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The Mother, the Dove, Mercy, and the Holy Spirit

For the past couple of years, I’ve been coming across fascinating tidbits of information that appear to show connections between the Holy Spirit and our Heavenly Mother. During a recent morning family scripture study in 1 Nephi 11, I noticed a couple of interesting things and I’ll share some of the details.

In verse 16, the angel asks Nephi “Knowest thou the condescension of God?” When Nephi appears not to know the answer, (vs.17) the angel shows him this beautiful, fair virgin again and reveals that she is “the mother of the Son of God” (vs.18) and she is shown with a child in her arms. (vs.20) The angel tells Nephi that this child is “the Lamb of God, yea, even the Son of the Eternal Father” (vs.21)

The angel then asks Nephi another question: “Knowest thou the meaning of the tree which thy father saw?” (vs.21) Nephi answers knowingly that the tree “is the love of God.” (vs.22) Nephi then sees many people worship Jesus and explains his understanding of the iron rod and the fountain of water. (vs.24-25)

Now that Nephi understands the meaning of the tree the angel says “Look and behold the condescension of God!” (vs.23) It is at this point that the angel shows Nephi key events in the life of Jesus from his baptism to his crucifixion. What I want to focus on what I believe are parallel elements that follow the two verses that mention the phrase “the condescension of God.”

There is a distinct mother and son presence in these verses, and it isn’t quite apparent at first. We see the Spirit mentioned in direct conjunction with a birth and a rebirth account as well; these things are significant so take note!

The dove and the Mother

After Nephi is asked to “Look and behold the condescension of God!” he sees John baptize Jesus and notes that “after he was baptized, I beheld the heavens open, and the Holy Ghost come down out of heaven and abide upon him in the form of a dove.” (vs.27)

There are only two accounts of the baptism of Jesus in the Book of Mormon (the other is in 2 Nephi 31:8) and Nephi is the author of them both. They share a similarity with John’s account in that the God the Father’s famous quote “This is/Thou art my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased” (John 1:32) is not mentioned. We do see the Father appear in four other accounts of the baptism (Matthew 3:17, Luke 3:22, Mark 1:11, Doctrine and Covenants 93:15), but not in Nephi’s vision.

Is it by chance or intentionally that Book of Mormon doesn’t mention the Father in the account of Jesus’ baptism? It seems that at least in the context of Nephi’s vision that the Father’s presence was deliberately left out so that only Jesus and the dove are the focus. What is going on here?

If you remember the elements mentioned after the first “condescension” verse, I believe they are present after the second one as well. The condescension of God is shown in two parallel forms using two similar events from Jesus’ life, his birth and his rebirth. With his birth, his body was physically provided by Mary, his earthly mother. His rebirth involves the baptism of fire which is associated with a dove, which I propose is a symbol of his Heavenly Mother; at least in the context of this vision.

Have you ever wondered “why a dove?” What could a dove have meant to the ancient people who witnessed or heard about this event? Could it be that the dove had a significance that is lost on us today? Anytime I ask myself a question like that the answer is almost always, “yes.”

Here are two quotes the explain how the dove was an ancient symbol for the divine feminine.

“In the Ancient Near East, the dove was a symbol of a female deity of love and fecundity: Ishtar, Astarte, Tanit, Anat, ‘Ata, and Atargis. […] In ancient Levant, doves were sacred to all great Mothers and Queens, and of Heaven, the mother of all, who nourished the earth. “In the heavens I take my place and send rain, on the earth I take my place and cause the green to spring forth.” From Mesopotamia to the Greco-Roman world, the Great Mother was seen as the symbol of fertility, the renewal of life for both man and the fruits of the earth. Babylon was the city of the dove. There, the goddess Semiramis was symbolized as a dove … the form she was supposed to have assumed on leaving the earth. […] In Christian lore and tradition (4), the dove is usually the symbol of the Holy Spirit or “heavenly messenger,” particularly found in portrayals of the Annunciation of the Virgin Mary. […]” (Source)

