Showing posts with label tree of life. Show all posts
Showing posts with label tree of life. Show all posts

Monday, December 28, 2015

Tree of Life and Tree of Knowledge Parallels in the Popol Vuh and the Book of Mormon

One of my favorite topics to talk about with regards to the Book of Mormon is the Popol Vuh. The Popol Vuh is to the ancient Mayan people what the various gold plates that were compiled to make the Book of Mormon were to the ancient Nephites. Both are a history of the people. The word "Popol Vuh" literally translates to mean "the people's book" or "book of the council".

As I was digging through some old materials stored on my Google Drive, I stumbled upon a PDF of an article once published by AncientAmerica.org. As I can no longer find the article or the PDF on that site, I've decided to take the liberty of publishing it here on AmericanTestament.com.

The article briefly summarizes some tantalizingly similar parallels between a "tree of life" or "tree of knowledge" mentioned in the Popol Vuh and the same as mentioned in the Bible and the Book of Mormon.

The Ancient America Foundation (AAF) is pleased to present AAF Notes: a series of research articles by scholars of Book of Mormon culture and history and reviewed by AAF editors. Visit our Web site: http://www.ancientamerica.org 

Parallels in the Popol Vuh and the Book of Mormon Relative to the "Tree of Life" and the "Forbidden Tree" 

By V. Garth Norman 

There are distinctive parallels in the Popal [sic] Vuh to the tree of Life and the forbidden tree that are reflective of these trees from the Book of Mormon.

The Book of Mormon teaches the doctrine of the fall from the Genesis tree of life and the forbidden tree (2 Nephi 2:15-20; 42: 2, 7). There are subtle references to the same doctrine taught in story form in the Popol Vuh, Part 11, Chapter 3, that includes both tree symbols. Experts on the Popol Vuh are generally agreed, after much study, that the Popal Vuh is a genuine pre-Columbian sacred book of the Quiche Maya that was not composed around Biblical passages by the Indians, as some have supposed, to gain influence with the Spaniards. We can consider the Book of Mormon book of Nephi as the potential original resource record, because the Quiche chronicler knew there was an ancient book "no longer to be seen" from which his compilation of the Popol Vuh had originated (Recinos 1950: 79).

First, an ancient related source contemporary with the Book of Mormon has been observed on Izapa Stela 2, dating to about 200 B.C. In my Izapa Sculpture work (Norman 1976: 94) I compare the Calabash (gourd) tree on Stela 2 with the Popol Vuh "tree of life." I believe there is a direct connection between these two sources. Two figures that appear to be offspring (fruit) of the Stela 2 tree compare to the hero twins, the first ancestors of the Quiche, who were sired when their mother, Xquic, partook of the forbidden gourd tree. They compare to Eve's first two sons born after she partook of the forbidden tree.

Other elements of this tree, which others have compared to the Book of Mormon tree of life that imparted eternal life, are the beauty of the tree with its sweet white fruit, and renewed life through the maiden partaking of its fruit. Careful examination of the details reveals that this gourd tree is closer to the "forbidden tree of knowledge of good and evil," and another tree represents the tree of life.

The maiden does not seem to have had knowledge that life would come from the tree (through her offspring) until after the fact. The fruit of the gourd tree is not described in the Popol Vuh text as being either beautiful or white. The maiden says, "Is it not wonderful to see how it is covered with fruit" which "must be very good?" Her wonderment was that the previously barren tree had become fruitful, not that it was beautiful. An assumption of beauty equating with white fruit can be made from the skull bone of Hun-Hunahpu placed in its branches being naturally white and the fruit matching the skull. In reality, the gourd is green, and only after losing its husk does the dried gourd pod take a beige color that resembles the skull. The skull of Hun Hunahpu hidden in the tree lamented that it had no flesh, because "the flesh is all which gives . . . a handsome appearance," and after death, "men are frightened by their bones." So any whiteness in this context implies a bone fear of death, not beauty, joy, and life. Tedlock's Popol Vuh translation (page 114, footnote on page 274) observes that the reference to desirable, delicious fruit has to be metaphorical because the gourd is not edible, but the mystery is unsolved. Does it survive from an original tree of life or forbidden fruit account in the Book of Mormon?

