“You must destroy all the sites at which the nations you are to dispossess worshiped their gods, whether on lofty mountains and on hills or under any luxuriant tree” Deut. 12:2
What is the importance of these trees? After some research I learned that the
“phenomenon of a sacred tree, particularly one associated with a sacred site, is well known in a variety of cultures. A distinguished tree, especially one of great antiquity, might be looked upon as the ‘tree of life’ or as being ‘cosmic,’ its stump symbolizing the ‘navel of the earth’ and its top representing heaven. In this sense, it is a bridge between the human and the divine spheres, and it becomes an arena of divine-human encounter, an ideal medium of oracles and revelation. Trees may have also symbolized the protection or fertility the worshiper hoped to receive from a deity. Fertility cults flourished in connection with such trees, and this form of paganism proved attractive to many Israelites” (Sarna, p.91).
The Canaanite goddess Asherah is closely related to the sacred terebinth trees. Even etymologically the Hebrew words for “goddess” (elat), “terebinth tree” (ela or alla) and the two words for oak (elon and allon) are closely related (Ackerman, Asherah). It has been well known for some time that the Israelites embraced monotheism quite late in their history as evidenced by archaeological finds. Despite the fact that Israelites were forbidden to worship Asherah under the sacred Canaanite trees, “there are multiple indications in biblical tradition that many in ancient Israel did regard Asherah’s cult icon as an appropriate sacred symbol within the religion of YHWH,” (Ackerman, Asherah).
Deborah and the Sacred Tree
It is against this backdrop that I read about Deborah who sat under a “luxuriant tree” called “the Palm of Deborah.” From this location Deborah summoned the general Barak to march against Sisera, the general of Israelite’s oppressors. Then she acted as military mastermind for the ensuing battle. Continue reading