Tag Archives: Idol worship

Clueless about Avoda Zarah

An introduction to the writings of Israeli Biblical scholar Yehezkel Kaufmann and his radical observation that the Torah is clueless regarding pagan religion and polytheism…. and the surprising conclusion he draws regarding the origins of ancient Hebrew monotheism.

Recorded live at TCS, The Conservative Synagogue of Westport Connecticut, this review of Kaufman’s discovery is processed through the lens of Philosopher of Science, Thomas Kuhn and his concept of Paradigm Shift and Incommensurability.

Listen to the madlik podcast:

Access source sheet in Sefaria here.

 

1.

Rav Yehuda says that Rav says: The Jewish people knew that idol worship is of no substance; they did not actually believe in it. And they worshipped idols only in order to permit themselves to engage in forbidden sexual relations in public, since most rituals of idol worship would include public displays of forbidden sexual intercourse.

Rav Mesharshiyya raises an objection to this statement from the following verse: “Like the memory of their sons are their altars, and their Asherim are by the leafy trees, upon the high hills” (Jeremiah 17:2). And Rabbi Elazar says that this means that the Jewish people would recall their idol worship like a person who misses his child. This interpretation indicates that they were truly attached to idol worship.

The Gemara continues to relate the story of the prayer in the days of Nehemiah: The people fasted for three days and prayed for mercy. In response to their prayer a note fell for them from the heavens in which was written: Truth, indicating that God accepted their request.

The form of a fiery lion cub came forth from the chamber of the Holy of Holies. Zechariah, the prophet, said to the Jewish people: This is the evil inclination for idol worship. When they caught hold of it one of its hairs fell out, and it let out a shriek of pain that was heard for four hundred parasangs [parsei]. They said: What should we do to kill it? Perhaps Heaven will have mercy upon it if we attempt to kill it, as it will certainly scream even more.

The prophet said to them: Throw it into a container made of lead and cover it with lead, as lead absorbs sound. As it is written: “And he said: This is the evil one. And he cast it down into the midst of the measure, and he cast a stone of lead upon its opening” (Zechariah 5:8). They followed this advice and were freed of the evil inclination for idol worship.

Sanhedrin 63b:

אמר רב יהודה אמר רב יודעין היו ישראל בעבודת כוכבים שאין בה ממש ולא עבדו עבודת כוכבים אלא להתיר להם עריות בפרהסיא

מתיב רב משרשיא (ירמיהו יז, ב) כזכור בניהם מזבחותם וגו’ וא”ר אלעזר כאדם שיש לו געגועין על בנו

יתבו תלתא יומא בתעניתא בעו רחמי נפל להו פיתקא מרקיעא דהוה כתיב בה אמת

נפק כגוריא דנורא מבית קדשי הקדשים אמר להו נביא לישראל היינו יצרא דע”ז בהדי דקתפסי ליה אישתמיט ביניתא מיניה ואזל קליה בארבע מאה פרסי אמרו היכי ניעבד דילמא משמיא מרחמי עליה

א”ל נביא שדיוהו בדודא דאברא וכסיוה באברא דשייף קליה דכתיב (זכריה ה, ח) ויאמר זאת הרשעה וישלך אותה אל תוך האיפה וישלך את האבן העופרת אל פיה

2.   Unity and Incorporeality

The question of the emergence of Israelite religion is a sui generis problem in the        history of the human spirit first of all because of the popular character of Israelite monotheism. To our way of thinking, the idea of God’s unity is one of the most abstract ideas in human thought. We regard this idea as bound up with abstraction (hafshatah) from the multitude of phenomena manifested in our world and with grounding all reality on an invisible unity beyond our comprehension.

The one God is the cause of causes, eternal substance, the being of all beings, transcending everything sensible and conceivable, beyond all conception of time and space, a supreme idea. The question is: How could such a faith come into being in ancient Israel? Israelite culture was a culture of shepherds and farmers. Moreover, even in a later period the creative genius of the Israelite people did not find embodiment in the creation of a conceptual culture (nor, for that matter, in the creation of a technological culture). Israel did not create conceptual science, logic, philosophy, or natural science. Its strength was in poetry, narrative, ethics, religious vision, and the like, far from theoretical abstraction. Nor was its language rich in abstract concepts. The Hebrew of the biblical period was a pictorial and poetic language, unfitted for expressing philosophical views. How, then, was the monotheistic idea conceived in ancient Israel within such a cultural rubric?  Moreover, biblical monotheism did not arrive at abstract expression. The Bible innocently resorts to tangible descriptions of God. It does not sense any defect in depicting God through imagery.

At any rate, there would be place here for gropings and hesitations. However, in the prophetic books there are no gropings or hesitations. Monotheism is visibly present and self-evident, and there is no hint that it is a new idea.

