For instance, the rhetoric of Jeremiah —16 hinges on a series of contrasts between Yahweh and human-made idols: while Yahweh establishes the world by his wisdom v.
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On the whole, the prophetic idol parodies likely are informed by legal texts that ban the production and use of cult images. In addition, many of the rhetorical arguments made in Jeremiah and Second Isaiah also seem to presuppose an awareness of specific beliefs about cult images that are found in other ancient Near Eastern religions.
On the one hand, biblical idol parodies often deride the previously discussed cf. For instance, many aspects of the prophetic critique emphasize that idols are lifeless and impotent. Isa asserts that idols "do not know, nor do they comprehend; for their eyes are shut, so that they cannot see, and their minds as well, so that they cannot understand" cf.
Ps —8. Likewise, Jeremiah's argument that idols lack the ability walk Jer is in direct contrast to Mesopotamia texts that talk about the capture and return of the cult statue of Marduk in terms of the god willingly journeying away from and then returning back to his temple in Babylon. Habakkuk claims that since "there is no breath" in the gold and silver with which idols are plated it is futile to say to the cult statue "Wake up!
The prophets also scoff at those would identify a god with its cult image. In Hos , the people swear: "We will say no more, 'Our God,' to the work of our hands. Let them come, if they can save you, in your time of trouble. In these cases, the idol parodies might overstate the extent to which ancient Near Eastern viewers identified a god with its cult statue.
In Mesopotamia and Egypt , it was not believed that there was a simple, one-to-one correspondence between reality and representation. A deity could simultaneously be represented in multiple visual forms, and no single object could manifest the full essence of a deity. Nevertheless, historical and religious texts from Egypt and Mesopotamia often refer to cult images using the name of the god itself.
In cultic settings, divine statues were treated as substitutes for the god and in the context of war , invading armies often captured and deported divine images in much the same way as they would an enemy combatant. In response to this popular view of the relationship between the deity and its image, the prophets continually reiterate that idols are nothing more than lifeless, inert objects with no connection to their God. On the other hand, biblical idol parodies also attempt to undermine the common ancient Near Eastern notion that divine statues are produced through the joint initiative of both human and divine artisans.
Mesopotamian texts affirm that it is the distinct prerogative of the gods to choose when, how, and by whom a divine statue was to be made, and as a result the creation of the image typically required consulting oracles. In the case of the cult image of Shamash, which had been destroyed by enemies, the statue could not be remade until the gods revealed to a priest a clay plaque that illustrated what the image was to look like. While these ceremonies do not deny that cult statues are made on earth, they go to great lengths to downplay and eventually annul the role of the human artisans.
For instance, at one point in the ceremony the hands of the artisans are symbolically cut off and their tools are thrown into a river. At that point, each artisan swears that they did not make the cult statue. By doing so, the statues are effectively disassociated from the earthly realm such that they can be "reborn" as the offspring of the gods. Jeremiah —16 makes a similar point by highlighting various aspects of the construction process, including how the statue is carved from tree v. Elsewhere in Second Isaiah, the prophet catalogues the various types of wood used in the construction process only later to point out that this same wood could be used to fuel a fire for the mundane tasks of cooking food or keeping warm —16 , The overarching argument of these and other idol parodies is to demonstrate cult statues are mere earthy creations, no more linked to the heavenly realm than the raw materials from which they are made.
Thus, of the person who falls down in worship before a block of wood or a sculpted stone, the prophet concludes: "a deluded mind has led him astray" Isa Whether it is through the analysis of a large corpus of images, a certain pictorial motif, or even an individual art object, an increasing number of biblical scholars are integrating visual evidence into various aspects of religio-historical research. This section briefly highlights three avenues of research that draw upon ancient images, indicating in each case how visual data contributes to new understandings of Israelite religion.
Since the early s a network of scholars in both Europe and North American have begun to develop a method of study known as "biblical iconography. In this volume, Keel explores how literary imagery in the Psalter might be related to or influenced by iconographic motifs found in ancient art objects. Years before, scholars such as Hugo Gressman Altorientalische Bilder zum Alten Testament , and James Pritchard The Ancient Near East in Pictures Relating to the Old Testament ,  , utilized ancient images to illustrate biblical passages that featured similar themes, subject matters, or motifs.
