The Garden of Eden and the Tree of Life
(8) The LORD God planted a garden in Eden, in the east, and placed there the man whom He had formed. (9) And from the ground the LORD God caused to grow every tree that was pleasing to the sight and good for food, with the tree of life in the middle of the garden, and the tree of knowledge of good and bad. (TNK)
16WTTוַיְצַו֙ יְהוָ֣ה אֱלֹהִ֔ים עַל־הָֽאָדָ֖ם לֵאמֹ֑ר מִכֹּ֥ל עֵֽץ־הַגָּ֖ן אָכֹ֥ל תֹּאכֵֽל׃
17 וּמֵעֵ֗ץ הַדַּ֙עַת֙ ט֣וֹב וָרָ֔ע לֹ֥א תֹאכַ֖ל מִמֶּ֑נּוּ כִּ֗י בְּי֛וֹם אֲכָלְךָ֥ מִמֶּ֖נּוּ מ֥וֹת תָּמֽוּת׃
(16)And the LORD God commanded the man, saying, "Of every tree of the garden you are free to eat; 17 but as for the tree of knowledge of good and bad, you must not eat of it; for as soon as you eat of it, you shall die." (TNK)
וְהַנָּחָשׁ֙ הָיָ֣ה עָר֔וּם מִכֹּל֙ חַיַּ֣ת הַשָּׂדֶ֔ה אֲשֶׁ֥ר עָשָׂ֖ה יְהוָ֣ה אֱלֹהִ֑ים וַ֙יֹּאמֶר֙ אֶל־הָ֣אִשָּׁ֔ה אַ֚ף כִּֽי־אָמַ֣ר אֱלֹהִ֔ים לֹ֣א תֹֽאכְל֔וּ מִכֹּ֖ל עֵ֥ץ הַגָּֽן׃2 וַתֹּ֥אמֶר הָֽאִשָּׁ֖ה אֶל־הַנָּחָ֑שׁ מִפְּרִ֥י עֵֽץ־הַגָּ֖ן נֹאכֵֽל׃3 וּמִפְּרִ֣י הָעֵץ֘ אֲשֶׁ֣ר בְּתוֹךְ־הַגָּן֒ אָמַ֣ר אֱלֹהִ֗ים לֹ֤א תֹֽאכְלוּ֙ מִמֶּ֔נּוּ וְלֹ֥א תִגְּע֖וּ בּ֑וֹ פֶּן־תְּמֻתֽוּן׃
4 וַיֹּ֥אמֶר הַנָּחָ֖שׁ אֶל־הָֽאִשָּׁ֑ה לֹֽא־מ֖וֹת תְּמֻתֽוּן׃
5 כִּ֚י יֹדֵ֣עַ אֱלֹהִ֔ים כִּ֗י בְּיוֹם֙ אֲכָלְכֶ֣ם מִמֶּ֔נּוּ וְנִפְקְח֖וּ עֵֽינֵיכֶ֑ם וִהְיִיתֶם֙ כֵּֽאלֹהִ֔ים יֹדְעֵ֖י ט֥וֹב וָרָֽע׃6 וַתֵּ֣רֶא הָֽאִשָּׁ֡ה כִּ֣י טוֹב֩ הָעֵ֙ץ לְמַאֲכָ֜ל וְכִ֧י תַֽאֲוָה־ה֣וּא לָעֵינַ֗יִם וְנֶחְמָ֤ד הָעֵץ֙ לְהַשְׂכִּ֔יל וַתִּקַּ֥ח מִפִּרְי֖וֹ וַתֹּאכַ֑ל וַתִּתֵּ֧ן גַּם־לְאִישָׁ֛הּ עִמָּ֖הּ וַיֹּאכַֽל׃7 וַתִּפָּקַ֙חְנָה֙ עֵינֵ֣י שְׁנֵיהֶ֔ם וַיֵּ֣דְע֔וּ כִּ֥י עֵֽירֻמִּ֖ם הֵ֑ם וַֽיִּתְפְּרוּ֙ עֲלֵ֣ה תְאֵנָ֔ה וַיַּעֲשׂ֥וּ לָהֶ֖ם חֲגֹרֹֽת׃(WTT)
(1) Now the serpent was the shrewdest of all the wild beasts that the LORD God had made. He said to the woman, "Did God really say: You shall not eat of any tree of the garden?"2 The woman replied to the serpent, "We may eat of the fruit of the other trees of the garden. 3 It is only about fruit of the tree in the middle of the garden that God said: 'You shall not eat of it or touch it, lest you die.'"4 And the serpent said to the woman, "You are not going to die, 5 but God knows that as soon as you eat of it your eyes will be opened and you will be like divine beings who know good and bad."
