 2010

In the new August 2010 edition of the Mormon Church monthly magazine, “Ensign,” on page 21 is an article titled “Finding Ourselves in Lehi’s Dream.” Boyd K. Packer who is the current “President of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles,” which makes him next in line to become the President/Prophet of the Mormon Church, writes the article.

“Lehi’s Dream” in the article is in reference to a Book of Mormon story. The Book of Mormon is purported, by the Mormon Church, to be a translation of ancient American history that was recorded on plates of gold, written in “Reformed Egyptian” (a language that has never been found), and delivered to Joseph Smith by an angel named Moroni (pronounced ma-roan-eye), who was supposed to be the last record keeper of the ancient plates which he sealed and buried around the year 400 AD.

The Book of Mormon reports on two groups of people who left the Middle East and traveled to the Americas by boat. Ninety percent of the book is about the descendants of Lehi (pronounced Lee-high), who are supposed to have left Jerusalem around the year 600 B.C. Of Lehi’s many sons, Nephi (pronounced Nee-fie) and Laman (pronounced Lay-mun) become the leaders of the two main peoples of the book, the Nephites and Lamanites, respectively. The Nephites (white skinned) are the good guys, and the Lamanites (dark skinned ancestors of the American Indians) are the bad guys.

The Book of Mormon is composed of 15 books. The first book of the Book of Mormon is the book of 1st Nephi.  In Chapter 8 of 1st Nephi, Lehi has a dream, which he calls a vision, about the “Tree of Life.” Mormon Apostle Packer uses Lehi’s dream as a basis for his article. Quoting Mormon Apostle Packer on pg 25 “As we think of you young Latter-day Saints and think of the Book of Mormon and think of the dream or vision that Lehi had, we see that there are prophecies in there that can be specifically applied to your life. Read it again, beginning with 1 Nephi 8, and read on to the counsel that is given. The book of Mormon talks about life after death: what happens to the spirit…and what happens in the spirit world…. All of the things that you need to know are there. Read it and make it a part of your life. Then the criticism or mocking of the world, mocking those in the Church, will be of no concern to you as it is no concern to us (see 1 Nephi 8:33). We just move forward doing the things that we are called to do and know that the Lord is guiding us.”

Lehi’s Dream: Real, or Smith Family History?

On page 22 of the August Ensign, Apostle Packer lists five things that Lehi saw in his dream. In the book Joseph Smith’s Plagiarism of the Bible in the Book of Mormon, by Jerald and Sandra Tanner, a two part book, I found an interesting article in Part Two: Covering Up The Black Hole In The Book of Mormon. The sub-article title is: “Lehi’s Dream Of The Tree Of Life.”

The first two paragraphs of Jerald and Sandra’s article reads as follows:

“Both Joseph Smith’s father and Nephi’s father (in the Book of Mormon) are reported to have had many dreams. Lucy Smith, Joseph Smith’s mother, tells several of her husband’s dreams in her book (Lucy Smith, Biographical Sketches, 1853). These visions were no doubt recounted on many occasions among the family.

One of the dreams of Joseph Smith’s father is recorded in Lucy Smith’s book. According to Lucy Smith, Joseph Smith, Sr., had this dream sixteen years before young Joseph got the plates: ‘In 1811, we moved…to the town of Lebanon, New Hampshire. Soon after arriving here, my husband received another very singular vision, which I will relate…’ (Biographical Sketches, pp. 58-59). Upon reading this dream one is struck by the similarity between it and Lehi’s dream in the Book of Mormon. Lehi’s dream is recorded in chapter 8 of 1 Nephi. His son, Nephi, has the same dream but expounds it in more detail in chapter 11” (Joseph Smith’s Plagiarism of the Bible in the Book of Mormon, pg 161).

