1 Nephi 8:10-12 — LeGrand Baker — Lehi’s Description of the Tree, the Water, and the Fruit.

1 Nephi 8:10-12 

10 And it came to pass that I beheld a tree, whose fruit was desirable to make one happy.
11 And it came to pass that I did go forth and partake of the fruit thereof; and I beheld that it was most sweet, above all that I ever before tasted. Yea, and I beheld that the fruit thereof was white, to exceed all the whiteness that I had ever seen.
12 And as I partook of the fruit thereof it filled my soul with exceedingly great joy; wherefore, I began to be desirous that my family should partake of it also; for I knew that it was desirable above all other fruit.


Symbols can stir the heart and mind in ways that transcend their physical reality. Symbols, whether words, gestures, or physical objects, can carry our minds through multiple layers of meaning—layers that may unfold like the petals of a rose, moving our minds though the vast expanse of our eternal journey and causing us to stop along the way and ponder the beauty before us. Our visualization of the Tree of Life is one of the most powerful examples. The menorah, with its burning light—like glorious white fruit at the end of each branch—represents the tree of life in a vivid, visual form. It represents our prayers and God’s answers to our most fervent prayer.

The idea of the tree of life is found in the religions of virtually every ancient culture, but nowhere is it better explained than in the Book of Mormon. Lehi described it as representing the eternal destination of the righteous. Nephi explains it as symbolic of the love of Christ. Àlma uses its imagery to teach us how our faith may mature from only a desire to know the Savior, through a sequence of growth experiences until we can taste the light, pluck the fruit of the tree of life, and become an expression of the tree itself (Alma 32:35, 40-43).

The Tree of Life in the Garden

In our scriptures, we first encounter the tree of life in the story of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden. When God created the Garden, he placed in it “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 knowledge of good and evil” (Genesis 2:9). An ancient Jewish tradition holds that,

There are eighty myriads of trees in every corner of Paradise, the meanest among them choicer than all the spice trees. In every corner there are sixty myriads of angels singing with sweet voices, and the tree of life stands in the middle and shades the whole of Paradise. It has fifteen thousand tastes, each different from the other, and the perfumes thereof vary likewise. Over it hang seven clouds of glory, and winds blow upon it from all four sides, so that its odor is wafted from one end of the world to the other.{1}

God placed Adam in the Garden, and gave him this commandment :

Of every tree of the garden thou mayest freely eat, but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, thou shalt not eat of it, nevertheless, thou mayest choose for thyself, for it is given unto thee; but, remember that I forbid it, for in the day thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely die (Moses 3:16-17).{2}

Later, the opportunity to choose came to them in the form of a challenge:

10 And the serpent said unto the woman: Ye shall not surely die;
11 For God doth know that in the day ye eat thereof, then your eyes shall be opened, and ye shall be as gods, knowing good and evil (Moses 4:10-11).

No part of what Satan said was truth. His limited definition of godhood—that the gods know good and evil—was especially misleading. While it is true that the gods know both good and evil, that is not the point. It is not just knowing good and evil, but knowing good from evil. This principle, represented by the two trees in the Garden, was understood by the Book of Mormon prophets who made a clear distinction between those who only know the difference between “good and evil,” and those who can also distinguish “good from evil.”{3}

In our world people symbolically may choose between the fruit of the two trees. People who gravitate toward evil may know, through their experience, both good and evil, but they become numb to the feelings by which they can distinguish between them. They fall into an eternal abyss where they “judge that which is evil to be of God, or that which is good and of God to be of the devil” (Moroni 7:14). Only those who gravitate toward the good can exercise the moral rectitude to know the repulsion of evil and therefore know the difference between good and evil, and be empowered by their love of the good. Now Adam and Eve had made the conscious choice that would give them and their children the opportunity to know the empowering secret that only the Gods can know.

In the Garden, Satan himself personified the lie he had told to Eve, “for he knew not the mind of God, wherefore he sought to destroy the world” (Moses 4:6).

Whether Eve understood the distinction between the consequences of choosing between the fruit of the trees, and therefore fully understood what her choice entailed, is not made clear, but we do know that her desire was to become wise (Moses 4:6).

Later she would say, “Were it not for our transgression we never should have had seed, and never should have known good and evil, and the joy of our redemption, and the eternal life which God giveth unto all the obedient” (Moses 5:11).

Ancient Jewish and Christian traditions hold that, while they were in the Garden, our first parents were clothed with garments of light{4} as long as they ate the fruit of the tree of life, but that they lost those garments by eating the fruit of the tree of knowledge. Satan called attention to their nakedness and directed them to clothe themselves in a way appropriate to his domain in their mortal world. They clothed themselves accordingly, and tried to hide from God. When God asked Adam where he was hiding, God was not asking for information. Rather, he was asking them if they really thought they could hide from God. Again, when God asked, “Who told you, you are naked?” he was not seeking information, he was asking them to consider the source of their nakedness and of the instruction to clothe themselves as they were then dressed. They had opened the door of knowing the great secret of the gods. Now, consistent with eternal law, there were set consequences to their actions (Moses 4:28-31).

