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A fairly accurate, but incomplete INDEX of Posts & good overview of this blog READ SOME REASONS TO REJECT ORTHODOX JUDAISM my April 2014 post or click link above. Highlighted words lead to other posts almost all in my blog. Born into an Orthodox Jewish family (1950's) and went to Orthodox Yeshiva from kindergarten thru High School plus some Beis Medrash.Became an agnostic in my 20's and an atheist later on. My blog will discuss the arguments for god and Orthodox Judaism and will provide counter arguments. I no longer take comments. My blog uses academic sources, the Torah, Talmud and commentators to justify my assertions. The posts get updated. INDEX OF POSTS SEE MAY 2017 or click link above.

Thursday, January 1, 2015

Tree Animism in the Bible

Updated thru 9/9/2016

Many present day religious Jews, especially the so called ‘rationalists religious Jews’, think their lofty  philosophical conceptions and discussions of God-Judaism such as  Monotheism ,  The Transcendent, The Prime Mover, The Big Banger, Proofs of God,  (alleged) real ‘science’ in the Torah, (alleged) lack of mythological elements in the Torah, (alleged) absence of paganism, were always  part and parcel of Judaism.

This is because ‘embarrassing’ passages,  mythological and pagan elements in the Tenach are often  ignored, sometimes deceptively translated and reinterpreted away in homage to an evolved conception of God. In short, apologetics.

I hope to write a series of posts exploring  Animism, Polytheism, Totemism, Taboo, Magic, and Demonology within the Tenach  in relation to the roots of Judaism.

This post will focus on Tree Animism - Sacred Trees in the Tenach

I use the term animism to include the case where spiritual beings can take up lodging in things such as trees, bushes, streams/springs etc:, stones, mountains.

Some background 

{ETA 1/3/2015 "Oracles and omens from trees and at tree sanctuaries are of the commonest among all races, and are derived in very various ways, either from observation of phenomena connected with the trees themselves, and interpreted as manifestations of divine life, or from ordinary processes of divination performed in the presence of the sacred object."  Smith also explains that in ancient times - sacred energy, that is, a divine life, resided even in the parts of holy trees. (Page 195 Smith see below)}

Wiki Tree worship

“Trees have played an important role in many of the world's mythologies and religions, and have been given deep and sacred meanings throughout the ages”.

“The image of the Tree of life is also a favourite in many mythologies. Various forms of trees of life also appear in folklore, culture and fiction, often relating to immortality or fertility.”

“Other examples of trees featured in mythology are the Banyan and the Peepal (Ficus religiosa) trees in Hinduism, and the modern tradition of the Christmas Tree in Germanic mythology, the Tree of Knowledge of Judaism and Christianity, the Bodhi tree in Buddhism and Saglagar tree in Mongolian Tengriism. In folk religion and folklore, trees are often said to be the homes of tree spirits. Historical Druidism as well as Germanic paganism appear to have involved cultic practice in sacred groves, especially the oak.”

 “Often the tree is famous for oracles. Best known, perhaps, is the oak of Dodona tended by priests who slept on the ground. Forms of the tall oaks of the old Prussians were inhabited by gods who gave responses, and so numerous are the examples that the old Hebrew terebinth of the teacher, and the terebinth of the diviners may reasonably be placed in this category.”

“Many of the world's ancient belief systems also include the belief of sacred groves...”

“Trees were often regarded as sacred in the ancient world, throughout Europe and Asia.”

Wiki Wish Tree - “A wish tree is an individual tree, usually distinguished by species, position or appearance, which is used as an object of wishes and offerings. Such trees are identified as possessing a special religious or spiritual value. By tradition, believers make votive offerings in order to gain from that nature spirit, saint or goddess fulfillment of a wish.”

Tree Animism in the Tenach

Some of my comments may seem  speculative, but others are strongly suggested by the actual Tenach text. 

1) Early in Genesis we see traces of something supernatural with Trees.

 Gen 2: 8 And the LORD God planted a garden eastward, in Eden; and there He put the man whom He had formed. 9 And out of the ground made the LORD God to grow every tree that is pleasant to the sight, and good for food; the tree of life also in the midst of the garden, and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. 