The General Character of Israelite Religion, Yehezkel KAUFMANN in Toledot ha-emunah ha-yisre’elit, translated by Lenny Levin

3. Where Israelite Religion differed

Israelite monotheism could not comprehend idolatry or magic. At best, idols and various forms of polytheistic worship were treated as fetishes, things used in rituals that were not associated with any meaningful mythology or theology. On a popular worship of objects that was not genuinely polytheistic (because it is unrelated to any specific foreign deity) but was “a magical, fetishistic, non-mythological worship of images”, a worship that was fundamentally unfamiliar with the realities of polytheistic worship and the icons that played a role therein: “Worship of ‘dumb idols’ is, in the biblical view, arrant, sinful foolishness”, for the idols, unlike the lower ranking gods, are not real; they have no power, not even the derivative power that, say, Chemosh or Marduk enjoy in the view of biblical monotheism.

  1. The ancient lore knows of no war between YHWH and other divine powers,
  2. No mythology surrounds God. He is not born; he does not die; he is not sexed; he is not part of the natural world. This God has no “genealogy,” no lust, no birth, no progeny, no growing up, no death, and so forth. Israelite lore does not know how to tell anything about the life of this God, the events (This is very different from many known ancient Near Eastern stories about gods.)
  3. Israelite Religion was exoteric. The bible reflects common, public, shared knowledge. Moreover, all teaching is official and authoritative. Priests are the public educators. The popular belief conceived of this God the same way. This means that the basic idea of Israelite religion was bound up from its inception in a radical division between God and the world.
  4. “Fate” has no power over him.
  5. Sanctity is not “natural” closeness to divinity or belonging to the divine in a property relation … It knows of no material object that is sacred in its own right. ..it does not know of any category of holy objects in nature. It concentrated all sanctity in God, who rules the world, in the God who transcends the cosmos. Objects can only possess “historical” sanctity by virtue of God’s will or as a result of God’s deeds and commandment.

4.  No mythological drama in Ancient Israel

The basic idea of Israelite religion—the supremacy of the divine will, raising God over every nature and fate—left no room for the tension of divine forces fighting each other, for a divine mythological drama. Is there any place for drama, for activity, for striving for living embodiment where there is one supreme decisive will?

Israelite religion transferred the divine world drama from the domain of nature and its forces to the domain of the human will. The divine will rules over all. But it has one “limitation”: the will of the human, to whom God has granted free choice and the power to sin. By human sin, the supreme divine will has become, as it were, impaired. This is the opening for evil in the world. Opposite the divine will is set the human will; in place of the mythological tension between divine forces comes the moral tension between God’s will and man’s will. This is the special sphere of the divine drama in Israelite religion. To the absolute will belongs an aspiration that remains to be fulfilled. God commands, and the human can either fulfill God’s command or disobey Him. In place of mythological tension comes historical tension. This religion was interested not in the events of the god and his life, his desires, his wars, and his victories among the other gods but in the events of God’s commandment, His teaching, His activity among human beings. Human society, human history, man’s religious and ethical dedication—these were the campaigns of the “war” of the supreme God.

[Conversely] He was not a restful and serene God of the heights (such as the contemplating God of Aristotle/Maimonides.  There is no Nirvana here), happy in self-satisfaction, who had nothing to do with the lower worlds and with human fate. He was a “zealous God,” commanding and demanding, keeping track of sins and performing kindnesses, a redeeming God, doing good and creating evil. He was close to man’s life and destiny.  This faith was intrinsically connected with revelation and prophecy.

5. Prohibition against Fetish Worship

The Bible never specifically addresses the worship of representations of YHWH but lumps it together with idol worship in general. The Bible never distinguishes between graven images of YHWH and graven images of pagan gods but includes them all in the category of “other gods.”

The Bible does not at all conceive of the graven images as representations of divinity but as fetishes.

Neither the Torah nor the prophets devote one kind of utterance against graven images of YHWH and another against graven images of other gods. In the classic prohibition of graven images in the Ten Commandments (in both versions), graven images and pictures are forbidden after the prohibition of other gods (Exod. 20:3–4, Deut. 5:7–8). The text does not say, “I am YHWH your God… Do not make for Me any graven image or picture… Do not have any other gods… Do not make a graven image or picture of them, etc.” … they chastise the people for worshipping graven images in general and only give one reason to this prohibition: it is the ignorant worship of “wood and stone.”

6. Unity of God

In both the song of Deborah and the creation legends, YHWH rules the world alone, and there is no other god with him (or against him!). God’s unity is the primal idea, not God’s ethical character or historical activity. In biblical  monotheism, the cosmic element is fundamental.

7. Anthropomorphism

For we should not think that the concrete depictions of God (anthropomorphisms) in the Bible are only remnants of folk legend or poetic figures of speech with only a symbolic intention, as later philosophers interpreted them. The entire biblical literature, without distinction of source or stratum, envisages a visage of God and does not regard this as a defect. The Bible has no abstract God-concept, nor does it have any drive to abstraction. Moreover, one can say that throughout Jewish literature, up to the point that Greek influence started to operate in it, there is no sense of defect in envisaging a visage of God.

