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Idolatry is a term used by certain monotheistic religions in reference to the worship of physical objects (idols) and, more generally, to most any religious practices which they consider to involve the worship of anything other than their own God. Forms of worship encompassed under the term idolatry include prostrating before an idol, offering prayers to idols, and offering librations or animal sacrifices to idols.

The worship of icons or images is, more specifically, known as iconolatry.

Table of contents
1 Idolatry in the Hebrew Bible
2 Jewish views of idolatry
3 Christian views of idolatry
4 Muslim views of idolatry
5 Asian views of idolatry
6 Idolatry and Polytheism
7 Other meanings of idolatry
8 References


The word idolatry comes from the Greek word eidololatria, which is a compound of eidolon, "image" or "figure", and latreia, "worship". Although the Greek appears to be a loan translation of the Hebrew phrase avodat elilim, which is attested in rabbinic literature (e.g., bChul., 13b, Bar.), the Greek term itself is not found in the Septuagint, Philo, Josephus, or in other Hellenistic Jewish writings. The term is also lacking in Greek pagan literature. In the New Testament, the Greek word is found only in the letters of Paul, 1 Peter, and Revelation, where it has a derogatory meaning. There are many Hebrew terms for idolatry such as avodah zarah, "foreign worship", and avodat kochavim umazalot, "worship of planets and constellations".

Idolatry in the Hebrew Bible

In a number of places the Hebrew Bible makes clear that God has no shape or form; thus no idol or image could ever capture God's essence. For example, when the Israelites are visited by God Himself in Deut. 4:25, they see no shape or form whatsoever. Many verses in the Bible use literary anthropomorphisms to describe God, (e.g. God's migthy hand, God's finger, etc.) but these verses are plainly poetic images, and are not meant to be taken literally.

Idolatry is prohibited by many verses in the Hebrew Bible. There is no one section that clearly defines idolatry; rather there are a number of commandments on this subject spread through the books of the Hebrew Bible, some of which were written in different historical eras, in response to different issues. Taking these verses together, idolatry in the Hebrew Bible is defined as the worship of idols (or images); the worship of polytheistic gods by use of idols (or images) and even the use of idols in the worship of the Bible's one monotheistic God.

The narratives in Genesis presuppose monotheism as the original religion. After its decline Abraham was called to spread the true knowledge of God, but the prophetic books still reflect the struggle against idols and idolatry. Even Jeremiah complains: "According to the number of thy cities are thy gods, O Judah" (2:28).

Terms for idolatry

The various terms, sometimes expressive of scorn and disdain, which were applied to idols and idolatry are indicative of the wide diffusion of polytheistic cults and of the horror with which they filled the Biblical writers. Thus idols are stigmatized "non-God" (Deut. 32:17, 21 [1] (http://www.biblegateway.com/cgi-bin/bible?language=english&version=KJV&passage=deut+32%3A17-21&x=0&y=0); Jer. 2:11 [2] (http://www.biblegateway.com/cgi-bin/bible?language=english&version=KJV&passage=jer+2%3A11&x=0&y=0)), "things of naught" (Lev. 19:4 et passim [3] (http://www.biblegateway.com/cgi-bin/bible?language=english&version=KJV&passage=lev+19%3A4&x=0&y=0)), "vanity" (Deut. 32), "iniquity" (1 Sam. 15:23 [4] (http://www.biblegateway.com/cgi-bin/bible?language=english&version=KJV&passage=1+Sam+15%3A23&x=0&y=0) ), "wind and confusion" (Isa. 41:29 [5] (http://www.biblegateway.com/cgi-bin/bible?language=english&version=KJV&passage=isa+41%3A29&x=0&y=0)), "the dead" (Ps. 106:28 [6] (http://www.biblegateway.com/cgi-bin/bible?language=english&version=KJV&passage=ps+106%3A19-28&x=0&y=0)), "carcasses" (Lev. 26:30; Jer. 16:18), "a lie" (Isa. 44:20 et passim [7] (http://www.biblegateway.com/cgi-bin/bible?language=english&version=KJV&passage=isaiah+44&x=0&y=0)), and similar epithets. Idols are said to be made of gold, silver, wood, and stone, and are graven images, unshapen clods, and, being the work of men's hands, unable to speak, see, hear, smell, eat, grasp, or feel, and powerless either to injure or to benefit.