The Tanner’s then list 27 parallels between the dreams of Joseph Smith Sr., and Lehi in the Book of Mormon. Let’s compare the five things “Lehi saw,” listed by Apostle Packer to the parallels of Joseph Smith, Sr., as listed by the Tanners on pages 162 and 163 of Joseph Smith’s Plagiarism of the Bible in the Book of Mormon:

The five things Lehi saw as listed by Apostle Packer on pg 22 of the August 2010 Ensign:

Four of the five things “Lehi saw” are directly from the dream of Joseph Smith, Sr., (only the iron rod is a rope in Joseph Sr’s dream) plus two other items that Apostle Packer mentions as quoted above from page 25 of the article: criticism, mocking or scorning, and the ignoring (of no concern to us) of that criticism:

6 of 7 parallels from Joseph Smith, Sr., to Lehi’s dream of the Book of Mormon:

And I also cast my eyes round about, and beheld on the other side of the river of water, a great and spacious building;…(1 Nephi 8:26)

“I beheld a spacious building standing opposite the valley which we were in,…(Smith, p. 59)

And I also beheld a, straight and narrow path,…(1 Nephi 8:20)

“Traveling a short distance further, I came to a narrow path. This path I entered,… (Smith, p. 58)

This item is not listed in the Joseph Smith, Sr., dream

And I beheld a rod of iron, and it extended along the bank of the river…(1 Nephi 8:19)

“but as far as my eyes could extend I could see a rope, running along the bank of it,… (Smith, p. 58)

And as I partook of the fruit thereof it filled my soul with exceeding great joy,… (1 Nephi 8:12)

We were exceedingly happy, insomuch that our joy could not easily be expressed.” (Smith, pp. 58-59)

Two other items mentioned by Mormon Apostle Packer in his article that parallel the dream of Joseph Smith, Sr.:

they did point the finger of scorn at me and those that were partaking of the fruit also;…(1 Nephi 8:33)

“When these people observed us…under the tree, they pointed the finger of scorn at us…” (Smith, p. 59)

but we heeded them not. (1 Nephi 8:33)

“But their contumely we utterly disregarded.” (Smith, p. 59)

I have compared 7 items of reference from Apostle Packer’s article about Lehi’s Dream; 6 of those 7 items can be paralleled to the dream of Joseph Smith, Sr., that was reported to have taken place 16 years before young Joseph received the “Golden Plates.” The Tanner’s list 27 parallels between the two dreams.

Lehi’s Dream in the Book of Mormon is obviously false as there is no proof to support that the Book of Mormon is a history of the ancient inhabitants of the American Continents; however, are these parallels just a coincidence? I’m not a mathematical statistician, but I’m sure the statistical probability that all these parallels are mere coincidence is near infinity!

Is the “Tree of Life” Symbolic of “Mother God?”

Since there is no proof that the Book of Mormon is authentic, rather, all indications are that it was the product of Joseph Smith’s imagination, written in the 1820’s and published in 1830, Mormons jump on anything that they think might advance their case for authenticity. In the July 19, 2010 edition of Mormon Times, Michael R. Ash wrote an article titled “The tree of life and the Book of Mormon.”

Trying to validate the Book of Mormon as an ancient text, Michael Ash provides the following quote in his article: “The Book of Mormon brought the tree of life to our attention long before modern scholarship revealed how common the tree was in ancient history. The symbol of that tree pervades the art and literature of every Mediterranean culture from centuries before the time of Lehi until well after the time of Moroni. This fact, and the fact that Lehi and Nephi portrayed the spiritual meaning of that symbol much the same way other ancient cultures portrayed it, demonstrates that the Book of Mormon is an ancient text, not an invention of the 19th-century social milieu.”

No, Mr. Ash, the parallels between ancient pagan cultures and the Book of Mormon merely show that they both originate from the same source.  Mr. Ash’s article continues with him introducing the pagan female goddess of fertility, Asherah:

“For another example of such ancient Old World parallels, I turn to the research of Daniel Peterson, a regular speaker at the annual FAIR Apologetics Conference, an Islamic scholar and the founder of the Mormon Scholars Testify website.

