Prohibition of Images –

Aniconism and Iconoclasm in the three Abrahamic monotheist faiths.

Abstract

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Aniconism is the notion of prohibiting images within a particular faith system such as Islam or Christianity. Prohibition tends to relate to the depiction of any living thing whether animal, plant or indeed human. Iconoclasm of Byzantium , is understood to be not only the prohibition of images, namely saints or the Christ in the form of icons but their destruction also. Whilst concentrating on the three monotheistic faiths, I am aware of other faiths that have had a history of prohibition of images. The many commands of the Bible, forbids the making of pagan imagery lest we become like them and worship foreign gods. It is in this context I seek to present the argument that explores the notion of worship as primarily the (Value) rather than to do with shape (Form) of images in that we are commanded (Context) only to worship Yahweh and Him alone. I would further argue that the Creator God gave instructions to certain of the children of Israel to construct various artifacts from wood and metal, cloth and gold for the adornment, furnished and emblazoned with intricate and detailed imagery from life so that these constructs become the medium for authentic and orthodox worship of the one True God. This essay is written from the perspective of historical, exegetical and hermeneutical position rather than a personal belief system.

Art in Context and Value

“The greatest innovation in the history of human kind was neither the stone tool nor the sword, but the invention of symbolic expressions by the first artists”. [1]

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To begin at the beginning, in fact in the caves of Lazcaux, France, at a time of the dawn of Homo Sapiens, where first light fell on observing the far from primitive paintings of the walls, those fine slow purposeful curves, distinct in their portrayal of long horned cattle, kinetic horses, decorative antler deer, crouching tigers and elongated stick human figures, drawn in dark rustic paint of rich madder reds, golden yellow ochers, vibrant shades giving three dimensionality, enhanced with such tonal qualities that would be the envy of any fine art student. These drawings on the inside of the caves, where G. K. Chesterton came to the grand conclusion of an inspired Eureka intense moment that “it is the simple truth that man does differ from the brutes in kind and not in degree; and the proof of it is here; that it sounds like a truism to say that the most primitive man drew a picture of a monkey and that it sounds like a joke to say that the most intelligent monkey drew a picture of a man. Something of division and disproportion has appeared; and it is unique. Art is the signature of man”. [2]

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Yet the antithesis of the grand universal proclamation by Chesterton may be totally devastated in the 20th century by the words of Marshall McLuhan that, “….art is anything you can get away with”.[3] In a very broad sense, two opposing views on the world of art; its origins, the development and use in all its myriad forms and the cultural, philosophical and sociological implications that all art has had on human kind throughout the centuries. The two quotations above actually deal with art as context and value, the necessity of existence within society and at its most intense experience of the individual. The dilemma comes when precise definition is sought of that value and in what context art, if any, may have for example in social value. However, the role of art within society has had dramatic reverberations over the years that have caused turbulent and catastrophic repercussions not only to individuals (Chatterton, Van Gogh, Rothko, Pollock et al) but for our purpose here, certain prescribed cultural interpretations of the value of art in various religions that enforce destructive iconoclasm, namely Christianity, Islam and Judaism.

“Unless art has a social value there seems little point in arguing about whether Lady Chatterley’s Lover should have been published, The Satanic Verses brought out in paperback, or whether sex, violence and ant-social behavior should be portrayed on film or television”.[4]

 It is without doubt that art within society, has through the centuries, had profound consequences in the many and varied philosophical debates as to the nature and purpose of art in all genres. From earliest times, even ancient Greece entered the debate through Plato’s The Republic,[5] where he makes a case for discriminatory suppression of certain elements in dramatic poetry that would be taken as imperious against the ideals of the state, resulting in public upheaval and disorder. With recent destructive actions by the Islamic State (IS), first a frenzy of willful wrecking of statues in the Mosul archaeological museum and then the bulldozing and ransacking of the ancient city of Nimrod in northern Iraq, so extreme is the situation that the world heritage body Unesco called for an emergency meeting of the UN Security Council to discuss how to protect Iraq’s cultural heritage. This destruction is shown in a self-adulating video complete with Arabic music as if to proffer as a marketing campaign for their fundamentalists and zealot religious ideology. The true nature of the actions is reveled as one of the militants in the video describes the artifacts as “false idols” and seeks to justify their destruction in religious terms.