6 When the woman saw that the tree was good for eating and a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was desirable as a source of wisdom, she took of its fruit and ate. She also gave some to her husband, and he ate. 7 Then the eyes of both of them were opened and they perceived that they were naked; and they sewed together fig leaves and made themselves loincloths.(TNK)
(ו) ויצמח ה' אלהים מן האדמה - תני, עץ שהוא פוסה על פני כל החיים. אמר רבי יהודה בר אלעאי עץ חיים מהלך ת"ק שנה, וכל מי בראשית מתפלגין מתחתיו. רבי יודן בשם רבי יהודה בר אלעאי: לא סוף דבר נופו מהלך ת"ק שנה, אלא אפילו קורתו מהלך ת"ק שנה:
And Adonai Eloheim made every pleasant tree sprout from the ground: It was taught that this was a tree that spread over all living things. R Yehuda bar Eliai said: The tree of life extended over a journey of 500 years and all the waters of Creation divided into streams beneath it. Rabbi Yudan said in the name of Rabbi Yehudah bar Eliai: It is not only the boughs that extend 500 years, but also its trunk that extends 500 years.
(ח) וַיִּטַּע ה' אֱלֹהִים גַּן בְעֵדֶן מִקֶּדֶם ורבותינו נתעוררו בזה אמרו בבראשית רבה (טז ה) לְעָבְדָהּ וּלְשָׁמְרָהּ אלו הקרבנות שנאמר (שמות ג יב) תַּעַבְדוּן אֶת הָאֱלֹהִים הדא הוא דכתיב (במדבר כח ב) תִּשְׁמְרוּ לְהַקְרִיב לִי בְּמוֹעֲדוֹ והכונה להם בזה לומר כי הצמחים וכל בעלי חיים צריכים לכוחות הראשונות ס"א העליונות ומהם יבא להם הגידול ובקרבנות יהיה משך הברכה לעליונים ומהם לצמחי גַּן עֵדֶן ומהם יהיו ויחיו לעולם בגשמי רצון וברכה שיגדלו בה כמו שאמרו (ב"ר טו א) יִשְׂבְּעוּ עֲצֵי ה' אַרְזֵי לְבָנוֹן אֲשֶׁר נָטָע (תהלים קד טז) אמר רבי חנינא יִשְׂבְּעוּ חייהן יִשְׂבְּעוּ מימיהן יִשְׂבְּעוּ מטעתן כי "חייהן" יסודותם העליונים ו"מימיהם" אוצרו הטוב המוריד הגשם ו"מטעתן" כחם בשמים כמו שאמרו (ב"ר י ו) אין לך כל עשב ועשב מלמטה שאין לו מזל ברקיע והוא מכה אותו ואומר לו גדל
Our Sages were troubled by this (did the garden really require Adam to tend it and guard it?). They said in Bereshit Rabbah to "work her" and "guard her", and these phrases refer to the ritual offerings, as it says in Exodus 3:12, "You will serve God." This is what is written in Numbers 28:2: "You shall guard in order to offer me in its appointed time...." Their intention is to say that the plants and all living things depend upon the ancient higher forces and, from these forces, growth comes to them and through the offerings the blessing will be drawn to the upper powers and from them to the plants of the Garden of Eden and, from them, life in the world and the rains of goodwill and blessing that they may grow upon her [the earth], as the Sages would say: "The trees of Adonai are satisfied, the ceders of Lebanon that God planted (Bereshit Rabbah 15:1)". Rabbi Chaninah said: "They are satisfied with their life, they are satisfied with their water, they are content with their nature, for "their life" refers to their upper foundation, and "their water" refers to the goodly reservoir from which the rain descends and "their nature" refers to their power in heaven, as they would say: "There is not even one blade of grass below that does not have a constellation in the firmament that strikes it and says: "Grow!" (Bereshit Rabbah 10:6)"
(ט) . ועץ החיים בתוך הגן ועץ הדעת טוב ורע, בתוך, כתרגומו במציעות גינתא, והדבר יהיה נשמר יותר באמצע המקום מפני שהדברים שהם סביביו יהיו כחומה לו, והדבר החביב והנאהב לאדם ישימנו בתוך הדברים האחרים כדי שיהיו לו חומה ומשמרת. ופירוש עץ החיים שהצמיח גם עץ החיים בתוך הגן, והוא עץ שהיה בטבעו לחזק טבע האדם האוכל ממנו ויחיה זמן רב מאוד. ולפי המשל שהוא הנסתר שכל האוכל ממנו יחיה עדי עד. ובב"ר (פט"ו) אמר ר' יהודה בר אילעי עץ החיים מהלך ת"ק שנה וכל מימי בראשית מתפלגין תחתיו,...
