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Heavenly Mother is prominently present in scripture. She plays all the roles we would expect a divine mother to play. While her presence has been obscured by the loss of plain and precious parts of original texts, her extensive involvement in the lives of her children is nevertheless still apparent if the scriptures are closely read with attention to symbols and surrogates. As the modern Zeitgeist impels us to look for the feminine divine in the scriptural canon, voices speaking from the dust—especially the Book of Mormon—providentially give us background information necessary to find our divine Mother hidden in plain view.

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Heavenly Mother is prominently present in scripture. With the Father, she is Alpha and Omega, that is, we find her in the first verse of Genesis, and when we look for her in the last chapter of Revelation, she is there. In the scriptural account of our departure from the preexistence, we take leave of Mother in Heaven. During our lives on earth, when we are sick or afflicted, she blesses, comforts, and heals us. She is present when the Savior effects the atonement, and she puts us on the path to fully claim that great gift. When we return to heaven at the end of this life, we find her there to greet us and help us be born again in immortal and exalted bodies. She prominently plays all the roles we would expect a divine mother to play. And yet, to most of her children, she is unknown. She is tragically unseen by the multitudes who inwardly long to know her.

For Latter-day Saints, the fact that we have a Mother in Heaven is not in question and has not been since the days of Joseph Smith. [1] Even our most elementary lesson manual, Gospel Principles, mentions that we have “heavenly parents.” [2] It is well established Mormon doctrine that man cannot attain exaltation and godhood without woman nor woman without man (D&C 132: 19-20). [3] But while the existence of Mother in Heaven is not in doubt, most Latter-day Saints assume virtually nothing has been revealed about her beyond the fact that she exists. We must eagerly await, they suppose, further revelation in God’s due time.

The validity of that supposition probably depends on whether the existence of our Heavenly Mother is ancient truth restored or truth revealed for the first time in this dispensation. If like other key gospel truths, it is a restored doctrine, then we should expect to find traces of Mother in Heaven in scripture. Though plain and precious things have been expunged (1 Nephi 13: 28-29), it is unlikely that a truth of such foundational importance could completely disappear from scriptural and other historical texts. Fortunately, there are many indications that Mother in Heaven was known to the ancients. It is, therefore, incumbent on us to recognize her presence in the scriptures we have. The Lord rarely gives us new revelation on a matter until we have carefully studied and understood what he has already given us.

While the scriptures should and will be the main foundation of this article, our search for additional understanding of Heavenly Mother may be more successful if we draw insights from scholars who specialize in the study of the Bible and the ancient Near East. Mother in Heaven, in her many guises, has become a topic of intense interest to contemporary biblical and ancient Near East scholars. The Zeitgeist of our time leads them to search for the feminine divine. And providentially, recent discoveries of ancient documents and artifacts have added new voices that speak to us from the dust about the roles Mother in Heaven may have played in the theologies and rituals of the ancient Hebrews and surrounding peoples. This vein of scholarship is immense. No attempt will be made here to harmonize or fully explicate the many nuanced and sometimes conflicting views of scholars who write on this theme. What will be cited are various strands of this scholarship that converge with Mormon thought and illuminate themes of interest to Latter-day-Saints. The most important supplement to the close readings of scripture that are the main focus of this article will be the work of Methodist scholar Margaret Barker, whose readings of ancient texts are so often consonant with foundational assumptions of Mormon theology. [4]

Modern prophets have restored the truth that we have a Mother in Heaven. The time is now right and the tools are now available for us to come to more nearly know our divine Mother as we ought. In this article, I discuss how Mother in Heaven came to be hidden in plain view and how we can again see her in the scriptural record that bears witness of her as well as of the Father and the Son.

Let me conclude this introduction by acknowledging that the First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve, thankfully, have an exclusive right to declare doctrine. Their monopoly on establishing doctrine is the sure foundation for our unity in the faith. What is offered here is theology, not doctrine. And as Adam S. Miller has sagely observed, “theology is always tentative and nonbinding. Theology, though sensitive to what is normative, never decides doctrine.” Miller then adds,

“Though this is a kind of weakness, this weakness is also theology’s unique strength. Because it is hypothetical, theology is free to map whatever charitable patterns the details of the text may prompt it to pursue. The rich theological possibilities of a text are, in principle, limited only by the critically productive questions that we as readers are capable of bringing to bear. If a particular approach does not bear charity, then nothing has been lost. If an approach does reveal patterns of meaning that address the root of human suffering, then its productivity speaks for itself.” (Miller 2012, Kindle locations 1320-1323).

As noted above, prophets have declared that we have a Heavenly Mother. This exercise in theology explores rich possibilities in our scriptural texts, specifically, the possibility that more than we have supposed is revealed about Mother in Heaven, that close reading of scripture may alleviate the suffering of those who deeply mourn the functional absence of Heavenly Mother in their lives.  

In the Beginning

Let us begin with the first verse of Genesis: In the beginning, the Gods created the heavens and the earth. The Hebrew word usually translated God in this verse is Elohim, the plural of El. [5] El means God and Elohim means Gods. If one accepts the doctrine that a man and woman must be sealed to each other to attain godhood (D&C 132: 19-20) [6], this plural name for God is what might be expected. It seems to support the idea that God is a sealed couple, El and Elah, who jointly constitute Elohim. [7] As expected, we find a plural verb, na’aseh, coupled with the plural noun Elohim when the Gods say, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness: … male and female” (Gen 1: 26-27). [8] In this reading, it is not Adam, nor is it Eve, who is formed in the image of God. It is Adam and Eve as a couple who are the image of the Elohim. The Elohim appear 2,602 times in the Old Testament [9], so if we understand this plural generally to represent Mother as well as Father in Heaven, we will see that Mother is ubiquitous in scripture. And if we read plurals in this way, Mother also appears 432 times as Adonai, another plural name for God that means Lords. [10] Plural adjectives are also used to describe God, for example, hayyim (e.g., 1 Samuel 17: 26) and kadoshim (e.g., Joshua 24: 19) which describe the Elohim as living and holy.

This is not, of course, the only way the text can be read. For most Old Testament scholars, God is thought to be just one person and the plurals Elohim and Adonai are, thus, a problem that needs to be explained away. Most hold that, though they are grammatically plural, the name Elohim and the title Adonai are notionally singular. Some have suggested that the plural forms are a kind of “plural of majesty” or “royal we” that emphasizes the majesty of God. [11] This supposition is supported by the fact that though it is sometimes paired with plural forms, Elohim is most often paired with singular forms of the verb and adjective. And in some passages, e.g. Psalm 42: 2, the singular El and plural Elohim are mixed and seem to be equated. Indeed, Yahweh, Elohim, and Adonai are often mixed together in ways that suggest no consistent distinction is made between these different manifestations of God (e.g., Exodus 6: 2). So there is much evidence and persuasive reasoning that supports the typical view of scholars that Elohim is just one God and is not distinguished from Yahweh in the Old Testament. The various contexts in which Elohim, Yahweh, Adonai, and El mix and overlap probably cannot be entirely explained away and, thus, remain the principal stumbling block for adopting the reading proposed here. [12] And yet we too, while fully understanding that Elohim and Jehovah are distinct, often mix them together indiscriminately. Elohim is our God, but as Spencer W. Kimball taught, we refer to Jehovah as “the God of this world.” [13] In bearing testimony, we indiscriminately mix expressions of gratitude to God and to Christ. We always mention both El and Jehovah in our prayers. We occasionally refer to our Heavenly Parents when talking about God. So the intermingling of various divine beings in discourse is not a practice that is confined only to the Old Testament. It happens in our day as well. In part, this mixing of beings and titles may reflect the perfect congruence of will in the Elohim and Yahweh. [14]

The combination of the plural Elohim with singular verbs is less problematic. If Latter-day Saints think of El and Elah as an inseparable divine unit that attains godhood and acts as God only when they act together, then the singular verbs and adjectives are not inconsistent with the Mormon understanding of divine ontology. Father and Mother act as one and, insofar as they are Elohim, exist as one. Thus, if the issue is the singular form of the verb, there can be few expressions in the scriptural text that will support the typical scholarly reading but not support the proposed Mormon reading of the plurals Elohim and Adonai.

This unity of Father and Mother that is affirmed in Mormon theology seems to be beautifully expressed in Proverbs 8: 22-36 where Mother speaks of creation:

The Lord possessed me in the beginning of his way, before his works of old. I was set up from everlasting, from the beginning…. Before the mountains were settled, before the hills was I brought forth. While as yet he had not made the earth, nor the fields…. when he prepared the heavens, I was there…. Then I was by him, as one brought up with him: and I was daily his delight, rejoicing always before him…and my delights were with the sons of men. Now therefore hearken unto me, O ye children: for blessed [ashre] are they that keep my ways. Hear instruction, and be wise, and refuse it not. Blessed [ashre] is the man that heareth me…. For whoso findeth me findeth life, and shall obtain favour of the Lord. But he that sinneth against me wrongeth his own soul: all they that hate me love death.

This passage contains word play on the name Asherah, one of the names of Mother in Heaven. [15] It suggests that to know Heavenly Mother is to find life and favor with God. To deny her and hate her is death.

The grounds for thinking of Elohim and Adonai as both Father and Mother are not limited to what we have just discussed. The ancient record is quite clear—and ever more clear as additional voices have spoken from the dust—that many inhabitants of Canaan worshipped a divine family, at least sometimes understood to consist of Father El, Mother Elah, and their son Yahweh. [16] (Elah appears under a variety of different names, e.g., Elat, Asherah, and Athirat). Commenting on this family, Barker writes, “Before Josiah and Deuteronomy, when Yahweh assumed all the ancient roles and titles of El, Asherah would have been the consort of El, and Yahweh would have been the son of El and his consort,… Asherah.” [17] The Elohim and their children, the bene Elohim or the host of heaven, were thought to rule the earth as a council of divine beings. [18] Thus, in Deuteronomy 32: 7-8, an earlier religion is recalled in which Elyon, the high God, divided the rule of the earth among the bene Elohim, the children of Elohim, assigning his subordinate son Yahweh lordship over Israel. (This portrayal of the divine family was suppressed in the Masoritic text [and the King James Bible] which replace the bene Elohim with sons of Israel, making the text incoherent. As we shall see, Asherah was also suppressed in various scriptural passages, and she and the bene Elohim were cast out of the temple in Jerusalem.) [19] While this divine council was variously conceived, sometimes including a female figure, sometimes not, it repeatedly shows up, both inside and outside of the Bible, as a family of gods who govern the earth (e.g., in Job 1: 6, 1 Kings 22: 19-22). The sometime presence of a Mother god in this pantheon is another strand of evidence that Mother in Heaven was known anciently and participated with Father in creating the earth and orchestrating the salvation of her children.

The analysis to this point suggests two rationales for seeing Mother in Heaven as ubiquitous in scripture, and I here add a third that reaches the same conclusion. The first approach would be to see the plural verbs and adjectives associated with the plural noun Elohim as the residue of an earlier text in which the precious truth that we have a Mother in Heaven was plainly communicated by consistent plural verbs and adjectives. Toward the end of his life, Joseph Smith seemed to endorse this approach: “In the very beginning the Bible shows there is a plurality of Gods beyond the power of refutation…. The word Eloheim ought to be in the plural all the way through…. When you take [that] view of the subject, it sets one free to see all the beauty, holiness and perfection of the Gods.“ [20] Barker also provides substantial support for this approach by giving examples of passages scribes may have changed to obscure the presence of Mother. In some cases (as with bene Elohim in Deuteronomy 32: 8), restoring Mother makes a passage intelligible that is now unreadable. [21]

A second, more conservative approach would be to assume that the text is largely intact as originally handed down and, then, to emphasize the fact that Mother and Father are Elohim only when they act as one. Verbs and adjectives in the singular can then be read as reflecting the necessary unity of the male/female union that constitutes Elohim in the many appearances of that divine actor.

A third approach would be to grant whatever claims scholars make about original meaning of the text but then reinterpret what is written in the light of revelation in our day. Given the consistent message of Restoration prophets that we have a Mother in Heaven, modern Mormons might view the plurals Elohim and Adonai as providential. In the context of knowledge now revealed, they may signify in our day both Father and Mother in Heaven even if they did not have that meaning when the text was originally written.

If any of these paths are followed, Mother’s presence in the Old Testament becomes ubiquitous, with more than 3,000 appearances in the text. In the King James Bible Elohim is translated as God, Adonai as Lord, and Yahweh as LORD or GOD. Keith Meservy has suggested that “We can find Jesus Christ in the Old Testament by substituting Jehovah for LORD whenever it appears. Then something wonderful happens. Jehovah, who is Jesus Christ, appears from the beginning to the end of this great book as the God of the Old Testament.” [22] By following the same strategy and substituting Elohim and Adonai for God and Lord, we can have the wonderful experience of seeing our divine parents, the Elohim, blessing their children from the beginning to the end of the Old Testament.

The Asherah Tree

While her acts in conjunction with the Father and Son are an important part of what Mother in Heaven does, the main focus of this article will be her distinct presence in scripture. And to understand that, we must review how Mother seems to have manifested herself in Israel up to the time of Lehi. That a Heavenly Mother was known as Asherah and was worshipped in Israel is now recognized by a majority of biblical scholars. [23]  Substantial evidence indicates that this was the case. What is also clear is that the symbol of her being and presence was a tree. [24] She was often represented, including in the temple, by a statue that had the trunk of a tree at the bottom and the figure of a woman at the top. This statue is the most common religious artifact archaeology has found in and around pre-exilic Jerusalem, with the majority of the finds being in the holy city itself. The ubiquity of these figures and other tree artifacts associated with her leaves little doubt that worship of Asherah, Queen of Heaven, consort of El, was an integral part of Hebrew religious practice, at least among the common people. [25]

The archeological evidence is supported by the biblical text which also indicates that Asherah was widely worshipped among the Hebrews. The tree being her symbol, her worship was associated with holy trees and sacred groves, which are frequently mentioned as places of worship and covenant making in the Old Testament. The first use of the word grove is in Genesis 21: 33, “And Abraham planted a grove in Beer-sheba, and called there on the name of the Lord, the everlasting God.” Abraham had earlier constructed his first altar in the Promised Land at Shechem (Genesis 12: 4 – 7), a location distinguished by a great oak tree (אּלּהּ, elah) that was regarded as the sanctuary of God (אּלּ, el).  Under this oak Jacob buried the false gods of his household (Genesis 35: 4), and under it Joshua set up a pillar to commemorate the covenant between the Lord and Israel (Joshua 24: 24 – 26). Gideon, too, was called into service and offered sacrifices to God on an altar under an oak tree (Judges 6: 11-20). [26]

The tree as the place of covenant making--especially a tree with an altar—was an important motif in the ancient near east. “The connection” Wright observes “between the tree and covenant making [is] apparent iconographically.” [27] Figure 1 is one of his iconic examples of trees serving as the locus and witness of a covenant. Hunsaker notes that trees were often incorporated in ancient temples, then suggests that the ancient pattern is replicated in modern temples that have Garden rooms where images of the Tree of Life and Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil stand witness as covenants are made at the temple altar. [28]

fig 1

As noted above, the first Old Testament use of grove is positive as are early attitudes toward sacred trees. This comes as no surprise given the tree’s important role in ritual. Asherah is the word usually translated grove by the King James translators. Leah, her maid Zilpah, and Jacob seem to have honored Asherah by naming their son Asher--and thus one of the tribes of Israel--after her. [29] The frequent subsequent mention of groves in later books of the Old Testament makes it clear that Asherah was an integral part of Hebrew worship, but in that later time the groves are negatively framed, a fact that will be discussed in some detail below. [30]

In addition to being worshipped in sacred groves all around Israel, Mother in Heaven was worshipped in the temple in Jerusalem, which contained a number of items that honored her. The architecture and decoration of the temple prominently featured trees (1 Kings 6: 29 – 36; Psalms 52: 8). But most obvious was the asherah set up in the courtyard of the temple to represent Mother in Heaven, probably an image of the goddess as woman with a tree trunk at the bottom but possibly just her symbol, a living almond tree cut to grow in the shape of a menorah. [31] Patai estimates that this most obvious symbol of Asherah was in Solomon’s temple for 236 of the 370 years it existed. [32]

Along with being prominently visible in the temple courtyard (2 Kings 21: 5, 7), Mother in Heaven was clearly represented for all who understood her connection with trees in the innermost sanctum of the temple, the Debir or Holy of Holies. Passage into this most holy place was mediated by Mother, for the entrance to the Debir was a door made of olive wood (1 Kings 6: 31-33). Inside the Debir was the Ark of the Covenant and inside the Ark was Aaron’s rod (Hebrews 9: 4), an apparently dead wooden staff that blossomed and bore almonds, thus becoming a living almond tree (Numbers 17: 8). [33] The menorah, a lamp in the form of the stylized almond tree that signified Asherah (see Exodus 25: 31-38) [34], was the source of light in the Holy of Holies. (In the Deuteronomist purge discussed below it was moved from the Debir to the middle room of the temple, the Hekal or Holy Place, a circumstance anticipated by Isaiah’s complaint about putting “darkness for light, and light for darkness” [Isaiah 5: 20]). [35] Jewish tradition recalls the presence of Mother in Heaven in the Debir as follows: “[She] departed from the earth after the sin of Adam, but returned when the Ark of the Tabernacle was constructed, and made Her home there. Later, She took up residence in the Holy of Holies of the Temple in Jerusalem and remained there until the Temple was destroyed.” [36]

The menorah that lit the Holy of Holies in the temple seems to be an asherah, an artificial replica of the living almond trees cut to grow in the shape of a menorah that symbolized Asherah and that were an ubiquitous and often mentioned sacred object in places of worship throughout Israel. [37]  This living tree and the flaming symbolic tree in the Debir probably memorialize the occasion when “God [Elohim] called unto [Moses] out of the midst of the bush” that burned but was not consumed. The tree-like bush may have signified the female aspect of the Elohim who called Moses to lead the exodus and be the great law-giving prophet of ancient Israel (Exodus 3: 4). [38] That bush, in turn, probably memorialized the Mother tree in Eden that was guarded by cherubim and lighted by “a flaming sword which turned every way, to keep the way of the tree of life” (Genesis 3: 24; Moses 4: 31). Thus, each of these flaming trees may signify the same referent, Elah. [39]

As noted above, one passed through an olive tree doorway to enter the Debir, and found in the Debir was the holy anointing oil. This oil was understood to be a product of the Tree of Life [40], according to Joseph Smith, an olive tree. [41] This sacred olive oil was used to light the temple by burning it in the tree-like menorah. And as in the temple today, olive oil was used to confer holiness and power, to make one a king or queen, priest or priestess, a son or daughter of God in a higher, more sacred sense. The sacred oil was also understood to have healing power, including in its ultimate use, the power to resurrect. [42]

Given that she is the source of this sacred oil, Mother in Heaven continues to play an important role in our lives today when we use consecrated oil in making temple covenants that empower us to be more like the Elohim and when we use it to comfort and heal the sick. Through the oil, Mother in Heaven symbolically touches us in our moments of most profound worship and greatest physical or emotional need. [43] And since it is anointing with this holy oil that makes Jesus the anointed one, in Greek, the Christ, we honor not just our Savior but also our Mother in Heaven as we proudly bear the name Christian. [44] As Christians, we too are anointed by her love and grace as well as by that of her first-born son.

Margaret Barker and Daniel Peterson persuasively argue that one of the titles of Mother in Heaven was Wisdom. [45] If we acknowledge this title, we find in the Bible beautiful tributes to Mother with word play on the name Asherah and laments that she has been forced out of the temple and obscured from our view. In the following passage, we find her celebrated and linked to the Tree of Life:

Happy [ashreis the man that findeth [W]isdom, and the man that getteth understanding. For the merchandise of it is better than the merchandise of silver, and the gain thereof than fine gold. She is more precious than rubies: and all the things thou canst desire are not to be compared unto her. Length of days is in her right hand; and in her left hand riches and honour. Her ways are ways of pleasantness, and all her paths are peace. She is a tree of life to them that lay hold upon her: and happy [a-sh-r root] is every one that retaineth her.  (Proverbs 3: 13-18)

Recognizing her connection to the Tree of Life, we may come to see Mother in Heaven as being symbolically embodied in the most sacred place of all in the ancient temple, the mercy seat, the throne of God. The mercy seat on top of the Ark of the Covenant is guarded by two Cherubim just like what seems to be Mother in Heaven’s preeminent symbol, the Tree of Life in the Garden of Eden. Unsurprisingly, in Jewish tradition the divine Mother figure is associated with the Mercy Seat. [46]

During Josiah’s Deuteronomist purge that occurred just a few years before the complete destruction of Solomon’s temple and the deportation of Israel to Babylon, the statue of Asherah was dragged out of the temple and was destroyed (2 Kings 23: 6). In Proverbs 1: 20-33, Mother in Heaven again appears to speak to Israel and prophesy that those who have rejected her will eat the bitter fruit of going their own way—rather that the delicious fruit of the Tree of Life—and will thus face destruction:

Wisdom crieth without; she uttereth her voice in the streets … saying, How long, ye simple ones, will ye love simplicity and … hate knowledge? … I have called, and ye refused… Ye have set at nought all my counsel, and would none of my reproof: I also will laugh at your calamity; I will mock when your fear cometh … as desolation, and your destruction cometh as a whirlwind….Then shall they call upon me, but I will not answer; they shall seek me early, but they shall not find me…. They would none of my counsel: they despised all my reproof. Therefore shall they eat of the fruit of their own way, and be filled with their own devices. For the turning away of the simple shall slay them, and the prosperity of fools shall destroy them. But whoso hearkeneth unto me shall dwell safely, and shall be quiet from fear of evil.

While the destruction of the Asherah statue is celebrated by the Deuteronomist authors of 2 Kings, objectively speaking, the fruits of this rejection were disastrous. In the immediate aftermath of its rejection of Mother in Heaven, Israel suffered the greatest calamity of its ancient history--the destruction of the temple and captivity in Babylon. On the other hand, the promise in verse 33 that “whoso hearkeneth unto me shall dwell in safety, and shall be quiet from fear of evil” seems to have been fulfilled in the lives of Lehi, Nephi, and Jacob, who, as we shall see, rejected the policy and theology changes made by the royal and priestly elites of their day.

The Great Apostasies

Implicit in what is said above and explicit in what is said below is a strong critique of Josiah and the Deuteronomists. In offering this critique, I mostly read against the grain of the Biblical texts handed down to us that specifically mention Josiah. To get a balanced view of the possibilities, readers should peruse “Josiah’s Reform: An Introduction” by Benjamin L. McGuire and two companion articles, William Hamblin’s sympathetic reading of Josiah’s actions in “Vindicating Josiah” and Kevin Christensen’s “Prophets and Kings in Lehi’s Jerusalem and Margaret Barker’s Temple Theology [47],” which generally approaches the Josiah material much as I do in this article. [48]

The Great Apostasy
Most readers of this article will be well acquainted with the idea of a Great Apostasy in the meridian of time. Here I will briefly review and expand on that idea, with particular attention to parallels between that time and the time just before the destruction of Solomon’s temple and the deportation of the Jews to Babylon, a time which might aptly be called the Greater Apostasy.

 In discussing the Great Apostasy, we rightly focus on the period of theological chaos, state persecution, then state cooptation that caused or followed in the wake of the death of Christ’s apostles. But it is fruitful to reflect on an earlier moment in that apostasy—the moment when Yahweh himself was rejected, cast out, and killed by the priestly keepers of his holy house. The loss of the true faith in the meridian of time was caused not just by the state but also by the priestly leaders of the second temple (Mark 14: 60-65).

