Term Paper: Idolatry: How Some Object

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[. . .] " (Athenagoras Plea, 313). The theme of reaction against something similar, as evidenced in the later Christian characterizations of idolatry, gives some clue as to why the Israelites reacted so strongly against what they termed to be idol worship.

Some Answers

Why then, such a strident stance against idolatry within the Hebrew Scriptures? Some of the fear and hatred surrounding idolatry in the ancient Hebrew Literature undoubtedly has its roots in the fears regarding child sacrifice and the significance of statues in the worship in the religion the Israelite nation was breaking-off from. In nearby Canaan, child sacrifices offered to Moloch in connection with vows and solemn promises. (Asch, 1961).

The presence of child sacrifice is not simply later, blind historical condemnation. Archeologically, "two outstanding features associated with the use of the temple were the enormous quantities of animal, bird and human bones and the abundant evidence of fire...There can be little doubt that the temple was associated with a fire cult," where human and animal remains were sacrificed to fire. "At least 75% of them (the bones found) belong to children between the ages of 3 and 14, or thereabouts." (Hennessey 161-162).

However, the hatred of idolatry did not merely have to do with the despising of opposing cults located in various areas, nor of such abhorrent cultic practices the emerging Israeli religion and nation were attempting to reject. As noted by the scholar J.L. Kugel in his work, in later works of Biblical interpretation, such as the prophetic calls of Jeremiah and Ezekiel, the function of the Biblical scroll or written word of the Torah came into increasing prominence. This is significant because, in both 'call' narratives of these prophets, when God's word is put into the prophet's mouth, these stories can be seen as direct parallels with the so-called 'mouth opening' ceremonies of the idol-worshippers in the Isis cults, and other cults of the ancient world. Only in the 'call' narratives of the prophets, the scroll replaces the opening of the manufactured mouth of the statue with a human mouth.

In the case of statues of gods" ceremonies of the Egyptian Isis cult were "generally performed in the House of Gold, i.e. The atelier of the sculptor and goldsmith. The eyes and mouth were 'cut' open with a setep adze, thus enabling the god to see, speak and eat, and at the same time enabling all the other senses as well. The psS-kf (pesesh-kaf) was possibly used to cut the statue's umbilical cord symbolically, the last act of giving birth. In the Pyramid Texts it is used to prepare the mouth: 'O King, I fasten for you your jaws which were divided - psS-kf.'" (Budge, Funerary Offerings)

The significance of the mouth-opening in the Isis ceremony, however, was not to simply assume what was physical and material, and thus dissoluble, was divine, as was charged by some critics. Rather, it was to show that the ritual space of the idol itself, where the transformation or bridging between the material and the spiritual world took, conferred upon the gold object an added significance, because of its location in sacred space. The Israelite religion rejected such notions of sacred space transforming material objects such as gold, conferring significance instead upon what was to become known as the Torah and the Temple structure. The Bible shows (Jeremiah 15:16) in such examples, according to Kugel, a refashioning from the physical to the verbal prophetic anecdotes, and also reflects the need to 'rewrite' the Israelite's religious tradition through such radical rejections of earlier formative religious texts.

Rejection of the Familiar and the Past -- A New Judaism

Thus, the condemnation of idolatry and the rendering of idolatry as a schematic, theological alternative to the Israeli state religion does not showing in the Biblical condemnation of idolatry a dislike not only of 'othered' peoples in the Near Eastern world, but a sincere attempt to reject a past religious tradition of one's neighbors and a way of refashioning of the ancient Israeli experience as well.

At the time of the construction of the Exodus narrative, Israeli state religion had undergone a profound shift. The famous phrase to "turn ye not unto idols, nor make to yourselves molten gods. I am the Lord your God," established a new fashion of reckoning the divine in temple-era Judaism, where the word rather than the image was paramount. (Leviticus 19:4) It also illustrated that the Israeli tradition was now a monotheistic one that allowed only for the real existence of one God, as opposed to the mere assertion that the Israeli God was superior to other Gods

Final Caution

In Exodus 15:11, the song sung by the Israelites, asking who of "our Lord" is better" among the Gods" suggests a sense that there are other gods present in the world, albeit not superior to their own, liberating force. (Anderson, 273) "Although it does not rule out the theoretical possibility that other gods might exist, it asserts as a practical orientation the fact that only one god can be worshipped," (Anderson 276) and that god is to be worshipped in a special fashion. In stories of Baal, a storm-like God of the Canaanites who defeats the chaos of that eventually gives birth to humanity, some scholars believe that Psalm 29 was originally a hymn to that God that was later adapted by Israelites, changing the name of the god to their own. (Anderson, 274). This sense of closeness of other faiths and possible competition intensified the need to reject other religions of 'idolatry.'

At all times, "the study of Israelite religion should be distinguished from Biblical theology." (Anderson, 1993, 272). In other words, the history of Biblical Israel differs from the study of the Bible as a canonical text today. The intensity of the rejection of other religions should not be read as a condemnation of Israeli temple Judaism. Rather, it is an acknowledgement of the creative religious dynamic that existed at the time. The Israeli religion was to replace the sacred space of the idolized body with the body of the temple, and the ritual rhythms of investing the material substance of idols with the sacred space and temporal, seasonal rituals of sacrifice and the replacement of sacrifice with animal, rather than human offerings, is often taken to be the essential narrative of the Abraham myth.

Sacrifice has also provided, in a highly public manner, the ability to dramatize the service of a people to God. Perhaps, in contrast to such mouth-opening ceremonies, where the… [END OF PREVIEW]

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