Thursday, March 27, 2014

The Divine Mother

I came across the photograph to the left recently of a really intriguing mosaic located at the Collegio San Lorenzo da Brindisi in Rome. Created by Friar Marko Ivan Rupnik it depicts the very well known event found in Exodus 3 of when Yahweh (aka Jehovah) appeared to Moses in the burning bush.

The mosaic depicts Moses with a veil over his face conversing with Jesus Christ (Yahweh) who is in the embrace of his mother Mary. Jesus and his mother are both seated within the burning bush. The presence of the veil on Moses evidently refers to the veil he wore when he returned to the camp of Israel after speaking with God as recorded in Exodus 34:29-35.

The presence of Mary or a divine mother figure in this depiction may be puzzling as Exodus fails to mention any other persons in Moses's encounter with the burning bush. However, one of the more curious qualities of the burning bush is that it is an unambiguously feminine symbol. The golden lampstand (aka menorah) in the temple was almost certainly a stylized representation of the burning bush. It was adorned with golden almond blossoms and contained bowls at the end of each arm containing olive oil into which the wicks were placed (see Exodus 25:31-35). Trees in general and the almond tree in particular were closely associated with the divine mother known as Asherah who was considered in early Israelite religion to be the mother of Yahweh and consort to the father god El. In the Hebrew Bible (aka Old Testament) this divine mother figure was sometimes referred to as "Wisdom" and was associated with Mary the mother of Jesus by the early Christians.

Additionally, Margaret Barker in her book "The Mother of the Lord" asserts that the voice from the burning bush was originally the divine mother and states "'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." (185) It is important to point out that the early Christians probably did not believe Asherah/Wisdom and Mary were identical persons but that they both filled the role of divine mother. In an LDS context we might look at it in this way: Asherah is the mother of the Lord's spirit and Mary is the mother of his body - both can rightfully be viewed as his mother.

Whether this divine mother figure was in fact the primary agent in the burning bush theophany or played some other supportive role to her divine son Yahweh is unknown but for Latter-Day Saints who possess a doctrine of divinization this is an intriguing idea. It seems probable that both members of an exalted couple would play an active role in the lives of their mortal children. If this is the case it does not seem unreasonable to suppose that the divine mother has in fact participated in at least some, if not all, of the great theophanies which are recorded in the scriptures.

Biblical scholars have successfully demonstrated (via the documentary hypothesis) that the Hebrew Bible has gone through a long process of redaction by various groups promoting their own particular agendas and that many "plain and precious truths" have been removed (see 1 Nephi 13:24-28). Beginning with Joseph Smith the Lord has restored some of these lost truths "line upon line; here a little and there a little" (Isaiah 28:10)  and we believe that God "will yet reveal many great and important things pertaining to the Kingdom of God" (Articles of Faith 1:9).

It appears that one of the truths which Satan has been very eager to vanquish from the earth pertains to the existence of our divine mother. This may be part of his larger effort to denigrate women generally in order to cause them to forget their inherent divinity and nobility. The apostle John evidently witnessed the war that has been waged against her in his great apocalyptic vision in Revelation 12:1-6:

The Virgin Mary as the Woman of the Apocalypse by Rubens.

1 And there appeared 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:

And she being with child cried, travailing in birth, and pained to be delivered.

And there appeared another wonder in heaven; and behold a great red dragon, having seven heads and ten horns, and seven crowns upon his heads.

And his 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.

And the woman fled into the wilderness, where she hath a place prepared of God, that they should feed her there a thousand two hundred and threescore days.

There has been some debate regarding the identity of the woman in John's vision with some arguing that she represents the Church. This seems unlikely when the identity of the child is established. Revelation 19:15-16 states that the Lord, like the man child, is to rule the nations with a rod of iron, therefore, it seems reasonable to suppose that they are identical persons. If we assume that to be the case it is unclear how the Church would have given birth to the Lord when he is the one who brought it into existence. It seems more likely that the woman in John's revelation was intended to represent this divine mother figure. It's possible that when John describes the woman fleeing into the wilderness he is describing the world at large losing its knowledge of her.

The divine mother shows up in many, many other places in the scriptures in addition to the two examples that have been cited already. It's beyond the scope of this blog post to list many more but if you do want to read more about it here's a good place to start:

Nephi and His Asherah

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