While the rejection of Yahweh by the keepers of his house must in the end be an act of bad faith, it had a predicate: doctrines that were established as Jewish orthodoxy by Josiah and Hilkiah in the time of Lehi when Mother in Heaven was being cast from the temple. Christ’s teachings seemed to contradict orthodox teaching on the oneness of God, the overriding obligation to observe the Law of Moses, the centrality of the temple and its governing priesthood, and the completeness of existing revelation. When Jesus claimed to be the great I AM who fulfilled and superseded the law, when he cleansed the temple, when he brought forward new doctrine, he was a genuine threat to the regnant orthodoxy of the temple priests and was dealt with accordingly. [49]  Like Saul of Tarsus, some of his opponents were clearly motivated by zeal to protect what they wrongly perceived to be true religion. But whether done in good or bad faith, casting God out of the temple led to disaster. Thirty seven years after the leadership rejected Jesus and had him killed, the reign of the priests ended and the temple they misgoverned was completely destroyed.

Like the priests’ effort to enforce orthodoxy, Constantine’s effort to create unity in the fragmented Christian faith of his time was understandable and, in the context of the time, an example of good statecraft. [50] Theologically, the judgments of the great ecumenical councils assembled by the emperor were mostly sound. The councils correctly rejected many forgeries and heresies and generally made the correct calls on doctrine and which texts should be authoritative. [51] But a combination of neo-platonist philosophy and Deuteronomist Old Testament theology caused the councils to embrace and promulgate a monist theology to the extent that such a theology was possible within a Christian framework that included Father, Son, and Holy Ghost. Yielding to the monist temptation—the common philosophical drive to reduce multiplicity to unity—they used the paradoxical concept of the Trinity to reduce God to one entity and substance and, thus, misconceived his essential nature. [52] With the blessing of Constantine and subsequent emperors, they enforced the new orthodoxy and suppressed other, in some cases, more correct doctrines, using the power of the state and acts of violence that God had foreseen and condemned (1 Nephi 13: 5). [53] They replicated the error that had earlier obscured the dual nature of the Elohim by effacing Mother in Heaven.  

The Greater Apostasy
The great councils three hundred years after Christ were decisive in establishing an orthodox religion that is still embraced by the majority of Christian churches today. But probably more important theologically was the Deuteronomist reform that occurred 600 years before Christ in the last days of the first temple. We get a more or less consistent account of this period in the books of 2 Kings and 2 Chronicles. There we are told that in the time of king Josiah during a renovation of the temple, the high priest Hilkiah discovered the book of the law of the Lord, generally thought to be portions of the book of Deuteronomy  (2 Kings 22: 8-11; 2 Chronicles 34: 14-19). [54] In reading this book, Josiah learned that Israel had not met its obligation to be exclusively faithful to Yahweh and to make the Jerusalem temple an exclusive center of high ritual practice. Josiah covenanted to live in harmony with the newly discovered book and, like Constantine at a much later time, began a violent purge of all other forms of worship in Israel.

Like the rulers of the second temple who would later reject the divine Son, these guardians of the first temple rejected the divine Mother. Josiah and Hilkiah dragged the Asherah in the courtyard and other vessels associated with her from the temple and destroyed them (2 Kings 23: 6). More egregiously than Constantine and his bishops, they made war on the religion of the common people. [55] They destroyed all the high places and killed the priests who supported the worship of any god but Yahweh. In consequence, Josiah was celebrated as being uniquely pious: “And like unto him was there no king before him, that turned to the Lord with all his heart, and with all his soul, and with all his might, according to all the law of Moses; neither after him arose there any like him” (2 Kings 23: 25). Josiah thus became the exemplar of personal righteousness and Deuteronomy the normative religious text.

Theologically, Josiah and Hilkiah’s top-down purge of the religion of Israel was a triumph.  Embraced by the elites, it became the new orthodoxy. [56] Prior to Josiah, there had been a divine family and a council of gods. [57] But Deuteronomy declared, “Hear, O Israel. The Lord our God is one Lord….  I, even I, am he, and there is no god with me” (Deuteronomy 6: 4; 32: 39). That became the new orthodoxy. Exodus had affirmed that the leaders of Israel saw a corporeal God (Exodus 24: 10). But Deuteronomy, in an obvious attempt to change that theology, belabored the point that “ye heard the voice of the words, but saw no similitude; only ye heard a voice…for ye saw no manner of similitude on the day that the Lord spake unto you in Horeb: Lest ye … make you a graven image, the similitude of any figure … male or female” (Deuteronomy 4: 12, 15-16). That God is incorporeal and that the female divinity Asherah was an abomination became the orthodox religion. [58]

Prior to the Deuteronomist reforms, worship had been decentralized and the High Priest in Jerusalem had been one among many who ministered sacrifices. [59] The book found or authored by the Levite High Priest, Hilkiah, changed that: “Take heed to thyself that thou forsake not the Levite as long as thou livest” (Deuteronomy 12: 19). “Offer not thy burnt offerings in every place that thou seest: But in the place which the Lord shall choose [the Jerusalem temple]” (Deuteronomy 12: 13-14). This new theology is declared to be unchangeable: “Ye shall not add unto the word … neither shall ye diminish ought from it” (Deuteronomy 4: 2). The people are to be suspicious of prophets who teach new doctrines. They should accept prophesies only after unfolding events have validated them (Deuteronomy 13: 1-3; 18: 21-22). Anyone who teaches anything inconsistent with Deuteronomy is to be killed (Deuteronomy 13: 6-10), possibly by having the people “hang him on a tree” (Deuteronomy 21: 22). [60]

It is undeniable that Deuteronomy contains much truth and that the purges of Josiah and Hilkiah ended wicked practices such as the sacrificing of children to Moloch. Like the councils of Constantine, Josiah’s purge had its virtues. But it is also clear that the purge was not the restoration of the original Hebrew faith that it is described to be in the Deuteronomist histories that have come down to us in the Bible. [61] Josiah and Hilkiah were very successful theological innovators who, like their later Christian counterparts, were seduced by the monist temptation and, therefore, got the essential nature of God wrong.

Josiah and Hilkiah, like their priestly counterparts in the meridian of time, cast a divine being out of the temple they administered, and that temple became, as a consequence, ripe for destruction. After surviving for hundreds of years under supposedly faithless kings, the temple was destroyed and the reign of the Davidic kings ended with Josiah’s son Zedekiah a mere 20 years after Josiah’s death. [62] Just as the second temple would be destroyed 37 years after its priestly leaders cast Jehovah out of it and sought to utterly destroy him, so the first temple was destroyed about 40 years after Josiah and Hilkiah destroyed the tree image that symbolized Mother in Heaven and thus cast her out of the temple.

While the Bible praises Josiah as a paragon, the events it records suggest the story was more complicated. [63] Four verses after declaring him to be the best of all the Davidic kings—and in spite of Huldah’s prophesy that he would die in peace (2 Kings 22: 18-20)—the Bible reports that Josiah was killed in battle by Pharaoh Necco (2 Kings 23: 29). Non-Deuteronomist Second Chronicles 35: 20-24 informs us that his death was caused by his own heedless aggression and unwillingness to hear the word of God. Necco wanted to pass peacefully through Josiah’s territory, but manifesting the same aggressiveness that had caused him to attack his own people, Josiah attacked Necco and was killed. Israel was then compelled to pay a huge tribute to Egypt and in the following 20 years never fully recovered its independence.

These disastrous events provided fodder for Josiah’s many extra-biblical critics, who, Margaret Barker notes, “are surprisingly consistent in their account of what happened in the time of Josiah: … the godless people in the temple became ‘blind’ and abandoned Wisdom just before the temple was burned and the people scattered. Those who set up the second temple and its cult … that is, those who collected and edited the Hebrew Scriptures as we know them, were described as apostates.” [64]

Writing in the immediate aftermath of Josiah’s purge but looking ahead to the Great Apostasy in the meridian of time, Nephi observed that apostates would change the scriptures and take out “many parts which are plain and most precious” (1 Nephi 13: 26). [65] In writing this Nephi may have been thinking not only of what he had been shown in vision about the future but also of what he had personally observed in his own time, for there are many indications that the Bible text was changed by Deuteronomist scribes to expunge Mother in Heaven and condemn belief in her.  Indeed, far more changes in the scriptural text seem to have been made during the Greater Apostasy of the Deuteronomists than during the Great Apostasy in the meridian of time. Barker reviews many apparent scribal changes in Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Proverbs, and a number of other biblical texts that seem to have transformed these proponents of the divine Mother into opponents. [66] She identifies a number of passages that have been made unintelligible, apparently by changes made to obscure what were once plain and precious teaching about Mother in Heaven. [67]

Whatever their merits or demerits with regard to the truth, the Deuteronomist reforms and associated scribal changes were wonderfully successful in practice.  They established the theological horizon within which all subsequent Judeo-Christian thought and teaching occurred. Jesus faced immense Deuteronomist resistance from the Sadducees and, in revealing his essential role as the atoning Son of God, could only partially restore knowledge of the heavenly family during his ministry. Even in the wake of that great revelation, the keepers of Christian orthodoxy joined their Jewish counterparts in again declaring revelation closed. [68]

Since the Elohim respect our agency and our role as co-creators of the world in which we live, they are constrained by the horizon of belief so successfully created by Josiah and Hilkiah and later by Constantine and his councils. Joseph Smith learned while still young that the corporeality of God was a bridge too far for most Christians of his day (Joseph Smith 1: 21-25), so when the Church was first organized, emphasis was placed on the opening of the heavens as manifested by the coming forth of the Book of Mormon rather than on the First Vision.  Only in the 1840s did the First Vision become an important point of doctrinal emphasis, and even then, it was not used as a proselytizing tool for another century. [69]

Resistance to Mother in Heaven would have been more pronounced than resistance to the corporeality of God. In the wake of the Greater Apostasy that destroyed belief in the Heavenly Family, expressing belief in Mother in Heaven became impossible within the Judeo-Christian tradition if one wished to speak with any credibility to others in that tradition. Only recently have voices from the dust, scholarship, and social change begun to make the doctrine that we have a Mother in Heaven both well supported by evidence and, at least with certain populations, a proselytizing asset rather than a liability. Outside Mormonism, as my many citations of her indicate, Margaret Barker has been the most prolific scholarly revealer of Mother in Heaven. Within Mormonism, the seminal article on this topic is Daniel C. Peterson’s “Nephi and His Asherah.” Going forward, the keystone scriptural text in restoring knowledge of Mother in Heaven will almost certainly be the Book of Mormon.

A Second Witness for Mother in Heaven

Mother in Heaven is remarkably visible in the Book of Mormon given that it would first be published in a Deuteronomist culture and that the divine Mother would, therefore, have to be hidden for the book to achieve its initial mission. She seems to be hidden in plain view as a major theme in Lehi, Nephi, and Jacob’s teachings. [70] And it is almost impossible to overstate the theological importance of what these three prophets (and Zenos and Zenock) say. Since Josiah’s purge and the subsequent Babylonian captivity were so pivotal in the development of Hebrew theology, a reliable, unedited text from that time has immense value, and the small plates of Nephi are that text. [71] As if written specifically in refutation, Nephi’s account contests point by point the doctrinal innovations of Deuteronomy. The most important doctrinal change it seems to contest is the rejection of Mother in Heaven. Perhaps there is a double entendre when Nephi repeatedly declares that it is “[W]isdom in God” that he obtain the Brass Plates (1 Nephi 3: 19; 5: 22), for Mother in Heaven probably was not as thoroughly purged from the Brass Plates as she has been from the Bible. [72]

The Book of Mormon opens with the calling of Lehi as one of the prophets mentioned in 2 Chronicles 36: 15-16. Lehi is motivated to prophesy by a vision in which he sees God sitting on his throne, then “One descending out of the midst of heaven [whose] luster was above that of the sun at noon-day” and who is followed by twelve others (1 Nephi 1: 8-10). The one descending is the Messiah who has been anointed with the holy oil of the tree (1 Nephi 1: 19). The heavenly visitors give Lehi a new book of scripture which he reads. The book—which may be the Book of Mormon—prophesies that Jerusalem will be destroyed but that those who hearken and come unto Elohim, i.e., Lehi and his family, will not perish (1 Nephi 1: 14; Proverbs 1: 33).

Having read the book, Lehi exclaims “Great and marvelous are thy works, O Lord God Almighty [Yahweh El Shaddai]!” (1 Nephi 1: 14). In the King James Old Testament, the word Almighty, which occurs forty-eight times, is always a translation of Shaddai, a name for God that, in the Bible, is associated with fertility and that may signify breasts, being thus the God with breasts or the divine female. [73] So Lehi seems to open the Book of Mormon by glorifying the divine Son, Father, and Mother. As he invokes Son Yahweh (the Good Shepherd), Father (El), and Mother (Shaddai), he may have in mind Jacob’s blessing of Joseph, Lehi’s progenitor (1 Nephi 5: 14), for all three divine beings are mentioned in Joseph’s partriarchal blessing, which is about to be fulfilled through Lehi: “Joseph is a fruitful bough…whose branches run over the wall: ...his hands were made strong by the hands of the mighty God of Jacob; (from thence is the shepherd, the stone of Israel). Even by El [אג translated God] … who shall help thee; and by Shaddai [שדי translated the Almighty], who shall bless thee with…blessings of the breasts [שדים, shaddaim in Hebrew], and of the womb” (Genesis 49: 22, 24-25).

While it is in harmony with the older religion of Genesis, Lehi’s visions and the book he is given contradict Deuteronomy’s doctrines that God cannot be seen and that “there is no god with me” (Deuteronomy 32: 39). The visions reaffirm the existence of the heavenly family. Faithful to the instructions given them by Deuteronomy 13: 6-10, the Jews mock and seek to kill this prophet who dares to challenge the teachings of their newly normative fifth book in the Pentateuch and its Josian orthodoxy. Lehi is forced to flee into the wilderness, where he continues to violate the strictures of Josiah, Hilkiah, and Deuteronomy. He builds an altar outside of Jerusalem and, though he is not a Levite, offers a sacrifice to God (1 Nephi 2: 7). His wife Sariah joins him at the altar as he offers a second sacrifice (1 Nephi 5: 9). [74] His son Nephi later violates the Deuteronomist code still more egregiously by building not just an altar but an entire temple outside of Jerusalem. [75]

Lehi’s Dream
The centerpiece of Lehi and Nephi’s teaching is Lehi’s dream, a theological tableau that features a sacred tree that is separated by a chasm of filthy water from a great and spacious building full of mocking people. The significance of this dream will be more apparent if we recognize that it is set in the Jerusalem Lehi knew so well. [76] Other than the palace of the king, the greatest and most spacious building known to Lehi was Solomon’s temple, which was located on the temple mount, the highest point in Jerusalem. On the east, the temple mount steeply declined into the Kidron valley. On the other side of the narrow valley was the Mount of Olives, where the Garden of Gethsemane would later be located. Water flowed into the Kidron from two very different sources. There were sudden, dangerous, and dirty flash floods and there was a source of living, pure water, the Gihon spring that was associated with Asherah and also known as the Virgin spring. [77] Each of these features of Jerusalem topography played an important role in Lehi’s dream.

Let us begin with the great and spacious building. In his book Plain and Precious Things, Dave Butler offers several reasons for thinking that this great building is the temple. The fact that the building is high in the air suggests it is a temple. Temples are archetypally in a high place. Butler notes that hekal was “the most obvious word [for Lehi] to use to describe the great and spacious building.” [78] Hekal refers specifically to the large middle room in the temple, but it was also used for the temple as a whole, and for any large building. If Lehi said hekal, “great building” and “temple” were alternative translations of what he said. Lehi indicated that the people in the building wore clothing that was “exceedingly fine” (1 Nephi 8: 27). Butler notes that Exodus repeatedly prescribes “fine” clothing as the appropriate dress for the priests in the temple (Exodus 28: 5-8, 39; 39: 27-29). [79] The mocking people in the great and spacious building are clearly connected with the Jews who mocked Lehi as he prophesied (1 Nephi 1: 19). They are the “house of Israel” (1 Nephi 13: 35). Among the mockers, the Bible tells us, were “the chief of the priests” who would be found in the temple (2 Chronicles 36: 14-16). Since they have the power to kill him in spite of his status and personal wealth, it is apparent that the people who oppose and mock Lehi include the civil and religious authorities of Jerusalem, i.e., the people who control and administer the temple. And of course, their temple, like the great and spacious building is on the verge of an exceedingly great fall (2 Chronicles 36: 19; 1 Nephi 11: 35-36).

The Kidron chasm can help us understand how the house of Elohim and Jehovah came to be transformed into a great and spacious building without foundations, without roots. It was destroyed because those who administered it rejected Wisdom and embraced “the world and the wisdom thereof” (1 Nephi 11: 35). From Nephi, who generally reframes Lehi’s vision in apocalyptic and explicitly allegorical terms, we learn that the chasm with its filthy water signifies the depths of hell (1 Nephi 16: 26-29). The mists associated with the chasm are the deceptions of the devil which blind the eyes and harden the hearts of God’s children (1 Nephi 12: 16-17). In the Bible, it is noteworthy that Josiah and Hilkiah destroyed the Asherah figure located in the temple by dragging it down into Kidron and burning it (2 Kings 23: 6).

In Jewish tradition, this desecration of Asherah is remembered as the rejection of the Shekhinah [80], the feminine part of Elohim, the wife of God, who was taken out of the Holy of Holies and departed the temple mount through the Mercy Gate that leads into the Kidron valley. This is the gate that Josiah and Hilkiah undoubtedly used to drag Asherah into the valley because it is the gate closest to the temple when exiting the temple compound on the Kidron side. Passing through this gate, the tradition says, the rejected Goddess went into exile--just prior to the destruction of the first temple. [81]   When the Deteronomists also rejected and mocked Lehi’s message that Yahweh is the corporeal Messiah Son of a corporeal Father who sits on a throne [82] , they cast the entire Heavenly Family out of their temple home and thus left it high in the air without foundation, ripe for the fall that would soon follow.

Though in the Bible account the ben Elohim is rejected along with the rest of the host of heaven and like the Asherah is cast into the Kidron Valley (2 Kings 23: 4-6), in Lehi’s dream both Son and Mother still exist in full glory opposite the great and spacious temple on the Mount of Olives side of the Kidron valley. Lehi’s dream is supported by Ezekiel 11: 22-23 and by Jewish tradition which also says that the Shekhinah dwelled on the Mount of Olives after being rejected by the Jews and exiled through the Mercy Gate. [83] Thus, in the dream the rejected Mother and Son are located on the Mount of Olives where Jehovah will atone for the sins of the world (Matthew 26: 30-45), where he will ascend into heaven following his earthly ministry (Acts 1: 9-12), where he will return in glory at his second coming (Zechariah 14: 4-5), and where he will then reenter the temple through the Mercy Gate (Ezekiel 44: 1-3) as will the Shekhinah. [84]

While all those glorious deeds lie in his future, in the dream Jehovah serves as a patient first guide while Nephi experiences for himself the dream of his father. [85] Jehovah begins this small mission as he began his great pre-mortal ministry (Moses 4: 2) by glorifying Elohim, the most high God (1 Nephi 11: 6). He alludes to his own descent from heaven as the Son of God (1 Nephi 11: 7), then demonstrates to Nephi that the tree opposite the temple on the Mount of Olives represents his mother and him.

When Jehovah shows Nephi the tree his father had seen, Nephi describes it as the epitome of divine beauty: “and the beauty thereof was far beyond, yea, exceeding of all beauty; and the whiteness thereof did exceed the whiteness of the driven snow” (1 Nephi 11:8). Nephi then says, “I behold thou hast shown unto me the tree which is precious above all” (1 Nephi 11: 9), a phrase that he will repeatedly echo when he later talks about how the Book of Mormon will restore plain and precious truths that have been expunged from the Bible. Knowledge of Mother in Heaven would surely be the most precious of all the truths that would be restored (1 Nephi 13: 29, 32, 34-35, 40).

In continuing refutation of Deuteronomy which denies the corporeality of God (Deuteronomy 4: 12, 15-16), speaking “as a man speaketh with another,” Jehovah asks Nephi, “What desirest thou?” (1 Nephi 11: 10-11). Nephi says he wants to know the meaning of the tree. Jehovah commands Nephi to “Look!” but as he looks at Jehovah, the Lord vanishes and Nephi sees instead “a virgin, and she was exceedingly fair and white” (1 Nephi 11: 13). More language linking the virgin to the tree follows as Nephi tells his new guide what he sees: “a virgin, most beautiful and fair above all other virgins” (1 Nephi 11: 15). The angel who has descended to take the place of Jehovah now tells Nephi that “the virgin whom thou seest is the mother of the Son of God” (1 Nephi 11: 18). The angel then repeats Jehovah’s earlier command: “Look!” Nephi looks and this time sees Jehovah, who had previously disappeared but who now reappears in the form of a baby: “And I looked and beheld the virgin again, bearing a child in her arms. And the angel said unto me: Behold the Lamb of God, yea, even the Son of the Eternal Father! Knowest thou the meaning of the tree which thy father saw?” (1 Nephi 11: 20-21). The embodiment of the tree’s exceeding whiteness and great beauty in the virgin makes the meaning clear. The tree is the mother of God and the fruit of her womb, the fruit borne by the tree, is the divine Jehovah in mortal form. [86] This fruit is “desirable to make one happy [ashre].” It is a source of “exceedingly great joy [ashre]” (1 Nephi 8: 9, 12). [87]
Coming as they do from a culture that has viewed the tree as signifying the Queen of Heaven, the wife of El, and the Mother of Jehovah [88], Lehi and Nephi surely grasped the deeper, implicit meaning of this tree that is now explicitly linked to the mother of God. [89] The tree doubly signifies both Mary, the beautiful and white mother of God “after the manner of the flesh” (1 Nephi 11: 18) and Elah, the Mother of God after the manner of the spirit, whose beauty exceeds all other beauty and whose divine whiteness literally “exceed[s] the whiteness of the driven snow” (1 Nephi 11: 8) because her robe is made of light, the light of the first day. [90]

The vision then underscores the tree’s connection to both the earthly and the divine mothers of Jehovah by linking it with another entity connected with both. The scriptural iron rod leads not just to the “tree of life” but also to the “fountain of living waters” (1 Nephi 11: 25), the Gihon spring which is associated with Asherah and through its other name, the Virgin’s spring [91], with both Asherah and Mary. [92] This spring is also associated with Eden, the home of the Tree of Life, for Gihon is one of the four rivers that flows out of Eden (Genesis 2: 13). [93] The living waters of this fountain are, in turn, shown to be the waters of baptism, of spiritual rebirth, for in the next verse, Nephi is again commanded to look and then sees the baptism of Christ (1 Nephi 11: 26-27). [94] Both tree and fountain, Nephi tells us, signify the “love of God” (1 Nephi 11: 22, 25). The divine Mother and divine Son are the “love of God” (1 Nephi 11: 22, 25) in multiple senses. They are the objects of God’s love but also preeminent earthly manifestations of his love for all humanity because they make people ashre, happy, full of joy (1 Nephi 8: 9, 12).