While Keel follows a similar trajectory, he offers a more rigorous approach that seeks to explore how ANE iconography can further inform our understanding of the conceptual background of the biblical world. As such, Keel organizes Symbolism around six recurring themes e. For example, in his discussion of music and song in the Psalter and ANE iconography, Keel interprets the words of Psalm "Yet you are holy, enthroned on the praises of Israel" in light of a Persepolis wall relief that shows the throne of the king being lifted up by 14 individuals, who, according to their distinctive dress and head coverings, represent the diverse peoples of the empire.
Regarding the congruence of image and text, Keel concludes, "Just as the Persian king is enthroned on the loyalty of his subjects, so Yahweh is enthroned on the recognition and praise of Israel" Keel: , In this and other instances, Keel contends that biblical scholars can gain greater awareness of the concepts that inform figurative language in the psalms by analyzing prominent themes in ANE iconography. Since the publication of Symbolism , a growing network of scholars known as the "Fribourg School" due to their connection to Keel at the University of Fribourg have done much to further advance the methods and applications of biblical iconography.
Two specific developments should be noted. First, in the past two decades, biblical scholars have established more sophisticated methodological techniques for studying the relationship between ANE art and the Hebrew Bible. On the one hand, when it comes to establishing which images and texts are related, early work in biblical iconography tended to compare small fragments of an image say, a drawing of an archer from within a larger composition that depicts a battle scene and isolated biblical phrases or verses.
However, biblical scholars are now offering broader contextual analyses that attempt to establish points of similarity or congruence between ever-larger constellations of literary imagery and iconographic motifs. This perspective is especially evident in the work of Joel LeMon b , who analyzes the congruency between a collection of ANE images associated with the winged sun disk and the complex literary descriptions of Yahweh's winged form found in six specific psalms. On the other hand, in terms of explaining how a given image and text are related, biblical scholars no longer think that ANE images simply illustrates biblical scenes like drawings in a "picture Bible" or conversely, that biblical texts explicitly attempt to describe the appearance of certain art objects.
Rather, scholars now imagine the correlation of image and text in terms of a more indirect relationship. For instance, biblical scholar Brent Strawn suggests that images and texts can function as dual "reflexes" of the same underlying message and ANE art historian Irene Winter emphasizes that images and texts should be understood as two independent, though parallel and reinforcing, vehicles of communication.
One of the implications of this perspective is that ANE art should be studied on its own terms by using a full array of analytical tools, including well-established art historical principles, careful archaeological evaluation, and thoughtful reflection on visual theory.
As a result of these developments in how scholars understand image-text congruence and image-text correlation, the biblical iconographic method has been able to more precisely characterize the relationship between ANE art and the Hebrew Bible. Second, biblical scholars are now increasingly utilizing ANE iconography, especially in the form of the minor arts, as a primary resource for reconstructing the history of Israelite religion. In fact, some scholars have gone so far as to describe "text-alone" approaches to religio-historical research as working with a puzzle that is missing many of its pieces.
From this vantage point, images constitute a valuable witness to the past, especially since they provide evidence of ideas or practices that are not explicitly mentioned in the Hebrew Bible. As vehicles of communication, images function as a type of "guide fossil" for how ancient Israelites conceptualized the divine and negotiated other aspects of religious experience. One of the most important investigations of the role of images in Israelite religion is found in Othmar Keel and Christoph Uehlinger's Gods, Goddesses, and Images of God .
In addition to cataloguing prominent trends in glyptic materials, Keel and Uehlinger address how information gleaned from ancient art can further inform our understanding of various aspects of Israelite religion, including the development of monotheism, the presence of the goddess, the emergence of the image-ban, and the role of solar imagery and the asherah in Israelite worship. The next two sections more explicitly address two important—and somewhat controversial—topics involving the intersection of images and Israelite religion.
Based primarily on texts in the Hebrew Bible that ban the production and use of divine images cf. Yet how exactly do scholars define aniconism and to what extent does this concept accurately characterize the nature of Israelite religion? In certain instances, aniconism is used in a general sense to refer to a culture or religion that lacks visual imagery entirely.
