Idolatry How Some Object or Text Discovered Term Paper

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idolatry: How some object or text discovered by archeologists, or some other type of cultural or literary parallel, enhances our understanding of something in Exodus


Idolatry in the ancient Near East -- a non-Exodus Perspective

Over the course of the past several decades in modernity, numerous objects as well as the actual substances of texts discovered by archaeologists, have contributed to the modern understanding of the characterization of so-called 'idol worship' in Exodus as well as other Hebrew texts, texts that have come to have been canonized as 'The Hebrew Bible," as referred to by members of the Jewish religion, or 'The Old Testament,' as such books are frequently referred to by members of the Christian faith.

Up until this point in time, the way that ancient Israelites perceived idol worship held dominance how the people who worshipped idols saw idol worship. However, the Bible frequently mischaracterizes these other people's rationale for worshipping idols on purpose. One must always remember that the Bible is a historical argument and a collection of cultural mythology for a particular view of the divine, a nation, and a people, at a historical point in time, and attempt to understand, from the point-of-view and examples of people in other civilizations, who valued the ability of idols to make contributions to their religious experiences.

This paper will give particular importance to the role materials in idolatry and how idolaters can view materials as being capable of containing something that is divine. The materials themselves, it must be stressed, were viewed, much like the human flesh and human condition in general, as corruptible. However, how idolaters through ritual, such as mouth-opening ceremonies and other ceremonies were used to bring divine spirits into an idol, making the divine manifest in the physical -- a belief phenomenon with cross-cultural significance and presence, it should be noted.

Through the use of argument and example, this paper will demonstrate that the so-called idolaters of the ancient world did not believe that if the idol was destroyed, the God was destroyed or that a god could only be housed in one idol, despite attempts to portray idolatrous views in such a fashion. Idolaters became characterized as such, however, because of the ancient Israelites moving from certain types of worship and their adaptation to temple-era Judaism. This paper does not mean to function as a condemnation of the Biblical view, merely a statement why such views exist and may not represent the reality of the ancient world. The silenced views of history, or history's ideological 'loser' need to be heard, in comparison to the now predominant the ancient Israelite's evolving viewpoint on the issue.

Works Cited and Referenced

Anderson, Gary. "Introduction to Israelite Religion." Abington Press, 1993.

Asch, Sholem. The Nazarene. London, 1939.

Athenagoras' Plea." From Early Christian Fathers, edited by Cyril C. Richardson. New York, Macmillan.

Budge, E.A. Walls. The Liturgy of Funerary Offerings.

Casson, Lionel. Selected Satires of Lucian. W.W. Norton & Co., 1962.

Childs, B. Introduction to the Old Testament as Scripture.

Douglas, Mary. "The Pangolin Revisited." Routledge Press.

Exodus. Oxford Annotated Bible. Norton, 1997.

Helmbold, A.K. "Gods-false." From Wycliffe Bible Encyclopedia Vol.1, Moody Press, 1975.

Hennessey, B. Palestine Exploration Quarterly. 1966.

Jeremiah. Oxford Annotated Bible. Norton, 1997.

Kitchen, K.A. "Calf, Golden." New Bible Dictionary. Second Edition.

Kugel, J.L. Early Biblical Interpretation. Chapter 1, pp.8-10.

Levinson, J. Sinai and Zion.

Leviticus. Oxford Annotated Bible. Norton, 1997.

Monolotry." Webster's Dictionary, 1913.

Monotheism." Webster's Dictionary, 1913.

Nahum. "Israel in Egypt." From Ancient Israel. Edited by H. Shanks, pp. 31-52, and 241-243.

Sheed, Frank J. "Transubstantiation." From Theology for Beginners. 1981. Chapter 18.

Rendsburg, Gary. "The Early History of Israel." From Crossing Boundaries and Linking Horizons, ed. Gordon D. Young, et al. (1997), pp. 433-453.

Tauber, Yanki. "The Rabbi and the Ox." Chabad Press. 2004.


This paper stands as a contention with conventional historical wisdom regarding what supposedly 'everyone knows' regarding idolatry. It attempts to present Near Eastern idolatry from the idolater's point-of-view, encompassing ancient Egyptian Isis worship and also the Baal cult.

