Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Graven Images and Idols

Alice C. Linsley

The Second Commandment forbids the making of images for the people of Israel. The Second Commandment is: “You shall not make for yourself a carved image, or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth. You shall not bow down to them or serve them.”

Note the specification of things in heaven above, things beneath the earth, and things in the water under the earth. The description of the earth at the center with the firmament (waters) above and the firmament (waters) below comes from Genesis 1. The things above and the things below are hidden from us or only partially known. They cannot be adequately represented by any image that even the most talented artist could create. Any attempt to show an image of these things fails. It always misses the mark, falling short of the glory of God.

Abraham's people understood this. That is why they used the sun as an emblem of the Creator and did not worship the sun. The sun was portrayed as serving God as a solar boat, and later as YHWY's chariot. The overshadowing of the ruler by the sun meant his divine appointment. This was indicated by the Y, the long horns of the Ankole cow in which the sun rests. This is why so many of the Horite rulers have names beginning with Y in Hebrew: Yishmael, Yitzak, Yacob, Yosef, Yisbak, Yaqtan and Yeshua are examples.

According to Exodus, the Israelites asked the ruler-priest Aaron to create a graven image (Hebrew: pesel) for them. Aaron apparently was one of the members of the priestly caste trained in metal work. The image he formed of gold incorporated the sun and would have looked like the image below.

Pope Benedict
elevating a monstrance

The Horites understood this image to be a representation of the divine overshadowing of Hathor, the mother of Horus. Her animal totem was the long-horned cow and she was often depicted with a crown of horns in which the Sun rests, as a sign of her divine appointment. She was not to be worshiped; just as Christians are not to worship the Virgin Mary. She is venerated, that is, held in high honor, but not worshiped. This distinction is a difficult one for Protestants of Puritan backgrounds. The Puritans sought to strip the churches of "papist" trappings such as crosses, statues, icons, stained glass windows, montrances, and vestments. The oldest churches in England were targeted by the Puritans under Oliver Cromwell and thousands of these sacred objects were destroyed or, in the case of valuable metals and gems, they were re-purposed. Such valuable items helped to fund Cromwell's wars in Scotland and Ireland. The Puritans made no distinction between veneration and worship of holy images. They considered all Roman practices to be idolatrous.

The Puritans were not the first to react against holy images. In the eight and ninth centuries, the Eastern Church suffered a similar attack by the Iconoclasts, or Image-breakers. (Eikonoklasmos or Iconoclasm means "image-breaking.")

Before the Iconoclasts, there were the Deuteronomists. The Deuteronomistic historians attempted to explain why God would allow his appointed people to be defeated by their enemies and to be carried into exile. To answer this question, they pointed to moral failures among the leaders of the people. The accusation that Aaron failed in righteousness likely comes from the Deuteronomist, the last known editor of the Old Testament material. The Deuteronomist also urged the breaking of images.

"... thus shall ye deal with them; ye shall destroy their altars, and break down their images, and cut down their groves, and burn their graven images with fire." Deuteronomy 7:5

Failure to do this represented moral failure on the part of Israel's rulers. The main targets to be smashed were the bamot (singular form is bamah, meaning high or exalted). These "high places" were worship sites with altars. They are mentioned in several books of the Old Testament, and especially in the Book of Kings where they play a prominent role in assessing the performance of a king. In the view of the Deuteronomistic historians failure to destroy the bamot justified the terrible treatment that the Jews received at the hands of the Babylonians, far worse than they experienced in Egypt where their rulers were recognized by the Pharaohs.

The word bamah appears in the name of Esau the Younger's wife Oholibamah. She is named six places in Genesis 36. Her name means "exalted tent" or "high tabernacle." Oholibamah is an ancestor of David. As the exalted tent, she housed the seed of Messiah through David, and her mother's name is Anah. She prefigures the Virgin Mary, whose womb became the tabernacle of the Most High God. Mary' mother's name was Anah also. Oholibamah is both David's Edomite ancestor and an archetype of the Woman in Genesis 3:15.

The Deuteronomistic history presents a religious perspective that is at odds with that of Abraham and his Horim (Horite ancestors). It moves the focus from expectation of the Righteous Ruler who would be conceived by divine overshadowing to focus on the land as belonging to Israel. This is the beginning of political Zionism.

Related reading: Fundamentalism and Sycretism in Hebrew HistoryTeraphim: Idols or Ancestral Figurines?; The Urheimat of the Canaanite Y; Boats and Cows of the Proto-Saharans; Does Political Zionism Align with the Bible?; Iconoclasm: The destruction and loss of heritage reconsidered; The Continuing Debate on Child Sacrifice


Herodotus reported that there was an annual ceremony at Sais in Lower Egypt to commemorate the divine passion of Horus, who was slain by his brother. The people mourned and beat their breasts in sorrow for the death of the son of the Creator Re.  An image of a golden cow with a golden sun between its horns was carried out of the chamber in which it stood throughout the year. In Plutarch’s time a similar ceremony took place at the winter solstice. In this ceremony the golden calf was carried seven times round the temple. People fastened rows of oil-lamps to the outside of their houses, and the lamps burned all night. This custom was observed throughout Egypt and even in the Upper Nile regions.

For a clear explanation about the Seventh Ecumenical Council and the distinction between worship and veneration see this: 

The Seventh Ecumenical Council dealt predominantly with the controversy regarding icons and their place in Orthodox worship. It was convened in Nicaea in 787 by Empress Irene at the request of Tarasios, Patriarch of Constantinople. Almost a century before this, the iconoclastic controversy had once more shaken the foundations of both Church and State in the Byzantine Empire. Excessive religious respect and the ascribed miracles to icons by some members of society, approached the point of worship (due only to God) and idolatry. This instigated excesses at the other extreme by which icons were completely taken out of the liturgical life of the Church by the Iconoclasts. The Iconophiles, on the other-hand, believed that icons served to preserve the doctrinal teachings of the Church; they considered icons to be man's dynamic way of expressing the divine through art and beauty.

The Council decided on a doctrine by which icons should be venerated but not worshiped. In answering the Empress' invitation to the Council, Pope Hadrian replied with a letter in which he also held the position of extending veneration to icons but not worship, the last befitting only God.

From here.


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  2. Wish I could join you with a good cup of java and some interesting conversation. :)

  3. He is our Sun; and "the Sun of righteousness," from whom we receive all righteousness, by imputation for justification, and by impartation for sanctification ( Ps 84:11;Mal 4:2; Rev 1:16). The Israelites made the mistake of worshiping the creation instead of the Creator (2 Ki 23:5,11-12).


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