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The Migration of Symbols, by Goblet d'Alviella, [1894], at

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II. Signification of the Sacred Tree Amongst the Semites.

We have just seen that the adoption of a complex symbol, such as the Assyrian image of the Sacred Tree, does not necessarily imply the acceptance of the myths with which it is connected in its original home. But if distrust is wise when it is a question of interpreting the earliest meaning of these images by means of the beliefs which they represent amongst nations unconnected with the Assyrians, such as the Hindus, the Greeks, the Christians, and the ancient inhabitants of America, this is no longer the case when we have to deal with nations belonging to the same race, or possessing at least a common fund of mythological traditions, as, for instance, almost all the inhabitants of Anterior Asia, from the Tigris to the Mediterranean; though, even then, we have to ascertain whether the interpretation which certain branches of the Semitic race give to their Sacred Trees meets with any confirmation in the texts of Mesopotamia properly so called.—We might afterwards, perhaps, go a step further, and find out, amongst some at least of the nations belonging to other races, whether, in their own traditions, there are not points of contact which justify or explain the assimilation of the Assyrian symbol.

The first question to be inquired into is as to whether we are not in the presence of a mere case of tree-worship. Nearly all nations, and the Semites in particular, venerated the trees which impressed them by the singularity of their forms, the vastness of their proportions, their great age, and especially by the usefulness of their fruits. The first beings, according to the Phœnician traditions, "consecrated the plants which grew on the earth; they made gods of them, and worshipped

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the very things on which they lived, offering up to them libations and sacrifices." 1

M. Bonavia, a botanist who has subjected to a minute examination the flora of the Mesopotamian monuments, maintains that the sacred tree of Assyria is merely an amalgamation of the plants formerly venerated in that country by reason of their uses; the palm for its dates, the vine for its juice, the pine-tree and the cedar for their timber and firewood, the pomegranate for its services in the production of tannin and in the preparation of sherberts. As for the horns grafted on the stem, they would represent the horns of animals,—oxen, wild-goats, ibex, and so forth,—which doubtless were suspended from the branches to ward off the evil eye. 2

I would be the first to admit that purely utilitarian considerations of this kind had originally suggested to the Mesopotamians the worship of certain trees which were afterwards used to represent the Sacred Tree. Yet the boldly conventional form of the latter,—the nature of its hieratic accessories, starting with the symbolical horns of the divinity,—its frequent association with the figure of the supreme God,—the prominence everywhere accorded, in public worship, to its representations,—already imply that it not only exhibits the image of a plant venerated for its natural qualities, but that it must be something more; either the vegetable symbol of a divine power, like the ashêrah mentioned in the Bible, or the simulacrum of a mythical plant like the Winged Oak, on which—according to a Phœnician tradition quoted by Pherecydes of Syros—the supreme God had woven the earth, the starry firmament, and the ocean.

Let us therefore carefully consider what share

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conceptions of this kind may have had in the mythology of the Semitic nations.

In the first place, these peoples frequently represented by a tree the female personification of Nature, who, under various names, and even with different attributes, seems above all to have embodied in their opinion the conceptions of life, of fecundity, and of universal renovation: Istar, Mylitta, Anat, Astarte, Tanit, and others.—At Heliopolis, where the worship of the Great Goddess prevailed, coins present to our view a cypress of pyramidical form, planted beneath the peristyle of a temple, in the very place where other medals have either a Conical Stone, the well-known representation of Astarte, or else the image, or bust, of the Goddess herself. 1

Movers informs us that the Venus of Lebanon bore the local name of the Cypress. 2 At Rome there is an altar of the Palmyrene which exhibits on one of its sides the image of a solar god, and on the other a cypress of pyramidical form, whose foliage admits a child carrying a ram upon its shoulders. 3 M. Lajard quotes in this instance the story related of Apuleius, who, wishing to paint the son of Venus in his mother's lap, depicted him in the foliage of a cypress. 4 To the same class of images belongs the pine in which Cybele imprisons the body of Atys till the spring-time. This tree has been thought to be the simulacrum of the solar god; it seems to me more logical to seek therein the symbol of the Matrix in which Atys awaits his annual resuscitation.