The eternal law was that sin cannot be where God is. Therefore, when Adam and Eve ate the fruit of the tree of knowledge, they and their children must be expelled from the Garden in order to learn to distinguish good from evil in a physical and cultural environment where pain, sorrow, and evil would replace the peace of the Garden, and that the blessings of the fruit of the tree of life would be replaced by the certainty of death and the threatenings of hell.{5} Consequently, they were expelled from the Garden. But God did not send them out without protection from the evils of the world they were entering. He gave Adam and Eve coats of skins to remind them of the garments of light they had lost. These new garments not only represented his promise that they could return again, they were also a protection from evil and an evidence of priesthood authority.

The tree of life represents the promise of eternal life in the presence of God. Ever since our first parents were driven from their garden temple, they—and we, their children—have sought to return to the peacefulness of the Garden and to its tree of life. The thing for which we hunger is the fruit of the tree of life. The thing for which we thirst is the water of life. The life-purpose of each of the descendants of our first parents, is to symbolically return to the Garden, regain the glorious garment, renew our access to the fruit that guaranteed eternal lives, and reside once more in the presence of God.{6}

The very first covenant that our Father in Heaven made with his earthly children was this: “for in the day thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely die.” Because, from our this-worldly perspective, death is sometimes a fearful thing, those words are usually read as a curse rather than as a blessing. But they are not a curse, they are the words of the covenant that evoke one of the greatest blessings of the Atonement. They say, “If you choose to go down into that dark and dreary world, then, after you have learned what you are supposed to learn, you may return. You are not compelled to stay there in this world because the Lord has provided a way for us to come home again. The promise is, “thou shalt surely die.” The Lord explained,

That by reason of transgression cometh the fall, which fall bringeth death, and inasmuch as ye were born into the world by water, and blood, and the spirit, which I have made, and so became of dust a living soul, even so ye must be born again into the kingdom of heaven, of water, and of the Spirit, and be cleansed by blood, even the blood of mine Only Begotten; that ye might be sanctified from all sin, and enjoy the words of eternal life in this world, and eternal life in the world to come, even immortal glory (Moses 6:59).

God assured Adam that there is a way to come back into his presence. The blessings of the Atonement permit one to regain access to the tree which is equivalent to returning to the presence of God.{7} Throughout all time, the door to that heavenly world has been the temple. The symbols of the tree of life are symbols of its hope.

The royal scepter is a branch of the tree of life.

According to ancient tradition, when Adam left the Garden of Eden, he took two things with him. One was the garment of skins that represented his priesthood and would be his protection. The other was a branch of the tree of life. This branch became his kingly scepter.{8} Adam was thus the world’s first high priest and its first king.{9}

Tradition also holds that the branch of the tree of life that Adam took from the garden was passed down through the generations until it became Moses’s “rod of God” (Exodus 4:20, 17:9). Moses gave it to his brother Aaron,{10} for whom it blossomed as an evidence of his priesthood authority. Thereafter, it was kept in the Ark of the Covenant in the Holy of Holies in the Tabernacle.
As one would expect, in other ancient cultures, where the king had no legitimate claim to priesthood supported kingship, the kings adopted the forms and titles of legitimacy. Thus the tradition of a tree of life as a source of power and goodness is found in Mesopotamia, Egypt, Palestine, Greece,{11} and in ancient America.{12}

Almond represented the tree of life.

In his book about of the menorah, Leon Yarden suggests that at the time of the Exodus, the symbol of the tree of life was the almond tree. He reports that the “almond is the first tree of spring in the Near East” and “the last to shed its leaves.”{13} It has large white blossoms that were chosen by the Lord to be the pattern for the bowls of the lamps at the end of each arm of the menorah (Exodus 25:33-34). When Aaron’s staff blossomed and bore fruit, it “yielded almonds” (Numbers 17:8).{14}

There are many kinds of trees and other plants that have been used to represent the tree of life—the olive tree, date palm,{15} and grape vines.{16}

Wheat and therefore Bread represented the tree of life.

Wheat might also represent the tree of life. The bread that is made from wheat is one of the most important symbols of the fruit of the tree of life, as discussed below.

Grape vine represented the tree of life.

In the New Testament, the Savior spoke of himself as a grape vine, and that it was symbolic of the tree of life (John 15:1-9). It appears that when the Savior described himself as a vine, he was citing an ancient prophecy that we do not now have in our scriptures. Apparently, from that same ancient source both Nephi and Alma used the same simile, suggesting there may have been a prophecy on the brass plates with which the people were familiar (Alma 16:17).