Idols were either designated in Hebrew by a term of general significance, or were named according to their material or the manner in which they were made. They were placed upon pedestals, and fastened with chains of silver or nails of iron lest they should fall over or be carried off (Isa. 40:19, 41:7; Jer. 10:14; Wisdom 13:15), and they were also clothed and colored (Jer. 10:9; Ezek. 16:18; Wisdom 15:4). At first the gods and their images were conceived of as identical; but in later times a distinction was drawn between the god and the image. Nevertheless it was customary to take away the gods of the vanquished (Isa. 10:10-11, 36:19, 46:1; Jer. 48:7, 49:3; Hosea 10:5; Dan. 11:8), and a similar custom is frequently mentioned in the cuneiform texts.

Forms of idol worship

Temples, altars, and statues were erected to the gods, and figures of oxen and of other animals are also mentioned (Ezek. 8:10-11). In Israel the worship of high places was a favorite form of polytheistic cult, as is shown by the Book of Kings, where the reign of each monarch is judged chiefly from the standpoint of his participation in the worship of idols, so that the words "but the high places were not removed" form a stereotyped phrase. Prayer was offered to the gods (Ex. 20:5 [8] (http://www.biblegateway.com/cgi-bin/bible?language=english&passage=Exodus+20%3A5&version=KJV), 23:24, et passim [9] (http://www.biblegateway.com/cgi-bin/bible?language=english&version=KJV&passage=exodus+23&x=17&y=14)), the hands were stretched out to them (Ps. 44:21 [A. V. 20]), they were invoked by name (1 Kings 18-19, 24), their names were praised (Josh. 23:7), knees were bent before them (1 Kings 19:18), incense was burned in their honor (1 Kings 11:8 et passim), they were invoked in the taking of oaths, and sacrifices were immolated to them (Jer. 7:18 [10] (http://www.biblegateway.com/cgi-bin/bible?language=english&version=KJV&passage=jeremiah+7%3A18&x=0&y=0); Ex. 35:15), the victims including even human beings, such as the offerings made to Moloch. The custom of worshiping stars and idols by throwing kisses to them is mentioned in Job 31:26-28 [11] (http://www.biblegateway.com/cgi-bin/bible?language=english&version=KJV&passage=job+31%3A26-28&x=0&y=0). The exchange of clothes, by which men put on women's clothes and women donned men's garments, was an idolatrous custom, and was consequently forbidden (Deut. 22:5 [12] (http://www.biblegateway.com/cgi-bin/bible?language=english&version=KJV&passage=deut+22%3A5&x=0&y=0)). Human hair also served as a sacrifice, and the prohibition against shaving the head or having writing burned into one's body (Lev. 19:18, 27) was recognized by the Talmud (Mak. 3.6) and by Maimonides (Guide for the Perplexed 3.37) as connected with idol-worship. There were, moreover, many other forms of worship, and numerous commandments of the Pentateuch, even though they omit the term "abomination" as a synonym of idolatry, refer to polytheistic worship; for idolatry was deeply rooted in the national character, as is shown by the many proper names compounded with names of idols, so that it became necessary to make every effort for its eradication.

Historical-critical view of idolatry in the Hebrew Bible

These commandments were written as rejoinders to the beliefs and practices of the ancient polytheistic religions of the ancient near-east and middle-east; the Bible clearly is responding to the the religions of Akkad, Mesopotamia, and Egypt. Some polytheistic ancient near-eastern and middle-eastern religions had a set of practices which the Israelites found horribly immoral, such as orgiastic sex rites; cultic male prostitution; cultic female prostitution; passing a child through a fire; and child sacrifice.

