Defending the Faith: Daniel Peterson: How Nephi understood the Tree of Life (and why the Book of Mormon is an ancient record)

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  • cmtam lake forest, ca
    Oct. 15, 2010 8:29 p.m.

    Bill in Nebraska: The tree of life stood by the river. "Then an angel showed me the 'river of the water of life' as clear as crystal flowing from the throne of God and the Lamb." (Rev 22:1)
    "Whoever beleives in me as the Scriptures has said "streams of living water'(river of life) will flow from within him."(John 7:38) By this he meant,The Holy Spirit(Ghost).
    "As the the deer pants for streams of water,so my soul pants for you O God. My soul thirsts for God,but for the living God..."(Psalm 42:2)

  • Bill in Nebraska Omaha, NE
    Oct. 15, 2010 12:18 p.m.

    To cmtam:

    The Book of Mormon gives a great analogy of the Tree of Life, which is the Love of God, not Paradise. What you are describing is what the New Jerusalem will have and will be built upon the American Continent in the area of present day Kansas City. The entire dream of Lehi and interpretation is given in 1 Nephi in the Book of Mormon.

    Here is some of the interpretation of it:

    Iron Rod = Word of God, the scriptures (ie. Bible, Book of Mormon and currently Doctrine & Covenants) along with modern revelations as they are revealed. There are other scriptures waiting to come forth.

    The River: The wickedness of this world.

    The Spacious Building: The materialistic world.

    Notice that in the vision more people are swayed to the wickedness of this world than who shall partake of the Tree of Life.

    I know where I am in the vision and I hope that I'm able to stay there but I know that the whole thing is fleeting. Where do you think you fall within the vision?

  • brokenclay Scottsdale, AZ
    Oct. 15, 2010 11:59 a.m.

    It brought a smile to my face when I saw a Mormon scholar (of sorts) employ a theory about the origin of the OT that is pandered by miracle-denying theological liberal scholars (the documentary theory--see Peterson's comment about "Deuteronomist priests"). Wellhausen's theory today is largely rejected in Europe (yes, even by the liberals!), which is where it originated.

    It has always struck me as paradoxical how Mormons must defame one of their holy books in order to make another one look better. Supposedly they have a prophet with a direct line to God; why doesn't he just correct all of the error in the Bible and restore its original content? And if this is what the JST's do, then why is the Bible still considered error-filled? Why say that you reverence it when you pick it apart every time you speak of it?

    And there is no shortage of irony when Dr. Peterson links a BoM account with ancient pagan goddess worship. There is definitely a connection there, though its not what Dr. Peterson thinks.

  • cmtam lake forest, ca
    Oct. 15, 2010 9:44 a.m.

    Thes Tree of life is Paradise. Heaven is a literal place. "down the middle the middle of the great street of the city. On each side of the river of life stood 'the tree of life',bearing twelve crops of fruit,yielding twelve crops of fruit every month,and the the leaves of the tree are for the healing nations. No longer will there be any curse. The throne of God and the Lamb will be in the city and his servants will serve him."(Revelation 22:3,4)Describes in part the New Jerusalem the Holy City of God.
    Fruit trees of all kinds will grow on both banks of the river..."(Ezekiel 47:12)

  • Jeff Temple City, CA
    Oct. 14, 2010 10:55 p.m.

    I found Dr. Peterson's article to be very interesting. It's clear that the Tree of Life as a symbol is very important to the Nephites, and this provides a plausible reason why.

  • KC Mormon Edgerton, KS
    Oct. 14, 2010 10:34 p.m.

    Idaho Coug | 7:36 a.m. Oct. 14, 2010
    You said "whiteness of the driven snow" seem out of place among dark skinned and dark haired Arabs living in a very hot, dry, arid, snowless (at least in my understanding) world."
    It does infact snow in Isreal. Infact on Feb. 4 2010 Parts of Isreal recieved upto 1 foot with Jerusalem recieving a dusting. They even have a Ski resort in Isreal, Mount Hermon.

  • HCW Mesa, AZ
    Oct. 14, 2010 9:24 p.m.

