From BiblePortal Wikipedia

Hastings' Dictionary of the Bible [1]

Idolatry . Hebrew religion is represented as beginning with Abraham, who forsook the idolatry, as well as the home, of his ancestors (  Genesis 12:1 ,   Joshua 24:2 ); but it was specially through the influence of Moses that Jehovah was recognized as Israel’s God. The whole subsequent history up to the Exile is marked by frequent lapses into idolatry. We should therefore consider (1) the causes of Hebrew idolatry, (2) its nature, (3) the opposition it evoked, and (4) the teaching of NT. The subject is not free from difficulty, but in the light of modern Biblical study, the main outlines are clear.

1. Causes of Hebrew idolatry . (1) When, after the Exodus, the Israelites settled in Canaan among idolatrous peoples, they were far from having a pure monotheism (cf.   Judges 11:24 ). Their faith was crude. ( a ) Thus the idea that their neighbours’ gods had real existence, with rights of proprietorship in the invaded land, would expose them to risk of contamination. This would be the more likely because as yet they were not a united people. The tribes had at first to act independently, and in some cases were unable to dislodge the Canaanites (  Judges 1:1-36 ). ( b ) Their environment was thus perilous, and the danger was intensified by intermarriage with idolaters. Particularly after the monarchy was established did this become a snare. Solomon and Ahab by their marriage alliances introduced and promoted idol cults. It is significant that post-exilic legislation had this danger in view, and secured that exclusiveness so characteristic of mature Judaism (  Ezra 10:2 f.). ( c ) The political relations with the great world-powers, Egypt and Assyria, would also tend to influence religious thought. This might account for the great heathen reaction under Manasseh.

(2) But, specially, certain ideas characteristic of Semitic religion generally had a strong influence. ( a ) Thus, on Israel’s settling in Canaan, the existing shrines, whether natural (hills, trees, wells each understood to have its own tutelary baal or lord) or artificial (altars, stone pillars, wooden poles), would be quite innocently used for the worship of J″ [Note: Jahweh.] . ( b ) Idols, too, were used in domestic worship (  Judges 17:5; cf.   Genesis 31:19 ,   1 Samuel 19:13 ). ( c ) A darker feature, inimical to Jehovism, was the sanction of sexual impurity, cruelty and lust for blood (see below, § 2 ( 1 )).

Here then was all the apparatus for either the inappropriate worship of the true God, or the appropriate worship of false gods. That was why, later on in the eighth and seventh centuries b.c., when the earlier Jehovism was changing into typical Judaism, all such apparatus was felt to be wrong, and was attacked with increasing violence by prophets and reformers, as their conception of God became more clear and spiritual.

2. Its nature . (1) Common to all Canaanite religions, apparently, was the worship of Baal as representing the male principle in nature. Each nation, however, had its own provincial Baal with a specific name or title Chemosh of Moab, Molech of Ammon, Dagon of Philistia, Hadad-Rimmon of Syria. Associated with Baalism was the worship of Ashtoreth (Astarte), representing the female principle in nature. Two features of these religions were prostitution [of both sexes] (cf.   Numbers 25:1 f.,   Deuteronomy 23:17 f.,   1 Kings 14:24 ,   Hosea 4:13 ,   Amos 2:7 , Bar 6:43 ) and human sacrifice (cf.   2 Kings 17:17 ,   Jeremiah 7:31 , and art. Topheth). Baalism was the chief Israelite idolatry, and sometimes, e.g. under Jezebel, it quite displaced Jehovism as the established religion.

(2) The underlying principle of all such religion was nature-worship. This helps to explain the calf-worship, represented as first introduced by Aaron, and at a later period established by Jeroboam i. In Egypt which also exercised a sinister influence on the Hebrews religion was largely of this type; but living animals, and not merely images of them, were there venerated. Connected with this idolatry is totemism , so widely traced even to-day. Some find a survival of early Semitic totemism in   Ezekiel 8:10 .