One of the subjects of interest in regards to idolatry is whether or not the idolators of Biblical times believed that the idols that they worshipped literally were gods and/or spirits, or whether they believed that these idols were only representations of said gods and/or spirits. The various prohibitions against idolatry in the Bible usually do not explicitly make this distinction, and apparently outlaw such practices and beliefs in either form. Many historians of religions agree with Yehezkel Kaufman's study, which holds that the Biblical authors interpreted idolatry in its most literal form: most idolators really believed that their idols were gods. Kaufman holds that while such beliefs in fact did exist, the Biblical authors made an error in assuming that all idolatry was of this type. In point of fact, Kaufman holds, most idolators did not hold such beliefs, and that they only believed that their idols were representations of gods. Kaufman writes that "We may perhaps say that the Bible sees in paganism only its lowest level, the level of mana-beliefs...the prophets ignore what we know to be authentic paganism (i.e., its elaborate mythology about the origin and exploits of the gods and their ultimate subjection to a meta-divine reservoir of impersonal power representing Fate or Necessity.) Their {the Biblical author's} whole condemnation revolves around the taunt of fetishism.)

Kaufman admits that at least in a few instances, some Biblical authors did understand that idolators worshipped gods and spirits that existed independently of idols, and not the forms of the idols themselves. For instance, refer to the story in 1 Kings 18:27 [13] (http://www.biblegateway.com/cgi-bin/bible?language=english&passage=1+Kings+18&version=KJV), where the Hebrew prophet Elijah ridicules the priests of Baal atop of Mount Carmel. The pagan priests beseeched their god without the use of an idol, clearly indicating that Baal was not an idol, but rather one of the polytheistic gods that merely could be worshipped through the use of an idol. For Kaufman, these recognitions are the exception, not the rule, and are of little importance.

Jewish views of idolatry

In Judaism, it is held that the Ten Commandments prohibit belief in, or worship of, any other deities, gods, or spirits. It is also held to be a prohibition against objects, such as crucifixes, and against the use of artistic representations of God.

The Talmud has a treatise on idolatry (Avodah Zarah), and also discusses the subject elsewhere in many passages. A midrash notes that "If one wished to write all the names of idols, all the parchment scrolls in the world would be insufficient" (Midrash Sifre on Deut. 43).

When Jewish monotheism was was threatened by conquering Syrians and Romans, the Jews revolted, refusing to permit Roman troops to enter their territory with flags. Jews even detected idols in the portraits of the Caesars stamped on coins, and this was understandable, in view of the divine worship paid the emperors. Despite this fear of idols and images, the danger of inroads among the Jews by idolatrous customs and usages, which permeated the whole ancient world around them, was so great that the scholars could not invent too many "fences" against idolatry. They accordingly aimed at making intimate association with gentiles very difficult.

The ancient world regarded the Jews as atheists because of their refusal to worship visible gods. "Whosoever denies idols is called a Jew" (Talmud Meg. 13). To statements such as this the Jew responded: "Whosoever recognizes idols has denied the entire Torah; and whosoever denies idols has recognized the entire Torah" (Midrash Sifre, Deut. 54 and parallel passages). "As soon as one departs from the words of the Torah, it is as though he attached himself to the worship of idols" (Midrash Sifre, Num. 43).

Although the Jews were forbidden in general to mock at anything holy, it was a merit to deride idols (Talmud Meg. 25b). It was forbidden to look upon images (Tosefta to Talmud Shabbat 17.1), and even thinking of idolatrous worship was prohibited (Talmud Ber. 12b); if one saw a place where an idol had once stood, he was commanded to utter a special prayer (Talmud Ber. 61a). Sacrifice to an idol or anything which in any way might be associated with idolatry was forbidden. It was even insufficient to reduce an idol to powder and scatter it to the winds, since it would fall to earth and become a fertilizer; but the image must be sunk in the Dead Sea, whence it could never emerge (Talmud Avodah Zarah 3.3); nor might the wood of the "asherah" be used for purposes of healing (Talmud Pes. 25a). Among the three cardinal sins for which the penalty was death, idolatry stood first (Talmud Pes. 25a and parallels).