(9) ועץ החיים בתוך הגן ועץ הדעת טוב ורע, the word בתוך, normally translated as “within,” or “among,” here means literally “in the middle.” (Targum Onkelos) The reason it was dead in the center is that if you want to protect something carefully you place it in the center where it is surrounded, i.e. protected, from all sides equally. Man’s heart, lung, liver, his most precious organs, are surrounded by all manner of protective bone, flesh, and other tissue. These all act like a wall protecting the interior organs from injury.
The explanation of the words “ועץ החיים,” is: “God had also made a tree of life grow in the center of the garden.” The normal function of this tree, i.e. its fruit, is to reinforce the vital organs and parts of the human being. Anyone eating from the fruit of this tree regularly would enjoy very long life. According to the aggadah, which deals with the hidden meaning of this text, (compare Genesis 3,22, פירוש הנסתר) anyone eating of this tree would live forever. According to Bereshit Rabbah 15,6 Rabbi Yehudah bar IIai is quoted as saying that this tree travels a distance of 500 years, and all the waters dating back to the days of creation split beneath it when it approaches. [this distance of 500 “years” is a standard expression in the Midrash for the length and breadth of the earth, i.e. this tree’s roots spanned the entire globe. It is therefore a euphemism for one’s whole lifetime, also meaning that every living creature anywhere on earth benefits from this tree. Ed.]
() רַבִּי אַבָּא אָמַר אַמַּאי כְּתִיב וְעֵץ הַחַיִּים בְּתוֹךְ הַגָּן וְעֵץ הַדַּעַת טוֹב וָרָע. עֵץ הַחַיִּים הָא תָּנִינָן דְּמַהֲלַךְ חֲמֵשׁ מֵאָה שְׁנִין הֲוָה. וְכָל מֵימוֹי דִּבְרֵאשִׁית מִתְפַּלְגִין תְּחוֹתוֹי. עֵץ הַחַיִּים בִּמְצִיעוּת דְּגִנְתָּא מַמָּשׁ וְהוּא נָטִיל כָּל מֵימוֹי דְּבְרֵאשִׁית וּמִתְפַּלְּגִין תְּחוֹתוֹי.
Rabbi Abba said: "It is written: the tree of life in the midst of the garden, and the tree of knowledge of good and evil (Gen. 2:9). The tree of life, we have learned that it extends over a journey of five hundred years, and all the waters of Creation branch off below. The tree of life is precisely in the middle of the garden, conveying all waters of Creation, branching below, for that flowing, gushing river spreads into the garden, whence waters branch in many different directions.