We are all acquainted with the legend of Myrrha,

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another Asiatic variety of Artemis-Aphrodite. Myrrha, bearing Adonis, was transformed into a tree, and, according to a version recorded by Hyginus, was set free by the stroke of an axe. Now, on an imperial coin of Myra, in Lycia, a tree is seen whose fork supports the image of a goddess (pl. v., fig. c). On either side is a wood-cutter with a raised axe. Whatever the meaning of this scene may have been in the local mythology of the period, it is difficult not to refer it to the Oriental representations of the Sacred Tree, in so far as it was a simulacrum of the Goddess.

In Palestine, the Bible tells us, they venerated, beside the stelai or hâmmânim symbolizing Baal, simulacra of Ashtaroth, representing this goddess of the fruitful and nourishing earth under the form of a tree, or rather stake, begirt with drapery and bandelets. These are the ashêrîm which the Hebrews, in spite of the upbraidings of the prophets of Yahveh, did not cease to "construct" and "plant," in imitation of the former inhabitants of the country, from the time when the twelve tribes settled in the land of Canaan 1 till the day on which the King Josiah burnt, near the Kedron, the ashêrah set up by Manasseh in the temple of Jerusalem itself. 2

The ashêrah must then have been a simulacrum, which, like our May-Poles laden with conventional attributes, was at once artificially constructed and planted in the ground. The Sacred Tree of the Mesopotamian monuments exhibits this feature more than once. From the earliest times of Chaldæan engraving, it occurs, as I have above mentioned, under the form of a staff placed on a support and crowned by two branches. On a cylinder found by M. de Sarzec at Telloh, two long strings, plaited like whip-cord, are even seen

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descending from the fork of the tree. According to M. J. Menant, all that it has been possible to find out from the archaic inscription on this cylinder is that it relates to a goddess invoked by a prince who proclaims himself her servant. 1

FIG. 78. CHALDÆAN CYLINDER. (HEUZEY. La Masse d’armes. Paris, 1887, p. 15.)

Fig. 78. Chaldæan Cylinder.
(Heuzey. La Masse d’armes. Paris, 1887, p. 15.)

On other cylinders, reproducing scenes of adoration, or of sacrifice, the rudimentary tree sometimes accompanies and sometimes replaces the image of a naked woman with her heels touching and hands turned towards her breasts. Now, this hieratic type is incontestably the representation of Istar, not the chaste and warlike Istar who was worshipped at Nineveh, but the voluptuous and procreative Istar venerated in particular at Babylon, and more or less related to the goddess of the ashêrim2

This might justify the hypothesis of M. François Lenormant, who not only sought an equivalent of the ashêrah in the Sacred Tree of Mesopotamia, but who also descried,—in the combination so often reproduced in Assyria of the Winged Circle suspended over the Sacred Tree,—the old cosmogonical

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pair of Assur and his companion, the creative heaven and the productive earth. 1

It ought to be noticed that the representations of the Sacred Tree in art become particularly frequent under the Sargonidæ. According to Mr. Boscawen, the symbolical image of the Tree between the two genii is not found prior to the ninth century before our era; 2 and, with rare exceptions, is met with on Assyrian, not on Babylonian monuments. Now it was especially at the time of the Sargonidæ or at least during the second Assyrian empire, that Istar was placed beside Assur as a divinity of the first rank.

There remains to be seen what could have given the Semites the idea of representing by a tree their Great Goddess of Nature. I will here call attention to the interesting essay which Mr. Edw. B. Tylor published in the Proceedings of the Society of Biblical Archæology of June, 1890, under the title of Winged Figures of the Assyrian and other ancient Monuments. The learned Oxford professor points out that in by far the greater number of cases the Sacred Tree of the Assyrian monuments exhibits the form of the palm, and also that the two genii seem to hold towards the tree the point of a conical object, with a reticulated surface, exactly similar to the inflorescence of the male palm. On a bas-relief in the Louvre one of the genii is even seen putting this object into one of the palmettes at the end of the branches.

We have therefore here a representation of the fertilization of the palm by the artificial transference of the pollen to the clusters of the female or date-bearing tree, a process which was known to

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the Mesopotamians, as passages from Herodotus and Theophrastus formally prove. 1

Others have maintained that this object was the cone of a pine or cedar, a fruit well known for

FIG. 79. ASSYRIAN BAS-RELIEF. (PERROT et CHIPIEZ. Histoire de l’Art antique, vol. ii., f. 8.)
Click to enlarge

FIG. 79. ASSYRIAN BAS-RELIEF. (PERROT et CHIPIEZ. Histoire de l’Art antique, vol. ii., f. 8.)