Having again reiterated the connection of the Asherah tree with the “tree of life” (1 Nephi 11: 25, 15: 21-22), Nephi introduces another tree, the cross (Acts 5: 30), upon which the fruit of the divine and earthly mothers will be hung (1 Nephi 11: 33). [95] So while we do not know for certain where Golgotha was, as some scholars do [96], the dream locates the cross in the Garden of Gethsemane on Mount Olivet. As the righteous multitudes press forward clinging to the iron rod, they approach Gethsemane and the cross and there pluck from the tree and partake of the saving fruit that is most sweet and desirable above all other fruit (1 Nephi 8: 11-12), the body and blood of Jesus, the atonement of Christ. [97]

 Images of the Gethsemane atonement often show Christ leaning upon or framed by an ancient, twisted tree that seems to reflect and share his agony. [98] It is probably no accident that the atonement begins in a garden and a garden named Gethsemane, which translates as the “oil press.” [99] In the atonement, the fruit of the Mother tree is pressed to yield the sacred anointing oil that heals the sick, resurrects the dead, and elevates ordinary mortals to be divine kings and queens, priests and priestesses. [100]

It is likewise no accident that Christ completes the atonement hung on a tree. In the Garden of Gethsemane and on the cross, Mother in Heaven was, in a sense, symbolically present with her Son, sharing in his suffering and providing for the salvation of all her other children. While the Deuteronomist co-creators of our world made it impossible for her to appear openly, at the cross as in Lehi’s dream, Mother is nevertheless unmistakably present in symbol and surrogate for those who have eyes to see. At Golgotha, the cross is her symbol, and Mary, the mother of God, is again her surrogate, standing at the base of the tree and sharing in the suffering of her son (John 19: 25-26). [101]

The shared suffering of Mother and Son is beautifully evoked by a passage that is not incorporated in the Bible but that was quoted as authoritative scripture in the early Christian work, the Epistle of Barnabas: “[God] points to the cross of Christ in another prophet, who saith, ‘And when shall these things be accomplished? And the Lord saith, When a tree shall be bent down, and again arise, and when blood shall flow out of wood.’” This passage may well reveal Mother’s suffering during the crucifixion of her Son and her relief at its conclusion. While Christ suffered, blood flowed not just from his body but from the symbolic body of his Heavenly Mother who was bent low in shared agony as her Son suffered. [102]

Two other likely surrogates are Mary of Bethany and Mary Magdalene. The atonement is framed by encounters between Jesus and these two Marys. Prior to the atonement, Mary of Bethany anoints Christ’s head and feet with the precious oil used in the temple that, as previously discussed, derives from Mother in Heaven and is associated with the healing and resurrection that Christ will soon enact (Mark 14: 3-9; John 11: 2, 12: 1-8). This anointing by a woman, symbolically by Heavenly Mother, marks Jesus as the anointed one, the Messiah, the Christ who in his suffering and death will atone for the sins of the world.

Mary Magdalene joins mother Mary in attending the Savior when he is on the cross (John 19: 25) and again attends when he is laid in the tomb (Mark 15: 46-47). Importantly, Christ is buried in a garden (John 19: 41), presumably, surrounded by trees, and there receives the immortal body that is promised to all who partake of the Tree of Life (Moses 4: 8). After being resurrected in an immortal body, the Savior first comes to a woman, Mary Magdalene, before going to anyone else, even before ascending to the Father (John 20: 13-17). This supremely important visit—which earned Mary the honorific “apostle to the apostles” [103]—reflects an ancient type scene in which a wife/goddess participates in the resurrection of her husband. Kevin Christensen notes that we see this pattern in the Book of Mormon as Lamoni’s wife raises Lamoni from the dead (Alma 19: 11-13). [104]  This appearance of a type scene may indicate the primacy of Christ’s return to Mother in Heaven. (It may also suggest that Mary Magdalene was the wife of Christ, the other half of the unit that will make him Elohim. [105])

The Allegory of the Olive
            Nephi reports three times on his father’s teaching. In each of these reports, as if to emphasize its theological importance, a tree is featured as a key element in the instruction. After reporting Lehi’s dream in 1 Nephi chapter 8, Nephi resumes his account of Lehi’s teaching in chapter 10. There Lehi again talks about the Messiah and a tree, specifically the tree in the allegory of the olive, which is briefly recounted (1 Nephi 10: 12-14). As he did with the dream, Nephi again takes up his father’s tree theme at somewhat greater length (1 Nephi 15: 12-16), but it is another son, Jacob, who fully expounds upon Lehi’s second tree theme using the words of Zenos, a prophet whose writings were incorporated in the brass plates.

The life and prophesies of Zenos provide strong evidence that the divine sonship of Jehovah and motherhood of Elah were known anciently but were suppressed. Zenos understood and boldly testified of the sonship and mission of Christ (1 Nephi 19: 10; Alma 33: 13, 34: 7). And he repeatedly mentioned the Mother tree. Because of his bold testimony, he was slain (Helaman 8: 19).

The main characters in Zenos’ allegory of the olive tree are the Lord of the vineyard, the main servant of the Lord, and a tree. Thus, each saving member of the heavenly family is represented. The Lord generally seems to be El and the servant generally seems to be Jehovah. The tree is not one but three things: a trunk and roots, branches, and fruits on the branches. The trunk and roots seem to be Elah/Asherah. They are four times referred to as the “mother tree” (Jacob 5: 54, 56, 60) and are celebrated “because of their goodness” (Jacob 5: 36-37, 59). Trunk and roots are an apt representation of Elah because the main tree feature of the Asherah statue was a tree trunk. [106] The branches of the tree are the various human cultures of the house of Israel and of the gentiles. The fruits are individual human souls.

In addition to reflecting the history of Israel, the allegory of the olive is a theodicy that accounts for the existence of evil in the world. [107] And the explanation it gives for the existence of evil is that the tops of the branches have become too distant from the root of the tree.  When the Lord of the vineyard asks, “Who is it that has corrupted my vineyard?” the servant replies: “Is it not the loftiness of thy vineyard—have not the branches thereof overcome the roots which are good? And because the branches have overcome the roots thereof, behold they grew faster than the strength of the roots, taking strength unto themselves” (Jacob 5: 47-48). When the tops of the branches, the elites of the society, become too far removed from the trunk and roots of the tree, when they have strength in themselves and can reduce or obscure the influence of the trunk and roots, evil enters the world.

In his introduction to the allegory, Jacob highlights the problem in 5: 48 and clarifies its meaning in a passage that seems to perfectly describe the governing Deuteronomist elites of the Jerusalem his father was forced to abandon to avoid being killed like Zenos:

But behold, the Jews were a stiffnecked people; and they despised the words of plainness, and killed the prophets, and sought for things that they could not understand. Wherefore, because of their blindness, which blindness came by looking beyond the mark, they must needs fall; for God hath taken away his plainness from them, and delivered unto them many things which they cannot understand, because they desired it. And because they desired it God hath done it, that they may stumble. (Jacob 4: 14)

In the heavenly family of Father El, Mother Elah (the Elohim), and Messiah Son Jehovah, the Jews had a plain and easily understood truth about the nature of God and the plan of salvation. But they killed prophets like Zenos who taught this plain truth, and they looked beyond the mark to a Father who lacked both body and spouse and to a Mosaic law that they could not understand because they rejected the doctrine of Christ. And because they cast the Heavenly Family from their temple house and distanced themselves in particular from the trunk and roots of the Mother tree, they and their temple “must needs fall.”

Unfortunately, while their city and temple fell, these Deuteronomist elites remained in control of the scriptural text [108] and handed down a gospel that wrote Mother in Heaven out of its theology and that looked beyond the mark such that they could not see Jehovah, the Messiah, when he stood before them in the meridian of time. The allegory of the olive suggests that much evil entered the world, that Judeo Christian culture was corrupted, when Mother in Heaven was blotted out. With no Mother in Heaven, trunk and root, God’s vineyard could yield little flourishing fruit. Fortunately, in Jacob chapter 5, the longest chapter in all scripture, the Book of Mormon preserves knowledge of the Mother tree, of Mother in Heaven and the critical role She plays in the redemption of her children.

Deuteronomist Apostasy in the Book of Mormon
            When Lehi fled doomed Jerusalem, he took with him the Brass Plates which contained a version of Deuteronomy (1 Nephi 5: 11). His group seems to have included some Deuteronomists. By the end of Jacob’s life, the fundamentalist Deuteronomists are on the rise and winning many adherents (Jacob 7: 3). [109] One of them, a learned man named Sherem, accosts Jacob to challenge his belief in the gospel of Christ. Relying upon Deuteronomy, Sherem accuses Jacob of committing three capital crimes: causing apostasy, blasphemy, and false prophesy. [110]

Deuteronomy warns against listening to any prophet—even one showing signs and wonders—who causes the people to “go after other gods, which thou hast not known” and who thrusts “thee out of the way” (Deuteronomy 13: 1-5). Sherem says Christ is such a god and that Jacob has “led away much of this people that they pervert the right way of God, and keep not the law of Moses, which is the right way; and convert the law of Moses into the worship of a being which … shall come many hundred years hence” (Jacob 7: 7). Jacob replies that all scripture testifies of Christ if properly understood (Jacob 7: 11), then at Sherem’s insistence, gives a sign: Sherem is struck down (Jacob 7: 15) and ultimately confesses his error (Jacob 7: 18-19). The Christ-focused religion of Lehi, Nephi, and Jacob seems to prevail.

But signs seldom persuade in the long run, and Deuteronomists are specifically instructed to ignore them. They apparently did. As Sturgess notes, “with the exception of Enos's private experience in the wilderness, the doctrine of Christ disappears entirely after the book of Jacob…. We are informed that they were strict in keeping the law of Moses, but … the doctrine of Christ disappears from the text…. [Apparently] Nephi and his brother were unsuccessful in their bid to establish the doctrine of Christ as the official religion of the Nephites.” [111] It thus had to be restored.

The Restoration of the Almas
That an apostasy occurred is evident from the priests of Noah who have no knowledge of Christ and teach that salvation comes by the Law of Moses (Mosiah 12: 28, 32). The true faith has been lost and Alma1, inspired by Abinadi, must restore it. At the focal point of Alma’s restoration we find conjoined Nephi’s three symbols of Mother in Heaven: the tree, the fountain, and baptism (1 Nephi 11: 25-27). Protected in his ministry by a grove of trees, Alma1 brings those who will listen to a place called the Waters of Mormon where there is “a fountain of pure water” (Mosiah 18: 5). There his converts are symbolically born again and enter the path of faith through baptism.

Baptism is an inherently female symbol. Our literal emergence at birth from the amniotic water and the entrance of the spirit into our body is replicated as we are symbolically born of the water and the spirit in our baptism and confirmation (Moses 6: 59). [112] Christ himself noted this connection in a conversation with Nicodemus, his only recorded discussion of baptism (John 3: 1-7). The linking of baptism with the tree and fountain both here and in Nephi’s vision suggests that baptism, like the tree and fountain, signifies the presence of Mother in Heaven.

There are many other possible intimations of our Heavenly Mother in the Book of Mormon, too many to mention in this short essay.  For example, the apotheosis of Alma the Younger’s teaching on this theme is his great sermon on faith in Alma 32. There he compares faith to the planting and nurturing of a seed that, when it is mature, becomes the Tree of Life. In describing the tree, he explicitly echoes Lehi’s dream. [113] So the path of faith, like the iron rod, leads us to the great symbol of Mother in Heaven, the Tree of Life, from which we partake of the fruit she bears—the atonement of her firstborn, the Lord Jesus Christ (Alma 32: 36-43).

The great seers of the Book of Mormon, Lehi, Nephi, Jacob, Alma1, Alma2, and Benjamin, were charged to make manifest the secret things, the sacred mysteries of God, to “make known the plain and precious things which have been taken from [the Bible]” (1 Nephi 13: 40). Perhaps the most plain of the hidden things they bring to light—because it is such a commonplace truth outside the context of theology—is the idea that we have a Mother as well as a Father in Heaven. She who is called Wisdom and the Shekhina, our Mother in Heaven, with the Father as Elohim, jointly rules over us.

Mother in Heaven in the Garden

The place in the scriptures where the active and central role of Mother in Heaven is most apparent is in the story of Adam and Eve in Eden. As its incorporation in the temple ceremony indicates, this narrative is an especially important one because it is emblematic of choices all make and paths all follow in their journey through life. [114] It illustrates that the prescribed course is “one eternal round” (1 Nephi 10: 19), a great cycle of departure and return that casts Mother in Heaven in the pivotal role of She from whom we depart and She to whom we return. [115]

The most important things in the Garden of Eden are two trees, the Tree of Life and the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. Each tree may signify an aspect of Mother in Heaven. [116] The placement of the Tree of Life “in the midst of the garden [betok hagan]” (Genesis 2: 9) underscores the central role played by Heavenly Mother in the salvation narrative. The Hebrew word betok means midst, middle, center. This Mother tree is the symbolic umbilicus of the garden, the point at which souls are nourished and prepared for birth. [117] Near the Tree of Life is the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil also described as betok hagan (Genesis 3: 3). As previously discussed, the fruit of the Tree of Life is Jehovah, the Lord Jesus Christ. To partake of that fruit is to gain immortality. If one has properly prepared before partaking, one also gains eternal life. 

The fruit of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil is misused by Satan, who persuades Eve and Adam to partake of it. To partake of that fruit is to know evil and death. [118] Thus, after Satan gives Eve the fruit and persuades her to eat it, she suddenly knows that he is Lucifer who was cast out of Elohim’s presence because of rebellion. [119] This rebel, who embodies all evil, has a role to play in our struggle to become as one of the “gods, knowing good and evil” (D&C 29: 39; Moses 4: 10). He plays his malevolent role at the sufferance of the Elohim, who circumscribe his actions and ensure that they do not compromise but rather facilitate human agency.

The divine actors in the garden narrative of the Bible and the Book of Mormon seem to be featured on a cylinder seal found on the site of the ancient Syrian city of Mari. [120] The central figure in this image is El. [121] El sits in the mountain high place where shrines or temples are found. He is positioned as Lord of the Cosmos, ruling both the stars above and the waters below. On the right hand of El in her conventional tree form is his wife, Asherah. She holds in her hand the asherah cult object, the stylized almond tree that is cut into the shape of a menorah. This fully blossomed Mother Goddess seems to be the Tree of Life. A Goddess appears in that same tree guise on El’s left. This Asherah figure, who is less fully blossomed, holds a container, possibly of food, and may signify the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. Each Goddess stands in the midst of a fountain of water and, thus, brings together tree and fountain, Nephi’s main symbols for Mother in Heaven. Beneath El’s feet in a debased or subordinate position is the serpent who may signify Satan. Yahweh stands on the Tree-of-Life side of the image, holding a spear. Yahweh seems to be fighting against and subduing the waters that spew from the mouth of the serpent. El’s attention is focused on the Tree-of-Life and Yahweh side of the image, but placement on a cylinder makes the image an eternal round.


On this cylinder we thus find all the key members of the holy family, El and Elah, Yahweh and Lucifer, arrayed as we might expect to find them in the Garden of Eden. Keel dates this cylinder seal between 2350 and 2150 BCE, which makes it roughly contemporaneous with Abraham. Mari is located in northwest Mesopotamia on the border of Caanan, i.e., in the likely location of Abraham’s original homeland according to Peterson and Gee. [122] Given this coincidence of time and place, the image may reflect beliefs held by Abraham that constituted the religion Josiah opposed and reformed. The image may partially explain why Abraham set up his altar in Shechem where there was a great elah oak tree (Genesis 12: 6 – 7, 35: 4). It supports the idea that Mother in Heaven was anciently understood to be both the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil and the Tree of Life. It also affirms her role as witness of sacred covenants.

While quite clearly embodied in the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil and the Tree of Life, the spiritual mother of all living is also signified by a surrogate in the Eden narrative, her elect daughter Eve, the physical mother of all living, who partakes of the Wisdom tree that she might be wise and then persuades Adam to do and be likewise. When she partakes of the tree, Eve becomes the first born mortal. By then persuading Adam to partake, she delivers him into mortality and becomes the mother of all living. As Adam had given birth to Eve when a rib was taken from his side to form her, so Eve now gives birth to Adam by persuading him to eat the fruit. These reciprocal births indicate the equality and mutual dependence of female and male.

After partaking of the fruit, Eve and Adam develop new dimensions of moral awareness. They recognize that they are naked. Mother in Heaven now clothes her newborn mortal children, providing leaves from fig trees that they use to make aprons and cover their nakedness. When they hear God walking in the Garden and their new moral awareness fills them with fear, they flee, in a figurative sense, to Mother for comforting shelter. Clad in foliage, they seek to hide themselves in the midst of a tree (betok etz), possibly in the foliage of the Tree of Life itself (Genesis 3: 7-8). [123] Having chosen a mortal life by partaking of the forbidden fruit, Eve and Adam are then condemned to have a rich array of difficult life experiences from which they will learn and grow. God replaces their tree leaf clothing with a garment made from animal skins. They are then separated from the tree “lest [Adam] put forth his hand, and take also of the Tree of Life, and eat, and live forever” (Genesis 3: 22). Cherubim with flaming swords, who light the Tree of Life and anticipate the burning bush and the menorah, are charged to prevent their immediate return to the tree. Adam and Eve’s task is to return to the Tree of Life at the end of their mortal experience and worthily partake of its fruit. They will then receive the joy of eternal life and exaltation. [124]

In the lengthiest account we have of his teachings, Lehi reflects upon these events and the central role played by the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil and the Tree of Life. Were it not for the tension embodied in these two trees, Lehi tells Jacob, “the [W]isdom of God and his eternal purposes” would be destroyed (2 Nephi 2: 12). “It must needs be that there was an opposition; even the forbidden fruit in opposition to the tree of life; the one being sweet and the other bitter. Wherefore, the Lord God [Yahweh Elohim] gave unto man that he should act for himself. Wherefore, man could not act for himself save it should be that he was enticed by the one or the other” (2 Nephi 2: 15-16).

The specific negative consequence faced by Adam for partaking of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil was being compelled to engage in fruitful labor (Genesis 3: 17-19), the wellspring of much of the deepest satisfaction human beings enjoy in this life. [125] Eve was condemned to repeatedly experience pain in giving birth: “in sorrow thou shalt bring forth children” (Genesis 3: 16). But for almost all women, the sorrow and pain of birth is greatly overshadowed by the joy of having a new child. For most, the pain of being unable to have children would be or is much greater than that of giving birth, and that, Lehi tells Jacob, is what Eve and Adam would have experienced had Eve not partaken of the fruit: “They would have remained in the garden of Eden…. And they would have had no children; wherefore they would have remained in a state of innocence, having no joy [ashre], for they knew no misery; doing no good, for they knew no sin. Behold all these things have been done in the [W]isdom of he who knoweth all things. Adam [and Eve] fell that men might be; and men are that they might have joy [ashre]” (2 Nephi 2: 22-25).

In summary, then, Mother in Heaven is the one from whom we take leave as each of us, at our appointed time, is born into mortality. Like her surrogate Eve, she probably experiences momentary pain as we depart to be born as mortals. But that pain is surely overshadowed by the joy of our birth into the wonderful world she, the Father, and the Son have provided for us. And with divine foreknowledge, she can anticipate our return to her, to the Tree of Life, which will help make us immortal and raise us to the kingdom of glory merited by our degree of faith in her, the Father, and the Son.

Alpha and Omega

In Genesis, the first book of the Bible, the plural Elohim and the Garden of Eden narrative indicate that Mother in Heaven was present with the Father and played a pivotal role in the creation of the world and in the advent of the first dispensation of the gospel (Alpha). The Eden narrative also hints that she is represented by the Tree of Life, which is the proper end of our mortal existence, the thing that transforms us into immortal and exalted beings (Omega).

In Revelation, the last book of the Bible, Mother in Heaven’s role as Omega is emphasized. At the beginning of the book readers are enjoined to complete the spiritual life cycle by returning to the garden and the Tree of Life. “He that hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit saith[:] To him that overcometh will I give to eat of the tree of life, which is in the midst of the paradise of God” (Revelation 2: 7).

In the middle of the book, the Revelator merges the identities of Mother in Heaven and her surrogate Mary by weaving together an account of the war in heaven and an account of Christ’s birth. The chapter opens with the appearance of “a great wonder in heaven; a woman clothed with the sun, and the moon under her feet, and upon her head a crown of twelve stars” (Revelation 12: 1) This is Elah, the Queen of Heaven, the Eternal Mother of Jehovah. “And she being with child cried, travailing in birth, and pained to be delivered” (Revelation 12: 2). Jehovah is born both in heaven and on earth. [126] Standing in opposition to this new king is a dragon whose “tail drew the third part of the stars of heaven, and did cast them to the earth: and the dragon stood before the woman which was ready to be delivered, for to devour her child as soon as it was born. And she brought forth a man child, who was to rule all nations with a rod of iron: and her child was caught up unto God, and to his throne” (Revelation 12: 4-5).

In a likely allusion to Mother being hidden in plain view on the earth, the revelator now says “And the woman fled into the wilderness, where she hath a place prepared of God” (Revelation 12: 6). Suggesting that this is Heavenly Mother, the passage next returns to heaven and continues: “And there was war in heaven: Michael and his angels fought against the dragon; and the dragon fought and his angels….  And the great dragon was cast out, that old serpent, called the Devil” (Revelation 12: 7, 9). Furious at his ejection from heaven, Satan focuses his attack on Jehovah’s Mother: “And when the dragon saw that he was cast unto the earth, he persecuted the woman which brought forth the man child. [127] And [the woman flew] into the wilderness, into her place, where she is nourished for a time…. And the dragon was wroth with the woman, and went to make war with the remnant of her seed, which keep the commandments of God, and have the testimony of Jesus Christ” (Revelation 12: 13-14, 17). In these verses, Mother in Heaven is attacked and forced into the wilderness. She seems to embody (as she does in the allegory of the olive tree) not just herself but also the true faith in and church of Jesus Christ, which are also persecuted and which are also hidden in the wilderness where, like her, they wait to be restored. [128] That Satan makes war on “the remnant of her seed, which keep the commandments of God” i.e., on all human beings who keep the commandments, is clear evidence that the Revelator here refers to Mother in Heaven, not to Mary.

As Revelation and the Bible close, Mother in Heaven is again prominently featured as both the Tree of Life and the fountain of pure water seen by Lehi and Nephi. The final chapter of the Bible opens as follows: “And he shewed me a pure river of water of life, clear as crystal, proceeding out of the throne of God and of the Lamb. In the midst of the street of it, and on either side of the river, was there the tree of life, which bare twelve manner of fruits, and yielded her fruit every month: and the leaves of the tree were for the healing of the nations” (Revelation 22: 1-2). [129] Dave Butler has persuasively argued that the setting of this image is the Debir, the Holy of Holies in the temple. The Tree of Life is represented by the Menorah. The twelve fruits are the twelve loaves of shewbread, the bread of the presence, the food offering given to God in the temple. [130]  As we come to the Tree of Life and partake of its fruit, we eat the food of God because the atonement cleanses and perfects us and transforms us into gods. The twelve fruits also signify the sacrament, the twelve pieces of bread eaten by the apostles at the Last Supper. So each Sunday, as members partake of the sacrament, they partake of the fruit of the Tree of Life, the bread of the presence, the Last Supper which, if consumed worthily, will make them gods.   
At the end of the Bible’s ultimate chapter, the Revelator sets the Tree of Life and the pure fountain before us one last time. “I am Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the end, the first and the last. Blessed are they that do [Christ’s] commandments, that they may have right to the tree of life…. Come. And whosoever will, let him take the water of life freely” (Revelation 22: 13-14, 17).  Present at the beginning, present at the end, Mother in Heaven joins the Father and Son as the Alpha and Omega of scripture.


Continuing revelation is a fundamental doctrine of Mormonism. “We believe all that God has revealed, all that he does now reveal, and we believe that he will yet reveal many great and important things pertaining to the kingdom of God” (9th Article of Faith). Also fundamental is God’s respect for agency. And implicit in that respect is the human co-creation of the world. What God can reveal at any given time is in part a function of the horizon of beliefs and practices that human beings have created for themselves through the exercise of their agency. Respect for agency thus entails a gradual unfolding of God’s truth, “line upon line, precept upon precept,” as human cultures are ready to receive it (2 Nephi 28: 30). [131] The restoration of the gospel had to await, for example, the establishment of the U.S. Constitution and the proclamation of freedom of religion. At the earliest possible moment following that proclamation God restored the true faith and true Church that had been lost in the Great Apostasy.

The Deuteronomist Greater Apostasy established a horizon of belief that made it impossible for the Elohim to fully reveal the existence of and central role played by Mother in Heaven in the creation of the earth and in the lives of her children. Mother was present in scripture but unrecognized by most of the faithful for many centuries. Knowledge of her existence was restored by Joseph Smith. [132] But though this truth was treasured and its implications were recognized, the culture of Christendom was not yet ripe for the full revelation of Mother in Heaven’s presence in scripture and in our lives.