When applied to Israelite religion, this definition implies that the Second Commandment and other image-ban texts restrict all artistic production among the Israelite people, and later, early Jewish and Christian communities. This perspective is evident as early as the writings of the Roman historian Tacitus in the 1st century CE and has persisted in many academic circles until quite recently. However prominent this understanding of aniconism has been, art historian David Freedberg claims that it is based on "a deep and persistent historiographic myth" that runs counter to what is known from both history and experience Freedberg: , Freedberg demonstrates that even monotheistic religions, such as Judaism and Christianity, make use of certain types of visual materials.
This is certainly true of Israelite religion as well. The archaeological record of Syria-Palestine makes it clear that images were used as a vehicle of communication in ancient Israel and that visual objects were often incorporated into various aspects of religious experience. For instance, the temple was adorned with ornate columns, latticework, precious metals, floral designs, and animal figures. The cherubim throne , an ark, a golden menorah , an altar, the table for the bread of Presence, basins, bowls, and various other instruments could be found within the walls of the sanctuary.
The priests wore elaborately embroidered garments and the prophets describe spectacular visions of the deity and perform dramatic symbolic acts in public view. Thus, however the image-ban is defined and whenever it first emerged, many aspects of Israelite religion continued to be experienced with the eyes and absorbed through the senses.
In light of these observations, it is best to understand Israel's aniconic tradition as only pertaining to certain types of images, not the visual arts more broadly. Mettinger defines aniconism in a way that attempts to delineate between acceptable and unacceptable ways of depicting the deity. Specifically, Mettinger claims that aniconism refers to a type of religion in which there are no iconic representations of the deity. Drawing on the semiotic theory of Charles Sanders Peirce, Mettinger describes an iconic representation as one that aims to capture, or copy, the deity's appearance in a naturalistic fashion, typically in anthropomorphic form.
Images that are not iconic i. These latter types of images typically take the form of either indexical signs that indicate their referent through causal associations or metonymic extensions i. In Mettinger's estimation, these latter two types of images were permitted in most stages of Israelite history. Put simply, Israelite aniconism is as much about the presence of some types of images as it is about the absence of others.
However, even this narrower definition of aniconism requires further qualification if it is to accurately describe the nature of Israelite worship. For one, Israel's aniconic tradition most likely developed over time, progressing from a nonexclusive preference for aniconic representations of Yahweh in the pre-exilic period what Mettinger calls " de facto aniconism" to more explicit strictures that demanded an imageless cult in the exilic or postexilic period i.
As a result, Israelite religion was never essentially or exclusively aniconic from a diachronic perspective. In addition, aniconic tendencies are not necessarily a unique characteristic of Israelite religion. Comparative research reveals that during certain time periods other East and West Semitic religious traditions relied on indexical and conventional signs to represent their gods. Thus, while Israel's predilection for aniconic images of their deity is certainly pronounced, it is not completely without precedent in the ancient world.
Furthermore, it is important to note that aniconic preferences in certain forms of art do not always directly correlate with cultic practices. For instance, even though ancient Israel shows a clear preference for nonanthropomorphic imagery in glyptic engraved materials throughout much of the Iron Age , a variety of anthropomorphic objects, such as metal statuary and terracotta figurines, continued to be produced and used during this same time period.
Since these latter objects are more likely to reflect developments in the cultic sphere, it is possible that ancient Israelites utilized iconic objects in religious practices even as they preferred aniconic depictions on seals and amulets. A similar phenomenon occurred in Iron Age Mesopotamia, where conventional symbols were widely used to represent deities on seals, standing stones, and wall reliefs while anthropomorphic cult statues continued to play a central role in the context of temple worship.pierreducalvet.ca/1331.php
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Finally, even though iconic and aniconic images signify in different ways, it should be emphasized that aniconic art objects are no less material—and indeed no less visual—than iconic ones. Thus, no matter how the image-ban was understood, Israelite religion was never solely dependent on words and creeds. Rather, as is the case in many contemporary contexts, religion in ancient Israel was routinely expressed and mediated through images and visual culture.
Arguably the most debated issue in the study of Israelite religion is whether or perhaps when ancient Israel had images of Yahweh. Numerous studies have attempted to evaluate both direct and indirect evidence for the existence of Yahweh's image during the pre-monarchic, monarchic, and even postexilic periods. While space prohibits an extensive review of even the most widely discussed evidence for Yahweh's image, it will be instructive to highlight several potentially compelling candidates in the search process.