Gen 2: 16 And the LORD God commanded the man, saying: 'Of every tree of the garden thou mayest freely eat; 17 but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, thou shalt not eat of it; for in the day that thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely die.”

So how long after eating from the tree should Adam die - ‘...for in the  day ...” you eat it you die.
And why should you die ? Was it poison ? Ancient people would ascribe sickness and death to spirits. (Many  Orthodox Jews still do).  So a tree inhabited with spirits  could kill you if imbibed.  

Genesis 3: 4 And the serpent said unto the woman: 'Ye shall not surely die; 5 for God doth know that in the day ye eat thereof, then your eyes shall be opened, and ye shall be as God, knowing good and evil.' 
 (Rashi explains shall be like Creators of Worlds !) . How can eating from this tree give you this power ? Perhaps because spirits had taken up home in the special tree and by eating from it you obtain supernatural powers.

2) Genesis 12: 6 And Abram passed through the land unto the place of Shechem, unto the terebinth of Moreh. And the Canaanite was then in the land 7 And the LORD appeared unto Abram, and said: 'Unto thy seed will I give this land'; and he builded there an altar unto the LORD, who appeared unto him. 8 And he removed from thence unto the mountain on the east of Beth-el, and pitched his tent, having Beth-el on the west, and Ai on the east; and he builded there an altar unto the LORD, and called upon the name of the LORD. 

Terebinth - a kind of tree.
Moreh - means teacher. 

Meaning Abraham traveled to what was already known as special tree a teaching tree - a kind of oracle, or sacred tree.  Abraham expects a manifestation from the spirit of the tree. No wonder the Lord appears there. Abraham builds an alter next  to the sacred tree.

Sacrificing by and anointing sacred trees was practiced amongst ancient near east cultures.

And we have another secret here. “And the Canaanite was then in the Land.”  Meaning, then in the land, but not when the author is writing the verse. This means the verse was written after the Israelites entered Canaan and so the Torah could not have been given at Mount Sinai.

3) Gen 13:18 And Abram moved his tent, and came and dwelt by the terebinths of Mamre, which are in Hebron, and built there an altar unto the LORD.

So again Abraham builds an alter by terebinth trees, just like in 2) above. Could it be these were also sacred trees before Abraham arrives there ? 

4) Genesis Chapter 18: 1 And the LORD appeared unto him [Abraham] by the terebinths of Mamre, as he sat in the tent door in the heat of the day; 

Taken in conjunction with item 2) and 3) it appears these trees were some kind of sacred grove. The  Lord would manifest himself by the sacred trees.  

{ETA 3/9/2016 From the book Torah and Flora by Louis Rabinowitz 1977 - Beginning on page 5  Regarding Genesis 12-17 - most commentators regard the hebrew word eilon to refer to a tree [ as in the translation above which uses a terebinth]. Also, "It is obvious from the scriptural passage that the eilon of moreh [translated above as a kind of tree and teacher]  was a significant landmark even before the advent of Abraham, and that it's significance belongs to the Idolatrous pre-patriarchal Canaanite era." The word moreh means 'one who teaches' or 'gives instruction' and its a reasonable suggestion it was a sacred tree used for divination and soothsaying. "An oracle." }

{ETA 3/9/2016 The Torah A Modern Commentary by Plaut, Bamberger, Hallo 1981 Page 92 Regarding Genesis 12:6 explains a large tree famed as an oracle. } 

5) Genesis 21:33 And Abraham planted a tamarisk-tree in Beer-sheba, and called there on the name of the LORD, the Everlasting God

Genesis: 26: 23 And he [Isaac] went up from thence to Beer-sheba. 24 And the LORD appeared unto him the same night, and said: 'I am the God of Abraham thy father. Fear not, for I am with thee, and will bless thee, and multiply thy seed for My servant Abraham's sake.' 25 And he builded an altar there, and called upon the name of the LORD, and pitched his tent there; and there Isaac's servants digged a well.

What’s up in Gen 21:33 ? Why plant a tree in Beer Sheba ?  Why is The Torah is teaching us about Abrahams’s gardening activities ?  

'Beer' as in well - an association with water. I hope to write a post  regarding water animism and the Tenach.