    @sharrona | 6:09 p.m. Oct. 14, 2010

    "The tree of life,"which is in the midst of the paradise of God."(Rev 2:7)
    "now the Lord God had planted a garden(paradeisos 3857)in the east of Eden..."(Genesis 2:8 Greek Septuagint)
    Jesus said today shalt thou be with me in paradise(Luke 23:43)
    "...caught up to the third heaven..."(2Cor 12:2)verse 4,was caught up to paradise.


    These scriptures only provide evidence that the tree of life was a concept familiar to the ancient prophets. It is puzzling that the tree is only referred to in passing in the Bible but the BOM delves deeper into the subject. The BOM says a lot about trees, especially the allegory of the olive tree which nobody yet has been able to explain how Joseph Smith could put pen to paper and come up with that complex allegory, especially since a man in his early twenties had no knowledge about composing and writing an allegory. I don’t recall any friends of his who had degrees in ancient cultures and writing that could have been the author for this chapter in the BOM.

  • Sarah Nichole West Jordan, UT
    Oct. 14, 2010 8:51 p.m.


    Throughout the scriptures, multiple people have visions of the same things. Prophets from one age to the next often have the same visions.

    Joseph Sr. was a righteous man who was Patriarch of the early church before his death. He was quite capable of receiving direct revelation.

    Over the years, the Smith family certainly had their share of being mocked for the Lord's sake. They had children who lost their way, and they had children who stayed true to the faith, just like Lehi and Nephi's family did. A dream showing just how important it would be for their family to stay true to God is not that surprising.

    The scriptures show multiple accounts of visions coming through dreams. It's not something our culture tends to think of when we have a vivid dream, but that doesn't mean it's not possible today.

    Nephi and Lehi both saw the same vision. Why couldn't Joseph Sr. have seen the same thing, or something similar, in a dream?

  • sharrona layton, Ut
    Oct. 14, 2010 6:09 p.m.

    "The tree of life,"which is in the midst of the paradise of God."(Rev 2:7)
    "now the Lord God had planted a garden(paradeisos 3857)in the east of Eden..."(Genesis 2:8 Greek Septuagint)
    Jesus said today shalt thou be with me in paradise(Luke 23:43)
    "...caught up to the third heaven..."(2Cor 12:2)verse 4,was caught up to paradise.

  • Dennis Harwich, MA
    Oct. 14, 2010 2:41 p.m.

    Cats, relax.
    Mr. Peterson is an expert at taking history and manipulating it into an LDS mindset.
    Anyone who reads history knows the "tree of life" story is just a retelling of a dream Joseph Senior had years before Joseph supposedly translated the BoM. Just because someone says something with conviction doesn't make it so.

  • Idaho Coug Meridian, Idaho
    Oct. 14, 2010 1:54 p.m.

    To Hellooo - excellent points! I had not considered that snow was referenced elsewhere in the Bible. I guess it's just can seem a bit out of place to use driven snow as an analogy given the geographic location.

    I understand that JS was not particularly educated. But I think he was EXTREMELY intelligent and had a very keen imagination. I am not saying he wrote the BofM at all - but I think we are selling him short to claim he could not have (particularly in collaboration with his scribes) if he had the desire and motivation. He organized and lead a church, was Mayor, General and Presidential candidate. Writing the BofM is certainly something he COULD have done if he so desired.

  • Bill in Nebraska Omaha, NE
    Oct. 14, 2010 12:13 p.m.

    It seems to me that we have been taught for a number of years the meaning of the tree of life as it is outlined in the Book of Mormon. There are also depictions through out some of the South American countries that have a representation of the same meanings.

    In reading the ROUGH STONE ROLLING you will find that it specically states that Joseph Smith was not a very learned man in the beginning as he seldom went to libraries or any major schooling. To insinuate such is listening to the old critics that have been debunked time and time again. All the apologists are doing is trying to answer some questions but in most regards have much knowledge as Idaho Cougar or I have. The difference is I don't need or care about what critics say or what the apologists state. What I find interesting is the way critics and members try to play on words when the answer to the truthfulness of the Book of Mormon comes from the book itself. It is by faith that we can know the truth of all things via the Holy Ghost. I have my witness of the truth.

  • Hellooo Salt Lake City, UT
    Oct. 14, 2010 11:53 a.m.