A Commentary on the Book of Genesis, Part One, U. Cassuto (Hebrew)(English trans. Israel Abrahams) (Jerusalem 1961) at 110, 176 "[T]he Torah makes only brief reference of the tree of life and declares, in the end, that the Lord God set the cherubim to guard the way to the tree of life (3:24), as though to tell us that now there is no connection between the tree and our world, and we need pay no further heed to it. In its closing words (chapter 3), the section recalls what was stated at the beginning: the Tree of life also in the midst of the garden; the repetition serves to point to an antithesis, to emphasize the contrast between the original state of Adam and the situation created as a result of his sin. At first the man dwelt in the midst of the garden, in the vicinity of the tree of life, and he could at any moment approach it and eat of its fruit; now his is far from there, and the cherubim and sword-flame guard the way and prevent him from again drawing near to the garden and to the tree of life.
What is the Tree of Life?
() רַבִּי שִׁמְעוֹן אָמַר, הִנִּיחַ הַקָּדוֹשׁ בָּרוּךְ הוּא לְאָדָם הָרִאשׁוֹן בְּגַּן עֵדֶן, וְנָתַן לוֹ תּוֹרָתוֹ, לַעֲבוֹד בָּהּ, וְלִשְׁמוֹר מִצְוֹתֶיהָ. הֲדָא הוּא דִכְתִיב, (שם) וְעֵץ הַחַיִּים בְּתוֹךְ הַגָּן. וּכְתִיב (משלי ג) עֵץ חַיִּים הִיא לַמַּחֲזִיקִים בָּהּ. אָמַר הַקָּדוֹשׁ בָּרוּךְ הוּא, כְּשֶׁיִּהְיֶה לוֹ לָאָדָם הֲנָאָה בְּגַן זֶה, יַעֲסוֹק בָּהּ וְיִשְׁמוֹר אוֹתָהּ. וּמִפְּנֵי הָעִדּוּנִין וַהֲנָאוֹת שֶׁהָיוּ לוֹ לָאָדָם שָׁם, לֹא שָׁמַר תּוֹרָתוֹ, עַד שֶׁגֵּרְשָׁהוּ מִשָּׁם.
Rabbi Shimon said, the Holy Blessed One placed Adam at first in the Garden of Eden and gave him the Torah in order to labor in her and to observe her commandments, as Scripture writes: "The Tree of Life in the midst of the Garden (Bereshit 2:9) and "she is a Tree of Life to those who hold onto her (Proverbs 3:18)". Therefore, the Holy Blessed One said: When Adam will have pleasures in this Garden, her will immerse himself in her and observe her. But because of the delights and pleasures that Adam partook of there, he did not fulfill God's Torah and he was therefore banished from there.
() רַבִּי אַבָּא בְּשֵׁם ר' חִיָּיא אָמַר, עֵץ מַמָּשׁ הָיָה, וְהָיוּ שְׁנַיִם, הָאֶחָד הַנּוֹתֵן חַיִּים לָאָדָם. וְהָאֶחָד שֶׁהָאוֹכְלוֹ יֵדַע הַטוֹב וְהָרָע. לָדַעַת הַדֶּרֶךְ הַטוֹב וְהַיָּשָׁר, שֶׁיּוּכְשַׁר הָאָדָם. וְהַדֶּרֶךְ הָרַע, שֶׁיִּתְקַלְקֵל בָּהּ הָאָדָם. וּלְפִיכָךְ צִוָּהוּ הַקָדוֹשׁ בָּרוּךְ הוּא שֶׁלֹּא יֹאכַל מִמֶּנּוּ, פֶּן יִדְחֶה הַטוֹב, וְיַחְזִיק בָּרָע.
Rabbi Abba said in the name of Rabbi Chiyya: "It was an actual tree! There were two, the first one gave life to Adam. The other one, whoever ate from it, he would know good and evil, knowing the way of the good and the upright, by which a person becomes righteous, as well as the evil way, by which a person becomes corrupted. For that reason, the Holy Bless One commanded him not to eat from it, lest he reject the good and embrace evil.
מפרי העץ אשר בתוך הגן, תני ר’ זעירא “ומפרי העץ” – אין העץ אלא אדם שנמשל לעץ, שנ’ “כי האדם עץ השדה.”“אשר בתוך הגן” – אין גן אלא אשה שנמשלה לגן, שנ’ “גן נעול אחותי כלה.”ואמר הגן ולא אמר אשה תפש לשון נקיה, מה הגינה הזאת כל מה שנזרעה צמחה ומוציאה, כך האשה הזאת כל מה שנזרעה הרה ויולדת בבעילה.
