THE BIBLE VERSUS IDOLS and IDOLATRY

Anonymous

(Investigator 162, 2015 May)



Moabite Stone discovered in 1868 mentions
 Chemosh the god of Moab (From Wikipedia)


A THEME

The Bible on the topic of idols is remarkably accurate. The origin, the evils, and ultimate destruction of idol worship, and how God will reassert himself, is a theme of the Bible:
Claiming to be wise, they became fools; and they exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling a mortal human being or birds or four-footed animals or reptiles. (Romans 1:23-25

All who make idols are nothing and the things they delight in do not profit…  (Isaiah 44:9-20)

Tell them this: "These gods, who did not make the heavens and the earth, will perish from the earth and from under the heavens." (Jeremiah 10:11)
Idols cannot represent God because God resembles nothing physical:
Since you saw no form when the LORD [Yahweh] spoke to you at Horeb … do not act corruptly by making an idol for yourselves, in the form of any figure… (Deuteronomy 4:15-19)

To whom then will you liken God, or what likeness compare with him? (Isaiah 40:18; 25; 46:5)


THOUSANDS of DEITIES


The Godchecker website lists ancient deities by name and gives the number per locality:

TABLE 1
Egypt 369 Mayan 256
Mesopotamia119 Incan 76
Middle East 163 Aztec 180
Greece 659 Caribbean 88
Etruscan 72 South America 84
Celtic 239 Native North American 352
Roman 230 China 486
Baltic 152 Japan 181
Norse 330 Tibet 50
Slavic 166 India-Hindu 336
Finland 65 Indonesia / SE Asia 78
Christian saints 746 Pacific Islands 264
Africa 320 Aboriginal Australia 50
   

Ancient Egypt actually had much more than 369 deities — nearer 2000. Ottar Vendel writes:
Ancient Egypt had by tradition a great variety of gods and what today can be labeled as spirits and divine forces… In total they were over 2,000…

Thus the local wild fauna of birds, crocodiles, snakes, turtles, frogs, plus cattle, dogs, cats and other domesticated animals were considered to be the living images of a particular god or goddess…
Greece had 12 major gods, the "Twelve Olympians"; 11 important secondary gods; and hundreds of minor gods.

In the eighth century BCE the Israelites (the ten-tribe northern kingdom) were deported to Assyria and Israel repopulated by foreign settlers. Of these immigrants the Bible says:
But every nation still made gods of its own and put them in the shrines of the high places… the people of Babylon made Succoth-benoth; the people of Cuth made Nergal; the people of Hamath made Ashima; the Avvites made Nibhaz and Tartak; the Sepharvites burned their children in the fire to Adrammelech and Anammelech, the gods of Sepharvaim. (II Kings 17:29-31)


 DEFINITION

An idol is an object worshipped as a god or as a representation of a god. The Old Testament associates idol worship or idolatry with falsehood, vanity, horror, terror, shame and obscenity.
 
Idols were of gold, silver, wood or stone; adorned; placed in temples or shrines; fastened with chains; and sometimes carried in processions. Idols are powerless to benefit or injure. (Isaiah 46:3; Jeremiah 10:1-15; Psalm 135:15–18)



MONOTHEISM — WHEN?

The Bible throughout, insists on allegiance to one God (monotheism) called in Hebrew "Yahweh", often translated "the LORD". It teaches that the first humans believed in one God (Genesis 3) who was repeatedly forgotten and later remembered.

One remembrance occurred before Noah's Flood (Genesis 4:26); another by Moses (Exodus 3); another by Jesus (John 17:25-26).


Critics, however, claim monotheism first occurred when Pharoah Akhenaten (1351-1334) replaced Egypt's gods with sun-worship.

Wikipedia says: "The earliest putative reference to Yahweh in the historical record occurs in a list of Bedouin tribes of the Transjordan made by Amenhotep III (c.1391-1353 BC) in the temple of Amon at Soleb."

 Prior to Moses the custodians of God's name may have been the Midianites of NW Arabia — Wikipedia says: "The 'Kenite hypothesis' supposes that the Hebrews adopted the cult of Yahweh from the Midianites via the Kenites."

