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Explanation for "Nephi and His Asherah"


Bill Hamblin

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== Which Hebraisms, specifically, do you have in mind?

Perhaps chiasmus?

Perhaps. But he didn't specify. He merely said "Hebraisms," which seems more general:

Hebraisms are underwhelming.

Then he explained that, in his view, alleged Hebraisms in the Book of Mormon are derivable from the Bible:

The Book of Mormon comes from the Bible, and this relationship predicts there will be Hebraisms no matter if you believe the BoM is ancient or 19th century.
When I say "the BoM comes from the Bible" I'm just referring to the connections that we both agree on.  You have admitted that Joseph Smith had the ability to "change" things to suit 19th century readers and reflect the King James Bible.  I'm saying that his ability to interpolate obscures the conclusion you are trying to make.

I'm assuming that The Dude has investigated this topic and actually knows whereof he speaks. So I've asked him to help me understand how those "if-and" conditional sentences are derivable from the English Bible.

The Dude evidently has reason to believe that they were so derivable, and that, consequently, they have not met his standard:

The clearest evidence for apologists would logically be evidence that is not related to the Bible in any way, but is clearly linked to the BoM.

I'm interested in seeing his reasons.

This means external evidences in American archaeology (best) or clear instances of ancient America reflected in the BoM text (second best).

While he's at it, it would be helpful to understand why "evidence that is not related to the Bible in any way, but is clearly linked to the BoM," necessarily "means external evidences in American archaeology . . . or clear instances of ancient America reflected in the BoM text."

I can easily think of Old World features not derivable from the Bible but appearing in the Book of Mormon -- though, of course, I'll confess that I na

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I'm assuming that The Dude has investigated this topic and actually knows whereof he speaks. So I've asked him to help me understand how those "if-and" conditional sentences are derivable from the English Bible.

Dan, you don't assume that I have investigated every alleged Hebraism, do you? I admit it is possible that some Hebraism I haven't heard of is immune to the reasoning I specified. Certainly, to me, the Hebraism discussed in this thread is weak for the reason I mentioned. If you want to swich topics and get me to consider a different Hebraism, then maybe you could start a new thread for it that will get everyone's attention. I'm game. I really have enjoyed considering Nephi and His Asherah and seeing what other people thought of it.

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First,

Kevin Graham:

The virgin is identified with the tree of life. I think that was already made pretty clear by Her Amun:

--Asherah was a virgin mother, consort to El and was identified with a bright, white fruit tree.

--Mary was a virgin mother, mother of God's child and was identifed with a bright white fruit tree [of white fruit] (both are described as beautiful and white).

--Same time period, same locale.

Let me help some more:

Tree bears fruit

Mary bears Jesus

The connection was easy enough to see that I saw it as an undergraduate at BYU in 1992 and mentioned it during class. However, I guess it was novel enough that the professor waited for a few seconds, then replied "hmm. Next point..."

Literature has quite a few instances of people-trees, though as with much art, they often connect on purpose. Virgil, Dante, CS Lewis, etc.

When Nephi responds "Yea, it is the love of God, which sheddeth itself abroad in the hearts of the children of men; wherefore it is the most desirable above all things. And he spake unto me, saying: Yea, and the most joyous to the soul"

to the angel's "Knowest thou the meaning of the tree which thy father saw?", is he talking about the tree or the fruit it bears? The tree is desireable, or the fruit of the tree is desirable? The tree is the most joyous to the soul, or the fruit is? The tree tastes good, or its fruit tastes good? Do you see the connection between Nephi, and Lehi's description (back in 1 Nephi :P of the fruit here?

Nephi's description of the virgin and the tree make a link.

Kevin Graham wrote: Mary was simply a precursor for what was to come.

She was what bore the fruit of God (you understand this meaning of "fruit", right?)

Kevin Graham wrote:

And BTW, Nephi's reference to the "virgin" Mary would be considered an anachronism in Israelite religion; just another reason the chapter reflects more from the New Testament than anything else.

Or Isaiah, for example.

Unfortunately, there is no compelling reason to believe either of these symbols were referenced in 1 Nephi 11. Again, the tree of life/river connection, along with Jesus representing the "Love of God", is all over the New Testament.

"All over"?

bentleye wrote:

I don't think a pretty tree and a pretty woman add up to much in the passage.

Somehow, the Holy Ghost and angel thought otherwise.