    Idaho Coug, you may want to consider this passage with regard to the Middle East understand of climate during Lehi's time from Isaiah 1:18 "...though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be as white as snow...". Obviously, in Judah around the time of Lehi and Nephi snow was known and used for comparison to cleanliness and purity. Purity and whiteness and evil and darkness is an ongoing theme through out ancient writing. It fits in the time period and would be well accepted as a description of such during Lehi's time in Judah and through out the region. So, while it may appear to be "straining" or in more of a context of 1830 USA, it apparently is appropo in Judea as well no matter the native features which may or may not have been as you say. Mr. Peterson may or may not be correct with regard to why Nephi from the vision now understood the meaning of the tree of life, but it is an interesting suggestion and I appreciate the work. Thanks, Mr. Peterson.

  • Cats Provo, UT
    Oct. 14, 2010 11:30 a.m.

    Dr. Peterson is an EXPERT in middle eastern culture. He has many insights that are not apparent to many of the rest of us that are not so informed. Also, to think that JS could have derived any of this from his Bible is absurd. He was an uneducated farm boy who, according to his mother, was the least inclined of ANY of her children to read the Bible.

    NO ONE in Palmyra EVER made the claim that JS wrote the BofM. Why? Because they KNEW him and they KNEW he was incapable of it. They always claimed he stole it from someone else. It wasn't until MANY years later that detractors started to claim that he wrote it. That was after the Solomon Spaulding and View of the Hebrews theories were totally discredited.

    Honestly, the contortions people go to in order to claim that JS could have had ANY knowledge of these things or could have written it are LUDICROUS. His wife said he could barely put a letter together.

    Besides, wordprint analysis proved MULTIPLE AUTHORSHIP of the BofM back in the early eighties. BofM authors are DISTINCTLY different from JS and his writing.

    Truth marches on!!!!

  • sharrona layton, Ut
    Oct. 14, 2010 10:54 a.m.

    "The inclusion in 1 Nephi of an authentically pre-exilic religious symbol that could scarcely have been derived by a New York farm boy from his Bible."
    The Bible and Asherah the female counterpart of Baal,translated "groves"in(Judges 3:7&1Kings 18:19)Translated "Astaroth"plural in (Judges 2:13)and many more. JS did not need a modern translation. he had Jeremiah 7:18,44:17 which warns against godess worship "Mother in Heaven". Also, "And there appeared a great wonder in heaven; a woman clothed with the sun,and the moon under feet,and upon her head had a crown of twelve stars."(Rev 12:1).
    "The mother of the Son of God"(Theotokos)the controversy is something JS would have been aware of this in his day as well.

  • Otis Spurlock Ogden, UT
    Oct. 14, 2010 10:42 a.m.

    ID Coug,

    I agree with you. I believe the term many apologists suffer from is "Parallelomania". Parallelomania is the practice of overdoing supposed similarities between certain things. Very loose and even non-existent parallels are dressed up as parallels.

    Parallelomania is a disease, but it is not incurable. It is treatable if the patient is willing to go through detox and remain within an accountability structure thereafter.

  • Verdad Orem, UT
    Oct. 14, 2010 10:30 a.m.

    Nephi wasn't an Arab. He was a Hebrew who lived in (or just outside) Jerusalem, which does sometimes get snow in the winter.

  • Idaho Coug Meridian, Idaho
    Oct. 14, 2010 7:36 a.m.

    Given that we believe Lehi had the Gospel and taught it to his family, wouldn't an easier explanation be that they were taught of and anticipated the Savior and knew that he was to be born of a virgin? Couldn't the spirit have also helped him understand the connection when he saw a virgin with child in his vision?

    Not trying to be negative, but it seems our scholars and apologists are straining at times to find connections - any connections. A pagan Goddess was taught in ancient Israelite culture in connection to a tree, therefore.....

    And some of traditional concerns about this dream were not even addressed. For example, the reality that JS heard his father discuss this same dream. And how the expressions "exceedingly fair and white" and "whiteness of the driven snow" seem out of place among dark skinned and dark haired Arabs living in a very hot, dry, arid, snowless (at least in my understanding) world.

    I understand that we are discussing parallel evidences and potential connections but at times they seem so stretched and tentative that they only add to the questions and uncertainty.