Fig. 79. Assyrian Bas-Relief.
(Perrot et Chipiez. Histoire de l’Art antique, vol. ii., f. 8.)

its prophylactic reputation amongst the Assyrians. In adopting this theory, M. Bonavia adds that the fir-cone doubtlessly performed the function of an aspergillum. The genii would have it to besprinkle the Tree with the lustral water taken from the receptacle which they carried in the other hand, a receptacle which M. Bonavia takes to be

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a metal bucket, and Mr. Tylor a wicker basket. We would thus be in the presence of a true scene of exorcism such as are described in the magic texts of the period. Water, consecrated by certain formulæ, figures indeed with many nations among the procedures employed to put demons to flight. 1

M. Bonavia, besides, adduces the testimony of an Oriental, alleging that certain sects use to this day a fir-cone for their sacred sprinklings. 2

Nevertheless, the monuments seem to decide in favour of Mr. Tylor, who places side by side the Cone represented in the hand of the genii and

Click to enlarge

Fig. 80. Inflorescence of the Male Date-Palm.

the inflorescence of the male date-palm copied from nature (fig. 80).

As a complete representation of the scene already become mythical, Mr. Tylor reproduces a bas-relief on which—in front of the two genii who advance towards the Tree with the inflorescence in one hand—we find two personages kneeling in an attitude of invocation, and holding the end of

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an undulating ribbon which falls from the Winged Disc depicted above the tree.

These personages have generally been taken to be praying, and the two ribbons to be the symbol of the tie which unites the god to his worshippers.

FIG. 81. ASSYRIAN BAS-RELIEF. (Layard. Monuments of Nineveh, pl. 59A.)
Click to enlarge

(Layard. Monuments of Nineveh, pl. 59A.)

[paragraph continues] Mr. Tylor sees therein two cords by which the deities guide or maintain the solar Globe above the palm-tree in order to hasten the ripening of the dates, whilst the two customary genii prepare to accomplish their fertilizing mission.

The representation of the Sacred Tree, in which the traces of a deep and mysterious symbolism have so often been sought, would therefore only have the practical import of a scene drawn from everyday life. As for the intervention of superhuman personages in an operation generally accomplished by the hand of man, this would be merely a proof of the importance which the Mesopotamians attached to the cultivation of their palms and the fertilization of their fruits—at most an historical myth, attributing to gods the invention of one of the processes which have most contributed towards securing these results.—Is this not what seems to be designated by the presence of the inflorescence in the hand of a personage dressed in the skin of a fish, Dagon or Oannes, the amphibious god who is held to have

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instructed the Chaldæans in agriculture, as also in literature, the arts, and the other elements of civilization?

I consider that Mr. Tylor has thoroughly grasped the primitive and somewhat material meaning of the subject handled in his essay. I have, however, already had occasion to show that, amongst the Assyrians, this subject had above all a symbolical acceptation. It must be remembered that they could not attach to the cultivation of the date-palm the same importance as the inhabitants of Lower Chaldæa. In fact, though the palm grows in Assyria, the date does not ripen there. They must therefore have seen in this figured representation something else and something more than the artificial fertilization of the palm.

Mr. Tylor himself suggests, by way of hypothesis, that the genii facing one another might either represent the fertilizing winds, or the divinities whose fertilizing influence was typified by the artificial fecundation of the palm. This operation would therefore have become the symbol of natural fertilization, or rather of fertilization brought about by what we call natural agents, and which the Mesopotamians looked upon as personifications of the divine forces of Nature.

May we not go further, and inquire if this process might not have supplied a symbol of fertilization in general, a symbolical representation of the mysterious operation everywhere performed, under the most different forms, by the fertilizing forces of Nature?

