Friday, September 11, 2015

Jesse Tree Wood: Trunk, Vine, Leaves, Flowers, and Fruit-Part 1

       About a month ago when I was writing about doves and their symbolism of the Trinity and the Gifts of the Holy Spirit, I started on a digression about wood and the legends of the True Cross.  I am coming back to the subject.  I will be repeating some of what I wrote earlier and expanding the scope.

       Jesse was the father of David (1 Samuel 16) who was anointed by Samuel to become the king of Israel and Judah after Saul.  The prophets expected the redeemer of Israel, the Messiah, to be a flesh and blood descendant of David who would restore the Davidic kingship to Israel.  This hope did not change when the northern tribes were scattered or when Judah was sent into Exile in Babylon or when Judah became Judea and Palestine under the rule of the Romans.  Even though Judah was chronically unfaithful to Yahweh, and consequently suffered invasions, losses, and exile to Babylon, Yahweh would see that Judah would never be destroyed utterly.  Out of the remnant, there would come an heir to the throne of David, a descendant of David, who would comfort his people and bring about a time of justice and righteousness.  The family tree of the Messiah would come from David.  The Messiah, the new David, would come to Judah after the long period of Exile to establish justice and peace on earth, and rule as King over Israel.

       Beginning with Biblical references to trees, branches, and rods, the most familiar reference is to Isaiah 11.1-2a.  This verse has already been cited many times.  The importance of the Davidic family tree was stressed by Pope Leo I, the Great (pope from 440-461) in his Christmas sermon, Sermon 28, On the Festival of the Nativity.  The sermon references both Isaish 11.1 and Jeremiah 23.5, he writes:

David’s Lord was made David’s Son, and from the fruit of the promised branch sprang One without fault, the twofold nature joining together into one Person, that by one and the same conception and birth might spring our Lord Jesus Christ, in Whom was present both true Godhead for the performance of mighty works and true Manhood for the endurance of sufferings.[1]

       In addition to Isaiah, there are other Old Testament references to branches and wooden staffs that the medieval mind thought were symbolically linked.  For each of the biblical references (both canonical and Apocrapha) I will include Latin, Douay-Rheims translation and the New Revised Standard Version translation for comparison.

1.     Isaiah 11.1-2a :et egredietur virga de radice Iesse et flos de radice eius ascendetet requiescet super eum spiritus Domine
a.      Isaiah 11.1-2a. And there shall come forth a rod out of the root of Jesse, and a       flower shall rise up out of his root.  And the spirit of the Lord shall rest upon       him:…
b.     Isaiah 11.1-2. A shoot shall come out from the stump of Jesse, and a branch shall grow out of his roots. The spirit of the Lord shall rest on him…

2.     Jeremiah 23.5: ecce dies veniunt ait Dominus et suscitabo David germen iustum et regnabit rex et sapiens erit et faciet iudicium et iustitiam in terra
a.      Jeremiah 23.5. Behold the days come, saith the Lord, and I will raise up to David a just branch: and a king shall reign, and shall be wise, and shall execute judgement and justice in the earth.
b.     Jeremiah 23.5: The days are surely coming, says the Lord, when I will raise up for David a righteous Branch, and he shall reign as king and deal wisely, and shall execute justice and righteousness in the land.

3.     Jeremiah 33.15-6: in diebus illis et in tempore illo germinare faciam David germen iustitiae et faciet iudicium et iustitiam in terra, in diebus illis salvabitur Iuda et Hierusalem habitabit confidenter et hoc est quod vocabit eam Dominus iustus noster
a.      Jeremiah 33. 15-6: In those days, and at that time, I will make the bud of justice to spring forth unto David, and he shall do judgment and justice in the earth. In those days shall Juda be saved, and Jerusalem shall dwell securely: and this is the name that they shall call him, The Lord our just one.
b.     Jeremiah 33. 15-6: In those days and at that time I will cause a righteous Branch to spring up for David; and he shall execute justice and righteousness in the land. In those days Judah will be saved and Jerusalem will live in safety. And this is the name by which it will be called: “The Lord is our righteousness.”

       The next scripture reference is one that is not familiar to Protestants who do not read the Apocrypha or read it only “for example of life and instruction of manners; but yet it [the church] doth not apply them to establish any doctrine.” (Article VI of the Church of England)  The reading is from Ecclesiasticus or The Wisdom of Jesus son of Sirach. 24 (verse numbers vary with different translations).  This passage from Ecclesiasticus along with Matthew 1.1-18, the genealogy of Joseph, were read on September 8, the Feast of the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary. Thus the Virgin Mary is connected to images of spreading branches and vines and flowers with sweet scent and abundant fruit.

