Thursday, March 29, 2007

The Cosmic Tree

The Cosmic Tree

In my Ezekiel seminar this afternoon we looked at Ezek 31, which compares Egypt and Assyria in their pride and haughtiness to the mythic image of the cosmic tree. The cosmic tree is an archetypal symbol of creation and world order. Growing at the mythic center of earth's landscape and with limbs and branches spreading out to earth's Four Corners, it is a microcosm of world order and cosmic glory. Earthly superpowers may partake of such glory; God grants them this privilege (Ezek 31: 9). If they do, however, they run the huge risk of haughty in their loftiness, bursting all bounds and violating the boundaries of nature and history in the way that the cosmic-tree archetype does in some of its cross-cultural manifestations.
The image above, a royal stele from Teima dating to the reign of King Nabonidus, contains a cosmic-tree in the form of a scepter in the hand of the monarch. Ezekiel 31 is on target in its notion that superpowers of the time could imagine themselves as bearers of the cosmic power of the world tree! The scepter in the image has a natural, slightly crooked shape, like a tree, and is replete with organic joints and knots. Heavenly bodies appear at its top, just as Ezekiel's cosmic tree set its top high among the clouds of heaven (Ezek 31:10).

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