The Tree thus represented is—as we have seen—far from being always a palm; sometimes it is a vegetable species which does not admit of this method of fertilization. Moreover, there are monuments on which the genii are seen holding the Cone, not towards a tree, but towards the face

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of a king or some other personage. The object in question must here have a vivifying, or at least a prophylactic import, like the cedar or fir-cone. "Take the fruit of the cedar"—we read in one of the passages on which François Lenormant hinged his assumption that the genii held a fruit of this tree in one hand—"and hold it to the face of the sick person; the cedar is the tree that produces the pure charm and drives away the unfriendly demons, spreaders of snares." 1

On an archivolt of Khorsabad two winged genii are seen holding the inflorescence in the direction of a Rosette. According to Mr. Tylor,

FIG. 82. BAS-RELIEF OF KHORSABAD. (V. PLACE. Nimroud et l’Assyrie, vol. iii. pl. 15.)
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Fig. 82. Bas-Relief of Khorsabad.
(V. Place. Nimroud et l’Assyrie, vol. iii. pl. 15.)

this Rosette would be nothing else than the crown of a palm-tree seen from below or above. But, in general, the Rosette—whether derived from the rose, the lotus, or any other flower—forms an essentially solar symbol, and the genii who here advance towards it can have no other function—if this scene has a symbolical import—than to revive the power of the sun, to fertilize the calyx from which he issues forth at each succeeding dawn, or perhaps to gather his vivifying emanations for the replenishment of their sacred instrument. It is noteworthy that they hold the latter exactly as the gods of Egypt sometimes handle the Key of Life.

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In short, the Assyrians seem to have drawn from the sexual relations of plants, or, properly speaking, of the palm, the same symbolism, relating to the renewal and communication of life, as did other nations from human sexuality. It is, moreover, quite conceivable that the inflorescence of the date-palm may have performed the symbolical function which elsewhere devolved upon the phallus, as the pre-eminent emblem of the fertilizing force. As for the palm, it naturally became, in this order of images, the symbol of generative nature, or, to be more exact, of the Universal Matrix so plainly personified amongst the Mesopotamians, and even the Semites generally, by the great astral, or terrestrial goddess, represented in the ashêrah.

Yet the two genii with the inflorescence are not the only acolytes who appear, in Assyria, round the Tree. We have seen (pl. v.) that the latter are often two monsters—griffins, unicorns, or sphinxes—represented for quite a different purpose. On a cylinder reproduced above (fig. 64) both genii stand erect on a sphinx which places a foot on one of the lower branches of the Tree, and puts forward its head as if to bite at one of the pomegranates at the end of the branches. This change of attitude would seem to correspond with a variation of the myth; the monsters approach the Tree as if they intended to pluck a fruit or a flower, and this idea becomes still more accentuated if we pass to the neighbouring nations, such as the Phœnicians and Persians, who took from the Assyrians the type of their Sacred Tree, but without either the two winged genii, or the inflorescence of the male palm. Now, we know that the Persians possessed the tradition of a Tree of Life, the haoma, whose sap conferred immortality. We find also, amongst the Western Semites, the belief in a Sacred Tree whose fruit

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had the same power. It will be remembered that the Book of Genesis places in the Garden of Eden two Paradisaical Trees, "the Tree of Life in the midst of the garden, and the Tree of Knowledge of good and evil." 1 When the first human pair, following the treacherous advice of the serpent, had tasted of the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge in spite of the explicit command of the Creator, the latter drove out the guilty ones from the Garden of Eden, saying: "Behold; the man is become as one of us to know good and evil: and now, lest he put forth his hand and take also of the Tree of Life, and eat, and live for ever;" 2 therefore He drove them out, and placed at the east of the Garden of Eden kerubim with the flaming sword which turned every way, to keep the way of the Tree of Life.

It is now no longer possible to interpret the traditions of the Hebrew people without connecting them with the beliefs of the other Semitic nations. Have we not learnt from the version of the Deluge, discovered some years ago in the cuneiform writings, how the Israelitish nation preserved certain Chaldæan myths, whilst transfiguring them by doing away with their polytheistic elements and by introducing a moral factor? The Bible itself dates its oldest traditions from Chaldæa, particularly the narratives referring to the Garden of Eden and its Paradisaical Trees. We will not here enter into the question as to whether the traditional Eden should be located in Mesopotamia or further towards the north-east. But the kerubim who guard its entrance certainly seem to be a creation of the mind revealed in the art and the creeds of Mesopotamia. They have nothing in common with the chubby cherubs of the Christian imagery; they bear a far stronger resemblance to the monstrous genii who guard the approaches to the Assyrian palaces; their name

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in the Bible itself alternates with shôr, "a bull," and numerous indications lead us to assume that they were either winged bulls with the face of a man, 1 or winged genii with the head of an eagle. 2 In the description of the Temple which Ezekiel has left us, he says that the ceiling was "made with kerubim and palm-trees, so that a palm-tree was between a kerub and a kerub." 3 This is exactly the position of the Sacred Tree between its acolytes on the monuments of Mesopotamia.

