I got this question about the OT/Tanaach portrayal of pagan idols and idolatry:
An atheist I know also said that the writers of the Old Testament were simple minded, since the other tribes etc didn't actually think the Idols were gods, but just representatives. That people believed that the gods dwelt in them when you talked. As you can see this is confusing, please help… Thanks
There is possibly some miscommunication occurring between you and your atheist friend.
For example, an idol would not be merely a 'representative' if the god 'dwelt in it' during conversation. A representative (better 'representation') of a god would only be a 'reminder' of the deity's reality.
Secondly, any atheist who knew enough to question the OT portrayal of pagan idols should already know that the idols were 'more than representations' to the pagans, but also that they were not universally thought to be 'exhaustive embodiments' of said deities.
So, since I am not sure of the atheist's actual position, I will play it safe and cover the all the bases.
This will be in three pieces:
Description of ancient pagan religion on the subject [this piece, idle1.html]
Criticisms of ancient pagan religion by non-biblical and then biblical writers [idle2.html]
Specific Pushbacks (i.e., scholars / writings which consider the OT portrayal as being either 'culpably ignorant' or 'conscious distortions' of pagan thought) [idle3.html]
First of all, scholars generally understand pagan thought to have believed that the idol was more than a simple representation. The god was present inside the image, rituals were used to animate the image (via 'fusion' of god/image, a la 'transubstantiation'), and terms such as 'birth' and 'entry' were used of these ceremonies. The image was considered to be actually alive, and not just a sign or symbol per say.
of those images:
mysteriously, they were,
the personality they represented. The entire beginning of
the poem How Erra Wrecked the World details the efforts of
that god of sinister designs to convince Marduk to "leave"
his cult statue (a core of rare wood, covered with sheets of
stamped precious metal), so that, Erra suggested, it might be
conveniently "cleaned" and restored to all its former
brilliance, tarnished over time. When, in the end, Marduk allowed
himself to be convinced, "he arose from his dwelling,"
both his statue and the sanctuary that sheltered it, thus opening the
way for the misdeeds of the violent Erra, whom his presence would
have deterred. Mysteriously, but true, in
fact, in the eyes of the faithful, the god's image "enclosed"
his person and ensured his "true presence." It
was in the name of the same "realism" that, for example,
the gods were moved around, in the form of their images,
transported by cart or by boat, intra muros or beyond, to
visit other divinities or even, lying side by side in their closed
"bedroom," to spend their honeymoon night together, as in
the hieros gamos of the first millennium. In the case of
military defeat, the gods' images—as well as the kings'—
were deported abroad by the conquerors." [OT:RIAM, 65;
"The form of
the image, especially of the theriomorphic examples, frequently
represented some prominent characteristic of the particular deity;
thus an image of a bull (e.g. of El in Cannann) portrayed the god’s
power and fertility. The image was not
primarily intended as a visual representation of the deity, but as a
dwelling-place of the spirit of the deity enabling the
god to be physically present in many different places simultaneously.
not necessarily accept
that his prayers were being offered to the figure of wood or metal
itself, but would probably have regarded the image as a ‘projection’
or embodiment of the deity. Of course, those in Israel who denied
any reality to the deity represented by the image maintained that the
worshippers of foreign deities were paying homage to mere wood and
stone." [Wood, D. R. W., & Marshall, I. H. (1996). New
Bible dictionary (3rd ed.) (498–499). Leicester, England;
Downers Grove, Ill.: InterVarsity Press.]
Near Eastern beliefs about and treatment of idols. Idols came in
a variety of shapes and sizes in the ancient Near East. They were
typically carved of wood and overlaid with hammered-out sheets of
silver or gold. Basically human in appearance (except those from
Egypt, which combined human and animal characteristics), they had
distinctive, even formalized, poses, clothing and hairstyles. Images
of deity in the ancient Near East were where the deity became present
in a special way, to the extent that the cult statue became the god
(when the god so favored his worshipers), even though it was not the
only manifestation of the god.
Rituals were performed to bring the god to life in its idol.
As a result of this linkage, spells,
incantations and other magical acts could be performed on the image
in order to threaten, bind or compel the deity. In
contrast, other rites related to the image were intended to aid the
deity or care for the deity. The idols then represent a worldview, a
concept of deity that was not consistent with how Yahweh had revealed
himself. The idol was not the deity, but the
deity was thought to inhabit the image and manifest its presence and
will through the image. Archaeologists have found very few
of the life-sized images that the texts describe, but there are
renderings of them that allow accurate knowledge of details. The
images of deities in Mesopotamia were fed, dressed and even washed
daily. Food sacrifices were brought to the deity on a daily basis
(and were no doubt eaten by the temple technicians). Other attendants
were required to dress and undress the statue, and still others were
employed to wash the statue and transport it in times of
celebration." [Matthews, V. H., Chavalas, M. W., & Walton,
J. H. (2000). The IVP Bible background commentary : Old Testament
(electronic ed.) (Je 10:5). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.
construction of Babylonian cult images. The images were made from the
wood of special trees, generally that of the mesu or binu trees. The
shapes of the images followed some acknowledged conventions. They
generally had human shapes and proportions; they were manufactured in
special temple workshops; they underwent secret nocturnal ceremonies
in which they were "endowed with life;" their eyes and ears
were "opened" so that they could see and eat; and in a
ceremony described as "washing of the mouth" or "opening
of the mouth," they were invigorated, endowed with a special
sanctity. In this manner, they became animated, sacrilized and
operative in a cultic sense. The objective of these ceremonies was
to return the man-made image to the mythic origins of the deity
represented, to ritually purge any connection with human manufacture
through rituals and recitations, to empower its senses, to determine
its destiny and thus to effect a change in
the substance of the image. Once
it became the god that it represented. … Although
the cult statue was completely identified with the god, the
ubiquitous god was not restricted to the local image. The image,
mystically united with the god,
was his local theophany, the real, immanent presence of transcendent
reality. Its manufacture was explained mythically as an expression of
divine will and according to divine design" [OT:RAI, 525f]
"They cut a tree … a craftsman shapes it with his chisel (10:3). The manufacture of idols was common in the ancient Near East. Images of deities were hewn out of stone, carved out of wood, modeled in clay, or cast in bronze. Some were four to ten inches high; others were life-size. Here Jeremiah refers to images chiseled out of wood and then overlaid with silver and gold and clothed in blue and purple. These idols were seen as more than merely representing a deity, but at the same time they were not identified wholly with the deity. The ancient Near Eastern person worshiped the deity they believed was present in the image, not the image itself." [fn: T. Jacobsen, “The Graven Image,” in Ancient Israelite Religion, ed. P. Miller, P. Hanson and S. D. McBride (Minneapolis: Fortress, 1987),p18] [Walton, J. H. (2009). Zondervan Illustrated Bible Backgrounds Commentary (Old Testament) Volume 4: Isaiah, Jeremiah, Lamentations, Ezekiel, Daniel (260). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.
"The impression above is from a cylinder seal of the time of Naram-Sin engraved at Lagash. A believer followed by a goddess approaches a seated vegetation and fertility goddess. Behind her on a high socle stands a miniature image of the same deity. As the original publisher of this seal observed, "une statue, une veritable idole, a cote de la representation en quelque sorte vivante de la divinite." This seal graphically highlights the complex relationship between the cult image and the deity represented, one of identity and difference." [OT:ILANE, pp 111-116, "The Relationship between the Cult Image and the Deity in Mesopotamia" by Michael B. Dick]
"Therefore it seems that generally the gods may have a (superhuman shape, but that they also remain invisible in their heaven. This brings us to a difficulty: what is the status of the statues of the gods? We know that they were regarded as somehow identical to the gods themselves: they are clothed and fed and generally cared for as if they were living beings. " [OT:WIAG, Herman Vanstiphout, "Die Geschopfe des Prometheus, or How and Why Did the Sumerians Create their Gods", 25-27]
A Real Presence in the Image:
"To the Egyptians and Mesopotamians—and almost certainly to the Canaanites as well—images were not the inanimate objects that the Hebrew prophets insisted they were; rather, they were living, feeling beings in which the deity was actually present. The primary significance of images lay in the fact that the life of the deity was thought to be present in the statue. The Egyptian view is expressed in a passage from the Memphite Theology which says, “He placed the gods in their shrines, He settled their offerings, He established their shrines, He made their bodies according to their wishes. Thus the gods entered into their bodies, Of every wood, every stone, every day” (AEL 1:55). The gods were thought to manifest themselves in a variety of ways and to animate a variety of objects, but the cult image was a primary focus of the god’s presence on earth. Numerous Egyptian texts (though coming mostly from the Greek and Roman periods) describe the god in the form of a bird descending from heaven to alight on his image. Morenz (1973: 157) says that this figure “represents the living substance of the deity which is imparted to the inanimate image.” A similar view of images existed in Mesopotamia and appears to be an idea commonly associated with the use of images in religion (Bernhardt 1956). Oppenheim (1977: 184) says, “Fundamentally, the deity was considered present in its image … The god moved with the image when it was carried off … Only on the mythological level were the deities thought to reside in cosmic localities.” It is this living presence of the deity in the statue that accounts for the Mesopotamian practice of taking away the gods of a conquered people and depositing them in the temple of the victorious deity. This demonstrated the power of the conquering god and removed the deity from the conquered area so that he or she would not be able to help the people overthrow the conqueror’s authority. Certain literary compositions celebrate the return of the deity from exile to his or her city and the subsequent prosperity that the god’s presence brings. This living presence of the god in the image was magically accomplished through the “opening (or washing) of the mouth” ceremony, a ceremony that Jacobsen (1987: 15–32) suggests was a cultic reenactment of the birth of the deity in heaven. The presence of the deity in the statue was then maintained through offerings and the proper care of the statue. Morenz (1973: 155) says that “from early times onward Egyptians were not satisfied with just fashioning an image, i.e., with the creation of a work of art. On the contrary, a ritual was performed on the statues while they were still in the sculptor’s workshop …, as a result of which the work of human hands was thought to come alive. This ceremony of ‘opening the mouth’ had the purpose of making all the organs serviceable and so vitalizing the image.” An Akkadian text (Ebeling 1931: 120–21) dealing with the consecration of a sacred object (perhaps a statue, although the text is broken at the point where the object is mentioned) describes the purpose of the ceremony. It reads “this [statue?] without the mouth-opening ceremony cannot smell incense, cannot eat food, and cannot drink water.” Some texts suggest that the opening of the mouth ritual was performed on the statue periodically in order to maintain the vitality of the statue." [Freedman, D. N. (1996). Vol. 3: The Anchor Yale Bible Dictionary (377). New York: Doubleday.
"It is the thesis of this paper that the deity was "really present" in the cult image which had been duly (kinis) dedicated by the Mis Pi ceremony. The statue had to be enlivened by the special ceremony called the KA.LUH.U.DA/ Mis Pi, equivalent to the Greek hidrusis or the Roman dedicatio. Without this ritual the statue was only a dead product of human artisans: 'This statue cannot smell incense, drink water, or eat food without the Opening of the Mouth!'" (footnote: STT 200:43 and UP xx/I Nr. 6 1-3) [OT:ILANE, pp 111-116]
"The image of the god was central to the official religion of ancient Mesopotamia. The god was believed to be present in his or her statue. When the image of the deity was carried off in war, that god remained absent until his statue was returned. The importance of these statues has been shown by the wide distribution of cheap, clay replicas as well as statues of minor gods. In fact, a son could inherit his father's "gods." Creating a divine image was a solemn ceremonial task for the temple workshops. Mesopotamian gods were usually fashioned to look like men, and they participated in most human activities such as eating, drinking, making love, losing their tempers, sulking, weeping, and sleeping. The statues were made and repaired in special workshops. Most temple images were fashioned from precious wood. Small decorative ornaments of gold or silver were sewn onto the clothing of the gods. Pectorals and a horned crown were added to complete the god's outfit. The clothing was changed according to ritual and ceremonial requirements. Some images were seated since their thrones were mentioned. As early as the third millennium bce, the images also underwent various rituals to sanctify them in special ways. The most elaborate ritual, the "washing of the mouth," was performed at night and accompanied by an appeal to the stars. The animation of the divine statue required several stages: mouth-washing conducted in the workshop; carrying the statue in a procession to the river bank, where a second mouth-washing took place; placing the statue facing west, then facing east, and making offerings to numerous gods, planets, certain fixed stars and constellations, and finally all the stars. The role of the astral deities in the ritual was to irradiate the wooden statue, which was adorned with precious metals and stones. Also, a secret ritual of consecration was performed to endow the gods with "life" by opening their eyes and mouths to see and eat. The divine statues were then placed on a pedestal in the inner sanctuary. Here the gods "lived" with their families and were served by a staff of minor gods who, in turn, supervised human workers such as divine musicians, handmaidens, a counselor, and a secretary who screened cases submitted to him for decision." [OT:DLAM, 185f, "Representations of the Gods"]
"There is only one step from draping and bathing a god's image to explicitly believing that it is indeed filled with life, that the statue is animated. Animation, it was generally accepted in Antiquity, means that the god himself is dwelling in its image, and that therefore the image possesses powers that would not normally be ascribed to a statue. The belief in the animated statue of the god is an attitude; it is expressed in stories of miracles and healings, in prayers and rituals, in behavior towards the material images, and in various other ways." [HI:ICON, 36]
"The evidence from seals and prosopography is consonant, in some measure, with the impression conveyed by more literary texts. They suggest that, as a rule, people lived in topographical proximity to their gods. This fact explains why someone abroad, faced with sudden disaster, must first return home before he can ask his god to help him. A case in point is that of Yasim-El, an official of king Zimri-Lim stationed in Andarig. Having fallen ill he requests that he be released from his duties so that he might go home to sacrifice to his gods.