The search for Yahweh's image traditionally has entailed the close analysis of diverse artifacts from Iron Age Syria-Palestine. While many of these objects seem to have played an important role in the cultic sphere and at least a few of them are thought to be closely associated with the deity, it is not possible to establish that any of these objects were originally meant to depict Yahweh.
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One side of this object, which is known as Pithos A figure 6 , features two central figures, presumably a male and a female, flanked to the right by a figure playing the harp. A Hebrew inscription overlaps with the upper portion of the larger figure's headdress and reads in part "Yahweh of Samaria and his Asherah. As tantalizing as this possibility is, art historical and iconographic considerations suggest otherwise.
Not only do many scholars agree that the two central creatures are best identified as Bes-like figures, but they also suggest that the image and inscription should be disassociated from one another since the latter was likely added at some later time. Although Uehlinger is optimistic that this artifact might represent what Pithos A from Kuntillet 'Ajrud does not—an 8th century depiction of Yahweh and his Asherah—the damaged condition and overall lack of detail of this artifact makes it difficult to draw any firm conclusions.
In addition, ambiguities regarding certain objects' original function can further complicate the search for Yahweh's image. As one example, even though some ANE deities could be shown in theriomorphic form, it is possible that the animal figurines found in the archaeological record of Syria-Palestine were not utilized as images of Yahweh, but rather were presented to Yahweh as a votive offering or alternatively functioned as pedestals for the invisible deity i.
For all of these reasons, the material evidence for the existence of divine images in pre-exilic Israel is promising, but ultimately inconclusive from a strictly iconographic perspective. Nevertheless, this observation does not by itself prove that ancient Israel lacked divine images. In fact, in other ANE cultures, divine statues, which were often made from precious metals, were often the target of theft and looting and thus are only infrequently attested in the archaeological record. If a similar situation obtained in ancient Israel, then the absence of archaeological evidence of Yahweh's image should not necessarily be seen as evidence of its historical absence.
In fact, some biblical scholars have attempted to infer the existence of Israelite divine images apart from concrete archaeological data. For instance, Karel van der Toorn reasons that while in Deuteronomy the ark is consistently described as a box which contains the covenant tablets Deut , 5 , at an earlier point in Israelite history the ark actually was used to store an image or symbol of Yahweh. Likewise, some scholars have suggested that the holy of holies in the Second Temple was not, as Josephus suggests War 5. Though intriguing, these two suggestions remain largely unsubstantiated.
Much of the same can be said of Herbert Niehr's view that certain expressions in the Hebrew Bible, such as references to seeing Yahweh's face, the procession of God into the sanctuary, and the enthronement of the deity in the temple, are most naturally understood as implying the existence of Yahweh's cult statue in ancient Israel Niehr in van der Toorn: It is not necessarily the case that anthropomorphic language about God implies the existence of an anthropomorphic cult statuary.
Still others have looked to Assyrian royal inscriptions and palace wall-reliefs for indirect evidence that the Israelites had divine images of Yahweh. In both written and pictorial accounts of Neo-Assyrian military campaigns, references are made to soldiers removing cult statuary as booty from Syro-Palestinian cities. Though it is certainly plausible that these materials bear witness to the existence of anthropomorphic divine images in Israel, one cannot fully rule out the possibility that the capture of cult statues was a stock element in the iconography of Assyrian conquest or a literary topos in Assyrian royal inscriptions.
Thus, while ANE sources are surely important in the study of Israelite religion, even these materials do not provide decisive evidence for the existence of Yahweh's image. Even though there is no definitive archaeological or iconographic evidence for the existence of Yahweh's image in ancient Israel, there is still some reason to believe that ancient Israelites encountered Yahweh in and through the visual arts.
This possibility comes into view when one considers not only what ancient images looked like but also how they were responded to in certain situations. For instance, while few contemporary scholars would classify the ark as an image of Yahweh, it is nevertheless the case that ancient viewers often treated this object as a functional equivalent of a divine image.