What is fascinating ‘sheba’  means seven and we  know seven had mythological significance in the ancient near east. This suggests the location already had very early mythological connotations prior to Abraham planting. 

The significance is either the Beer-Sheeba  tree could have been a sacred tree and the Torah is claiming it was because of Abraham planting it on behalf of the Lord and not because of prior Canaanite beliefs. Or perhaps Abraham is planting a sacred tree in a sacred area or sacred grove.

Then in Gen 26:23 why does the Lord appear in Beer-Sheba ? Could it be the Lord is appearing by the already sacred tree of  Gen 21:33

6) Genesis 35: 2 Then Jacob said unto his household, and to all that were with him: 'Put away the strange gods that are among you, and purify yourselves, and change your garments; 3 and let us arise, and go up to Beth-el; and I will make there an altar unto God, who answered me in the day of my distress, and was with me in the way which I went.' 4 And they gave unto Jacob all the foreign gods which were in their hand, and the rings which were in their ears; and Jacob hid them under the terebinth which was by Shechem. 

 ‘terebinth which was by Shechem’  - must be referring to the tree area from 2) 

So why is Jacob burying the foreign gods under a tree ? Why not crush them or burn them or just bury them any old place ? One explanation is Jacob and company are now with the Lord, who most likely is associated with the sacred tree. The presence of a deity (the Lord) in that tree would keep these other gods under control. Another possible explanation the Idols are being returned to a tree associated with them.

7) Exodus 3: 1 Now Moses was keeping the flock of Jethro his father-in-law, the priest of Midian; and he led the flock to the farthest end of the wilderness, and came to the mountain of God, unto Horeb. 2 And the angel of the LORD appeared unto him in a flame of fire out of the midst of a bush; and he looked, and, behold, the bush burned with fire, and the bush was not consumed. 3 And Moses said: 'I will turn aside now, and see this great sight, why the bush is not burnt.' 4 And when the LORD saw that he turned aside to see, God called unto him out of the midst of the bush, and said: 'Moses, Moses.' And he said: 'Here am I. 5 And He said: 'Draw not nigh hither; put off thy shoes from off thy feet, for the place whereon thou standest is holy ground.' 

Here we have a spirit being of Yahweh associated with a fiery bush. Yahweh himself associated with a mountain and the burning bush most probably on or near that mountain. Yahweh speaking out of the burning bush. 

Deut 33: 13 And of Joseph he said: Blessed of the LORD be his land; for the precious things of heaven, for the dew, and for the deep that coucheth beneath, 14 And for the precious things of the fruits of the sun, and for the precious things of the yield of the moons, 15 And for the tops of the ancient mountains, and for the precious things of the everlasting hills, 16 And for the precious things of the earth and the fulness thereof, and the good will of Him that dwelt in the bush; let the blessing come upon the head of Joseph, and upon the crown of the head of him that is prince among his brethren.

Verse 16 ‘and the good will of Him that dwelt in the bush’

So Deut 33 in conjunction with Exodus 3 has God dwelling in the bush, and is a  fairly clear suggestion of tree animism. 

{ETA 1/3/2015 We find a similar story in Tyre - it was believed that fire played about the branches of the sacred olive tree between the Ambrosian rocks at Tyre, without scorching its leaves. From Page 193 LECTURES ON THE RELIGION OF THE SEMITES -  WILLIAM ROBERTSON SMITH, third edition, 1927}

8)  Judges 4:4  Now Deborah, a prophetess, the wife of Lappidoth, she judged Israel at that time. 5 And she sat under the palm-tree of Deborah between Ramah and Beth-el in the hill-country of Ephraim; and the children of Israel came up to her for judgment.

Why does the Tenach go to the trouble of teaching us about a ‘palm-tree of Deborah’ under  which she sits ? The prophetess had a special tree under which she sat  and came up with decisions. A prophetess receives messages from the supernatural. This is suspiciously seems like a sacred oracle tree.

9) Judges 6:11 And the angel of the LORD came, and sat under the terebinth which was in Ophrah, that belonged unto Joash the Abiezrite; and his son Gideon was beating out wheat in the winepress, to hide it from the Midianites. 12 And the angel of the LORD appeared unto him, and said unto him: 'The LORD is with thee, thou mighty man of valour'...... 24 Then Gideon built an altar there unto the LORD, and called it 'Adonai-shalom'; unto this day it is yet in Ophrah of the Abiezrites. {S}

Verse 11,24  - again we have an angel of the Lord associated with a tree/bush and an alter is built there.