Modern Jewish views

A small number of modern Jewish theologians, including Rabbi Joseph H. Hertz, have suggested that perhaps only the Israelites were forbidden to worship idols, but that such worship was permissible for members of other religions. (J. H. Hertz, "Pentateuch and Haftorahs" Soncino Press, 1960, p.759). Most Jewish theologians disagree, saying that the original meaning of the text was to condemn idolatry in toto.

A growing number of theologically liberal Jewish theologians accept the condemnation of idolatry, but argue that most religions that appear idolatrous are not, and thus ought to be accepted as legitimate. They argue that modern day Buddhists, Hindus and others (a) do not literally worship "sticks and stones", as the idolaters in the Tanach were described doing. Their beliefs have more theological depth than ancient pagans, and are well aware their icons are only symbols of a deeper level of reality, (b) they do not practice child sacrifice, (c) they are of high moral character, and (d) they are not anti-Semitic. As such, some Jews argue that not only does God have a relationship with all gentile monotheists, but that God also maintains a relationship with Hindus, Buddhists and other polytheists.

Christian views of idolatry

Idolatry in the New Testament

Judaism's animosity towards these religions was inherited by Christianity, and Islam adopted such views as well. Although Judaism, Christianity and Islam define idolatry in different ways, all of these Abrahamic religions forbid idolatry, as they understand the term, and consider it a sin.

With the development of Christianity in the first century of the common era came a new theology with regards to idolatry. While the Hebrew Bible considers it a sin to portray even the one Biblical God in any image, the New Testament creates an ambiguous image of Jesus, who would later be seen by Christians as God incarnate.

Jesus, discussing the Ten Commandments in the Sermon on the Mount, does not speak of issues regarding the meaning of the commandment against idolatry, suggesting that he concurred in the current understanding of the Jews of his time. In the Gospel of John, Jesus claimed that because his disciples had seen him, they had seen God the Father (Gospel of John 14:7-9 [14] (http://www.biblegateway.com/cgi-bin/bible?passage=John+14%3A7-9&x=19&y=9&NKJV_version=yes&language=english)). Paul of Tarsus referred to Jesus as the "image of the invisible God" (Colossians 1:15 [15] (http://www.biblegateway.com/cgi-bin/bible?passage=Colossians+1&NKJV_version=yes&language=english)). A major controversy among early Christians concerned whether it was permissible to eat meat that had been offered in pagan worship. Paul of Tarsus said that it was permitted to do so, provided that scandal was not caused by it; however, he says that the gods worshipped in idolatry are in fact demons, and that any act of direct participation in their worship remained forbidden. (1 Corinthians 10:14-22) [16] (http://www.biblegateway.com/cgi-bin/bible?language=english&passage=1+Corinthians+10%3A14-22&version=KJV) Paul's teaching is largely consonant with contemporary Jewish understandings; while he mocked the idols themselves as delusive non-entities, their worship was nonetheless a spiritual menace.

When the Christian movement made its fateful alliance with the Roman Empire under Constantine I, though, its status as the favoured imperial religion brought in a large influx of pagan converts who remained attached to their former religious practices. Protestant historians believe that over time, this tended to diminish the church's zeal to reject idolatry, and to encourage accomodation to polytheism and the worship or veneration of images and artifacts. Those Christians who reject these developments refer to this process as the Great Apostasy. Catholic and Orthodox historians believe the veneration of icons and relics began well before Constantine ended the state-sponsored persecution of Christians.

