Israelite Idol: The Proto-Humanist versus the Proto-Philosophers

Philosophy and Theology 19 (1/2):57-78 (2007)
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Abstract

The Bible ridicules idolaters for bowing down to sticks and stones. Since idolaters worship what the sticks and stones stand for, not the sticks and stones themselves, isn’t the biblical position confused? At the basis of the Bible’s consistent refusal to observe the preceding distinction are found the conceptual underpinnings of its critique of idolatry. Men and women alone among creatures are inspired with God’s breath. Men and women alone among creatures, that is, are like God. They alone among creatures are persons. Since mere pieces of nature cannot understand prayers, entreaties, etc., and hence cannot respond in the personal way, idolatrous practices are incoherent. But while it is true that elements of nature cannot enter into inter-personal relations, idolatry has a sequel: the scientific interrogation of nature, an interrogation which has been magnificently effective in eliciting responses. Elijah’s dramatic confrontation with the Baalites is a stylized version of the clash between the biblical view of men and women as in an irreducible respect non-natural, and the naturalizing scientific view. On the Carmel, the prophets of the Baal are soundly defeated. Must those who inherit from them lose too? That is a live question. Read closely, the story of Elijah implies that those behind the Bible would defend the view of human distinctiveness against the renascent idolatry.

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Mark Glouberman
Kwantlen Polytechnic University

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