Nevertheless, as Isaiah prophesied when he foresaw the destruction of Jerusalem in Lehi’s time, voices would speak from the dust when ancient texts and artifacts were rediscovered and would restore understanding that had been lost in the Greater Apostasy (Isaiah 29: 1-24). In our time, those voices have been speaking from the New World in the Book of Mormon and from the Old in texts discovered at Ugarit, Qumram, Nag Hamadi, and elsewhere. They also speak from the dust of ancient Jerusalem as archaeologists uncover there ubiquitous figurines of Asherah, the tree goddess, and other artifacts that testify of Mother in Heaven. Hearing these voices from the dust, “they also that erred in spirit shall come to understanding, and they that murmured shall learn doctrine” (Isaiah 29: 24).

The work of Methodist scholar Margaret Barker demonstrates these voices from the dust are preparing Christendom to receive a restoration of the doctrine that we have a Mother in Heaven who plays a pivotal role in our mortal and eternal lives. As Mark S. Smith has observed, the “Zeitgeist of our age psychologically preconditions advocates to desire a goddess in ancient Israel.” [133] Culturally, the woman’s movement has created a strong interest in and longing for the feminine divine. Thus, the world co-created by humanity may be prepared for the restoration of a new understanding that the Elohim are both Father and Mother and that working as one with Jehovah and the Holy Ghost, they jointly orchestrate the salvation and exaltation of their children.

In the Church as in the world, we are developing new levels of understanding. Many Mormon scholars and individuals have begun to recognize that Mother in Heaven is represented in scripture by, among other things, special trees. [134] Understanding that, we can see that Mother was involved in the restoration from the beginning. It is not coincidence that the opening of the last dispensation took place in a grove of trees. If we back-translate Sacred Grove from King James English into Biblical Hebrew, the word we get is Asherah. [135] So, present in Joseph Smith’s founding theophany were all members of the heavenly family—Father, Mother, and Son Jehovah, with Mother hidden in plain view alluded to through the Sacred Grove itself. [136]

The scriptures have always told us that we have a Mother in Heaven, but it is not just scriptures we don’t have that are sealed. The scriptures we do have are also sealed when our culture is not open to hearing what they say and/or when we lack background information necessary to understand them. But the Lord says of sealed scriptures, “I will bring them forth in my own due time… [when] I shall see fit in mine own [W]isdom to reveal all things unto the children of men” (2 Nephi 27: 21-22). Sealed scriptures are calibrated to reveal their truths in the times and places where human beings are prepared to receive them. As an inspiring story of Rabbi Abraham Berukhim illustrates, our longing to know Heavenly Mother can unseal what is sealed, can open heaven and reveal her to us.

"[Rabbi Abraham] walked through the streets of [his home town] Safed, crying out “Arise, for the Shekhina is in exile….” He longed, more than anything else, to bring back the Shekhinah out of exile.,,, [Advised to go to the Wailing Wall, after fasting, he set off on foot.] With every step he took, he prayed God to reveal … a vision of the Shekhina to him. By the time Rabbi Abraham reached Jerusalem, he felt as if he were floating, as if he had ascended from his body. And when he reached the Wailing Wall, Rabbi Abraham had a vision there. Out of the wall came an old woman, dressed in black, deep in mourning. And when he looked into her eyes, he became possessed of a grief as deep as the ocean, far greater than he had ever known. It was the grief of a mother who has lost a child; the grief of Hannah, after losing her seven sons; the grief of the Shekhinah over the suffering of Her children…. At that moment Rabbi Abraham fell to the ground in a faint, and he had another vision. In this vision, he saw the Shekhinah once more, but this time he saw Her dressed in Her robe woven out of light, more magnificent than the setting sun, and Her joyful countenance was revealed.  Waves of light arose from her face, an aura that seemed to reach out and surround him, as if he were cradled in the arms of the Sabbath Queen. “Do not grieve so, My son Abraham,’ She said. “Know that My exile will come to an end, and My inheritance will not go to waste.’” [137]
We are now culturally prepared to understand that Mother in Heaven is the necessary and equal completion of Father in Heaven, that Elohim is the union of Father and Mother. And voices speaking from the dust have providentially given us the background information necessary to more fully understand this truth. Thus, if we have eyes to see and ears to hear, like Rabbi Abraham, we can come to know the divine Mother that deep in our hearts we, like him, long to know. [138]


[1] David L. Paulsen and Martin Pulido, “`A Mother There’: A Survey of Historical Teachings about Mother in Heaven,” BYU Studies 50/1 (2011): 71-97. [Back to manuscript].

[2] Gospel Principles (Salt Lake City: Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 2009), 9. [Back to manuscript].

[3] In the symbolic ascent to the celestial kingdom in the temple, the terminal ordinances involve and seal together man and woman. [Back to manuscript].

[4] The meaning of any text is partly determined by the properties of the text and partly by the horizon of beliefs the reader brings to the reading (Hans-Georg Gadamer, Truth and Method, (New York: Seabury Press, 1975). The idea that ancient Israel worshipped a mother in heaven is present among Old Testament scholars but is not uncontested. Where the evidence is ambiguous and there is controversy, readers’ conclusions will generally be determined by what Bayesian statisticians call their priors, i.e., the assumptions they bring to the text. For Latter-day Saints, relevant assumptions will normally include a strong conviction that we have a Mother in Heaven, that this and other gospel truths were known anciently and have been restored, and that the Book of Mormon is a reliable source of information about the state of belief in the Israel of 600 BC. Given those priors, it is reasonable to view sources that suggest Mother was known as being more credible than those that deny her existence. Indeed, having those convictions, Latter-day Saints can reasonably affirm the presence of Heavenly Mother in ancient texts even more strongly than the scholars they cite to buttress that claim. Mormons have more evidence that the claim is true than their non-Mormon scholarly allies do. They should not expect others with different priors to be convinced by their reasoning, but neither should they be embarrassed to be a peculiar people with their own distinctive insights and logical conclusions. As noted in the text, Margaret Barker is a non-Mormon scholar whose views are especially congruent with those of Mormons. See, for example, Margaret Barker, “Joseph Smith and Preexilic Israelite Religion,” BYU Studies, 2005, 44 (4), 69-82. For multiple helpful reviews of Barker’s scholarship from a Mormon point of view, see Kevin Christensen’s comments at http://www.thinlyveiled.com/kchristensen.htm. [Back to manuscript].

[5] Elohim could also be the plural of Eloah according to Karel van der Toom, Bob Becking, Pieter Willem van der Horst, Dictionary of Deities and Demons in the Bible, 2nd Edition, (Leiden, Boton, Köln: Brill, 1999), 274, 352-353. Barker notes that Eloah can mean goddess. Margaret Barker, The Mother of the Lord, London: Bloomsbury (2012), 218. [Back to manuscript].

[6] Elder Erastus Snow makes this point emphatically: “`What,’ says one, ‘do you mean we should understand that Deity consists of man and woman?’ Most certainly I do. If I believe anything that God has ever said about himself, and anything pertaining to the creation and organization of man upon the earth, I must believe that Deity consists of man and woman. … I have another description: There never was a God, and there never will be in all eternities, except they are made of these two component parts; a man and a woman; the male and the female,” Erastus Snow, “There is a God,” Journal of Discourses, Vol. 19, p. 269- 270. [Back to manuscript].

[7] El, the singular for God was known and used, e.g., in Genesis 33: 20 and Numbers 23:19, but these exceptions underscore the general rule that the Elohim are plural. Day notes that the wife of El is sometimes called Elat, meaning goddess (John Day, “Asherah in the Hebrew Bible,” Journal of Biblical Literature, 1986, 105 (3), p. 387). Here and elsewhere I refer to the goddess as Elah, a form Barker and Taylor both mention, that better reflects the intended Hebrew meaning in English through morphology that English has inherited from Hebrew. Barker mentions the connection to elah, the terebinth tree. Barker and Taylor both mention the similarity to ‘allah, meaning oak tree (Barker, Mother of the Lord, 218; Joan E. Taylor “The Asherah, the Menorah, and the Sacred Tree,” Journal for the Study of the Old Testament, 66 (1995), 39-50. There is also a connection to Allah, God in Arabic. [Back to manuscript].

[8] As Barker logically observes, “the Elohim of Genesis 1.26 must have been both male and female to need a male and a female as the image” The Mother of the Lord, 128. See also Kevin Barney: “The parallelism of verse 27 strongly implies that the image [tselem] of God is both male and female. The Hebrew word tselem (rendered “image” here) was used of statues and paintings as resembling their models, and the word demuth (rendered “likeness” here) was used to refer to a resemblance, similitude or pattern, as a son is in the likeness of his father (see Genesis 5: 3). Certainly there have been attempts to spiritualize the meaning of this passage. Nevertheless, the most natural way to read it is as follows: if humankind [‘adam] was created, both male [zachar] and female [nequbah], in the image of God, then the image of God must be both male and female in much the same way that humankind, which was modeled after God, is male and female.” Kevin Barney, “Do We Have a Mother in Heaven?” http://www.fairmormon.org/wp-content/uploads/2014/04/Kevin-Barney-MotherInHeaven.pdf. [Back to manuscript].

[9] In a few instances, e.g., Exodus 20: 3, the intended meaning is just other gods besides God. But in most cases, the word refers to the high God of Israel. [Back to manuscript].

[10] The singular of Adonai, Adon, is never used to refer to God, though it is used 215 times to refer to human lords. Blueletterbible http://blogs.blueletterbible.org/blb/2012/07/13/the-names-of-god-adonai/. [Back to manuscript].

[11] Dana M. Pike, “The Name and Titles of God in the Old Testament,” Religious Educator, 11 (1), 2010, 23, 30. But note the contrary view: “"Every one who is acquainted with the rudiments of the Hebrew and Chaldee languages, must know that God, in the holy Writings, very often spoke of Himself in the plural…. a construction, which some modern grammarians …. call a pluralis excellentiae. This helps them out of every apparent difficulty. Such a pluralis excellentiae was, however, a thing unknown to Moses and the prophets. Pharaoh, Nebuchadnezzar, David, and all the other kings, throughout TeNaKh … speak in the singular, and not as modern kings in the plural. They do not say we, but I." (Tzvi Nassi, The Great Mystery: How Can there be One?, Jerusalem: Yanetz LTD, (1970), 6. [Back to manuscript].

[12] Writing for an LDS audience, Dana M. Pike somewhat mildly rejects the readings of Elohim proposed in this article along with the idea that Elohim and Yahweh can be cleanly distinguished in the Old Testament. But he concedes the possibility of textual corruption and endorses Meservy’s suggestion that Yahweh be read to mean “Jesus Christ,” (Pike, “The Name and Titles of God,” 24-25.) [Back to manuscript].

[13] Spencer W. Kimball, “Jesus the Christ,” General Conference, October 1977. [Back to manuscript].

[14] Elder Lynn G. Robbins has emphasized this perfect coincidence of wills: “’I do always those things that please the Father, and I do not my own will but the will of him that sent me.’ Between 3 Nephi chapter 11 and 3 Nephi chapter 28, the Savior used the title Father at least 163 times, making it very clear to the Nephites that he was there representing his father. And from John chapter 14 through 17, the Savior refers to the Father at least 50 times. In every way possible, he was his father’s perfect disciple. He was so perfect in representing his father that to know the Savior was to also know the Father. To see the Son was to have seen the Father. To hear the Son was to hear the Father. He had, in essence, become indistinguishable from his father. His father and he were one.” Conference Report, October 2014. [Back to manuscript].

[15] See commentary on this passage by Daniel C. Peterson, “Nephi and His Asherah,” Journal of Book of Mormon Studies, 9/2 (2000), 23-24. [Back to manuscript].

[16] Barker notes that early Christians also understood that Yahweh was son of El, “so they read the Hebrew Scriptures as testimony to the pre-incarnation appearances of Yahweh the Son of God Most High.” Margaret Barker, The Mother of the Lord, 124. See also John Day, Yahweh and the Gods and Goddesses of Canaan, (London: Continuum International, 2010), 14-16. In the creation account, the oneness of purpose but distinctness of being of the Elohim and Yahweh may be signified by using the two names together, Yahweh Elohim, misleadingly translated “the Lord God” in the King James Bible. [Back to manuscript].

[17] Barker, Mother of the Lord, 122. See the broader context of the quotation for a good overview of relationships in the holy family (pp. 121-125). Barker cites a variety of sources which support the idea that a heavenly family was worshipped. Two important sources of new understanding were the discovery of libraries of clay tablets in the city of Ugarit in 1929 and the discovery of documents from the ancient Jewish community in Elephantine Egypt in the late 19th and early 20th century (p. 80). A number of passages in the Old and New Testament (pp. 124-126), the Qumran Isaiah (p. 125), and the work of various other scholars likewise support the existence of the heavenly family. Barker specifically mentions the Qumran reading of Isaiah 7: 11 in support of the claim that Yahweh is Asherah’s son. See also Raphael Patai, The Hebrew Goddess, 3rd Enlarged Edition, (Detroit, MI: Wayne State University Press, 1990) and Judith Hadley, The Cult of Asherah in Ancient Israel and Judah: Evidence for a Hebrew Goddess, (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2000). For a review of the evidence with a Mormon slant, see Daniel C. Peterson, “Nephi and His Asherah,” 18-20. [Back to manuscript].

[18] Gerald Cooke, “The Sons of (the) Gods(s),” Zeitschrift für die alttestamentliche Wissenschaft, 76 (1964): 22-47; E. Theodore Mullen, The Assembly of the Gods: The Divine Council in Canaanite and Early Hebrew Literature (Missoula, MT: Scholars Press, 1980); Matitiahu Tsevat, “God and the Gods in Assembly: An Interpretation of Psalm 82,” Hebrew Union College Annual, 40-41) (1969-70), 123-37. [Back to manuscript].

[19] The Qumram text had the correct “bene Elohim” reading that affirms belief in the council of governing gods. Even scholars hostile to the idea of early polytheism concede that “textual critics of the Hebrew Bible are unanimous in agreement that the Qumram reading [bene Elohim] is superior to the Masoritic text” (Michael S. Heiser, “Does Divine Plurality in the Hebrew Bible Demonstrate and Evolution From Polytheism to Monothesism in Israelite Relgion,” Journal for the Evangelical Study of the Old Testament, 1.1 (2012), 4, 10.  When the children of Elohim—the host of heaven—are cast out of the temple along with Asherah, she is differentiated from them but associated with them as a mother might be with her children (2 Kings 23: 4, 6). [Back to manuscript].

[20] Joseph Smith, Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, Compiled by Joseph Fielding Smith, (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1976), 372. [Back to manuscript].

[21] See Barker, Mother of the Lord, pp. 11, 97, 143-145. See also Patai, The Hebrew Goddess, 53. [Back to manuscript].

[22] Keith. H. Meservy, “LORD = Jehovah,” Ensign, June 2002, 19. [Back to manuscript].

[23] “[The] ‘cult of Asherah’ in ancient Israel … was heresy 20 years ago, but now is taken for granted [by] most biblical scholars.” Dever, Did God Have a Wife? Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company (2005), p. 79; David L. Paulson, “Are Christians Mormon? Reassessing Joseph Smith’s Theology in his Bicentennial,” BYU Studies, 45/1 (2006): 105. Daniel C. Peterson, “Nephi and His Asherah,” 21-22. In addition, see Barker and John Day, Gods and Goddesses of Canaan, 23, 60. [Back to manuscript].

[24] Joan E. Taylor, “The Asherah, the Menorah and the Sacred Tree,” Journal for the Study of the Old Testament, 66 (1995). [Back to manuscript].

[25] Dever, Did God Have a Wife? pp. 58, 121. Barker cites Kletter on the distribution of the Asherah figurines. The Mother of the Lord, p. 119. [Back to manuscript].

[26] The message in this episode (perhaps edited by Deuteronomist scribes) is mixed. In Judge 6: 25 Gideon cuts down an Asherah after having worshipped under the oak tree. [Back to manuscript].

[27] G. R. H. Wright, “Shechem and League Shrines,” Vetus Testamentum, 21/5 (1971), 580. The Figure 1 image is found on p. 479 of this article. [Back to manuscript].

[28] Dean Hunsaker, “The Garden of Eden and the Tree of Life: Temple Symbols in Ancient and Modern Times,” 9-13, at http://www.bhporter.com/Porter%20PDF%20Files/The%20Garden%20of%20Eden%20and%20the%20Tree
[Back to manuscript].

[29] For a more detailed discussion of the naming of Asher, see Kevin L. Barney, “How to Worship Our Mother in Heaven (Without Getting Excommunicated)”, Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought, 41/4 (2008): 128. [Back to manuscript].

[30] That a regular conjunction of the tree and the altar was an important part of earlier worship is also affirmed in the negative when Deuteronomy 16: 21 forbids continuation of the practice: “Thou shalt not plant thee a grove [Asherah] of any trees near unto the altar of Yahweh Elohim.” With a playful inversion of the symbols for El (the altar) and Asherah (the tree), Jeremiah says in 2: 26-27 that the kings, princes, priests, and prophets of Israel have said “to a tree [Etz], Thou art my father, and to a stone [altar], Thou hast brought me forth [yalad, begotten or delivered me].” In the older religion, as in the Garden rooms of modern temples, a tree near an altar marked the place where the Elohim were to be worshipped. [Back to manuscript].

[31] Joan E. Taylor, “The Asherah, the Menorah, and the Sacred Tree,” Journal for the Study of the Old Testament, 66, (1995), 33. On the widespread use of the goddess figurine that the statue probably resembled, see Dever, Did God Have a Wife? pp. 58, 121.  2 Kings 21: 7 says that the object in the courtyard was a “graven image of Asherah,” so it was probably a statue. This supposition is also supported by the fact that woven clothing or hangings dressed the asherah (2 Kings 23: 7). [Back to manuscript].

[32] Patai, Hebrew Goddess, “Of the 370 years during which the Solomonic Temple stood in Jerusalem, for no less than 236 years (or almost two-thirds of the time) the statue of Asherah was present in the Temple, and her worship was a part of the legitimate religion approved and led by the king, the court, and the priesthood…” (p. 50). [Back to manuscript].

[33] Barker notes that the almond branch was a sign of the Mother of Yahweh given as a scepter to the Davidic kings. The Mother of the Lord, p. 206. She adds: “1 Enoch [contains] a vision of the throne followed by a vision of a great tree…. Enoch saw seven mountains. The one in the centre was higher than all the others, and the archangel Michael explained that this was the throne of the Great Holy One. It was surrounded by trees, one of which excelled all the others in beauty and fragrance. This tree, said Michael, could not be touched by any mortal, but after the great judgment it would be transplanted to a holy place beside the temple of the LORD, and its fruit would give life to the righteous and holy, the chosen ones. The tree must have been the Tree of Life. Immediately after this, Enoch saw a blessed place where there were trees with living branches that had sprouted from a felled tree.” Barker, Mother of the Lord, 95-96. Compare this last statement with Jacob 5. [Back to manuscript].

[34] Exodus 25: 31-38 and Joan E Taylor, “The Asherah, the Menorah, and the Sacred Tree,” 42-43, 45-48. [Back to manuscript].

[35] On the Menorah being in the Debir, Barker writes, Ezekiel “described the glory leaving the temple; the Songs describe the worship around the glory whilst it was still within the temple. The imagery presupposes an illuminated holy of holies, and yet the biblical prescription does not have any lamp there. The lamp in the tabernacle was set outside the holy of holies (Exod. 40.24), and the accounts of the temple in Kings and Chronicles do not mention any lamp beyond the veil. When John saw the Lady restored to the temple, he saw her as the seven torches before the throne, then giving birth to her son, and finally as the Tree of Life, all in the holy of holies (Rev. 4.5; 12.4-5; 22.1-2). The original menorah must have been the tree of light in the holy of holies, and this was the ‘asherah’ that Josiah removed. The effect of this light within the golden cube of the holy of holies is accurately remembered in the Songs of the Sabbath Sacrifice.” The Mother of the Lord, 252-253. Butler argues that Isaiah and Jeremiah condemn the removal of the Menorah/Asherah from the Debir, describing it as a rape. D. John Butler, The Goodness and the Mysteries: On the Path of the Book of Mormon’s Visionary Men, (2012): 144-145. [Back to manuscript].

[36] Schwartz, Tree of Souls, 51. The specific term used is the Shekhina. [Back to manuscript].

[37] Taylor, “The Asherah, the Menorah and the Sacred Tree,” p. 33. [Back to manuscript].

[38] Barker notes, “Sinai was associated with the Lady of the bush. ‘She that dwelt in the bush’ is still remembered in the titles and ikons of Mary. Sometimes she is depicted as the bush itself and sometimes she is seated in the burning bush and holding her Son.” The Mother of the Lord, 185. [Back to manuscript].

[39] Hunsaker, “The Garden of Eden and the Tree of Life: Temple Symbols in Ancient and Modern Times,” p. 8.  As in the garden, so in the Holy of Holies cherubim were there to guard the menorah, the flaming tree. [Back to manuscript].

[40] Margaret Barker, “The Holy Anointing Oil,” (2008): 3. http://www.margaretbarker.com/Papers/TheHolyAnointingOil.pdf [Back to manuscript].

[41] D&C 88, headnote. [Back to manuscript].

[42] Barker, “The Holy Anointing Oil,” 6-7. [Back to manuscript].

[43] Patai, The Hebrew Goddess, 103. “The Shekhina joins the sick to comfort them, and helps those who are in need.” The healing power of the tree of life is also affirmed in Revelation 22: 2 “And the leaves of the tree were for the healing of the nations.” [Back to manuscript].

[44] See the discussion below on how Jesus was anointed as the Christ by a woman, a surrogate of Mother in Heaven. [Back to manuscript].

[45] Barker, Mother of the Lord, pp. 2-3; Peterson, “Nephi and His Asherah,” 22-23. See also Schwartz, Tree of Souls, 45, and Mark S. Smith, The Early History of God, (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1990), 94-95.  For an analysis that focuses on the linkages between the Tree of Life and Wisdom, see Diana Edelman, “The Iconography of Wisdom” in Essays on Ancient Israel in Its Near Eastern Context, Ed. By Yairah Amit, Ehud Ben Zvi, Israel Finkelstein, Oded Lipschits, Winona Lake, IN: Eisenbrauns (2006), 149 -153 [Back to manuscript].

[46] In her guise as the Shekhina, Mother in Heaven is linked to the Tree of Life and to the cherubim and mercy seat. See Schwartz, Tree of Souls: “[The Shekhinah’s] original abode was in the Garden of Eden, residing on a cherub under the Tree of Life. Indeed the primal root of the Shekhinah was planted there…. In the presence of the Shekhinah [Adam and Eve] experience no illness nor suffered any pain” p. 50.  Philo of Alexandria also connected the Cherubim in the Garden of Eden with those on the Mercy Seat and subtly alludes to Mother in Heaven. The connection between the divine Mother and the mercy seat is also underscored in accounts of her departure from the Debir just before the destruction of Solomon’s temple. As she goes into exile, the Shekhinah moves from the cover of the ark of the covenant—i.e., the Mercy Seat—to one Cherub, then the other, then passes out of the temple. See Patai, The Hebrew Goddess, 75-77, 101. [Back to manuscript].

[47] Benjamin L. McGuire, “Josiah’s Reform: An Introduction,” Interpreter, 4 (2013): 161-163. William J. Hamblin, “Vindicating Josiah,” Interpreter, 4 (2013): 165-176. Kevin Christensen, “Prophets and Kings in Lehi’s Jerusalem and Margaret Barker’s Temple Theology,” Interpreter, 4 (2013), 177-193. [Back to manuscript].