An implied Book of Mormon tree of life correspondence is really nearer to Eve's encounter with the Genesis "tree of knowledge of good and evil" than to the tree of life. Adam and Eve were forbidden to partake of the fruit in consequence of death, and when Eve partook, they were cast out to the earth where they became mortal, had children, and became subject to death. They also had two sons, Cain and Abel, who became locked in a life-death struggle that introduced the ultimate evil of murder as part of the fall that had to be overcome by the redemption of Christ. This compares to the ancestral twins, Hunahpu and Xbalanque of the Popol Vuh, who were locked in a life-death struggle with their two elder brothers. Because of their abusiveness, the two elder brothers were changed through sorcery into animals that resembled monkeys and went off and lived in the forest (Part II, Chapter 5). This compares to the elder brothers Laman and Lemuel who became cursed because of their rebellion and began living primitive life styles in the forest (2 Nephi 5:21, 24). In this, we appear to have a Genesis account mixed with the original ancestors from Lehi's first four sons in the Book of Mormon.

The inhabitants of Xibalba were forbidden to approach the gourd tree, and the maiden in anticipation of partaking of its fruit said: "Must I die, shall I be lost, if I pick one of this fruit?" It was enticing, but a fear of death lingered from the skull that hung in this forbidden tree. I prefer this translation from Recinos rather than Tedlock's translation, who felt this passage makes more sense if it refers to the fruit dying and being wasted rather than the maiden.

The real tree of life in the Popol Vuh myth was not the Calabash but another tree. Upon her partaking of the Calabash, a judgment of death by sacrifice was pronounced upon the maiden, but she escaped death through the mediation of a "tree of light" that glowed when it provided red sap as a substitute for her blood and heart for a sacrifice in her behalf so that she could be exiled to the earth and live. The tree is identified as the Chuh Cakche, a large tree the Mexicans called Ezauahuitl, "tree of blood," also identified in Chiapas, and in Guatemala where it is called Pilix and Cancante that is also distinguished for its white leaves and stems. Is not this white "tree of light" a direct reflection from the Book of Mormon tree of life?

An important point of correspondence, according to Mormon theology, is the condition that the human race would not have been propagated without Adam and Eve being exiled to the earth after partaking of the forbidden tree's fruit. Also, consequence of death that came with mortality was overcome through the atoning blood sacrifice of Christ as mediator in their behalf. And we learn from the Book of Mormon that the tree of life that ensured eternal life was the symbolic embodiment of Christ as the Redeemer through his atoning sacrifice (I Nephi 11).

These interesting parallels are not proof of a Book of Mormon connection, but they are good evidence for a Popol Vuh origin for those who accept highland Guatemala as the land of Nephi where Nephi compiled his book contained in the Book of Mormon after arriving in the promised land in the sixth century B.C. (see 1 Nephi 19).


Norman,V. Garth. Izapa Sculpture; Part 2 Text. Papers of the New World Archaeological Foundation, No. 30. Provo. 1976.

Recinos, Adrian. Popol Vuh, the Sacred Book of the Ancient Quiche Maya. English version by D. Goetz and S. G. Morley from Spanish translation by Adrian Recinos. University of Oklahoma Press, Norman. 1950.

Tedlock, Dennis. Popol Vuh; A Definitive Edition of the Maya Book of the Dawn of Life, and the Glories of God and Kings. Simon and Schuster, New York. 1985.

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Monday, May 14, 2012

Evolution, secularism, and Lehi's vision of the Tree of Life

Last night, as I drove around with two of my three rambunctious boys who watched church DVDs in the car while their mom had a moment to herself on Mother's Day, I was listening to "Lehi's Dream and Nephi's Vision as Used by Church Leaders". The talk was given Saturday, May 11th, at the 40th annual Sidney B. Sperry symposium by Mary Jane Woodger, who is a member of BYU's Church History and Doctrine department.

What a great talk it was! Practically every application of that scripture was considered, outlined, and summarized. Ms. Woodger reviewed many important statements by latter-day prophets on the vision.

I love Lehi's vision of the Tree of Life because everywhere you look, you can find an application for it. It's a painting for the mind and the soul and a guidepost on our way back to live eternally with our Father in Heaven.

My interest in Lehi's vision is amplified whenever a I see an article online that purports to shoot holes in the beliefs of those of us who believe in God.

A great example of a hubris-filled article, The Whys of Religion vs. Evolution, was written by evolutionary biologist Jerry Coyne, a University of Chicago professor of ecology and evolution. He has made part of his life's career debunking religion, particularly creationism and the alternate framework of Intelligent Design.

Professor Coyne's work is one of many fulfillments of Lehi's vision of the Tree of Life. That it mentions evolutionary "trees of life" is ironic given the symbolism in Lehi's vision of the true Tree of Life (Christ, the Creator).