This is especially evident in 1 Samuel 4—6 where the ark seems to manifest the presence and power of Yahweh during the on-going conflict between the Israelites and the Philistines. In other texts in the Hebrew Bible, the ark appears to be an extension of Yahweh's essence or agency: it led the Israelites in their wilderness wanderings Num ; it was used as a war palladium Num ; 1 Sam —9 ; it entered the Jordan ahead of the Israelites and held back its waters Josh ; and it is displayed in cultic processions 2 Sam 6 ; 1 Kgs 8 ; Pss 24 , 47 , 68 , In these and other cases, the ark functions in many of the same ways as anthropomorphic divine images in other ANE cultures.
This example demonstrates that an object's appearance does not necessarily tell the whole story about how it was thought to relate to the deity. As a result, determining whether or not a given object qualifies as an image of Yahweh not only entails iconographic and archaeological analyses, but also careful attention to how those objects were responded to and put to use by ancient viewers.
All Rights Reserved. Subscriber Services Contact Us Help. Images and the Image-Ban in the Hebrew Bible and Israelite Religion Ryan Bonfiglio Emory University Introduction The study of the Hebrew Bible and Israelite Religion has traditionally focused on the interpretation of written materials, whether in the form of ancient inscriptions, historical records, or Scripture itself.
The following outline organizes the major issues covered in this thematic guide: 1.
Images in the Ancient World a. Types of Images b. Use in Worship c. Images as Media 2. Images and the Image-Ban in the Hebrew Bible a. Overview of Terms and Perspectives b. Idol Parodies in Prophetic Literature 3. Images and the Study of Israelite Religion a. Biblical Iconography b. Israel's Aniconic Tradition c. The Search for Yahweh's Image 4. Resources for Further Research 1. Images in the Ancient World Before turning to specific questions about images in the Hebrew Bible and Israelite religion, it will be necessary to provide some background information concerning the role, importance, and function of visual materials in the ancient world more broadly.
Types of Images By far the most abundant type of image found in the archaeological record of Syria-Palestine and the rest of the ancient Near East are seal impressions.
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Figure 1. A bronze cast of a Hebrew seal. The original, which is now lost, was found at Megiddo and dates to the 8th century BCE. The seal was approximately 3 cm [1. The inscription reads: "Belonging to Shema, servant of Jeroboam. Figure 2. King Ashurnasirpal hunting lions, a lion leaping at the king's chariot.
British Museum, London. Figure 3. Representation of Nabonidus r. Cyrus the Great r. Winged bull with a human head, guardian figure from the gate of the palace of Sargon II. Dated to the second half of the 8th century BCE. Figure 5. A silver-plated bronze bull about 10 cm [4 in] high with a pottery shrine. Found in the city of Ashkelon, 16th c. Use in Worship Divine images played a central role in the religious life and experience of most ANE cultures. Images as Media While there is some evidence from Mesopotamian texts that ancient viewers contemplated certain aspects of an image's artistic design, craftsmanship, and beauty, ANE cultures did not have a clearly defined sense of the "fine arts" or even the creation of art "for art's sake.
Images and the Image-Ban in the Hebrew Bible In contrast to most ancient Near Eastern religious and historical sources, the Hebrew Bible maintains a rather skeptical view of divine visual representations. Overview of Terms and Perspectives The Hebrew Bible uses a variety of different terms to refer to images.
Idol Parodies in Prophetic Literature Within prophetic literature, Jeremiah and Second Isaiah are well known for their polemical critique of idols cf. Images and the Study of Israelite Religion Whether it is through the analysis of a large corpus of images, a certain pictorial motif, or even an individual art object, an increasing number of biblical scholars are integrating visual evidence into various aspects of religio-historical research. Biblical Iconography Since the early s a network of scholars in both Europe and North American have begun to develop a method of study known as "biblical iconography.
Israel's Aniconic Tradition Based primarily on texts in the Hebrew Bible that ban the production and use of divine images cf. The Search for Yahweh's Image Arguably the most debated issue in the study of Israelite religion is whether or perhaps when ancient Israel had images of Yahweh. Figure 6.