[48] Most Mormons believe that plain and precious gospel truths such as the divine sonship of Jehovah and the existence of Mother in Heaven were known anciently, were lost through apostasy, and therefore had to be restored. But the 8th Article of Faith notwithstanding, most also have, in practice, an approximately inerrantist view of the Bible. These two views are not logically consistent. If plainly and preciously present in the original text, the divine Son and Mother could not now be so well hidden in the Old Testament absent very heavy scribal editing. Even pious and conservative editors would need to make major changes in the text to obscure plain statements of these truths. Latter-day Saints know the Bible to be the word of God. They have felt its power. They also have profound testimonies of truths restored in the latter days. To hold both of these positions, members must strike some balance between competing views. The more they hold to the unimpeachable authority of the Bible, the more they must concede that some truths now revealed were not known anciently. The more they affirm that the fullness of the gospel was known in the beginning, the more they must be open to substantial corruption of the biblical text. With respect to the argument in this article, the nub of the issue is how much credence one grants the biblical account of Josiah’s reign. The more one credits that account, the less open one will be to the possibility that Mother was once rightly worshipped in Israel.

Joseph Smith offers important insights on the authority of the biblical text. He was ahead of his time in seeing that it is not always translated (by which he meant transmitted) correctly. The vast majority of modern scholars now agree that the biblical text has been heavily edited, though there is wide variance of opinion on what the original texts said.  As the discussion below indicates, the Book of Mormon provides powerful evidence that Son and Mother were known at the time of Josiah. The Book of Mormon thus seems to prime a skeptical reading of the biblical account of Josiah’s reign. But a case can be made within the Mormon tradition for accepting the biblical account as accurate. In the article cited above, William Hamblin makes that case. [Back to manuscript].

[49] James E. Talmage, The Great Apostasy, Salt Lake City: Desert News, (1909), 57 – 61. See also Mathew 26: 57-68; Barker notes that the effects of Josiah’s fundamentalist purge were still being felt in the time of Jesus. Barker, “Mother of the Lord,” 165. [Back to manuscript].

[50] The emperor sought theological consensus as an antidote to theology-inspired mob violence. J. David Ray, “Nicea and its Aftermath: A Historical Survey of the First Ecumenical Council and the Ensuing Conflicts,” Ashland Theological Journal, 39 (2007), 21-22, 26-30. See also Daniel W. Graham and James L. Siebach, “The Introduction of Philosophy into Early Christianity,” in Early Christians in Disarray: Contemporary LDS Perspectives on the Christian Apostasy, ed. Noel B. Reynolds, Provo: Brigham Young University Press, (2005), 221. [Back to manuscript].

[51] John Gee, “The Apocryphal Acts of Jesus,” Interpreter, 2 (2012): 145-187. [Back to manuscript].

[52] Kieth E. Norman, “Toward a Mormon Christology,” Sunstone, 10/4, (1985), 22. See Talmage, The Great Apostasy, 100-104. Reynolds notes that the embrace of Greek philosophy was not the cause of the Apostasy but an effect of it. In the wake of the apostasy, Hellenistic philosophy, which was very different from the simple Hebrew declarations of fact, made Christian thought respectable and defined the new orthodox religion. Noel B. Reynolds, “What Went Wrong for the Early Christians?” in Early Christians in Disarray: Contemporary LDS Perspectives on the Christian Apostasy, ed. Noel B. Reynolds, Provo: Brigham Young University Press, (2005), p. 14. Siebach and Graham note the influence of Plotinus’ concept of the One on Augustine, “The Introduction of Philosophy into Early Christianity,” p. 223. [Back to manuscript].

[53] Robinson gives a heart rending example of the process: “In 399, when a letter from Theophilus, the bishop of Alexandria, insisted that the biblical description of God was only allegorical and that the monks must not attribute to God any anthropomorphic characteristics, one Sarapion, an elderly monk of great reputation, found himself unable to pray to the new God, this God of the philosophers, at all.  Falling on the ground he groaned: ‘Woe is me! They have taken my God away from me, and I have none to grasp, and I know not whom to adore or to address.’” Stephen E. Robinson, Are Mormons Christian? Salt Lake: Bookcraft (1991), 83-84. [Back to manuscript].

[54] Benjamin L. McGuire, “Josiah’s Reform: An Introduction,” Interpreter: A Journal of Mormon Scripture, 4 (2013), 161. Patai, The Hebrew Goddess, 49. While the writing of Deuteronomy was traditionally attributed to Moses, most scholars agree that it was composed later, e.g., “Research … has concluded that Deuteronomy probably began to be composed in the seventh century BC albeit using older material.” John W. Rogerson, “Deuteronomy” in James D. G. Dunn and John W. Rogerson, eds., Eerdmans Commentary on the Bible, Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans (2003), 153. Thus, the composition of Deuteronomy seems to be roughly contemporaneous with Josiah and Hilkiah and, indeed, some scholars believe Hilkiah may have written rather than discovered the book and then attributed it to Moses. [Back to manuscript].

[55] Dever notes that the religion of the folk was very different than that of the elites who ultimately controlled the writing of the scriptures we have. “The real popular religions of ancient Israel consisted precisely of what the biblical writers condemned.” Did God Have a Wife? pp. 51, 56. [Back to manuscript].

[56] Dever speaks of “the elites of the day—in this case, the right-wing, ultranationalist religious parties who wrote the Bible” Did God Have a Wife, 60. [Back to manuscript].

[57] Barker, Mother of the Lord, 122. [Back to manuscript].

[58] Taylor notes that “up until Josiah there is no denouncing of any asherah at Bethel [the house of El also known as Lûz, Almond Tree], either by Amos or Hosea, indicating probably that it was considered by Hebrews an acceptable part of the cult of Yahweh until the Deuteronomistic Reform,” “The Asherah, the Menorah and the Sacred Tree,” 48, 50. See Hosea 4: 12-13 for a possible counter example. See Genesis 35: 6 for the equation of Lûz, almond tree, and Bethel. Among the folk and even some theologians, the idea that God was corporeal persisted and was still alive at the time of Maimonides, who strenuously condemned it. Yair Lorberbaum argues that modern arguments suggesting that Jews did not view God as being corporeal are strained. Evidence suggests that divine corporeality remained an important strand of thought among Jews. Yair Lorberbaum, “Anthropomorphisms in Early Rabbinic Literature: Maimonides and Modern Scholarship,” in Traditions of Maimonideanism, Ed. by Carlos Fraenkel, Leiden, The Netherlands: Koninklijke Brill NV (2009), p. 318. [Back to manuscript].

[59] In addition to the many places of worship including Bethel (House of El) that were destroyed by Josiah (2 Kings 23: 5-15), important shrines to Yahweh had existed at Shechem, Gilgal, Gibeon, and Shiloh. Deuteronomy discounts them all in favor of the Jerusalem temple. One of the many reasons scholars doubt that Deuteronomy was written by Moses is the fact that celebrated religious leaders such as Samuel felt no obligation to offer sacrifices in Jerusalem only as prescribed by Deuteronomy. That prescription, thus, seems to be an innovation during the reign of Josiah. Gary N. Knoppers, “Yhwh’s Rejection of the House Built for His Name: On the Significance of Anti-temple Rhetoric in the Deuteronomistic History,” in Essays on Ancient Israel in Its Near Eastern Context, ed. by Yairah Amit, Ehud Ben Zvi, Israel Finkelstein, Oded Lipschits, Winona Lake, IN: Eisenbrauns (2006), 232-234. [Back to manuscript].

[60] As Constantine would later attempt to do, Josiah and Hilkiah are establishing a stable, orthodox religion that will entrench the centralized power of priest and king. [Back to manuscript].

[61] “The religion of Abraham was still practiced in the seventh century BCE, and this is what Josiah purged.” Barker, Mother of the Lord, 16. [Back to manuscript].

[62] Deuteronomy contains many curses that it says will fall on those who worship any god besides Yahweh (e.g., Deuteronomy 28: 13, 49-52). Ironically, almost all of those curses very obviously fall on the royal and priestly elites who uphold the legacy of Josiah and Hilkiah. [Back to manuscript].

[63] The Deuteronomist author of 2 Kings says Josiah’s long-reigning grandfather, Manasseh, was responsible for the destruction of Jerusalem. After crediting Josiah with being the best of all kings, he says the city and temple were destroyed because of Manasseh (2 Kings 23: 25-27). Manasseh was responsible, among other things, because he restored Asherah to the courtyard of the temple (2 Kings 21: 7). But if Israel thoroughly purged itself during the reign of Josiah of all the sins committed during Manasseh’s time, why would God now punish it for Manasseh’s sins? And why did Mannaseh die peacefully at home with the kingdom still intact after a reign lasting longer than that of Josiah while exemplary king Josiah died violently and left the kingdom in thrall to the Egyptians? The Kings author is quite transparently making Manasseh the scapegoat for a calamity that cannot reasonably be laid to his account.  [Back to manuscript].

[64] Barker, Mother of the Lord, p. 8. Citing a specific group, Barker writes “There were also refugees at that time who fled to Egypt. Those in Pathros had been devotees of the Lady, and it was neglecting her, they said, that had caused the fall of Jerusalem (Jer. 44.15-19). It should be no surprise to find the Lady in texts treasured and composed by the Hebrew communities of Egypt, texts such as the Wisdom of Jesus Ben Sirach, or the Wisdom of Solomon,” pp. 231-232. [Back to manuscript].

[65] There is evidence that Jews were still changing scripture to obscure the divine sonship of Jesus in the meridian of time. Some of these changes also obscure possible allusions to Mother in Heaven. For example, the phrase “from the wood” was deleted from Psalms 96: 10 which had read, “Tell ye among the nations, the Lord hath reigned from the wood,” a possible prevision of Christ on the cross. John Gee, “The Corruption of Scripture in Early Christianity,” in Early Christians in Disarray: Contemporary LDS Perspectives on the Christian Apostasy, ed. by Noel B. Reynolds, Provo: Brigham Young University Press (2005), 168.  [Back to manuscript].

[66] For example, Barker writes” Jeremiah saw the daughter of Zion in pain before those attempting to kill her (Jer. 4:31). The only revolution in religious teaching that could have prompted Jeremiah's words was Josiah's purge, and, even though the Jeremiah material has been heavily edited and annotated in the course of transmission, it has proved possible to reconstruct something of the prophet's original teaching. Those who preserved the Enoch traditions remembered that the LORD abandoned his temple because of the ‘reforms’; the refugees in Egypt believed that their city had fallen because they had abandoned the Lady…. An eyewitness to all this turmoil was Ezekiel, a priest (Ezek. 1.2-3), who was taken into exile, presumably in 597 BCE, when the ruling class was deported.” Barker, Mother of the Lord, p. 233. [Back to manuscript].

[67] Since Hebrew was written with consonants only, meanings could be changed by inserting different vowels into the text than originally intended. Barker also shows how the insertion of a single silent consonant could eliminate Mother from a text. Barker, Mother of the Lord, p. 240. [Back to manuscript].

[68] “Eduard Norden has noted that early Christian literature had no literary successors but appears as a completely alien intrusion into the classical tradition, an incongruous and unwelcome interruption, an indigestible lump which, however, disappears as suddenly as it came, leaving schoolmen to resume operations as if nothing had happened.” Hugh W. Nibley, “When the Lights Went Out: Forty Variations on an Unpopular Theme,” http://publications.maxwellinstitute.byu.edu/fullscreen/?pub=1041&index=1. Tertullian “switched from what we today call the ‘orthodox’ Christian sect to the Montanist Christian sect because the Montanists still believed in continuing revelation, whereas other Christian sects did not.” John Gee, “The Corruption of Scripture in Early Christianity,” in Early Christians in Disarray: Contemporary LDS Perspectives on the Christian Apostasy, ed. by Noel B. Reynolds, Provo: Brigham Young University Press (2005), 170.  [Back to manuscript].

[69] James B. Allen, “The Significance of Joseph Smith’'s First Vision,” Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought, 1/3 (1966), 29-45; Terryl L. Givens, By the Hand of Mormon: The American Scripture that Launched a New World Religion, Oxford: Oxford University Press (2002). [Back to manuscript].

[70] Perhaps it is not an accident that, like the Bible with its mention of the Elohim in the first verse, the Book of Mormon opens with a mention of parents, male and female. [Back to manuscript].

[71] As Dave Butler has noted, “If Biblical scholars realized what the Book of Mormon really was, they’d trample each other like Black Friday shoppers in the rush to get their hands on a copy.” D. John Butler, Plain and Precious Things, (2012), 1. Were the writings of Nephi and Jacob (and Zenos) regarded by Old Testament scholars as a reliable text from the time just before the Babylonian exile, understanding of Hebrew theology in that period would be substantially transformed. More scholars would embrace the idea some now hold that the Jews then worshipped a Heavenly Family consisting of parents El and Asherah (whose symbol was a tree) and of a divine son, Yahweh, the preeminent ben Elohim, who was born of the Goddess symbolized by the tree. For Mormons who do regard the Book of Mormon as a reliable text, Martin Harris’ loss of the 116 pages should be seen as a fortunate accident. Judged by its consequences for theological understanding, Nephi’s unedited text from that pivotal period has far more value than Mormon’s edited text from a later time could have had.

In light of the book’s role in again revealing Mother in Heaven and, thus, transforming our understanding of all scripture, the following comment on the Book of Mormon by Adam S. Miller is apt: “[Constellations of past truths] are messianic when they involve events or images from the past that have gone unrecognized or remained hidden, images that have been lost, discounted or repressed, but remain nonetheless. When recognized, the revelatory shock produced by such surprising constellations fractures the hegemony of the present, touches eternity, opens new horizons and ushers in a revolutionary moment. This revolutionary potential borne by that which has been lost or discarded indicates precisely why Benjamin refers to this kind of history as messianic…. This infinitely small displacement [changes] both everything and nothing, [reveals] the whole of the world and its history as meaning something radically different from what had been supposed while retaining everything that had hitherto been acknowledged” Adam S. Miller, “Messianic History: Walter Benjamin and the Book of Mormon,” in Discourses in Mormon Theology, ed. by James M. McLachlan and Loyd Ericson, Salt Lake City: Greg Kofford Books (2007), 231, 243.   [Back to manuscript].

[72] Nephi tells us that the Brass Plates contained more information than the Bible does (1 Nephi 13: 23). [Back to manuscript].

[73] In this chapter of 1 Nephi as in the King James Bible, God is probably a translation of the word Elohim, Lord a translation of Yahweh. The point of Lehi’s vision is that both God and the Messiah exist as corporeal beings. Lehi apparently understands the distinctness of the Elohim and Yahweh. Margaret Barker suggests that Shaddai is associated with trees and may signify the Queen of Heaven, so as noted in the text, this expression may invoke all saving members of the Heavenly Family. Barker, Mother of the Lord, 140-141. See also, Harriet Lutzky, “Shadday as a Goddess Epithet,” Vetus Testamentum, 1998, 48 (1), 15-36. “The most prominent feature of the JPF [Judean pillar figurine] was her breasts, emphasized by the position of her hands, and the most obvious meaning of the ancient title El Shaddai is ‘God with breasts’.”  Barker, Mother of the Lord, p. 121. On the connection between Shaddai/Almighty and fruitfulness, see Genesis 28: 3 and 35: 11 and Ruth 1: 20-21. [Back to manuscript].

[74] Camille Fronk, "Desert Epiphany: Sariah and the Women in 1 Nephi," Journal of Book of Mormon Studies, 9/2 (2000): 4–15. [Back to manuscript].

[75] Nephi was not the only Hebrew to build a temple outside of Jerusalem. Jews at Elephantine Egypt also built one and seem to have remained devoted to Mother in Heaven through and after Josiah’s purges and the deportation of the Jerusalem Jews.  Nephi’s name may be Egyptian, and it is possible that Lehi was acquainted with the Elephantine Jews and their devotion to Mother in Heaven. Barker notes that the Queen of Heaven was worshipped long after the destruction of Solomon’s temple at a temple in Elephantine. Mother of the Lord, p. 20. [Back to manuscript].

[76] On the importance of geography for deeper insight into scripture, see Taylor Halvorson, “Reading the Scriptures Geographically: Some Tools and Insights,” The Interpreter, 10 (2014), 257-258. [Back to manuscript].

[77] “The spring was a temple symbol for the Lady. She flowed from her temple (Ben Sira 24.30-33) and when the true temple was restored, both Ezekiel and John knew that her water of life would flow again from the temple (Ezek. 47.1-12; Rev. 22.1). Philo described Divine Wisdom as a spring, watering knowledge in its various forms and as many vision-loving souls as are possessed by a desire for the best…. Water of life flowing from the throne …was itself the source of life and a symbol of the Lady. Mary is still depicted with her fountain of water in the ancient ikon type of the Life-giving Spring.” Barker, Mother of the Lord, pp. 42, 81-82, 100, 304. In Lehi’s day, the Gihon spring did not flow naturally into the Kidron valley. It had been diverted through a tunnel to flow into the city. Jeremiah suggests that the replacement of the spring of living waters with cisterns was a sin which he associated with a nation changing its worship from true gods to no gods (Jeremiah 2: 11-13). Jeremiah’s contemporary, Lehi restores the natural flow of Gihon spring into the Kidron valley in his dream. In the New Testament, the waters of Gihon spring flow into the pool of Siloam, which Jesus marked as sacred by sending a blind man there to wash his eyes and be healed (John 9: 27-29). [Back to manuscript].

[78] D. John Butler, Plain and Precious Things, 57. [Back to manuscript].

[79] Butler, Plain and Precious Things, 58.   [Back to manuscript].

[80] On the connection between Wisdom and the Shekhina, see Howard Schwartz, Tree of Souls: The Mythology of Judaism, (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2004), 46. Unlike Asherah and Wisdom, Shekhinah is not a Biblical word. The origins of the word and concept are attested in works written between the 1st and 4th centuries A.D. See Raphael Patai, The Hebrew Goddess, 3rd edition, (Detroit: Wayne State University Press, 1990), 98. Scholars differ on the age of the Shekhinah tradition. Jewish fundamentalists trace it back to Adam while theological liberals locate it primarily in the middle ages. Evidence that the Shekhinah literature reflects an older tradition in its portrayal of Mother in Heaven is its striking convergence with other work, including the Book of Mormon, with a known ancient provenance. New revelation is another possible explanation for the emerging and converging insights in writings such as Zohar that discuss the Shekhina. The concept of Mother in Heaven answered a deep need and was a very popular part of the Kabbalah. In these writings, the Shekhinah is also associated with other female roles, e.g., daughter, sister, and wife. See Schwartz, Tree of Souls, 49. [Back to manuscript].

[81] See Schwartz, Tree of Souls, 55-56. [Back to manuscript].

[82] Lehi “went forth among the people, and began to prophesy and to declare unto them concerning the things which he had both seen and heard. And it came to pass that the Jews did mock him because of the things which he testified” (1 Nephi 1: 18-19). What Lehi had seen and heard was a corporeal God sitting on his throne and a corporeal Messiah son descending from heaven to declare that Jerusalem would be destroyed (1 Nephi 1: 8-14). [Back to manuscript].

[83] “The Shekhinah dwelt for three and a half years on the Mount of Olives, crying out three times a day, ‘Turn back, O rebellious children!” (Jer. 3: 22). When this proved to be futile, she said, ‘I will return to my abode’ (Hos. 5: 15), and She departed the city through the Gate of Mercy and ascended to heaven to await their repentance.” Other sources say she departed into the desert. Schwartz, Tree of Souls, 55-56. [Back to manuscript].

[84] Schwartz, Tree of Souls, 60 “God’s true Bride, the Shekhinah returns at the time of the coming of the Messiah.” [Back to manuscript].

[85] Nephi’s guide is “the Spirit of the Lord.” This term is ambiguous. It could refer either to the pre-mortal Jehovah or to the Holy Ghost. While the phrase in this passage has often been interpreted to mean the Holy Ghost (e.g., by Terryl Givens in Wrestling the Angel, 2014, Kindle loc 2889), textual evidence strongly suggests that it here signifies the pre-mortal Jehovah. In chapter 11 verse 11 Nephi says: “I spake unto him as a man speaketh; … and he spake unto me as a man speaketh with another.” Nephi here alludes to Exodus 33: 11 where Jehovah “spake unto Moses face to face, as a man speaketh unto his friend.” Even more to the point, why does the Spirit of the Lord suddenly disappear and get replaced as guide by an angel? The Holy Ghost would have no need to disappear; Jehovah does. The Spirit disappears precisely when Jehovah is born into the world. The spirit of the Lord gives Nephi a command: “Look! And I looked as if to look upon him, and I saw him not; for he had gone from before my presence” (1 Nephi 11: 12). Nephi now sees Nazareth and the Virgin Mary. The Spirit’s angel replacement now repeats Jehovah’s command to Nephi: “Look! And I looked and beheld the virgin again, bearing a child in her arms. And the angel said unto me: Behold the Lamb of God, yea, even the Son of the Eternal Father!” (1 Nephi 11: 19-21). The allusion to Moses’ conversation with Jehovah, the repeated commands, the sudden disappearance following the first utterance of the command, the sudden appearance following the second are structural features of the narrative that make it very clear that the Spirit of the Lord and the Son of the Eternal Father are one and the same being. [Back to manuscript].

[86] See Daniel C. Peterson, “Nephi and His Asherah,” 18. [Back to manuscript].

[87] Peterson points out the possible word play, “Nephi and His Asherah,” 24. See also Samuel Zinner, “’Zion’ and ‘Jerusalem’ as Lady Wisdom in Moses 7 and Nephi’s Tree of Life Vision,” Interpreter, 12 (2014), 314 et passim, where the Tree of Life, the Virgin Mary, Asherah, and Lady Wisdom, are all viewed as being linked together. [Back to manuscript].

[88] Barker, Mother of the Lord, p. 122. See the broader context of the quotation for a good overview of relationships in the holy family, pp. 121-125. [Back to manuscript].

[89] Daniel C. Peterson, “Nephi and His Asherah,” 22. [Back to manuscript].

[90] Schwartz, Tree of Souls, p. 54, says, “The robe of the Shekhinah is made of light. The light of the first day is reflected from that robe” (Zohar 3:273a). On the tradition of Mary functioning as a surrogate for Mother in Heaven, see Kevin Christensen, “Plain and Precious Things Restored, Part 5: The Queen of Heaven,” 9, http://www.thinlyveiled.com/kchristensen/restored5.pdf. Margaret Barker commented as follows: “Enoch described [the Tree of Life] as perfumed, with fruit like grapes (1 En.32.5), and a text discovered in Egypt in 1945 described the tree as beautiful, fiery, and with fruit like white grapes. I do not know of any other source which describes the fruit as white grapes. Imagine my surprise when I read the account of Lehi‟s vision of the tree whose white fruit made one happy, and the interpretation, that the Virgin in Nazareth was the mother of the Son of God after the manner of the flesh. This is the Heavenly Mother, represented by the Tree of Life, and then Mary and her Son on earth. This revelation to Joseph Smith was the ancient Wisdom symbolism, intact, and almost certainly as it was known in 600 BCE,” “Joseph Smith and Preexilic Israelite Religion,” BYU Studies, 44 (4), 2005, 76. [Back to manuscript].

[91] Margaret Barker, Mother of the Lord, p. 100. [Back to manuscript].

[92] See Peterson, “Nephi and His Asherah” p. 22 on the paradoxical virginity of the Mother God Asherah. Barker writes, “Why [was the Asherah statue burned in] the Kidron? Enoch saw the Kidron in one of his heavenly journeys. He described water that came from the eastern side of the holy mountain, that is, from the Gihon spring, flowing towards the south, and at this site he saw living branches sprouting from a tree that had been felled. For Enoch, this seems to be a significant site; presumably his people were the branches of that fallen tree. Josiah must have been burning Asherah at her own holy place.” Barker, Mother of the Lord, pp. 41-42. In Lehi’s dream, the fountain is displaced, as sometimes happens in dreams, to the other side of Kidron, the western side of the Mount of Olives where it is connected to the Tree of Life and Gethsemane. The movement of the fountain from the temple side to the Gethsemane side may mark a change in dispensations. [Back to manuscript].