Israelite religion vanquished the corporeal depiction of God in [only] one basic and decisive respect: it depicted God as outside every connection with the material of the world. …  Moreover, it depicted Him as above all connection to the laws of the world, to nature, to the stars, to fate. This is the point of departure between Israelite religion and paganism; from this point, it ascended to its own unique sphere. Its God is above mythology and above nature; that is its fundamental idea. … this idea is imprinted in the entire being of Israelite religion and woven into its entire tapestry.

God was regarded as sublime but not incorporeal.

The question of the divine image was in fact raised only in the border zone where Judaism came into contact with Greek thought. …. the whole problem of whether God has a visible form is outside the purview of original Judaism.

8 Faith

Israelite faith thus originated not from one or another historical event, not from sealing a national covenant, not from political prosperity, not from the trauma of destruction, and so forth, but from the revelation of a new religious-metaphysical idea. In the course of the generations this idea would generate an entire worldview and life regimen, even though at the time it came into the world enveloped in a national garb and intertwined with the events of the day.

It was steeped in transcendence unequalled since in the world. But it could be grasped in vision and likeness. It was born through visionary intuition and could be grasped through symbols. Therefore, it could be made into a popular faith. A God whose rule knew no bounds, who was all-capable, from whom everything originated, who was holy, sublime, zealous, ruling over good and evil, sending the word of His rule by way of prophets, one with no equal—all these could be grasped by popular religious feeling. This idea could be born among the people of the desert and could arouse passion among the people of the desert. A similar idea aroused passion at a later time among the Arab tribes at the time of Mohammed.[i]

9 Paradigm Shift – Incommensurability – Thomas Kuhn

Paradigm Shift – “This is the idea that, in the course of a revolution and paradigm shift, the new ideas and assertions cannot be strictly compared to the old ones. Even if the same words are in use, their very meaning has changed. That in turn led to the idea that a new theory was not chosen to replace an old one, because it was true but more because of a change in world view”

Incommensurability. – “This is the idea that, in the course of a revolution and paradigm shift, the new ideas and assertions cannot be strictly compared to the old ones. Even if the same words are in use, their very meaning has changed. That in turn led to the idea that a new theory was not chosen to replace an old one, because it was true but more because of a change in world view”

The Structure of Scientific Revolutions: 50th Anniversary Edition by Thomas S. Kuhn

When a paradigm shift occurs, in some sense the world changes. Or to put it another way, scientists working under different paradigms are studying different worlds.

For example, if Aristotle watched a stone swinging like a pendulum on the end of a rope, he would see the stone trying to reach its natural state: at rest, on the ground. But Newton wouldn’t see this; he’d see a stone obeying the laws of gravity and energy transference. Or to take another example: Before Darwin, anyone comparing a human face and a monkey’s face would be struck by the differences; after Darwin, they would be struck by the similarities.

A consequence of Kuhn’s theory of paradigm shifts is that science does not progress in an even way, gradually accumulating knowledge and deepening its explanations. Rather, disciplines alternate between periods of normal science conducted within a dominant paradigm, and periods of revolutionary science when an emerging crisis requires a new paradigm.

That is what “paradigm shift” originally meant, and what it still means in the philosophy of science. When used outside philosophy, though, it often just means a significant change in theory or practice. So events like the introduction of high definition TVs, or the acceptance of gay marriage, might be described as involving a paradigm shift.

see here

————

[i] Aharon Kaminka says that the Bible’s war on paganism is “a riddle still seeking a solution.” Apparently, he did not find in my words even an attempt to solve this riddle. But in truth, I did propose a solution, and I do not see the possibility of any other solution. The solution is this: the decisive battle with paganism in ancient Israel occurred at the beginning of the dawn of the new idea, in Moses’s day. The battle was short. Israelite paganism was smashed to smithereens, and the new faith was implanted in the Israelite nation. Something like this battle also occurred in Arabia in the days of Muhammad. Paganism disappeared once and for all from the horizon of the Arab nation, and was perceived as from behind a cloud. Only fossilized remnants of paganism remained among the Arab people. Likewise, the influence of foreign paganism on ancient Israel was fossilized from that time on and consisted of worship of idols. The cultural legacy that Israel received from paganism—legends, laws, poems—was the legacy of Israel’s pagan past, which in the previous period had been connected to the pagan cultural world. There is nothing in that legacy to compel us to assume contact in the later period. For this reason, the entire Bible perceives paganism through a cloud and conceives it to consist only of idol worship. We should recall that paganism was forgotten by the writers of Islam, too, in a relatively short time, and they knew it as little more than idol worship.  Yehezkel Kaufman, THE SECRET OF NATIONAL CREATIVITY

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Re-imagining God and Man for a New Year

In preparation for the Jewish New Year where the kingship of God is proclaimed, we re-explore the essence of the prohibition of Idol Worship and its opposite, the image of God.