“There is strong evidence in the Hebrew Bible, as well as the archaeological record, that many ancient Israelites believed the goddess Asherah was the consort of their god Yahweh. Perhaps it is not so surprising, then, that the heirs of this Israelite religion incorporated the “feminine” symbol of the dove to represent the spirit of God (the word for “spirit,” ruach, is a feminine word in Hebrew). The Babylonian Talmud likens the hovering of God’s spirit in Genesis 1:2 to the hovering of a dove. Indeed, this same “hovering” language is used to describe God’s spirit in the Dead Sea Scrolls as well as the New Testament.” (Source)

If ancient people saw the dove as a divine feminine symbol, think what this must have communicated to Nephi. In 1 Nephi 11, God’s condescension involves the elements of mothers and birth, along with the symbols of a tree and a dove. The dove has a connection to a divine feminine aspect, and even the Hebrew word for spirit is feminine.

Daniel C. Peterson gave an excellent presentation a few years back on the subject of a divine mother and her connection to trees in Nephi’s vision which I have embedded below and highly recommend.

There may be another potential connection between the tree and the dove in the great flood account. Noah releases a female dove which comes back with the leaf of an olive tree in her mouth.

“And the dove came in to him in the evening; and, lo, in her mouth was an olive leaf plucked off…” (Genesis 8:11)

The apostle Peter associated the great flood with baptism as well and mentioned the number eight with is also connected with rebirth and regeneration.

“…when once the longsuffering of God waited in the days of Noah, while the ark was a preparing, wherein few, that is, eight souls were saved by water. The like figure whereunto even baptism doth also now save us…” (1 Peter 3:20-21)

We have a dove, tree, and baptism/birth/rebirth all as linked themes and I think these links are present in Nephi’s vision as well. I know this is a lot to take in and I’ve only barely scratched the surface here in this post. I believe the dove in the context of Nephi’s vision is a veiled reference to Heavenly Mother which in turn portrays a strong connection that exists between her and the Holy Spirit.

Mercy and the Mother

When Alma teaches the Zoramites the words of two prophets named Zenos and Zenock, whose writings were on the brass plates, we find the repetition of the phrase “because of thy Son” four times (Zenos 3, Zenock 1) in conjunction with mercy and judgment.

Zenos states that “…it is because of thy Son that thou hast been thus merciful unto me…” (Alma 33:11) and notes that mercy turns away judgment because of the Son “…thou hast turned thy judgments away from me, because of thy Son. … Thou hast turned away thy judgments because of thy Son.” (Alma 33:11,13)

Zenock states “they will not understand thy mercies which thou hast bestowed upon them because of thy Son.” (Alma 33:16) The testimonies of Zenos and Zenock illustrate the connections between judgment, mercy, and the Son which seems to parallel a future discourse from Alma where he explains justice, (judgment) mercy, and the atonement.

Alma explains that the resurrection will bring us back into the presence of God “to be judged according to their works, according to the law and justice.” (Alma 42:23) There is a connection here between judgment and justice. Now observe when Alma explains to his son Corianton “For behold, justice exerciseth all his demands, and also mercy claimeth all which is her own…” (Alma 42:24) and “…mercy cometh because of the atonement…” (vs.23)

The word atonement is connected to mercy by Alma the same way the Son is connected to mercy by Zenos and Zenock. From Alma, we see justice (judgment) represented as masculine (his) while mercy is feminine, (her). If you turn back to the vision of Nephi, you see a tree and fruit and then a virgin and a child. Mercy and the atonement could be synonymous with the Mother and the Son while justice and judgment could represent the Father.

Justice/Judgment = the Father
Mercy = the Mother
Atonement = the Son

In Lehi’s vision, he wanders for hours in darkness until “I began to pray unto the Lord that he would have mercy on me, according to the multitude of his tender mercies.” (1 Nephi 8:) After he prays he notices a large field and then he says “I beheld a tree…” (vs.10)

In Nephi’s vision it isn’t the fruit but the tree (mercy) that he says “… is the love of God, which sheddeth itself abroad in the hearts of the children of men; wherefore, it is the most desirable above all things.” (vs.22)

While the tree is synonymous with Mary, it doesn’t make sense that this mortal Mary would be the “love of God.” I propose that the love of God is associated with mercy, the Spirit, the baptism of fire and rebirth. I think that Nephi was shown Mary as a mother to understand the meaning of the tree, so he would be prepared to make a connection with Jesus’ condescension, rebirth, and the meaning of the dove and the Holy Spirit.