[93] In a manner directly analogous to Mormon tradition, that collocates the Garden of Eden and the temple in Jackson County, Jewish tradition placed the Garden of Eden on the Temple Mount. This tradition is reflected in Ezekiel 28: 13-14 which links Eden with the holy mountain of God. Lehi may have shared this tradition and, if so, would have connected the Tree of Life and the Gihon Spring. Kevin Barney, “Was the Garden of Eden Really in Missouri?” By Common Consent, July 4, 2007, http://bycommonconsent.com/2007/07/04/was-the-garden-of-eden-really-in-missouri/#more-2886. [Back to manuscript].

[94] On the connection between the fountain and baptism, see Corbin T. Volluz (1993), “Lehi’s Dream of the Tree of Life: Springboard to Prophecy,” Journal of Book of Mormon Studies, 2/2 (1993), 14-38. [Back to manuscript].

[95] Tree and fountain co-occur in Psalms 1:3. Citing that psalm, an ancient Christian text attributed to Paul’s companion Barnabas makes the connection to the cross Nephi seems to make: “Mark how He has described at once both the water and the cross. For these words imply, Blessed are they who, placing their trust in the cross, have gone down into the water” See the Epistle of Barnabas in The Sacred Writings of Barnabas, Altenmünster, German: Juzzybee Verlag (2012), p. 387. Gee points out that the Epistle also contains the following instructions with respect to the scapegoat as part of the Law of Moses: “And all you shall spit and pierce it, and encircle its head with scarlet wool, and let it be driven into the wilderness.” John Gee, “The Corruption of Scripture in Early Christianity,” pp. 191-192. This is powerful evidence of suppression of the doctrine of Christ if it was, as suggested, part of the original Law of Moses. [Back to manuscript].

[96] See Nicholas Kokkinos, The Enigma of Jesus the Galilean (Athens: Chryse Tome, 1980) cited by http://thewatchman.org/en/golgatha-when-where-and-how-part-3/ and http://jamestabor.com/2012/07/24/locating-golgotha/. Ernest L. Martin argues that the cross was located on the summit of the Mount of Olives at the site of the altar of the red heifer where Israel burned sin offerings to expiate their sins. Secrets of Golgotha: The Lost History of Jesus’ Crucificxion, 2nd Edition, (Portland, OR: Academy for Scriptural Knowledge, 1996). The two most widely known traditional sites, Gordon’s Golgotha and the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, are not on the Mount of Olives.  [Back to manuscript].

[97] The Tree of Life is quite clearly located on the Mount of Olives in the dream. The cross is placed there symbolically through the following implicit equation: the cross = the Tree of Life, and the body of Christ on the Cross = the fruit hanging from the Tree of Life. [Back to manuscript].

[98] See for example the Harry Anderson painting, “In the Garden of Gethsemane,” that was commissioned by the Church. [Back to manuscript].

[99] Bruce M. Metzger and Michael D. Coogan eds., The Oxford Companion to the Bible, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 253. [Back to manuscript].

[100] Margaret Barker, “The Holy Anointing Oil,” passim. [Back to manuscript].

[101] In religious and other contexts of great import, overlapping symbols sometimes co-occur and heighten meaning and emotion, e.g., as when in a chapel with a stained glass image of Christ holding a lamb that is decorated with Easter lilies, a priest wearing a cross administers the symbolic body and blood of Christ to a congregant wearing a fish necklace inscribed with the word IXTHUS. [Back to manuscript].

[102] See the Epistle of Barnabas in The Sacred Writings of Barnabas, Altenmünster, German: Juzzybee Verlag (2012), p.389. The verse also refers to the cross being laid on the ground (bent down) and then being raised when it is lifted with Christ hung on it. [Back to manuscript].

[103] Raymond E. Brown, The Community of the Beloved Disciple, New York: Paulist Press (1979), 693. [Back to manuscript].

[104] Kevin Christensen, “Plain and Precious Things Restored, Part 5: The Queen of Heaven,” 8-9.  http://www.thinlyveiled.com/kchristensen/restored5.pdf. [Back to manuscript].

[105] The importance of Mary Magdalene is reflected in the fact that she is always mentioned first when listed as one in a group of women. The only exception is when she is in a group with Mary, the mother of Christ. In that context, Mary Magdalene is put in the salient final position in the list (John 19: 25). It is apparent that the early Christians recognized the special importance to the Savior of Mary Magdalene. For evidence that Jesus had a wife, see William E. Phipps, Was Jesus Married? The Distortion of Sexuality in the Christian Tradition. New York: Harper & Row, 1970. Citing Ogden Kraut, Terryl Givens notes that “a number of early LDS leaders … taught Christ was married, including Orson Hyde, Orson, Pratt, and Orson Spencer” Wrestling the Angel, footnote 135. But Givens also notes that the Church has no official position on this question.  [Back to manuscript].

[106] As noted above, Joseph Smith suggested that the olive was the tree of paradise, the tree of life. (See headnote to D&C 88.) There are many indications that the Tree of Life signifies Mother in Heaven. So various strands of evidence for the presence of Mother in Heaven converge in this allegory in which the Mother tree is symbolized by an olive tree. [Back to manuscript].

[107] Val Larsen, “Jacob and the Problem of Evil,” Interpreter, 15 (2015), 227-254.  [Back to manuscript].

[108] Dever, Did God Have a Wife? pp. 70-71. [Back to manuscript].

[109] The rise of the Deuteronomists may have been abetted by Nephi’s successor as king. There is some indication that the second king sought to diminish the influence of a rival locus of authority in the kingdom, Jacob, who had been appointed as chief priest by Nephi and who challenged practices sanctioned by the king. Jacob’s authority is revelatory and connected to the doctrine of Christ. Learned Deuteronomists serve the king’s interests by undercutting that prophetic authority. Clearly, the status of Jacob’s descendants is much less than his and declined in each successive generation. See Val Larsen, “Jacob and the Problem of Evil.” [Back to manuscript].

[110] John W. Welch, “Sherem’s Accusations Against Jacob,” Insights, 11/1 (1999). In another article, Welch suggests that Zoram may have had Deuteronomist views Sherem espouses in this section and adds that Lehi seems to have a pre-Deuteronomist theology of the kind that Margaret Barker has posited (“The Case of Sherem” in The Legal Cases in the Book of Mormon, 108-114). On the strongly plausible connection between Zoram and Sherem, see A. Keith Thompson, “Who Was Sherem?” Interpreter, 14 (2015), 1-15.  [Back to manuscript].

[111] Gary L. Sturgess, “The Book of Mosiah: Thoughts about Its Structure, Purposes, Themes, and Authorship,” Journal of Book of Mormon Studies, 4/2 (1995): 130. See also John L. Clark, “Painting Out the Messiah: The Theology of Dissidents,” Journal of Book of Mormon Studies, 11/1 (2002): 16-27, 107-108. [Back to manuscript].

[112] Christ clearly taught Nicodemus that there is a connection between literal and spiritual birth. Nicodemus saw the connection and therefore asked whether one could enter his/her mother’s womb again (John 3: 1-8). I am indebted to my wife, Allison, for the insight that the waters are amniotic fluid and that the literal birth of the body and entrance of the spirit is symbolically replicated in baptism and the conferral of the Holy Ghost. [Back to manuscript].

[113] E.g. compare Alma 32: 42 with 1 Nephi 8: 11. [Back to manuscript].

[114] This essay alludes to facts known to Mormons who have been endowed in the temple. The places where these allusions occur will be obvious to those who have been through the temple. No supporting references will be included for these claims. As to the general tenor of the temple, consider the following: “The Temple Endowment, as administered in modern temples, comprises instruction relating to the significance and sequence of past dispensations, and the importance of the present as the greatest and grandest era in human history. This course of instruction includes a recital of the most prominent events of the creative period, the condition of our first parents in the Garden of Eden, their disobedience and consequent expulsion from that blissful abode, their condition in the lone and dreary world when doomed to live by labor and sweat, the plan of redemption by which the great transgression may be atoned, the period of the great apostasy, the restoration of the Gospel with all its ancient powers and privileges, the absolute and indispensable condition of personal purity and devotion to the right in present life, and a strict compliance with Gospel requirements” (James E. Talmage, The House of the Lord [Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1962], pages 99–100). [Back to manuscript].

[115] As Nibley notes, the early Christian poem, The Pearl, suggests that we depart heaven after a last embrace with Heavenly Mother: “The first embrace is that which the Mother of Life gave to the First Man as he separated himself from her in order to come down to the earth to the testing,” The Message of the Joseph Smith Papyri, Salt Lake City: Deseret Book (1975), 272. [Back to manuscript].

[116] As noted above, the Asherah cult object and the menorah both seem to be almond trees. The almond may link Mother in Heaven with the two main trees in the Garden of Eden. Taylor notes that “Two strains [of almond] grow in Israel: amygdalus communis var. dulcis, which has pink blossoms and sweet fruit, and amygdalus communis var. amara, with white blossoms and bitter fruit.” These two almond varieties are apt symbols of the Tree of Life with its sweet fruit and the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil with its bitter fruit. Taylor also notes that “The Latin name amygdala probably derives from a Semitic root, meaning ‘great mother,’ which was in Mesopotamian amagallu, and in Sumerian ama.gal.”  Taylor, “The Asherah, the Menorah and the Sacred Tree,” 47. [Back to manuscript].

[117] Hunsaker notes a resemblance between the tree of life and the umbilical cord in “The Garden of Eden and the Tree of Life: Temple Symbols in Ancient and Modern Times,” p. 2. [Back to manuscript].

[118] Eve already knows what good is. She had walked and talked with God. But she can’t fully understand the good without also understanding evil (2 Nephi 2: 11-15). So when she partakes of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil, she learns what evil is (recognizes Satan for who he is) and, therefore, comes to understand more profoundly what its opposite, good, is. But the price of this new, deeper knowledge is death. According to Patai, Jewish tradition “repeatedly asserts that the words of the Book of Proverbs (5:5) ‘Her feet go down to death’ refer to the Shekhina, symbolically represented by the forbidden fruit which for Adam and Eve was a ‘tree of death’” The Hebrew Goddess, p. 150. The invocation of Wisdom in Proverbs 5:1 might support this reading, though the Shekhina there takes the guise of the “strange woman” (5:3) who is, like the tree of knowledge of good and evil, a threat to one’s wellbeing, at least in the short run. [Back to manuscript].

[119] Fittingly, given that Wisdom is one of Mother in Heaven’s names and that the tree is her symbol, Eve becomes wise (Genesis 3: 6) after eating of the Tree of Knowledge. She suddenly knows Satan for who he is—the rebel Lucifer. [Back to manuscript].

[120] This is Figure 42 in Othamar Keel, The Symbolism of the Biblical World, New York: Seabury Press, (1978), p. 47. [Back to manuscript].

[121] Keel here cites the Ras Shamara texts that describe El as dwelling on a mountain in the midst of the sources of two oceans. He links the Yahweh figure to various Psalms in which the Yahweh subdues the waters. Keel, Symbolism of the Biblical World, pp. 47-48. See also Taylor, “The Asherah, the Menorah and the Sacred Tree,” 43. [Back to manuscript].

[122] Daniel C. Peterson, “News from Antiquity,” Ensign, January (1994), 16. John Gee, “The Larger Issue,” 2009 Fair Mormon Conference: http://www.fairmormon.org/perspectives/fair-conferences/2009-fair-conference/2009-the-larger-issue. [Back to manuscript].

[123] I am indebted to my wife, Allison, for the insight that Mother in Heaven shelters Eve and Adam in their moment of sudden fear. There are multiple reasons for thinking that Adam and Eve may have sought shelter in the Tree of Life. While “every tree that is pleasant to the sight, and good for food” is acknowledged to be part of the Garden, only two specific trees are mentioned in the narrative and they are mentioned in a compound adverbial phrase where betok hagan establishes the position of both trees: “the tree of life in the midst of the garden and the tree of knowledge of good and evil” [etz hahayim betok hagan we etz hada’at tob wara ]” (Genesis 2: 9). Eve partakes of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil, which is again described as being “in the midst of the garden [betok hagan]” (Genesis 3: 3) where both trees were previously said to be located. She persuades Adam to eat, they make aprons, hear God in the garden, and hide themselves “in the midst of a tree of the Garden [betok etz hagan],” all in the space of three verses (Genesis 3: 6–8). The shared adverbial phrase and the rapid succession of events suggest that Adam and Eve hid in a tree proximate to the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil; possibly the Tree of Life itself.  The narrative continues with the cursing of Satan, Adam, and Eve, the clothing of Adam and Eve in skins, and then the forced separation of the mortals from the Tree of Life “lest [Adam] put forth his hand, and take also of the tree of life, and eat” (Genesis 3: 22). This phrase suggests that Adam is in or beside the tree where he can reach the fruit. That Eve and Adam are attracted to the tree and might have fled to it is also suggested by God charging Cherubim and a flaming sword to block the way to the Tree of Life after Adam and Eve are ejected from the garden. The Garden narrative ends with this provision to keep Adam and Eve away from the Tree of Life. (The King James Bible translates betok etz hagan as “amongst the trees of the garden” (Genesis 3: 8), but etz is singular, so this is a mistranslation.) [Back to manuscript].

[124] As Lehi’s dream indicates, the fruit of the Tree of Life is the atonement of Jesus Christ. The atonement has two dimensions: eternal life and exaltation. All who live qualified to receive eternal life by keeping their first estate. To qualify for exaltation, one must repent and come to Christ with broken heart and contrite spirit. Adam and Eve could have received eternal life and lived forever in their sins had they partaken immediately of the Tree of Life after eating the forbidden fruit. But to have partaken without proper preparation would have damned them (1 Corinthians 11: 27-29). Thus, they were cast out of the Garden and passed through a probationary period in which they successfully prepared themselves to receive all the benefits that come from eating the fruit of the Tree of Life. [Back to manuscript].

[125] Arthur C. Brooks, Gross National Happiness: Why Happiness Matters for America—and How We Can Get More of It, (New York: Basic Books, 2008). [Back to manuscript].

[126] Foreknowing his mission, Christ’s Heavenly Parents must have experienced some pain along with their overwhelming joy when he was born spiritually. The pain of his earthly birth is certainly alluded to as well. [Back to manuscript].

[127] The word “child” has been added to the verse by the translators. It is not in the Greek original. The mother in the verse has brought Jehovah forth as a man. All spirits are adult, so this verse seems to fit what we know about spiritual birth in heaven more than it does physical birth on earth. On the adult stature of spirits, see Joseph F. Smith, Gospel Doctrine, 5th Edition, Salt Lake City: Desert Book (1939), 455. [Back to manuscript].

[128] See Schwartz, Tree of Souls: After being cast out of the temple, the Shekhina goes into exile. “During this time the Shekhinah hid Herself in exile like the moon behind a cloud and could not be seen. Even though Israel yearned to look at the light, it was impossible to see Her, because She was in darkness. That was a darkness so deep it is known as ‘the darkened light.’” On the Shekhinah signifying the Church or Israel in exile, see Patai, The Hebrew Goddess, 108 and Schwartz, Tree of Souls, 59. [Back to manuscript].

[129] There is reason to think that this river of pure water is the Gihon spring flowing out from beneath the temple. If we superimpose this image on Lehi’s dream, it suggests that the temple has again become a true temple. There is thus a Tree of Life on both sides of the Kidron valley, on the Mount of Olives where we find Gethsemane and the Cross and in the Holy of Holies of a restored temple on Mount Zion which has replaced the collapsed great and spacious building. This temple sits above the Gihon spring which produces the river of pure water that is the water of life. Barker, citing Ezekiel, suggest that the temple may have been located on old Mount Zion directly above the Gihon spring. Barker, Mother of the Lord, 42. Her statement is consistent with Butler’s observation that in scripture, temples are frequently associated with flowing rivers of water. D. John Butler, Plain and Precious Things, pp. 33-34. [Back to manuscript].

[130] D. John Butler, Plain and Precious Things, pp. 73-78. [Back to manuscript].

[131] This verse continues: “and blessed are those who hearken unto my precepts, and lend an ear unto my counsel, for they shall learn [W]isdom; for unto him that receiveth I will give more; and from them that shall say, We have enough, from them shall be taken away even that which they have.” This process of truth unfolding line upon line ends with our having Wisdom, Mother in Heaven, in our lives. In our time, coming to know Wisdom, Mother in Heaven, may be the key to vibrant faith. Those who reject this unfolding mystery may lose even that faith which they have. [Back to manuscript].

[132] Paulson and Pulido, “A Mother There,” 71. [Back to manuscript].

[133] Smith, 2002, xxiv [Back to manuscript].

[134] Kevin L. Barney, “How to Worship Our Mother in Heaven (Without Getting Excommunicated), Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought, 41/4 (2008): 121-146; Warren Aston, “The Other Half of Heaven: Debunking Myths about Heavenly Mother,” Meridian Magazine, November 29, 2012; Alliegator, “In search of Mother God: The Feminine Monomyth” Parts 1-3, (2013) http://www.feministmormonhousewives.org//?s=mother+in+heaven; Alyson Skabelund Von Feldt, “Did God have a Wife?” FARMS Review, 19/1 (2007): 81-118; Alyson Von Feldt, “Wisdom in Restoration Scripture,” Academy for Temple Studies, Vol 5, 2013, http://www.templestudies.org/home/2013-the-lady-of-the-temple-conference/papers/;  Steve Fleming, “Heavenly Mother,” The Juvenile Instructor, May 10, 2014, http://www.juvenileinstructor.org/heavenly-mother/; David Larsen, “The Tree of Life as Nurturing Mother,” Heavenly Ascents, July 12, 2009, http://www.heavenlyascents.com/2009/07/12/the-tree-of-life-as-nurturing-mother/; Jerrie W. Hurd, “The Unnamed Woman in Scipture: The Standard Works and Our Mother in Heaven,” Sunstone, 1885 (July), 23-25; among many other articles. [Back to manuscript].

[135] As Dever notes, this “sacred grove” translation is supported by the Septuagint, an older text than the Hebrew Masoretic text. Did God Have a Wife? p. 102. [Back to manuscript].

[136] As in the Figure 2 image, Lucifer, the other prominent son associated with Mother was also present. So the Sacred Grove was another Eden where Joseph first partook of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil and, like Eve, came to fully know Satan and his evil (Joseph Smith 1: 15-16). He then, like Adam and Eve, encountered Elohim and Jehovah but, unlike our first parents, partook in some measure of the tree of life while still in his Eden, receiving saving instruction from the Savior after hearing the words that opened the last dispensation: “This is My Beloved Son. Hear Him” (Joseph Smith 1: 16-20). Those words prepared the path for all to pass through temple Edens and fully partake of the Tree of Life that brings the joy of life and salvation. [Back to manuscript].

[137] Schwartz, Tree of Souls, 63-64. [Back to manuscript].

[138] As noted above, this is a work of theology and, thus, lacks authority. For this or any other theology to become doctrine, it must be taught by general authorities of the Church. However, as Nate Oman persuasively argues, changes in the theological beliefs of ordinary members can be a necessary precondition for official revelation. Thus, a likely precondition for official expansion of our knowledge of Mother in Heaven—if it is to come—is that many members recognize her in scripture and long for official confirmation of what they already believe or know. As careful stewards of God’s beloved Church, modern general authorities must and do take into account the horizon of belief among the general population of members and nonmembers when bringing forth new doctrine. Nate Oman, “How Mormonism Changes and Managing Liberal Expectations,” Times and Seasons, December 6, 2012. See also Todd Compton, “Counter-Hierarchical Revelation,” Sunstone 82/June (1991): 34-41.    [Back to manuscript].


Full Citation for this Article: Larsen, Val (2015) "Hidden in Plain View: Mother in Heaven in Scripture," SquareTwo, Vol. 8 No.21 (Spring 2015), http://squaretwo.org/Sq2ArticleLarsenHeavenlyMother.html, accessed <give access date>.

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COMMENTS: 18 Comments

I. Robyn Amis

It is interesting that all the temples now have trees or depictions of trees in them. Also, and just as interesting, if not more so, there is always a sister temple worker (and I am one), assigned to the celestial room from the time the temple opens until the last patron leaves at night. This is one of three assignments that cannot be uncovered. Like the brothers are assigned the recommend desk we are assigned the celestial room. Just as the Temple of Solomon had the Asherah (Heavenly Mother) so do our temples.


II. Val Larsen, the author, responds to Robyn Amis

Sister Amis, thank you for your contribution and insight. I am excited to learn that it is standard practice to have a sister on duty in the celestial room from the time the temple opens until it closes. I join you in believing that this sister is a surrogate or representative of our Mother in Heaven. Thus, every person who passes through the veil symbolically meets both of their Heavenly Parents, first Father as they come through the veil, then Mother as they enter the celestial room. As in the sealing and the prayer circle, this pairing of male and female underscores the fact that the governance of heaven is diarchic. Neither sex is of themselves complete. It is the union of male and female that makes Elohim. This is one of the most important themes of temple theology and practice.


III. Leslie P. Rees

I, too, will be grateful when the day comes that the Lord will see fit to reveal more about our Heavenly Mother.  As a woman, how can I not desire to know more of that marvelous being who gave birth to, taught and nurtured my spirit self?  I do know, because the Savior prayed that all might become one as he and the Father were (John 17), and taught “if ye are not one ye are not mine” (D&C 38:27), we are assured that our Father and Mother are One.  That knowledge makes it possible for me to learn a lot about Mother as I study Father.  And as I study the Savior, who said “If ye had known me, ye should have known my Father also” (John 14:7), I know that studying the life of the Savior can teach me much about not only my Father in Heaven but my Mother also.  I surely understand why, until further revelation comes,  there is conjecture about Her.  But the more I read of this article the greater my concerns about some of the speculation.

I surely agree that God is a title belonging, in its perfect state, to an exalted man plus an exalted woman.  Both scripture and words of the modern prophets make it clear that the “man is not without the woman nor woman without the man in the Lord” (1 Cor. 11:11).

I claim no special expertise in ancient religions or beliefs, but as I read the article I became very uncomfortable with the proposition I took from this that our Mother in Heaven  is THE Tree of Life.

Where do we arrive at that?  Is that not a repudiation of the very proposition that “God” includes both Father and Mother? Why do we take that designation from Him and give it solely to Her?

Nephi tells us: “And the angel said unto me: Behold the Lamb of God, yea, even the Son of the Eternal Father!  Knowest thou the meaning of the tree which thy father saw?  And I answered him, saying: Yea, it is the love of God, which sheddeth itself abroad in the hearts of the children of men; wherefore, it is the most desirable above all things. . . .I also beheld that the tree of life was a representation of the love of God” (1 Nephi  11:21-22, 25).

Wherefore, the wicked are rejected from the righteous, and also from that tree of life, whose fruit is most precious and most desirable above all other fruits; yea, and it is the greatest of all the gifts of God”. (1 Nephi 15:36).

Are we not taught elsewhere that this “greatest of all the gifts of God” is eternal life? (See D&C 6:13; 14:17)

Alma also taught:  “I speak by way of command unto you that belong to the church; and unto those who do not belong to the church I speak by way of invitation, saying: Come and be baptized unto repentance, that ye also may be partakers of the fruit of the tree of life” (Alma 5:62).

Beginning in chapter 12, Alma gives a lengthy sermon to help give understanding to what the tree of life actually is:  “What does the scripture mean, which saith that God placed cherubim and a flaming sword on the east of the garden of Eden, lest our first parents should enter and partake of the fruit of the tree of life, and live forever? And thus we see that there was no possible chance that they should live forever. And now behold, I say unto you that if it had been possible for Adam to have partaken of the fruit of the tree of life at that time, there would have been no death, and the word would have been void, making God a liar, for he said: If thou eat thou shalt surely die”' (Alma 12:21-23).

