“The Tree of Life”

Alan C. Miner

Hugh Nibley describes a picture in his possession from the Dura-Europos Synagogue, the oldest Jewish building known in the world. It was discovered a few years ago and excavated at Dura-Europos on the Tigris, well into Asia there. It's a third-century synagogue, the oldest one known. Here is the tree of life, and it's bearing all sorts of fruit. Under it are Isaac [he probably means Jacob] and the twelve tribes of Israel. Here is Joseph blessing Ephraim and Manasseh, or Isaac blessing Jacob and Esau. Here are the Twelve. Here is the Orphic figure who is playing music of beautiful harmony. The tree is full of animals. There are birds and animals. All creatures are being fed on the fruit of the tree. This is the tree of life, and it is right over the main shrine (this is where the Shrine of the Torah was) of this very ancient synagogue--the oldest Jewish church we know of. Right over it is this tree of life with all the symbolism that is brought out by Nephi here. Nobody knew anything about this until 1940 when the Dura-Europos was discovered. It told us all sorts of things about the Jews we didn't know before. But notice what an important position they give to the tree of life. Here are the twelve sons of Israel surrounding Jacob, or Israel. [Hugh W. Nibley, Teachings of the Book of Mormon, Semester 1, pp. 171-172]

Step by Step Through the Book of Mormon: A Cultural Commentary