Birth is a female act, and it always seemed weird to me that baptism and rebirth are connected with Jesus who is a male. When you think about it though, the ordinance of immersion in water is not the rebirth we are promised; it is just a symbolic act. The real rebirth involves a baptism by fire and the Holy Ghost; the atonement of Christ makes mercy possible. Could it be then that our second birth involves our Heavenly Mother?

After all, Jesus doesn’t just materialize out of thin air, he comes forth from a mother, and at his rebirth, the Holy Ghost comes down from heaven in the form of a dove/mother/goddess symbol. Perhaps the lesson here is that all births involve mothers, even our spiritual rebirth.

I believe that the love of God that Nephi refers to is the baptism of fire, the gift of the Holy Ghost/Spirit (ruach, a feminine word in Hebrew). Nephi and the angel mention a few items of note in their exchange, take a look:

“Knowest thou the meaning of the tree which thy father saw? And I answered him, saying: Yea, it is the love of God, which sheddeth itself abroad in the hearts of the children of men; wherefore, it is the most desirable above all things. And he spake unto me, saying: Yea, and the most joyous to the soul. (1 Nephi 11:21-23)

Three elements stuck out to me:

  1. Shedding abroad in the heart
  2. Joy
  3. Soul

The love of God is being projected outward into the heart, is desirable and brings joy to the soul which sounds like an exact description of what the Spirit does. Note the following verses of scripture and the themes of filling, joy, the Spirit, fire and being born of God:

“…the fruit […] was most sweet, above all that I ever before tasted. […] And as I partook of the fruit thereof it filled my soul with exceedingly great joy…” (1 Nephi 8:11-12)

“And behold, I say unto you that if ye do this ye shall always rejoice, and be filled with the love of God, and always retain a remission of your sins;” (Mosiah 4:12)

“…my soul was filled with joy […] there can be nothing so exquisite and sweet as was my joy. […] …that I might bring them to taste of the exceeding joy of which I did taste; that they might also be born of God, and be filled with the Holy Ghost.” (Alma 36:20-21,24)

“…they were filled with that joy which is unspeakable and full of glory. […] the Holy Spirit of God did come down from heaven, and did enter into their hearts, and they were filled as if with fire…” (Helaman 5:44-45)

It seems very clear that there are connections between all of these themes. When you associate Nephi’s vision with these other verses and consider the feminine/mother elements introduced with the tree, virgin, and dove, I believe that there is a distinct divine feminine influence which possibly points to our Heavenly Mother.

Final thoughts

In the Godhead, we have a Father, Son, and a… “Holy Spirit,” or ruach hakodesh (the word ruach being feminine, remember). The identity of this holy spirit is a mystery, and we know very little about them. In the King James New Testament, we see the holy ghost and holy spirit mentioned. First off, the Greek word pneúma is neuter and has no gender; secondly, there is just that one word that the English translators rendered as either “ghost” or “spirit.” Those translators also imposed a “he” upon the spirit instead of the neutral “it” as it was in the Greek. Both ruach and pneúma mean “wind” or “breath” and holy refers to something being consecrated or set apart for a special purpose.

What if one day the Godhead was revealed to consist of the Father, Son, and Mother? It would make a lot of sense on one level, but we can’t go around claiming something that is currently unknown and unrevealed no matter how valid we think it might be. For example, I was tempted to include one of my theories here, but I don’t want to write convincingly about an idea potentially littered with false doctrine.

Evidence appears to show some connection between the Holy Spirit and Heavenly Mother. However, this doesn’t necessarily mean that the Holy Spirit is or must be our Mother or even a female. All I can say at this point is that there are many connections and parallels but no definitive answers as to what they ultimately mean.

The idea is tempting because I think we are all curious as to what Heavenly Mother’s role is and what she’s been doing this whole time. The word “mother” holds a tender place in the consciousness of humanity. While we know far more about the Father and Son, I think we would like to know more about her too.

As these connections are explored, I think it is helpful to note that our heavenly parents are one and that they both love and cherish us. I think they are both more involved in our lives that we perceive and I hope for the day when everything is clear.

Until then, the scriptures unveil satisfying little treasures while reminding us how little we know and understand about the big picture.