Recorded live at TCS, The Conservative Synagogue of Westport Connecticut we come to the surprising conclusion that from the perspective of the earliest biblical texts, the prohibition of Idol worship was less important than the positive injunction for mankind to serve as the Tzelem or Image of God.

Listen to the madlik podcast:

Access Source Sheet in Sefaria here.

If the rejection of idolatry is the essence of the Biblical project, why does it not appear in the Genesis account of the founders?

But Didn’t Abraham destroy his father’s idols?

2
בראשית רבה ל״ח
(יג) וַיָּמָת הָרָן עַל פְּנֵי תֶּרַח אָבִיו (בראשית יא, כח), רַבִּי חִיָּא בַּר בְּרֵיהּ דְּרַב אַדָא דְּיָפוֹ, תֶּרַח עוֹבֵד צְלָמִים הָיָה, חַד זְמַן נְפֵיק לַאֲתַר, הוֹשִׁיב לְאַבְרָהָם מוֹכֵר תַּחְתָּיו. הֲוָה אָתֵי בַּר אֵינַשׁ בָּעֵי דְּיִזְבַּן, וַהֲוָה אֲמַר לֵהּ בַּר כַּמָּה שְׁנִין אַתְּ, וַהֲוָה אֲמַר לֵיהּ בַּר חַמְשִׁין אוֹ שִׁתִּין, וַהֲוָה אֲמַר לֵיהּ וַי לֵיהּ לְהַהוּא גַבְרָא דַּהֲוָה בַּר שִׁתִּין וּבָעֵי לְמִסְגַּד לְבַר יוֹמֵי, וַהֲוָה מִתְבַּיֵּשׁ וְהוֹלֵךְ לוֹ. חַד זְמַן אֲתָא חַד אִתְּתָא טְעִינָא בִּידָהּ חָדָא פִּינָךְ דְּסֹלֶת, אֲמָרָהּ לֵיהּ הֵא לָךְ קָרֵב קֳדָמֵיהוֹן, קָם נְסֵיב בּוּקְלָסָא בִּידֵיהּ, וְתַבְרִינוּן לְכָלְהוֹן פְּסִילַיָא, וִיהַב בּוּקְלָסָא בִּידָא דְּרַבָּה דַּהֲוָה בֵּינֵיהוֹן. כֵּיוָן דַּאֲתָא אֲבוּהָ אֲמַר לֵיהּ מַאן עָבֵיד לְהוֹן כְּדֵין, אֲמַר לֵיהּ מַה נִּכְפּוּר מִינָךְ אֲתַת חָדָא אִתְּתָא טְעִינָא לָהּ חָדָא פִּינָךְ דְּסֹוֹלֶת, וַאֲמַרַת לִי הֵא לָךְ קָרֵיב קֳדָמֵיהון, קָרֵיבְתְּ לָקֳדָמֵיהוֹן הֲוָה דֵּין אֲמַר אֲנָא אֵיכוֹל קַדְמָאי, וְדֵין אֲמַר אֲנָא אֵיכוֹל קַדְמָאי, קָם הָדֵין רַבָּה דַּהֲוָה בֵּינֵיהוֹן נְסַב בּוּקְלָסָא וְתַבַּרִינוֹן. אֲמַר לֵיהּ מָה אַתָּה מַפְלֶה בִּי, וְיָדְעִין אִינוּן. אֲמַר לֵיהּ וְלֹא יִשְׁמְעוּ אָזְנֶיךָ מַה שֶּׁפִּיךָ אוֹמֵר.

Bereishit Rabbah 38
(13) “And Haran died in the presence of his father Terah” (Gen. 11:28). Rabbi Hiyya the grandson of Rabbi Adda of Yaffo [said]: Terah was a worshiper of idols. One time he had to travel to a place, and he left Abraham in charge of his store. When a man would come in to buy [idols], Abraham would ask: How old are you? They would reply: fifty or sixty. Abraham would then respond: Woe to him who is sixty years old and worships something made today – the customer would be embarrassed, and would leave. A woman entered carrying a dish full of flour. She said to him: this is for you, offer it before them. Abraham took a club in his hands and broke all of the idols, and placed the club in the hands of the biggest idol. When his father returned, he asked: who did all of this? Abraham replied: I can’t hide it from you – a woman came carrying a dish of flour and told me to offer it before them. I did, and one of them said ‘I will eat it first,’ and another said ‘I will eat it first.’ The biggest one rose, took a club, and smashed the rest of them. Terah said: what, do you think you can trick me? They don’t have cognition! Abraham said: Do your ears hear what your mouth is saying?

But Didn’t Rachel steal her father’s idols?

3
בראשית ל״א:י״ט
(יט) וְלָבָ֣ן הָלַ֔ךְ לִגְזֹ֖ז אֶת־צֹאנ֑וֹ וַתִּגְנֹ֣ב רָחֵ֔ל אֶת־הַתְּרָפִ֖ים אֲשֶׁ֥ר לְאָבִֽיהָ׃

Genesis 31:19
(19) Meanwhile Laban had gone to shear his sheep, and Rachel stole her father’s household idols.

