The “Tree of Life” is a common motif throughout Mesopotamian mythology.
5000 BCE – Mesopotamia is a broader geographical term for ‘the land between the rivers’, referring to the ancient civilizations that lived between the Tigris and Euphrates river. Today its area includes modern day Iran, Iraq, Kuwait and parts of Syria and Turkey.
One of the earliest cultures to live here were the Ubaidian people from 5000 BCE – 4100 BCE. Little is known of them, but they are credited with laying the foundation for the first civilization of Sumerians.
Mesopotamia was dominated by six primary cultures: Sumerians, Akkadians, Hittites, Assyrians, Phoenicians and Babylonians.
3800 BCE – Sumerians were the first ever civilization that formed in the area now known as Iraq. They invented cuneiform, which are wedge-like impressions in wet clay that dried into tablets. It evolved from early pictographs.
The Anunna/Anunnaki were the primordial Gods of Mesopotamia, who were believed to be the offspring of An/Anu the father god and Ki, the earth goddess. The eldest child of the Anunnaki was Enlil/El, the god of air/wind and chief god of the Sumerian pantheon. The Sumerians believed that until Enlil was born, An/Anu (sky) and Ki (earth) were inseparable. Then Enlil (air/wind) separated sky from earth and carried away his mother to the cosmos while his father held the sky.
The seven gods of the Anunnaki were: An/Anu (Father Sky), Ki/Ninhursag (Mother Earth), Enlil (air/wind), Enki/Ea (water/earth), Nanna/Sin (moon), Utu (sun) and Inanna/Ishtar (venus/star). Later these seven “gods” also took on the form of fish, eagles and angels as the Apkulla or wise sages as well as versions of themselves in other cultures. The word Anunna or Anunnaki may translate into “seed.”
2750 BCE – Phoenicians (Lebanon) the city Usher was founded as a port along the Mediterranean Sea. They worshipped Astarte/Asherah (Inanna/Ishtar) as the queen of heaven and her son, Baal. Baal was seen as a fertility God. Astarte is the root of the word “star.”
The Cedars of Lebanon – were seen as the “home of the gods” that were protected by Enlil (god of wind/air). The Cedars of Lebanon were highly prized by surrounding cultures including Egypt.
2600 BCE – Shamash – is the combination of (An/Sky & Utu/Sun) His symbol of the solar disc shows a circle with four points protruding toward the cardinal directions and four wavy lines emanating diagonally outward from between them, representing the power, light, warmth, and reach of the sun. Shamash as An/Anu/Utu was not only the bringer of light but the arbiter of justice. The light of the sun was thought to be able to penetrate and pierce every level of the earth, even to the underworld, and illuminate the human heart. Most of the myths featuring Shamash emphasize his kindness and generosity. Nanna was his counterpart as God of the Moon and wisdom. His twin sister Inanna was the heavenly queen who held Shamash in place among the stars.
2334 BCE – Akkadians (Semetic culture) lived in central Mesopotamia, north of the Sumerians. Sargon of Akkad (2334-2279 BCE) was influential in establishing language, military power and art. As a King, Sargon conquered the Sumerians, creating the world’s first empire. The Akkadians admired and copied Sumerian culture even as they invaded them. They spoke Akkadian, which is distantly related to Arabic, Hebrew and Aramaic. Sargon the Great was a gardener and according to legend he was found floating in a basket on the Euphrates. He was taken in by a priestess who educated him. He rose to become a mighty warrior. (Similar to Moses)
2250 BCE – The Hatti were the original tribe of Anatolia/Turkey. The Hatti people are thought to have migrated into Turkey bringing with them a Germanic based language known as Indo-European. The above Sun Disc is made of bronze, and was commonly used in religious ceremonies. The circle which forms the perimeter of the disc represents life, the three disks represent the Sun, Moon and Venus.
2150 BCE – Ancient Babylon was the home of the historic king of Ur called Gilgamesh. Ur, is also known as the legendary home of Abraham and Sarah from the Judeo-Christian book of Genesis.
