Saturday, December 3, 2011

Deborah's Tree of Weeping

Alice C. Linsley

Rebecca's nurse, Deborah, was buried beneath a tree known as either the “tree of weeping” or the “Oak of Weeping" in Bethel. The tree is not specified. It is named Allon-bachuth, which means “tree of weeping”. (Gen. 35:8). The Hebrew word “allon” can refer to a large or important tree species, but here probably refers to either an oak, a terebinth, or sycamore fig. The sycamore fig was associated with Hathor, the virgin mother of Horus, and there is some evidence that graves were placed beneath fig trees.

The name Deborah means “bee.” In Lower Egypt, the bee was the symbol of kings and rulers. Also, Neith, an important deity in Lower Egypt, had a temple known as “the House of the Bee” to which women went for counsel. Neith's symbol during the predynastic period was a shield crossed with two arrows. She was considered "Mistress of the Bow, Ruler of Arrows," so it is not surprising that there should be an association between Neith and Deborah, a later warrior and prophetess in Israel.

Deborah is also associated with Nun, another important figure in Israel's history who also connects to ancient Egyptian mythology. Joshua, the warrior who lead the forces of Israel in conquest of the land of the Canaanites, was the son of Nun. Egyptians believed that the universe came from the primordial waters of Tehom (תְּהוֹם‎), the chaotic deep, which they called "Nun." The connection between Tehom and Nun is interesting, as both suggest the chaotic nature of warfare.

Deborah, who is called a "judge" in Israel, was also a warrior.  She delivered judgment and gave counsel at her tamar (date nut palm) between Ramaah and Bethel (Judges 4:5). There is a natural association between the fig tree and the name Deborah which means bee or wasp.  The wasp lays its eggs inside the ripening figs.

The association of palm trees with rulers and prophets is a common among many Africans and Arabians and is found in the Bible. Fresh palm tree fronds are used ceremonially at the installation of rulers and are used to decorate places of worship. The tamar is the complement of the oak tree. Male prophets sat under oaks (Gen. 12:6) while female prophets sat under date palms (Judges 4:5).

Related reading:  Trees in Genesis; Women Rulers in Ancient Israel

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