As if he were standing in one of the windows of the great and spacious building, Professor Coyne confidently states:
“If you live in a society that is dysfunctional and unhealthy, where people are doing better than you, you need solace from somewhere. You get it from religion,” said Jerry Coyne. “The thing that blocks acceptance of evolution in America is religion.” Coyne's talk, sponsored by the Harvard Museum of Natural History, was part of its “Evolution Matters” lecture series.
Coyne further concludes:
Despite this evidence, many Americans refuse to believe in evolution because they hold tightly to religious beliefs, most of which are taught in childhood well before young people learn of evolution, Coyne said. Three-quarters of Americans profess an absolute belief in God, and 63 percent believe in angels. 
The problem with evolution from a religious point of view, Coyne said, is that it doesn’t just assail religious views of human origin, it also erodes the religious underpinnings of the idea that humans are somehow special, that our lives have purpose and meaning, and that we need to be moral. 
The answer, Coyne said, is to address society’s ills so Americans live in a more secure and level society.
This is a prime example of Lehi's vision in reality.

Additionally, it closely parallels the account of an encounter Alma had with a man named Korihor, who also distributed secular teachings as "truth". We read in Alma 30:

 16 Ye look forward and say that ye see a remission of your sins. But behold, it is the effect of a frenzied mind; and this derangement of your minds comes because of the traditions of your fathers, which lead you away into a belief of things which are not so.
 17 And many more such things did he say unto them, telling them that there could be no atonement made for the sins of men, but every man fared in this life according to the management of the creature; therefore every man prospered according to his genius, and that every man conquered according to his strength; and whatsoever a man did was no crime.
 18 And thus he did preach unto them, leading away the hearts of many, causing them to lift up their heads in their wickedness, yea, leading away many women, and also men, to commit whoredoms—telling them that when a man was dead, that was the end thereof.
24 Ye say that this people is a free people. Behold, I say they are in bondage. Ye say that those ancient prophecies are true. Behold, I say that ye do not know that they are true.
 25 Ye say that this people is a guilty and a fallen people, because of the transgression of a parent. Behold, I say that a child is not guilty because of its parents. [Today: "It's evolution!"]
 27 And thus ye lead away this people after the foolish traditions of your fathers, and according to your own desires; and ye keep them down, even as it were in bondage...

While you read the rest of that story to find out what happened to Korihor (and Nehor and Sherem before him), I will go tend to my rambunctious boys.

Saturday, February 2, 2008

Nephi Sees the Vision of Lehi (1 Nephi 11)

Listen now!Nephi's desires to see and hear what his father saw come to fruition in Chapter 11. Not only does Nephi experience the same vision, but he is also given the meaning or interpretation of each of the elements shown.

What you're about to read is one of the most profound moments of the Book of Mormon. In beautiful metaphor, Nephi is shown the coming of the Son of God. He is taught the meaning of the tree, the fruit, the rod of iron, the fountain of living waters, the river of filthy water, and the great and spacious building.

In this and subsequent chapters (11-14), Nephi also beholds, in a continuation of the vision, the future of his descendants in the promised land (the American continents), the death, resurrection, and visit of the Savior to Nephi's people, the fall of his people, and the building of a great and abominable church. Finally, he sees the coming of the Gentiles to the Americas, their prosperity, and their role in ushering in the Second Coming of the Lord.

As Nephi sat pondering what Lehi had seen, he was "caught away" onto a high mountain. The Spirit asked him, "What desirest thou?" to which Nephi responded, "To behold the things which my father saw". The vision was opened to him only after he affirmed that he would believe what the Spirit was about to reveal.

This is the kind of faith we must all attain to, and is a major theme of the Book of Mormon--to accept on faith that which we haven't yet seen or that which we are about to hear from the Lord. Latter-day Saints (members of the LDS faith) practice this kind of faith each time they attend church meetings or general conferences.

The Spirit then shows Nephi the tree, which was precisely as Lehi had described it. Nephi is then asked again what he desires. He responds that he wants to know the meaning of the tree. Next he is shown Jerusalem, then Nazareth, and then a beautiful virgin.

The heavens open and an angel asks Nephi what he sees and whether he understands the condescension of God. Nephi responds that he knows that God loves His children, but that he doesn't know the meaning of all things. The angel teaches Nephi that the woman he sees is to be the mother of the Son of God "after the manner of the flesh". In other words, the Son of God would be born on earth, to a virgin, in a body of flesh and blood, and live among men.

"Knowest thou the meaning of the tree which thy father saw?"

Nephi immediately understood that it was the love of God, being the most desirable of all things.

The angel rejoices, saying "Yea, and the most joyous to the soul." Nephi then sees people falling down at the feet of the Son of God and worshiping Him. The rod of iron or the word of God, leading to the fountain of living waters and the tree, which represent simultaneously the love of God and the Son of God, appears and Nephi understands their meanings. The angel confirms that these symbols represent the condescension of God.