Olive tree represented the tree of life.

Nephi wrote of the “true vine” and the “true olive tree” as though they were the same representation of the tree of life (1 Nephi 15:15-16, 21-22).

Of the variety of trees that represented the tree of life, the one that is most frequently associated with it is the olive tree. Its fruit is edible; its oil was one of the most precious commodities in the ancient near East. The olive oil was used for many things, most notably for cooking, for light, for healing the body, and for ceremonial anointing. Its fruit represented the fruit of the tree of life, while its oil represented the waters of life. In an excellent paper, Stephen Ricks cited a number of ancient sources to show that the olive tree was most commonly associated with the tree of life.{17}

In an incomplete Serbian version of the Secrets of Enoch, the tree of life is described as being “in that place where God rests.” Enoch saw the Garden and wrote:

Every tree sweet-flowering, every fruit ripe, all manner of food perpetually bubbling with all pleasant smells, and four rivers flowing by with quiet course, and every [thing that] growth is good, bearing fruit for food, and the tree of life is at that place, at which God rests when he goes up into Paradise, and that tree is ineffable for the goodness of its sweet scent, and another olive tree alongside was always discharging the oil of its fruit.{18}

The phrase, “another olive tree alongside,” suggests that the tree of life was an olive tree. In the Revelation of John, he says that “the leaves of the tree were for the healing of the nations” (Revelation 22:2). It is likely that Joseph Smith had that scripture in mind when he sent a copy of the revolation that is now section 88 of the Doctrine and Covenants to W. W. Phelps. Joseph wrote,

I send you the “olive leaf” which we have plucked from the tree of Paradise, the Lord’s message of peace to us.{19}

The waters of life.

The symbolism of the tree of life and the waters of life representing the way to return to the presence of God is most apparent by their proximity to the ancient temples—both in fact and in prophecy. The waters of life are living, moving, tranquil waters.{20} They give life as rain, rivulets, and great rivers, but they are never stagnant and never salty.

As the pure waters of life that flow from the tree and lead the way of Lehi’s tree, so the pure waters of baptism also bring one to the tree.

In an apocryphal gospel that cannot otherwise be identified, when Jesus was asked why he and his followers did not wash according to the Law of Moses, he replied, “But I and my disciples, of whom thou sayest that we have not immersed ourselves, have been immersed in the living water.”{21}

As was true of many ancient temples, Solomon’s Temple was built near a constant flowing spring. The great outcropping of rock on which the Templet stood was just above the Spring Gihon. In the courtyard of the Temple there was a great bronze basin supported by twelve oxen. Trees were also planted in the Temple courtyard.{22} Widengren observed,

The paradise garden contained within it not only the Tree of Life but also the Water of Life….For the ritual background of this mythical conception it is important to note that we find in Palestine a connexion between water and tree, between temple basin and sacred grove, which clearly reflects the Water of Life and Tree of Life in paradise.{23}

The 52nd Psalm seems to allude to that where it reads, “But I am like a green olive tree in the house of God: I trust in the mercy of God for ever and ever.” Ahlstrom shows that the waters that flow from the temple in Joel’s prophecy are the waters of life.

When Joel promises that a well will flow forth from the temple of Yahweh, he strikes the tones of paradisiacal chords. Here he is speaking of the ideal time to come. Just as a stream goes out from Eden to water the garden in Gen. 2:10, so also will a spring well up from the temple and water the valley of acacias. This kind of parallel can be drawn because the temple can be compared with the garden of paradise. Accordingly, one ought to find some kind of symbolic or ideological “identity between the streams of Eden and the water-sources which will spring forth from the Temple in the days to come.” This identity can already be found in Psalms such as 36:9 and 63:6. Thus, one could maintain that the trees of the valley of Shittim, the valley of acacias, belong to the same category as the trees of the garden of paradise.

The water flowing forth from the temple well is then given the character of the water of life, which, among other things, will water the valley of acacias, Shittim; thus, the growth of these trees will be guaranteed. Ideologically, this could mean that the water from this temple well can make “the whole world” into Yahweh’s garden.{24}

As though they were a single unit, the tree, the water, and the temple all come together as a way to return to God.
Religious literature, ancient and modern, is replete with images of a tree of life that is to be planted in a goodly land by a pure stream. Some typologies regard it as the link at the very navel of the earth—the source of nourishment between parent and child—and place it at the temple mount in Jerusalem, where heaven and earth meet.{25}

At the conclusion of John’s Revelation, he was shown the celestial city. He wrote, “I saw no temple therein: for the Lord God Almighty and the Lamb are the temple of it” (Revelation 21:22). He saw God’s throne bearing the identifying characteristics of a sacred temple—the immediate proximity of the tree of life and the waters of life (Revelation 22:1-5).