       The Feast of the Nativity or Birth of St. Mary seems to have originated in Jerusalem in the 5th century and was celebrated by the eastern (Orthodox) churches as early as the 7th century.  The feast was not celebrated in Rome until the end of the 7th century.  The feast was well established before the Schism of the eastern and western Christian churches in 1054.  The feast assumed greater importance from the 13th century onward until reduced in importance in 1955.  There is a lot more to be written about the devotion to St. Mary and the development of the Jesse Tree, but that will have to wait.

4.     Ecclesiasticus 24.22-30.  22 ego quasi terebinthus extendi ramos meos et rami mei honoris et gratiae
2          23    go quasi vitis fructificavi suavitatem odoris et flores mei fructus honoris et honestatis
2          24     ego mater pulchrae dilectionis et timoris et agnitionis et sanctae spei
2          25    in me gratia omnis vitae et veritatis in me omnis spes vitae et virtutis
2          26    transite ad me omnes qui concupiscitis me et a generationibus meis implemini
                       27 spiritus enim meus super melle dulcis et hereditas mea super mel et favum
2          28    memoria mea in generatione saeculorum
2          29    qui edunt me adhuc esurient et qui bibunt me adhuc sitient
3          30    qui audit me non confundetur et qui operantur in me non peccabunt
a.      Sirach 24.22-30. I have stretched out my branches as the turpentine tree, and my branches are of honor and grace.
23 As the vine I have brought forth a pleasant odor: and my flowers are the fruit of honor and riches.
24 I am the mother of fair love, and of fear, and of knowledge, and of holy hope.
25 In me is all grace of the way and of the truth, in me is all hope of life and of virtue.
26 Come over to me, all ye that desire me, and be filled with my fruits.
27 For my spirit is sweet above honey, and my inheritance above honey and the honeycomb.
28 My memory is unto everlasting generations.
29 They that eat me, shall yet hunger: and they that drink me, shall yet thirst.
30 He that hearkeneth to me, shall not be confounded: and they that work by me, shall not sin.
b.     Sirach 24. 16-22. 16 Like a terebinth I spread out my branches, and my branches are glorious and graceful.
17 Like the vine I bud forth delights, and my blossoms become glorious and abundant fruit.
18 [Other ancient authorities add as verse 18], I am the mother of beautiful love, of fear, of knowledge, and of holy hope; being eternal, I am given to all my children, to those who are named by him.
19 “Come to me, you who desire me, and eat your fill of my fruits.
20 For the memory of me is sweeter than honey, and the possession of me sweeter than the honeycomb.
21 Those who eat of me will hunger for more, and those who drink of me will thirst for more.
22 Whoever obeys me will not be put to shame, and those who work with me will not sin.”

          The monks who would have designed the Jesse Trees whether in manuscript or in glass, would have had the genealogy of Jesus from the gospel of Matthew linked in his mind with the luxuriant and fruitful spreading branches and vine of the passage from Ecclesiasticus.  The genealogy of Joseph from Matthew 1.1-17 was read at Christmas as well.

The calendar page for September with the Feast of the Nativity of St. Mary, Holy Cross Day Saint Matthew the Evangelist,and the Conception of John the Baptist among the dates listed.  This is from the 'Shaftesbury Psalter'with calendar and prayers,  Made in England between 1125 and 1150.  British Library Lansdowne 383 f.7.  The man at the top is thrashing and the roundel has a man holding a scale.  Libra is the zodiac sign for the end of September-October.

Another calendar page for September with the Feast of the Nativity of St. Mary, Holy Cross Day Saint Matthew the Evangelist,and the Conception of John the Baptist among the dates listed. This page is also from a Psalter made in central England, probably Oxford between 1200 and before 1220.  This calendar also includes the zodiac signs Libra.  The men in the upper roundel are crushing grapes. British Libary Royal 1 D X f.13.