Since the beginning of the year I am suffering from a severe illness. Two servants of my lord have already died. Now my illness is getting worse. I have consulted the diviner about my illness a number of times: the signs are inauspicious. This is what he said: 'Go, kiss the foot of your gods and strengthen your body.' However, should my lord wish that I stay in Andarig, I will stay. Let my lord send HaSSum ... that I may go and kiss the foot of my lord and bring sacrifice to my gods. At the end of the fifth day I can return to Andarig. If not, it is to be feared that my illness gets worse and that I fall out of the hand of my lord (forever)." [OT:FRIB, 83f]
"But it was widely believed that simply to make an image of the god was not enough to establish the close sympathetic connexion between the image and the god; you had to do something more. The image, as it left the hands of the craftsman, was just wood or stone; but by the proper rites you could induce the deity to animate it, to make it an organ for his reception of your worship and his bestowal of help. This is the established practice in Hinduism to-day. Before its ritual animation, the image is not a fit object of worship: afterwards it really becomes one of the visible bodies of the god. The consecration includes the recitation by the Brahmin priest of particular ritual verses, rubbing particular substances upon the outside of the image, and, in some districts, putting sacred objects of some kind inside it… But an idea closely parallel to the Indian idea was evidently entertained in Hellenistic Egypt. In the Hermetic tract, Asklepios, just referred to, we get it frankly expounded, and the writer glories in the fact that men can make gods. "They invented," we are told, "the art of making gods out of some material substance; that it to say, being unable to make souls, they invoked the souls of daemons, and implanted them in the statues by means of certain holy and sacred rites." Such terrestrial gods, the tract goes on to say, are particularly touchy: they "are easily provoked to anger, inasmuch as they are made and put together by men out of both kinds of substance." The other interlocutor in the dialogue asks for further information regarding the means by which the daemons are induced to come and reside in the images, and he gets the answer: "They are induced by herbs and stones and scents which have in them something divine"" [HI:HI, 31, 33f]
"Images played an important role in Babylonian religion. Both images in the sense of statues in the round and a variety of different types of symbol could represent deities. Objects or symbols pertaining to a particular deity could be used in swearing oaths. While a deity was normally regarded as being present in his statue or symbol, he could withdraw of his own free will, or be forced to withdraw, for example by desecration of the physical object. In this case complicated rituals were required to bring the material artifact back into religious life (such as pı̄t pî and mı̄s pî rituals, literally ‘opening-of-the-mouth’ and ‘washing-of-the-mouth’). A worshipper could sometimes be regarded as represented by a votive statuette placed in a temple. The worshipper would normally avoid referring to the statue as such, but simply make reference to the deity by name." [DDD, s.v. Image]
"In discussing the daily cult ritual, we saw that, in addition to tut 'statue', the cult statue could be called the ba or the sekhem of the deity, the first term meaning 'power that is manifest' or 'manifestation' and the second implying the 'empowerment' of the statue by some part of the divine essence that has entered into it. These are eloquent terms indeed, and in a very real sense they answer the question with which we are ultimately concerned here: how it is that the ancient Egyptians thought that their cult statues were something other than useless, inanimate objects. But Egyptian thinking could be complex, and of course there is more". [HI:BIHMOE, 179]
Additional Birthing/Entry/Animation terminology:
"In this paper I shall concentrate on what the Mis Pi ceremony tells us about the relationship between the image and the deity. The relationship between the cult image and the deity in Mesopotamia can be expressed in terms of three "activities/verbs":
1. "to (in)dwell"
2. "to enter"
3. "to be born" [OT:ILANE, pp 111-112, "The Relationship between the Cult Image and the Deity in Mesopotamia" by Michael B. Dick]
"That these two gods (and many other gods and goddesses, all of them members of the Mesopotamian pantheon) were envisioned as having human-like characteristics and form can be inferred from myth and ritual, according to which deities were fathered, born, nurtured, and raised in a manner similar to that of humans. The use of the verb waladu (tud) 'to give birth, to fashion a cult image' in regard to the making of the gods' cultic images lends further credence to the motion that the Mesopotamian deity was based on the human model." [OT:WIAG, Tallay Ornan, "In the Likeness of Man: Reflections on the Anthropocentric Perception of the Divine in Mesopotamian Art", 93f]
"The daily care given to the statue reflects the belief that the statue was alive and thus needed the same attention and sustenance that any living individual would require. Two meals a day were provided for the images in the Uruk temple, and Oppenheim (1977: 188–89) has provided a composite picture of these meals. A table was brought in and placed before the image, and water for washing was provided. Various dishes including specific cuts of meat were presented to the statue and finally fruit was brought in an aesthetically attractive arrangement. Musicians played during the meal and curtains were drawn around the statue while the image partook of the food. The table was cleared and water was again provided for washing after the meal. Great attention was also given to proper and splendid attire for the image." [Freedman, D. N. (1996). Vol. 3: The Anchor Yale Bible Dictionary (378). New York: Doubleday.]
"While elsewhere in their condemnations of their neighbors the biblical writers can be guilty of polemic and hyperbole, in the case of idol worship the Bible’s portrait seems fairly accurate. Both archaeological and textual evidence from throughout the West Semitic and eastern Mediterranean worlds indicate that the use of images to represent the deity was the norm in West Asian religious traditions. These images were most typically in the form of statues, although carved reliefs and wall paintings are attested. Statues, often life-sized, stood in temples and other sacred spaces, were the recipients of sacrifice and libations, and received votive offerings and prayers. They were also clothed and could be bathed. In certain ways, then, they were imagined as “alive,” to the degree at least that the god was perceived to be somehow present or manifest within the image and to share its fortunes or, on occasion, misfortunes (e.g., when the cult statue of the Philistine god Dagon falls and loses both head and hands before Israel’s ark of the covenant, it is as if Dagon has himself been defeated by the power of the Israelite God; 1 Sam. 5:1–5)." [Freedman, D. N., Myers, A. C., & Beck, A. B. (2000). Eerdmans dictionary of the Bible (626). Grand Rapids, Mich.: W.B. Eerdmans.
To illustrate these points from the ANE literature itself (upon which the scholars above based their analysis), is a representative text from the Context of Scripture books [COS1, mostly]
"THE ADAD-GUPPI AUTOBIOGRAPHY (1.147): In 1906 H. Pognon discovered a much-broken stela at Eski Harran (Nab. H 1, A). The text left many questions unanswered but was identified as composed for either the mother or grandmother of Nabonidus. Happily, D. S. Rice discovered a duplicate in the pavement steps of the northern entrance to the Great Mosque at Harran (Nab. H 2, A). Both texts had been used to construct the steps leading to the mosque.
Introduction (Column I, lines 1–5)
I am Adad-guppi, mother of Nabunaid, king of Babylon, a worshipper of Sin, Ningal, Nusku, and Sadarnunna, my gods, for whose divinity I have cared since my youth.
Autobiographical Narrative (Column 1, line 5 to column III, line 43’ [the following extract is through Column II, line 11])
Whereas in the sixteenth year of Nabopolassar, king of Babylon, Sin, the king of the gods, became angry with his city and his house, and went up to heaven (with the result that) the city and its people were transformed into a ruin. During that time I cared for the sanctuaries of Sin, Ningal, Nusku, and Sadarnunna, since I revered their deity. Sin, the king of the gods, I was constantly beseeching. I daily, without fail, cared for his great deity. I was a worshipper of Sin, Shamash, Ishtar, and Adad all of my life (whether) in heaven or on earth. My fine possessions that they gave to me, I gave back to them, daily, nightly, monthly, yearly. I was continually beseeching Sin. Gazing at him prayerfully and in humility, I knelt before them. Thus (I said): “May your return to your city take place. May the black-headed people worship your great divinity.”…
From the twentieth year of Assurbanipal, king of Assur, in which I was born, until the forty-second year of Assurbanipal, the third year of Assur-etillu-ili, his son, the twenty-first year of Nabopolasser, the forty-third year of Nebuchadnezzar, the second year of Awel-Marduk, the fourth year of Neriglissar — for ninety-five years I cared for Sin, the king of the gods of heaven and earth, and for the sanctuaries of his great divinity. He looked upon me and my good deeds with joy. Having heard my prayers and agreeing to my request, the wrath of his heart calmed. He was reconciled with Eḫulḫul, Sin’s house, located in the midst of Harran, his favorite dwelling.
When, in my dream, Sin, the king of the gods, had set his hands (on me), he said thus: “Through you I will bring about the return of the gods (to) the dwelling in Harran, by means of Nabunaid your son. He will construct Eḫulḫul; he will complete its work. He will complete the city Harran greater than it was before and restore it. He will bring Sin, Ningal, Nusku, and Sadarnunna in procession back into the Eḫulḫul.”
[Hallo, W. W., & Younger, K. L. (1997-). The context of Scripture (477–478). Leiden; New York: Brill.]
Secondly, although there are statements in the mythology that indicate that the elites believed that the image was NOT exhaustively identical to the god, the identity of the two are affirmed in the vast preponderance of the texts--both mythic, cultic, and other. If the authors of this ANE material meant to keep the distinction between the image and deity, they did a very, very poor job of it! The references to bodies, flesh-of-the-god, etc would certainly lead the simple worshipper to believe the two were identical, and probably was reflective of the base-belief system of the actual myth-text scribes/practitioners as well. Here I will first give the scholarly assessments of the data, and then in the next point I want to present many texts from the ANE to show how vivid and clear this is in the data. [I will include some comments about Greco-Roman cases, which were very similar to those of the Fertile Crescent.]
"Yehezkel Kaufmann has pointed out how curious it is that the prophetic mockery of idolatry never mocked any of the myths of the gods, myths which would have offered a fertile treasure-store for satire. But it is true that the pagans made no clear distinction between the heavenly bodies and the gods manifested in those heavenly bodies, and between the gods and the idol images in which the gods were made manifest…" [Holladay, W. L., & Hanson, P. D. (1986). Jeremiah 1 : A commentary on the Book of the Prophet Jeremiah, chapters 1-25. Hermeneia--a critical and historical commentary on the Bible (331–332). Philadelphia: Fortress Press.
"Idols as Symbols of Power. On the one hand, the idol is not really the deity but only a handle to use in dealing with the spirit, the real power behind the idol. On the other hand, it becomes so identified with the god that the two are hard to separate. The genius of the symbol is that it gives humans a way to manipulate their gods. The presence of a god can be demanded in war, for oracles, at home, on a journey. Idols represent the presence of the god at state functions. (The religious and political are not clearly demarcated in antiquity.) They are dressed up for festivals, even carried to other cities for meetings (Is 46:1; Ps 68:24–25). Portable gods filled the need for divine accompaniment (Job 12:6). With similar hopes, the Israelites take the ark of the covenant into battle, attempting to force God to join in the battle on their side. At the arrival of the ark the Philistines exclaim in dismay, “A god has come into the camp. Woe to us!” (1 Sam 4:5).