The oldest surviving Christian Byzantine icons were made in the Byzantine Empire; they date to the 500s. [17] (http://www.hri.org/news/greek/mpa/2001/01-05-28.mpa#01) Precursors to Byzantine iconography have been found in Christian catacombs from the 2nd and 3rd centuries, in the form of pictures of Old Testament scenes and of Jesus Christ. There are similar paintings of Old Testament scenes found in Jewish catacombs of the same time frame.[18] (http://www.orthodoxinfo.com/inquirers/icon_faq.htm) The Christian use of relics also dates to the catacombs, when Christians found themselves praying in the presence of the bodies of martyrs, sometimes using their tombs as altars for sharing the Eucharist.

Christian views on images

Christianity holds that the essential element of the commandment not to make "any graven image, or any likeness of any thing that is in heaven above" is "and bow down and worship it". At the same time, Christian prayer services feature images, some feature statues, and, in some Orthodox services, icons are venerated. Christians avoid a conflict between idolatry and their practices in two ways:

(1) Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox Christians have a distinction between worship and veneration; they hold that they do not worship idols; they venerate them. The former is forbidden, the latter is not. Other Christians (as well as all Jews and Muslims) hold that veneration and worship are for all practical purposes identical, and that this argument is not tenable.

(2) Some Christians believe that use of images and icons in the worship of God is allowed by the Bible, and it is only the literal worship of an inanimate idol itself that is forbidden. "An essential difference exists between idolatry and the veneration of images practised in the Catholic Church, viz., that while the idolater credits the image he reverences with Divinity or Divine powers, the Catholic knows "that in images there is no divinity or virtue on account of which they are to be worshipped, that no petitions can be addressed to them, and that no trust is to be placed in them. . . that the honour which is given to them is referred to the objects (prototypa) which they represent, so that through the images which we kiss, and before which we uncover our heads and kneel, we adore Christ and venerate the Saints whose likenesses they are" (Conc. find., Sess. XXV, de invocatione Sanctorum)." The Catholic Encyclopedia, Volume VII.

Generally, Christians of any denomination reserve the word idolatry for forbidden worship, and never refer to the images, icons, or artifacts that they in fact revere as "idols."

Eastern Orthodoxy

Eastern Orthodoxy teaches that the incarnation of Jesus makes it permissible to venerate icons, and even necessary in order to preserve the truth of the Incarnation. For Jews and some Protestant Christians this practice is seen as an explicit rejection of the commandment. Very few Christians oppose the making of any images at all, but some groups have been critical of the use others make of images in worship. (See iconoclasm)

Orthodox Christians have criticized the Roman Catholic use of decorative statues; some Protestant groups have criticized the use of stained-glass windows by many other denominations, and Jehovah's Witnesses criticize the use of all of the above, as well as the use of a cross. The Amish are the only Christian group that forbids the use of images in secular life.

Eastern Orthodoxy and Roman Catholicism allows, and in many cases, encourages the use of image in religious life, e.g. the veneration of the cross. Some also are allowed to and in some cases instructed to pray using depictions of deceased holy figures, known as saints. They also venerate images and symbolic liturgical objects used in their cult with actions such as kissing, bowing, and making the sign of the cross. However, they typically hold that saints and their depictions are venerated and not worshipped, and they therefore hold that these practices do not fall under the ban against idolatry.