4
תגנב רחל את התרפים. לְהַפְרִישׁ אֶת אָבִיהָ מֵעֲ”זָ נִתְכַּוְּנָה (בראשית רבה):

AND RACHEL STOLE THE TERAPHIM — her intention was to wean her father from idol-worship (Genesis Rabbah 74:5). quoted by Rashi

5
בראשית ל״א:ל״ב-ל״ה
(לב) עִ֠ם אֲשֶׁ֨ר תִּמְצָ֣א אֶת־אֱלֹקֶיךָ֮ לֹ֣א יִֽחְיֶה֒ נֶ֣גֶד אַחֵ֧ינוּ הַֽכֶּר־לְךָ֛ מָ֥ה עִמָּדִ֖י וְקַֽח־לָ֑ךְ וְלֹֽא־יָדַ֣ע יַעֲקֹ֔ב כִּ֥י רָחֵ֖ל גְּנָבָֽתַם׃

Genesis 31:32-35
(32) But anyone with whom you find your gods shall not remain alive! In the presence of our kinsmen, point out what I have of yours and take it.” Jacob, of course, did not know that Rachel had stolen them.

6
לא יחיה. וּמֵאוֹתָהּ קְלָלָה מֵתָה רָחֵל בַּדֶּרֶךְ (בראשית רבה)

LET HIM NOT LIVE — In consequence of this curse Rachel died on the journey (Genesis Rabbah 74:9). quoted by Rashi

Rather the only reference to a rejection of false images, is a positive reference to the Image of God – Imago Dei

7
בראשית א׳:כ״ו-כ״ח
(כו) וַיֹּ֣אמֶר אֱלֹקִ֔ים נַֽעֲשֶׂ֥ה אָדָ֛ם בְּצַלְמֵ֖נוּ כִּדְמוּתֵ֑נוּ וְיִרְדּוּ֩ בִדְגַ֨ת הַיָּ֜ם וּבְע֣וֹף הַשָּׁמַ֗יִם וּבַבְּהֵמָה֙ וּבְכָל־הָאָ֔רֶץ וּבְכָל־הָרֶ֖מֶשׂ הָֽרֹמֵ֥שׂ עַל־הָאָֽרֶץ׃ (כז) וַיִּבְרָ֨א אֱלֹקִ֤ים ׀ אֶת־הָֽאָדָם֙ בְּצַלְמ֔וֹ בְּצֶ֥לֶם אֱלֹקִ֖ים בָּרָ֣א אֹת֑וֹ זָכָ֥ר וּנְקֵבָ֖ה בָּרָ֥א אֹתָֽם׃ (כח) וַיְבָ֣רֶךְ אֹתָם֮ אֱלֹקִים֒ וַיֹּ֨אמֶר לָהֶ֜ם אֱלֹקִ֗ים פְּר֥וּ וּרְב֛וּ וּמִלְא֥וּ אֶת־הָאָ֖רֶץ וְכִבְשֻׁ֑הָ וּרְד֞וּ בִּדְגַ֤ת הַיָּם֙ וּבְע֣וֹף הַשָּׁמַ֔יִם וּבְכָל־חַיָּ֖ה הָֽרֹמֶ֥שֶׂת עַל־הָאָֽרֶץ׃

Genesis 1:26-28
(26) And God said, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness. They shall rule the fish of the sea, the birds of the sky, the cattle, the whole earth, and all the creeping things that creep on earth.” (27) And God created man in His image, in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them. (28) God blessed them and God said to them, “Be fertile and increase, fill the earth and master it; and rule the fish of the sea, the birds of the sky, and all the living things that creep on earth.”

8
בראשית ה׳:א׳
(א) זֶ֣ה סֵ֔פֶר תּוֹלְדֹ֖ת אָדָ֑ם בְּי֗וֹם בְּרֹ֤א אֱלֹקִים֙ אָדָ֔ם בִּדְמ֥וּת אֱלֹקִ֖ים עָשָׂ֥ה אֹתֽוֹ׃

Genesis 5:1
(1) This is the record of Adam’s line.—When God created man, He made him in the likeness of God;

9
בראשית ט׳:ו׳
(ו) שֹׁפֵךְ֙ דַּ֣ם הָֽאָדָ֔ם בָּֽאָדָ֖ם דָּמ֣וֹ יִשָּׁפֵ֑ךְ כִּ֚י בְּצֶ֣לֶם אֱלֹקִ֔ים עָשָׂ֖ה אֶת־הָאָדָֽם׃

Genesis 9:6
(6) Whoever sheds the blood of man, By man shall his blood be shed; For in His image Did God make man.