The Epic of Gilgamesh – Shamash (Sun God) helped mortals deal with the demon hiding in the Cedar Forest, Humbaba. Anu (God of Heaven) revealed knowledge to Gilgamesh whose companion Enkidu is made human by Ki/Innana (Queen of Heaven/Stars) This tale contains many encounters with trees, tree spirits, a serpent, a garden, a search for love and companionship, a desire for immortality, a great flood and a creation story. The tale itself may date thousands of years earlier.
The Myth of Etana – Etana petitions Shamash (Sun God) for aid in helping his wife conceive at the same time that an eagle and a serpent are feuding over ownership of a tree. In the beginning, there was no king on the earth; the gods set out to find one and apparently chose Etana who proved to be an able ruler until he discovered that his wife, though pregnant, was unable to give birth, and thus he had no heir to the throne. The one known remedy was the birth plant, which Etana was required to bring down personally from heaven. Etana, therefore, prayed to the god Sun Shamash who heard his request and directed him to a mountain where a maimed eagle, hurt and lying in a pit (into which it had been thrown as punishment for breaking a sacred pact), would help him obtain the special plant. Etana rescued the eagle, and as a reward it carried him high up into the sky.
The story of Inanna and Huluppu Tree – the goddess Inanna (Queen of Heaven/Stars) takes a young Huluppu-tree and transplants it in her city of Urek, hoping that, when it reached maturity she would use its wood to craft a throne and couch to recline on. As the years went by, a snake built a nest in its roots, a bird nested in its branches and at its center, the evil spirit of a Lillitu (Lillith) set up house. When Inanna came to water her tree one evening and found these unwanted guests, she sat down and cried through the night. At dawn, her twin brother Utu/Shamash (Sun God) rose in the east and began his journey across the sky. Inanna called out to him and told him of her trouble, but he could not stop his daily trek and further, told her he felt no need to. Inanna then sought the aid of Gilgamesh, who killed the snake, drove the bird away, and sent the Lillitu demon running. Afterwards, he cut down the tree and presented it to Inanna for her throne and couch. This was no selfish request on her part because, from the tree, she created the sacred drum and drumsticks for Gilgamesh which he was supposed to use for good but then misused for war; they were taken from him and drawn down to the netherworld. Then Enkidu, comrade in arms of Gilgamesh and his best friend, descended to the underworld to bring them back. After his death, Shamash parts the veil so that the two friends can talk one last time.
Inanna – Goddess of love, fertility and war, Queen of Heaven (also known as Ki, Ishtar, Astarte, Asherah) Her name literally means star. In Egypt she was known as Nut and or Isis, later the Greeks and Romans saw her Aphrodite and Venus.
1700-1200 BCE – Hittites invaded the area of Anatolia/Turkey and conquered Hattusa, a powerful city that had existed before 2500 BCE.
1792 BCE – Babylon was a town in what had been the territory of the empire of Akkad in Sargon’s day. King Hammurabi, conquered most of Mesopotamia and founded an empire, as well as creating a famous code of laws. The Babylonian Empire did not long survive Hammurabi’s death, but his lasting legacy was to make Babylon itself into a huge and important city, and a major centre of religion and culture; a status it would keep for over a thousand years.
1300 BCE – Assyria was the name given to the region of northern Mesopotamia. It had been part of the Akkadian empire, but later established its independence. The Assyrians became expansionistic and warlike.
1077 BCE – Assyria conquered land all the way to Syria and the Mediterranean, as well as controlling Babylonia. It was the most powerful empire in the Middle East, stretching from Egypt to Persia (Iran).
1000 BCE – Phoenicians (Lebanon) their Capitol city of Tyre is at the height of it power.
King Abibaal of Tyre makes a trade agreement with King David of Israel by sending the new king timber from the fabled cedars of Lebanon, Abibaal’s son, Hiram, later did the same for David’s son King Solomon. Tyre is an ancient port city on the Mediterranean known as the birthplace of Europa, which gave Europe its name. Tyre shifted the worship from Baal, El, Balaat and Astarte/Asherah to Melqart as the head of the pantheon. He became the king of the city. Baal was a fertility God whose festival was held in February/March as a symbol of resurrection by fire. His other name became “the fire of heaven.”