John’s book of Revelation is like Lehi’s vision in that it describes our struggle to return to the tree of life. The difference is that while Lehi talks about individual family members, John talks about an entire celestial culture. In John’s vision, those who are worthy to enter the celestial city are those who have the right to eat of the fruit of the tree of life—they are celestial kings and queens—“the Lord God giveth them light: and they shall reign for ever and ever.”

Almost a year after the Prophet Joseph died, John Taylor, editor of the Times and Seasons published a poem that expressed the importance of the tree of life and the waters of life. It was introduced by these words:

We present a page, preceding Genesis, from an old Bible printed in 1582, which is 263 years old. We have no facsimile of the border or type, but follow the arrangement and spelling.
Here is the spring where waters flowe,
to quenche our heate of sinne:
Here is the tree where trueth doth grow,
to leade our liues therein:
Here is the judge that stintes the strife,
when mens deuices faile:
Here is the tree that feedes the life,
that death cannot assaile.
The tidings of salutation deare,
comes to our eares from hence:
The fortresse of our faith is here,
and shield of our defence.{26}

All this was encapsulated in only a few words by Alma.

34 Yea, he saith: Come unto me and ye shall partake of the fruit of the tree of life; yea, ye shall eat and drink of the bread and the waters of life freely (Alma 5:34).

There were probably two major reasons why the olive was chosen to represent the tree of life. One is that an individual olive tree may live for hundreds of years. In any village, the oldest person could remember his grandfather’s saying the tree was there when he was a boy, and could anticipate that it would still be there for many generations of his own posterity to enjoy. The second is that the oil of its fruit was the ultimate representation of the waters of life.

The waters of life represented by olive oil.

The oil produced by the olive tree also represented the waters of life, and its use as an anointing was a cleansing, an endowment of power and authority, and ultimately the promise of both knowledge and eternal life. The method of the anointing was explained by the Lord to Moses, “Then shalt thou take the anointing oil, and pour it upon his head, and anoint him” (Exodus 29:7; Leviticus 21:10). In a letter to the members of the primitive church, the apostle John explained its significance.

But ye have an unction [anointing] from the Holy One, and ye know all things. …Let that therefore abide in you, which ye have heard from the beginning. If that which ye have heard from the beginning shall remain in you, ye also shall continue in the Son, and in the Father. And this is the promise that he hath promised us, even eternal life. … But the anointing which ye have received of him abideth in you, and ye need not that any man teach you: but as the same anointing teacheth you of all things, and is truth, and is no lie, and even as it hath taught you, ye shall abide in him (1 John 2:20-27).

Those who were anointed with olive oil were prophets, priests, and kings. There are no accounts in the scriptures that describe the anointing of a prophet. However, there is evidence that prophets were anointed.{27} Perhaps the most complete description of the anointing of a prophet is in Enoch’s account of his own sode experience:

On the tenth Heaven, Aravoth, I saw the appearance of the Lord’s face, like iron made to glow in fire, and brought out, emitting sparks, and it burns. Thus I saw the Lord’s face, but the Lord’s face is ineffable, marvelous and very awful, and very, very terrible. And who am I to tell of the Lord’s unspeakable being, and of his very wonderful face? and I cannot tell the quantity of his many instructions, and various voices, the Lord’s throne very great and not made with hands, nor the quantity of those standing round him, troops of cherubim and seraphim, nor their incessant singing, of his immutable beauty, and who shall tell of the ineffable greatness of his glory? And I fell prone and bowed down to the Lord, and the Lord with his lips said to me: “Have courage, Enoch, do not fear, arise and stand before my face into eternity.” And the archistratege Michael lifted me up, and led me to before the Lord’s face. And the Lord said to his servants tempting them: “Let Enoch stand before my face into eternity,” and the glorious ones bowed down to the Lord, and said: “Let Enoch go according to Thy word.” And the Lord said to Michael: “Go and take Enoch from out his earthly garments, and anoint him with my sweet ointment, [Charles’ footnote reads: “oil” ] and put him into the garments of My glory.” And Michael did thus, as the Lord told him. He anointed me, and dressed me, and the appearance of that ointment is more than the great light, and his ointment is like sweet dew, and its smell mild, shining like the sun’s ray, and I looked at myself, and was like one of his glorious ones.{28}

Levi, one of the twelve sons of Jacob, had a somewhat similar experience, but he focuses on different details.

