Tree of Life and the Tree of Knowledge - Information and Art
Tree of Knowledge
The Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil, and the Tree of Life
The Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil, and the Tree of Life have to be two of the most popular trees in at least all of literature. There is an air of mystery about these trees, as well as some debate, and how the details might reflect on God and humanity, etc. Here, I explore a little bit about each of these trees, as well as share some examples of them as found in art over the centuries.
We see in Genesis 2:9, the mention of these two trees. It says:
"And out of the ground the Lord God made to spring up every tree that is pleasant to the sight and good for food. The tree of life was in the midst of the garden, and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil."
Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil
The Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil
This is one of the two trees mentioned in Genesis 2:9. As it is told in Genesis, this is one of the many trees put into the garden by God himself. Most are at least familiar with the story, and one thing is for sure, it was no ordinary tree. In fact, God's one rule for Adam and Eve was to not eat of this tree. To do so, would bring death as a penalty. You see this is Genesis 2:17,
"but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die.”
That seems pretty clear, and they seem to have received the message as Eve reiterated this back to the serpent later on when she was being tempted to eat of it. She knew it was wrong, and knew there was consequence. At least that is what her actions and response seemed to show. Not everyone may agree with this interpretation of course.
So as the story goes, the serpent focused in on this very command when engaging Eve. She finally became convinced of the doubt being planted in her, and decided the fruit looked very good to eat. Genesis 3:6-7 says,
"So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate, and she also gave some to her husband who was with her, and he ate. Then the eyes of both were opened, and they knew that they were naked. And they sewed fig leaves together and made themselves loincloths."
When we read the phrase, "of good and evil," some have said it can indicate extremes of knowledge, and can denote completeness, that is being a form of all knowing or of power. In essence, being like the divine. So when Eve and then Adam partook of this fruit, they could have been reaching for a form of divinity perhaps, but got a much different surprise. What they got instead was guilt, condemnation and ultimately were expelled from the garden and all they knew and loved up to that point.
Some have said that a lack of knowing good and evil can be a form of being immature, which makes sense. I thought it was interesting the idea of omniscience, and how the tree might have symbolized that.
One can see references to these points elsewhere in the scriptures.
The Tree of Life
This was the other tree placed into the garden of Eden, by God himself. This tree is a little less talked about and seems a bit more mysterious to people than the infamous Tree of knowledge. Once looking at it however, you can sense it has quite a bit of importance and meaning even if we aren't fully sure of what it all entails. We can know a few things about it though.
For instance, there as no command to not eat of this tree like there was with the one rule regarding the tree of knowledge. Since Adam and Eve could eat of all the trees, could they have eaten this one also? Even if they could have, it seems the did not because of what comes later when the are expelled from the garden that is then guarded. Genesis 3:22-24 says,
"Then the Lord God said, 'Behold, the man has become like one of us in knowing good and evil. Now, lest he reach out his hand and take also of the tree of life and eat, and live forever ' - therefore the Lord God sent him out from the garden of Eden to work the ground from which he was taken. He drove out the man, and at the east of the garden of Eden he placed the cherubim and a flaming sword that turned every way to guard the way to the tree of life."
So we learn that two cherubim are placed as guardians of the tree of life with flaming swords. Part of the punishment is keeping them from this tree, or else they could have eaten it, and lived forever. Instead, they were subject now to decay and eventual death. It was part of God's plan, of letting free will enter in along with its consequences I think. In regards to choosing the sin, they made the choice and could no longer choose to eat of the tree of life.
On a side note, the mention of this tree of life, comes also a mention of the river, but not a lot is said about it. You can find mention of a river though in other places in scripture which is interesting.
Adam and Eve with the Serpent in the Garden of Eden
The Tree of Life Elsewhere in Scripture
One can find mention of the Tree of Life in Proverbs 3:18, where wisdom is depicted as a tree of life. There are many such examples where wisdom is spoken of in different ways, so we are maybe to not take too much from that. It speaks of it as a source of life, for those that follow wisdom. It says,
"She is a tree of life to those who lay hold of her; those who hold her fast are called blessed."
Of interest, there is a river mentioned again in Ezekiel 31:1-12 where it states that the river abundantly gives life. It mentions trees as well that are evergreen, and continually bear fruit that is good to eat and serves as medicine.
We see reference in the last book of the bible, Revelation, to the tree of life again. In this portion of the bible, it does seem to have more of a spiritual or cosmic sense to it or meaning. In Revelation 2:7 it talks about the over-comer, who will partake of this tree. Even more interesting is its location, which is in the paradise of God. You can see more in chapter 22. In fact, the river is mentioned also, as well as the throne of God and the New Jerusalem. There is the river of life flowing on both sides of an ever bearing and everlasting tree. This tree again, provides food and medicine for those living there. It is just interesting to say the least!
Trees of LIfe in Pagan Religions
This idea of a tree of life isn't exclusive of course to the bible, but to other religions as well. There is a bit of a difference that can be observed. For instance, the idea of life that these trees of life symbolize have more to do with the power of reproduction. This reproduction would be evident in plants, animals and humanity. It is often personified by gods and goddesses, and the cosmology is more nature bound. In the bible, it was more of a positive and spiritual relationship between God and his creation.
There have bee art objects found and seals which depict such a tree of life from ancient Mesopotamia. Some include figures of possible divine beings, which is of interest.
There are some clay tablet in cuneiform script, that show many of the ancient myths held by the people that lived there. There are sacred trees of different kinds which play a fairly important role in some of the myths. Instead of the trees being in a garden set there by god, the trees seem to be in the abode of the gods. There is little to no access to these trees by humanity, except for maybe a very select few.
One can see the significance of such trees of life in the association of them with the current reigning kings. This was true of many ancient nations. This king was often seen as a kind of guardian, or priest that could dispense powers, etc.
In still other cultures, you can find a connection to a mother goddess and had to do with female reproduction. Whether with the human family, or crops and herds.
Here is an interesting quote by Paul Kurtz. It reads:
"The meaning of life is not to be discovered only after death in some hidden, mysterious realm; on the contrary, it can be found by eating the succulent fruit of the Tree of LIfe and by living in the here and now as fully and creatively as we can."
Tree of Life and Tree of Knowledge
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© 2014 Paula
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