900 BCE – The Chaldeans were a Semetic (Hebrew/Aramaic) speaking tribe of nomads from Syria and Levant. They migrated into Mesopotamia and settled in the far south of the region near the Persian Gulf. They assimilated the local customs and learned Akkadian. They were renowned for their knowledge of writing, math and astronomy. The concepts of a Maji/Magus began with the Chaldeans as a Wise person who knew how to read the stars and the cosmos.
950 BCE – King Solomon’s Temple. King David’s son built the first temple on the Temple Mount in Jerusalem using wood from the Cedars of Lebanon. It’s entrance is symbolic of the Garden of Eden which is flanked by two 27 foot bronze pillars named Jachin and Boaz fashioned after two pomegranate trees. These pillars are thought to represent the Tree of Knowledge as aspects of Good and Evil. The space between forms the entrance to the unified Tree of Life.
Pomegranates with their red “seeds” and white “flesh” were seen as symbols of the “Promised Land” and the duality that lives within each of us.
Jachin (right pillar) – represents the sacred masculine seen as the logical intellect: concrete, physical, earthly aspects of natures. In Hebrew Jachin means “will be established.” Jachin was often associated with the Sun as a symbol of “knowledge as good” or that which is “seen” such as the light of day.
Boaz (left pillar) – represents the sacred feminine and the intuitive ability found in the abstract and creative principles of our higher spiritual nature. In Hebrew, Boaz means “strength is within.” Boaz was often attributed with the Moon as a symbol of the knowledge of “evil” or that which is unseen, such as the darkness of the night sky and the mysteries of life.
883-859 BCE – The reign of Assurnasirpal II marked a turning point in the history of the Assyrian empire. His military exploits recaptured territories lost to Assyria centuries earlier, and established it as one of the most important powers in the Near East. But the crowning achievement of his reign was the creation of a magnificent capital city, Kalhu, in Iraq built on a grand scale and decorated with carved stone reliefs.
604 BCE – King Nebuchadnezzar conquered the Assyrians. Babylon became the greatest city of the Chaldean Empire. He rebuilt all the cities in Babylonia and turned it into a powerful empire that stretched from the land of Ur (Iraq) to Egypt.
600 BCE – The worship of Mithras as an Iranian Sun God who shined on contracts, laws, and agriculture began to appear. Some think he was worshipped much earlier. He is often seen slaying a bull that releases the moon that seeds the earth to give birth to the sun thus creating trees and vegetation.
600 BCE – The Chaldean/Persian high priest Zoroaster believed, “that to know the Tree of Life is to know the soul and its way to heaven.” He was considered a Maji, in the Chaldean/Persian tradition. Maji were seen as astrologers who mastered the ability to travel with the stars. They were astronomers, mathematicians and philosophers. The Cypress, an evergreen tree, was seen as the Tree of Life.
Cypress of Zoroaster – is a mythical story of the cypress tree is said to have sprung from a branch brought by Zoroaster from Paradise.
A living Cypress tree lives in Abarkooh, Iran today that is thought to have been planted by Zoroaster himself. The tree is between 4,000 and 4,500 years old. The Cypress Tree is seen as a symbol of truth, integrity and beauty.
Zoroastrianism is an ancient culture from Persia that survives in isolated areas, and more prosperously in India, where the descendants of Zoroastrian Persian immigrants are known as Parsis, or Parsees. In India the religion is called Parsiism.
In Zoroastrianism, the Faravahar or human spirit, embodies two opposing indicators of good and bad. It is the symbol of Zoroastrianism. The Faravahar is symbolic of the spirit of a human being before his/her birth and will continue to exist after his/her death. It can be seen as a sort of guardian angel. It is very similar to the symbol of Shamash/Utu the Sun God of Mesopotamia. The teachings contain both monotheistic and dualistic features. Zarathustra praised Ahura Mazda (God) as the creator of heaven and earth. Zoroaster taught a philosophy that everybody should try to promote his/her Sepanta Minu (positive force) and suppress his/her Ankareh Minu (negative force).