One cannot miss the symbolism of submission intended by the charade between the idol of Dagan and the ark of the Lord (1 Sam 5:3–5). (Akkadian omen texts fret about idols that have fallen down and what dire consequences such events portend.) The (dis)pleasure or the health and well-being of the god is reflected in the national fortunes, with or without an idol. Sometimes merely owning an idol gives power. Micah’s Levite is enlisted to join the migration of the Danites because he has an idol usable for divination (Judg 18:18). Rachel’s thievery of Laban’s idols might have been for their power or for their significance with respect to inheritance and blessing or both (Gen 31:19–35). Idols were frequently one of the spoils of war (Hos 10:5). At times Mesopotamian gods are said to be “in exile” (captured). " [Ryken, L., Wilhoit, J., Longman, T., Duriez, C., Penney, D., & Reid, D. G. (2000). Dictionary of biblical imagery (electronic ed.) (417). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.
"An interesting insight is afforded by the stories of how the images of the gods were chained in order to prevent them from escaping. Pausanias, recounting customs in different—often rural and distant—parts of Greece, is a real mine. From his book on Arcadia we learn of an "antique statue of Enyalios in chains." Why was Enyalios, another name for Ares, the Greek god of war, chained? Pausanias tells us what people believed. "The Lakonians," he says, "have the same idea about this statue as the Athenians have about Wingless Victory: in Lakonia they think the god of war will never desert them if they keep him in chains; in Athens they believe Victory will stay with them forever because she has no wings." In the same chapter Pausanias tells of another chained statue, this time of Aphrodite. "The Beautiful goddess is a title of Aphrodite; she is enthroned and veiled, with fetters on her feet." In another place in Arcadia there is a statue of Eurynome, the mother of the Graces. She is "a wooden idol tied up with gold chains." Another version of the same topos appears in the book on Boiotia: "An apparition with rocks in hand was devastating the countryside." To check the destruction the oracle ordered the citizens, in addition to other actions, to "make a bronze image of the ghost and rivet it with iron to the rock." Plutarch mentions a particularly Roman version of our theme, applying legal concepts to the belief in the animation of statues. Some Roman historians report, says Plutarch, that there are certain exorcisms by means of which the gods can be summoned out of a city; the Romans have already done this with the gods of hostile cities. To prevent this happening, the people of Tyre fastened the statues of their gods with chains. In other places they followed a different pattern: when the statues of the gods had to be carried in festive procession to be bathed, they asked for securities.
The treatment of the statues of the gods, at least as it is reported in many extant ancient texts, can be explained only by the widespread belief in an identity of sorts of the god and its material image. Motivated by approaching danger or enticed by magic spells, the gods could retreat from their temples, or even leave the city. That the gods leave their abodes was understood as leaving their temples and statues." [HI:ICON, 38; mostly Greco-Roman, but Tyre is not.]
"A curious letter from Hammurapi (ca. 1792-1750 B.C.E.) concerns itself in great detail with the transport of the goddesses (istaratu) of Emutbal from Emutbal to Babylon by boat. The goddesses were to be provided with food for the journey and with kezertu-women whose specific duties included dressing their hair. A related letter concerns itself with the return of the same goddesses, now referred to as ilatu. That statues are involved seems to go without saying. … For the long interval from the fall of the First (Hammurapi) Dynasty of Babylon (ca. 1595 B.C.E.) to that of the Fourth (Isin II) Dynasty (ca. 1027 B.C.E.), the fortunes of its most prominent cult-statue are rehearsed in the "Prophecy of Marduk," a unique document newly reconstructed by Borger from numerous fragments of a single large tablet from Nineveh and a duplicate from Assur. Combining features of "pseudo-autobiography" and "prophecy," the document describes the successive deportations of the statue of Marduk by Hittites, Assyrians, and Elamites as self-imposed exiles ordained by the deity himself, and foretells a definitive restoration, presumably under Nebuchadnezzar I (ca. 1126-1105 B.C.E.)…. A period of Babylonian weakness followed, from the Fifth (Sealand II) Dynasty to the Eighth ("E") Dynasty (ca. 1026-732 B.C.E.). From some point during this period dates the Erra Epic and its explicit allusions to our theme. Indeed, it has rightly been said that one of the most important features of this epic "is the light it throws on religious concepts, and in particular the 'theology' of the divine statue." … During the period of Assyrian ascendancy and hegemony (the so-called Ninth Dynasty, 732-626 B.C.E.), the deportation of cult statues became a regular element of state policy, as Cogan has shown. So far from imposing her cults on subjugated peoples, Assyria symbolized her victory by carrying the cult and the cult-statue of the defeated people back to Assyria. … Babylon itself was not spared in this respect: when Sennaherib sacked the holy city in 689 B.C.E., he carried the statue of Marduk off to Assur, where it remained until restored to its rightful home by Assurbanipal in 668 B.C.E. … This restoration is duly recorded in the Babylonian Chronicle, a genre which shows unusual interest in the comings and goings of divine statues, particularly under Babylon's Tenth and last (Chaldaean) Dynasty (625-538 B.C.E.). Already in 626 B.C.E., on the eve of the accession of its first king Nabopolassar, "the gods of Kish went to Babylon," presumably for safekeeping, followed a year later by those of Shapazzu and Sippar, of which the former had already suffered capture by Tiglat-pileser III in 745 B.C.E. … Such capture was described in the Chronicle by verbs for "lead (away)," "rob," "take away (by force)," or "take away by force under threat." When therefore under the very last Chaldaean king Nabonidus (555-539 B.C.E.), the chronicle reports that the gods of Kish and Marada "entered" Babylon, it seems once again a move designed as a safeguard against the imminent approach of Cyrus, the more so as the gods of Sippar, Kutha, and Borsippa did not participate in it. " … "For the late second millennium, the use of mesu-wood as the 'flesh of the gods', i.e., the body of the divine statues, is attested by the Erra Epic along with other precious and semiprecious materials; for the first millennium, the 'Gottertypentext' makes the corresponding point. … Pettinato adds the evidence of early month names as well as numerous references to offerings for deities (as distinct from their emblems) which fail to specify their statues only because the statues were equated with the deity; by contrast, offerings to the statues of (living) kings and other mortals were so identified." [SC2, 1-18; William W. Hallo, "Cult Statue and Divine Image: A Preliminary Study"]
"There is no question that cuneiform texts from Mesopotamia, both historical and religious, can refer to the statue as if it simply were the god him/herself. The multiple peregrinations of Babylon's statue of Marduk due to raids were often phrased as if the God Marduk went on a journey. And so the Kassite king of Babylon Agunmkakrime (1602-1585 B.C.E.) talks of Marduk's return—not the statue's—from captivity in Hana:
When the Great Gods told by their pure word Marduk the Lord of Esangila and of Babylon to return to Babylon, Marduk determined to return to Babylon. . . . I planned and paid close attention and made him ready to take back to Babylon; I supported Marduk who loves my reign. I consulted King Shamash through a lamb of the baru-priest, and I sent to a far country to the land of Hana so that they might take Marduk and Sarpanitu who love my reign by the hand; and so I brought them back to Esangila and to Babylon. In the temple which Shamash carefully fixed (by oracle) I retuned them (V R pl. 33 col i 44—ii 21; see K.4348+ K.4149+ K.4203+ Sm 27).
"Earlier journeys of Marduk are recounted in the theologically important "Prophecy of Marduk" reconstructed by R. Borger from fragments of a large tablet from Nineveh and a duplicate from Ashur. This document catalogues the trips of Marduk, that is, his statue, with the Hittites, the Elamites, and the Assyrians (Borger 1971a: 3—24; see esp. 7:21-7:24'). The identification of deity and cult statue can probably be traced to the earliest days of Mesopotamian religion…. Later Babylonian texts, for example, the Babylonian Chronicles, frequently mention the taking of a god to Babylon, which of course identifies the deity with its cult statue. In 626 B.C.E., just before Naboplossar became king of Babylon, "the gods of Kish went to Babylon." Another passage in the Babylonian Chronicle mentions 'they took away the gods of Uruk and its inhabitants' (CT 34 48 iii 3 [NB chron])." [HI:BIHMOE, 32ff]
Thirdly, this sense of identity is reinforced with the countless references to the moving, location, dwellings, or materiality of the gods. These deities are constantly presented to the public as being 'contained'--and therefore portable--within the idol. [We will look at the exceptions in the next section]. We have already seen numerous mentions of this in the statements above, but here I want to present selections from actual texts from the ANE (mostly Hittite and Mesopotamian) which show this strong sense of identity (and physicality) of the deities. These statements are sometimes made by the deities themselves (!) in the narrative, but also include descriptions by humans. [Except where indicated, all of the above selections are from the Context of Scripture collection of Hallo/Younger.]
"ARCHIVE SHELF LISTS: These texts, also called “catalogs,” list the tablets in the state archives of Ḫattuša. They indicate the author and/or title/incipit of the work, how many tablets it comprised, the tablet’s form (ordinary tablets called DUB, special tablets called IM.GÍD.DA “long tablet”), and whether or not all known tablets were found. All such tablets were found in Boğazköy itself; to date none has been reported in Maşat (Tapikka), Kuşakli (Šarišša), or Ortaköy (Šapinuwa). What is translated below is only a small selection to give an impression of these texts. [COS3, 67]
FROM BÜYÜKKALE, BUILDING E (3.40)
(iii.2–3) “When they give [a festival (?)] in Šapinuwa to [the Stormgod (?)] in the third year.”
(iii.4) “When [they draw] from the road the Mother goddesses of the (king’s?) body.”
(iii.5–6) “When they celebrate the Spring Festival in Kulella for the Stormgod of Kul[ella].”
(iii.7–9) The word of Kantuzzi[li, Chief of the] priests (and) Prince: “When they pour […], and they call a little […], how they put down […] at his feet in the temple;” the ritual […]
(iii.10–13) The word of Eḫal-Teššub, the exorcist from Aleppo: “When a person’s male and female slaves are [not] in harmony, or a man and woman are not in harmony, or a man and woman are having bad dreams, how one [offers] to the deity the ritual of alienation from a evil person.”
(iii.14) “When someone offers ḫarnalianza to the Goddess of the Night.”
(iii.15) “Whenever they move the gods from their (usual) places.”
(iii.16–17) “How from Ḫattuša one goes to renew the Tutelary Deity of Ḫalinzuwa and Tuḫuppiya.”
(iii.18) “When someone [… -es] before the deity Alawayammi.”
(vi 2) Song which is in the tomb of King Intef, the justified, in front of the singer with the harp.
He is happy, this good prince!
Death is a kindly fate
A generation passes,
Since the time of the ancestors.
The gods who were before rest in their tombs, [Tanknotice: gods can die?]
Blessed (vi 5) nobles too are buried in their tombs.
(Yet) those who built tombs,
Their places are gone,
What has become of them?
[Hallo, W. W., & Younger, K. L. (1997-). The context of Scripture (48–49). Leiden; New York: Brill.]
While generation succeeds generation,
God who knows characters is hidden;
One can not oppose the lord of the hand,
He reaches all (125) that the eyes can see.
One should revere the god on his path,
Made of costly stone, fashioned of bronze.
[Hallo, W. W., & Younger, K. L. (1997-). The context of Scripture (64). Leiden; New York: Brill.]
INSTRUCTIONS TO PRIESTS AND TEMPLE OFFICIALS (1.83): This text is preserved in at least eight copies, several of which have been reconstructed through multiple joins of tablet fragments. The tablets are to be found in both the Istanbul and Ankara tablet collections. The copies date to the Empire period, but the text itself seems to go back to the pre–New Hittite period, before the reign of Šuppiluliuma I. The main text is KUB 13.4, a large well preserved four column tablet with the tops of columns i and ii broken away. Unless otherwise noted, line numbers given are for that tablet.
§2 (i 14´–33´) Further: Let those who make the daily bread be clean. Let them be washed and trimmed. Let (their) hair (?) and finger[nails] be trimmed. Let them be clothed in clean garments I[f] (they are) [not], let them not prepare (them). Let those who normally [propit]iate the spirit and body of the gods prepare them. The baker’s house in which they bake them must be swept and sprinkled down. Further, neither pig nor dog may come through the doors into the place where the bread is broken. [Hallo, W. W., & Younger, K. L. (1997-). The context of Scripture (217–218). Leiden; New York: Brill.]
APPU AND HIS TWO SONS (1.58): This text has been translated here as an independent story. According to Güterbock (1946), the text is continued in the tale of the Sun God, the Cow, and the Fisherman. Although the extant copies of the Appu story are New Hittite, archaic language indicates an archetype composed in the Old or Middle Hittite period. The story has a moral, which is stated in the proemium. The unnamed deity who is praised for always vindicating the just person will also thwart the evil son of Appu who attempts to defraud his honest brother.