Pirkei de-RabbiEliezer 21 (c. 8th cent. C.E.) “And from the fruit of the tree in the middle of the garden” (Genesis 3:3) – R. Zeira taught: “and from the fruit of the tree – there is no “tree” other than man, who is compared to the tree, as it says, “for man is like the tree of the field”; “Which is in the middle of the garden” – there is no “garden” other than woman, who is compared to a garden, as it says, “A garden locked is my own, my bride” (Song 4:12). And [the verse] said “the field” instead of saying “woman” as a euphemism: [God was saying]: just as it is with this garden, in which anything that is planted grows and bears fruit, so too this woman, every time she is inseminated she will conceive and give birth from that act of intercourse. http://thetorah.com/are-trees-of-the-field-human/ ("Are the Trees of the Field Human?" Dr. Shai Secunda)
The Omphalos Myth and Hebrew Religion, Vetus Testamentum, Vol. 20, (Jul., 1970), pp. 315-338, at 317-20.
In all probability, the myth of the navel of the earth, far from being an incidental aspect of worship at the temple of Jerusalem,constitutes in effect the determining factor which links together a number of its cultic practices and beliefs that otherwise appear unrelated. [T]he sacred space of the Jerusalem temple is set apart from all other spaces of the earth, not only because [Adonai] has chosen Zion as his menuchah, his "resting place", but also because the Juhadites have adopted from the Canaanites of ancient Jebus the belief that the site of Zion was related to the navel of the earth. Solomon's Temple is built on a rock which is the earth-center, the world mountain, the foundation stone of creation, the extremity of the umbilical cord which provides a link between heaven, earth, and the underworld. It therefor becomes associated with the cosmic tree, the garden of Eden, and, at a later time, the new Paradise, the heavenly Jerusalem. These beliefs do not receive an explicit formulation in the early traditions concerning the building of the Temple, but the allusions found in the pre-exilic psalms and prophets, Ezekiel and his post-exilic successors clearly indicate that the acceptance of the omphalos myth, in a modified form, antedates by centuries the testimony of the Chronicler, the post-canonical Jewish literature, the New Testament and Christian folklore.
The Meaning of the Torah in Jewish Mysticism, Gershom Scholem (69-70): According to an old Talmudic tradition, the venom of the serpent, which had corrupted Eve and through her all mankind, lost its strength through the Revelation on Mount Sinai, but regained it when Israel began to worship the golden calf. The Kabbalistic author interprets this in his own way. The first tablets, which had been given before Israel sinned with the golden calf but which, apart from Moses, no one had read, came from the Tree of Life. The second tablets, which were given after the first had been broken, came from the Tree of Knowledge. The meaning is clear: the first tablets contained a revelation of the Torah in keeping with the original state of man, when he was governed by the principle embodied in the Tree of Life. This was a truly spiritual Torah, bestowed upon a world in which Revelation and Redemption coincided, in which everything was holy and there was no need to hold the powers of uncleanness and death in check by prohibitions and restrictions....On the second tablets the Torah appears in a historical garment and as a historical power. To be sure, it still has its hidden depths, its infinite mystery. The good is still translucent, while evil must be fenced in and combated by all the prohibitions that are conceived as its counterparts. This is the hard shell of the Torah, indispensable in a world governed by the powers of evil. But the shell must not be mistaken for the whole. In enacting the commandments, a man can break through the outer shell and penetrate to the kernel.