       The rod or staff was a symbol of authority for the ancient Hebrews since they were a pastoral society.  Moses tended the sheep of his father-in-law Jethro. (Exodus 3.1)  The staffs of both Moses and Aaron were endowed with miraculous properties.  Aaron’s staff became a snake before Pharaoh (Exodus 7:9).  Moses raised his rod or staff before the sea and parted the waters. (Exodus 14.16).  Moses struck the rock in Horeb so that the thirsty Hebrews could have water to drink (Exodus 17.6), and again, in the wilderness of Zin so that the thirsty Hebrews and their livestock could have water (Numbers 20.9-11).  Moses made a bronze snake and put it upon a pole such that the Hebrews who had been bitten by snakes could be cured (Numbers 21.6-9).  (In typological reasoning, this story is linked to the Crucifixion along with Abraham’s sacrifice of Isaac.  Those that look upon the crucified Jesus might have healing and forgiveness from their sins and receive the promise of salvation. It is also linked with the story of obedience to God to the point of sacrificing an only son, and then having God provide the sacrifice.)  
Moses strikes the rock in Horeb for water. British Library Additional 11639 f. 743.  Miscellany of biblical and other texts.  Made in central France Ile de France or Champagne, during last quarter of 13th or first quarter of 14th century. Language: Hebrew.
< of biblical and other texts ages/BLCD/mid/c065/c06564-02.jpg>
       When the authority of Moses and Aaron over the Hebrews was questioned, the Lord instructed Moses to gather staffs from the leaders of the people according to their ancestors.  Moses collected and labeled 12 staffs and put them in the meeting tent before an altar referred to as “testimony” or “covenant.” (Numbers 17.4-9) When Moses went into the meeting tent the next morning, the staff of Aaron had sprouted, producing buds and blossoms, and ripe almonds. (Numbers 17:8). 

5       Numbers 17.8: sequenti die regressus invenit germinasse virgam Aaron in domo Levi et turgentibus gemmis eruperant flores qui foliis dilatatis in amigdalas deformati sunt
a.       Numbers 17.8. He returned on the following day, and found that the rod of Aaron for the house of Levi, was budded: and that the buds swelling it had bloomed blossoms, which spreading the leaves, were formed into almonds.
b.     Numbers 17.8. When Moses went into the tent of the covenant[d] on the next day, the staff of Aaron for the house of Levi had sprouted. It put forth buds, produced blossoms, and bore ripe

Aaron's rod flowering. British Library Additional 11639 f. 519v.  Miscellany of biblical and other texts ('The Northern French Miscellany' or earlier 'the British Museum Miscellany'): including the Pentateuch, Haftarot, Tiqqun Sofrim, Five Scrolls, prayer book for the entire year with Haggadah, legal texts, poetry, calendars, Book of Tobit in Hebrew, etc.  Made in northern France, about 1277-1286. Language: Hebrew

       Aaron’s rod was considered a symbol for the Virgin Mary who was identified with the virgin mentioned in Isaiah who give birth to a son. (Isaiah 7.14).  Just as a rod without a root produced fruit so Mary without sexual intercourse brought forth a son. 

       The rod of Aaron was probably the source for the apocryphal story about how Joseph was chosen to the guardian of the Virgin Mary as her husband.  The legend is told in Chapter 8 of Pseudo-Matthew or the Book of the Birth of the Blessed Mary and the Infancy of the Savior.

And the priest said: Tomorrow let every one who has no wife come, and bring his rod in his hand. Whence it happened that Joseph brought his rod along with the young men. And the rods having been handed over to the high priest, he offered a sacrifice to the Lord God, and inquired of the Lord. And the Lord said to him: Put all their rods into the holy of holies of God, and let them remain there, and order them to come to you on the morrow to get back their rods; and the man from the point of whose rod a dove shall come forth, and fly towards heaven, and in whose hand the rod, when given back, shall exhibit this sign, to him let Mary be delivered to be kept. On the following day, then, all having assembled early…the high priest went into the holy of holies, and brought forth the rods. And when he had distributed the rods, and the dove came forth out of none of them,… And the angel of the Lord appeared to him, saying: There is here the shortest rod, of which you have made no account: you brought it in with the rest, but did not take it out with them… [T]he high priest cried out to [Joseph] with a loud voice, saying: Come, Joseph, and receive your rod; for we are waiting for you. And Joseph came up trembling... But as soon as he stretched forth his hand, and laid hold of his rod, immediately from the top of it came forth a dove whiter than snow… flew towards the heavens. [2]

       This legend of Joseph gets another version in the 11th century Libellus de Nativitate Sanctae Mariae and the 13th century Legenda Aurea.  In the Book of the Birth of Saint Mary, Chapter 8 tells a similar legend to the one in Pseudo-Matthew.  “Joseph, therefore, was found out.  For when he had brought his rod, and the dove came from heaven; and settled upon the top of it, it clearly appeared to all that he was the man to whom the virgin should be espoused.”[3]

       In the Legenda Aurea under the Nativity of Our Blessed Lady, the legend is written “then Joseph by the commandment of the bishop brought forth his rod, and anon it flowered, and a dove descended from heaven thereupon, so that it was clearly the advice of every man that he should have the virgin.”[4]

       The Libellus along with Pseud-Matthew were the foundation of a popular poem probably written by Robert Wace in Anglo-Norman dated to about 1130-1140 or so and thus predates the influential Legenda Aurea compiled and written in the 13th century.  Entitled Conception Nostre Dame, this version of the legend adds that Joseph’s rod flowered as well as produced a dove.[5]  It is this story that is picked up in the Legenda Aurea, mentioned just above.