10
במדבר ל״ג:נ״ב
(נב) וְה֨וֹרַשְׁתֶּ֜ם אֶת־כָּל־יֹשְׁבֵ֤י הָאָ֙רֶץ֙ מִפְּנֵיכֶ֔ם וְאִ֨בַּדְתֶּ֔ם אֵ֖ת כָּל־מַשְׂכִּיֹּתָ֑ם וְאֵ֨ת כָּל־צַלְמֵ֤י מַסֵּֽכֹתָם֙ תְּאַבֵּ֔דוּ וְאֵ֥ת כָּל־בָּמֹתָ֖ם תַּשְׁמִֽידוּ׃

Numbers 33:52
(52) you shall dispossess all the inhabitants of the land; you shall destroy all their figured objects; you shall destroy all their molten images, and you shall demolish all their cult places.

11
“any Old Testament scholar worth her salt will tell you that the semantic range of tselem, the Hebrew word for “image” in Genesis 1, typically includes “idol,” which in the common theology of the ancient Near East is precisely a localized, visible, corporeal representation of the divine. A simple word study would thus lead to the preliminary observation that visibility and bodiliness are minimally a necessary condition of being tselem elohim or imago Dei. Based on this usage Walter Kaiser Jr. translates tselem as “carved or hewn statue or copy.” The Liberating Image? Interpreting the Imago Dei in Context By J. Richard Middleton Christian Scholars Review 24.1 (1994) 8-25

12
מלכים ב י״א:י״ח
(יח) וַיָּבֹ֣אוּ כָל־עַם֩ הָאָ֨רֶץ בֵּית־הַבַּ֜עַל וַֽיִּתְּצֻ֗הוּ אֶת־מזבחתו [מִזְבְּחֹתָ֤יו] וְאֶת־צְלָמָיו֙ שִׁבְּר֣וּ הֵיטֵ֔ב וְאֵ֗ת מַתָּן֙ כֹּהֵ֣ן הַבַּ֔עַל הָרְג֖וּ לִפְנֵ֣י הַֽמִּזְבְּח֑וֹת וַיָּ֧שֶׂם הַכֹּהֵ֛ן פְּקֻדּ֖וֹת עַל־בֵּ֥ית ה’׃

II Kings 11:18
(18) Thereupon all the people of the land went to the temple of Baal. They tore it down and smashed its altars and images to bits, and they slew Mattan, the priest of Baal, in front of the altars. [Jehoiada] the priest then placed guards over the House of the LORD.

13
דברי הימים ב כ״ג:י״ז
(יז) וַיָּבֹ֨אוּ כָל־הָעָ֤ם בֵּית־הַבַּ֙עַל֙ וַֽיִּתְּצֻ֔הוּ וְאֶת־מִזְבְּחֹתָ֥יו וְאֶת־צְלָמָ֖יו שִׁבֵּ֑רוּ וְאֵ֗ת מַתָּן֙ כֹּהֵ֣ן הַבַּ֔עַל הָרְג֖וּ לִפְנֵ֥י הַֽמִּזְבְּחֽוֹת׃

II Chronicles 23:17
(17) All the people then went to the temple of Baal; they tore it down and smashed its altars and images to bits, and they slew Mattan, the priest of Baal, in front of the altars.

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יחזקאל ז׳:כ׳
(כ) וּצְבִ֤י עֶדְיוֹ֙ לְגָא֣וֹן שָׂמָ֔הוּ וְצַלְמֵ֧י תוֹעֲבֹתָ֛ם שִׁקּוּצֵיהֶ֖ם עָ֣שׂוּ ב֑וֹ עַל־כֵּ֛ן נְתַתִּ֥יו לָהֶ֖ם לְנִדָּֽה׃

Ezekiel 7:20
(20) for out of their beautiful adornments, in which they took pride, they made their images and their detestable abominations—therefore I will make them an unclean thing to them.

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עמוס ה׳:כ״ו
(כו) וּנְשָׂאתֶ֗ם אֵ֚ת סִכּ֣וּת מַלְכְּכֶ֔ם וְאֵ֖ת כִּיּ֣וּן צַלְמֵיכֶ֑ם כּוֹכַב֙ אֱלֹ֣קֵיכֶ֔ם אֲשֶׁ֥ר עֲשִׂיתֶ֖ם לָכֶֽם׃

Amos 5:26
(26) And you shall carry off your “king”— Sikkuth and Kiyyun, The images you have made for yourselves Of your astral deity—

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דניאל ג׳:א׳
(א) נְבוּכַדְנֶצַּ֣ר מַלְכָּ֗א עֲבַד֙ צְלֵ֣ם דִּֽי־דְהַ֔ב רוּמֵהּ֙ אַמִּ֣ין שִׁתִּ֔ין פְּתָיֵ֖הּ אַמִּ֣ין שִׁ֑ת אֲקִימֵהּ֙ בְּבִקְעַ֣ת דּוּרָ֔א בִּמְדִינַ֖ת בָּבֶֽל׃

Daniel 3:1
(1) King Nebuchadnezzar made a statue of gold sixty cubits high and six cubits broad. He set it up in the plain of Dura in the province of Babylon.