(3) Another form of Hebrew nature-worship, astrolatry , was apparently of foreign extraction, and not earlier than the seventh cent. b.c. There is a striking allusion to this idolatry in   Job 31:26-28 . There were sun-images (  2 Chronicles 34:4 ), horses and chariots dedicated to the sun (  2 Kings 23:11 ); an eastward position was adopted in sun-worship (  Ezekiel 8:16 ). The expression ‘queen of heaven’ in   Jeremiah 7:18;   Jeremiah 44:19 is obscure; but it probably points to this class of idolatry. In the heathen reaction under Manasseh the worship of the ‘host of heaven’ is prominent (  2 Kings 17:16 ). Gad and Meni (  Isaiah 65:11 ) were possibly star-gods. Related to such nature-worship perhaps was the mourning for Tammuz [Adonis] (  Ezekiel 8:14 ,   Isaiah 17:10 RVm [Note: Revised Version margin.] ). Nature-worship of all kinds is by implication rebuked with amazing force and dignity in   Genesis 1:1-31 , where the word God as Creator is written ‘in big letters over the face of creation.’ Stars and animals and all things, it is insisted, are created things, not creators, and not self-existent.

(4) There are no clear traces of ancestor-worship in OT, but some find them in the teraphim (household gods) and in the reverence for tombs ( e.g. Machpelah); in   Isaiah 65:4 the context suggests idolatry.

(5) A curious mixture of idolatry and Jehovism existed in Samaria after the destruction of the Northern Kingdom. The foreign colonists brought with them the worship of various deities, and added that of J″ [Note: Jahweh.] ( 2 Kings 17:24-41 ). These gods cannot be identified with certainty. By this mixed race and religion the Jews of the Return were seriously hindered, and there resulted the Samaritan schism which, in an attenuated form, still exists.

3. Opposition to idolatry . While fully allowing for the facts alluded to in § 1 , it is impossible to account not for mere temporary lapses, but for the marked persistence of idolatry among the Hebrews, unless we recognize the growth which characterizes their laws and polity from the simple beginning up to the finished product. Laws do but express the highest sense of the community however deeply that sense may be quickened by Divine revelation whether those laws are viewed from the ethical or from the utilitarian standpoint. If the legislation embodied in the Pentateuch had all along been an acknowledged, even though a neglected, code, such a complete neglect of it during long periods, taken with the total silence about its distinctive features in the sayings and writings of the most enlightened and devoted men, would present phenomena quite inexplicable. It is needful, therefore, to observe that the true development from original Mosaism, though perhaps never quite neglected by the leaders of the nation, does not appear distinctly in any legislation until the closing decades of the 7th cent. b.c. This development continued through and beyond the Exile. Until the Deuteronomic epoch began, the enactments of Mosaism in regard to idolatry were clearly of the slenderest proportions. There is good reason for thinking that the Second of the Ten Commandments is not in its earliest form; and it is probable that   Exodus 34:10-28 (from the document J [Note: Jahwist.] , i.e. c [Note: circa, about.] . b.c. 850) contains an earlier Decalogue, embodying such traditional Mosaic legislation as actually permitted the use of simple images (distinct from molten cultus-idols,   Exodus 34:17 ). Such development accounts for the phenomena presented by the history of idolatry in Israel. For example, Samuel sacrifices in one of those ‘high places’ (  1 Samuel 9:12 ff.) which Hezekiah removed as idolatrous (  2 Kings 18:4 ). Elijah, the stern foe of Baalism, does not denounce the calf-worship attacked later on by Hosea. Even Isaiah can anticipate the erection in Egypt of a pillar (  Isaiah 19:19 ) like those which Josiah in the next century destroyed (  2 Kings 23:14 ). As with reforming prophets, so with reforming kings. Jehu in Israel extirpates Baalism, but leaves the calf-worship alone (  2 Kings 10:28 f.). In Judah, where heathenism went to greater lengths, but where wholesome reaction was equally strong, Asa, an iconoclastic reformer, tolerates ‘high places’ (  1 Kings 15:12-14; cf. Jehoshaphat’s attitude,   1 Kings 22:43 ). It was the work of the 8th cent. prophets that prepared the way for the remarkable reformation under Josiah (  2 Kings 22:1-20;   2 Kings 23:1-37 ). Josiah’s reign was epoch-making in everything connected with Hebrew religious thought and practice. To this period must be assigned that Deuteronomic legislation which completed the earlier attempts at reformation. This legislation aims at the complete destruction of everything suggestive of idolatry. A code, otherwise humane, is on this point extremely severe: idolatry was punishable by death (  Deuteronomy 17:2-7; cf.   Deuteronomy 6:15;   Deuteronomy 8:19;   Deuteronomy 13:6-10 etc.). Such a view of idolatry exhibits in its correct perspective the teaching of Jeremiah and Ezekiel, the elaborate Levitical enactments, the exilic and post-exilic literature. Distinctive Judaism has succeeded to Jehovism, monotheism has replaced henotheism, racial and religious exclusiveness has supplanted the earlier eclecticism. The Exile marks practically the end of Hebrew idolatry. The lesson has been learned by heart.