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A 2002 picture of Khaled al-Asaad, beheaded defending Palmyra, in front of a rare sarcophagus

Further, IS ransacked Mosul’s central library burning 100,000 books and manuscripts. The head of the UN’s Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (Unesco) voiced alarm over “one of the most devastating acts of destruction of library collections in human history.” Director general Irina Bokova said the destruction involved museums, libraries and universities across Mosul. She added, “This destruction marks a new phase in the cultural cleansing perpetrated in regions controlled by armed extremists in Iraq. It adds to the systematic destruction of heritage and the persecution of minorities that seeks to wipe out the cultural diversity that is the soul of the Iraqi people. This attack is far more than a cultural tragedy. This is also a security issue as it fuels sectarianism, violent extremism and conflict in Iraq.” Bokova now considers these actions of destruction as acts of cultural cleansing, therefore considers them as war crimes.

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The Islamic State is not the only army to lay destruction to other cultures religious artifacts as may be attested in that the Turkish armies willful desecration, pillage, looting and destruction of around 500 churches and religious sites belonging to the Greek-Orthodox Church of Cyprus, along with their cemeteries; the conversion of a considerable number of Christian churches into military camps, mosques, stables, hencoops, oxen and sheep-stalls; the usage, today, of some of Christian Churches as wheat-chambers, store rooms and granaries; the renting or sale of some of Christian Churches to private individuals, who use them as art studios, carpentry workshops, parking stations, coffee shops, residences, cultural centres, gymnasia, ceramics workshops, hotels, pubs, theatres, nightclubs, museums, ottoman baths, sports clubs and dancing schools.

Due to the military invasion by Turkey in July and August 1974, the Republic of Cyprus has been de facto divided into two separate areas: the southern area under the Government of Cyprus, which is recognized as the only legitimate government; and the northern area, amounting to approximately 36 percent of the territory, under the non-recognized, illegal, and unilaterally declared “Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus” (“TRNC”). As documented, the northern part of Cyprus has experienced a vast destruction and pillage of religious sites and objects during the armed conflict and continuing occupation.

In 2001, the Taliban blew up the Buddhas of Bamiyan, which date from the 6th century. In 2013, militants in Mali set fire to libraries in the Timbuktu holding ancients manuscripts. It is not the first time global heritage has suffered at the hands of extremists.

So the questions to be addressed, how is it that people of certain fixed ideologies imposed with self proposed formulaic inalienable rights, who see themselves as guardians, the one and only defender of what they perceive to be the only law, can destroy other cultural artifacts, books, maps that do not fit into their ideology, so much so that they even attempt at cultural elimination that offends their own constructs. Of course this is nothing new, the Old Testament explicit of stories where Yahweh instructs peoples to destroy others idols, stone pillars, sacred groves to the extent that an total elimination of that nation through killing of men, women and children, their tents and even their animals. More recently, apart from IS, saw the Puritan iconoclasm in England in the 17th century during the English Civil war.

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The destruction of images in England in the 1640s formed a significant chapter in the long-running saga of iconoclasm, which came into prominence with the Reformation. What is it that makes the human uniquely human, the ability to recognize our own self-consciousness that enables to develop theories of archetypal imaging, an awe inspiring sense of beauty, the extent of normative implications for human existence? Yet there is deep, seated vengeful anger, propelled to physically destroy what one group of people enjoy and admire. Human nature seems to have the dual ability of the love of life, endure hardship and pain yet can be so destructive when something we do not understand forces some to physically destroy others artifacts and property.

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There are of course many theories of human nature such as Platonic and Aristotelian, Judeo-Christian, Existentialist, Darwinian, Marxists, Freudian and Atheistic. By no means are these exhaustive theories that model the human existent paradigm in articulating the ‘who/what am I?’ formulation within the framework of a worldview. Within the human worldview, we ask of our selves, what is REALITY? – what is MAN?– what is TRUTH? – what are true VALUES? These and many other life questions have many answers – all based not necessarily on prime reality but rather on what ‘collective’ worldview a person holds within a community or culture.