The case for demut (“likeness”) is more complicated. Although biblical scholars have often suggested that the physical, concrete connotation of tselem is intentionally modified by the more abstract demut, this latter term is sometimes used within Scripture for concrete, visible representations. [Middleton ibid.]

Tselem and demut are also used with reference to resemblance:

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בראשית ה׳:ג׳
(ג) וַֽיְחִ֣י אָדָ֗ם שְׁלֹשִׁ֤ים וּמְאַת֙ שָׁנָ֔ה וַיּ֥וֹלֶד בִּדְמוּת֖וֹ כְּצַלְמ֑וֹ וַיִּקְרָ֥א אֶת־שְׁמ֖וֹ שֵֽׁת׃

Genesis 5:3
(3) When Adam had lived 130 years, he begot a son in his likeness after his image, and he named him Seth.

“a recent (1979) excavation at Tell Fekheriyeh in Syria unearthed a 9th century statue with a bilingual inscription containing the cognate equivalents of both tselem and demut in Assyrian and Aramaic as parallel terms designating the statue.” [Middleton ibid.]

18 A Statue from Syria

19
The statue is referred to by two Aramaic words, both with Hebrew cognates. The initial word of the inscription introduces it as dmwt’, “the image.” At the start the second part the word used in the Aramaic is slm “statue,” in the Assyrian its cognate salmu. This is not a means of distinguishing the two parts of the inscription, for dmwt’ reappears three lines later. These two words in their Hebrew dress are the famous “image” and “likeness” in God’s creation of man in Gen 1:26; cf. 5:3. Their clear application to this stone statue, the only ancient occurrence of the words as a pair outside the OT, provides fuel for the debate over the meaning of the clause in Genesis 1 [STATUE FROM SYRIA WITH ASSYRIAN AND ARAMAIC INSCRIPTIONS A. R. Millard and P. Bordreuil, BIBLICAL ARCHEOLOGIST/SUMMER 1982]

20 A Statue from Syria - inscripton

21
Among Bible scholars one of the most common interpretations is that being created in the image of God means being given the special role of “representing . . . God’s rule in the world.” The Torah’s view is that people are God’s “vice-regents” and “earthly delegates,” appointed by God to rule over the world. One traditional Jewish commentator, R. Saadia Gaon (882–942), anticipated this understanding of Genesis, arguing that being created in the image of God means being assigned to rule over creation (Saadia Gaon, commentary to Gen. 1:26). בְּצַלְמֵנוּ כִּדְמוּתֵנוּ שליט

The ancient Near Eastern context sheds remarkable light on the audacity of the Torah’s message. In the ancient world, various kings (and sometimes priests) were described as the images of a god. It is the king who is God’s representative or intermediary intermediary on earth, and it is he who mediates God’s blessings to the world. In dramatic contrast to this, the Torah asserts that ordinary human beings—not just kings, but each and every one of us—are mediators of divine blessing. “The entire race collectively stands vis-à-vis God in the same relationship of chosenness and protection that characterizes the god-king relationship in the more ancient civilizations of the Near East.” Genesis 1 thus represents a radical democratization of ancient Near Eastern royal ideology. We are, the Torah insists, all kings and queens.

Shai Held. The Heart of Torah, Volume 1: Essays on the Weekly Torah Portion: Genesis and Exodus . The Jewish Publication Society.

22
Feminist Objection to the Royal Interpretation of “In the Image of God”

Such a picture, claims McFague, is derived from a patriarchal model of man ruling over woman and serves to enforce and legitimate such rule by its association of male dominance with God’s transcendence. [Sallie McFague, Models of God: Theology for an Ecological, Nuclear Age (Philadelphia: Fortress, 1987), pp. 63-69.]

23
The Environmental Objection to the Royal Interpretation of “In the Image of God”

Some environmentalists have placed the blame for the modern West’s despoliation of the earth squarely at the Bible’s feet. Thus, for example, one influential writer charges that according to Christian (and by implication, Jewish) thinking, “God planned all of this explicitly for man’s benefit and rule: No item in the physical creation had any purpose save to serve man’s purposes.” The environmental crisis, he insists, was rooted in religious “arrogance towards nature” and the only solution, therefore, lay in moving beyond these patently damaging and outdated ideas. [Held, Shai. The Heart of Torah, Volume 1: Essays on the Weekly Torah Portion: Genesis and Exodus . The Jewish Publication Society.]

24
“ancient Near Eastern society, whether Mesopotamian (that is, Sumerian, Babylonian or Assyrian), West Semitic (that is, Canaanite), or Egyptian, was hierarchically ordered…. Standing between the human realm, on the one hand, and the gods, on the other, was the king, universally viewed in the ancient Near East as the mediator of both social harmony and cosmic fertility from the gods. To contrast the two cultures we know most about, whereas in Egypt the Pharaoh is viewed as the eternally begotten son of the gods, in Mesopotamia the king was but an adopted son. Both, however, are referred to as the image of this or that particular god, whether Re, Amon, Marduk, ‘Shamash or Enlil. [Middleton ibid.]