Moreover, certain cuneiform texts seem to prove that the Assyro-Chaldæans were acquainted with a "Tree of Life." Whether it was thus styled because it served as a simulacrum of the Goddess of Life, or whether it represented this divinity by reason of its own mythical function, the fact is none the less certain, according to Mr. Sayce, that the "divine Lady of Eden," or Edin, was termed in Northern Babylonia "the goddess of the Tree of Life," 4 and Babylon, before receiving from the Semites the name of Bab Ilu, "Gate of God," was called, in the old language of the country, Tin-tir-kî, or Dintir-ra, which most Assyriologists translate as "the place of the Tree (or Grove) of Life." 5

As for the fruits depicted on the Sacred Tree, whether they be clusters of dates, or bunches of grapes, they are naturally adapted to a Tree of Life, since they yield some of those fermented liquors which in ordinary language still bear the name of eau de vie 6

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Sometimes they unquestionably represent pomegranates. Now the pomegranate, which contains hundreds of seeds, has at all times been considered an emblem of fertility, of abundance, and of life. All Semitic nations have used it, as a symbol, on the most different kinds of religious monuments, from the pillars of Solomon's temple 1 to the stelai dedicated to the divinities of Libya. 2 The Tree of Life depicted amongst the bas-reliefs of the Parma baptistery bears pomegranates for its fruit, 3 and it is also a pomegranate which, according to a tradition related by M. de Gubernatis, was the fruit that Eve offered Adam. 4

It must be remarked that, on some Assyrian bas-reliefs, the climbing plant interlacing the sacred tree bears a strong likeness to the Asclepias acida5 Now, as we shall see further on, this is the very shrub which supplied the Hindus and the Persians with their elixir of life.

Finally it is the Lotus-flower, which, contrary to all the rules of botany, sometimes blossoms upon the Sacred Tree and is plucked or smelt by the two acolytes.

We have seen how this flower, which discloses itself every morning to the sun's rays, evoked ideas of resurrection and immortality amongst all the ancient nations of the East. When, therefore,

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we find it on the Sacred Tree of the Phœnicians or the Assyrians, we have every reason to believe that it there represents a "flower of life." This divine flower, like the fruit of the Tree of Life, will doubtlessly have figured in myths whose text has not come down to us, but whose existence is sufficiently revealed by the monuments. In any case, the meaning of this symbolical efflorescence seems to be plainly enough indicated in a scene engraved upon a bowl of Phœnician origin, which M. de Cesnola discovered at Amathus in the island of Cyprus. The Sacred Tree here stands, in its most artificial form, between two personages clad in the Assyrian manner, who with the one hand pluck a Lotus-blossom from its branches, and in the other hold a crux ansata (see above, pl. v., fig. b). The Phœnicians, whose symbols were almost all derived from Egypt on the one side and Mesopotamia on the other, must have known what they were about in thus connecting the Sacred Tree with the Lotus-flower and the Key of Life. It would have been difficult to better express the equivalence of these two symbols. 1

It is evident that, in the absence of texts serving as a direct commentary on the representations of the Sacred Tree amongst the Semites, other hypotheses again may be formulated upon its original or derived meaning.

Thus the Chaldæans must be included amongst the nations who saw in the universe a tree whose summit was the sky, and whose foot or trunk was the earth. 2

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To be sure, this somewhat puerile conception of the universe seems to have been early thrown into the shade, in Mesopotamia, by the more subtle cosmogonical system which, according to Diodorus, made of the earth a boat floating upside down on the watery abyss. 1 The boat in question was one of those, shaped like a bowl or cauldron, which are portrayed in the bas-reliefs of Mesopotamia, and are still used at the present day in the basin of the Euphrates. The hollow interior formed the region of darkness, the domain of the dead and of the terrestrial spirits; at the top stood an immense mountain whose summit served as a pivot to the firmament, and from whose sides flowed the principal rivers.