And there again I saw a vision as the former, after we had spent there seventy days. And I saw seven men in white raiment saying unto me: Arise, put on the robe of the priesthood, and the crown of righteousness, and the breastplate of understanding, and the garment of truth, and the plate of faith, and the turban of the head, and the ephod of prophecy. And they severally carried (these things) and put (them) on me, and said unto me: From henceforth become a priest of the Lord, thou and thy seed for ever. And the first anointed me with holy oil, and gave to me the staff of judgement. The second washed me with pure water, and fed me with bread and wine (even) the most holy things, and clad me with a holy and glorious robe. The third clothed me with a linen vestment like an ephod. The fourth put round me a girdle like unto purple. The fifth gave me a branch of rich olive. The sixth placed a crown on my head. The seventh placed on my head a diadem of priesthood, and filled my hands with incense, that I might serve as priest to the Lord God. And they said to me: Levi, thy seed shall be divided into three offices, for a sign of the glory of the Lord who is to come. And the first portion shall be great; yea, greater than it shall none be. The second shall be in the priesthood. And the third shall be called by a new name, because a king shall arise in Judah, and shall establish a new priesthood, after the fashion of the Gentiles [to all the Gentiles]. And His presence is beloved, as a prophet of the Most High, of the seed of Abraham our father. Therefore, every desirable thing in Israel shall be for thee and for thy seed, And ye shall eat everything fair to look upon, And the table of the Lord shall thy seed apportion. And some of them shall be high priests, and judges, and scribes; For by their mouth shall the holy place be guarded. And when I awoke, I understood that this (dream) was like the first dream. And I hid this also in my heart, and told it not to any man upon the earth.{29}

The Lord gave Moses explicit instructions about how a priest should be anointed.{30} Kings were anointed twice: once to become kings, and the second time as king. Weisman describes “two biblical patterns in the employment of the anointing [of kings] for different purposes.” He likens the early “nominating anointings” of Saul and David as king-designate to a “betrothal,” and their later anointings as kings to the marriage itself.{31} These double anointings were common in the ancient Near East. During the Assyrian New Year festival, the heir apparent took the role of the king while his father, the real king, took the priestly role of the god.

The divinization from nativity is further confirmed by the enthronement of the crown prince in the bit riduti and the coronation of the king. The former comprises the consultation of the gods, the summoning of the nobles, the proclamation, swearing of oaths, paying of homage, and concluding banquets….Above all he [the crown prince] can therefore, as often actually occurred, officiate instead of the king at the New Year Festival. The definitive divinization takes place with the coronation and enthronement of the king…. Especially worth observing are the facts that the king himself officiates as high priest in the ceremony.{32}

This practice of anointing one to become king, and later being anointed as king, is not shown in the Book of Mormon. However, having the crown prince serve in the role of the king while the reigning king serves in the role of the prophet is very like King Benjamin’s story. Mosiah, the king’s son, seems to be in charge of much of the formal proceedings, while King Benjamin functioned as the prophet. It is relevant to note that King Benjamin’s father, Mosiah, had been a prophet as well (Mosiah 2:31).

The Old Testament shows several instances where a successor king was anointed to become king before he was actually anointed king. There is also evidence in the Book of Mormon that kings were anointed, beginning with Nephi’s successor.

Now Nephi began to be old, and he saw that he must soon die; wherefore, he anointed a man to be a king and a ruler over his people now, according to the reigns of the kings (Jacob 1:9).

The phrase, “ according to the reigns of the kings,” probably means that Nephi used the same forms and ordinances that were used in Jerusalem. Lehi’s four oldest sons had seen three kings coronated, so the form would have been familiar to them. However, the Book of Mormon shows that the practice of anointing kings predated even our earliest accounts in the Old Testament, for most of the references to anointing kings in the Book of Mormon come from the book of Ether whose origins go back to the Tower of Babel.{33}

Anointing oil was a product of the fruit of the tree of life,
and represented the waters of life.

In the story of Joseph and Aseneth, there is a description of Joseph’s clothes and regalia when he was made second only to Pharaoh. In his hands, he held a staff and a scepter that was an olive branch. In this story, not only the branch but also the fruit and its oil represented Joseph’s kingly status.

And Joseph was dressed in an exquisite white tunic, and the robe which he had thrown around him was purple, made of linen interwoven with gold; and a golden crown (was) on his head, and around the crown were twelve chosen stones, and on top of the twelve stones were twelve golden rays. And a royal staff was in his left hand, and in his right hand he held outstretched an olive branch, and there was plenty of fruit on it, and in the fruits was a great wealth of oil.{34}

The distinguished biblical scholar Sigmund Mowinckel was the first to point out that the king’s anointing was an “endowment with the Spirit.”{35} The first scripture Mowinckel quotes here, reads differently in the King James version: “Then Samuel took the horn of oil, and anointed him in the midst of his brethren: and the Spirit of the Lord came upon David from that day forward” (1 Samuel 16:3-13). Mowinckel wrote:

[The king’s] anointing was related to his endowment with the spirit. The later tradition says explicitly that when David was anointed, ‘the spirit of Yahweh leaped upon him’.{36}

In virtue of his endowment with the divine spirit, the king is filled with superhuman power. He receives ‘a new heart’; he is changed into a new man (1 Sam. x, 6, 9)….He receives a new disposition expressed, according to oriental custom, in giving to him a new name which indicates his new, intimate relationship with the god who has chosen him, and whom he represents.