Christianity & Judaism

Biblical Iconoclasm

moses

The dramatic action of Moses destroying the golden calf, which the Israelites were worshipping, allows not only a picture of a wild and crazy frenzy scene but also perhaps some apparent justification for Moses to destroy an image of something natural as in a young calf. The question of course is why were they worshipping this image in the first place and why at all? Moses. a keeper of the Law, understood that the image of the calf, in it self, was not the problem but rather the worship of a foreign god other than Yahweh of Israel, the image being a conduit for their veneration and praise. The problem in this scene therefore is not the calf but that the children of Israel are worshipping an alien god. The following Biblical injunction’s set the precedent in forbidding, ultimately, the worship of foreign gods rather than the building or painting of images in that you may create representational artwork but that you may NOT worship them, this is, I posit, the principle of the mandates within the Bible, that the principle at the heart of the various commandments is that only to worship Yahweh, Him alone and no other gods. At a later stage, I will further posit, that God as Creator, asks certain people to build many artifacts in wood and gold, to be furnished and emblazoned with all manner of decorative imagery from life, of birds, fruit, angels, that they would become a channel for true worship of the one true God.

 The 2nd commandment.

“You shall not make for yourself any graven image, or any likeness of what is in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the water under the earth. You shall not worship them or serve them [i.e., the graven images]; for I, Yahweh your God, am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children, on the third and the fourth generations of those who hate Me, but showing loving kindness to thousands, to those who love Me and keep My commandments.” (Exodus 20:4-6, adapted from the NASV)

“Do not make idols or set up an image or a sacred stone for yourselves, and do not place a carved stone in your land to bow down before it” (Leviticus 26:1).

“Drive out all the inhabitants of the land before you. Destroy all their carved images and their cast idols, and demolish all their high places” (Numbers 33:52).

“The images of their gods you are to burn in the fire. Do not covet the silver and gold on them, and do not take it for yourselves, or you will be ensnared by it, for it is detestable to the Lord your God” (Deuteronomy 7:25).

“So watch yourselves carefully, since you did not see any form on the day Yahweh spoke to you at Horeb [i.e., Mt. Sinai] from the midst of the fire; lest you act corruptly and make a graven image for yourselves in the form of any figure, the likeness of male or female, the likeness of any animal that is on the earth, the likeness of any winged bird that flies in the sky, the likeness of anything that creeps on the ground, the likeness of any fish that is in the water below the earth”. (Moses. Deut. 4: 15-18)

These injunctions apparent on initial reading, pertain to prohibit any form of imagery but we may ask why; what does something natural, made of clay, wood or simply a boulder or rocks placed on top of each other signify, what is the criteria for the prohibition of an assemblage of objects that it takes a powerful and most authoritative command that they should not be allowed?

The problem therefore is not the form, the figurine, statue or painting, the art, but rather the substance in which worship is manifested or directed through to pagan gods, being the value. Aesthetic value may be equated with moral value; so pagan worship is attributed with immoral values whereas worship of the one True God has worship within formal moral attributes so that the relationship between art and value lie side by side, pornography a case in point. In the context, here the prohibition of imagery, it is not the art in question (the form) but rather the value of that art, to whom it may be directed (the value).

“The purpose of the commandment, therefore, is not to dictate how we must represent God—forbidding us to use symbols to represent Him—rather, it is to dictate whom we are to worship and serve”. [6]

The Iconoclast Controversy c. 726-843

Clasm_Chludov_detail_9th_century

Iconoclasm was a strict religious doctrine that invalidated the notion that painted images (in Greek: eikones, “icon”) could ever portray the divine. Iconophiles or Iconodules were supporters or venerators of icons as opposed to Iconoclasts who were the destroyers of icons.

 Leo III (717-41) was the Byzantine emperor who may be seen as the instigator of iconoclasm of the 8th century during the Byzantine Empire in Constantinople, present day Istanbul. It is understood that he removed the icon of Christ above the entrance to the imperial palace known as the Chalke or bronze gate, later replacing it with a large cross and the following inscription:

“The emperor cannot endure that Christ should be represented by a mute and lifeless image graven of earthly materials. But Leo and his young son Constantine have at their gates engraved the thrice-blessed representation of the cross, the glory of believing monarchs”

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As the Emperor’s bishops may have been in dialogue with the fairly new religion of Islam and its suppression of figurative imagery, there is almost a greater influence on the Emperor’s own views relating to any form of imagery. Leo’s denunciation of imagery may have been a key to his own persuading mindset to such a degree in advocating that the icons of the church gave rise to general enfeeblement, disagreement and even superstition. Leo began to lose control of the empire thinking that the strength of the monks and priests and their use of icons, would bring descent and division, particularly amongst the armies. Constantinople saw large riots by the people due to Leo dismantling of the icon over the Chalke Gate, thus marking the beginning of some one hundred years of fighting and destroying of icons and imagery in what will be become known as Iconoclasm. The difficulty the emperor had with the icons was not so much to do with religious matters but rather insecurity within his empire which he placed the cause of on the icons. After the death of the emperor, his son and successor Constantine V (741- 75) continued and maintained the persecution of monks and priests but also in having to deal with a family member, Artabasdus, who had in the meantime established himself as the custodian and keeper of the religious icons.. However, this di not last long as Constantine arrested Artabasdus, blinded and had him flogged through the streets, thereafter Constantine maintained his cruel pressure in the persecution of iconophiles and monasteries.