They also point to the Old Testament patterns of worship followed by the Hebrew people as examples of how certain places and things used in worship may be treated with reverence or venerated, without worshipping them. The Ark of the Covenant was treated with great reverence and included images of cherubim on top of it, and certain miracles were associated with it, yet this was not condemned. Similarly, they see the staff with golden serpents (which God commanded Moses to make and lift high so as to cure any Israelites who looked at it of a plague that was sweeping through the people at the time) as an archtype (or foreshadowing) of Jesus Christ being lifted up on the Cross (Jesus referred to the serpent with staff himself once in the Gospels, when foretelling his death). King Hezekiah had this staff destroyed, however, when the Hebrew people began burning incense to it. (2 Kings 18:4 [19] (http://www.biblegateway.com/cgi-bin/bible?passage=&search=nehushtan&version=KJV&language=english&optional.x=15&optional.y=12))

Critics of Christian use of images

Christian critics of this position, usually Protestants, argue that such practices are in effect little different from idolatry. They are believed by critics to be wrong as they localize and particularize God, whom they argue is beyond human depiction. Many Protestants believe that in attributing holiness or power to human artifacts, they foster disbelief in God's omnipotence, and His independent and sovereign will, and suggest instead to human fallibility that He can be manipulated. To them, this is the essence of idolatry considered as a sin. For these believers, idolatry can be viewed as a sort of fetishism. Calvinist theologian J.I. Packer, in chapter 3 of his book Knowing God, asserted that even to imagine Jesus Christ as having a specific physical appearance would be a form of idol worship.

These critics are often accused of iconoclasm, which was officially condemned by Catholics and Orthodox at the Second Council of Nicaea (787). The Protestant Reformation also involved the removal and destruction of many shrines, images, and relics from churches converted to Protestant worship in the 16th century. This was condemned by the Roman Catholic Church in the Council of Trent.

Christian defense of icons and images

The vast majority of Christian denominations hold that God particularized himself when he took on flesh and was born as Jesus; through this act God is said to have blessed material things and made them good again. By rising physically from the dead, ascending bodily into Heaven, and promising Christians a physical resurrection, God thus indicates that it is not wrong to be "attached" to physical things, and that matter is not inherently evil, unlike the contemporary teachings of Gnosticism. Roman Catholics and Eastern Orthodox have concluded from this, that while God the Father and God the Spirit are forbidden to be depicted in icons since they are invisible, it is acceptable within Christianity to depict God the Son because he came in such a way that people could see, hear and touch him.

In this view, the veneration of icons is mandatory; to not venerate icons would imply that Jesus was not also fully God, or to deny that Jesus had a real physical body. Both of these alternatives are incompatible with the christology defined at the Council of Chalcedon in 451 and summarized in the Chalcedonian Creed. While most Protestants agree that Jesus is God, they generally do not draw the same conclusion regarding the veneration of icons.

Jehovah's Witnesses argue that the common Christian practice of wearing a cross is a form of idolatry. Other Christians disagree, holding that they don't worship the symbols themselves and that Christianity has long maintained a elaborate and moral symbolic[?] traditions.

Muslim views of idolatry

Islam forbids idolatry and polytheism; Most sects of Islam forbid any artistic depictions of human figures, this being shirk, which originally means "partnership:" the sin of associating some other being with the one God, Allah. This is considered akin to idolatry, if not idolatry outright.

Asian views of idolatry

The Bible's discussion of paganism does not directly discuss the religions of Buddhism, Hinduism, and Shintoism; however, these religions have often been held to be idolatry by Jews, Christians and Muslims. Adherents of these faiths deny this characetrization of their religions.

A very small minority view holds that the symbols of the monotheistic Western religions are counterparts to the polytheistic figures of some Eastern religions. For example, some Buddhists consider the Catholic saints, as well as Jesus, to be examples of bodhisattvas. Some early Catholic missionaries believed that Guan Yin was a Chinese version of the Virgin Mary.

Ancient forms of Hinduism were polytheistic. Some Hindus today still are polythesists. However, over the milennia, a monotheistic version of Hinduism has evolved. In this latter view, the multiple Hindu divinities ("divine aspects", or "gods") have been reinterpreted to represent different aspects of one natural power. With the close relationship with Buddhism and, imagery influenced and developed to an elaborate scale where presently all gods have now been represented by statuettes. Claims of idolatry are present.