Through his anointing and endowment with the divine spirit, the king also receives superhuman wisdom.

The importance of the anointing and its association with the king’s spiritual powers were also described by Professor Aubrey Johnson:

The fact that the king held office as Yahweh’s agent or vice-gerent is shown quite clearly in the rite of anointing which marked him out as a sacral person endowed with such special responsibility for the well-being of his people as we have already described. Accordingly the king was not merely the Messiah or the ‘anointed’; he was the Messiah of Yahweh, i.e. the man who in thus being anointed was shown to be specially commissioned by Yahweh for this high office: and, in view of the language which is used elsewhere in the Old Testament with regard to the pouring out of Yahweh’s ‘Spirit’ and the symbolic action which figures so prominently in the work of the prophets, it seems likely that the rite in question was also held to be eloquent of the superhuman power with which this sacral individual was henceforth to be activated and by which his behavior might be governed. The thought of such a special endowment of the ‘Spirit’ is certainly implied by the statement that, when David was selected for this office, Samuel took the horn of oil and anointed him in the midst of his brethren; and the Spirit of the Lord came upon David from that day forward.{37}

Frederick Borsch’s description is much shorter, but also somewhat more inclusive.

The king is anointed. The holy garment is put on him together with the crown and other royal regalia. He is said to be radiant, to shine like the sun just as does the king-god. He is initiated into heavenly secrets and given wisdom. He is permitted to sit upon the throne, often regarded as the very throne of the god.{38}

The temple rites of the Feast of Tabernacles culminated with this anointing ceremony when the king was adopted as son and legitimate heir of Jehovah. Israel’s relationship with God was a covenant relationship,{39} and the king was the living evidence of that covenant.{40} One gets a feel for the eternal significance of the anointing ceremony in Psalm 25 where the promises of the sode are projected into the eternities.{41} But perhaps the most vivid description of the eternal anointing, clothing, and teaching ordinances, is given in the Book of the Secrets of Enoch, quoted above.

The Tree as the Cross

Some early Christians believed that the Savior’s cross was made of olive wood;{42} that the olive wood cross represented the tree of life; the Savior’s body is the fruit of the tree; and his blood is the waters of life. That is easy to understand if one associates the imagery with the sacrament. Griggs explained,

The New Testament also alludes to the cross of Jesus as a tree. (See Acts 5:30; Gal. 3:13; 1 Pet. 2:24.) Some have noticed that the Greek word used in these passages is the same as that used for the tree of life in the Septuagint, different from the usual New Testament word for tree. According to a number of sources, some early Christians thought of the cross as a tree of life.{43}

One of the early Christian writings that most emphasizes the idea that the cross represented the tree of life is The Gospel of Philip.

Philip the apostle said: “Joseph the carpenter planted a garden, because he needed wood for his trade. It was he who made the cross from the trees which he planted. And (so) his seed hung on that which he planted. His seed was Jesus, but the planting was the cross.”
But the tree of life stands in the midst of paradise. And indeed (it is) the olive-tree. From it came the chrism [anointing oil]. Through it came the resurrection.{44}

The bread of life is the fruit of the tree.

Of the three sacred items that were kept in the Ark of the Covenant, two represented the Savior and the tree of life, the third was the tablets on which the Lord had written the Ten Commandments. The Old Testament tells us of only two, the stone tablets and a jar of manna (Exodus 16:31-35). Paul mentions the third, the staff of Aaron that he put in the ground and the next day it was alive with almond blossoms (Hebrews 9:4). The staff represented the tree of life. The significance of the manna went far beyond its being the miraculous desert food that kept Israel alive during their 40 years of wandering in the wilderness. The manna was an evidence of the power of God to sustain his people—it was symbolic of the fruit of the tree of life, and therefore was representative of the Savior and his Atonement. One of the most amazing of the principles Jesus taught was about that (John 6:32-58).