Archaeology thus indicates that Yahweh-worship is more ancient than Akhenaten. Furthermore, Akhenaten's so-called "monotheism" was Sun-worship whereas the Bible regards the Sun as God's creation (Psalm 8:3; 74:16; 136:7-9) and its worship idolatry!



ISRAELITES

Abraham worshipped the "LORD" (Genesis 12:1-4) and built altars and planted memorial trees to honor Him. (Genesis 12:7; 13:18; 21:33)

Abraham's relatives combined God-worship (Genesis 31:53) with reliance on household idols known as "teraphim". (Genesis 31:19)

Abraham's grandson, Jacob, moved the clan to Egypt where the majority during the next 200 years forgot God and served Egyptian gods, including Pharoah. (Joshua 24:14; Ezekiel 20:7-8)

Egyptian pharaohs were considered semi-divine, and became fully divine at death. Tyldesley (2014) cites an inscription on Pharoah Hatshepsut's (1479-1458) mortuary temple:
It opens with an announcement by Amun-Ra: he will father a female king. The mother-to-be is the beautiful Ahmose, queen of Thutmose I. Ahmose, sleeping alone in her palace bedroom, is woken by the perfume of Amun-Ra… He tells Ahmose that she is to bear a daughter who will rule Egypt. He then holds out the ankh, the sign of life. (Tyldesley 2014)
Tyldesley continues:
…the newly-crowned king was recognized as both the son of Ra and the living Horus…

The New Kingdom monarchs Hatshepsut and Amenhotep III (Eighteenth Dynasty) and Rameses II (Nineteenth Dynasty) … claimed Amun-Ra as their father…
Amenhotep III and Rameses II … started to believe their own propaganda. In Nubia … both were worshipped as living gods.
The Ten Plagues of Egypt (Exodus 7-12) were "judgments" against Egypt's gods (Numbers 33:4) including:

•    The Nile River turned to blood invalidated Khnum, guardian of the Nile.
•    The darkness disconfirmed the Sun gods Re and Horus.
•    The frog plague disconfirmed Hekhet, the frog-headed goddess.
•    The cattle plague disconfirmed Hathor a goddess depicted as a cow.
•    The hail storm disconfirmed sky goddess Nueth, and Seth protector of crops.
•    Death of the first-born disconfirmed Osiris (giver of life).

In the Wilderness the Israelites built the "Golden Calf":
So all the people took off the gold rings from their ears, and brought them to Aaron. He took the gold from them, formed it into a mold, and cast an image of a calf… (Exodus 32:1-8)
Ancient occurrence of calf worship is confirmed. Lemonik (1990) reported:
While scientists have unearthed a few examples of bovine idols, they have never found a calf that predates the Exodus, which scholars think took place between 1500 and 1200 BC. Last week, though, a team of Harvard archaeologists announced they had done just that.
The "tabernacle" or tent for worship that Israelites built in the wilderness should have satisfied their desire for visible symbols. Nevertheless they still turned to idolatry repeatedly:
While Israel was staying at Shittim, the people began to have sexual relations with the women of Moab. These invited the people to the sacrifices of their gods. Thus Israel yoked itself to the Baal of Peor… (Numbers 25:1-3)
Moses' successor, Joshua, told the Israelites:
…choose this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your ancestors served in the region beyond the River or the gods of the Amorites in whose land you are living; But as for me and my household, we will serve the LORD. (Joshua 24:2, 15)
After Joshua died the Israelites forgot Yahweh and "worshiped the Baals". (Judges 2:10, 11; 3:7; 10:6-7) Israel's history became a chronicle of idolatry, national decline, repentance, and renewed idolatry. The books of Samuel, Kings, and Chronicles reveal this destructive pattern

Samuel renounced idolatry (I Samuel 7:3-6) but Solomon worshipped Chemosh, Ashtoreth and Molech, even bringing idols into the Temple. (1 Kings 11:5–8)

After Israel split into two nations Jeroboam (in the north) erected two golden calves to stop people going to Jerusalem to worship. (I Kings 12:26-33) In Judah (southern kingdom) King Ahaz closed Solomon's Temple and made "altars in every corner of Jerusalem." (II Chronicles 28:24)

