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Saying 19, Five Trees in Paradise

19. Jesus said, “Blessed is he who exists from the beginning before he comes to be. If you are my students and listen to my words, these stones will become your servants. For you have five trees in Paradise, which do not move in summer or in winter, and their leaves do not fall down. Whoever knows them will not taste death.”

Here I will concentrate on final part of the saying, the five trees in Paradise. The first two sentences in saying 19 don’t seem to be very connected to the last sentence.

The Gospel of Thomas draws on the imagery of Genesis throughout, and this is no exception. In Genesis 2:9 we are told of two trees in Paradise, the tree of life, and the tree of knowledge of good and evil. These fit well into the themes of Thomas; good and evil are two opposites, and life is a single thing, a unity. By eating of the tree of two things, Good and Evil, Adam and Eve are eventually cast out of Paradise. Paradise, Hebrew Pardes, is a good place for trees, since the Hebrew literally means ‘orchard’. Still, these are two trees not five. To find five trees we must look first to Philo of Alexandria. Philo wrote allegorical commentaries on the Bible, principally on the Torah, the five books of Moses. He interprets these using Platonic philosophy, and shows how we might understand them in terms of the inner and outer man. While I doubt that he really experienced what he wrote, his writings are an important prelude to the school of Christ.

(The following was first pointed out by Prof. April de Koninck in “Seek to See Him.”) In Philo’s Noah’s Work as a Planter 36, the trees in the garden are named as: trees of life, of immortality, Knowledge, comprehension, and knowledge of good and evil. These add up to five trees.” He also emphasises that we should expect to find trees in Paradise, since it is “a place thickly crowded with all kinds of tree; and symbolically taken, it means wisdom, intelligence both divine and human…” And in Questions and Answers on Genesis 2:8 “… if anyone is able to arrive at a certain comprehension of [the greater and supreme cause of the universe] he will be fortunate and truly happy and immortal.”
Perhaps the number five refers to the five senses. Philo also covers this, (Questions and Answers on Genesis 2:15), “Some persons have said, when they fancied that the Paradise was a garden, that because the man who was created was endowed with senses, therefore he naturally and properly proceeded into a sensible place; but the other man.… is made after God’s own image.”
So five trees in Paradise might refer to the union of the five senses and the image of God. A little further on again, Philo writes on Gen. 2:9, that the leaves of the trees in Paradise are evergreen, and would never lose their leaves, just like Thomas’s trees.

But there are also other parallels to trees in Paradise. In the Odes of Solomon, probably a first century text, and most likely Christian, we find a number of similarities to the Gospel of Thomas, including a reference to a tree in Paradise:
Ode 11 16.
And He took me to His Paradise, wherein is the wealth of the Lord's pleasure. I beheld blooming and fruit-bearing trees, And self-grown was their crown. Their branches were sprouting and their fruits were shining. From an immortal land were their roots. And a river of gladness was irrigating them, And round about them in the land of eternal life. 17. Then I worshipped the Lord because of His magnificence. 8. And I said, Blessed, O Lord, are they who are planted in Your land, and who have a place in Your Paradise; 19. And who grow in the growth of Your trees, and have passed from darkness into light. 20. Behold, all Your labourers are fair, they who work good works, and turn from wickedness to your pleasantness. 21. For the pungent odour of the trees is changed in Your land, 22. And everything becomes a remnant of Yourself. Blessed are the workers of Your waters, and eternal memorials of Your faithful servants. 23. Indeed, there is much room in Your Paradise. And there is nothing in it which is barren, but everything is filled with fruit. 24. Glory be to You, O God, the delight of Paradise for ever.

In Ode 27, the cross is a tree,
1. I extended my hands and hallowed my Lord, 2. For the expansion of my hands is His sign. 3. And my extension is the upright tree.
Then, in the story of "The Good Thief" in Luke 23, 42: And he said, "Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom." 43: And he said to him, "Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise."
Here, this cross is also a tree in Paradise. Being hung from a tree was a synonym for being crucified. Another strange connection brings us to a story in Joshua:
Joshua 10 16: These five kings fled, and hid themselves in the cave at Makke'dah. 17: And it was told Joshua, "The five kings have been found, hidden in the cave at Makke'dah." 18: And Joshua said, "Roll great stones against the mouth of the cave, and set men by it to guard them… 22: Then Joshua said, "Open the mouth of the cave, and bring those five kings out to me from the cave." 23: And they did so,.... 26: And afterward Joshua smote them and put them to death, and he hung them on five trees. And they hung upon the trees until evening; 27: but at the time of the going down of the sun, Joshua commanded, and they took them down from the trees, and threw them into the cave where they had hidden themselves, and they set great stones against the mouth of the cave, which remain to this very day.

Here we have five trees, hanging (a type of death to which crucifixion was considered to be equivalent), Joshua, the name from which Jesus was derived, and then a motif which has similarities to the resurrection story (one might say that the resurrection story draws on this passage but modifies the meaning of it.)

The above are just some of the possibilities that we have for understanding the five trees in Paradise. Marvin Meyer tells us that the five trees occur frequently in Gnostic texts.

So, what do I think? Perhaps the five senses being unified with the image of God, and existing in Paradise. Perhaps the five trees are five different aspects of a human being, though not the virtus. As a further thought, a tree might represent man. In the Gospel of Mark 9:24, the blind man in Bethsaida sees “men as trees, walking.”

Saying 7, the Lion and the Man

Saying 19, the Five Trees in Paradise

Saying 53, Circumcision of the Spirit

Saying 61 The Salome Dialogue



The Gospel of Thomas: A New Version Based on the Inner Meaning, by Andrew Phillip Smith, is published by Ulysses Books and is available through Amazon.com

 

 


Gospel of Thomas Material:
Sayings and Interpretation
From the Introduction
Intriguing Parallels to Gospel of Thomas Sayings
Short Essays On Difficult and Obscure Sayings
Reviews of the Other Translations of the Gospel of Thomas
Gospel of Thomas Online Resources
Gospel of Thomas Home

Esoteric Christianity Material:
Beryl Pogson on the Gospel of Thomas in 1959
P.D. Ouspensky on Christianity and The New Testament

Gurdjieff, Ouspensky, Nicoll, and Many Others:
an Online Anthology of Fourth Way Writings On Esoteric Christianity

Esoteric Christianity Online Resources

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