On the Mystical Shape of the Godhead, Gershom Scholem (65-70): You already know that the Tree of Life and the Tree of Knowledge are one [tree] below but two [trees] above: the Tree of Knowledge is from the northern side, but the Tree of Life is from the eastern side, from whence light emanates into the entire world and the potency of Satan is there....Now this is the meaning: So long as the Tree of Life, which comes from the side of the east and is the Good Urge and the quality of peace [harmony], is connected with the Tree of Knowledge, which comes from the side of the north, from the side of Satan and evil, then Satan can do nothing, for the Tree of Life is the quality of peace [i.e.harmony] shall overwhelm him. But the moment it [the Tree of Knowledge] is separated [from the Tree of Life], its strength is freed and Satan is able to act....Had Adam not first separated the fruit, Satan would have been unable to separate him from the Tree of Life....The two trees are fundamentally one: they grow from a common root, in which masculine and feminine, the giving and receiving, the creative and reflective, are one. Life and knowledge are not to be torn asunder from one another: they must be seen and realized in their unity. So long as the two trees are connected, the Tree of Life retains control over the power of severity, the harsh critical power within the Godhead....When he [Adam] plucked and ate the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge, he allowed the power acting in the Tree of Knowledge from the north (i.e., the principle of Severity) to operate upon it in isolation. This power was thereby removed from its position within the union of the Sefiroth and now gained control over Adam as the satanic principle of evil.
The Messianic Idea in Judaism Gershom Scholem (22-23) These symbols of the Tree of Life and the Tree of Knowledge, or the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil, which because its fruit brings about death is also called the Tree of Death. These trees, respectively, control the state of the world, be it the state of Creation as such or of the Torah, which as the divine law governs and determines it. Standing in the center of Paradise and representing higher order of things, the trees control a great deal more than just existence in the Garden of Eden. Since the Fall of Adam, the world is no longer ruled by the Tree of Life as it had been in the beginning, but the Tree of Knowledge. The Tree of Life represents the pure, unbroken power of the holy, the diffusion of the divine life through all the worlds and the communication of all living things with their divine source. There is no admixture of evil in it,no "shells"which dam up and choke life, no death and no restriction. But since the Fall of Adam, since the time when the forbidden fruit of the Tree of Knowledge was eaten, the world is ruled by the mystery of this second tree in which both good and evil have their place. Hence, under the rule of this Tree, the world contains differentiated spheres: the holy and the profane, the pure and the impure, the permitted and the forbidden, the living and the dead, the divine and the demonic.
The New Yorker, The Intelligent Plant, Michael Pollen (December 23 & 30 2013) "The most bracing part of Mancuso’s talk on bioinspiration came when he discussed underground plant networks. Citing the research of Suzanne Simard, a forest ecologist at the University of British Columbia, and her colleagues, Mancuso showed a slide depicting how trees in a forest organize themselves into far-flung networks, using the underground web of mycorrhizal fungi which connects their roots to exchange information and even goods. This “wood-wide web,” as the title of one paper put it, allows scores of trees in a forest to convey warnings of insect attacks, and also to deliver carbon, nitrogen, and water to trees in need. When I reached Simard by phone, she described how she and her colleagues track the flow of nutrients and chemical signals through this invisible underground network. They injected fir trees with radioactive carbon isotopes, then followed the spread of the isotopes through the forest community using a variety of sensing methods, including a Geiger counter. Within a few days, stores of radioactive carbon had been routed from tree to tree. Every tree in a plot thirty metres square was connected to the network; the oldest trees functioned as hubs, some with as many as forty-seven connections. The diagram of the forest network resembled an airline route map. The pattern of nutrient traffic showed how “mother trees” were using the network to nourish shaded seedlings, including their offspring—which the trees can apparently recognize as kin—until they’re tall enough to reach the light. And, in a striking example of interspecies coöperation, Simard found that fir trees were using the fungal web to trade nutrients with paper-bark birch trees over the course of the season. The evergreen species will tide over the deciduous one when it has sugars to spare, and then call in the debt later in the season. For the forest community, the value of this coöperative underground economy appears to be better over-all health, more total photosynthesis, and greater resilience in the face of disturbance. In his talk, Mancuso juxtaposed a slide of the nodes and links in one of these subterranean forest networks with a diagram of the Internet, and suggested that in some respects the former was superior. “Plants are able to create scalable networks of self-maintaining, self-operating, and self-repairing units,” he said. “Plants.”