This "Mountain of the World," or axis of the universe, became the object of quite an especial veneration. The Assyrians located it in the high chains of mountains north-east of Mesopotamia. The Chaldæans named after it some of the great staged temples which they built in the plains of their country. 2 It must be observed, however, that some hymns address it in terms which are perfectly applicable to a huge tree: "O thou who givest shade, Lord who casteth thy shadow over the land, great mount, father of the god Mul!" 3 Another hymn terms it a "mighty mountain whose head rivals the heavens and whose foundations rest on the pure deep." 4

Texts, moreover, prove in a decisive manner that the notion of the Cosmogonical Tree had endured into the traditions, at least, of certain local mythologies. A bilingual hymn of Eridu, that ancient centre of civilization which, at the dawn of

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history, flourished on the borders of the Persian Gulf, mentions a dense tree that grew on a holy spot. "Its root (or fruit) of white crystal stretched towards the deep. … Its seat was the (central) place of the earth; its foliage was the couch of Zikum the (primæval) mother. Into the heart of its holy house which spreads its shade like a forest hath no man entered; there (is the home of) the mighty mother who passes across the sky; (in) the midst of it was Tammuz." 1

This passage seems to connect the Cosmogonical Tree with the Great Goddess of Nature. Whether the latter be regarded as a celestial, telluric, or lunar divinity, Tammuz. the sun, is at once her spouse and child. A cylinder, which M. Menant attributes to the ancient art of Chaldæa, shows us the goddess beside the Sacred Tree, with an infant seated in her lap. 2 Perhaps we ought to see in this the prototype of similar representations wherein Isis, Tanit, and other mother goddesses appear, each with her son, the young solar god.

Another reference to the Cosmogonical Tree occurs in a passage concerning the exploits of Izdhubar or Gilgames, the Chaldæan Hercules. This mythical personage having reached the "gates of the Ocean" encounters a forest of trees "resembling the trees of the gods" which bore "fruits of emerald and crystal." Marvellous birds live amongst the branches; they build "nests of precious stones." The hero strikes one of these birds in order to pluck "a large crystal fruit," and then he wishes to withdraw; but he finds the door

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of the garden closed by one of the female guardians who live "in the direction of the Ocean." The rest of the passage is missing. These details, however, suffice for us to infer that here again the subject in question is a celestial tree, bearing, for fruits, the planets, the stars, and all the "jewels" of the firmament. 1 One cannot but be struck by the strange similarities which this story offers to the legend of Herakles carrying off the golden apples from the garden of the Hesperides, "in the direction of the night, beyond the ocean stream." 2

Might not the Sacred Tree have likewise served to portray, amongst the Chaldæans, an equivalent of the tree designated, in the Bible, as giving the knowledge of good and evil? M. Sayce does not seem unwilling to admit this comparison. He gives prominence to the fact that the name of the god Ea was written upon the heart of the cedar. Now not only was Ea the god of wisdom, but the possession of his sacred names communicated his own knowledge to him who pronounced them. 3 A passage explicitly associates with the cedar "the revelation of the oracles of heaven and earth." 4

Moreover, the scene of the Temptation is believed to have been discovered on a cylinder in the British Museum. Two personages, in whom Mr. G. Smith thought he recognized a man and a woman, stretch forth a hand towards a tree from which hang two large fruits; behind the woman a serpent erects itself on its tail (see above, pl. v., fig. h). 5 M. J. Menant, however, maintains that both personages belong to the stronger sex; in any case, he adds, nothing authorizes us, in face of

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the silence of the texts, to discern in this scene the Scriptural account of the "original sin." 1 At the same time—whilst pointing out that subjects of this kind may lend themselves to innumerable interpretations—he calls attention to another cylinder which might still better be compared with the Biblical narrative. It is the representation of a garden where trees and birds are visible; in the middle stands a palm, whose fruits two personages are engaged in plucking, whilst a third, himself holding a separate fruit, seems to address them. 2

The comparison attempted by M. Baudissin between the Tree of Knowledge and the Prophetic Trees whose office was to reveal the future seems to be less exposed to criticism. 3 The Chaldæo-Assyrians, in the manner of all the Semitic nations, practised phyllomancy, i.e., the art of divination by the rustling of leaves, which was held to be the voice of the divinity. 4 Now, endeavours to gain a foreknowledge of the decrees of the divine will are often considered an encroachment upon the celestial power, a rash act, or even a sacrilege, which calls for punishment.