So great a threat the iconophiles and their icons had become, that in 753 Constantine assembled bishops and clergy who were sympathetic to his cause, asserting that the placement and use of icons was heretical and that there placement in the churches, brought into dispute the importance and status of the Eucharist but also that the icons divided the human nature of Christ into divine and human. The fundamental iconoclast Constantine continued his discrimination against those that venerated icons, even organizing a mob to lynch Stephen, a hermit, becoming the first martyr of iconoclasm. So outraged, despite Constantine’s persecution, that icons were still being used in the monasteries and churches that he wanted to retain them into army barracks and even banning the monk’s habit. Throughout the iconoclast period the churches still had artwork painted but alas only with non-figurative images from fauna and floral world. Much artwork in the churches such as the Christ, the Virgin Mary and other saints were painted over.

Biblical command to create

Within a very few chapters of the command to forsake images in the Bible, we read in Exodus 26:1. Yahweh commands Moses to build a somewhat remarkable and ingenious, something like a very large Bedouin tent,

taber

 

  1. “Moreover thou shalt make the tabernacle with ten curtains of fine twined linen, and blue, and purple, and scarlet: with cherubims (angels) of cunning work shalt thou make them. And thou shalt make an altar of shittim wood, five cubits long, and five cubits broad; the altar shall be foursquare: and the height thereof shall be three cubits.
  2. And thou shalt make the horns of it upon the four corners thereof: his horns shall be of the same: and thou shalt overlay it with brass”.

King James Version (KJV)

 

Further, in chapter 31the main builder and architects are not only specified but chosen by name:

“God spoke to Moses, saying: I have selected Bezalel son of Uri son of Hur, of the tribe of Judah, by name. I have filled him with a divine spirit, with wisdom, understanding and knowledge, and with all types of craftsmanship. He will be able to devise plans as well as work in gold, silver and copper, cut stones to be set, carve wood, and do other work. I have also given him Oholiab son of Achisamakh of the tribe of Dan. I have placed wisdom in the heart of every naturally talented person. They will thus make all that I have ordered, the Communion Tent, the Ark of the Covenant, the ark cover to go on it, all the utensils for the tent, the table and its utensils, the pure menorah and all its utensils, the incense altar, the sacrificial altar and all its utensils, the washstand and its base, the packing cloths, the sacred vestments for Aaron the priest, the vestments that his sons wear to serve, the anointing oil, and the incense for the sanctuary. They will thus do all that I command.

(Exodus Chapter 31, The Living Torah/Navigating the Bible II (NTB), Rabbi Aryeh Kaplan (1981) Moznaim Publishing Company, New York/Jerusalem, (1997-2000)

Note here that God not only chooses the persons, by name, to create fine artwork, incredibly bestows divine inspiration of ‘understanding and knowledge’ that will enable them to produce all manner of artwork. He further commands the making, design and speaks the particulars of the breastplate that the high priest must wear. Over the ephod the High Priest wore a breastplate, which was a pouch about 22-cm square made of beautifully woven material. On the front of the breastplate were fastened twelve precious stones in four rows of three. On each of these stones were engraved the name of one of the tribes of Israel:

priest

“You shall make the breastplate of judgment. Artistically woven according to the workmanship of the ephod you shall make it: of gold blue purple, and scarlet thread, and fine woven linen, you shall make it. It shall be doubled into a square: a span shall be its length, and a span shall be its width. And you shall put settings of stones in it, four rows of stones: The first row shall be a sardius, a topaz, and an emerald; this shall be the first row; the second row shall be a turquoise, a sapphire, and a diamond; the third row, a jacinth, an agate, and an amethyst; and the fourth row, a beryl, an onyx, and a jasper. They shall be set in gold settings. And the stones shall have the names of the sons of Israel, twelve according to their names, like the engravings of a signet, each one with its own name; they shall be according to the twelve tribes. You shall make chains for the breastplate at the end, like braided cords of pure gold.