There is one great, but complex, truth taught by those words: The Savior is the bread of life— symbolized by the fruit of the tree of life—symbolized again by the sacrament of the Lord’s Supper— brought to fruition in the overriding fact that he is the source of all human life, and the origin of all things. The greatest mystery for each of us is “who am I?” That question can only be answered when one can answer the question, “who is Christ.” Then the first question can be answered in terms of the second.
Becoming a tree

In Alma 32, the prophet shows how simply believing, or even desiring to believe in the Savior, is like a seed planted in the heart where it may begin to grow. Alma asked, “O then, is not this real? I say unto you, Yea, because it is light; and whatsoever is light, is good, because it is discernible, therefore ye must know that it is good; and now behold, after ye have tasted this light ….if ye nourish it with much care it will get root, and grow up, and bring forth fruit.” Alma identifies this fruit as “the fruit of the tree of life”; therefore, the tree that is growing within us is the tree of life—that “shall be a tree springing up unto everlasting life” (Alma 32:41).



{1} Louis Ginzberg, The Legends of the Jews (New York, Simon and Schuster, 1961), 1:80-82.

{2} For a discussion of “thou shalt surely die” as a covenant rather than a curse see Who Shall Ascend into the Hill of the Lord, First edition, p. 853-59; Second edition, p. 600-03.

{3} For the distinction between “good and evil” and “good from evil” see 2 Nephi 2:4-5 and 18; Alma 12:31, 29:5; Helaman 14:30-31, Moses 6:55-56.

{4} Stephen D. Ricks, “The Garment of Adam in Jewish, Muslim, and Christian Tradition,” in Donald W. Parry, Temples of the Ancient World (Salt Lake City, Deseret Book and FARMS, 1994), 707-10.

{5} Nephi 2:24-27, Alma 12:23-25.

{6} See Alma 5:62, 32:40; John 2:7; John 22:2, 14; Rom. 11:16–27.

{7} See Revelation chapters 21 and 22.

{8} Geo Widengren, “King and Covenant,” in Journal of Semitic Studies, Vol. II, No. I, 1957.

{9} Geo Widengren, The King and the Tree of Life in Ancient Near Eastern Religion (Uppsala Universitets Arsskrift, 1951), 10-59.

{10} Geo Widengren, The King and the Tree of Life in Ancient Near Eastern Religion, 1951. 38-41.

{11} Rachel Hachlili, The Menorah, the Ancient Seven-armed Candelabrum, Origin, Form and Significance (Leiden, Brill, 2001), 36-39. C. Wilfred Griggs, “The Book of Mormon as an Ancient Book,” in Noel B. Reynolds, ed., Book of Mormon Authorship (Provo, Utah, Religious Studies Center, BYU, 1982), 75-102. Also his “The Tree of Life in Ancient Cultures,” in Ensign, June 1988, 26-31.

{12} See M. Wells Jakeman, Stela 5, Izapa, Chiapas, Mexico; a Major Archaeological Discovery of the New World (University Archaeological Society, Special Publication No. 2, Provo, 1958); V. Garth Norman, “Izapa Sculpture,” Part 2, Brigham Young University, New World Archaeological Foundation Papers, No. 30 (1976):165–235. Irene Briggs, “The Tree of Life in Ancient America: Its Representations and Significance,” Bulletin, University Archaeological Society, No. 4 (March 1953):1–18.

{13} Leon Yarden, The Tree of Light, A Study of the Menorah, The Seven-branched Lampstand, Cornell University Press, Ithaca, New York, 1971, 40.

{14} Geo Widengren, The King and the Tree of Life in Ancient Near Eastern Religion, Uppsala Universitets Arsskrift, 1951, 38-41.

{15} For discussions of the widespread use of the symbol of the tree of life see C. Wilfred Griggs, “The Tree of Life in Ancient Cultures,” in Ensign, June, 1988, 26-31; and Griggs, “The Book of Mormon as an Ancient Book,” in Noel B. Reynolds, ed., Book of Mormon Authorship (Provo, Utah, Religious Studies Center, BYU, 1982), 75-101.

{16} Ad de Vries, Dictionary of Symbols and Imagery (London, North-Holland, 1974), 474.
Stephen D. Ricks, “Olive Culture in the Second Temple Era and Early Rabbinic Period,” in Stephen D. Ricks and John W. Welch, eds., The Allegory of the Olive Tree: The Olive, the Bible, and Jacob 5 (Salt Lake City, Deseret Book and FARMS, 1994), 464-66.

{17} Stephen D. Ricks, “Olive Culture in the Second Temple Era and Early Rabbinic Period,” in Stephen D. Ricks and John W. Welch, eds., The Allegory of the Olive Tree: The Olive, the Bible, and Jacob 5 (Salt Lake City, Deseret Book and FARMS), 464-65.

{18} The Secrets of Enoch, MSS B, 8:1-3, in R.H. Charles, The Apocrypha and Pseudepigrapha of the Old Testament (Oxford, Clarendon Press, 1913), 2:434.

{19} Joseph Smith, Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, selected and arranged by Joseph Fielding Smith (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1976), 18.

{20} James Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance of the Bible. #4496: peaceful, quiet, rest.