Brother Wrong said to Brother Right: “Let us separate and settle down in different places.” Brother Right said [to Brother Wrong]: “Then who […]?” Brother Wrong said to Brother Right: “Since the mountains dwell separately, since the rivers flow in separate courses, as the very gods dwell separately — I say these things to you: The Sun God dwells in Sippar. The Moon God dwells in Kuzina. Teššub dwells in Kummiya. And Šawuška dwells in Nineveh. Nanaya [dwells] in Kiššina. And Marduk dwells in Babylon. As the gods dwell separately, so let us also settle in different places.”
[Hallo, W. W., & Younger, K. L. (1997-). The context of Scripture (153–154). Leiden; New York: Brill.]
INSTRUCTIONS TO COMMANDERS OF BORDER GARRISONS (BEL MADGALTI) (1.84): An essential element in Hittite administration of provinces was the auriyaš išḫaš, literally “lord of the watch tower/ guard post,” often written with the Akkadogram BEL MADGALTI. This was the officer in charge of garrisons and administration in sensitive frontier provinces of the empire. The Hittite term is often translated “border governor”;
§36´ (iii 17–21) And when they worship the gods, let no one cause a disturbance in the presence of the gods, and let no one cause a disturbance in the festival house.
[Hallo, W. W., & Younger, K. L. (1997-). The context of Scripture (221). Leiden; New York: Brill.]
The Marduk Prophecy: The Marduk Prophecy is the most complete and clearest example of fictional autobiography which ends with a prophecy.
(i 18´) I am Marduk, the great prince. I am Lord of fate and oracle. Who has undertaken this campaign? As I have gone away, I will come back — I have commanded it. I went to Elam — all the gods went — I commanded it. I myself cut off the nindabű-offering of the temples. Shakkan and Nisaba I caused to go away to heaven. (ii 1) Sirish made the midst of the land sick. The corpses of the people block the gates. Brother consumes brother. Friend strikes his friend with a weapon. Aristocrats stretch out their hands (to beg) from the commoner. The scepter grows short. Evil lies across the land. […] kings diminish the land. Lions block off the way. Dogs go mad and bite people. As many as they bite do not live; they die. I fulfilled my days; I fulfilled my years. Then I carried myself back to my city Babylon and to the Ekursagil. I called all the goddesses together. I commanded: “Bring your tribute, O you lands, to Babylon […].” [
[Hallo, W. W., & Younger, K. L. (1997-). The context of Scripture (480–481). Leiden; New York: Brill.]
APOLOGY OF ḪATTUŠILI III (1.77): The so-called “Apology” of Ḫattušili III (1267-ca. 1240 BCE) is one of the major Hittite historical texts that have come down to us. At least eight different manuscripts must have existed among which were one-tablet and two-tablet versions, thus illustrating the relative importance the Hittites must have attached to it.
§6 (1:75–76) Now, when my brother Muwatalli at the behest of his own deity went down to the Lower Land, he left (the city of) Ḫattuša behind.
(Column 2:1–30) He took up [the gods] of Ḫatti and the Manes and [c]arried them to the land of [Tarḫuntašša]. Thereupon, however, (of) all the Kaška Lands Pišḫuru (and) Daištipašša revolted.
§8 (2:48–68) My brother Muwatalli followed me and fortified the cities Anziliya and Tapiqqa, (then) he went right off, did not come near me at all and he let the troops (and) chariots of Ḫatti-Land march ahead and led them home. Then he gathered the gods of Ḫatti and the Manes on the spot, carried them down to the city of Tarḫuntašša and took (up residence in) Tarḫuntašša. To Durmitta (and) Kuruštama, however, he did not go.
[Hallo, W. W., & Younger, K. L. (1997-). The context of Scripture (201). Leiden; New York: Brill.]
THE ZUKRU FESTIVAL (1.123): In a culture that generally observed two axes in the turn of the year, at spring and autumn, the term “new year” is often too loosely applied. Nevertheless, the Israelite feasts of Unleavened Bread and Booths and the Mesopotamian akītu festival do occupy these key turning points in the annual cycle, with special significance for public religious commitments. Emar’s zukru festival provides a first early Syrian representative of this practice, attested in one primary tablet, with a badly broken alternative text, and various related fragments of indeterminate relation to these two tablets.
24th Day of Niqali (Second Month), 6th Year (lines 7–13)
[During the month of Niqali] on the 24th day, they distribute to all the gods from the king one (?) gallon of barley bread, two store jugs of …
25th Day of Niqali, 6th Year (lines 14–34)
[During the month of Niqali on] the 25th [day], all the gods and the Šaššabēyānātu-spirits [go out (in procession).] … Dagan Lord of the Brickwork goes out, his face covered. Two calves and six sheep from the king, with [two (?) sheep] from the town, proceed in front of Dagan.
[Hallo, W. W., & Younger, K. L. (1997-). The context of Scripture (432). Leiden; New York: Brill.]
THE HADAD INSCRIPTION (2.36): Discovered in the village of Gerçin 7 km northeast of Zenjirli, dating to the mid-eighth century BCE, this large statue of the god Hadad contains a thirty-four line inscription on its lower portion. The statue originally stood about 4 m high, though the top portion is not preserved. …
Reintroduction (lines 19–20a)
I am Panamuwa […] a hou[se for the go]ds of this city.
And [I built] it.
And I caused the gods to dwell in it.
And during my reign, I allotted [the gods] a resting place.
[Hallo, W. W., & Younger, K. L. (2000). Context of Scripture (157). Leiden; Boston: Brill.]
NEO-ASSYRIAN INSCRIPTIONS: SHALMANESER III (2.113)
KURKH MONOLITH (2.113A)
In the eponymy of Dayān-Aššur, in the month of Iyyar, the fourteenth day, I departed from Nineveh. I crossed the Tigris. I approached the cities of Giammu on the River Baliḫ. They were afraid of my lordly fearfulness (and) the splendor of my fierce weapons; and with their own weapons they killed Giammu, their master. I entered the cities of Saḫlala and Tīl-ša-turaḫi. I took my gods into his palaces; (and) celebrated the tašīltu-festival in his palaces.
[Hallo, W. W., & Younger, K. L. (2000). Context of Scripture (263). Leiden; Boston: Brill.]
NINURTA-KUDURRĪ-UṢUR — SUḪU ANNALS (#18) (2.115C)
From (the time of) Tabnēa, Iqīša-Marduk, and Nasḫir-Adad — three governors (in all) — for fifty years, the city of Anat was (under the control) of the Assyrian, (and also) for three years, in the days of Šamaš-rēša-uṣur, ditto (governor of the land of Suḫu and the land of Mari), my father, bef[ore] … [… I sat on] the throne of [my] father. When the gods Adad and Apla-[Adad] set […], the city of A[nat] returned (its allegiance) [to my father]. After four (?) [years], during which the city of Anat pros[pered (?)], [my father di]ed. I [sat on] the throne of my father, I (re-)established the regular offerings, offe[rings, (…)] and religious festivals of the god Adad […] according to the wording (of the commands) of Ḫam[mu]-rāp[i, king of Babylon, and] the father who begot me. […] In addition, I settled people in the city of Anat on (both) the landside and on the hi[ll]side. I settled the city of Anat as (it had been) before, on (both) the landside and the hillside. I returned the gods of (both) the landside [and the hillside of] the city of Anat who had gone [t]o the city of Ribaniš on account of the Assyrian […] and I settled them in their dwelling(s), (just) as (they had been) before.
[Hallo, W. W., & Younger, K. L. (2000). Context of Scripture (282). Leiden; Boston: Brill.]
NINURTA-KUDURRĪ-UṢUR — SUḪU ANNALS (#17) (2.115D)
This inscription is engraved on a stone stela found on the island of ʿĀnā. It also contains a relief of Ninurta-kudurrī-uṣur venerating the goddess Anat. In the text, Ninurta-kudurrī-uṣur describes his restoration of the statue and cult of the goddess after the desecration of the Assyrian following a revolt of the city of Anat against the land of Suḫu, narrated in COS 2.115C above. The same events are presented through political and religious filters.
The people of Anat who live in the city of Anat rebelled against the land of Suḫu. They joined hands with the Assyrian and brought the Assyrian up to the city of Anat. (However), he defiled the city of Anat and its gods. He defiled the fine garment of the goddess Anat, the ṣāriru-gold, the precious stones, and all the (other) things befitting her godhead. Then he placed her (statue) by itself in a hidden place.
[Hallo, W. W., & Younger, K. L. (2000). Context of Scripture (283). Leiden; Boston: Brill.]
SUMMARY INSCRIPTION 9–10 (2.117F): The text is written on a large, very fragmentary clay tablet (18.4 cm wide) which was recovered in excavations at Nimrud in 1955. The reverse of the tablet preserves narrations of Tiglath-pileser’s Levantine campaigns, arranged geographically and set off by rulings across the surface of the tablet.
[As for Samsi, the queen of the land of Arabia], I felled with the sword [… at Mount Saqurri]. And all of [her] ca[mp …] [… all kinds of spices] without number, [her] gods [I seized]. [And she, in order to save her life, … to a desert], an arid place, [made off] like an onager…
[Hallo, W. W., & Younger, K. L. (2000). Context of Scripture (291–292). Leiden; Boston: Brill.]
SARGON II (2.118): THE ANNALS (2.118A): In very early excavations (1843–44), P. E. Botta uncovered fourteen large rooms of the palace of Sargon II at ancient Dūr-Šarrukīn (modern Khorsabad). The doorways and walls of these rooms were adorned with slabs having sculptured reliefs along with inscriptions.
Azuri, the king of Ashdod, [plo]tted to with[hold his tribute], and he sent (messages) to the neighboring kings [hostile to Assyria]. Because he committed crimes again[st the people of his country], I abo[lished] his ru[le] (and) plac[ed] Aḫimiti, his favorite brother, as king [over them]. The Hittites, who (always) speak treachery, [hated] his rule. [Ya]dna, who had no claim to the throne, who was like them, and had [no respect for rulership], they elevated over them. [In the anger of my heart], with my own chariot and with my cavalry — who never leave my [side in (hostile or) friendly territory] — I [quickly] marched to Ashdod, [his royal city]. I besieged (and) conquered Ashdod, Gi[mtu] and [Ashdod-Yam]. I counted as boo[ty] the gods who dw[elt] in them, him[self], [together with the people of his land, gold, silver, (and) the property of his palace]. I reorganized those cities. I settled there the people of the lands, the conquest of my hands. I placed my eunuchs as governors over them; and I counted them with the people of Assyria; and they bore my yoke.
[Hallo, W. W., & Younger, K. L. (2000). Context of Scripture (294). Leiden; Boston: Brill.]
THE GREAT “SUMMARY” INSCRIPTION (2.118E): Discovered at Khorsabad (see introduction to Sargon’s Annals above, COS 2.118A), this summary inscription stood on the wall slabs of rooms 4, 7, 8 and 10 in Sargon’s palace.
Yamani, who had no claim to the throne, who was like them, and had no respect for rulership, they elevated over them. In the ebullience of my heart, I did not gather the masses of my troops, nor did I organize my camp. With my warriors — who never leave my side in (hostile or) friend[ly terri]tory — I marched to Ashdod. Now when this Yamani heard from afar the approach of my campaign, he fled to the border area of Egypt which is on the border with Meluḫḫa, and his place was not found. I besieged (and) conquered Ashdod, Gimtu (Gath) and Ashdod-Yam. I counted as booty his gods, his wife, his sons, his daughters, the property, the possessions (and) treasures of his palace, together with the inhabitants of his land. I reorganized those cities. I settled there the peoples of the lands, the conquest of my hands, from [the area] of the east. … The king of Meluḫ[ḫa]—who in … land of U[r]izzu, an inaccessible place, a way [… who]se ancestors [from the] distant [past] until now had nev[er se]nt their messengers to the kings, my ancestors, in order to inquire about their well-being — heard from af[ar] of the might of the gods [Ašš]ur, [Nabű], (and) Marduk. The [fear]ful splendor of my majesty overwhelmed him and panic overcame him. He put him (Yamani) in handcuffs and manacles, [fe]tters of iron, and they brou[ght] (him) the long journey to Assyria (and) into my presence.
[Hallo, W. W., & Younger, K. L. (2000). Context of Scripture (296–297). Leiden; Boston: Brill.]