“You shall make the robe of the ephod all of blue. There shall be an opening for his head in the middle of it; it shall have a woven binding all around its opening, like the opening in a coat of mail, so that it does not tear. And upon its hem you shall make pomegranates of blue, purple, and scarlet, all around its hem, and bells of gold between them all around: a golden bell and a pomegranate, a golden bell and a pomegranate, upon the hem of the robe all around”. Exodus 28:15-29

 Interesting to see the command to model pomegranates in un-natural colours, indication that there is divine accommodation for inspired creative capabilities, an abstraction for contemporary artists. The great temple that Solomon built saw further artistic commands of God to be included in the build. Cedar wood was especially required for the construction, where the internal wood was carved in the form of gourds and open flowers. Such was the specific requirements of God to Solomon for the internal creation of art within the temple:

“In the inner sanctuary he made two cherubim of olivewood, each ten cubits high. 24. Five cubits was the length of one wing of the cherub, and five cubits the length of the other wing of the cherub; it was ten cubits from the tip of one wing to the tip of the other. 25. The other cherub also measured ten cubits; both cherubim had the same measure and the same form. 26. The height of one cherub was ten cubits, and so was that of the other cherub. 27. He put the cherubim in the innermost part of the house. And the wings of the cherubim were spread out so that a wing of one touched the one wall, and a wing of the other cherub touched the other wall; their other wings touched each other in the middle of the house. 28. And he overlaid the cherubim with gold. 29. Around all the walls of the house he carved engraved figures of cherubim and palm trees and open flowers, in the inner and outer rooms. 30. The floor of the house he overlaid with gold in the inner and outer rooms. 31. For the entrance to the inner sanctuary he made doors of olivewood; the lintel and the doorposts were five-sided. 32. He covered the two doors of olivewood with carvings of cherubim, palm trees, and open flowers. He overlaid them with gold and spread gold on the cherubim and on the palm trees. 33. So also he made for the entrance to the nave doorposts of olivewood, in the form of a square, 34. and two doors of cypress wood. The two leaves of the one door were folding, and the two leaves of the other door were folding. 35. On them he carved cherubim and palm trees and open flowers, and he overlaid them with gold evenly applied on the carved work. 36. He built the inner court with three courses of cut stone and one course of cedar beams”.

(First of Kings. 6:)

Islamic Aniconism

Islamic aniconism is the term used to describe the prohibition and absence of imagery within Islam, therefore avoiding anything that may become an idol and thus taking the place of God in worship. Islam has a far serious and unequivocal application and is certainly not ambiguous rather being utterly absolute where the depictions of any representational artform is concerned.

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Interior of the Dome of the Rock, Jerusalem

“The Islamic negation of anthropomorphic art is both absolute and conditional. It is absolute with regard to all images that could be the object of worship, and it is conditional with regards to forms imitating living bodies. We refer to the saying of the Prophet (pbuh) in which he condemned artists who try to ‘ape’ the creation of God: in their afterlife they will be ordered to give life to their works and will suffer from their incapacity to do so. This hadith (saying of the Prophet, pbuh) has been interpreted in different ways. In general it has been understood as condemning intrinsically blasphemous intention, and therefore Islam tolerates anthropomorphic art forms on condition that they do not create the illusion of living beings. In miniature painting, for instance, central perspective suggesting 3-dimensional space is avoided. In focusing more on the intention than the deed: in the Persian and Indian world especially, it was argued that an image which does not claim to imitate the real being, but is no more than an allusion to it, is allowed. Hence the absence in them of shadows and perspective. No mosque, however, has ever been decorated with anthropomorphic images”. [7]

‘Al-Farabi, a 10th-century thinker from Baghdad, took and adapted from Hellenic and in particular Plato and Aristotle, notions of aniconism that he would transfer into the Islamic worldview, in other words, Al-Farabi, sought to provide the political and philosphophical control of creative expression in the Muslim world. This nonrepresentation (antirepresentation) that was first begun by Caliph Abd-Malik of the late seventh century, by producing coins with nonfigurative images and calligraphic inscriptions on the Dome of the Rock.

This important event began Islams break-away from the Greek-Roman representational tradition which would, with concerted efforts from Al-Farabi, woul ever thereafter confine Islamic art and creativity to nonrepresentational and throughout the world. From his understanding of the Platonic conceptualisation of condemnation of images’.