{21} An Unknown Gospel of Synoptic Type, in Edgar Hennecke, Wilhelm Schneemelcher, ed., New Testament Apocrypha, 2 Vols. (Philadelphia, Westminster Press, 1963), 1:92.

{22} Geo Widengren, The King and the Tree of Life in Ancient Near Eastern Religion, Uppsala Universitets Arsskrift, 1951, 36. However, there were apparently no trees around Herod’s temple. Hayward, C.T.R., The Jewish Temple, Routledge, London, 1996, 20.

{23} Widengren, Geo, “Early Hebrew Myths and their Interpretation,” in S. H. Hooke, ed., Myth, Ritual, and Kingship, Oxford, 1958, 168.

{24} G. W. Ahlstrom, Joel and the Temple Cult of Jerusalem, (Leiden, E. J. Brill, 1971), 94.

{25} Truman G. Madsen, “The Olive Press,” Ensign, Dec. 1982, 57.

{26} “Ancient,” Times and Seasons, vol. 6 (January 15, 1845-February, No. 7. Nauvoo, Illinois, April 15, 1845 Whole No. 115), 875.

{27} Kings 19:13-16, Zechariah 4:10-14, Revelation 11:3-12.

{28} The Secrets of Enoch, in R.H. Charles, The Apocrypha and Pseudepigrapha of the Old Testament, 2 vols. (Oxford, Clarendon Press, 1913), 2:442-43, 22:1-10.

{29} The Testament of Levi, in R.H. Charles, The Apocrypha and Pseudepigrapha of the Old Testament, 2vols. (Oxford, Clarendon Press, 1913), 2:308-9, 8:1-19.

{30} Exodus 29:4-8; 30:22-33

{31} Ze’eb Weisman, “Anointing as a Motif in the Making of the Charismatic King,” in Biblica, v. 57 no 3, 378-98.

{32} Ivan Engnell, Studies in Divine Kingship in the Ancient Near East, (Oxford, Basil Blackwell, 1967), 17.

{33} Jacob 1:9; Ether 6:22, 27; 9:4,14-15,21-22; 10:10, 16.

{34} Joseph and Aseneth, 5:5, in James H. Charlesworth, ed., The Old Testament Pseudepigrapha, 2 vols. (Garden City, N.Y., Doubleday, 1985). 2:208.

{35} His use of the word “endowment” was appropriate. An endowment is a gift which grows in value with time. For example, when BYU receives an endowment of money, it invests the principle and spends only the accrued interest.
Thus the original gift remains permanently intact, providing a perpetual source of income to support university programs or scholarships.

{36} Sigmund Mowinckel, He that Cometh (New York: Abingdon Press, 1954), 66. For a discussion on the power of new names see, Hermann Gunkel, (Michael D. Rutter, trans.); The Folktale in the Old Testament (Sheffield, England, Almond Press, 1987), 87.

{37} A. R. Johnson, “Hebrew Conceptions of Kingship,” in S. H. Hooke, ed., Myth, Ritual, and Kingship (Oxford, 1958), 207-208, quotes 1 Samuel 16:13.

{38} Frederick H. Borsch, The Son of Man in Myth and History (SCM Press, London, 1967), 96.

{39} Psalm 89:27-30. Stephen D. Ricks, “The Treaty/Covenant Pattern in King Benjamin’s Address (Mosiah 1-6),” BYU Studies, 24:2, 1984, 151-62.

{40} Sigmund Mowinckel, translated by A.P. Thomas, The Psalms in Israel’s Worship, 2 vols., Abingdon, Nashville, 1962, 1:50-61.

{41} For a discussion of Psalm 25 see Who Shall Ascend into the Hill of the Lord, First edition, p. 527-43; Second edition, p. 373-89.

{42} There are two reasons to believe that the cross was probably made of olive wood. (1) Olive was one of the most common trees in the Holy Land and there is historical evidence that it was used to make crosses for crucifixion. (2) The only archaeological evidence of an actual crucifixion still has fragments of olive wood attached to the bone. See, “Crucifixion” in The Interpreter’s Dictionary of the Bible, Supplementary Volume (Nashville, Abingdon Press, 1991), 199-200.

{43} C. Wilfred Griggs, “The Tree of Life in Ancient Cultures, in Ensign, June 198, 26-31. Griggs’s footnote identifies those sources as: “Epistle of Barnabas 11-12; Justin Martyr, Dialogue with Trypho 73; Tertullian, Adv. Judaeos 10.”

{44} Gospel of Philip, in Wilhelm Schneemelcher, ed., New Testament Apocrypha, Revised Edition (Westminster, John Knox Press, 1991), 199. Also see: Gospel of Philip in James M. Robinson, ed., The Nag Hammadi Library in English (San Francisco, Harper & Roe, 1988), 153.


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