The prophets portrayed Israel's relation with God as a marriage bond (Isaiah 54:5; Jeremiah 3:14) and idolatry as prostitution. (Hosea 2; Jeremiah 3)

    
BIBLICAL IDOLS HISTORICITY

Specific idols and gods named in the Bible are listed in Table 2:

TABLE 2
Idols/Gods Location
Addrammelech (II Kings 17:29-31)
Samaria
Anammelech (II Kings 17:29-31) Samaria
Artemis (Acts 19:26-27)
Greece/Asia Minor
Asherah (Exodus 34:13) Phoenicia/Syria/Canaan
Ashima (II Kings 17:29-31) Samaria
Ashtoreth  (I Kings 11:5, 33) Canaan; Philistia; Sidonia
Baal (Numbers 25) Canaan; Sidonia; Moab
Baal-berith (Judges 9:4)
Shechem (Israel)
Baal or Peor (Psalm 106:28)
Moab
Baalzebub (II Kings 1:2) Philistia
Bel/Belus (Jeremiah 50:2; 51:44) Babylon
Chemosh (Jeremiah 48:45) Moab
Dagon (Judges 16:23) Philistia
Fortune/Destiny  (Isaiah 65:11) Israel
Hadad Syria
Hermes (Acts 14:12)
Greece; Asia Minor
Man of Lawlessness (II Thessalonians 2)
Marduk (Merodach) Babylon
Molech/Milcom (Leviticus 20:1-5) Ammon; Canaan
Nebo/Nebu (Isaiah 46:1) Babylon
Nehushtan (II Kings 18:4)
Israel
Nergal (II Kings 17:29-31) Samaria
Nibhaz (II Kings 17:29-31) Samaria
Nisroch (Isaiah 37:38)
Nineveh (Assyria)
Queen of heaven  (Jeremiah 7:44:17-25) Judah
Rephan (Kaiwan) (Acts 7:43; Amos 5:26) Israel
Rimmon (II Kings 5:15-18) Syria
Sakkuth (Amos 5:26)
Israel
Satan (II Corinthians 4:4; John 14:30) Entire world
Succoth-benoth (II Kings 17:29-31) Babylon; Samaria
Sun/Moon/Stars (Deuteronomy 4:15-31) Canaan
Tammuz (Ezekiel 8:14)
Babylon; Jerusalem
Tartak (II Kings 17:29-31) Samaria
Twin Brothers (Acts 28:11)
Greece; Egypt
Unknown God (Acts 17:23)
Athens
Zeus/Jupiter (Acts 14:12-13)
Greece; Asia Minor
    
  

ASHERAH

A fertility goddess in Canaan represented by sacred trees and poles, and associated with promiscuity. (Hosea 4:12-13)


Old Testament references to "Asherah" are often translated "poles". The Israelites were commanded to “break their pillars, and cut down their sacred poles…” (Exodus 34:13) King Hezekiah "cut down the Asherah" (II Kings 18.4) but Manasseh placed an Asherah pole in the Temple. (II Kings 21:7)

The Wycliffe Bible Commentary (1962) says: "Asherah, according to Canaanite mythology, was a goddess, the consort of El. In the OT she appears as the consort of the Tyrian Baal… Asherim, the plural form, were cult objects erected for the worship of Asherah, probably trees or poles..." (p. 84)

Asherah figurines are common in the archaeological record as wooden columns or poles and clay statues without legs. (Binger 1997)

Confirming the Bible that Israel fused Yahweh-worship with Canaanite worship is an 8th century BCE ostracon discovered in Sinai in 1975 which says: "I have blessed you by YHWH our guardian and His Asherah".


ASHTORETH / ASTARTE (Judges 2:13)


Figurine of Astarte - Louvre Museum (From Wikipedia)

A Canaanite fertility goddess, wife of Baal, often depicted nude. After King Saul died his armour was placed in the temple of Astarte. (I Samuel 31:10 NRSV) Solomon worshipped "Astarte the goddess of the Sidonians..." (I Kings 11:33)


BAAL

A Middle Eastern war god known from the Bible and confirmed by the Ras Shamra [Ugarit] texts discovered in 1929 in Syria. These mention Baal as Lord of the Earth, depict him wearing a horned helmet, and associate him with the sun and stars.