Neither of he nor Joseph had to know a darn thing about their symbols to transfer them along with their whole freight of meaning (if any).

The whole point of symbols is that there is a transfer of meaning.

cinepro,

How does one--especially a scholar--get from "this holds very well" to "JS is a prophet"? Just because you might know so many who claim "JS wasn't a prophet" therefore "nothing holds well", doesn't make your thinking so.

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== The virgin is identified with the tree of life.

This has not been established.

== I think that was already made pretty clear by Her Amun: Asherah was a virgin mother, consort to El and

This is misleading because it is stated as factual when it has not been adequately substantiated. I

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Hey Spencer,

Do me a favor and re-read my posts, because I already acknolwedged Dan's footnote, and I also pointed out that one scholar who thinks she "may" have been a virgin, is not really strong evidence that she was a virgin. There is simply too much Asherah material out there to dismiss. I've read tons of it and I don't recall anything about her being a virgin. This appears to be speculative thinking at best.

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Kevin asked on page 5...

In the six years of occasional correspondence, and the two personal encounters I've had with Margaret, I've never felt the need to press her for her private views. I'm sufficiently pleased that she has publically responded so favorably to things LDS, including the Book of Mormon, and various things she has learned from LDS scholars. I'm pleased that she has taught us so much. Peterson's "Nephi and His Asherah" is a brilliant piece of work, but the picture is far more complex and profound. No one essay, and no one scholar can put it all together. So, how did Joseph Smith do it in two months with his face in a hat? I'm personally convinced that her work specifically contributes to the fulfillment of prophecies in 1 Nephi 13, referring to the "plain and precious things" being restored, as I have explained in "Paradigms Regained," and in more specific detail in one of the Meridian essays. I see God working through her where she is, and have no anxiety about pressing her to change course.

Automatic writing induced by CO2 poisoning?

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Since you bring it up Zak, I spoke with Margaret just a few days ago.

I asked her the question about her belief in BoM historicity since people were wondering. Her response:

"Historical record? I am not in a position to say. It would seem that a lot of the earlier parts of the Old Testament are not a historical record in the usual sense of those words. Archaeology gives little support."

I'll take that as a no. She also said that her "ignorance" in LDS materials might explain why she currently sees the Nephi 11 narrative inexplicable.

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If I may offer some opinions and hopefully facts of my own.

== was identified with a bright, white fruit tree.

She was? I see no reference to whiteness in Smith or McCarter, nor do I see any direct evidence in Dan

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I also remember pomegranate being related with fertility. Intresting that God has the border of the priests clothing addorned with 12 pomegranites.

eg

Ex. 39: 24-26

24 And they made upon the hems of the robe pomegranates of blue, and purple, and scarlet, and twined linen.

25 And they made bells of pure gold, and put the bells between the pomegranates upon the hem of the robe, round about between the pomegranates;

26 A bell and a pomegranate, a bell and a pomegranate, round about the hem of the robe to minister in; as the LORD commanded Moses.

1 Kgs. 7: 18, 20, 42

18 And he made the pillars, and two rows round about upon the one network, to cover the chapiters that were upon the top, with pomegranates: and so did he for the other chapiter.

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Asherah has been associated with trees and plants of fruitful and colorless quality such as grapevines, pomegranate, walnut, myrtle, and willow trees.  (Midrash 'Or. 1.7-8; Suk. 3.1-3; 'A.Z. 3.7, 9-10; Me'il. 3.:P.  The Egyptian aspect of Asherah, Nuit, was associated with a white tree, the Sycamore.

But this was a much later interpretation.

Eventually the Jews seem to have forgotten what exactly the Asherah was. The view that we find in the Septuagint and the Mishnah is that the Asherim were living trees. . . . For the Mishnah the Asherim were . . . living trees which were worshipped, for example, grapevines, pomegranates, walnuts, myrtle, and willows (cf. m. 'Or. 1.7; m. Suk. 3.1-3; m. 'Abod. Zar. 3.7, 9, 10; m. Me'il 3.<_<. However, various Old Testament allusions argue against this and suggest that the Asherim were rather man-made cultic objects. . . . As a result of the above points, the view that the Asherim were living trees is not much held at the present time.

-- John Day, Yahweh and the Gods and Goddesses of Canaan (JSOTSup 265; Sheffield: Sheffield Academic Press, 2000), 53; see also, Daniel C. Peterson, "Nephi and His Asherah": "Asherah's symbol may have been a living tree, or a sacred grove of some sort, but scholarly consensus seems to be growing behind the proposition that the lowercase asherah was most commonly a carved wooden image, perhaps some kind of pole."