SENNACHERIB’S SIEGE OF JERUSALEM (2.119B): This is probably the most discussed Neo-Assyrian inscription, due to its providing a complimentary report, from the Assyrian point of view, of the military operations in Judah, in particular the investment of Jerusalem, portrayed so extensively in the Bible (2 Kgs 18:13–19:37; Isa 36–37; 2 Chr 32:1–22). The cuneiform text summarizes the campaign of Sennacherib in 701 BCE, undertaken to quell the revolt of vassal states in the West which had broken out upon the death of Sargon four years earlier.
As for Ṣidqa, king of Ashkelon, who had not submitted to my yoke — his family gods, he himself, his wife, his sons, his daughters, his brothers, and (all the rest of) his descendants, I deported and brought him to Assyria.
[Hallo, W. W., & Younger, K. L. (2000). Context of Scripture (303). Leiden; Boston: Brill.]
SENNACHERIB: THE CAPTURE AND DESTRUCTION OF BABYLON (2.119E): The Bavian Rock Inscription of Sennacherib was chiseled on the walls of the gorge of the Gomel River, whose waters were fed into the Jerwan aqueduct, a major link in the king’s project to irrigate the plains surrounding Nineveh. The historical section of the inscription concentrates on the “second campaign” against Babylon that varies from the prism text (where it is numbered the “eighth” and last campaign of the king) in tone; its dispassionate description reflects a sense that Sennacherib’s “Babylonian problem” was behind him (Brinkman 1973; Weissert 1997). The date of the events in Babylonia, as determined by the prism inscriptions, is 689 BCE.
(lines 43–54) In my second campaign, I marched quickly against Babylon which I was set upon conquering. Like the onset of a storm I swept, (and) like a fog I enveloped it. I laid siege to that city; with mines and siege machines, I personally took it — the spoil of his mighty men, small and great. I left no one. I filled the city squares with their corpses. Shuzubu, king of Babylon, together with his family and his [ ], I brought alive to my land. I handed out the wealth of that city — silver, gold, precious stones, property and goods — to my people and they made it their own. My men took the (images of the) gods who dwell there and smashed them. They took their property and their wealth. Adad and Shala, the gods of Ekallate, which Marduk-nadin-ahhe, king of Babylon had taken and carried off to Babylon during the reign of Tiglath-pileser (I), king of Assyria, I brought out of Babylon and returned them to their place in Ekallate. [Tanknote: the phrase 'images of' is not in the original, but supplied by the translators. It just says 'took the gods who dwell there and smashed them'…]
[Hallo, W. W., & Younger, K. L. (2000). Context of Scripture (305). Leiden; Boston: Brill.]
ACHAEMENID INSCRIPTIONS: CYRUS: CYRUS CYLINDER (2.124): The Cyrus cylinder (BM 90920 + BIN II, n. 32), discovered at Babylon in 1879, has been of continuing interest for the light it sheds on Persian imperial policy towards subject peoples as reflected in its description of the restoration of the cult of Marduk in Babylon. The biblical report of the permission granted by Cyrus to rebuild the temple of YHWH in Jerusalem (Ezra 1:1–6; 6:1–5; 2 Chr 36:22–23) is considered another example of this practice (cf. Kuhrt 1983). In the cuneiform text, Cyrus reviews the history of his rise to kingship in Babylon at the summons of Marduk, who, in response to evil deeds of Nabonidus, acted to save his city. Cyrus renewed the fortunes of the enslaved Babylonians and restored the neglected cult centers of the land. The dedicatory nature of the inscription, which follows traditional Mesopotamian patterns of composition, was only recently clarified with the joining of a fragment to the end of the text which describes the restoration of the fortifications of Babylon (Berger 1975). The Cyrus cylinder is evidence for the continuity of the Babylonian scribal tradition under the Persians, whose rule was welcomed and supported by the native elite.
(lines 3–8) An incompetent person [Tanknote: a slur on Nabonidus!] was installed to exercise lordship over his country. […] he imposed upon them. An imitation of Esagila he ma[de?], for Ur and the rest of the sacred centers, improper rituals [ ] daily he recited. Irreverently, he put an end to the regular offerings; he [ ], he established in the sacred centers. By his own plan, he did away with the worship of Marduk, the king of the gods; he continually did evil against his (Marduk’s) city. Daily, [without interruption …], he [imposed] the corvée upon its inhabitants unrelentingly, ruining them all.
(lines 9–19) Upon (hearing) their cries, the lord of the gods became furiously angry [and he left] their borders; and the gods who lived among them forsook their dwellings, angry that he had brought (them) into Babylon. Marduk [ ] turned (?) towards all the habitations that were abandoned and all the people of Sumer and Akkad who had become corpses; [he was recon]ciled and had mercy (upon them). He surveyed and looked throughout all the lands, searching for a righteous king whom he would support. He called out his name: Cyrus, king of Anshan; he pronounced his name to be king over all (the world).
(lines 28–36) By his exalted [word], all the kings who sit upon thrones throughout the world, from the Upper Sea to the Lower Sea, who live in the dis[tricts far-off], the kings of the West, who dwell in tents, all of them brought their heavy tribute before me and in Babylon they kissed my feet. From [ Ninev]eh (?), Ashur and Susa, Agade, Eshnunna, Zamban, Meturnu, Der, as far as the region of Gutium, I returned the (images of) the gods to the sacred centers [on the other side of] the Tigris whose sanctuaries had been abandoned for a long time, and I let them dwell in eternal abodes. I gathered all their inhabitants and returned (to them) their dwellings. In addition, at the command of Marduk, the great lord, I settled in their habitations, in pleasing abodes, the gods of Sumer and Akkad, whom Nabonidus, to the anger of the lord of the gods, had brought into Babylon. May all the gods whom I settled in their sacred centers ask daily of Bel and Nabu that my days be long and may they intercede for my welfare. May they say to Marduk, my lord: “As for Cyrus, the king who reveres you, and Cambyses, his son, [ ] a reign.” I settled all the lands in peaceful abodes.
[Hallo, W. W., & Younger, K. L. (2000). Context of Scripture (315–316). Leiden; Boston: Brill.]
“That same) Merodach-baladan, whose defeat I had brought about in the course of my first campaign, and whose forces I had shattered,--the roar of my mighty arms and the onset of my terrible battle he feared and he gathered together the gods of his whole land in their shrines, and loaded them into ships and fled like a bird to the city of Nagite-rakki, which is in the midst of the sea. [HI:ARAB, 2:121]
“In my sixth campaign the rest of the people of Bit-Iakin, who had run off before my powerful weapons like wild asses, who had gathered together the gods of their whole land in their shrines, had crossed the great sea of the rising sun and in the city of Nagitu of Elam had established their abodes;--in Hittite (Syrian) ships I crossed the sea (against them). Nagitu, Nagitu-dibina, together with the (lands of) Hilmu, Pillatu and Hupapanu, provinces of Elam, I conquered. The people of Bit-Iakin, together with their gods, and the people of the king of Elam, I carried off,--not a sinner escaped.” [HI:ARAB, 2: 123]
ERRA AND ISHUM (1.113); Stephanie Dalley; COS1
In the extant text
known to us at present, Erra and Ishum may date no earlier than the
eighth century BCE, but it almost certainly incorporates older
elements. It consists of five tablets comprising some 750 lines; the
final tablet is shorter than the others. Tablets with the text come
from both Assyria (Nineveh, Assur, Sultantepe) and Babylonia
(Babylon, Ur, Tell Haddad). The main tablet, from Assur, takes the
form of an amulet.
[Hallo, W. W., & Younger, K. L. (1997-). The context of Scripture (407–408). Leiden; New York: Brill.]
Inana’s descent to the Underworld [OT:LOAS, p65ff]
“Like a pauper, clothe yourself in a single garment and all alone set your foot in the E-kur, the house of Enlil (40)
“When you have entered the E-kur, the house of Enlil, lament before Enlil: “Father Enlil, don’t let anyone kill your daughter in the Underworlds. Don’t let your precious metal be alloyed there with the dirt of the Underworld. Don’t’ let your precious lapis lazuli be split there with the mason’s stone. Don’t let your boxwood be chopped up there with the carpenter’s wood. Don’t let young lady Inana be killed in the Underworld (41-7)
If Enlil does not help you in this matter, go to Urim. In the E-mudkura at Urim, when you have entered the E-kis-nugal, the house of Nanna, lament before Nanna: “Father Nanna, don’t let anyone kill your daughter in the Underworlds. Don’t let your precious metal be alloyed there with the dirt of the Underworld. Don’t’ let your precious lapis lazuli be split there with the mason’s stone. Don’t let your boxwood be chopped up there with the carpenter’s wood. Don’t let young lady Inana be killed in the Underworld. (48-56)
And if Nanna does not help you in this matter, go to Eridug. In Eridug, when you have entered the house of Enki, lament before Enki: “Father Enki, don’t let anyone kill your daughter in the Underworlds. Don’t let your precious metal be alloyed there with the dirt of the Underworld. Don’t’ let your precious lapis lazuli be split there with the mason’s stone. Don’t let your boxwood be chopped up there with the carpenter’s wood. Don’t let young lady Inana be killed in the Underworld. (57-64)
Related to this story is the Descent of Ishar.
"THE DESCENT OF ISHTAR TO THE UNDERWORLD (1.108): The Akkadian story is first attested in Late Bronze Age texts, in both Babylonia and Assyria, and later from the palace library at Nineveh. It is a short composition of some 140 lines, and seems to end with ritual instructions for the taklimtu, an annual ritual known from Assyrian texts, which took place in the month of Dumuzi (Tammuz = June/July) and featured the bathing, anointing, and lying-in-state of a statue of Dumuzi in Nineveh, Arbela, Assur and Kalah. … The Sumerian version, The Descent of Inanna, is attested earlier, and is much longer, consisting of some 410 lines. It is a fuller, more detailed account … However, like the Akkadian story, it seems to represent the goddess as a cult statue… [COS1]
The Amarna Letters EA55:
"53–66 My lord, your ancestors made (a statue of) Šimigi, the god of my father, and because of him became famous. Now the king of Ḫatti has taken (the statue of) Šimigi, the god of my father. My lord knows what the fashioning of divine statues is like. Now that Šimigi, the god of my father, has been reconciled to me, if, my lord, it pleases him, may he give (me) a sack of gold, just as much as is needed,11 for (the statue of) Šimigi, the god of my father, so they can fashion it for me. Then my lord will become, because of Šimigi, more famous than before. [Moran, W. L. (1992). The Amarna letters (English-language ed.). Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press.; Tanknote: remember, the words in () are supplied by the translator/editor--the writer actually just uses the god's name…]
Ok, it should be clear from all this material that the vast preponderance of original textual data supports a strong sense of identity and presence between the deity and the image. The general populace would have heard much of this at festivals and rituals, and so this identity 'message' would have been reinforced by almost every aspect of cultural life.
Fourthly, this sense of strong identity was not just the belief of the 'crude masses'. Although we KNOW that the common 'folk religion' of the culture could and did see the image as the exact-and-only location and presence of the deity, we should not assume that some of the more 'educated' religious elite did not hold to such a 'crude' belief also. Almost all of the literature above was written, copied, and studied by these elites with only the barest hints of a more complex belief system (examined below). For the vast majority of the populace (ANE and Greco-Roman), the idol/image/icon WAS the 'exhaustive incarnation' (or in-wood-ation or in-metal-ation, I guess) of the deity.
Here's two sample 'popular' texts, one
an incantation and one a private dedication statue. Notice how
'physical' and 'presence' -oriented they are:
Hallo, W. W., & Younger, K. L. (1997-). The context of Scripture (426). Leiden; New York: Brill.
"HADAD-YITHʿI (2.34): In February 1979 a farmer uncovered a life-size basalt statue of a man at the edge of Tell Fekheriye on a branch of the Habur river, opposite Tell Halaf. The standing figure is carved in Assyrian style, without any emblems of rank. On the major part of his skirt are 38 ruled lines of Assyrian cuneiform script, set vertically (as on the Law-stele of Hammurabi), i.e. at right angles to the normal, while the back of the skirt carries 23 lines of Aramaic script engraved horizontally, with dots separating the words. There is now wide agreement that a date in the third quarter of the ninth century BCE is the most likely, taking together historical, stylistic, palaeographic and prosopographic features, as proposed by the original editors (Abou-Assaf, Bordreuil, Millard 1982), although a later date has been proposed on grounds of sculptural style by Spycket (1985) and an earlier one on the basis of the Aramaic script by Naveh (1987) and Cross (1995). This is the oldest lengthy Aramaic text published, bringing unexpected information on the early history of the Aramaic language
"The image of Hadad-yithʿi [Tanknote: name means "Hadad saved me"] which he has set up a before Hadad of Sikan, regulator of the waters of heaven and earth, who rains down abundance, who gives pasture and watering-places to all lands, who gives rest and vessels of food to all the gods, his brothers, regulator of all rivers, who enriches all lands, the merciful god to whom it is good to pray, who dwells in Sikan.… In the presence of Hadad who dwells in Sikan, the lord of Habur, he has set up his statue." [Hallo, W. W., & Younger, K. L. (2000). Context of Scripture (153–154). Leiden; Boston: Brill.
