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Many conventional features of world tree motifs in the ancient Near East—including stalked palmettes, aureoles of water lily palmettes connected by pliant stems, floral rosettes, winged disks and bud-and-blossom motifs—trace largely from Egyptian practices in lotus symbolism around 2500 BCE, more than a millennium before they appear, migrate and dominate plant symbolism across the Fertile Crescent from 1500 BCE to 200 CE. Several of these motifs were associated singularly or collectively with the Egyptian sema-taui and ankh signs to symbolize the eternal recurrence and everlasting lives of Nilotic lotus deities and deceased pharaohs. The widespread use of lotus imagery in iconographic records on both sides of the Red Sea indicates strong currents of cultural diffusion between Nilotic and Mesopotamian civilizations, as does the use of lotus flowers in religious rituals and the practice of kingship, evidence for which is supported by iconographic, cuneiform and biblical records. This perspective provides new insights into sacral tree symbolism and its role in mythic legacies of Egypt and the Middle East before and during the advent of Christianity. Closer scholarly scrutiny is still needed to fully comprehend the underlying meaning of immortalizing plants in the mythic traditions of Egypt, the Levant and Mesopotamia.


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This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.

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