Sunday, July 11, 2010

Perceptions of Deity

Most of the information contained in the Hebrew Bible on idols and their worshippers is polemic. Isaiah 44:10-21, where the idol worshipper uses the same block of wood for fire and for bowing down to, is a classic example. It is worth noting that polemic rarely takes into account the meaning of the thing targeted to its devotees or adherents. In other words, the attitude of an idol worshipper to his idol might differ substantially from the portrait painted by Isaiah.

The Babylonian might have pointed out that for several centuries Yahweh, after emerging from the obscurity of a remote desert, had lived inside, or at the least in close association with, a decorated chest made of acacia wood. He was of rather uncertain temper, but in the main could be kept good-humoured by regular offerings of the smoke of burnt beef fat, of which he was inordinately fond. In contrast, Marduk was a spiritual being, creator of heaven and earth, and so transcendent that it was impossible to see or to comprehend him
H.W.F. Saggs, The Encounter with the Divine in Mesopotamia and Israel (London: Athlone Press, 1978), p. 15.

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