In 1 Nephi 8, in the Book of Mormon, the prophet Lehi has a dream/vision in which he sees a Tree of Life. This dream is retold to his family. His son, Nephi, was particularly interested and desired to know not only if what his father said/saw was true, but what the interpretation of the "Tree of Life" was. In chapter 11, the interpretation is revealed -- it is symbolic of the love of God. Also, the fruit of the tree is symbolic of eternal life.

Elder Jeffrey R . Holland (modern apostle) taught that the tree of life is a symbol of Jesus Christ. He said: “The images of Christ and the tree [are] inextricably linked. … At the very outset of the Book of Mormon, … Christ is portrayed as the source of eternal life and joy, the living evidence of divine love, and the means whereby God will fulfill his covenant with the house of Israel and indeed the entire family of man, returning them all to their eternal promises” (Christ and the New Covenant [1997], 160, 162).

Anyway, is the Tree of Life antidote common in other Near Eastern mythologies?

3 Answers 3


Yes, the Tree of Life is actually a common motif for seemingly many cultures -- not just the Near East. Its symbol and presence in mythology transcends geographical boundaries. Just conducting a basic google search, Wikipedia cites all the many cultures that have portrayed a "Tree of Life" in their mythical/philosophical traditions: Tree of life (Wikipedia). As you can see, the cultures range from Ancient Iran to China to Europe to Mesoamerica. The existence of trees all around the world and their ability to grow, blossom, and provide fruit likely make the "Tree of Life" a pan-human archetype, especially in regards to concepts concerning "eternal life" since trees play a prominent role in the circle of life.

In regards to specifically Near Eastern motifs, I would like to provide another resounding "yes." In fact, I'm not sure if you're aware, but it is also present in Judeo-Christian traditions. Everyone remembers the "Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil" but many forget the other tree in the Garden of Eden -- "The Tree of Life." Genesis 2:9 and 3:22-24 mention the "Tree of Life" in the Garden of Eden story, which most certainly concerns the creation/purpose of mankind and can easily be linked to concepts of "eternal life." Many biblical scholars also propose that the chapter 22 of the Book of Revelation makes reference to it again since it addresses the new garden of paradise and only the righteous will be able to partake in such blessings.

Additionally, Proverbs 11:30 & 13:12 directly reference the Tree of Life, but in Proverbs it generally symbolizes wisdom. In the non-canonical Book of Enoch, the names of the righteous will be allowed to receive and taste the fruits of the "Tree of Life." Though non-canonical, it shows that the idea was alive and kicking in antiquity. Saint Isaac the Syrian (from Nineveh) circa 613 – 700 expands upon this matter and elucidates: "Paradise is the love of God, in which the bliss of all the beatitudes is contained," and that "the tree of life is the love of God." (Homily 72). This seems to correspond to the LDS interpretation that you have listed above.

But assuming you're interested in "Tree of Life" stories that would predate or concurrent with the lives of the LDS prophet Lehi (600 BCE), I would take a special look at The Epic of Gilgamesh. It doesn't cite a "Tree of Life" directly, but it focuses on Gilgamesh's quest for eternal life, and the elixir is a plant (which is unfortunately consumed by a snake). Not a direct relation, but the commonality of a plant providing immortality and a snake disrupting such plans seems pretty interesting.

Ancient Egyptian texts also center around the Acacia Nilotica, which is known as the "Tree of Life." The fruit of this tree would provide the partaker not only with eternal life, but with a plan, i.e. map, on how to get that point: The Tree of Life. This may be of peculiar interest to you since the Book of Mormon mentions that Lehi was learned in the language of the Egyptians.

There are also a series of panels in Nimrod (ancient Assyria), which depict a "Tree of Life" motif, but scholars have not reached a consensus on what it represents exactly, but you can find images of it here.

Your question did not ask about "Tree of Life" motifs in the New World, but since you are broaching a Mormon question, I figured you would have an interest in this region as well. Take a first look at the Wikipedia article I linked to see just how many pre-columbian cultures had Trees of Life in their iconography. But I would also recommend taking a gander at this source: Miller, Mary; Karl Taube (1993). The Gods and Symbols of Ancient Mexico and the Maya. London: Thames and Hudson. The trees connect the realms of the living with the realms of the heavens -- an axis mundi, if you will.

Clearly, there are many representations of it.


The dream of which we read in 1 Nephi 8 is somewhat reminiscent of the Tree of Knowledge story in Genesis 3, except that instead of a snake, there is a man in a white robe, and no harm comes to those who eat the fruit. The parallels seem close enough to suggest a literary dependency.

In Genesis 3:22-24, we read that the Tree of Life bestows immortality, so when Adam becomes aware of his mortality, God is forced to send him out of the Garden lest he eat the fruit of this tree and become immortal. The more ancient Epic of Gilgamesh refers to the Tree of Life (the plant of eternal youth stolen by a serpent) and also tells us that the hero becomes resigned to mortality.

As explained here, the Tree of Life is one of the most pervasive and enduring legends in the history of religion, but is not always associated with immortality. The tree is often associated with the earth goddess. The early Israelite goddess Asherah was often portrayed in iconography by a tree, and could have originally been synonymous with the earth goddess.


The tree of life motif, unsurprisingly, is very wide spread motif in the religions of the world.

For example in Catholicism:

Pope Benedict XVI has said that the 'true tree of life is the cross itself'; whilst St. Bonaventura taught that the true tree of life was Christ himself.

In Eastern Christianity, the tree of life is love itself.

Whilst in ancient Mesopotamia:

The Assyrians had a tree of life which they represented by 'nodes and cross-crossing lines'. It was seen as an important religious symbol.

In the Epic of Gilgamesh, Etana seeks 'a plant of birth' to provide him with a son.

In Urartu, the capital of the Kingdom of Van, in the historic highlands of Armenia, present day Eastern Anatolia, around a thousand years before the birth of Christ, the tree of life was a religious symbol and drawn on the walls of castles as well as on the armour of warriors.

In Avestan literature, that of Ancient Persia, there are several; the most relevant seems to be Gaokerena, a tree that ensures the continuance of life in the universe.


Given the origin of the Mormons in the Americas, it might interest you that there are also such motifs in pre-Columbian meso-American cosmologies, such as the Aztec, Maya, Itzapan, Mixtec and Olmec. It's also prevalent in the North American First People's; for example, the Iroquois, The World on the Turtles Back, which explains the origin of the world in their cosmology, a tree of life is described; whilst the Ojibwe had such a motif, called Nookomis Giizhig, or grandmother cedar.

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