Alma continues his explanation, giving a better understanding of much that is included in the meaning of the tree of life and the fruits of that tree, and concludes in chapter 13, “And now, my brethren, I wish from the inmost part of my heart, yea, with great anxiety even unto pain, that ye would hearken unto my words, and cast off your sins, and not procrastinate the day of your repentance;  But that ye would humble yourselves before the Lord, and call on his holy name, and watch and pray continually, that ye may not be tempted above that which ye can bear, and thus be led by the Holy Spirit, becoming humble, meek, submissive, patient, full of love and all long-suffering; Having faith on the Lord; having a hope that ye shall receive eternal life; having the love of God always in your hearts, that ye may be lifted up at the last day and enter into his rest.  And may the Lord grant unto you repentance, that ye may not bring down his wrath upon you, that ye may not be bound down by the chains of hell, that ye may not suffer the second death.” (Alma 13:27-30).

Understanding that the Tree of Life is the love of God, the “greatest of all the gifts of God,” “eternal life,” how can we then conclude that this represents the love and the promise of eternal life from our Heavenly Mother- and not also our Heavenly Father?

He talks of this more in chapter 42, making it clear to me at least, that The Tree of Life can not be said to be Mother in Heaven- at least without including Heavenly Father:

“Now behold, my son, I will explain this thing unto thee. For behold, after the Lord God sent our first parents forth from the garden of Eden, to till the ground, from whence they were taken—yea, he drew out the man, and he placed at the east end of the garden of Eden, cherubim, and a flaming sword which turned every way, to keep the tree of life—Now, we see that the man had become as God, knowing good and evil; and lest he should put forth his hand, and take also of the tree of life, and eat and live forever, the Lord God placed cherubim and the flaming sword, that he should not partake of the fruit—For behold, if Adam had put forth his hand immediately, and partaken of the tree of life, he would have lived forever, according to the word of God, having no space for repentance; yea, and also the word of God would have been void, and the great plan of salvation would have been frustrated. But behold, it was appointed unto man to die—therefore, as they were cut off from the tree of life they should be cut off from the face of the earth—and man became lost forever, yea, they became fallen man” (Alma 42:2-6).

Mankind was now cut off from both Heavenly Parents—and the Celestial Life that they live.  Only the Atonement of the Savior would overcome that barrier. 

I have tried to learn more about the Asherah in the temple, placed there by Manasseh.  “He [Manasseh] took the carved Asherah pole he had made and put it in the temple, of which the LORD had said to David and to his son Solomon, "In this temple and in Jerusalem, which I have chosen out of all the tribes of Israel, I will put my Name forever.” (2 Kings 21:7. NIV) If this was, in fact, a tree carved with the upper body of a woman, would this not have contradicted the earlier commandment to not make any graven image (as an object of worship) ? (See Exo. 20:4) 

It is certainly true that many ancient carvings and models have been found combining the woman with the tree.  Is it possible many of these come down in memory because of the decision of Mother Eve to partake of the Tree of Knowledge?

Shortly before the downfall of Judah to Babylon, in Jeremiah Chapter 7, the Lord speaks of the abominations going on in the temple and then of other abominations in the streets: “The children gather wood, and the fathers kindle the fire, and the women knead their dough, to make cakes to the queen of heaven, and to pour out drink offerings unto other gods, that they may provoke me to anger” (Jeremiah 7:18).  Was this a perversion of the worship of Asherah begun in the temple when Manasseh placed the Asherah there?  Still later Jeremiah, under the direction of the Lord, spoke to the Jews then in Egypt and reminded them of those abominations that had caused the destruction of Jerusalem, and the rebellious Jews answered they would continue those practices, saying that while they did them, all was well, and the problems only came when they stopped the things the Lord called abominations (Jer. 44:16-19). 

Jeremiah responded: “Thus saith the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel, saying; Ye and your wives have both spoken with your mouths, and fulfilled with your hand, saying, We will surely perform our vows that we have vowed, to burn incense to the queen of heaven, and to pour out drink offerings unto her: ye will surely accomplish your vows, and surely perform your vows.  Therefore hear ye the word of the Lord, all Judah that dwell in the land of Egypt; Behold, I have sworn by my great name, saith the Lord, that my name shall no more be named in the mouth of any man of Judah in all the land of Egypt, saying, The Lord God liveth.  Behold, I will watch over them for evil, and not for good: and all the men of Judah that are in the land of Egypt shall be consumed by the sword and by the famine, until there be an end of them. Yet a small number that escape the sword shall return out of the land of Egypt into the land of Judah, and all the remnant of Judah, that are gone into the land of Egypt to sojourn there, shall know whose words shall stand, mine, or theirs” (Jer. 44:25-27)

It seems to me that we need to be very careful in placing Mother in Heaven ABOVE Father (proclaiming Her and Her alone The Tree of Life), or that same false worship that took hold of the ancient Israelites could easily happen again.

I admit I struggle with the almond tree as the symbol of Mother in Heaven, finding different cultures had entirely different symbolism for that tree -including those who ascribe a male god to the almond tree. And the assertion the Mother in Heaven is the source of the sacred olive oil leaves me a bit speechless.  But I have gone on too long to tackle that one for now!

The author writes “Recognizing her connection to the Tree of Life, we may come to see Mother in Heaven as being symbolically embodied in the most sacred place of all in the ancient temple, the mercy seat, the throne of God. The mercy seat on top of the Ark of the Covenant is guarded by two Cherubim just like what seems to be Mother in Heaven’s preeminent symbol, the Tree of Life in the Garden of Eden. Unsurprisingly, in Jewish tradition the divine Mother figure is associated with the Mercy Seat. “

Might we see more symbolism in the fact that cherubim were embroidered upon the veil of the temple- keeping the unworthy from entering the presence of the Holy of Holies just as they guarded the real Tree of Life from those not yet prepared to worthily entering into the presence of BOTH Father and Mother?

Ah well..I have gone on far too long.  I appreciate the research in the paper but feel far too many assumptions have been made, some that might lead to serious error, and that in the end the first proposition put forth, correctly  - that Mother and Father together are the  Elohim-- is put aside for the unsupported proposition the Mother alone is the Tree of Life- the Love of God- the source of Eternal Life.

(And we never even got into the question- probably unanswerable for now- as to whether there is more than one Mother in Heaven for this earth?  Did Abraham and Jacob- whose wives God says were given to them by Him, and who are now Gods themselves- have to relinquish some of those wives to become exalted?  Is it possible that our God has more than one?  I do not claim to know!  So many questions still remaining.  I believe we just need to be very careful how definitive we are in our speculations without revelation from those God has designated as His revelators – and without ignoring those prophetic answers that have already been given.

Thanks for taking time to read this!

L.P. Rees


IV. Val Larsen, the author, responds to Leslie Rees

Sister Rees,

  It is clear from what you say that you and I agree that our God is not Father alone nor Mother alone but the union of Father and Mother, an exalted man and exalted woman, who constitute Elohim. And it is true that we can fully know the will of Mother if we know the will of the Father and the Son, for all three and the Holy Ghost are unified in their purposes and will. But the fact that Father and Mother are one in their will and purposes does not mean that they are identical in all respects. Indeed, if they were identical, both would not be needed for Elohim to exist. Either one by him or herself would suffice. Mother brings something distinctive and essential to this governing diarchy. If we do not know her as well as the Father, then we do not fully know our God, Elohim, who is the union of El and Elah.

The presence and importance of El in scripture is everywhere apparent and everywhere acknowledged. It is Mother Elah who is not known and not acknowledged and who, thus, needs to occupy a more prominent place in our thoughts and discourse. The purpose of this article  was to help us see that we have a basis for talking about her, that she exists in scripture because she was too important, too integral a part of divinity to be fully expunged from the scriptural text. The fact that I focused this article on Elah, the one who is hidden in plain view in scripture, does not place “Mother in Heaven ABOVE Father.” I am just trying to help us see that she stands beside him as the essential perfect female counterpart and completion of his perfect masculinity.

If you understood me to say that “our Mother in Heaven is THE Tree of Life,” a literal tree, then I did not make myself sufficiently clear. Mother in Heaven is the exalted, glorious female Rabbi Berukhim sees in the passage at the end of the article. She is not a tree any more than Christ is a lamb. My argument is that the Tree of Life signifies her and the role she plays in our salvation much as the unblemished sacrificial lamb burning on the temple altar signifies Christ. The language of scripture, like the language of the temple, is symbolic. That is fortunate because the poetic richness of symbols communicates deeper, more multifaceted meanings than one can communicate through univocal denotative language. And it is fortunate because the symbols preserve the presence of Mother in scripture after more explicit plain and precious truths about her were taken out.

Saying that the Tree of Life signifies Mother does not repudiate “the very proposition that `God’ includes both Father and Mother.” If anything repudiates that proposition, it would be a suggestion that Mother, unlike Father, has no distinctive presence in scripture. In finding her frequently signified and celebrated in the Bible and especially the Book of Mormon, I affirm that she has been known and must be known if we are to know God.

I do not think that the Tree of Life “represents the love and promise of eternal life from our Heavenly Mother and not also our Heavenly Father.” The fruit of the tree, on my reading, is Christ, so Mother and Son are both involved in providing the atonement. And Father clearly did many things to facilitate the coming of the Savior and the provision of the atonement. Lehi saw him sitting on his throne in heaven and the Son coming down from his presence, for example. That Mother made her own distinctive contribution in no way indicates that Father played no role. Spouses in healthy relationships each distinctively contribute to family well being while acknowledging and valuing the contribution of their partner. El and Elah are the perfect exemplars of that healthy dynamic.

  It is true, as you indicate, with relevant quotations, that parts of the Bible handed down to us by the Deuteronomists—including parts of Jeremiah--attack belief in Mother in Heaven. As I argue in the article, some of those teachings seem to run contrary to what we find in the Book of Mormon, which is a more reliable text for determining what was the true religion in pre-exilic Israel. Lehi, Nephi, Jacob, and Zenos all seem to celebrate the Mother tree and the Ben Elohim. But your objection has some weight. Each person must draw her or his own conclusions about what plain and precious things were taken from scripture and what erroneous ideas were inserted. For my part, I think the ancients knew about and worshiped Mother and that knowledge of her was lost through apostasy and corruption of the Biblical text.

With respect to ancient figurines, the Christus statue on Temple Square reminds us of Christ and draws us closer to him. We do not worship the statue or pictures of Christ; we worship the being the statue and pictures signify. I think the same was true for many of the ancients, who fully understood the difference between the statue of a divine being and the divinity him or herself. The main issue was not the statue per se but whether it signified a true or false God. Mother is a true God. A statue signifying her would not be intrinsically bad. Opposition to her symbols in the Old Testament in some instances probably represents the rejection of her that she seems to condemn when she speaks in her Wisdom guise.

Let me conclude this response by again stating that if I left the impression that Mother alone is the source of Eternal Life, then I did not make myself clear. Neither Father, Mother, Son, nor Holy Ghost alone is the source of Eternal Life. Though all are distinct beings and, I believe, have a distinct presence in scripture, all are unified in their efforts to redeem us. All make distinctive contributions, but with the same end in view.


V. Leslie P. Rees responds to Val Larsen's response to her original comment

Brother Larsen, thank you for your response. Yes, Mother and Father are not identical in all respects; and, as you say, if that were the case there would be no need for both.  Just the fact that our exalted bodies will still be male and female is one obvious evidence of that. 

You also say: “If we do not know her as well as the Father, then we do not fully know our God, Elohim, who is the union of El and Elah.”

Well, is it not a fact that we do NOT now fully know God our Father?  The Savior, in His great intercessory prayer, stated: “And this is life eternal, that they might know thee the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom thou hast sent” (John 17:3 ).  Jesus prayed for this great knowledge to come to each of us, explaining that with eternal life (exaltation) comes that full and complete knowledge of our Father, His Son, and, I would agree, this would necessarily (and happily) include our Mother.  But since none of us have yet reached that station, I would suggest that none of us truly have a fullness of knowledge of any these exalted beings.  We can only know that which has been revealed to us through God's prophets about Her- or Them.  Yes, individual revelation may come, but that then is relevant only to the person receiving it, (answerable only upon their heads --as the source of the revelation is known only to them and to God), and it not to be be shared with others.  President Lorenzo Snow, for instance, received private revelation to teach him that God was once a mortal man- but knew it was not to be shared with others until after the Prophet Joseph Smith revealed this to the Saints.  That is our only safety as a Church from the false “revelations” that so many put forth to bring about their own philosophies and followers.

Yes, I understand that you did not mean to imply that Mother in Heaven is a literal Tree.  I believe both the Tree of Life and the Tree of Knowledge are obviously symbolic in nature.  I think the interpretation of Lehi and Nephi's visions, and other scriptures, make that very clear. 

You write in your response: “ She [Mother in Heaven] is not a tree any more than Christ is a lamb. My argument is that the Tree of Life signifies her and the role she plays in our salvation much as the unblemished sacrificial lamb burning on the temple altar signifies Christ.” 

My contention is that the Tree of Life signifies the role, and especially the love, of BOTH Father and Mother, carried out for our benefit by the Son who shared that same love; and I can find nothing in scripture which would place that symbolism on solely Her shoulders – unlike the much scriptural evidence that the sacrificial lamb does signify solely Christ and His atonement.  That is why I am uncomfortable with statements made in your original paper such as “So the path of faith, like the iron rod, leads us to the great symbol of Mother in Heaven, the Tree of Life, from which we partake of the fruit she bears—the atonement of her firstborn, the Lord Jesus Christ (Alma 32: 36-43).”

Or this: “In summary, then, Mother in Heaven is the one from whom we take leave as each of us, at our appointed time, is born into mortality. ... And with divine foreknowledge, she can anticipate our return to her, to the Tree of Life, which will help make us immortal and raise us to the kingdom of glory merited by our degree of faith in her, the Father, and the Son.”

You do include Father and Son--but they do seem (at least to me)--to assume a secondary role in your description of our leaving from and return to Their presence.

Other statements about Her seem to be definitively stated instead of put forth as suggestions, such as: “Mother in Heaven was worshipped in the temple in Jerusalem.”  “Given that she [Mother in Heaven] is the source of this sacred oil”.   And there are many other examples.  Whence such a surety, since the prophets have not spoken these things?

I do not read the words of Jeremiah in the same way that you do, as attacking a true temple worship of our Mother in Heaven, but rather as the Prophet Jeremiah delivering the Lord's message to the Israelites that they had worshipped a false idea of Her, an idol; and for that, God had condemned them.  But as you say, neither of us can prove that point to the satisfaction of the other.  Perhaps it is because of my own great love for Jeremiah and his teachings and experiences that I put great credence in those words -- and his warning.

It is certainly true that we do not worship the Christus statue or other statues or paintings of Christ.  We see them as beautiful reminders of the Savior and His mission.  But if the Lord, through Jeremiah, harshly reprimanded and condemned to destruction His people for worshipping their statues of the “queen of Heaven,” can we really conclude it was for according those images the same form of honor we which we now accord those art objects we now display?

You conclude by saying “I affirm that she has been known and must be known if we are to know God.”  With that I completely agree.  And as a woman, a mother, grandmother and great-grandmother, I too, long to know more about this exalted, glorious Mother of mine. But as I said at the beginning of this response, the Savior pointed out that in its fullness, this complete knowledge will only come with Exaltation.  In the meantime, I think it very interesting – and even important- to learn all we can about ancient worship, understanding, teachings, practices concerning all things found in all legitimate sources- and there are many.  I only feel we need to be cautious in stating conclusions on such a subject as this, unless we can show them to be true from the revealed words of God's prophets.  Too many seem to take every intellectual exploration as gospel truth- and thus build vulnerable structures they call knowledge on sandy foundations.  Testimonies can be lost on that path.

It is still my contention that until Father chooses to reveal more about Mother (and I don't dispute the proposal that, as with many past revelations, sincere prayer, offered in the spirit of humility, may play a large role in bringing forth such knowledge to the Lord's Prophets), the best way those of us who seek that knowledge can learn what has been given us thus far is to study the life of Her Eldest Son, who proclaimed His “oneness” with the Elohim.  Surely His great qualities emulate those of not only His Father, but His Heavenly Mother.

Thanks again for the exchange.                                                                                            


VI. Val Larsen, the author, responds to Leslie P. Rees

Sister Rees, as I mention, citing Adam S. Miller at the beginning of the essay, I view this article as a work of theology, not of doctrine. I also state that I sustain the prophets and apostles as those who have an exclusive right to declare doctrine. But of course, Moses, Lehi, Nephi, Jacob, Zenos, and John the Revelator were all prophets and all allude, I believe, to Mother in Heaven. The scriptures are doctrine, so to the extent that the scriptures speak of Mother, belief in her is doctrinal. And as you would agree, every prophet since Joseph Smith has mentioned Mother in Heaven, so there is nothing unorthodox about believing in her. Nor is the idea unorthodox that most gospel truths are restored truths. In my opinion, it would be rather more surprising to not find Mother in Heaven still present in ancient scripture than to find her there.

I’m grateful to the scholars mentioned in the article--including Kevin Christensen whom I should have mentioned in my response to Bert Fuller and who comments below—for helping me see our divine Mother so much present in the revelations that have been given to us by prophets. Naturally, no one is obligated to read these scriptures as I do if she or he does not find my reading persuasive. So I honor your skepticism. Since I see much evidence in scripture and other ancient texts that Mother is distinctively signified by sacred trees and that Father is not similarly signified, I expect we will just have to disagree on that point. Having stated at the beginning that I claim no authority and have no pretensions to establishing doctrine, I feel no compunctions about subsequently stating my opinions in a straightforward manner without endless qualifications that these are just my opinions. I trust that, like you, my other readers are capable of making their own judgments and of rejecting any claims that they find unpersuasive. Clearly, we both honor Mother and believe she has played an integral role in the unfolding of the plan of salvation. It appears that we differ only in our opinions about how much can be learned about her from reading existing scripture.


VII. Leslie P. Rees responds again to Larsen

Brother Larsen, I agree that we probably will not come to a meeting of the minds on a number of aspects of your article, and believe few are the times any of us are in complete agreement with another on most subjects.  We both do agree that we have a Mother in Heaven, and that  this belief is doctrinal. To disbelieve in her would be unorthodox – actually ridiculous - in the light of revealed knowledge that it takes both male and female to achieve Exaltation.  We also agree that we can learn  things about our Heavenly Parents from reading the words of the ancient prophets; although I am not persuaded that they added any provable knowledge about Mother to that which  we can receive from studying the teachings and life of the Savior himself.  After all, He told us that knowing Him was the way to know his Father, about whom -as an individual with a distinct personality- we actually know few -though obviously important- things from recorded scripture.  If it is in fact Jehovah, not El,  who is the God of the Old Testament, then most of what we know of Father comes, as Jesus said, from observing and listening to what He (Jesus/Jehovah) said and did.  I personally believe the same is true if we wish to know the most important things about the Mother who birthed, cared for, and taught Christ -- and us – in pre-mortality. But as you say, we may just have to agree to disagree about this.

However, I have one remaining question, which I hope you will answer straightfowardly. I am curious as to why you seemingly dismiss the words of the Prophet Jeremiah in proclaiming God's great anger with the Israelites for worshipping “the queen of heaven” using idols they made to represent her.   I would be interested in knowing whether you think Jeremiah was not a prophet, did not speak with authority from God, or was just confused?


VIII. Val Larsen, the author, responds to Leslie Rees

Sister Rees, I do accept Jeremiah as a great prophet. But his words come to us by way of those he criticized--the religious and political leaders of his time, who sought to kill him because he embraced a religion that they rejected. These leaders were the Deuteronomist sons and followers of Josiah, who cast Asherah out of the temple and rejected the older religion that, Margaret Barker suggests, Jeremiah may have embraced, a religion that included worship of Mother in Heaven. As I note in the article, the temple that had long survived with the Asherah in it was destroyed shortly after she was cast out. The destruction of Jerusalem and the temple and Babylonian captivity all suggest that the intermediaries between us and Josiah may be unreliable. The eighth article of faith and Nephi’s warning that changes were made in scripture with plain and precious parts being expunged also suggest that we may not have Jeremiah’s words exactly as he penned them. So the text we have may not accurately reflect Jeremiah’s beliefs, especially concerning the Queen of Heaven, an apt title for Mother in Heaven. See my discussion of these issues in Footnote 48 and Barker’s discussion of Jeremiah in Mother of the Lord.

It is tautologically true that worshipping idols is condemnable. But it is not wrong to have images of a true God if one does not worship them as an idol. If the people of Jeremiah’s day worshipped idols, he no doubt condemned the practice. If they they worshipped their true Mother in Heaven, he would not have condemned them. My view, in short, is that Jeremiah was a prophet, he did speak with authority from God, but the text we have of his words may be in some measure corrupted and confused. Insofar as it condemns worship of Mother in Heaven, I believe it to be corrupted.


IX. Leslie P. Rees responds again to the author, Val Larsen

Brother Larsen,

Your implied conclusion above seems to be that we can plausibly reject the recorded words of all the Old Testament prophets from the time of Josiah onward.  Searching through Conference talks, it is interesting to note how often inspired men of our day such as Thomas S. Monson, Gordon B. Hinckley, Russell M. Nelson,  Dieter F. Uchtdorf, Jeffrey R. Holland, Neal A. Maxwell—and on and on- quote the words of Jeremiah, accept his words as prophetic, and never suggest they are inaccurate.  I have found none who suggest that Jeremiah embraced a religion which included a worship ceremonyfor our Mother in Heaven.  I have, personally, been amazed at the accuracy in the fulfillment of the prophesies of Jeremiah regarding these last days, especially in regard to the gathering of Israel and the great work attendant to that.

Hugh Nibley took issue with your interpretation of Jeremiah's words when he spoke of the “queen of heaven.”  Referencing Jeremiah 7:15, 18 and 25, Nibley said:

"And I will cast you out of my sight, as I have cast out all your brethren, even the whole seed of Ephraim." This is a very interesting picture of how strong the Egyptian culture is in the city. It's referred to later on more fully, but he says in verse 18, "The children gather wood, and the fathers kindle the fire, and the women knead their dough, to make cakes to the queen of heaven [that's Isis, the Egyptian mother goddess], and to pour out drink offerings unto other gods, that they may provoke me to anger?" The ties with Egypt were very close; they had been for generations. In verse 25 here he tells what's been going on: "Since the day that your fathers came forth out of the land of Egypt unto this day I have even sent unto you all my servants the prophets, daily rising up early and sending them: Yet they hearkened not unto me, nor inclined their ear, but hardened their neck: they did worse than their fathers. Therefore thou shalt speak all these words unto them; but they will not hearken to thee." Jeremiah is commanded to preach to them. The Lord says, "I know they won't listen to you, but you are going out to preach to them. I sent my prophets before, and they didn't listen. I knew they wouldn't listen to them." (TEACHINGS OF THE BOOK OF MORMON, Semester 1, Lecture 5  (Jeremiah) Insights from Lehi's Contemporaries: Solon and Jeremiah)

It is true that Joseph Smith was not able to finish his inspired revision of the Bible.  He was commanded to do so (D&C73:3-4) and specifically to do so for the Prophets (D&C 90:13).  However, he made  very few corrections in the entire book of Jeremiah (Jeremiah 26:6,13, 19; 30:12-13).  If Jeremiah was quoted so incorrectly regarding something this important, do you suppose Joseph would have ignored that error altogether ?  Would he have ignored the recorded words of the Israelites to Jeremiah:  “As for the word that thou hast spoken unto us in the name of the Lord, we will not hearken unto thee” (Jer. 44:13), with Jeremiah's response: “Thus saith the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel, saying; Ye and your wives have both spoken with your mouths, and fulfilled with your hand, saying, We will surely perform our vows that we have vowed, to burn incense to the queen of heaven, and to pour out drink offerings unto her'”(Jer. 44:25).

Nephi did speak of plain and precious parts being removed from the scriptures, but are we individually to be the arbiter of which parts those are?  Has not much of the purpose of modern scriptural revelation been to help correct errors and restore truths of greatest import?

