My daughter brought home her art projects at the end of the semester last year. For her final Illustration class project she had drawn a poster of a great tree spreading its limbs into the upper reaches of the page. Stacked beneath the roots of the tree were a pile of rectangular books.
I was a little startled when I saw this picture because I had drawn a very similar image at the same age in high school drawing class. It was a picture of a tree reaching into the sky with stars in its branches and tangled in its roots were the rectangular shapes of city sky-scrapers. I don’t think my daughter has ever seen that drawing because I don’t think I kept it.
It is an odd coincidence. Is the image of the tree a deep-rooted memory that we have not yet forgotten even though we no longer live in trees? A pattern of the mind? An image of the nervous system? Do we dream of trees over and over?
Is there a tree at the core of our being, I wonder?
Since I started my biblical researches some years ago I have been encouraged by the words of the distinguished scholar Peter Ackroyd. He suggested that the hostile portrayal of goddesses in the Hebrew bible, was part of a polemic. Its aim was to discredit any cult of goddesses and to classify them as alien rather than part of the Hebrew popular religion. – Asphodel P. Long, “Asherah, the Tree of Life and the Menorah: Continuity of a Goddess symbol in Judaism?”,
There was a goddess of the old, old world. Her name was Asherah. She was a goddess of trees, of high hills, of animals, and of sexuality. Or she was a living tree or grove of trees. She was a consort of Yahweh or of Baal, of Anu and of El. She was the Mother of all the Gods, and of all living. She was worshipped for thousands of years. She has been erased. The Asherah – the trees that grew near the temples – were all cut down when Yahweh became the One God.
To remember the erased ones does not mean that you have to believe in them. (Although that might not be a bad idea; there are worse things to believe in than trees.) To remember might be to restore something that was taken away. Something that might be useful.
The word Asherah is translated in Greek as alsos, grove, or alse, groves, or occasionally by dendra, trees; Vulgate in Latin provided lucus or nemus, a grove or a wood (thus KJV Bible uses grove or groves with the consequent loss of Asherah’s name and knowledge of her existence to English language readers of the Bible over some 400 years). “Asherah,” Wikipedia.
Eve in Hebrew is Ḥawwāh, meaning “living one” or “source of life” – American Heritage Dictionary
I can tell you right now that Eve was not having any of it. You do not bargain with Eve or tell her what she can or cannot do. She is not putting up with those mind-games. She is a rebel from the word go. That’s why there are all those lies about her. Because you were not going to tell her that she could not eat from the Tree of Knowledge. Hell, no. Do you think you could keep her in your walled garden forever? Do you think she was going to put up with that? Did you think you were going to keep anything from her? Eve is Life; she is unreasonable. She will take whatever you dish out and she will keep coming.
7 Replies to “Eve Asherah”
Look here, she was a sweet lass, our Eve, but she didn’t get it. Life was good in the garden so long as you followed the rules. There were hostiles and beasts out there. They wanted our garden, our stuff, our women and children. But we were safe in the garden, so long as you obeyed Yahweh.
I don’t know what it was with Eve, she had other ideas. So we had to cut her down to size a bit. Shame and belittle her, the rib and the snake and whatnot. Convince her she was second best and remind her into perpetuity. I think you’ll agree, it worked surprisingly well.
As for Asherah. A tree can’t be a god or a god a tree. That’s so…primitive. Who would kill or lay down their lives to defend the tribe in the name of a tree? What kind of tree spirit or whatever would dictate the laws of proper conduct, and of power and property? Trees are for monkeys. Granted, they’re useful. Their wood burns nicely. We can make tools and houses from them. Outriggers and warships. Books too! And fences. But they needed to make way for our pastures, fields and towns – it’s in the Yahweh rules.
So, Asherah had to go.
“- it’s in the Yahweh rules.”
Haha. Yup, that’s classic!
And a couple three millennia down the road you get Wall Street (or The City, I think you call it there?) , the Canadian tar sands, and the deforestation of the Amazon.
Hey Michelle – switching from flippant to fan mode for a moment, this is a righteously good post! That tale of how the old Hebrew goddess’s power over people waned, how she was condensed into a memory attached to a grove of trees and then the trees were chopped down…to make way in heaven for a vengeful patriarch. It makes me think of those cultures and peoples of the Americas which have evaporated in recent centuries as part of the acceptable price for how we live now. (This happens to be on my mind: I watched Dances with Wolves over Christmas, and read in the NYT a desperately sad account of the last elderly survivor of a destroyed people in the Peruvian upper Amazon.) And what a character your Eve is – everyone’s bible needs more of her!
Thanks much, Chris!
Eve took over my keyboard there for a minute. It was quite surprising. I think she’s getting restless in her old story. 🙂
Wonderful post! “Is the image of the tree a deep-rooted memory that we have not yet forgotten even though we no longer live in trees? A pattern of the mind? An image of the nervous system? Do we dream of trees over and over?”
I have always loved and felt connected to trees. As a child I loved to climb them. I love to be near woods, have wooden made objects in my home, watch the swaying of trees in the wind, etc. I can’t imagine life without trees.
There is word that describes branching or spreading out and Teilhard de Chardin used it to describe the evolution of life.. to ramify. Ramify is the root of the word ramification. Life ramifies by spreading out. I love how the image of a tree branching out, both above and below ground, straddling the soil interface between air and earth, means the same thing as life evolving.
One of these days women will take back the power that has been usurped by the Patriarchy. It isn’t about becoming men, it’s about becoming fully woman. It’s not about a war between men and women, it’s about balance. If one hand was withered and dysfunctional we wouldn’t see it as war between the right hand and the left hand if we said we wanted both hands whole. I think most men can appreciate the value of a balanced partnership with a woman.
thanks for a wonderful reminder!
“I think that I shall never see
A poem lovely as a tree…” -Joyce Kilmer
Have always liked this poem. Thought a reference to it belonged here – as I’d always thought the poet a woman. Turns out I was wrong about the poet’s gender. Just another hapless gent.
But there is also the symbolic richness of the tree in each of the artworks Michelle describes above. The daughter’s depiction of the tree rooted in books. I like it. Books whose paper pages are made from the wood of trees… recycled into another tree – the circle of life. OR, the tree of knowledge, grown upon a foundation of knowledge in the form of books (and this leads back to an Eve from Genesis who listened to a snake and ate from the tree of knowledge). [BTW, the snake’s gender… one wonder’s whether that is significant – and then there is the part where Adam throws Eve under the bus instead of pointing out the snake’s roll; hmmmm future gender studies dissertations await]
But I get a different image from Michelle’s artistic foray with tree and substrate. Buildings such as skyscrapers supporting a tree reaching into the heavens… could it be a foreboding of some future dystopian fall of people where the trees retake the land and grow over the mess? Could it be a cry for help – trees save us from ourselves? [Ok, time to put away the tree metaphors – the muck is getting too deep]
On the matter of gender significance it might be appropriate to note here that Joyce Kilmer’s tree in the poem is female. And he ends with the thought:
Poems are made by fools like me,
But only God can make a tree.
your art critic instincts are right on the money, my teenage years were profoundly dystopian. I even wore black lipstick now and then, out of pure rage at the machine. Ah, youth!
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