Nephi sees a prophet, John the Baptist, baptizing the Son of God and preparing the way for His mission on earth. He sees the Holy Ghost descend on the Son of God as a dove before He begins his preaching. He sees the multitudes rejecting Him and the calling of the twelve apostles.

The Son of God heals the sick and afflicted, casts out evil spirits, is judged by the world, crucified, and slain for the sins of the world. The people persecuting and rejecting the Son of God are the very same people who are found in the great and spacious building of Lehi's dream.

The angel makes note of this, saying, "Behold the world and the wisdom thereof; yea, behold the house of Israel hath gathered together to bfight against the twelve apostles of the Lamb."

Nephi looks again and sees that the pride of the people in the building is great, such that they would not repent and turn to the Son of God. Rather, they stood mocking Him. The building they were in falls in an exceedingly great and dramatic way.

The angel speaks again, saying, "Thus shall be the destruction of all nations, kindreds, tongues, and people, that shall fight against the twelve apostles of the Lamb."

Right: Modern-day edifice of the "great and spacious" kind, meant only to illustrate the concepts discussed in 1 Nephi 11. LDS artwork depicting Lehi's dream can be found here.

Monday, January 14, 2008

Lehi's vision of the Tree of Life (1 Nephi 8)

Roger Sorenson
Oil on canvas

When the Lord teaches, He teaches using symbols. It was so throughout Old and New Testament scriptures, most especially in the parables detailed in the Gospel of St. Luke.

In chapter 8, Nephi records a significant vision, filled with symbolism, that his father, Lehi, had. This is the most detailed vision account of the Book of Mormon and therefore we should treat it as significant, not only because it is so detailed but because of the many teachings and doctrines that are packed into it.

As you read 1 Nephi 8 and have questions about what each of the symbols in the vision represent, be sure to keep a thumb in 1 Nephi 11 and 1 Nephi 15 which each give a more detailed interpretation. As I describe Lehi's vision, I will link to the cross references for each interpreted element as found in these later chapters to make it easier to correlate them together. Stay tuned, though, because when we get to the later chapters, I'll go into more detail about what these symbols stand for, especially what they can be compared to in our day.

Lehi begins the account of his dream or vision by stating that it is both a reason to rejoice (because of the righteousness of Sam and Nephi) and a reason to warn (because of the rebellious behaviors of Laman and Lemuel).

First, Lehi relates that he saw a man dressed in white who invited Lehi to follow him. Lehi soon finds himself in a "dark and dreary waste" and prays to be delivered from it. After this prayer, he sees a "large and spacious field" and in the middle of it is "a tree, whose fruit was desirable to make one happy".

Lehi eats some of the fruit and finds it is "most sweet, above all that I ever before tasted." It is so delicious, in fact, that he immediately feels a desire to share it with his entire family. He looks around for them and finds that there is a river of water that runs alongside the tree. Trying to find the river's source, he looks and sees that the head of it is a little way off and sees Sariah, Sam, and Nephi standing there as if they don't know where to go.

Lehi motions and calls to them to come to him, and they do. Then, looking also for Laman and Lemuel, he finds them but they refuse to come and partake of the fruit.

Next, Lehi sees a "rod of iron" that "extended along the bank of the river and led to the tree". Next to the rod of iron was a "strait and narrow" path leading up to the tree from the head of the fountain and out into a large and spacious field "as if it had been a world".

On the path were a great number of people who were also trying to get to the tree, as well as a mist of darkness covering the path in places. Some caught hold of the iron rod, successfully arrived at the tree, partook, and invited others to eat. But, upon eating, they looked around "as if they were ashamed".

Lehi then noticed that there was a "great and spacious building" that seemed to stand in the air. The people inside the building were of all ages and types, wearing very nice clothing, and pointing their fingers in derision and an attitude of mocking towards those who had taken the fruit. Those who became ashamed for eating the fruit "fell away into forbidden paths and were lost".

Lehi saw people grasping the iron rod and arriving at the tree to eat the fruit. Others let go of the iron rod before arriving at the tree, fell away from the path and the rod, and fell into a river of filthy water.

There were a great number who did not grab hold of the rod at all, but were "feeling their way towards that great and spacious building", going inside, and imitating the others in the building by pointing their fingers in scorn at those taking the fruit. But those who were eating of the fruit "heeded them not", or refused to pay any attention to them. Those who did pay attention to them fell away.

Laman and Lemuel never did partake of the fruit in Lehi's dream, so Lehi feared for them "lest they should be cast off from the presence of the Lord". Lehi invited them to repent "with all the feeling of a tender parent".