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Asherah has been associated with trees and plants of fruitful and colorless quality such as grapevines, pomegranate, walnut, myrtle, and willow trees.  (Midrash 'Or. 1.7-8; Suk. 3.1-3; 'A.Z. 3.7, 9-10; Me'il. 3.:P.  The Egyptian aspect of Asherah, Nuit, was associated with a white tree, the Sycamore.

But this was a much later interpretation.

Eventually the Jews seem to have forgotten what exactly the Asherah was. The view that we find in the Septuagint and the Mishnah is that the Asherim were living trees. . . . For the Mishnah the Asherim were . . . living trees which were worshipped, for example, grapevines, pomegranates, walnuts, myrtle, and willows (cf. m. 'Or. 1.7; m. Suk. 3.1-3; m. 'Abod. Zar. 3.7, 9, 10; m. Me'il 3.<_<. However, various Old Testament allusions argue against this and suggest that the Asherim were rather man-made cultic objects. . . . As a result of the above points, the view that the Asherim were living trees is not much held at the present time.

-- John Day, Yahweh and the Gods and Goddesses of Canaan (JSOTSup 265; Sheffield: Sheffield Academic Press, 2000), 53; see also, Daniel C. Peterson, "Nephi and His Asherah": "Asherah's symbol may have been a living tree, or a sacred grove of some sort, but scholarly consensus seems to be growing behind the proposition that the lowercase asherah was most commonly a carved wooden image, perhaps some kind of pole."

Yes, because of the later interpretations of the Targum the trees were variously known, but tradition would hold them as a smaller tree in relation to YHWH. I believe in Canaanite and Babylonian myth the Asherah is associated with the palm tree. It has also been associated with Solomon's temple (I Kings 6:29-35: 29

And he carved all the walls of the house round about with carved figures of cherubims and palm trees and open flowers, within and without.

30  And the floor of the house he overlaid with gold, within and without.

31 

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== So the only reason it's critical for the connection is because I think it would be?? But that's my question! Why is it? So does that mean, it isn't? Instead of saying "it weakens it" show me how it does so, critically.

I really need to spell this out?

Somebody tries to assert a connection between Woman X and Woman Y.

Woman X happens to be a virgin. It is asserted that Woman Y is a virgin, thus strengthening the connection. This is one whammy of a parallel. However a lack of evidence demonstrates that woman Y wasn

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Yes, because of the later interpretations of the Targum the trees were variously known, but tradition would hold them as a smaller tree in relation to YHWH.  I believe in Canaanite and Babylonian myth the Asherah is associated with the palm tree.  It has also been associated with Solomon's temple (I Kings 6:29-35: 29). And, of course, the sycamore in Egypt. It wouldn't be too much of a stretch to assume that the tree worshipped in Israel would have been similiar to the trees worshipped in Mesopotamia and Egypt.  Personally, I think the trees were oak (elim)

Okay, but in the biblical period--the period relevant to "Nephi and His Asherah"--it appears that Asherah's symbol was a stylized tree (a "wooden object symbolizing a tree"), not a living tree. Mishnaic descriptions of the asherah as living trees "likely . . . reflect a later understanding of the asherah, perhaps influenced by the phenomenon of sacred groves in Hellenistic religion" (Mark S. Smith, The Early History of God: Yahweh and the Other Deities in Ancient Israel, 2nd ed. [Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2002], 111, 115).

There is good reason, then, to question the assertion that Asherah "was identified with a [living] bright, white fruit tree" in the biblical period--despite Joan Taylor's suggestion that "the asherah was an extensively pruned living tree, very similar in form to the stylized tree of the menorah" ("The Asherah, the Menorah and the Sacred Tree," JSOT 66, no. 1 [1995]: 29).

There is also good reason to question the assertion that Asherah "was a virgin mother." Kevin Graham's comment that "this has not been established" is something of an understatement.

Another problematic aspect of the article is the identification of Asherah with the personified figure of Wisdom. John Day outlines the following objection to such a view:

Both are feminine divine figures, Wisdom is connected several times in Proverbs with the tree of life (cf. Prov. 3:18, 11:30, 15:4), which one might compare with the stylized tree symbols of Asherah, and the word ashre 'blessed' appears in Prov. 3:13 and 18, one of the passages concerned with the personification of Wisdom.