586 BCE – King Nebuchadnezzar destroyed Solomon’s temple. He deported the Jews to Babylon and built a temple to Marduk, as the King of the Gods.
539 BCE – The Chaldean empire fell when it was conquered by King Cyrus of Persia, giving way to the Achaemedien Empire, which ruled until 330 BCE.
The Achaemenid Persian Empire was the largest that the ancient world had seen, extending from Anatolia (Turkey) and Egypt across western Asia to northern India and Central Asia.
550 BCE – King Cyrus the Great, came to rule large parts of the Middle East with territories as far as western Pakistan. He conquered Babylon in 539 BCE and saw himself as a traditional Mesopotamian King. He was tolerant and inclusive of the many faiths and cultures within his kingdom, but to continue on he wanted each “religion” to provide him with a “book of laws”. This is when the Hebrews began committing their oral stories to paper in what is now known as the Torah.
525 BCE – Cyrus’s son Cambyses is now King and conquers the Egyptian capital of Memphis along the Nile River.
518 BCE – King Darius, built Persepolis: a city worthy of governing and entertaining the royalties of the member nations. It was a magnificent temple: stairways, gates and ceremonial halls. Darius conquered parts of Greece in 494 BCE. In Iranian tradition the cypress tree represents auspiciousness that was traditionally believed to have been planted by Zoroaster. The palm tree is a symbol of affluence and good life. The motif of the lion-goring-the-bull appears repeatedly at Persepolis. It may have astrological symbolism (Leo/Lion = sun and Taurus/Bull = Venus/Moon).
486 BCE – King Xerxes, son of Darius, attempted to force the mainland Greeks to acknowledge Persian power, Sparta and Athens refused to give way. Xerxes led his sea and land forces against Greece in 480 BCE. On his way to Greece he encountered a glorious plane tree. He was so taken by this magnificent deciduous shade tree that he adorned it with gold bangles and assigned a guard to watch over it for ever after. King Xerxes defeated the Spartans in the battle of Thermopylae and conquered Athens.
Xerxes was later assassinated and succeeded by one of his sons, who took the name Artaxerxes I (465–424 BCE). He was succeeded by Darius II (423–405 BCE) and Artaxerxes II (405–359 BCE) Artaxerxes III (358–338 BCE) Artaxerxes IV (338–336 BCE.) Darius III (336–330 BCE)
330 BCE – Darius III was murdered by one of his own generals.
320 BCE – Alexander the Great claimed the Persian empire and conquered Persepolis. He is known for planting sweet chestnut trees to insure a staple food source for their troops. Alexander the Great went on to conquer vast lands from India to Egypt. Wherever he went he gathered information that expanded his world view. Before he passed away he began the process of creating the City of Alexandria in Egypt along with a vast library that would house scrolls, maps and artifacts from all cultures. This would serve as a central resource for knowledge. From this place many of the Tree of Life myths exchanged stories and content.
Persian mythology also tells of a Tree of Life that held the seeds of the world’s plants and animals, which stood at the center of a garden known as Pairidaeza, the Persian paradise. This garden was originally associated with the Virgin Goddess Pairidaeza who represented the eternal womb from which all life begins. One day two birds landed on the tree sending a thousand branches crashing onto the ground spreading a thousand seeds. One of the birds gathered up all the seeds and planted them in fertile places all over the earth. All the plants and animals in the world are believed to originate from those seeds.
In ancient Mesopotamia the Tree of Life was seen as an organic connection between Earth and Sky, the life of humans and the life of gods. Various deities were often depicted standing on both sides of the tree. This symbolized the opposite yet harmonic aspects of nature’s creative process.
All of these ancient stories were blended together as they laid the groundwork for Judaism, Christianity and Islam. Abraham, the Biblical father of monotheism, was born in the Sumerian city of UR. These stories were carried by him and passed on to his children.