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Excerpt: "One set of trademark convictions of early Judaism and Christianity includes their aniconic tradition, monotheistic commitment, and polemic against idols. In the late second or early third century c .e ., for example, Christian apologist Minucius Felix mocked pagan idol worship with these words: “When does the god come into being? The image is cast, hammered, or sculpted; it is not yet a god. It is soldered, put together, and erected; it is still not a god. It is adorned, consecrated, prayed to—and now, finally, it is a god once man has willed it so and dedicated it” (see Oct. 22.5). The Christian haranguing of idolatry goes back to the Jewish Scriptures, most notably Jeremiah, Isaiah, and the Psalms.2 Similar polemical statements can be found in Habakkuk (2:18-20). This tradition is expanded in early Jewish texts such as Bel and the Dragon, Wisdom of Solomon, Apocalypse o f Abraham, the tractates of Philo, and, most extensively, the Epistle of Jeremiah.3 We find idol polemic in the NT in places such as Acts 19:26 and Rev 9:20.4 The wider idea that stands behind almost all Jewish and Christian idol-polemic texts is this: Do not worship statues, because they are not gods! (So Jer 16:20: “Can people make for themselves gods? Yes, but they are not gods!”; cf. Isa 37:19; Josephus A.J. 10.4.1 §50; Epistle of Jeremiah passim). According to this logic, idols should not be worshiped because they are handmade works; they are creations, not creators. As far as the early Jews and Christians were concerned, pagans worshiped blocks of metal, stone, and wood, and this was improper because such materials could never amount to a real “god.” "


Originally published in The Catholic Biblical Quarterly 76.4 (2014): 704-719.