Friday, November 18, 2011

Paganism, Christianity and Understanding the Tree

Just beneath the narrative layers of the Bible (the stories) lies a wealth of information that gets lost in translations and which subsequently is largely missed by popular Christianity. Let me give you a really groovy example:

In our day and age we seem to be gaining new respect for pre-Christian religions, and probably rightly so. Back in the days when the world was largely governed by people’s understanding of nature, incredible wisdom was normal but obviously incomplete. The emergence of Christianity didn’t simply introduce some new religion, but an adaptation of what man knew until then. Or in the words of the delightful philosopher Jacob Needleman  (From the book What is God?):
“I had no suspicion that my own personal discovery of the intellectual content of Judaism and Christianity was mirroring, in its own small way, an immense struggle that shaped the heart of our whole Western civilization two thousand and more years ago. I had no suspicion that the word “God,” which we all take for granted, was, and an idea, actually the work of many gifted minds searching, pondering, plunging themselves into the depths of meditation and contemplation while submitting to the stringent demands of philosophical dialogue, argument and objective logical reflection.”
Alas, in our day and age the stringent demands of philosophical dialogue call with less attraction than the stringent demands of commerce, and in stead of sound theology (or at least sound religious philosophy) the cultural phenomenon called Christianity mostly offers slick how-to books, paper-thin worship songs and T-shirts that speak of buddy Christ. And that is why (a) I wrote Cross On Me – Fear and Loathing on a Pilgrim’s Progress, and (b) humanity is sliding back down the scale of brilliance, right back into the natural religions that Christianity once superseded.

And a primary theme of nature religions is the tree: all understanding starts with understanding the tree – how it brings forth fruits, how half of it exists free in the air while its other half remains hidden and caught in the earth. Especially in forested regions, understanding the tree was greatly appreciated. The word “druid” for instance, by which the holy men of the Celts were known, means exactly that: tree-knower.

And sure enough, folks - including Christians - would benefit greatly from looking at trees, also because the tree is of prime importance in the Bible. Creation started with a garden with the Tree of Life at the heart of it, and redemption starts with the Son of God crucified on a tree. This central tenet of Christian theology, the crucifixion of Christ on a tree, is also a clear statement of how and in what Christian thought supersedes natural thought.

But what to us is wise – namely an understanding of the tree – to the body of superseding thought is folly. Merely understanding the tree proved insufficient, and thus the death and resurrection of Christ entered the philosophical stage. But in order to understand the greatness and brilliance of this idea, one should still understand the tree!

For the Biblical Name Vault, I was looking at the name Allon, which is identical to the Hebrew word allon meaning oak or terebonth. But this word seems to be part of two groups of words; two times two roots that yield their derivations (like trees that yield their fruits) according to their kind, and which somehow brought forth this name Allon through two different  and unrelated evolutions! It made me think of the two differing genealogies of Joseph, the legal father of Jesus. But what was more striking was the groups of meanings that were brought about by these separate roots.

Here they are:

Root 1
The root aleph-lamed-lamed yields the rare feminine noun alla, which means oak, and the much more common masculine noun allon, also meaning oak. In the Bible the oak is often utilized to symbolize strength, but also to mark some location (like the Oak of Weeping, where Deborah was buried). The prophet Hosea mentions the oak as instrument in pagan worship (4:13) and Isaiah tells the satirical story of a man who chops down a tree (like a cedar or oak) and uses half to make a cooking fire and the other half to carve an idol from (44:9-17).

Root 2
The identical root aleph-lamed-lamed yields the word elil, which denotes something worthless, particularly as an object of worship.

Root 3
The root aleph-waw-lamed yields an abundance of derivations, all having to do with protruding or sticking out. The noun ul may mean belly or leading man, depending on the context. The noun ulam means porch. The noun ayil means either ram, door post, leader or terebinth (that’s a kind of oak), depending on the context. The word ela means terebinth as well. And finally the word elon, which is spelled identical to the word alon and the Biblical name Allon as mentioned under root 1 but pronounced slightly different, means again terebinth.

Root 4
The identical root aleph-waw-lamed yields three derivations, all having to do with foolishness: The adjective ewil means foolish. The adjective ewili means foolish too. And the feminine noun iwwelet means folly or foolishness.

Go figure. And while you’re figuring, remember that someone who delights in the Law of the Lord is like a tree planted by water, and that in the new creation, the Tree of Life will stand by the river of life, where it will yield twelve kinds of fruits. And its leaves will be for the healing of the nations.

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