Evidence #74 | January 10, 2024

White/Light Fruit

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Scripture Central

Abstract

The Book of Mormon’s subtle and consistent use of the related symbols "white" and "light" in connection with the Tree of Life and its fruit is textually sophisticated and anciently attested.

When telling about his vision of the Tree of Life, Lehi described the fruit of the tree as “white, to exceed all the whiteness that I had ever seen” (1 Nephi 8:11). Nephi later said that the tree itself “did exceed the whiteness of the driven snow” (1 Nephi 11:8). This imagery of the Tree of Life being associated with the color white has parallels with the ancient world.

El sueño de Lehi by Jorge Cocco

A set of gold plates, sometimes referred to as the Orphic Gold Tablets, describes a white tree which, according to Arthur B. Cook, is “most likely a miraculous cypress” and is comparable to the Tree of Life spoken of in Revelation 22:2.1 Thomas Dousa concluded that the “brightness of the cypress … must have been thought to make it conspicuous in the gloom of the netherworld” and also that “the shining tree appears to act as a distinctive landmark in the tenebrous underwold landscape.”2  Also of note is that the tree, as described in these tablets, is situated next to a fountain or spring of water.

While there are certainly significant differences between this tree and that Tree of Life in the Book of Mormon, there are also intriguing parallels. For instance, the tree in Lehi’s vision was also a white or shining landmark that contrasted sharply with a gloomy setting—including a “dark and dreary wilderness,” a “dark and dreary waste,” and a “mist of darkness.” (1 Nephi 8:4, 7–8, 23–24). Lehi and Nephi also saw bodies of water in connection with the tree—both a filthy “fountain” or “river” (1 Nephi 8:1314, 20; 15:27) and “the fountain of living waters” (1 Nephi 11:25).

An Orphic gold tablet. Image via Getty Museum.

Turning to an early Christian setting, a text called On the Origin of the World (part of the Nag Hammadi library) mentions that the “tree of life looks like the sun, and its branches are lovely …. Its leaves are like the leaves of cypress, its fruit is like a cluster of white grapes, and its height reaches the sky” (emphasis added).3 Commenting upon this description, non-Latter-day Saint biblical scholar Margaret Barker explained, “I do not know of any other source that describes the fruit [of the tree of life] as white grapes. Imagine my surprise when I read the account of Lehi’s vision of the tree whose white fruit made one happy.”4

The statement that the Tree of Life “looks like the sun” (from On the Origin of the World) is also quite interesting. According to Zofja Ameisenowa and W. F. Mainland, “It must be noted that in almost all mythologies the Tree of Life is associated with light because the whole of organic life is dependent upon the light of the sun.”5

The Tree of Life, by Kazuto Uota.

This widespread association seems to be reflected in Alma’s description of a fruit that can “enlighten” one’s mind or understanding (Alma 32:28, 34). After drawing attention to the enlightening effect of the fruit, Alma asked, “O then, is not this real? I say unto you, Yea, because it is light; and whatsoever is light, is good, because it is discernible, therefore ye must know that it is good; and now behold, after ye have tasted this light is your knowledge perfect?” (v. 35; emphasis added). At the end of his sermon, Alma left no doubt that the light-infused fruit of which he spoke comes from the “tree of life” itself (v. 40). Like Lehi, Alma described the fruit as being “white above all that is white” (v. 42).6

Later on in the Book of Mormon, the imagery from Lehi’s vision (fruit = white) and Alma’s sermon (fruit = light/white) are symbolically realized in the figure of Jesus Christ, who introduced Himself to the Nephites as the “light and the life of the world” (3 Nephi 11:11). In 3 Nephi 19:25 it is reported that the “light of [Jesus’] countenance did shine upon [his disciples], and behold they were as white as the countenance and also the garments of Jesus; and behold the whiteness thereof did exceed all the whiteness, yea, even there could be nothing upon earth so white as the whiteness thereof” (emphasis added). As shown in the following chart, this language clearly harks back to statements about the fruit of the Tree of Life from Lehi, Nephi, and Alma:

1 Nephi 8

1 Nephi 11

Alma 32

3 Nephi 19

11. And it came to pass that I did go forth and partake of the fruit thereof; and I beheld that it was most sweet, above all that I ever before tasted. Yea, and I beheld that the fruit thereof was white, to exceed all the whiteness that I had ever seen.