Cuneiform tablets, commented upon by Mr. Sayce, tell the story of a god Zu who, covetous of the supreme rank, abstracted the "tablets of fate" as well as the attributes of Bel, and having made good his escape in a storm, began to divulge the knowledge of the future. After consulting the principal gods, Bel, to punish him, contented himself with changing him into a bird of prey and exiling him, like another Prometheus, upon a distant mountain. According to Mr. Sayce, Zu is

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none other than "the bird of the storm," common to so many mythologies, which, in the rolling of the thunder, discloses to mankind the secrets of the future, the knowledge of good and evil. 1 It might almost be said that this legend lies mid-way between the Scriptural account of "the original sin" and the Aryan traditions, which we are about to investigate, regarding the theft of fire and ambrosia from the branches of the Cosmogonical Tree.

Finally, Professor Terrien de la Couperie, having noticed that the Sacred Tree of Mesopotamia frequently exhibits the same number of branches (7, 14, 15 or 30), thinks he finds therein an accordance with the days of the lunar month. He instances, in this connection, a Chinese tradition, prior to our era, which tells of a wonderful plant that appeared on both sides of the staircase of the imperial palace, during the reign of Yao. 2 On this plant a pod grew every day of the month till the fifteenth; then one fell every day till the thirtieth; if the month had only twenty-nine days, a pod withered without falling off. It is not difficult to descry in this plant a lunar tree; the Chinese themselves termed it the Calendar Plant, lik-kiep.

We must wait for more decisive proofs before admitting that the Sacred Tree of the Assyrians permitted of a similar interpretation on account of the number of the branches, which does not always agree—indeed quite the contrary—with the subdivisions of the lunar month. We have, however, evidence that the Calendar Plant was not unknown to the Semites, and that it occurred amongst them in connection with the Tree of Life. The Apocalypse (xxii., 2), places in the midst of the celestial Jerusalem "the Tree of Life, which bare twelve manner of fruits, and yielded her fruit every month:

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Click to enlarge

Plate VI.—Migrations of the Eastern Type of the Sacred Tree.

and whose leaves were for the healing of the nations."

Moreover, M. Terrien de la Couperie has shown that the belief in a Tree of Life existed amongst the Chinese. Traditions mention seven wonderful trees which grew on the slopes of the Kuen-Lün mountains. One of them, which was of jade, conferred immortality by its fruit. 1 The question—which I do not pretend to decide—is as to whether this tradition crossed directly from Mesopotamia into China, some forty centuries before our era, or whether it reached that country either by way of Persia or of India at a less distant period.


141:1 Eusebius. Præparatio Evangelica, i. 9.

141:2 E. Bonavia. The Sacred Trees of the Assyrian Monuments, in the Babylonian and Oriental Record, vol. iii., pp. 1–6.

142:1 F. Lajard, in the Mémoires de l’Académie des inscriptions et belles-lettres. Paris, 1854, vol. xx., 2nd part, pl. vi.

142:2 Movers. Die Phönicier, vol. i., ch. xv.

142:3 Mémoires de l’Académie des inscriptions et belles-lettres, vol. xx., pl. i., fig. 2.

142:4 Ibid., vol. xx., p. 221.

143:1 Judges iii., 7.

143:2 2 Kings xxi., 3, and xiii., 6 and 7.

144:1 J. Menant. Les pierres gravées de la Haut-Asie, vol. i., p. 220.

144:2 Id., ibid., vol. i., pp. 170 et seq.

145:1 F. Lenormant. Les origines de l’histoire. Paris, 1880, vol. i., p. 88.

145:2 Babylonian and Oriental Record, vol. iv., No. 4, p. 95.—Yet in the Louvre there is a specimen found in the palace of Ashur-bani-pal (tenth century B.C.).

146:1 "Palm-trees," says Herodotus in his description of Chaldæa, "grow in great numbers in the whole of the flat country; most of them bear a fruit which supplies the inhabitants with bread, wine, and honey. They are cultivated like the fig-tree, particularly in the following respect: The natives tie the fruit of the male palm, as the Greeks call it, to the branches of the date-bearing palm, in order to let the gall-fly enter the dates and ripen them and prevent the fruit from falling off. (Hist., liv. i., 193.—See also Theophrastus. Hist. plant., ii., c. 2, 6, and 7, 4.)

