Several years ago, at the recommendation of a friend, I read Not in His Image: Gnostic Vision, Sacred Ecology, and the Future of Belief by John Lamb Lash. It was a very, um, interesting book. Actually I guess outlandish might be a better term, but it certainly held my attention.Â In the weeks after I read it, I talked about it to anyone who would listen, because it was so provocative and downright odd, and made for fun conversations.
Basically, it argued that the god of monotheism aka Yahweh aka Allah aka Heavenly Father etc did not create the earth.Â Instead, the earth, Gaia, a goddess herself, was somehow moved into a different plane of existence (I forget how Lash explained it) and ended up with all these creatures on and around her, trying to control her.Â The most aggressive of these was an insane inorganic alien–yes, an insane inorganic alien; I’m not making this up–who showed up and starting announcing that he had created the earth and that people were actually created in his image, after which he set about trying to remake them in his image and turn them into insane inorganic creatures too.
To that end, he commanded those who worship him to cut down trees and get rid of groves.Â In fact, the first line of the book was something like “The god of the Old Testament hates trees.”Â (Sorry that I’m paraphrasing rather than quoting; I got the book from the library and can’t verify the exact wording.)
That was the part of the book that I found not just bizarre but truly insightful and useful.Â I had taken an old testament lit class as an undergrad and read the entire OT on my own.Â But it had never sunk in just how hostile Yahweh is to trees, to groves, to forest, to nature.Â He may or may not be inorganic, he may or may not be an alien, but his hostility to all things arboreal certainly exceeds rationality.Â It comes up over and over, as in:
But ye shall destroy their altars, break their images, and cut down their groves: Exodus 34:13
God, you see, lives not in forests or groves but on rocky mountain tops–that’s where Moses had to go to find him.Â God can’t be evoked by the imagery of forests; instead, his imagery is fire, that which consumes and destroys the forest.
But despite that monotheistic hostility to sacred groves (heh!), a reverence for them was already built into proto-indo-European, the language that was the ancestor of the Hellenic, Romance, and Germanic languages, just to name a few–as well as a few languages of the middle east, including HIttite and Tocharian, but not the ancestor of Hebrew.Â I follow several language blogs, and today one of them posted a bit about the etymology of the word temple:
The word â€˜templeâ€™ comes from the root â€˜temâ€™, to cut â€“ a forest clearing. The inspiration of those who made civilizationâ€™s first temples and churches all over the world, was the forest. You can see it in the pillars, the arched roofs, the decorated ceilings. For the gods walk in the forest.
That passage is from a memoir about life in the Lake District of England; the blogger verifies its accuracy:
The American Heritage Dictionary 5th edition, in its appendix of Proto-Indo-European roots, says *tem- had a suffixed form *tem-lo– from which we get â€œLatin templum, temple, shrine, open place for observation (augury term < â€˜place reserved or cut outâ€™), small piece of timber.â€ Itâ€™s a gratifying connection.
Goofy, I admit, but I found it interesting and satisfying that despite the efforts of the old testament god to eradicate nature worship, vestiges remain even in the words we use for Mormon worship.