Speculation - is it possible the original oral tradition had the Lord himself and not his angel ? {ETA 9/9/2016 Notice verse 24 - 'Adonai' may be used a name for G-d. }

10) Judges 9:6 And all the men of Shechem assembled themselves together, and all Beth-millo, and went and made Abimelech king, by the terebinth of the pillar that was in Shechem. 7 And when they told it to Jotham, he went and stood in the top of mount Gerizim, and lifted up his voice, and cried, and said unto them: 'Hearken unto me, ye men of Shechem, that God may hearken unto you. 8 The trees went forth on a time to anoint a king over them; and they said unto the olive-tree: Reign thou over us. 

Why was the Abimelech made King at the terebinth of Shechem (see 2) above ? It is as if the God in the tree is witness or approving the kingship, as verse 8 intimates.

11) 1 Samuel Chapter 14: 1 Now it fell upon a day, that Jonathan the son of Saul said unto the young man that bore his armour: 'Come and let us go over to the Philistines' garrison, that is on yonder side. But he told not his father. 2 And Saul tarried in the uttermost part of Gibeah under the pomegranate-tree which is in Migron; and the people that were with him were about six hundred men, ....17 Then said Saul unto the people that were with him: 'Number now, and see who is gone from us.' And when they had numbered, behold, Jonathan and his armour-bearer were not there.

Why does the Tenach tell us Saul tarries under the Palm Tree ? He later dispenses advice from there. Is this a suggestion of an oracle tree ? 

And in 1 Samuel 31:13 13 And they took their bones, and buried them under the tamarisk-tree in Jabesh, and fasted seven days. Or 1 Chronicle10: 12 all the valiant men arose, and took away the body of Saul, and the bodies of his sons, and brought them to Jabesh, and buried their bones under the terebinth in Jabesh, and fasted seven days. 

Why bury Saul under  a tree ? And there is that magic number seven again.

12) 1 Kings 13:11 Now there dwelt an old prophet in Beth-el; and one of his sons came and told him all the works that the man of God had done that day in Beth-el, and the words which he had spoken unto the king, and they told them unto their father. 12 And their father said unto them: 'What way went he?' For his sons had seen what way the man of God went, that came from Judah. 13 And he said unto his sons: 'Saddle me the ass.' So they saddled him the ass; and he rode thereon. 14 And he went after the man of God, and found him sitting under a terebinth; and he said unto him: 'Art thou the man of God that camest from Judah?' And he said: 'I am.' 

And what does a man of God do ?  Dispenses information from God. And where is he sitting ? Under a Terebinth in Beth-El (maybe the same one as in 6) above). The Tenach goes out of its way to mention a specific tree. A reasonable conclusion the relationship here between a man of God under a Terebinth is suggestive of  tree animism.

13) II Samuel 5: 22 And the Philistines came up yet again, and spread themselves in the valley of Rephaim. 23 And when David inquired of the LORD, He said: 'Thou shalt not go up; make a circuit behind them, and come upon them over against the mulberry-trees. 24 And it shall be, when thou hearest the sound of marching in the tops of the mulberry-trees, that then thou shalt bestir thyself; for then is the LORD gone out before thee to smite the host of the Philistines.

‘sound of marching in the tops of the mulberry-trees’ must mean rustling the leaves and or branches.

This suggests the Lord is somehow within the trees and upon leaving them to do battle  the Lord is marching over the trees causing the  rustling.  To this day many Orthodox Jews believe their warrior God does battle for them. The idea that the tribal god or nation god does battle on their behalf was prevalent in ancient times and even thru modern times. Gott mit uns (meaning God with us) was commonly used on armor in the Nazi German military. See proof of god from gaza rockets ,  proof of god from jewish survival

Conclusion 

I could have supplied  other examples. The numerous examples are highly suggestive that traces of  tree animism, if not outright tree animism were associated with the early beliefs of the  ‘God’ of the Torah. In later times parts of Torah do condemn worship under trees. 

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