147:1 M. F. Lenormant quotes the following passage from the Cuneiform Inscriptions of Western Asia, vol. iv., pl. 16, 2: "Take a vase, put water into it, place therein white cedar-wood, introduce the charm which comes from Eridu, and perfect thus potently the virtue of the enchanted waters." (Origins de l’Histoire, vol. i., p. 84, note.)

147:2 Babylonian and Oriental Record, vol. iv., No. 4, p. 96.

150:1 Origines de l’histoire. Paris, 1880, vol. i., pp. 83–84.)

152:1 Gen. ii., 9.

152:2 Gen. iii., 22–24.

153:1 Perrot et Chipiez. Histoire de l’art dans l’antiquité, vol. iv., p. 305.—Regarding the word kerub = bull, cf. Lenormant. Orig. de l’hist., vol. i., p. 112.

153:2 Ezekiel defines the kerubim as beings with a double pair of wings, having beneath their wings a man's hand.

153:3 Ezekiel xli., 8.

153:4 A. H. Sayce. The Religions of the Ancient Babylonians. London, 1887, p. 200.

153:5 F. Lenormant. Origines de l’histoire, vol. i., p. 76.

153:6 In the Assyrian language the vine was called karânu, p. 154 which means, according to M. Terrien de la Couperie, the Tree of the Drink of Life. (Babylonian and Oriental Record. October, 1890, p. 247.)

154:1 Kings vii., 18–20.

154:2 Ph. Berger. Représentations figurées des stèles puniques, in the Gazette archéologique for 1877, p. 27.

154:3 M. Lopez, in the Revue archéologique for 1853, vol. xx., p. 289.—Here again the Tree, embraced by a dragon, stands between two animals facing one another.

154:4 Mythologie des plantes, vol. ii. p. 167.

154:5 Sir George Birdwood, who understands the subject in his two-fold capacity of naturalist and archæologist, bears witness to this resemblance in the most explicit terms (Industrial Arts of India, part ii. p. 430).

155:1 In Egypt itself, on a monument of the sixth dynasty, the Atlas of Lepsius shows us a queen with the Key of Life in one hand, and in the other a lotus whose calyx she holds to her nose.

155:2 M. W. Mansell points out that the term gis, a tree, occurs in a lexicographical tablet amongst the figurative expressions which serve to designate heaven (Gazette archéologique, 1878, p. 134.)

156:1 Diod. Sicul. Hist., Vol. ii., 31.

156:2 Sayce. Op. cit., p. 405 et seq.

156:3 Quoted by De Gubernatis. Mythologie des plantes, vol. i., p. 45.

156:4 Sayce. O. cit., p. 362.

157:1 Sayce. Op. cit., p. 238.—M. F. Lenormant has published a slightly different translation of this passage (Origines de l’histoire, vol. ii., p. 104). But the variations do not bear upon the cosmogonical character of the Tree. M. Terrien de la Couperie considers that the plant in question is not so much a tree as a stem similar to the stakes which support the tents (Babylonian and Oriental Record, vol. iv. No. 10, p. 221).

157:2 J. Menant. Pierres gravées, vol. i., fig. 204.

158:1 G. W. Mansell. Un épisode de l’épopée chaldéennes, in the Gazette archéologique for 1879.

158:2 Hesiod. Theogony, v. 274–275.

158:3 A. H. Sayce. Op. cit., p. 133 et seq.

158:4 Id., p. 242.

158:5 G. Smith. Chaldean account of Genesis. London, p. 91.

159:1 J. Menant. Pierres gravées, vol. i., pp. 189-191.

159:2 J. Menant, Pierres gravées, vol. i., fig. 121.

159:3 W. Baudissin. Studien zur semitischen Religiongeschichte, vol. iii., p. 227.

159:4 F. Lenormant. La divination chez les Chaldéens. Paris, 1875, p. 85.

160:1 Sayce. Op. cit., pp. 294–300.

160:2 The Calendar Plant of China, in the Babylonian and Oriental Record for September, 1890, p. 218.

Next: III. The Paradisaic Trees of the Aryans