If by “queen of heaven” Jeremiah referred to his actual Mother in heaven, I am quite sure, as Brother Christensen stated, he did not reject Her.  He would have revered and loved Her as, hopefully, we do. I personally believe it is clear he rejected what had become an idolatrous worship of her.  If the correlation is being made between removing the Asherah placed in the temple by Manasseh, and the following destruction of the temple, to what do we ascribe the destruction of the temple of Herod?  Did not both come about because of the increasingly wicked behavior of the people and the false forms of worship they adopted?  I would also agree completely with Brother Christensen that “we should not jump to conclusions about Jeremiah’s attitudes about the Queen of Heaven without thoroughly examining his writings."  I would simply add that I do not believe we should jump to --or promote-- any personal conclusions (and should be cautious in putting forth our own speculations to so label them) about the Queen of Heaven, (Heavenly Mother); relying instead on revealed truth from those God has designated as the conduit for that truth.                                                                                                                                            

Leslie Pearson Rees


X. Bert Fuller

My wife and I read Val Larsen's article out loud together last week. We wanted to express gratitude for the piece—both for the work put into it and for SquareTwo for publishing it. I have a question for Dr. Larsen: Dr. Larsen, your essay depends on a sophisticated understanding of archetype, which I find shares much in common with Northrop Frye's writings. I was curious if you draw insight from Frye, or if you have pieced together your theory of symbolism from other sources. And if from other sources, who have been the primary influences?


XI. Val Larsen, the author, responds to Bert Fuller

Brother Fuller, thank you for your kind comments. Northrop Frye visited BYU in the late 1970s when I was there as an undergraduate. I read one of his books at that time and still have some recollection of the literary cycle he outlined. He certainly mixed literature and theology in ways that I find congenial. But I don’t think I used his work in this article. It has been too long since I looked at it for it to directly influence my current work. The most important direct scholarly influences on this article are those cited in it—Margaret Barker, Dan Petersen, and Dave Butler. In the course of taking an M.A. and Ph.D. in English literature at the University of Virginia, I learned from a wide variety of sources how to read a text closely with attention to symbols and archetypes. And the temple, if we are paying attention, teaches us how to read symbols. Dave Butler does a great job of showing how the temple illuminates the scriptures and vice versa. I am, perhaps, most indebted to Lehi, Nephi, Jacob, Benjamin, the Almas and, of course, Mormon. I have been reading the Book of Mormon closely for a long time and have found it to have a lot of symbolic and literary depth. It encourages close reading by rewarding the effort with lots of insight into the power and beauty of the gospel of Jesus Christ.


XII. Jenne Erigero

Firstly, I have been hoping about an article like this especially since it incorporates Barker's most recent work and introduces Butler's to a wider Mormon audience while at the same time addressing the progressive desire to know more about Heavenly Mother and what we as church members can do to learn more about Her. Thank you for publishing this compilation of research across history, scholarship and scripture.

This author appears optimistic that the time is coming and is perhaps close that church membership is so accepting of Heavenly Mother in our theology that leadership will reveal something about her that surprises no one but brings joy to most if not all. Yet at the same time the author does not address the church's propensity to protect its public image. Also needed to be added into waiting for the church to be ready to receive this information is waiting for the world around us to not be hateful and willing to act out in reprisal against us for embracing our Heavenly Mother. I'd say we are much further away from that than we are from church members being ready to receive more information.

Our church members may be studious enough to learn this information about the scriptures and history; though if conversations with my former bishop indicate anything, many members are more than content accepting the Deuteronomist way of thinking, but we must also estimate how much awareness there is of this information in the wider Christian community. It may be well known among scholars and there may be some awareness in divinity schools and seminaries, but there appears to be very little awareness among the laity of US Christians. Christianity appears a long way from being ready to accept Mormons if we were to bring the woman from the wilderness as Revelation describes it.

We do however have a means to communicate sacred truths in a private environment to mature church members where outsiders in the community are not invited. Perhaps revelation about Her does not come in an Official Declaration or Proclamation. Perhaps it comes in a special recitation in the temple, just as certain roles have been expanded upon in recent years. Innovation in temple worship has been happening repeatedly and bringing a more overt depiction Heavenly Mother is a coming innovation.


XIII. Val Larsen, the author, responses to Jenne Erigero

Sister Erigero,

Thank you for your comment. The leaders of the Church are mindful (as they should be) of the public relations implications of their words and actions. They rightly do not want to do anything that will create a stumbling block for prospective new members. For some, more explicit discussion of Mother in Heaven would be a stumbling block. But for others, it would be a glorious truth that would attract them to the restored gospel. For most current members of the Church, I believe more explicit notice of Mother in Heaven would be enthusiastically welcomed. I don’t claim to know how the positives and negatives balance out. I trust our Heavenly Parents and the Church leaders to get the policy right.

Fortunately, the internet provides an opportunity for us to share (as you have done elsewhere online) and as I have done here our unofficial thoughts about how we can find Mother in Heaven in scripture and make her a bigger part of our lives. In doing this, I think we help bring forward the time when more official notice will be taken of Mother and her many contributions to life and salvation. The horizons of belief and interest among both members and nonmembers will surely be a factor in the timing of new official statements and revelations.

I love the new temple presentations and, since they were released recently, I expect they will be with us for some time. But I would be delighted if, in the next update of the presentation, Elohim were to appear as a divine couple who either speak in unison or alternate as spokespersons. I don’t think, however, that such a change or the special recitation you mention would go unnoticed in the press. Nonetheless, the temple would be a logical place for Mother’s role to be more fully highlighted. The fact that divinity is diarchic is already very much implicit in the temple ceremonies.  


XIV. Kevin Christensen

Nicely done.  Margaret Barker recently spoke at the FAIR Mormon conference in Provo on the topic of “Heavenly Mother and Her Children.”  There were over 600 people in the audience and over 300 more streaming online.  I remember trying to get some people interested in Barker at Salt Lake City Sunstones, well over a decade ago, but neither of my presentations there attracted much attention.  Much has changed, and that increased awareness and interest by many LDS scholars, I think, is all to the good. 

One additional point of particular relevance to the Book of Mormon and relevant to your essay appears in Barker’s Christmas: The Original Story, p 6.  In discussing the account of Psalm 110, the Melchizedek psalm, about the “royal birth as high priest” she suggests that the original of the now damaged Hebrew may have been “On the day of your birth in the glory of the holy ones, from the womb I have begotten you as the morning star”.   She continues with a mention of Eusebius’s commentary of a version of Psalm 110.3 “That had ‘Mary’ where the present Hebrew has ‘womb.’ The Hebrew mrhm, ‘from the womb’ had been read as ‘mrym, ‘Miriam,’ that is Mary.”

That may be behind what we have in Alma 10.


XV. Val Larsen, the author, responds to Kevin Christensen

Brother Christensen, thank you for your comment and for all you have done to bring the scholarship of Margaret Barker and knowledge of Mother in Heaven’s presence in scripture to the attention of Church members. As I mention above, I should have acknowledged your work as an important contributor to my thinking in my response to Bert Fuller. No one has done more than you and Dan Petersen to highlight how well the Book of Mormon fits within the historical context it claims for itself in its treatment of the Tree of Life and of Mother in Heaven. Like you, I am delighted with the recent surge in interest in this topic and in Margaret Barker’s scholarship. And I honor the major contribution you have made to bringing what I regard to be an important gospel truth out of obscurity.

Thank you, too, for pointing out Barker’s connection between Mary (mrym) and from the womb (mrhm). In the original draft of this article, I had a major section that discussed the birth/womb symbolism in King Benjamin’s sermon (where Mary’s name is first mentioned in the Book of Mormon). I hope at some point to publish a book collecting this article and other work I have done on the Book of Mormon and to then restore things cut by the editors. If I do, I will probably mention what you/Barker say here about Mary and the womb because it fits with the analysis presented in the deleted part of this article.


XVI. Kevin Christensen replies to Val Larsen, the author

Thanks Brother Larsen.   It was, and remains, a lot of fun to have been involved in spreading the word about Barker’s implications for LDS scripture.  Back in 1999, after I’d read The Great Angel and started collecting her books, I talked to Daniel Peterson in Saint Louis, where he was giving a fireside.  He pointed me to Hamblin’s Occasional Papers, and I spent two years working on my Paradigms Regained paper for him.  After that came out, Noel Reynolds independently found and read The Great Angel, and then contacted me and asked if I’d been in touch with Margaret. Yes, I had, so I helped arrange his visit with her in England, and that led to the 2003 BYU Seminar, and much more has followed on that, including the 2005 Joseph Smith Conference with her talk on the Book of Mormon, and some SBL meetings.  Now, lots of highly trained and well qualified LDS scholars have gotten involved in things like the Temple Studies groups.  Reynolds told me that my writing “Paradigms Regained” had saved him the trouble of doing so, which leaves me feeling that all of this would have happened without me.  It’s very interesting to see what other people have come up with, ranging from Alyson Von Feldt’s work on the Wisdom Traditions, to David Larsen, to Zina Nibley, to the Temple Studies groups, Brant Gardner’s Book of Mormon commentaries, and Butler’s books, and much more, including your own impressive and insightful study.  And of course, Barker’s approach is drawing interest elsewhere in Christianity, as shown by such things as the Archbishop Canterbury bestowing her DD in 2008, and His All Holiness Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew writing the introduction to her book on Creation.

Speaking of Jeremiah’s attitude to “The Queen of Heaven,” I gave my own approach in one of the Meridian essays, “Plain and Precious Things Restored: Part 5:”

"Does this mean then, that Jeremiah rejects the Queen of Heaven?  I don’t think so. Notice that Jeremiah had previously made the same criticisms of those who placed their faith in the presence of the Jerusalem temple:

Trust ye not in lying words, saying, The temple of the LORD, The temple of the LORD, The temple of the LORD, [are] these.

For if ye throughly amend your ways and your doings; if ye throughly execute judgment between a man and his neighbour;

If ye oppress not the fatherless and the widow, and shed not innocent blood in this place, neither walk after other gods to your hurt; then will I cause you to dwell in this place, in the land I gave to your fathers. (Jer. 7:4-6)

Jeremiah continues his Temple discourse to identify the real problem:

Will ye steal, murder, and commit adultery, and swear falsely, and burn incense to other gods… and come and stand before me in this house, which is called in my name, and say, We are delivered to do all these abominations? (Jer. 7:9-10)

Jeremiah is not anti-temple. He speaks favorably of temple sacrifice in Jer. 33:11 and his writings are full of 1st Temple imagery. I have previously presented evidence that Jeremiah disagrees with the Deuteronomist reformers on their key issues. His complaints against the temple and the worship of the Queen were both directed against the failure to repent, to offer rituals without repentance. The ritual forms mean nothing without personal reform. So we should not jump to conclusions about Jeremiah’s attitudes about the Queen of Heaven without thoroughly examining his writings."


XVII. Alyson Van Feldt

Thank you for your excellent article in Square Two on Mother in Heaven. I have been researching and writing on this topic for nearly two decades, and you added much insight into what can be known of divine woman from the scriptures. Thank you for advancing this topic so boldly. I’m delighted that so many more people are studying, discussing, and being exposed to the evidence. 

I’ve written on evidences of the Wisdom tradition in the Book of Mormon here: “My Secret is with the Righteous: Instructional Wisdom in the Book of Mormon” (Maxwell Institute)
On William Dever’s archeology and it’s implications for an LDS audience here: “Does God Have a Wife? Review of William G. Dever. Did God Have a Wife? Archaeology and Folk Religion in Ancient Israel” (Maxwell Institute)
And on Wisdom in Restoration Scripture here: “Wisdom in Restoration Scripture” (Academy for Temple Studies) PaperConference Video-YouTube

I have one concern. Throughout your article, you took evidence of divine woman necessarily as evidence of Heavenly Mother. I feel caution should be taken about drawing this conclusion. Though I don’t have any concern with recognizing a divine woman in most of the relevant passages, but I believe we Latter-day Saints may be making a theological mistake to assume this heavenly woman is the mother of our spirits, at least in all instances. Notably, the archeologist William Dever emphasizes that Asherah was understood to be Yahweh’s consort, not his mother. Margaret Barker and Dever disagree on this point. They both have some sound evidence in their corner. I am familiar with Margaret’s defense in her book Mother of the Lord, pp. 121-125. But when her argument is fully accepted that the goddess generally should be understood to be our mother, then some theological questions (problems?) arise, which you did not tackle in your paper. 

Here are a couple:

When I tuned into the message of Proverbs 8:22-31 years ago, along with related passages like those in the deuterocanonical books Wisdom of Solomon and ben Sirach, my first assumption was that these (thrilling) passages told of Mother in Heaven’s role in creation. But as I pondered them I became concerned about some of the theological implications. Specifically, these passages describe roles that the goddess plays that could not logically be filled by a Heavenly Mother, at least given what we Latter-day Saints know about her and about eternal progression.

First, in Proverbs 8:22-31, she is depicted as observing and rejoicing alongside Yahweh during the creation. Why, I wondered, would Heavenly Mother be partnered with Yahweh in the active creation of the world, when Heavenly Father’s role is more of a directing role? The relationship seemed asymmetrical. I realize that dating this passage is problematic and it could reflect the assumption by Yahweh of El’s roles that happened during the push to monotheism. Perhaps the underlying tale or text was originally meant to depict Father and Mother in Heaven, side-by-side during the creation. But that does not explain the overtones of Wisdom as a daughter that are apparent. For example, she is said to have been “brought forth” or “begotten” of the Lord (qanani v. 22, holalti  vs. 24-25), playing (mesaheqet v. 30-31) before him as a child and eagerly anticipating the advent of humankind on earth. (See Peter Schafer, Mirror of His Beauty: Feminine Images of God from the Bible to the Early Kabbalah, p. 48ff.) This makes no sense if this woman is our Heavenly Mother. And of course in Proverbs 7 the wisdom novice is urged to “Say unto wisdom, Thou art my sister; and call understanding thy kinswoman” (Proverbs 7:4). Would this be said of Mother in Heaven?

Secondly, the glimpses we have of Wisdom in the wisdom literature often depict her as the Spirit. In Proverbs she “pours out her Spirit” (1:23). In ben Sirach she is “gift” that has been “poured out” on all creation and “covered the earth as a cloud” ((1:9-10; 24:3-6). In Wisdom of Solomon she “passeth. . . though all things” and is the “brightness of the everlasting light” (7:22-28; cf. D&C 88). Barker goes so far as to say that  “the goddess is most familiar in her role as the Holy Spirit.” (Revelation of Jesus Christ, p. 209). Likewise and eventually, in Talmudic Judaism the Shekinah is synonymous with the Holy Spirit (Raphael Patia, Hebrew Goddess, p.105).

I noticed you took up none of the implications in your paper, never mentioning Wisdom’s and the Shekinah’s connection with the Spirit, nor Barker’s views on these matters. But this is quite a theological puzzle for Latter-day Saints because of the assertion in D&C 130:22 that the Spirit does not have a body of flesh and bones. Logically, as the exalted mother of our spirits, Heavenly Mother would necessarily have a body of flesh and blood, as does Heavenly Father. So the Spirit cannot be a heavenly parent because the Spirit has not yet received a body and subsequently been exalted. Because of D&C 130:22 (and other factors), it’s problematic to conclude that Heavenly Mother is the Holy Spirit.

So to me, another possible conclusion is that Wisdom, at least in Proverbs 8:22-31 and similar passages, cannot be solely identified with heavenly Mother. Rather, she could possibly be a heavenly sibling, who, like Christ, has a role in our salvation. 

Father, Mother, Son, Daughter. The idea of a four-fold Godhead is not original to me. For example, you are probably familiar with the Kabbalistic tetrad (see, for example, Patai’s The Hebrew Goddess, pp. 112 ff.) In fact the figure you displayed from Mari shows two gods and two goddesses in addition to the serpent.

Of course the possibility of a divine tetrad has its own set of theological or doctrinal problems for Latter-day Saints, some of which I address in my conference presentation, “Wisdom in Restoration Scripture.”

Yet I think these problems need to be discussed at much greater length, or at least I would like to discuss them at much greater length, because not only does ancient scripture and extrabiblical material link the Goddess and Spirit, but I think Restoration scripture does as well. You point out that “baptism is an inherently female symbol.” Yet In 2 Nephi 31, Christ and the Holy Ghost are associated with baptism…in fact, Nephi teaches that water baptism is necessary so that one can receive fire baptism by the Holy Ghost. In this passage, Christ and the Holy Ghost seem to stand in contrast to Satan and the abominable whore from earlier chapters. The two evil figures are from the wisdom tradition of Proverbs 1-9; Nephi seems to posit the Holy Ghost as the analogue to the wisdom literature’s Wisdom, who leads on paths of uprightness (Proverbs 2:13, Ben Sirach 4:18)/straightness (2 Nephi  31:3-9; 32:5). By calling the path “straight and narrow,” I have argued, Nephi was playing with the root of Asherah, which means “to tread, to go straight” (see “My Secret is with the Righteous” and/or “Wisdom in Restoration Scripture”). He says it’s the Holy Ghost who leads on this path.

Also note the linkage of wisdom/guide/Holy Spirit in these passages:

Here’s one from the Doctrine and Covenants: this one brings in the tree imagery that you highlighted in your paper:

And a couple of others from the Doctrine and Covenants:

For by my Spirit will I enlighten them, and by my power will I make known unto them the secrets of my will—yea, even those things which eye has not seen, nor ear heard, nor yet entered into the heart of man. (Doctrine and Covenants 76:7,9-10; cf. 1 Nephi 10:17)

For my Spirit is sent forth into the world to enlighten the humble and contrite, and to the condemnation of the ungodly. (Doctrine and Covenants 136:32-33)

And in Moses we see the presence of God and his glory, known in later times and other places as the Shekinah, synonymous with the Spirit:

And in this one from Moses, we read of the Holy Ghost, the glory, and Shaddai all together as possible synonyms, together with water imagery:

Moses 5:14 teaches that God called upon Adam and Eve “by the Holy Ghost,” which is reminiscent of Wisdom’s call in Proverbs 1:20-33, where she promises that to those who hearken she will “pour out her Spirit.”

I agree with you: much is in plain view—so much more than we have thought--but as we study it carefully, the plain truth may be a bit unexpected. I think a study of Mother in Heaven in the scriptures from an LDS perspective is not complete unless it accounts for the goddess’s close association with the Spirit.


XVIII. Val Larsen, the author, responds to Alyson Van Feldt

I make an important distinction in the article between theology, where we individual members may speculate, and doctrine, which is declared by the First Presidency and the Quorum of the Twelve. What follows is theology. With that caveat, let me agree with virtually everything you say in your comment. I believe the Book of Mormon makes it quite clear that there was a Greater Apostasy in the time of Josiah. In other words, there were gospel truths known prior to and during Lehi’s time that were lost in the wake of the Deuteronomist reforms. One key truth was that El has a wife Elah who is the essential other half of the divine couple who constitute Elohim. God is not just Father or just Mother, but a divine couple, our Heavenly Parents. Joseph Smith restored that truth and it has been affirmed in one way or another by every prophet since Joseph. That truth—so foreign to the rest of Christendom today—we find clearly taught and understood in the pre-exilic Middle East. So modern prophets have confirmed as doctrine one key element of pre-exilic Middle East theology: we have both a Father and a Mother in Heaven who are God.

But Father and Mother did not stand alone as the most important lords of Heaven in this older, pre-Deuteronomist theology. There was also a divine Son (sometimes called Yahweh) and a divine daughter who went by various names. This tetrad of Father, Mother, Son, and Daughter turns up over and over in Middle Eastern theologies before Josiah. In light of modern revelation, we easily recognize three of the figures in that tetrad as being part of the Godhead, properly understood. The divine Father and Mother, El and Elah, are Elohim. The divine Son is Jehovah. What is left unidentified are the divine Daughter--and the Holy Ghost. An obvious inference one can make—and I did make—is that the divine Daughter is the Holy Ghost. Thus, not being familiar with all of your work, I independently reached the same conclusion you articulate and support in your research and your comment. Since the focus of this article was Mother in Heaven, I did not discuss this conclusion in the article. But I did reach it based on research done for the article.

As I acknowledge above, the distinction between Father and Son, El(ohim) and Jehovah, is often muddled in the Old Testament that has been handed down to us by the Deuteronomists. There are many indications that they were distinct beings understood by the ancients to be distinct, but also much evidence that some ancient scribes thought Elohim and Jehovah were just alternate names for the same being. Less (though still much) is said about the Mother and the Daughter in the Old Testament, but it is clear that these two beings are also melded together in the Wisdom texts and other symbolic indications of female divinity. However, as you indicate in your comment, we have the same good criterion for distinguishing Mother and Daughter in the Old Testament that we have for distinguishing Father and Son: Father and Mother have a body; Son and Daughter do not. As I note in the article, the Son appears to Nephi as a personage of spirit. Since we know that the Holy Ghost is also a personage of spirit (D&C 130: 22), we expect to see the Daughter as a spirit and should read passages in the Wisdom literature that allude to a spirit as a reference to the Daughter rather than to the Mother. This creates a wonderful symmetry. Our engagement with the Elohim, our divine Parents El and Elah, is mediated by the Son (Jehovah) and Daughter (Holy Ghost) who are, for the most part, their representatives here on earth. So I completely support your proposals on this point. And there is no more reason to think that by affirming the existence of Mother, we disparage the existence of the Daughter than there is to think that in affirming the existence of Father, we deny the existence of the Son.

Having concluded that there was much reason to believe that the divine Daughter of the ancient tetrad is the Holy Ghost, I cursorily examined scripture to see if the text is compatible with this idea. My research was far from exhaustive—you have clearly done much more--but it did seem that most scripture is compatible with the idea that the Holy Ghost is female. What is striking is that the Holy Ghost is almost always referred to in gender neutral terms as “it” rather than “he,” e.g. D&C 130: 23. This neutrality is striking in scriptural texts that are so heavily male normative. Indeed, in this male normative context, gender neutrality strikes me as presumptive evidence for the Holy Ghost being a female. Since during most of the text’s history no one would have objected to male pronouns, their absence may be telling. God may have inspired the use of gender neutral language to preserve the possibility of a future revelation that the Holy Ghost is the divine Daughter, a view that could not have been accepted during the period of complete Deuteronomist hegemony, which, fortunately, may be passing. (That isn’t the only possible explanation for gender neutrality in the text. Another is that the Holy Ghost was not regarded as a person when the texts were written. Either way, the original texts did not reveal the entire truth and are open to subsequent further interpretation and deeper understanding.)

With respect to the Mari figure of two male and two female gods (and the serpent), there are good grounds, as you suggest, for reading it as an image of Father, Mother, Son, and Daughter. El is clearly oriented to the obvious Elah figure who holds the Asherah cult object. The Son stands behind the Mother and the other female behind the Son and, on this cylinder seal, immediately behind the Father. I believe the appeal of the seal to its original owners would have been heightened by a connection with the divine tetrad of Father, Mother, Son, and Daughter. But images like this need not be read in only one way. The tree goddess behind El might signify both Mother (in being a tree) and daughter (in not being identical in appearance to the other goddess). Since I think there is great power in the idea that we depart from Mother (in the preexistence) when we partake of our own forbidden fruit and return to her (and the Celestial kingdom) when we partake of the Tree of Life, which is her symbol, and thus receive the atonement through her Son, the fruit she bears, I will continue to read the image in that way. But that is a devotional, not a historical argument. Since the Daughter is more associated with earth, the Mother with heaven, perhaps the image could be read as suggesting an initial earthly separation from the divine in the guise of the Daughter followed by an ultimate heavenly reincorporation with the divine in the guise of the Mother. More research needs to be done to come to firm conclusions on these points.

Let me conclude my response by thanking you for including in your comment so many citations and links to your past work on this topic. I very much look forward to closely reading your work and some of the primary sources you rely upon. I encourage others to do the same. The now well established doctrine that we have a Heavenly Mother as well as a Heavenly Father is among the most glorious of the restored gospel. It is likewise glorious to discover that we may have a divine elder Sister (the Holy Ghost) who joins our divine elder Brother (Christ) here on earth as the mediator of our passage back into the presence of Father and Mother in Heaven.