Monday, August 31, 2020

About that image thing

The nations surrounding Israel felt their idols did not just represent but actually were a localized manifestation of the god or goddess. They believed that the idol gave the worshiper genuine access to the presence of the god or goddess, because the image made the deity’s presence real, actual, and tangible. This does not mean, however, that the idol and the deity were thereby deemed identical or coterminous; rather, the god or goddess was “the reality that was embodied in the image” [Walton, Ancient Near Eastern Thought, 115–16] but at the same time was transcendent beyond the specific embodiment in that discrete idol in such a fashion that the deity could be fully and equally present in other idols.

From the above, we can conclude that what it meant to be in the image/idol of a god in the ancient Near East was not about having a singularly unique capacity, such as reason or a soul that might separate humans from the animals; rather the image served as a holistic manifestation of the divine presence to those who might encounter the deity in and through the image. Yet the deity remained transcendent beyond the image. Not just in the ancient Near Eastern world of the Old Testament but also during the time of Jesus, many pagans living in the Mediterranean region believed that their idols were a nexus of the mundane and the divine, a complex portal where heaven and earth kissed. As Nijay Gupta has recently concluded on the basis of his study of Greco-Roman cult statues, from the pagan vantage point idols (1) were not merely human creations but also divine; (2) were living; (3) were able to see, hear, and speak; (4) could sometimes move; and (5) were capable of “saving” their worshipers from illness, danger, or trouble [Gupta, "They Are Not Gods!," 712–718]. To meet the image was to encounter the god or goddess who was imbued and manifested in the image and who acted through it.—Matthew Bates in Salvation by Allegiance Alone, 150

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