Evidence #44 | September 19, 2020

Tree Planted in Heart

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Scripture Central


The imagery of a sacred or symbolic tree being planted within and then growing from a human heart, as described in Alma 32–33, has close parallels in ancient Mesoamerican iconography.

In his famous sermon on faith, Alma compared the word of God to a seed that “may be planted in your heart” (Alma 32:28). Later on Alma explained that if properly nourished, this seed would grow into a “tree of life” (v. 40). This imagery of the seed of the Tree of Life being planted and then growing from an individual’s heart has fitting parallels in ancient Mesoamerican iconography.

As seen in the image below, the Dresden Codex depicts what Mesoamerican archaeologist John E. Clark described as “a sacrificial victim with a tree growing from his heart, a literal portrayal of the metaphor preached in Alma, chapter 32.”1 The Dresden Codex dates to the late classic period, possibly during the 13th or 14th centuries AD.2 Yet scholars have noted that it “appears to be a book that was copied and recopied, passed on for generations and expanded cumulatively over centuries of time. Thus, while the Dresden itself was written at a late date in Maya history, the content of its pages is considerably more ancient.”3

nthropomorphic Tree from Dresden Codex 3.

A similar depiction can be seen in Stela 11 from Piedras Negras:

Piedras Negras Stela 11. Drawing by Linda Schele.

Here is one from the post-classic Codex Borgia: 

Tree Growing from Skeletal Figure Codex Borgia 53.

Illustrations from the post-classic Codex Fejervary-Mayer likewise depict trees growing out of humans (in these cases from a human head):

Aztec god of rain, Tlaloc, tending a human maize plant.
Aztec Goddess of water & childbirth, Chalchiuhtlicue, tending a human maize plant.

Still relevant but even further afield is the sarcophagus in Palenque’s Temple of the Inscriptions (tomb of K’inich Janaab’ Pakal) which depicts ancestors sprouting as fruit trees:

Male Ancestor of Pakal as Fruit Tree. Drawing by Merle Greene Robertson.


While trees growing from human hearts was not a common theological or artistic motif in 19th century America, such concepts are clearly at home in an ancient Mesoamerican setting.

John E. Clark, “Archaeology, Relics, and Book of Mormon Belief,” Journal of Book of Mormon Studies 14, no. 2 (2005): 46.

Kirk Magleby, “Anthropomorphic Trees,” Book of Mormon Resources, Feb. 3, 2016, online at bookofmormonresources.blogspot.com.

Alma 32:28, 40

Alma 32:28, 40

Tree Growing from Heart
Book of Mormon

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