25
פסיקתא דרב כהנא כ״ג
(א) פסקא כג אות א ראש השנה: (א) לעולם י”י דברך נצב בשמים (תהלים קיט פט) תני ר’ אליע’ בעשרים וחמשה באלול נברא העולם ואתיא דרב כהדא דתני ר’ אליע’ דתניא בתקיעתא דרב זה היום תחילת מעשיך זכרון ליום ראשון וגו’ כי חק לישראל הוא משפט וג’ (שם פא ה) על המדינות בו יאמר איזו לחרב ואיזו לשלום איזו לרעב ואיזו לשובע איזו למות ואיזו לחיים וביריות בו יפקדו להזכירם חיים ומות נמצאת אומ’ בראש השנה נברא אדם הראשון בשעה ראשונה עלה במחשבה בשנייה נמלך במלאכי השרת בשלישית כינס עפרו ברביעית גיבלו בחמישית ריקמו בשישית העמידו גולם על רגליו בשביעי’ זרק בו נשמה בשמינית הכניסו לגן עדן בתשיעית ציוהו בעשירית עבר על ציוהו באחת עשרה נידון בשתים עשרה יצא בדימוס מלפני הק”ב א’ לו הקב”ה אדם זה סימן לבניך כשם שנכנסתה לפניי בדין ביום הזה ויצאתה בדימוס כך עתידין בניך להיות נכנסין לפניי בדין ביום הזה ויוצאין בדימוס אימתי בחדש השביעי באחד לחדש (ויקרא כג כד

Pesikta D’Rav Kahanna 23
A. Rosh Hashanah. Your word stands firm in heaven (Psalms 119; 89) R. Eliya learnt: On the 25th of Elul the world was created and he cited R. Kehada who learnt that R. Eliya learnt during the blowings of Rav “This is the day, the beginning of your works, is in remembrance of the first day etc. For it is a law for Israel, a ruling of the God of Jacob; etc. (psalms 81:5) on the Nations it was written, who for the sword, who for peace, who for famine who for plenty, who for death, and who for life and with shots he will be selected deserving of life and death as they say On Rosh Hashanah Adam (the first Man) was created.

In the first hour it came into His mind. In the second (hour) he ruled among the heavenly host. In the third he gathered the dirt. In the fourth He kneaded. In the fifth he formed him. In the sixth he raised the Golem onto his feet. In the seventh he threw into him a soul. In the eighth he brought him into the garden of Eden. In the ninth he commanded him (not to eat of the Tree of Knowledge). In the tenth he (Adam) transgressed His command. In the eleventh he was judged. In the twelfth hour he was pardoned by the Holy One Blessed be He. Said to him, God: “Adam, this is a sign for your children. Just as you came in judgement before me on this day and went out pardoned so also in the future your children will come before me in judgement on this day and leave pardoned. When? On the seventh month on the first (day) of the month (Leviticus 23:24)

26
The Torah’s assertion that every human being is created in the image of God is a repudiation of the idea, so common in the ancient world, that some people are simply meant to rule over others. If everyone is royalty, then on some level, when it comes to the interpersonal and political spheres, no one is.

Assigned the role of God’s delegates, human beings are told to “be fertile and increase, fill the earth and master it . . . rule the fish of the sea, the birds of the sky, and all the living things that creep on the earth” (Gen. 1:28).

What’s more, Genesis 1 repeatedly emphasizes and seems to revel in the fact that God created both vegetation and creatures “of every kind.” … then, the biblical . . . creation story is like a hymn to biodiversity, which is seen as unambiguously good in its own right.

If Genesis 1 teaches that human beings are meant to be kings and queens over creation, …“The task of a king is to care for those over whom he rules, especially for the weakest and most helpless. . . . This means that humans are expected to care for the earth and its creatures. Such is the responsibility of royalty.” What we find in Genesis 1, then, is not a license to abuse and exploit but a summons to nurture and protect.

The problem with the notion of human stewardship over creation is not that it authorizes human exploitation of the earth and abuse of the animal kingdom—which, as we have seen, it emphatically does not. The problem is, rather, that we have not really taken it seriously enough to try it. In modern times, amid an almost manic need to produce and consume more and more, we have all too often lost sight of what has been entrusted to us. What we need is not to abandon Genesis 1 but to return to it and to rediscover there what we have forgotten or failed to see altogether. We are created in the image of God and are thus mandated to rule over creation; this is a call to exercise power in the way Tanakh imagines the ideal ruler would, “in obedience to the reign of God and for the sake of all the other creatures whom [our] power affects.” [Held, Shai. ibid]

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“Obedience to God is also the negation of submission to man.”

You Shall be as Gods – A Radical Interpretation of the Old Testament and its Tradition, Erich Fromm 1966 p73

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