Shintoism is a religion which worships kami or nature spirits; it often uses various objects to represent these spirits in its shrines, which often gives the appearance of idolatry to westerners. Claims of idolatry are present.

The question of whether Buddhism, and Chinese folk religion, consists of worshipping a God or veneration of a saint was important to the Catholic church during the Chinese Rites controversy of the early 18th century. This dispute was between the Dominicans who argued that Buddhism and Chinese folk religion was worship, and therefore incompatible with Catholicism ,and the Jesuits which argued the reverse. The pope ultimately ruled in favor of the Dominicans; a decision which greatly reduced the role of Catholic missionaries in China.

Buddhist art employed different measures to represent the Buddha. Empty gaps were firstly used in murals or in another case, a footprint. Statues actually appeared half a century later within the Mahayana school and were often used to represent Gautama Buddha in his exact pose during Enlightenment under the bodhi tree. Since a Buddha comes only by the form of a man, this practice was not considered idolatry by the remaining schools; it was the (exemplar) human being represented and not the Nirvanic state (which is unconditioned, unmade; formless) that the Enlightened One would enter. This tradition partly grew and developed dramatically from the influence of Greek sculpture accidently by Alexander the Great, who by trade introduced Greek statuary into what is now Afghanistan, from which the practice spread eastward to influence other religious art. Buddhists do not venerate the objects themselves, but rather the meaning and symbolism represented by the object, which is the beneficial practice of meditation. Often Buddhists will bow before the statue, not as an act of literal worship for the carved image, but to evoke faith and respect in the individual towards what the statue symbolizes; the doctrine and discipline that Gautama Buddha founded. It is considered a grave error, in Buddhist thought, to risk ones life (or the life of another) to rescue a statue, let alone worship one.

Idolatry and Polytheism

Adherents of polytheism and animism reject the charge of idolatry, often from monotheists, as an inaccurate description of their religious beliefs and practices. Polytheists generally do not believe that their statues (or other physical objects) are gods; rather, they are symbols of immaterial gods.

Polytheistic and Animistic beliefs that have given rise to the charge of idolatry include:

  • Certain objects or places have supernatural powers independent of God.

  • Prayer or rituals within the presence of certain objects or places are likelier to have an effect then when performed elsewhere.

  • Prayer is paid to images, paintings or statues of polytheistic pantheons, or to relics of polytheistic religious figures.

These beliefs are generally held to be at variance with monotheism, which holds that all power comes from God alone, and not from any other gods or agents. In such systems, "God" at best is only the stronger of many other gods, and thus God would not be omnipotent or omniscient.

Scholars of religion generally do not equate idolatry with polytheism, primarily because polytheists accused of idolatry usually do not have the beliefs ascribed to them. Specifically, most polytheists hold that their idols or icons are only symbols of the gods they worship, and these idols or icons do not posses supernatural powers. See also: Religious pluralism

Other meanings of idolatry

The term idol is commonly used in a non-religious sense; as in reference to a popular celebrity. (See teen idol for an example.) The term idolatry also refers to the practicing of pagan magic, in that it allows supernatural powers to be subject to human manipulation.


"Idolatry", article in "The Encyclopedia Judaica", Keter Publishing

"The Worship of the Golden Calf: A Literary Analysis of a Fable on Idolatry" Herbert Chanan Brichto in Hebrew Union College Annual, Volume 54, 1983.

"The Religion of Israel: From its Beginnings to the Babylonin Exile" Yehezkel Kaufman, translated by Moshe Greenberg, Univ. of Chicago Press, 1960

"Judaism and the Varieties of Idolatrous Experience" by Bary S. Kogan in "Proceedings of the Academy for Jewish Philosophy" Ed. David Novak and Norbert M. Samuelson, University Press of America, 1992

"Judaism and Idolatry: In Defense of Images" by Elliot N. Dorff in "Proceedings of the Academy for Jewish Philosophy" Ed. David Novak and Norbert M. Samuelson, University Press of America, 1992

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