A New View of the Tree of Life, Nature Microbiology (various authors)16048 (2016) doi:10.1038/nmicrobiol.2016.48
Other Stories of the Tree of Life
The Epic of Gilgamesh, Tablet 11: "Then Gilgamesh and Urshanabi launched the boat on to the water and boarded it, and they made ready to sail away; but the wife of Utnapishtim the Faraway said to him, `Gilgamesh came here wearied out, he is worn out; what will you give him to carry him back to his own country? So Utnapishtim spoke, and Gilgamesh took a pole and brought the boat in to the bank. `Gilgamesh, you came here a man wearied out, you have worn yourself out; what shall I give you to carry you back to your own country? Gilgamesh, I shall reveal a secret thing, it is a mystery of the gods that I am telling you. There is a plant that grows under the water, it has a prickle like a thorn, like a rose; it will wound your hands, but if you succeed in taking it, then your hands will hold that which restores his lost youth to a man: When Gilgamesh heard this he opened the sluices so that a sweet water current might carry him out to the deepest channel; he tied heavy stones to his feet and they dragged him down to the water-bed. There he saw the plant growing;; although it pricked him he took it in his hands; then he cut the heavy stones from his feet, and the sea carried him and threw him on to the shore. Gilgamesh said to Urshanabi the ferryman, `Come here, and see this marvellous plant. By its virtue a man may win back all his former strength. I will take it to Uruk of the strong walls; there I will give it to the old men to eat. Its name shall be "The Old Men Are Young Again"; and at last I shall eat it myself and have back all my lost youth.' So Gilgamesh returned by the gate through which he had come, Gilgamesh and Urshanabi went together. They travelled their twenty leagues and then they broke their fast; after thirty leagues they stopped for the night. Gilgamesh saw a well of cool water and he went down and bathed; but deep in the pool there was lying a serpent, and the serpent sensed the sweetness of the flower. It rose out of the water and snatched it away, and immediately it sloughed its skin and returned to the well. Then Gilgamesh sat down and wept, the tears ran down his face, and he took the hand of Urshanabi; ‘O Urshanabi, was it for this that I toiled with my hands, is it for this I have wrung out my heart's blood? For myself I have gained nothing; not I, but the beast of the earth has joy of it now."
The Assyrian Tree of Life: Tracing the Origins of Jewish Monotheism and Greek Philosophy, Simo Parpola, Journal of Near Eastern Studies, Vol. 52, No. 3 (Jul., 1993), pp. 161-208 (The University of Chicago Press (http://www.jstor.org/stable/545436A)
A stylized tree with obvious religious significance already occurs as an art motif in fourth-millennium Mesopotamia, and, by the second millennium B.C., it is found everywhere within the orbit of the ancient Near Eastern oikumene, including Egypt, Greece, and the Indus civilization. The meaning of the motif is not clear, but its overall composition strikingly recalls the Tree of Life of later Christian, Jewish, Muslim, and Buddhist art. The question of whether the concept of the Tree of Life actually existed in ancient Mesopotamia has been debated, however, and thus many scholars today prefer the more neutral term "sacred tree" when referring to the Mesopotamian Tree. About the middle of the second millennium, a new development in the iconography of the Tree becomes noticeable leading to the emergence of the so-called Late Assyrian Tree under Tukulti-Ninurta I. With the rise of the Neo-Assyrian Empire, this form of the Tree spreads throughout the entire Near East and continues to be seen down to the end of the first millennium. Its importance for imperial ideology is borne out by its appearance on royal garments and jewelry, official seals, and the wall paintings and sculptures of royal palaces, as in the throneroom of Ashurnasirpal II in Calah, where it is the central motif. The hundreds of available specimens of the Late Assyrian Tree exhibit a great deal of individual variation reflecting the fact that the motif and most of its iconography were inherited from earlier periods. Nevertheless, its characteristic features stand out even in the crudest examples and make it generally easy to distinguish it from its predecessors. Essentially, it consists of a trunk with a palmette crown standing on the stone base and surrounded by a network of horizontal or intersecting lines fringed with palmettes, pinecones, or pomegranates. In more elaborate renditions, the trunk regularly has joints or nodes at its top, middle, and base22 and a corresponding number of small circles to the right and left of the trunk.Antithetically posed animal, human, or supernatural figures usually flank the tree, while a winged disk hovers over the whole. Even the most schematic representations are executed with meticulous attention to overall symmetry and axial balance. (footnotes and citations omitted)