This paper does not attempt to refute the more commonly accepted notions of Near Eastern religious faith, as generated by the Hebrew Bible, however. Rather, it attempts to provide a greater understanding of the energetic and profound rejection of the ancient Hebrews of the concept of investing 'idols' or statues with theological significance.

It attempts to show that this rejection sprung not from the profound differences between Israeli religion of the ancient near East and its neighbors, but of the great similarities between the different cultic practices of Israel, Egypt, and what used to be Canaan.

No Other Gods Before Me?

Near Eastern religion 'idolatry' -- a historically rehabilitative retrospective


The 'winners' write history. This commonly recited truism is reflected not simply in our own modern history, but perhaps even more strikingly, when viewed with the careful eye of the historian and archeologist, in the historical past of the Near East and its legacy in modern faith. 'Idolatry' is a word that conjures up, in many individual's minds, the image of the fatted golden calf in the Technicolor version of the Old Testament, as cast by Hollywood. However, to accept such a characterization of the real practice of idolatry, so-called, would be as schematic as assuming that Moses had the appearance of Charlton Heston. (Kitchen, 160) The condemnation of idolatry in the Bible, which was to later be taken up in both Talmudic teaching and Early Christian writing, has its roots in political as well as theological norms of Temple Judaism and often results in an overly simplistic understanding of the beliefs of those whom made material objects a central part of their cultic and national practices.

Critical Perspective

Idolatry was thus a far more complex system of practice and belief in the ancient world than simply the worshipping of golden calves. It is unfortunate, to some extent that the word 'idol' itself has little translation lacking a pejorative context today. Firstly, it is important to remember that the investment of power into the physical was not a practice that was confined to the pagan world alone during the time and period in which the Hebraic scriptures were written and later fused together in a crafted Exodus narrative. There are vestiges of the investiture of the physical with the spiritual through human ritual and action, of this idea even in the religious practices that remain within the Judeo-Christian tradition today.

Perhaps the investiture of the physical and the material with transcendental power is most notably evidenced in the Catholic doctrine of transubstantiation, where the host is supposed to, within the context of the Mass, become the flesh of the divine. However, such a practice of using the material as a way of accessing the divine may even be found in the marking out of foods as kosher or non-kosher. (Sheed, Chapter 18) Through the investment and categorization of physical substances, the divine is accessed through religious practice and human interactions with material substances. (Tauber, 2004).

Israeli Religion

It is also noteworthy that in ancient Israel, he temple itself was constructed in a highly schematized fashion, reflecting the importance of practice. "Just as the world was created in seven days, so also the Temple was created over seven years. These cycles of seven obviously serve to correlate Temple building with the construction of the world," and the observing of the rhythms of the Sabbath through a temporal, seven-day weekly structure of accessing the divine through time, rather than through material practices. (Anderson, 278). Rituals and sacrifices pertaining to the material substances of the temple, moreover, were to "help concretize the manner in which the deity is truly present in the human community." (Anderson, 279)

Mary Douglas has observed, anthropologically, that across cultures, where there is so-called category confusion of ambiguous appearing animals and substances, theological prescriptions are often given against these physical entities. The prescription or confusion of the pig leads to its prohibition in eating, creating a custom through the sacred act of eating and not eating. The confusion of the crafted idol or symbol creates a confusion of what is 'real' that is resolved through creative ritual acts, of investing the physical statue or ritual space with religious power during the context of ritual acts in time.

Thus why, in the context of the ancient Near East, did such category confusion become endemic to an 'us vs. them' attitude in regards to idols? It is true that the satirist Lucian frequently made humorous capital over-credulous investiture of different religious groups' faith in physical objects fashioned by human beings. Thus, such a questioning was not unheard of during the period. However, even Greek and Roman critics of their fellow religionists use of idols in national religions did not see such an investiture as actually dangerous, as is suggested in the Biblical narratives. (Casson, 1962)

In contrast, however the Early Christian father took up the classic Israelite argument against idolatry and used them to encourage Christians to refuse…

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