Although this terminology has been already seen in the source material quoted above, it is still witness to the public perception of the image/deity identity. This 'fusion' of the two (called by one author 'transubstantiation') is fairly common in all ancient cultures, ANE and G-R:
"The priesthoods of the ancient Near East distinguished between the cult statue fashioned by human hands and the divinity, which, it was believed, could be made to reside within—but not only within—the cult statue (Dietrich & Loretz 1992:20–37). However, many of the common people with whom Israelites came into contact did not always distinguish between the divinity and the cult statue. It should not be surprising, therefore, that especially in the heat of religious polemic reflected in Pss 115 and 135, the Israelite polemicist should poke fun at this aspect of the popular religion of peoples of the ancient Near East. " [DDD, s.v. "idols"]
"This concretization of the presence and attributes of deity could easily have degenerated in the popular religion to the point where the image was regarded as the deity itself. It is likely that this occurred in many ancient cultures. [Bromiley, G. W. (1988; 2002). Vol. 2: The International Standard Bible Encyclopedia, Revised (796–797). Wm. B. Eerdmans.]
"A Neo-Assyrian letter illustrates the closeness of symbol and deity: “The kizertu is set up in the temple; they say about it ‘It is Nabű’” (LAS 318: 6–7). [DDD, s.v. image/salmu]
"But unanswered questions are not only a product of inadequate work on the sources. Viewed methodologically, there are more fundamental problems. No one so far has studied the relative importance of the sources or their relationship to any particular level of religious practice and religious concept, nor thought much about how these different sources interacted with one other. At the moment, discussions about polytheism and monolatry in preexilic Israel and Judah have emphasized the task of distinguishing different levels of religious practice. A tripartite division, into family religion (or "family piety"), local religion ("village and city religion"), and national religion ("state cult"; see M. Weippert 1990,150ff.; Wacker/Zenger 1991, 8) can be taken still further by setting up classifications that involve universal religion, state religion, religion in distinct regions, and family religion and personal piety on the level of how each had its own unique ideas about god (e.g., creator god, national war god, god of a place, "god of the ancestors"; see Lang 1991, 904-907). " [OT:GGIG, 405f]
"Plutarch (De Iside 379C–D) observes that some Greeks speak of the bronze, painted, and stone effigies as gods, rather than as statues (ἀγάλματα) of the gods, which is what they really are…. [Aune, D. E. (2002). Vol. 52B: Word Biblical Commentary : Revelation 6-16. Word Biblical Commentary (543–544). Dallas: Word, Incorporated.]
"What all these stories tell us may now be rather trite. It is that in Greco-Roman Antiquity the tendency to fuse the god and its image into one directly perceptible figure was widespread and was known in many forms. To feel close to the god when you are near to its image brings home, however vaguely and dimly, the perception that in some way they are one. This perception may not have reached an explicit and systematic formulation. Antiquity did not have an articulate, "rational" theology of the holy image. But such beliefs, the tradition of practically equating the god and its image, formed an important underpinning of later attempts to deal with this problem. " [HI:ICON, 30]
"I begin with the broadest problem that here imposes itself to us. To use the title of a recent study of ancient religion, we could ask, "Did the Greeks believe in their myths?" To put it a little more modestly, we could ask, what did the animation of the god's image actually mean to people in Antiquity? No doubt, in the course of the centuries between, say, Homer and Macrobius, many people literally and naively believed that the very image they were worshipping, the idol carved in wood or stone, was indeed the god itself. Such a literal approach, though certainly quite common, was not the main factor in shaping the mind of Greco-Roman culture." [HI:ICON, 40]
"Between the belief of the peasant, who took the animation of the idol in its most gross realistic sense, and the belief of the educated main, who regarded the ceremonies of worship as only expressing in a symbolic way that there was some unseen power somewhere, who liked to receive the homage of men, there may have been any number of intermediate shades. [HI:HI, 29f]
"Yet we have to note that in the Greek world itself there arose, quite independently of Jewish suggestion, a protest against the prevailing image-worship, a thin stream of protest running on through the centuries which can be traced from the sixth century B.C. up to the time when the Christian Church had spread through the Roman Empire and taken up the protest with a new loudness and passion." [HI:HI, 63f]
While Oppenheim's statement:
"Fundamentally, the deity was considered present in its image if it showed certain specific features and paraphernalia and was cared for in the appropriate manner, both established and sanctified by the tradition of the sanctuary. The god moved with the image when the latter was carried off--expressing thus his anger against his city or the entire country. Only on the mythological level were the deities thought to reside in cosmic localities; the poetic diction of hymns and prayers either cleverly uses (for artistic purposes) or disregards this differentiation, which only matters to us." [AM:184]
is still correct, we should note that the mythological texts (many seen above) ALSO regularly portrayed the image as the residence of the deity.
But we have also seen this identity portrayal in every genre of ANE literature--it was pervasive in the literature handled by the religious elite (e.g. priests/myths/omens), the secular elite (e.g. royal scribes and annalists), and the popular religious practitioners (e.g. incantations).
A quick glance through the ANE original texts quoted in part above yields these genres, all supporting a strong identity of the image and the deity:
Fictional Autobiography (Adad-Guppi; The Marduk Prophecy)
Wisdom literature (Instruction of Merkare)
Ritual rules/instructions for priests and temple officials
Instructions to military commanders
Festival descriptions (Zukru)
Dedicatory inscriptions (The Hadad Inscription)
Historical records/inscriptions (Apology of Hattusili III, Shalmaneser III, Tiglath-pileser, Sargon II, Sennacherib, Cyrus)
Myth (Erra and Ishum, Inana's Descent to the Underworld)
Official correspondence (Amarna letters)
There are still versions of this practiced today, in modern Hinduism and Buddhism. And the use of images in Buddhism was actually introduced by the educated religious elite!
"How far—considering the diversity and tenuousness of our evidence—are we right to speak of different " modalities of the sacred " ? That those modalities exist is proved by the fact that a given hierophany may be lived and interpreted quite differently by the religious elite and by the rest of the community. For the throng who come to the temple of Kalighat in Calcutta every autumn Durga is simply a goddess of terror to whom goats are sacrificed; but for a few initiated saktas Durga is the manifestation of cosmic life in constant and violent regeneration. It is very likely that among those who adore the lingam of Siva, a great many see it only as an archetype of the generative organ; but there are others who look to it as a sign, an " image " of the rhythmic creation and destruction of the universe which expresses itself in forms, and periodically returns to its primal, pre-formal unity, before being reborn. Which is the true meaning of Durga and Siva— what is deciphered by the initiates, or what is taken up by the mass of the faithful ? In this book I am trying to show that both are equally valuable; that the meaning given by the masses stands for as authentic a modality of the sacred manifested in Durga or Siva as the interpretation of the initiates. And I can show that the two hierophanies fit together—that the modalities of the sacred which they reveal are in no sense contradictory, but are complementary, are parts of a whole. That is my warrant for giving equal weight to what records an experience of the masses, and what reflects only the experience of an elite. [WR:PICR, 7; Eliade]
“Although this is but a preliminary study of Buddhist donative inscriptions associated with images, still a number of points are already clear. We have seen that the first cult images at several major Buddhist sacred sites—Sarnath, Sravasti, Kausambi, Mathura—in the early Kusam period were set up by learned nuns and monks. We have seen that the earliest dated images in the Northwest were the gifts of learned monks, that it was monks who introduced images of the Buddha into the monastic cave complexes at Kanheri, Kuda, and—massively—at Ajanta in the fourth to fifth centuries C.E., and that it was monks who donated new images in the fifth-century revitalization at Sarnath. Although images were introduced at different times at different sites, they were almost always introduced by the same group everywhere: either monks or nuns. It would appear that the image and its attendant cult were major preoccupations of nuns and monks; that they everywhere introduced the cult and everywhere disproportionately supported it.” [WR:BSBM, 252; Gregory Schopen, “On Monks, Nuns, and ‘Vulgar’ Practices”]
"But it was widely believed that simply to make an image of the god was not enough to establish the close sympathetic connexion between the image and the god; you had to do something more. The image, as it left the hands of the craftsman, was just wood or stone; but by the proper rites you could induce the deity to animate it, to make it an organ for his reception of your worship and his bestowal of help. This is the established practice in Hinduism to-day. Before its ritual animation, the image is not a fit object of worship: afterwards it really becomes one of the visible bodies of the god. The consecration includes the recitation by the Brahmin priest of particular ritual verses, rubbing particular substances upon the outside of the image, and, in some districts, putting sacred objects of some kind inside it…" [HI:HI, 31, 33f]
Fifthly, although most of the populace accepted the identity of the deity and the image, there were complexities and subtleties in the belief systems. As many of the scholars point out, there were 'exceptions' or even 'illogical' connections inside the complex of beliefs about the thousands of deities. We need to note some of these here, before turning to the biblical and extra-biblical criticisms of pagan image worship.
Some of the major gods were thought to be manifested in celestial bodies--but in human form--as only one form of representation:
"Similarly, that human-like form, properties and character were attributed to deified celestial bodies can be assumed from the plethora of textual equations of celestial bodies with prominent personified deities. As demonstrated by Francesca Rochberg in this volume, major deities such as Sin, Ishtar, and Sa-mas, as well as Marduk, Ninurta and Nergal, were all envisioned as anthropomorphized divinities manifested, inter alia, in particular heavenly bodies. Pictorial associations of the star, the moon crescent and the solar disc with anthropomorphic representations of Ishtar, Sin and Samas, respectively, support the supposition that deified celestial bodies were basically envisaged as manifesting only one aspect of multi-faceted, personified divine images. [OT:WIAG, Tallay Ornan, "In the Likeness of Man: Reflections on the Anthropocentric Perception of the Divine in Mesopotamian Art", 98]
even in the case, the connection is somewhat arbitraty--or at least we
have no idea WHY they are connected:
There are some texts which hint at a distinction between image and deity (using statue-like terms such as salmu and lamassu), but many of these texts are talking about pre-animation statues, smaller figurines, or talking about secondary representations (e.g. reliefs) of original statues.
"However, there is direct evidence in the tākultu texts involving use of the word lamassu: “the pictorial representations of cities, the statues of fallen gods” (Tākultu, 5 i 30). Moreover Aššurnaṣirpal II (883–859 bce) refers to a lamassu (‘representation’) of ‘(Ninurta’s) great godhead’ (E. A. W. Budge & L. W. King, The Annals of the Kings of Assyria [London 1902] 210, 19; 345, ii 133). This contrasts with lamassatu in reference to Ishtar (Budge & King, The Annals of the Kings of Assyria, 164, 25)." [DDD, image]
Lamassu is typically more of a figurine and sometimes a guardian/tutelary deity--instead of the main deity in a temple. So this word may not really function as an indication of a conceptual gap between deity and image, actually. The famous sphinx-like statues that 'guard' temples are known as lamassu:
From the Amarna Letters:
[Moran, W. L. (1992). The Amarna letters (English-language ed.). Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press.]
"Wall Relief and Ivory Work. The integration of architecture and pictorial art occurred early in the 9th century B.C., when wall reliefs replaced painting in the Assyrian palace. The unity of art and architecture was maintained throughout the following two centuries. Important portals throughout the palace area were lined with huge winged human-headed bull (lamassu) and winged human-headed lion (šedu) sculptures, whose duty it was to prevent evil spirits from entering. Stone slabs framing the doors were carved with winged and wingless human-headed and bird-headed genies and their images engendered a divine, protective atmosphere. [Freedman, D. N. (1996). Vol. 1: The Anchor Yale Bible Dictionary (426). New York: Doubleday.]
"Tell Leilan on the Habur Plains of Syria : Also scattered among the rubbish of room 8 were 227 seal impressions in various stages of preservation bearing this inscription: “Bēli-emuqi, servant of Khaya-abum, servant of the god Adad.” The standard Old Babylonian-style glyptic design, the “god with mace” and “suppliant goddess,” is here supplemented with a “winged-lamassu” demon standing behind the goddess. A crescent-star and a monkey are used as filler between the god and goddess. [Editor, G. E. W. (1985; 2003). Biblical Archaeologist: Volume 48. American Schools of Oriental Research.]