Despite most people’s perception of the ancient Israelites, modern scholars recognize that the Israelites were not typically monotheistic (they didn’t believe in a single God). For many years under the reign of the judges, many Israelites worshipped a female virgin deity – a consort to God – by the name of Asherah. Some biblical scholars believe that Jeremiah – a contemporary prophet of Lehi – mocked and denounced Asherah worship.”

Mr. Ash’s attempt at convincing his readers that the Israelites were not monotheistic is to recognize their pagan worship for which God severely punished them, above the reality of the teachings in the Old Testament. Then Mr. Ash, working off of Mr. Peterson’s research, tries to make his readers believe that Asherah was worshiped under the reign of the judges, as acceptable to God. This is simply ridiculous! Jeremiah in fact condemned the worship of pagan gods: “17. Seest thou not what they do in the cities of Judah and in the streets of Jerusalem? 18. The children gather wood, and the fathers kindle the fire, and the women knead their dough, to make cakes to the queen of heaven, and to pour out drink offerings unto other gods, that they may provoke me to anger” (Jeremiah 7).

The  “Illustrated Dictionary & Concordance of the Bible” on page 126 defines Asherah as follows: “One of the principle female goddesses of the Canaanite pantheon, familiar equally from Canaanite mythology and from biblical references….Most often she is known as the Lady of the Sea. As such she is consort of the chief god El and mother of the gods….As goddess of fertility, Asherah takes the form of a tree, symbolizing the Tree of Life…Her sacred emblem in this role is a tree or a wooden post which is a stylized form of the Tree of Life. Such a post is called Asherah in the Bible.”

From his article titled “Nephi and his Asherah,” Daniel Peterson writes: “Let us now focus more precisely on the nature of the veneration that was paid to the divine consort among the Israelites. What was the ‘asherah’ that stood in the temple at Jerusalem and in Samari? [placed there by the evil King Manasseh (II Kings 21:7)] Asherah was associated with trees….The rabbinic authors of the Jewish Mishna (second-third century AD) explain asherah as a tree that was worshiped…. Asherah was both goddess and cult symbol. She was the ‘tree.’ The menorah, the seven-branched candelabrum that stood for centuries in the temple in Jerusalem, supplies an interesting parallel to all this: Leon Yarden maintains that the menorah represents a stylized almond tree. He points to the notably radiant whiteness of the almond tree at certain points in its life cycle. Yarden also argues that the archaic Greek name of the almond (amygdale, reflected in its contemporary botanical designation as Amygdalis communis), almost certainly not a native Greek word, is most likely derived from the Hebrew em gedolah, meaning ‘Great Mother.’” ([ ] Brackets mine)

I have two reference books on the Jewish Tabernacle: Teaching from the Tabernacle, by Roy Lee DeWitt, and The Tabernacle, by William Brown. Both of these books state that the candlestick of pure gold (Ex 25:31) represents the “light of Christ.” As all the fixtures and rituals of the Tabernacle were a picture of the coming Messiah, so the seven lamps (the number of perfection) were a picture of the perfect light of the world: Jesus Christ.

Daniel Peterson continues: “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.” After associating Mary with the Asherah tree, Daniel Peterson claims the metaphorical teachings of “wisdom” in the Bible are really a representation of the “wife of God”: “But among the interesting correspondences between ancient Near Eastern wisdom literature and the Book of Mormon, one is of special interest for the present article. Wisdom itself is represented in Proverbs 1 – 9 as a female person. Indeed, here and elsewhere in ancient Hebrew and Jewish literature, Wisdom appears as the wife of God, which can hardly fail to remind us of ancient Asherah.”

Lehi’s Dream of the “Tree of Life” and the Mormon attempt to associate the Virgin Mary with a pagan female fertility goddess and then “wisdom” as the “wife of God” are all tied to the “Mother God” doctrine of Mormonism.

Rocky Hulse.