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By many Oriental as well as Occidental peoples, whether of Semitic or non-Semitic stock, groves and single trees (oaks, terebinths, tamarisks, palms, etc.) were regarded and revered as favorite abodes of the gods, and were therefore set aside for worship and marked by the erection of altars in, under, or near them. Behind this conception was the belief, wide-spread among primitive races, that trees were animated (see Mannhardt, "Die Walḍ- und Feldkulte"). Modified, this idea reappears in the form in which the trees are held to be the dwellings, and groves the haunts, of benevolent or malevolent spirits and deities. Moreover, trees were suggestive of fertility, of life, and (in winter) of death. This induced their worship as visible manifestations of the secret powers of nature controlling generation and decay.

Among the Hebrews, also, this notion seems to have prevailed in remote times. At all events, groves and trees are found connected with the-ophanies (Gen. xii. 6 [A. V. 7]), and with the giving of judgment—that is, the oracular consultation of the deity (Judges iv. 5; I Sam. xxii. 6).


The Hebrew "elon" and "eshel," denoting the oak and tamarisk respectively, are mentioned as groves, or perhaps in stricter accuracy as single trees, where Yhwh revealed Himself (Gen. xii. 6 [A. V. 7], xxi. 33); more definitely described as "elon moreh" (= "oak of the revealing oracle"; "moreh" from the root , whence also "Torah"; but see Barth, "Etymologische Studien," pp. 13-14); sometimes in the plural "elone moreh" (Deut. xi. 30); also "elone mamre" (Gen. xiii. 18, xiv. 13, xviii. 1). "Elah" (Isa. i. 30), "allah" (Josh. xxiv. 26), "allon" (Gen. xxxv. 8), "tomer" (Judges iv. 5), and "rimmon" (I Sam. xiv. 2) occur in connections indicating that trees which were regarded as sacred, either in groves or singly, are meant. Under such sacred trees treaties were solemnly confirmed (Judges ix. 6), sacrifices were offered (ib. vi. 11), and, as stated above, judgments were rendered (ib. iv. 5). The sound made by the trees is mentioned as an auspicious omen (II Sam. v. 24; comp. Gen. xii. 6; Judges ix. 37). Yhwh is described as dwelling in the (burning) bush (Deut. xxxiii. 16; comp. Ex. iii. 1-6). Joshua erects a memorial stone underneath an oak "that was by the sanctuary of Yhwh" (Josh. xxiv. 26). Among the Patriarchs, Abraham is more especially brought into relations with such groves or sacred trees (Gen. xiii. 18, xviii. 1, xxi. 33).

The opposition evinced by the Later Prophets to such groves and trees confirms the theory that originally they were connected with the cult of the deities presiding over the generative processes of nature. These deities and their worship (see Baalim and comp. Deut. xii. 2) were dominant factors in the Canaanitish religion, the "high hills" and "green trees" being characteristically identified with the corrupt practises of the Israelites' neighbors and symbolic of their pernicious influence upon the people of Yhwh (I Kings xiv. 23; II Kings xvi. 4, xvii. 10; II Chron. xxviii. 4; Isa. lvii. 5; Jer. ii. 20; iii. 6, 13; xvii. 2; Ezek. vi. 13, xx. 28; Hosea iv. 13). The "gardens," which are also mentioned with disapproval, served similar purposes and for the same reasons (Isa. i. 29, lxv. 3, lxvi. 17).

The Asherah—usually (following LXX. and the Vulgate) rendered "grove" or, when in the plural, "groves" ("asherim": I Kings xiv. 23; II Kings xvii. 10; Jer. xvii. 2), as even the context might have suggested, it not being likely that a "grove" would be "under every green tree"—modern scholars acknowledge to have been pillars or stakes, imitations of trees, probably trunks of trees "planted," i.e., fixed into the ground, near the altars, and thus symbols of the deity, Baal or Asherah; perhaps even in their form suggestive of the obscene lasciviousness of the Canaanitish cult (Deut. vii. 5, xvi. 21; Judges vi. 28, 30; I Kings xv. 13; II Kings xvii. 10, xxiii. 14; Micah v. 12; Hosea iii. 4). The goddess Asherah was not identical withAstarte, as Stade ("Gesch. des Volkes Israel," i. 460) contends, but was originally a tree-goddess, while Astarte was a sidereal deity. They had many traits in common, however.

The Asherah tree or pillar had many forms, ranging from a real tree through various imitations of parts of the tree to anthropomorphic suggestions (see Max Ohnefalsch-Richter, "Kypros, die Bibel und Homer," 1893, plates lxix.; lxxv., Nos. 1, 3, 5, lxxxiii., No. 20a, b). Compare Asherah.

  • Schrader, in Zeitschrift für Assyriologie und Verwandte Gebiete, iii. 353-364;
  • Eduard Meyer, in Roscher's Lexicon, i. 646, 647, 654;
  • Riehm, Handwörterb. des Biblischen Altertums, i., s.v. Hain;
  • Mannhardt, Wald- und Feldkulte, 2 vols., 1875, 1877;
  • Frazer, The Golden Bough, 2d ed., 1900, vol. i.
  • On Semitic tree-cults see Baudissin, Studien zur Semitischen Religionsgesch. ii. 184-222;
  • Movers, Die Phönizier, vol. i.;
  • Osiander, Studien über die Vorislamische Religion der Araber, in Z. D. M. G. vol. vii.;
  • Wellhausen, Reste Arab. Heidentums, p. 101;
  • The Sacred Trees of the Assyrian Monuments, in the Babyl. and Oriental Record, vols. iii., iv.;
  • Tylor, The Winged Figures of the Assyrian and Other Ancient Monuments, in Proceedings Soc. Bibl. Arch. vol. xii.;
  • Jastrow, Religion of Babylonia and Assyria. p. 662.
  • For the Hebrews specially: Scholz, Götzendienst und Zauberwesen bei den Alten Hebräcrn, p. 292;
  • Baudissin, l.c. pp. 223-230.
  • The best comparative study of Hebrew tree-worship is that of W. Robertson Smith, Rel. of Sem. 2d ed., 1894, s.v. Trees.
E. G. H.
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