Originally posted by Neo Christian Mystic
Originally posted by the siren
Great thread OP
I don't put up a Christmas tree because of Jeremiah 10
Jeremiah 10:3 For the customs of the peoples (idols, graven images) is delusion, because it is mere wood hewn in the forest -- work of the hands of a
craftsman using an iron.
This has nothing to do with Christmas trees, it's about how graven images are made. Should we forbid houses made of wood too?
The debate is not over whether the Christmas tree is pagan because every mature Christian knows that. What has become a matter of discussion, however,
mainly among Christian theologians, is whether the Christmas tree (or something similar to it) has been singled out by Jeremiah. The section of
Scripture that evokes this debate is Jeremiah 10:1-5 and 8,9. Let us see what Jeremiah states with the King James Version being the basis of the
"Hear you the word which the Lord speaks unto you, O house of Israel. Thus says the Lord. Learn not the way of the heathen and be not dismayed at the
signs of the heaven; for the nations are dismayed at them. For the customs of the people are vain. For one cuts a tree out of the forest, the work of
the hands of the workman with the axe. They deck it [the tree] with silver and with gold. They fasten it [the tree] with nails and with hammers that
it move not. They [such trees] are upright as the palm tree, but speak not. The tree [KJV: stock] is a doctrine of vanities. Silver is spread into
plates is brought from Tarshish, and gold from Uphaz, the work of the workman, and of the hands of the founder. Blue and purple is their clothing.
They [the trees] are all the work of cunning men."
The King James Version gives a reasonable translation of the Hebrew words as spoken by Jeremiah. You will notice that I have identified the pronouns
in brackets, and what I have stated follows the Hebrew wording and context precisely without ambiguity. These trees are decked with gold, silver, as
well as with rich weavings of blue and purple fabrics. Jeremiah compared the use of these decked-out trees to the practice of idolatry and such trees
were being used in false worship.
If one leaves alone the simple context with all the subjects kept in view, one is left with the impression that Jeremiah is condemning the idolatrous
act of "tree worship." And it makes perfectly good sense that this is what the prophet is condemning. There are some translators, however, who
substitute other meanings to a few of the words above and they arrive at the conclusion that Jeremiah is speaking about getting some timber (cut wood)
from the forest, carving it into the shape of an idol (be it human, or a part of the human anatomy) and then plating it over with silver and gold (as
one might mold or gild metal onto wood). In brief, they claim that the subject of Jeremiah is not a tree (or trees) or "tree worship" but a carved
idol made out of wood that has been gilded with gold and silver. In effect, the translators who adopt such a translation have got rid of the "tree
worship" theme that the simple use of the Hebrew seems to advance and have substituted it with a theme simply condemning the making of particular
types of idols.
But what does Jeremiah mean? This is where the debate among scholars begins. Is he basically referring to plain and simple "tree worship" that was
then prevalent all over the Middle East? Or was he actually selecting out idols that had been manufactured out of wood (usually carved from blocks of
wood) and then gilded with a veneer of gold or silver? There are examples of such gilding in the Bible. It is found in the creation of the Ark of the
Covenant located in the Holy Place (Exodus 25:10-16), and Isaiah shows that some images were also fashioned in the gilded fashion. "The workman melts
a graven image, and the goldsmith spreads it over with gold, and casts silver chains" (Isaiah 40:19). Many idols were not gilded, however. The next
verse in Isaiah says it is the poor and impoverished pagan who cannot afford gold or silver and is subjected to creating an idol out of wood alone.
"He that is so impoverished that he has no oblation chooses a tree that will not rot; he sees him a cunning workman to prepare a graven image that
shall not be moved."
Though the majority of ancient idols were made of solid clay, stone, bone, metal or wood, most were not gilded over with gold or silver. They were on
the other hand commonly decorated or painted with such substances and it is thought that this is what Jeremiah may have been talking about. So, just
what does the section of Jeremiah really mean? This is the question that modern scholars have been concerned with in interpreting the passage of
Jeremiah quoted above. Let us see what the evidence holds in this regard.