“for the meaning of the Hittite word, tarpis. In the dictionary texts already cited the Hittite scribe used his word, tarpis, to define the Babylonian word, shēdu. Now Babylonian shēdu has two different but related meanings, depending upon its context. When it is grouped with another word, lamassu, the two words denote protective deities or guardian spirits, which supervise the personal safety of the person under their charge. [The Linguistic Origins of Teraphim, Harry A. Hoffner, Jr.; BSac—V124 #495—Jul 67—231]
A Ritual text: "Just before evening, they seat the high priestess on her throne, set before her a new table from her father’s house, and set bread on it. … They put on her ears two gold earrings from her father’s house, put on her right hand the storm god’s gold ring, and wrap her head with a red wool headdress. They offer fragrant oil for the storm god. They put in the diviner’s hand a ten–shekel silver coil [Or in text B, two gold lamassu–figurines of one gold shekel weight. The lamassu is a Mesopotamian protective spirit.] [Hallo, W. W., & Younger, K. L. (1997-). The context of Scripture (429). Leiden; New York: Brill.
While lexical entries for salmu indicate a wide range of 'generic' usage (e.g., it is not a technical term for the statues of deities), the entries for lamassu are much more specific to guardian spirits (as opposed to the main image in a temple):
salmu(m) II; NA/NB “effigy, image”; [ALAN, NU; OAkk DUL] “figure” (in round or relief, large or small statu(ett)e, figurine, inscribed image; of god, king, person, demon; in metal, stone, clay, wax, etc… [HI:CDA, p332]
"lamassatu(m). tutelary goddess; also “(image of) tutelary goddess”; e.g. l. Istar “figurine of Istar”; l. ini “pupil” of the eye
Lamassu(m) f. “(female) tutelary deity”; freq in PN’s; as source of good fortune; l. mati “tutelary deity of land”; “(image of, figurine of) l. deity”; in NA palaces (a type of sphinx)… [HI:CDA, p177]
But there HAD TO BE at least some terminology and some ways to represent the physical aspect of the block of stone/wood/metal that was seen as the deity. So there HAD TO BE some distinctions that show up in the language and iconography, as is indeed the case (e.g. you cannot talk about an idol BEFORE the 'opening of the mouth' ceremony as a god--it is still just a statue at that point):
"The identification of deity and cult statue can probably be traced to the earliest days of Mesopotamian religion…. Later Babylonian texts, for example, the Babylonian Chronicles, frequently mention the taking of a god to Babylon, which of course identifies the deity with its cult statue. In 626 B.C.E., just before Naboplossar became king of Babylon, "the gods of Kish went to Babylon." Another passage in the Babylonian Chronicle mentions 'they took away the gods of Uruk and its inhabitants' (CT 34 48 iii 3 [NB chron]). .. Nevertheless, the Mesopotamians clearly maintained a distinction between the god and his/her statue. The destruction of a cult statue did not entail the destruction of the deity. When the statue of Shamash at Sippar was destroyed (CT 34 48 i 7-8) by Sutean raiders under Simbar-Shipak (ca. 1026-1009 B.C.E.), worship of Shamash could still continue, using a symbolic equivalent, a sun-disk (niphu), until the reign of Nabu-apla-iddina (ca. 887-855 B.C.E.). When Nabu-apla-iddina dedicated his new statue of Shamash, he washed its mouth "before Shamash… This passage clearly differentiates the statue being dedicated from the deity before whom it was dedicated, and this despite the fact that this inscription earlier stated that the Suteans had effaced the great Lord Shamash himself (i 1-8). [Tanknote: this was a description of the statue before it became Samash again…]
Further, there was no problem with the same god having cult images in two different temples; thus Shamash had a statue in both Sippar and Larsa. Certain deities like the sun-god Shamash and the goddess Ishtar of the morning and evening star were also worshiped in their celestial bodies. Thus, some deities could be worshiped in their cult images—often in several different shrines—and in the sun or a star, and yet neither of these was considered identical with the god/goddess. Several cylinder seals from the Akkadian period (ca. 2300-2100 B.C.E.) provide visual evidence of the distinction between a cult image and the deity portrayed. One seal impression preserved in the Ecole Biblique in Jerusalem (Amiet 1955: 411-13, pl. v. 4) combines the clear depiction of gods (one enthroned, one seated) with a smaller cult statue in a naos. The gods and the statue are represented differently, the cult statue being half size. Another seal, several impressions of which are in the Louvre collection, shows the typical introduction scene, in which a god presents a worshiper to a seated deity, behind whom is the cult statue. The statue is a half-sized standing figure portrayed in profile as standing on one foot on a pedestal typical of Akkadian statuary in the round (Delaporte 1920: t. 103, p. 11, and pl. 9; see also Spycket 1968: 24 and Seidl 1980-83: 317). [HI:BIHMOE, 32ff]
So, for example, in Tiglath-pileser's Annals (Summary Inscription 4), he creates a statue (salma) bearing one image of multiple deities ('gods'). It is a single image ("it"), but consisting of a relief -- an image of images, so to speak. There is no other practical way to describe this without using generic image language, but this doesn’t mean that a theological distinction is made at all--since the text explicitly says it was 'counted as gods'!:
Ḫanunu of Gaza, [who] fle[d before] my weapons, (and) escaped [to] Egypt — [I conquered] Gaza [… his royal city], [I seized] his property (and) his gods. [I made a (statue) bearing the image of the gods my lo]rds and my (own) royal image [out of gold]. I set (it) up in the palace [of Gaza]; (and) I counted it among the gods of their land."
My point here is this: the use of vocabulary or iconography to describe the physical handing or placement of an image does not in itself indicate a theological distinction. It can, but once the deity takes up residence inside the statute, it somehow fuses with the materials (e.g. mesa-wood as the flesh of the gods, and all the body references). At that point of fusion--barring rupture of the relationship by defilement and/or abandonment by the deity--the distinction is hard find in the language of the myths. Maybe everybody knew it, but you wouldn’t know that from most of the textual material.
Another complexity in our situation is that the major gods regaled in the myths and accorded celestial bodies (in addition to their images) were not really the gods of the populace. Most of the common folk would have worshipped family gods (minor deities) who did not have such exalted natures as Marduk and Nabu and Shamash. They would not have had presences elsewhere than in their idols. They were not closely associated with any celestial bodies (that we know of), and their main usefulness was in appealing to the 'big gods' for their worshipper! This would mean that pagan folk religion was essentially that which the Israelite (and other) critics portrayed it as--worship of an image-constrained deity.
"The analysis of the catalogue of divine names on the seals, in combination with a search for the correlation between the worshipper and the identity of the god, yields three motives of choice. A study of the theonyms alone suffices to establish a general tendency to address the family worship to a deity below the highest level of the—locally differentiated—pantheon. A first indication to this effect is the absence of the goddess IStar (or Inanna) as personal goddess on seals. In view of the presence of other goddesses, the gender of the deity was no obstacle for her worship. Rather than to her sex, the absence of IStar is to be related to the prominence of Ninsubur. NinSubur was the minister of IStar, and could in that capacity be asked to intercede with the goddess. An Old Babylonian prayer from Nippur shows that Ninsubur could indeed be worshipped as family god ('the god of my father') precisely because he was able to reach IStar. Letters to family gods often allude to their role as intercessors: the goddess Ninmug is asked to intercede with her consort Isum, Amurrum's word is 'heard before SamaS', and an anonymous 'god of my father' is asked to plead for the letter-writer with 'your friend' Marduk. The absence of Istar/Inanna on the seals alerts to the fact that some of the other high gods are either absent or very rarely mentioned as well. Anu never occurs, SamaS only seldom, and the mention of Enlil or Ninurta is highly exceptional. The glyptic data are too abundant to dismiss such matters as pure coincidence. It seems that only kings could boast a private devotion to the highest gods. Since royal worship was never a strictly private matter, however, the kings who professed such devotion thereby made a political statement as well. They claimed to be superior to normal human beings to the point where they could freely communicate with the highest-ranking deities. Ordinary citizens considered intimacy with the upper echelons of the pantheon presumptuous. Though in their prayers they recognized the fact that these gods were ultimately in command, they tried to influence their decisions by the intermediary of lower-ranking deities. [OT:FRIB, 80f]
"As early as the third millennium bce, the images also underwent various rituals to sanctify them in special ways. The most elaborate ritual, the "washing of the mouth," was performed at night and accompanied by an appeal to the stars. The animation of the divine statue required several stages: mouth-washing conducted in the workshop; carrying the statue in a procession to the river bank, where a second mouth-washing took place; placing the statue facing west, then facing east, and making offerings to numerous gods, planets, certain fixed stars and constellations, and finally all the stars. The role of the astral deities in the ritual was to irradiate the wooden statue, which was adorned with precious metals and stones. Also, a secret ritual of consecration was performed to endow the gods with "life" by opening their eyes and mouths to see and eat. The divine statues were then placed on a pedestal in the inner sanctuary. Here the gods "lived" with their families and were served by a staff of minor gods who, in turn, supervised human workers such as divine musicians, handmaidens, a counselor, and a secretary who screened cases submitted to him for decision. [OT:DLAM, 185f, "Representations of the Gods"]
"The mythological texts and the literary texts reflect, generally speaking, a theological universe with its corresponding pantheon, which we can define as dogmatic, intended to express an ideology with "answers" to the serious existential concerns of the faithful. Very often they take on the literary and theological form of "theogony," "cosmogony" or "eschatology," paradigms that try to solve questions concerning the origin, function and cessation of human life and of the real world that it unfolds. Its protagonists are basically the great primitive gods and their behavior follows very fixed structural models, for mythological speculation is very largely archetypal. The cultic texts and, as far as we can tell, the administrative texts reflect, instead, a religious purpose that answers, against a mythological background, the more immediate demands of the life of the faithful. These demands are acknowledged and included in the official cult that expresses them as part of what we could call a functional concept of the divinity. It distributes patronage and functions equally among the gods in relation to man's everyday life in its natural course, which, influenced by history and society, entails a whole series of free and repeatable elements: as a technique, the cult tries to co-ordinate and control them by means of well-defined rituals that put the faithful in contact with the appropriate god for every case and at the same time, the mythological concepts become alive and are harmonized. These gods are not necessarily the "great" and "supreme" gods of mythology, but often "lesser" and, in varying degrees, "specialized" gods. At the margins of this conception and official organization of the religious universe, the faithful exhibit their own religious feelings in a much freer and more fluid way in the customs of the family cult or in expressions of personal piety. Personal names comprise one of the few approaches to non-official religion. Archaeology, instead, provides little help of this kind: the plentiful remains connected with everyday life do not provide the "names" of the people's favorite gods. This popular level of religious feeling also undoubtedly constructs its own pantheon in which many more or less neutral elements that surround existence attain "divine" nature. The "genies" and "demons" now take on a new significance. Even so, the precarious nature of the sources of information often prevents their function and cultic requirement being expressed. It can be supposed, therefore, that the religious universe or "pantheon" provided by each of these levels has to be distinct. We shall next analyze the structure of the Canaanite pantheon of Ugarit as reflected in all these written sources. It is not a matter of listing the names of the deities that appear in them, but of determining the structural relationships that unite them in their own particular field of operation. Reserving for the close our study on the evidence provided by personal names and letters, even though it is very limited and secondary, for the moment we shall focus on these three levels [OT:CRLTU,44f]
In many ways, the belief system is just not consistent enough (to 'Western' thinking) to make a clean distinction between in-idol presence and some celestial life of a deity. The two were intertwined in ancient thought, not necessarily thought out systematically, and certainly not described 'carefully' in all the literature.