Plato is well known both for the harsh condemnations of images and image-making poets that appear in his dialogues and for the vivid and intense imagery that he himself uses in his matchless prose. Through their resemblance to true reality, images have the power to move their viewers to action and to change themselves, but because of their distance from true reality, that power always remains problematic. Two recurrent problems addressed here are how an image resembles what it represents and how to avoid mistaking that image for what it represents. Plato and the Power of Images comprises twelve chapters on the ways Plato has used images, and the ways we could, or should, understand their status as images’. [8]

‘Word portrayals of Islam and its prophet can be deemed sacrilegious just as much as representational art. The consequences of Al-Farabi’s rationalisation of representational taboos are apparent in our times. In 1989, Iran’s Ayatollah Khomeini issued a fatwa sentencing Salman Rushdie to death for writing The Satanic Verses (1988). The book outraged Muslims for its fictionalised account of Prophet Muhammad’s life. In 2001, the Taliban blew up the sixth-century Bamiyan Buddhas in Afghanistan. In 2005, controversy erupted over the publication by the Danish newspaper Jyllands-Posten of cartoons depicting the Prophet. The cartoons continued to ignite fury in some way or other for at least a decade. There were protests across the Middle East, attacks on Western embassies after several European papers reprinted the cartoons, and in 2008 Osama bin Laden issued an incendiary warning to Europe of ‘grave punishment’ for its ‘new Crusade’ against Islam. In 2015, the offices of Charlie Hebdo, a satirical magazine in Paris that habitually offended Muslim sensibilities, was attacked by armed gunmen, killing 12. The magazine had featured Michel Houellebecq’s novel Submission (2015), a futuristic vision of France under Islamic rule.

In a sense, the destruction of the Bamiyan Buddhas was no different from the Rushdie fatwa, which was like the Danish cartoons fallout and the violence wreaked on Charlie Hebdo’s editorial staff. All are linked by the desire to control representation, be it through imagery or the word.

Word portrayals of Islam and its prophet can be deemed sacrilegious just as much as representational art. The consequences of Al-Farabi’s rationalisation of representational taboos are apparent in our times. In 1989, Iran’s Ayatollah Khomeini issued a fatwa sentencing Salman Rushdie to death for writing The Satanic Verses (1988). The book outraged Muslims for its fictionalised account of Prophet Muhammad’s life. In 2001, the Taliban blew up the sixth-century Bamiyan Buddhas in Afghanistan. In 2005, controversy erupted over the publication by the Danish newspaper Jyllands-Posten of cartoons depicting the Prophet. The cartoons continued to ignite fury in some way or other for at least a decade. There were protests across the Middle East, attacks on Western embassies after several European papers reprinted the cartoons, and in 2008 Osama bin Laden issued an incendiary warning to Europe of ‘grave punishment’ for its ‘new Crusade’ against Islam. In 2015, the offices of Charlie Hebdo, a satirical magazine in Paris that habitually offended Muslim sensibilities, was attacked by armed gunmen, killing 12. The magazine had featured Michel Houellebecq’s novel Submission (2015), a futuristic vision of France under Islamic rule.

In a sense, the destruction of the Bamiyan Buddhas was no different from the Rushdie fatwa, which was like the Danish cartoons fallout and the violence wreaked on Charlie Hebdo’s editorial staff. All are linked by the desire to control representation, be it through imagery or the word’.9

I regard the Islamic aniconism in the prohibition of images to have originated and developed from the Torah, as Islam was founded some five hundred years after the birth of Christianity. Even before Christ by about the 5th century BC Jews saw the five books of the Torah (the Old Testament Pentateuch) as having authoritative status.

The Hebrew Bible (Tanakh) with its 24 books book’s are part of the Ketuvim, those writings would have been readily available to the emerging Persian period 538–332 BC from which many codec principles were expanded and consequently flourished into the Hadith, (the life of Mohamed), prohibition of figural images would have been one of them.

FORM AND VALUE

Once again we must return to the form, the artwork and to the value, worship. In this paper I believe that for hundreds of years, there has been the erroneous cardinal injunction, from the three monotheistic faiths, in barring any representational imagery, due to a misreading, misunderstanding of the form and value that the original intent (context) placed in its meaning. However, in the texts above, there are key words that may clarify and assist us to better understand and bring us to the antithesis of the usual interpretation. The text seeks to make known that to manufacture anything representational then to also make a means by which it is worshipped is anathema to God and therefore the thing that has been made becomes a ‘graven’ image or an idol. It becomes a graven image because it is worshipped, other wise it remains a means of representing something of the nature of God’s created reality.