However, though ingenious, this proposal does not seem very convincing. Nowhere in the Ugaritic texts, Old Testament or elsewhere is the goddess Asherah associated with wisdom (unlike her Canaanite consort, the god El), the relation of Wisdom to Yahweh is more akin to that of a daughter than a wife (cf. Prov. 8:22), the tree of life seems to have been more than a stylized tree, and there is no special significance in the occurence of the word ashre 'blessed' in Prov. 3:13, 18, since this word is quite frequent in Proverbs and related Wisdom literature. The origin of the personification of Wisdom is clearly to be sought elsewhere. Since Wisdom appears to be already personified outside Israel in the Wisdom of Ahiqar, lines 94b-95, one may perhaps envisage it as an appropriation and development of the West Semitic Wisdom tradition.

-- John Day, Yahweh and the Gods and Goddesses of Canaan (JSOTSup 265; Sheffield: Sheffield Academic Press, 2000), 67.

I only mention any of this because Professor Hamblin solicited criticism of the article. As I have stated elsewhere, I am a fan of the article (even if it does overreach a bit :P)

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Okay, but in the biblical period--the period relevant to "Nephi and His Asherah"--it appears that Asherah's symbol was a stylized tree (a "wooden object symbolizing a tree"), not a living tree. Mishnaic descriptions of the asherah as living trees "likely . . . reflect a later understanding of the asherah, perhaps influenced by the phenomenon of sacred groves in Hellenistic religion" (Mark S. Smith, The Early History of God: Yahweh and the Other Deities in Ancient Israel, 2nd ed. [Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2002], 111, 115).

Hmmm....that's a good point. I know that Asherah was both a goddess and the symbol of the goddess (the tree and/or stump). I can imagine that reformist prophets such as Isaiah would have gotten rid of the trees and high places associated with them. It would be interesting to see where exilic Lehites would have worshipped. One place that I remember is the apostate Rameupton. If there was a cultic site then there would have been more likely cultic rituals including Asherah.

I would disagree that the cult of Asherah stopped being observed during the pre-exilic or post-exilic period of Israel and Nephi. Since the cult of Asherah is predominately a woman's cult I can easily see women continuing to worship a goddess of fertility for ease in childbirth, fertility, etc. Additionally, we see women even today, according to Wm Dever, flocking to the tomb of Rachel in Israel to pray for successful pregnancy and childbirth. When I was in Japan I noticed that most homes had an interesting shrine. In one Catholic home there was a shrine to Mary holding the baby Jesus, but on closer examination it was actually the Buddhist goddess Kannon who gave to women in childbirth, mercy and comfort. It wasn't unusual to find the same spiritual entity worshipped in such a dualistic manner. It could be as easily done in Israel.

There is good reason, then, to question the assertion that Asherah "was identified with a [living] bright, white fruit tree" in the biblical period--despite Joan Taylor's suggestion that "the asherah was an extensively pruned living tree, very similar in form to the stylized tree of the menorah" ("The Asherah, the Menorah and the Sacred Tree," JSOT 66, no. 1 [1995]: 29).

Like I mentioned it could have been any particular kind of tree. Palms, mulberry's pomegranate tree all could have been representative of Asherah. Initially, I believe that the trees were associated with location and not the location with the trees. Given that any site that was accompanied by a "high place" with massabot, incense, and other cultic ritual and artifacts would be sacred. Such sites could also associate local trees as part of the cultic site. Later, in the 7th and 8th centuries manufactured asherah often accompanied temple and other cultic ritualization. I wonder if the the two pillars bordering the entrance into Solomon's temple; Boaz and Jachin, were representative of Asherah or of the massabot?

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1 Nephi 15:36

(Nephi speaking:) Wherefore, the wicked are rejected from the righteous, and also from that tree of life, whose fruit is most precious and most desirable above all other fruits; yea, and it isthe greatest of all the gifts of God. And thus I spake unto my brethren. Amen.

I had a feeling Nephi wasn't into eating trees...

Now, here are some questions: is the tree or its fruit the greatest of all the gifts of God? What is it--eternal life, or his Son, through whom eternal life is given?