"But, looking at another ancient and traditional belief, the gods were also, in one way or another, all linked to the portion of the physical universe that they were believed to cause to function. The Moon was not the god Sin, nor was the Sun the god Samas, but each of those divinities indeed had to have been in some way in contact with the Moon or the Sun to govern it, since this was his primary raison d'etre. It was never, and for a very good reason, specified how these matters were perceived and understood. Nor was the rationale behind the placement of the gods in the universe specified. The Epic of Creation, in its global, balanced, and systematized portrayal, places half of the gods (literally, "three hundred," half of six hundred, the great round number in the decimo-sexagesimal system in use at the time) "On High," in the heights of Heaven, and as many "Below," in the antithetical depths of the Earth. And the same epic portrays the gods assembling in the major intermediary sanctuary of Babylon, some "climbing" up from Below, others "descending" from On High. These are only mythological creations, the products of pure imagination and far from any preoccupation with coherence and logic, especially since these diverse traditions were born independently of each other, and no one ever sought to connect them or constitute them into a single, clear system. The only certainty shared by all was that all those gods existed, that they came and went, that they acted and governed things, all in the manner of those superior humans, the kings. [OT:RIAM, 68f]
For example, one family deity could obviously act at a distance, but could not hear or read from a distance(!):
"The evidence from seals and prosopography is consonant, in some measure, with the impression conveyed by more literary texts. They suggest that, as a rule, people lived in topographical proximity to their gods. This fact explains why someone abroad, faced with sudden disaster, must first return home before he can ask his god to help him. A case in point is that of Yasim-El, an official of king Zimri-Lim stationed in Andarig. Having fallen ill he requests that he be released from his duties so that he might go home to sacrifice to his gods.
Since the beginning of the year I am suffering from a severe illness. Two servants of my lord have already died. Now my illness is getting worse. I have consulted the diviner about my illness a number of times: the signs are inauspicious. This is what he said: 'Go, kiss the foot of your gods and strengthen your body.' However, should my lord wish that I stay in Andarig, I will stay. Let my lord send HaSSum ... that I may go and kiss the foot of my lord and bring sacrifice to my gods. At the end of the fifth day I can return to Andarig. If not, it is to be feared that my illness gets worse and that I fall out of the hand of my lord (forever).
If the circumstances do not allow you to go home to visit your god, the best thing to do is to write him. Several letters to gods have been discovered. The practice itself is described in an Old Babylonian letter:
[I am] lying in the morass. [I have] wasted away through tears and weeping. This (evil thing) has blown me down. [On] my journey [I sent] my letter to IStar [my L]ady. (....) May they read [my letter] to my Lady. Let it be deposited [in] the sanctuary before IStar in order that [the help] of my Lady reach me and I may sing [her praises].
The writer is experiencing great difficulty (to which he refers with the traditional image of the morass); since he is away from home (ina alakiya), he must write to his goddess IStar. Once his message has been deposited in the sanctuary, he hopes, the goddess of the sanctuary will read it and send her help. Her range of action extends beyond her own city, apparently, though her worshipper, far from home, has to send a message to the temple in his home town. [OT:FRIB, 83f]
Or, that all Gods were the 'head god'--even secondary deities!
And in the case of Egyptian deities, the celestial and idol-bound lives are somehow in parallel, simultaneous, and interrelated:
"From this evidence it would seem that once quickened by divine essence, a cult statue enjoyed a life that consisted of two "parallel" existences. In one existence, the ka of the deity slept and woke and was sustained by its human worshipers through the offerings of the daily cult. In its parallel existence, the statue maintained an ongoing relationship with the creator-god (manifested in the sun), periodically rejuvenated and daily regenerated by the creator's ba through the medium of the sunlight. From this point of view, the group of texts cited at the beginning of this section (pp. 184-188), which treat cult statues as special instances of the divine creation of the world and discount their human manufacture, take on a new dimension of significance. But we must note that these parallel existences were simultaneous and in some way interrelated, as typified by the following statements at Edfu:
The people worship your ka, (while) your ba in heaven joins (chenem) your image (sekhem), as the one mingles (semen) with the other.
(The king has come) to "lift things" (i.e., make offerings) in the presence of his (i.e., the god's) "body" (sab), to fill his house and to endow his temple, to deliver offerings to his ka, to adore his ba, to glorify his image (sekhem), and to satisfy his "majesty" (hem) with prayer.
Both ka and ba are thus objects of worship, while the statement "the ka arrived as the flying ba" cited in n. 119 above makes it clear that both had a celestial origin. Nevertheless, the parallel means of sustaining the existence of the deity in the statue are made abundantly clear in the texts: it is the ka that receives the offerings of the cult (on this point, see also the discussion by Finnestad 1985: 136—37), while the heavenly regeneration of the divine essence in the statue is effected by the ba." [HI:BIHMOE, 197]
No wonder the common person would look at the image and 'see the god'!
This complexity/imprecision in the textual terminology lead M.B. Dick to this comparison with the Roman Catholic doctrine of the 'real presence' of Christ in the Eucharistic bread and wine:
"The theology of the presence of the deity in the cult image in Mesopotamia seems to me, a Roman Catholic, to be similar to the Catholic theology of the "real presence" of Jesus within the Eucharist. The divine Lord Jesus is confessed to be really present within the Eucharistic bread and is thought to be equally present on altars around the world, just as, for example, Shamash could be really present in Sippar or Babylon. The destruction of the statue of Shamash in Sippar did not destroy the god Shamash any more than the destruction of the Eucharisric Host destroys Jesus. By a ritual combining words and acts, the bread "made by human hands" becomes for Catholics the Divine Jesus. [HI:BIHMOE, p57n2]
However, we should note that this 'extension' of a spirit into an image is not an attribute of deity alone--the ka of a human could enter a funerary statue before his/her death, without it diminishing their lifeforce. The metaphysics are very different from our perspective today:
"A similar distinction occurs in Egypt…The ka could enter a funerary statue during the life of an individual without thereby diminishing him. 'the ka was divisible without diminishment.' The same holds true for the presence of the deity with his/her cult image. [HI:BIHMOE, p33n67]
The connection between the deity and the image, however, was not something arbitrary. Not any object could become the body of a god and the "design" had to be god-given. There was some 'principle of continuity' between the divine and the natural which placed limitations on the materials used to make the image. This, of course, would have reinforced the identity-belief in the eyes of most of the populace too.
"Akkadian texts give instructions for making these statues (Oppenheim 1977: 186). They were to be made of specific materials and detailed procedures were to be followed in their manufacture. In the Erra Epic, Erra points out to Marduk that his appearance and attire (i.e., that of his statue) have lost their luster, presumably because the people had neglected Marduk’s cult. Marduk explains that after a previous disaster caused by him, he changed the location where mesu wood, lapiz lazulli, and the kind of gold needed to make cult statues could be obtained. Marduk’s statue could not be properly restored without the specific materials and craftsmen required for the project. In addition to the general requirements that prevailed for cult statues, some texts suggest that in Babylon images of particular deities had to be made in a specific way for the statue to be legitimate. A text describing Nabu-apla-iddina’s restoration of the Šamaš cult at Sippar (9th cent. B.C.E.) reports that the statue of Šamaš had been taken in a raid by the Sutu, and consequently the Šamaš cult had been neglected. An earlier king had tried to restore the cult and had sought instruction from the gods as to how the statue was to be made. He did not receive the necessary instruction and was thus unable to make the statue. He was forced to reinstitute the cult using another symbol of Šamaš. In the course of Nabu-apla-iddina’s general restoration, a priest found a clay model of Šamaš, and this made it possible to make a new cult image. According to Lambert (1957–58: 399), “The providential finding of the model alone made possible the manufacture of a totally new statue, for had one been made without the model, it would not have been Shamash.” In Assyria and Egypt more flexibility as to how images of deities were made seems to have been permitted, but fairly fixed general conventions were followed. [Freedman, D. N. (1996). Vol. 3: The Anchor Yale Bible Dictionary (376). New York: Doubleday.
"fine wood is literally “cedars,” but the plural form here suggests the abstract sense. This is confirmed by the singular forms of the specific types of trees following. Again the stress is on effort and care. Not just any kind of wood was acceptable. Particular kinds had to be selected (taken, secured). This process reflects the complex rituals of pagan religion. Because of the principle of continuity—the idea that the divine, natural, and human are one interlocked system—certain natural elements are supposed to be more in tune with some divine functions than others. Much of the training of a priest in those cultures was the learning of what natural elements went with which god in which part of the ritual. ” [Oswalt, J. N. (1998). The Book of Isaiah. Chapters 40-66. The New International Commentary on the Old Testament (181–182). Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co.
And finally, we should note that this image-centric view of the deity was reflected in the 'second-class' status of divine emblems outside of the temple.
"A second monument from the first millennium on which anthropomorphic and non-anthropomorphic divine representations appear side by side is the Sippar Tablet, on whose upper section a sculpted pictorial image depicts a divinity in both guises. The tablet's inscription reports the installation of a new cult statue of Samas in the Ebabbar temple in the thirty-first year of Nabu-apla-iddina II. This visual composition differs from the relief of Tiglath-pileser in that its two divine representations both refer to the same god-Samas. The fact reported in the inscription, that the niphu sun-emblem had replaced the statue of Samas in human form for two hundred years while it had been missing, sheds light on the high status of divine emblems in first-millennium Babylonia. This status is also conveyed by the very large scale of the emblem and its position in the center of the scene. It accords well with the conspicuous role of divine emblems on Babylonian kudurrus and in Late Babylonian glyptic, discussed above. Whether or not the visual composition on the Sippar Tablet actually depicts the removal of the emblem from the shrine in favor of the human-shaped cult image as described in the inscription, the placement of the latter within the structure while the former is shown outside the temple, implies the somewhat "inferior" status of the divine emblem in relation to the god's anthropomorphic image. A similarly hierarchical arrangement in which the "lower" rank of the divine emblem is implied can also be observed in the relief of Tiglath-pileser, where Marduk in anthropomorphic form is shown at the front of the scene, while the bird of prey is positioned at the back, farther removed from the beholder. In both of these cases, the positions of the divine emblems suggest the higher status of the human-shaped god in works of art…" [OT:WIAG, Tallay Ornan, "In the Likeness of Man: Reflections on the Anthropocentric Perception of the Divine in Mesopotamian Art", 122-124]
"Moreover, it seems that within Mesopotamian temples the deities retained their human form, and only when it was exhibited outside of the temple was their image modified into a non-anthropomorphic icon… A cultic reality in which the worship of an anthropomorphic image kept in a shrine was accompanied by concurrent worship directed towards a non-anthropomorphic object located outside of the temple, is also documented in other areas of the ancient Near East. For example, contemporary worship of both kinds of cult objects is referred to in Hittite cultic inventories, which mention an anthropomorphic image of a certain deity housed in its temple located within the city, and concurrently huwasi standing-stones representing the same deity located outside the city. Similar phenomena, revealed by archaeological data, existed in second-millennium Syria and Israel where in various cities such as Qatna, Aleppo, Ugarit, Gezer or Hazor, divine anthropomorphic statues were venerated in temples, while steles representing deities were worshipped in open-air sanctuaries. Evidence that the human-shaped representations were usually confined to the temple precinct is also provided by several artifacts adorned with portrayals of major deities in human shape, which were regarded as 'belonging to' or were actually found in or attributed to temples and sacred enclosures." [OT:WIAG, Tallay Ornan, "In the Likeness of Man: Reflections on the Anthropocentric Perception of the Divine in Mesopotamian Art", 143-145]
"For the late second millennium, the use of mesu-wood as the 'flesh of the gods', i.e., the body of the divine statues, is attested by the Erra Epic along with other precious and semiprecious materials; for the first millennium, the 'Gottertypentext' makes the corresponding point. … Pettinato adds the evidence of early month names as well as numerous references to offerings for deities (as distinct from their emblems) which fail to specify their statues only because the statues were equated with the deity; by contrast, offerings to the statues of (living) kings and other mortals were so identified. [p 10] [SC2, 1-18; William W. Hallo, "Cult Statue and Divine Image: A Preliminary Study"]
Ok, let's summarize what we have seen in the data:
For the vast majority of the populace in the ancient world, the image was considered to be identical with the deity (with some remainder, in the cases of major cosmic deities). There are complexities, inconsistencies, and exceptional cases to this, but this concept that the deity 'fused' with the image at its animation was presented, proclaimed, and celebrated in all the genres and all the festivals of the ANE (at least in the post-Abrahamic periods). Some of the ANE theologians and theoreticians would have had qualms, reservations, and qualifications about such a simple equation of the two, but for most people this would be the default belief for them.
So, when we now look at the original question:
An atheist I know also said that the writers of the Old Testament were simple minded, since the other tribes etc didn't actually think the Idols were gods, but just representatives. That people believed that the gods dwelt in them when you talked. As you can see this is confusing, please help… Thanks
We can see -- clearly and decisively -- that (1) the idols were not 'just representatives'; and that (2) the gods dwelt in them --after animation of the statue--whether anybody was talking to them or not.
Now let's move on to the stream of criticism against this belief in image-deity fusion in the Ancient world, beginning with critics from outside the bible and then with the biblical criticisms--in Part Two (idle2.html).