       The figure became more dense.  Mary was the vine and Jesus the flower or fruit of the vine.  This was yoked to the image of Jesus as the true vine from John 15.1-6.

       Jesus told a number of parables about vineyards.  The parable of the man who planted a vineyard and let it out of wicked tenants appears in all three synoptic gospels, Matthew 21.34-43, Mark 12. 1-12, and Luke 20.9-16.  There is the parable of the Laborers in the Vineyard who were hired at different hours of the day in Matthew 20.1-16.  Also in Matthew is the parable of the two sons sent to the vineyard to work. One said “No” at first but then repented.  The second agreed to go but never showed up for work. (Matthew 21.28-32)  The parable concludes with Jesus challenging the crowd, “Which of the two did the will of his father?”  Luke adds a parable on the topic of repentance that is about a man who planted a fig tree in his vineyard that failed to produce figs.  The owner ordered the fig to be cut down but the vinedresser asks for another year to see if with manure and cultivation the fig might produce fruit. (Luke 13.6-9)  Though none of these parables are told in the gospel of John, it is John that sums up all the parables in John 15.1-6.

6       John 15.1-6: ego sum vitis vera et Pater meus agricola est
2 omnem palmitem in me non ferentem fructum tollet eum et omnem qui fert fructum purgabit eum ut fructum plus adferat
3 iam vos mundi estis propter sermonem quem locutus sum vobis
4 manete in me et ego in vobis sicut palmes non potest ferre fructum a semet ipso nisi manserit in vite sic nec vos nisi in me manseritis
5 ego sum vitis vos palmites qui manet in me et ego in eo hic fert fructum multum quia sine me nihil potestis facere
6 si quis in me non manserit mittetur foras sicut palmes et aruit et colligent eos et in ignem mittunt et ardent
a.         John 15.1-6.  I am the true vine; and my Father is the husbandman.
2 Every branch in me, that beareth not fruit, he will take away: and every one that beareth fruit, he will purge it, that it may bring forth more fruit.
3 Now you are clean by reason of the word, which I have spoken to you.
4 Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, unless it abide in the vine, so neither can you, unless you abide in me.
5 I am the vine: you the branches: he that abideth in me, and I in him, the same beareth much fruit: for without me you can do nothing.
6 If any one abide not in me, he shall be cast forth as a branch, and shall wither, and they shall gather him up, and cast him into the fire, and he burneth.
b.         John 15.1-6. “I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinegrower.
2 He removes every branch in me that bears no fruit. Every branch that bears fruit he prunes to make it bear more fruit.
3 You have already been cleansed by the word that I have spoken to you.
4 Abide in me as I abide in you. Just as the branch cannot bear fruit by itself unless it abides in the vine, neither can you unless you abide in me.
5 I am the vine, you are the branches. Those who abide in me and I in them bear much fruit, because apart from me you can do nothing.
6 Whoever does not abide in me is thrown away like a branch and withers; such branches are gathered, thrown into the fire, and burned.

 Opening lines of the Gospel of John "In principio erat Verbum et Verbum erat apud Deum et Deus erat Verbum" with red penwork "I." British Library Harley 276   f. 2v . Gospel of John was made in England between 1200 and 1250. 

More about wood and the Legend(s) of the True Cross in Part II.

[1] <>
[2] <>
[3] The Gospel of the Nativity of Mary. Chapter 8. <>
[4] < of our Blessed Lady>
[5] Jean Blacker, Glyn S. Burgess, Amy Ogden tr.and ed.  “Conception Nostre Dame” in Wace, The Hagiographical Works: The Conception Nostre Dame and the Lives of St Margaret and St Nicholas. (2013) Leiden. Brill. Pp.11-145.
Maureen Barry McCann Boulton. Sacred Fictions of Medieval France: Narrative Theology in the Lives of  Christ and the Virgin-1150-1500. (2015) Cambridge: D.S. Brewer.

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