Even had the tree changed, would that have mattered, or would Nephi still have recognized it? For example, if you saw a fire in front of a cave and shadows on the wall, could you relate that to fake reality, even though computer graphics/ 3D would definitely be the way to go nowadays as a metaphor? What literature/ symbolism was on the brass plates? What literary traditions was Nephi familiar with? He seems to have been very learned, even in the ways of the traditions of the Jews and their beliefs (anyone who can read and understand Isaiah clearly and easily, gets the benefit of the doubt from me).

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If I may add my two cents to the discussion . . .

I agree with The Dude that, if the connection is established between Nephi's tree and the virgin Mary, the rest seems to fall rather neatly in place as something beyond the knowledge and ability of Joseph Smith (or anybody else) writing in 1830 upstate New York.

I respectfully differ from The Dude, however, in that I see that connection as established. Grego mentions that he saw the connection when he was an undergrad at BYU in 1992.

I saw the connection in January of 2000, while I was preparing a fireside presentation on Lehi's Dream of the Tree of Life. I was going to be presenting, in the main, the substance of a paper published in the Journal of Book of Mormon Studies back in 1992, titled "Lehi's Dream of the Tree of Life: Springboard to Prophecy." The position of that paper is that the symbols presented in Lehi's Dream were interpreted in Nephi's Vision, which formed the basis for Nephi's panoramic vision of the future recorded in 1 Nephi 11-14. A reading of that paper should lay to rest the simplistic interpretation of Lehi's Dream, which is so prevalent amongs the LDS, and which has shown itself here on this thread (e.g., the fruit of the tree is the love of God . . . period). (It has been noted in a recent paper earlier this year in the Journal of Book of Mormon Studies that the arguments presented in "Lehi's Dream of the Tree of Life" are persuasive, especially as it relates to the multitudes of persons pressing toward the Tree in Lehi's Dream, and how that relates to the various multitudes described in Nephi's vision.)

Prior to my 2000 fireside preparation, I had personally gone through the texts in question many, many times with a fine tooth comb. I frankly thought there was nothing left in the text for me to learn, so thorough had been my examination.

And then, in 2000, it struck me like a two-by-four that the Tree was, in fact, the virgin. It was so obvious that I wondered as to how I had not seen it before. I was at this time unaware of Daniel Peterson's paper published in 1998. The funny thing was that, shortly after making this startling (to me) discovery, a FARMS newsletter came out summarizing Prof. Peterson's findings.

So, when I read what Professor Peterson had to say, I already had conclusively established in my own mind that the connection between the tree and the virgin was present in the text. It may be due to this that I do not have The Dude's difficulty in seeing the connection.

I think that The Dude may have a certain worldview to maintain. (Don't we all?) I would certainly agree that I do, only on the other side of the fence. But the fact that I saw the connection before learning of Prof. Peterson's paper tends to make me more certain that I am not just "seeing" the connection for apologetic purposes. Alternatively, it is possible that some do not "see" the connection for apologetic purposes.

On the other hand, Margaret Barker appears to have no ideological axe to grind vis-a-vis the Book of Mormon, and she has stated that she sees the connection, and that it reflects the situation in Jerusalem in 600 B.C.

I tend to think that, if this were not the Book of Mormon we were discussing, and if so much religious freight were not associated with the book, it is more likely that we would all agree with Margaret Barker that the Book of Mormon, at least in this regard, accurately reflects the situation in 600 B.C. Jerusalem; a situation not reflected in the Bible, but in fact intentionally obscured by the Bible.

All the Best!

--Consiglieri

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I respectfully differ from The Dude, however, in that I see that connection as established. Grego mentions that he saw the connection when he was an undergrad at BYU in 1992.

consiglieri--

"Seeing" a connection is not the same as there being one in the author's mind. And since both Nephi and Joseph Smith are long dead, there is no way for you to know if this connection is real, and no way for anyone to take it to the bank as proof of ancient Hebrew influence.

This case brings to mind the common speculation about what influenced JRR Tolkien to craft The Lord of the Rings. Many people have "seen" connections between elements of his story and World War II, including the One Ring as an allegory about nuclear weapons, or the alliance between Sauron and Saruman as representative of Germany and Japan. You will still see people alleging these connections on internet forums because they "see" them so clearly. Tolkien, however, always insisted that his story was not an allegory of any kind and in fact Tolkien had already finished his book before the nuclear bombs were made known to the world and dropped on Japan.

In the case of "Nephi and His Ashera", you, grego, and Dan Peterson may be just as wrong as the Tolkien nerds are about LoTR connections. Seeing connections is not the same as there being such in the author's mind.

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