The key words being, ‘graven’, ‘bow down’ and ’serve them’, ‘gods of silver and gold’ and ‘set it up in secret’ (create an occultic, ‘that which is hidden’, environment). The textual advocacy suggests that nothing, must be made to be worshipped; that which may replace the worship of God. In the context that the command was given (the children of Israel worshipping a golden calf), if worship is moved from God to dead and inanimate objects, paint, wood, stone – this becomes idolatry. So from the positive commands from God to build and construct structures and objects and fashion them with all manner of decorative representational imagery, is precisely so that He may meet with his chosen people and in turn they would worship Him. The Tabernacle indeed is also known as, ‘The Tent of Meeting’.

Miraj_by_Sultan_Muhammad

Persian miniature painting from the 16th century CE, depicting Muhammad, his face veiled, ascending on the Buraq into the Heavens, a journey known as the Mi’raj The Hebrew Bible (Tanakh) with its 24 books book’s are part of the Ketuvim, those writings would have been readily available to the emerging Persian period 538–332 BC from which many codec principles were expanded and consequently flourished into the Hadith, (the life of Mohamed), prohibition of figural images would have been one of them.Once again we must return to the form, the artwork and to the value, worship. In this paper I believe that for hundreds of years, there has been the erroneous cardinal injunction, from the three monotheistic faiths, in barring any representational imagery, due to a misreading, misunderstanding of the form and value that the original intent (context) placed in its meaning. However, in the texts above, there are key words that may clarify and assist us to better understand and bring us to the antithesis of the usual interpretation. The text seeks to make known that to manufacture anything representational then to also make a means by which it is worshipped is anathema to God and therefore the thing that has been made becomes a ‘graven’ image or an idol. It becomes a graven image because it is worshipped, other wise it remains a means of representing something of the nature of God’s created reality.The key words being, ‘graven’, ‘bow down’ and ’serve them’, ‘gods of silver and gold’ and ‘set it up in secret’ (create an occultic, ‘that which is hidden’, environment). The textual advocacy suggests that nothing, must be made to be worshipped; that which may replace the worship of God. In the context that the command was given (the children of Israel worshipping a golden calf), if worship is moved from God to dead and inanimate objects, paint, wood, stone – this becomes idolatry. So from the positive commands from God to build and construct structures and objects and fashion them with all manner of decorative representational imagery, is precisely so that He may meet with his chosen people and in turn they would worship Him. The Tabernacle indeed is also known as, ‘The Tent of Meeting’.

The exegetical context clarifies that man may create images from the world whether by chalk, stone, paint metal; as long as they are not worshipped which is the domain for God alone. Biblical text also states that, “God created man in His own image”, that image being God as Creator, thus mankind is to respond to the divine proclamation to create as the outworking of being fully human, man as a creative being. Problems occur, when an overt strict fundamentalist interpretation of holy texts is adhered to, negating a more humane hermeneutical understanding, thus creating an environment of discourse, hatred and animosity to wards those of opposing ideals, as we have seen in the iconoclast period, through to present day with the so called Islamic State (IS) destroying ancient sites and archaeological artifacts of historical importance.

Dimitri Tsouris – 2015. Edited 2018.

 

[1] Walter, Chip. National Geographic Magazine, The First Artists. January 2015.

[2] Chesterton, G. K. (2006) The Everlasting Man, London: Regent College Publishing.

[3] McLuhan, Marshall. (1967) The Medium is the Massage, USA: Allen Lane Penguin Press.

[4] Sim, Stuart, Edited. (1992) ART: Context & Value, Milton Keynes: Open University.

[5] Plato. Book Two-Part Two & Three. (1995) The Republic. trs. H. D. P. Lee, Penguin, p. 137.

[6] Crabtree, Crabtree. June 1995. McKenzie Study Center, Gutenberg College. USA.

[7] Sacred Art in East & West, T Burckhardt; Mirror of the Intellect, T Burckhardt, Islamic Spirituality – Manifestations, T Burckhardt)

[8] Plato and the Power of Images Series: Mnemosyne, Supplements, Volume: 405

Editors: Radcliffe G. Edmonds III and Pierre Destrée.

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