Pithos A from Kuntillet'Ajrud, late 8th or early 9th century, northeastern Sinai. Approximately 20 cm 8 in tall. After Coogan Figure 7. Munich Terracotta, provenance unknown, likely late 8th or early 7th century Judah. After van der Toorn, , figure 61 Nevertheless, this observation does not by itself prove that ancient Israel lacked divine images. Resources for further research Bahrani, Zainab.
Archaeology, Culture, and Society series. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, Austin: University of Texas Press, Collon, Dominique. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, Coogan, Michael D. The Oxford History of the Biblical World. Further, the reference to Joel, chapter 2, by the apostle Peter on the Day of Pentecost Acts 2 is a striking illustration of this principle, for it is obvious that the prophecy of Joel was not by any means completely fulfilled in what happened then.
See also the reference to John the Baptist in Malachi While it is, of course, true as our Lord said, that the Baptist in relation to CHRIST was " Elijah the prophet " Matthew , yet the text speaks of " a great and terrible day of the Lord ," which shows that there is a further and fuller realization to come. Another illustration out of many is afforded by the familiar words of the Lord's Prayer. When CHRIST taught his disciples to pray to their Father in heaven, " Thy Kingdom come ," it seems clear that he was referring to a time beyond the mediatorial Kingdom of the Son, even to the end of all things, when the Son shall have delivered up the Kingdom to the Father I Corinthians Another vital principle of interpretation is the need of distinguishing rigidly between the literal and symbolical views of passages.
The Bible is an Eastern Book and as such it is full of pictures and metaphors. We must take the literal meaning whenever it is possible. One instance of this is in Luke , where eight statements are made concerning our Lord. As the first five of these are literally fulfilled in the first coming of CHRIST, it seems impossible to doubt that the other three are to be literally fulfilled when he comes again, for it is not natural to take the former literally and then to spiritualize the latter.
On the other hand, there are many obvious instances of the purely symbolical meaning, so illustrative of Eastern life. Thus, in Psalm , the mountains are said to leap. In the book of Revelation we have an almost constant use of metaphor and symbol, like the " sea of glass " and many other instances.
The use of allegory is found in Scripture, as in Galatians , though, as we know, this was based on the historical circumstances of Hagar and Ishmael. It will, no doubt, be difficult from time to time to express the distinction between what is literal and what is symbolical, and yet it is essential that the attempt be made. Closely associated with the foregoing is the frequent use of figurative language in Scripture, and it is important to remember that this form of speech intensifies a fact and does not destroy it.
It means, as we know, that one thing is put for another. Among the very many illustrations of this, which is peculiarly characteristic of Eastern life, may be adduced the following:. There is also the particular form of figurative language known as personification, as:. The use of exaggeration is found in the well-known phrase, " hateth not. Then, there are metaphors and parables in almost every part of the Scripture. But the most important feature of the figurative language found in Scripture is known as type, which has long been described as "an illustration in a lower sphere of a truth belonging to a higher.
A type is a pictorial or personal representation of something that is to come, and the following distinctions have been drawn. It is also said that a parable illustrates a truth that concerns the present, while a type deals with that which is still future, the object of the type being to prepare the mind for the true idea of the coming redemption. The following principles have been set forth for the proper interpretation of the types. Beyond this it is essential to take great care, lest we regard as typical what was not intended by GOD so to be.
Not least of all in importance is the absolute necessity of studying the context when we are concerned with any particular passage. It is well known that theological students are often advised when they take a text to "study the context, lest the text become a pretext. Out of the many illustrations which show the necessity of this principle, the chapter divisions of the Authorized Version may be adduced. Thus, if we read John , only, it is probably difficult, if not impossible, to see precisely what sort of a man Nicodemus was, but if that verse is considered strictly in connection with the three preceding verses, it is not difficult to understand the man's true character at that time.
So, when the little word " also " in Luke is carefully noted, it will be seen that the parable of the unjust steward is an application to the disciples of what our Lord had said to the Pharisees. He had been blamed for making friends of the poor and outcast Luke , 2 , but he vindicated himself, in the three parables of the lost sheep, the lost silver, and the lost son, and then applied the lesson to his own disciples and urged them to make to themselves friends of these poor people.
Other illustrations of this vital principle can be found almost everywhere, but perhaps the most familiar, as it is in some respects the most important for many, is the statement of our Lord at the institution of the Last Supper.