When Jeremiah said "one cuts a tree out of the forest," the word for "tree" is a Hebrew word that ordinarily means a living tree that grows in the
ground. The "trees" in the Garden of Eden, including that of the knowledge of good and evil as well as the tree of life, were indicated as being
ordinary "trees" by the use of this word. True, it can sometimes means a block of wood, but when Jeremiah said to cut a tree "from the forest," a
forest is made up of numerous trees usually over a vast region of land. A forest is made up of many trees, not many "blocks of wood" or "pieces of
timber." The immediate context of Jeremiah shows he is really talking about a tree that one can cut down and that it [the tree] can be decked or
adorned with gold or silver and/or blue or purple cloths.
There is a further way to show that the context of Jeremiah is speaking of a literal tree. He states that the "tree" which is decked with ornaments
and is nailed in place is like a "palm tree" that is upright [secured with hammered metal] so that it remains rigid and erect. This is what Jeremiah
wrote if one uses the simple meaning of the Hebrew words as a guide. A "palm tree" is certainly being discussed by Jeremiah because the only other
time the word is used in the Bible, it clearly refers to a living palm tree (Judges 4:5). This is a reliable clue.
But some interpreters do not want Jeremiah referring to a "palm tree" in this section of scripture. They want it to be a pillar, a type of scarecrow
that one would put in a garden or a cucumber patch (like an idol referred to in the apocryphal work Baruch 5:70). As Keil and Delitzsch show in their
commentary on this verse, the scholars who thought up this interpretation understood the "palm tree" to be the pagan god Priapus (in the form of a
phallic symbol -a pillar shaped like the male organ as a sexual object) which was placed in a cucumber patch as a scarecrow. I imagine such a phallic
display would frighten off the crows. Keil and Delitzsch, however, utterly dismiss this interpretation. They say it has little in common with the
context of Jeremiah. And this is true. There is not a tissue of evidence from the context that this is what Jeremiah meant by his "palm tree."
Granted, phallic symbols were found in wide profusion in the ancient pagan world in devotion to Priapus or other fertility deities (our modern
steeples and spires on churches are a remnant of such phallic shapes associated with the pagan heathen temples and their holy places). And, according
to the scholars who first suggested "the pillar in a cucumber patch" interpretation for Jeremiah, they imagine that this was a type of "sex
object" that Jeremiah was speaking about. But modern translators who adopt the suggestion are not honest because the majority do not want to offend
the sensitivities of the biblical readers and they normally leave out the part that the male sexual organ is the object of Jeremiah's discussion.
They should have had no worry. Jeremiah is really talking about pagan "tree worship" that the Israelites of his time had taken up. The palm tree
(which is an evergreen like most Christmas trees today) was being decorated with gold and silver spiral ribbons like those that come forth from the
working of a lathe and also with blue and purple cloth ribbons. Such trees were known as asherahs. They are mentioned several times in the Old
Testament and often are translated by the English word "grove." But the word asherah has been shown to refer to a single tree that can be living,
cut out of the forest, or depicted in various abstract forms. Indeed, the most ancient form of all pagan religion is simple "tree worship." Long
before most nations of the world took up depicting their gods and goddesses in human or animal form, it is known that well-nigh the whole of the
world's population (civilized or savage) were thoroughly engrossed in various forms of "tree worship." The Encyclopaedia of Religion and Ethics has
a large article that shows the universal proclivity of all ancient peoples (including the Hebrews) to indulge in the worship of living trees and those
they had cut out of the forest for religious reasons (vol.12, pp.448-457).
Such "tree worship" was well known in the time of Jeremiah and later. The oak was universally held in esteem. In mountainous areas cedars and firs
were worshiped. In more desert regions the palm was the tree most worshiped. As the The Encyclopaedia of Religion and Ethics states: "Tree worship
pure and simple, where the tree is in all respects treated as a god, is attested for Arabia in the case of the sacred date-palm in Nejran. It was
adorned at an annual feast with fine clothes and women's ornaments" (vol.12, p.449). The encyclopaedia goes on to say that the biblical mention of
the women of Judah draping the asherah with their garments near the Temple at Jerusalem is another example of tree worship (II Kings 23:7).