Wednesday, February 3, 2016

Anthropomorphic Trees

Mesoamerican iconography shows the curious idea that trees or other large plants can grow in or from humans. Here is one example from page 34 of the post-classic Codex Fejervary-Mayer thought to have originated in Veracruz.
Aztec God of Rain, Tlaloc, Tending a Human Maize Plant 
And here is another example from page 33 of the same Codex Fejervary-Mayer.
Aztec Goddess of Water & Childbirth, Chalchiuhtlicue,
Tending a Human Maize Plant
This example is from the post-classic Codex Borgia thought to have originated in Puebla.
Tree Growing from Skeletal Figure Codex Borgia 53
This is of interest, of course, because the Book of Mormon refers to anthropomorphic trees. Alma 32:28 talks about planting a seed in one's heart that grows into a tree Alma 32:41. Alma may have been alluding to an existing Mesoamerican image, painting a mental picture that his Zoramite hearers in Antionum would have undersood. This, for example, is page 3 of the Dresden Codex which dates to ca. AD 1100 and comes from Chichen Itza, Yucatan. It depicts the tree of life growing out of the sacrificed body of the maize god.
Anthropomorphic Tree from Dresden Codex 3
Scholars think the Dresden is a copy of an older codex originally painted ca. AD 800. This makes it the oldest pre-Columbian book currently known to science after the Book of Mormon.

The same idea is portrayed on Piedras Negras Stela 11 where a seedling grows from the heart of a sacrificial victim.
Piedras Negras Stela 11 Drawing by Linda Schele
The famous sarcophagus in Palenque's Temple of the Inscriptions (tomb of K'inich Janaab' Pakal) depicts ancestors sprouting as fruit trees.
Male Ancestor of Pakal as Fruit Tree
Drawing by Merle Greene Robertson
See the article "Light from LA" point #38 for another depiction of an anthropomorphic tree from Yucatan.

More examples of anthropomorphic trees are discussed and illustrated in the articles "Maya Place Names" and "Palenque."

Article by Kirk Magleby, volunteer Executive Director of Book of Mormon Central, world's premiere source of reliable Book of Mormon contextual material in English and Spanish. Article updated February 5, 2018.