The Cosmic Tree in Zechariah 4 and Tolkien’s Silmarillion
In my seminar on apocalypticism last term (OTS 690), my student John Adams did a wonderful project on the archetype of the World Tree in Zechariah and J. R. R. Tolkien’s fictional world of The Silmarillion. In Zechariah’s vision of ch. 4, two messianic olive clusters—one priestly, one Davidic—supply fuel for God’s central Cosmic Pole, an archetypal Menorah-Tree transfigured into a channel of God’s very presence. Just as the Menorah is alight with fiery lamps (Zech 4:2), so in the Silmarillion there are two cosmic trees (Telperion and Laurelin) that supply light to Valinor, the paradisicacal city of the preternatural servants of God.
As in Zechariah so in Tolkien, the light of Cosmic Trees is witness, power, and grace. They are central anchors around which the elves of Valinor organize their lives. The trees’ light is so desirable, the elf Feanor crafts jewels to shine with its living power, jewels called the Silmarils. The power of the Tree archetype to channel divine blessing is a key part of the theology of Zechariah 4. In particular, Zech 4:12 should not be read as God receiving a one-way stream of oil/fuel from a royal and priestly source. Rather, the image is one of interconnectivity: the priest and king “fuel” the cosmic pole, but the latter is actually their true source of life and power (cf. Ezekiel 31:4 CEB). Trees symbolize connectedness, a huge theme in the Holiness theology of Zechariah and Ezekiel. In Holiness Theology, a tiered, supple web/matrix of interconnectivity provides for God’s active presence in the world and the possibility of restoration and re-creation.