8. And I looked and beheld a tree; and it was like unto the tree which my father had seen; and the beauty thereof was far beyond, yea, exceeding of all beauty; and the whiteness thereof did exceed the whiteness of the driven snow.

 

35. O then, is not this real? I say unto you, Yea, because it is light; and whatsoever is light, is good, because it is discernible, therefore ye must know that it is good; and now behold, after ye have tasted this light is your knowledge perfect?

42 … behold, by and by ye shall pluck the fruit thereof, which is most precious, which is sweet above all that is sweet, and which is white above all that is white, yea, and pure above all that is pure;

25. And it came to pass that Jesus blessed them as they did pray unto him; and his countenance did smile upon them, and the light of his countenance did shine upon them, and behold they were as white as the countenance and also the garments of Jesus; and behold the whiteness thereof did exceed all the whiteness, yea, even there could be nothing upon earth so white as the whiteness thereof.

Conclusion

Such intertextual connections offer good evidence that the authors of the Book of Mormon associated the Tree of Life with both with the color white and with light, and that these concepts were purposefully combined together in 3 Nephi 19:25, demonstrating that Jesus Christ is indeed a manifestation of the Tree of Life (or its fruit), as was clearly taught early on to Nephi (see 1 Nephi 11:8–23). The Book of Mormon’s subtle and yet consistent use of these symbols is therefore both textually sophisticated and anciently attested.

Book of Mormon Central, “What Fruit is White? (1 Nephi 8:11),” KnoWhy 10 (January 13, 2016).

Margaret Barker, “Joseph Smith and Preexilic Israelite Religion,” in The Worlds of Joseph Smith, ed. John W. Welch (Provo, UT: Brigham Young University Press, 2005), 76–77.

C. Wilfred Griggs, “The Book of Mormon as an Ancient Book,” in Book of Mormon Authorship: New Light on Ancient Origins, ed. Noel B. Reynolds (Provo, UT: Religious Studies Center, Brigham Young University, 1982), 75–102.

1 Nephi 8:111 Nephi 11:8Alma 32:28, 34, 35, 40, 423 Nephi 11:113 Nephi 19:25

1 Nephi 8:11

1 Nephi 11:8

Alma 32:28, 34, 35, 40, 42

3 Nephi 11:11

3 Nephi 19:25

  • 1 Arthur Bernard Cook, Zeus: A Study in Ancient Religion, Volume 3 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1940), 420–421; cited in C. Wilfred Griggs, “The Book of Mormon as an Ancient Book,” in Book of Mormon Authorship: New Light on Ancient Origins, ed. Noel B. Reynolds (Provo, UT: Religious Studies Center, Brigham Young University, 1982), 88.
  • 2 Thomas M. Dousa, “Common Motifs in the ‘Orphic’ B Tablets and Egyptian Funerary Texts: Continuity or Convergence?” in The “Orphic” Gold Tablets and Greek Religion: Further along the Path, ed. Radcliffe G. Edmonds III (Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2011), 139.
  • 3 Marvin Meyer, trans., “On the Origin of the World,” in The Nag Hammadi Scriptures, ed. Marvin Meyer (New York, NY: Harper One, 2007), 210.
  • 4 Margaret Barker, “Joseph Smith and Preexilic Israelite Religion,” BYU Studies Quarterly 44, no. 4 (2005): 76.
  • 5 Zofja Ameisenowa and W. F. Mainland, “The Tree of Life in Jewish Iconography,” Journal of the Warburg Institute 2, no. 4 (1939), 335.
  • 6 For a comparison of the various uses of Tree of Life symbolism in the Book of Mormon, see John W. Welch and J. Gregory Welch, Charting the Book of Mormon: Visual Aids for Personal Study and Teaching (Provo, UT: FARMS, 1999), chart 95.
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White/Light Fruit
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