The Bible in agreement with archaeology says: "They [Israelites) … worshipped all the host of heaven and served Baal." (II Kings 17:16)

There were also local Baals such as "Baal of Peor" (Numbers 25:1-5) and Baal-Zebub. (II Kings 1:2)



BEL

A Babylonia deity taken over from Assyria.



CHEMOSH

Moabites were "the people of Chemosh". (Numbers 21:29; Jeremiah 48:46) Chemosh was Moab's chief god (I kings 11:33) and also a god of Ammon. (Judges 11:24)


The black, basalt "Moabite Stone" erected by King Mesha, and discovered in 1868, has 34 lines of text. The text portrays Chemosh as commander and attributes victory to him.

Jeremiah predicted Moab would be destroyed and become "ashamed of Chemosh." (48:13) This implied the demise of Chemosh worship and came true.


DAGON

Possibly a fish god, originally Mesopotamian, later also Philistine.
No representation yet discovered but texts naming Dagon go back to 2500 BCE


HADAD

The Storm god of Syria with power over thunder, lightning and rainfall. The name is incorporated into the names of several Syrian kings — Benhadad (I Kings 15:18) and Hadadezer (I Kings 11:23), otherwise is not mentioned in the Bible. Reliefs of Hadad show a human figure with kilt, dagger, and conical hat. (Damm 2012)



MARDUK ("MERODACH")

Chief god of Babylon, whose demise Jeremiah foretold. (50:2)



MOLECH/MILCOM

A god of Ammon (I Kings 11:33; Leviticus 20:1-5), probably man-shaped with ram's horns. Molech was associated with child-sacrifice, children possibly tossed through his arms into a furnace. (II Kings 16:3; Jeremiah 32:35)



NEBO/NEBU/NABO

A god of Babylon and Assyria, and considered a son of Marduk. His name is prefixed to the names of various Babylonian kings and officials — Nebuchadnezzar, Nabonidus, Nebuzaradan, Nebo-Sarsechim, Nebushazban. (II Kings 25:8-11; Jeremiah 39:3)
[“Nebu”, "Nabo" and "Nebo" are the same since written Hebrew did not have vowels.]



SUN, MOON and PLANETS/STARS

Worship of these is condemned in the Old Testament:

And when you look up to the heavens and see the sun, the moon and the stars, all the host of heaven, do not be led astray and bow down to them and serve them… (Deuteronomy 4:19; 17:2-5; II Kings 23:5; Job 31:26-28; Jeremiah 17:15-27)
Many Babylonia deities were identified with planets — Marduk with Jupiter, Ninurta with Saturn, Ishtar with Venus. Canaanites worshipped the Sun as "Shapash", the Egyptians as "Horus", "Aten" and "Ra". Egyptians honored the Moon under the name "Thoth", Babylonians as "Sin", Greeks as "Selene", "Hecate" and "Artemis", and Romans as "Luna" and "Diana". Diana was also the goddess of the hunt and used a moon crescent for a bow and moonbeams for arrows. Wikipedia under "Sun Deities" lists about 100, and under "Moon Deities" 80.


ARTEMIS


A 1st century Statue of Artemis at the Ephesus
 Archaeological Museum (From Wikipedia)

Greek Goddess of the hunt, wilderness, moon and childbirth. Greaves (2010) describes marble statues of Artemis:

…the great goddess of the Ionian Greeks is shown flanked by animals, bedecked with jewels and images, wearing a tall hat and with multiple breast-like appendages.
In Ephesus the Temple of Artemis was one of the "Seven Wonders of the World" and annual festivals attracted 200,000 visitors.

Demetrius the silversmith addressed the statue-makers:
Paul has persuaded and drawn away a considerable number of people by saying that gods made with hands are not gods. And there is danger not only that this trade of ours may come into disrepute but also that the temple of the great goddess Artemis will be scorned, and she will be deprived of her majesty that brought all Asia and the world to worship her. (Acts 19:26-27)

Small marble statues of Artemis dating to the 1st century support the Bible's suggestion of statues being a major industry. Artemis was abandoned after an earthquake destroyed her Temple in 262 CE.


SATAN

The Bible identifies the "serpent" in Eden as "Satan the Devil … deceiver of the whole world" (Revelation 12:9; II Corinthians 4:4), hence the originator of idolatry and the real recipient of devotion to idols. (I Corinthians 10:20; Revelation 9:20)



UNKNOWN GOD

In Athens Paul observed an altar to an "unknown god". (Acts 17:23) This gets support from Greek geographer Pausanias (110-180 CE) who mentions an "unknown god" in his book for tourists titled Description of Greece.




NEW TESTAMENT

The New Testament expands the concept of idolatry to include whatever replaces God in our devotion and motivations:
Be sure of this, that no fornicator or impure person, or one who is greedy (that is an idolater), has any inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and of God. (Ephesians 5:5)

Their end is destruction; their god is the belly; and their glory is their shame; their minds are set on earthly things. (Philippians 3:19)

Put to death … in you … greed (which is idolatry). (Colossians 3:5)
Apostle John warns against "antichrists" who left Christianity or Christian influence (I John 2:18-19; 4:3) and he says: "Little children, keep yourselves from idols." (5:21) It is idolatry to believe leaders who deny Jesus' authority and try to displace Him. Examples would include Hitler, Mussolini, Stalin, many atheists, and many religious leaders.



PROPHETIC LESSON

Jeremiah foretold the destruction of the gods of Egypt (43:12-13; 46:25-26), of Israel (10:15), the extinction of the Philistines (hence Dagon worship) (47:5), and the "utter desolation" of Babylon including its idols. (50:2, 39-40; 51:26) Nahum wrote similarly of Nineveh. (Chapters 2-3)

And it all came true.

Zephaniah foretold the desolation of Canaan (2:4-5), Moab (2:9), Ethiopia [Sudan] (2:12) and Assyria (2:13), which includes their idols since:
The LORD … will shrivel all the gods of the earth, and to him shall bow down … all the coasts and islands of the nations. (Zephaniah 2:11)
The lesson here is that the biblical teaching that the whole world is deceived (Revelation 12:9; John 16:2) is valid.

Millions of idol worshippers were so convinced that they killed or died for their idols until they were replaced by later idols whose devotees also killed or died for them. Idols today often come in human form supported by ideologies like Nazism, Communism, Islamism or racism, and followers again do everything their idols demand, including evils that the New Testament says "Don't do". (Revelation 21:8) What precautions have YOU taken which all the idolaters did not take so that YOU are different and not deceived?


Idol-worshipping nations and idols seem powerful, but are doomed to extinction. Ultimately one God will rule all nations and "throughout all generations". (Psalm 102:24-27; 145:13; Isaiah 57:15; 54:5; Revelation 15:4)
All the ends of the earth shall remember and turn to the LORD; and all the families of the nations shall worship before him. (Psalm 22:27)


REFERENCES:


Binger, T. 1997 Asherah: Goddess in Ugarit, Israel and the Old Testament,   Sheffield Academic Press

Damm, I. The house of the Syrian storm god, Science Illustrated, September-October, 2012, 52-55

Gilbert, Ralph 2014 Idols, Unpublished paper dated September 3

Greaves, A. Analysing Artemis, Minerva, November/December, 2010, 14-15

Jackson, W.
www.apologeticpress.org/rr/reprints/ras-shamra.pdf

Lemonik, M. The Return of the Golden Calf, Time, August 6, 1990

Pausanias — Description of Greece In Six Volumes
http://ryanfb.github.io/Loebolus-data/L093.pdf
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pausanias_(geographer)

Stoneman, R. Bees in her bosom? Minerva, November/December, 2013, 24-27

Tyldesley, J. Divine Kings, Ancient Egypt, February/March 2014, 24-28

Vendel, O. Religion of the Egyptians
www.nemo.nu/ibisportal/0egyptintro/1egypt.htm

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_Egyptian_deities
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ancient_Mesopotamian_religion
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Artemis
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_lunar_deities
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_solar_deities
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Moloch
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Unknown_God
www.godchecker.com
www.theoi.com/greek-mythology/greek-gods-cult.html
www.unrv.com/culture/major-roman-god-list.php


The relevance and accuracy of the Bible investigated on this website:

http://users.adam.com.au/bstett/

http://ed5015.tripod.com/