A striking proof of the great change is given by the Maccabæan war, caused by the attempt of Antiochus Epiphanes to force idolatry on the very nation which in an earlier period had been only too prone to accept it. Relations with Rome in the 1 J James 2:1-26 nd centuries a.d. illustrate the same temper. Had not Caligula’s death so soon followed his insane proposal to erect his statue in the Temple, the Jews would assuredly have offered the most determined resistance; a century later they did actively resist Rome when Hadrian desecrated the site of the ruined Temple.

4. Teaching of the NT . As idolatry was thus nonexistent in Judaism in the time of Christ, it is not surprising that He does not allude to it. St. Paul, however, came into direct conflict with it. The word itself ( eidôlolatreia ) occurs first in his writings; we have his illuminating teaching on the subject in   Romans 1:18-32 ,   Acts 17:22-31 ,   1 Corinthians 8:1-13 etc. But idolatry in Christian doctrine has a wider significance than the service of material idols. Anything that interferes between the soul and its God is idolatrous, and is to be shunned (cf.   Ephesians 5:5 ,   Philippians 3:19 ,   1 John 5:20 f., and the context of   Galatians 5:20 etc.). See also art. Images.

H. F. B. Compston.

Watson's Biblical & Theological Dictionary [2]

from ειδωλολατρεια , composed of ειδος , image, and λατρευειν , to serve, the worship and adoration of false gods; or the giving those honours to creatures, or the works of man's hands, which are only due to God. Several have written of the origin and causes of idolatry; among the rest, Vossius, Selden, Godwyn, Tenison, and Faber; but it is still a doubt who was the first author of it. It is generally allowed, however, that it had not its beginning till after the deluge; and many are of opinion, that Belus, who is supposed to be the same with Nimrod, was the first man that was deified. But whether they had not paid divine honours to the heavenly bodies before that time, cannot be determined; our acquaintance with those remote times being extremely slender. The first mention we find made of idolatry is where Rachel is said to have taken the idols of her father; for though the meaning of the Hebrew word תרפים , be disputed, yet it is pretty evident they were idols. Laban calls them his gods, and Jacob calls them strange gods, and looks on them as abominations. The original idolatry by image worship is by many attributed to the age of Eber, B.C. 2247, about a hundred and one years after the deluge, according to the Hebrew chronology; four hundred and one years according to the Samaritan; and five hundred and thirty-one years according to the Septuagint; though most of the fathers place it no higher than that of Serug; which seems to be the more probable opinion, considering that for the first hundred and thirty-four years of Eber's life all mankind dwelt in a body together; during which time it is not reasonable to suppose that idolatry broke in upon them; then some time must be allowed after the dispersion of the several nations, which were but small at the beginning, to increase and settle themselves; so that if idolatry was introduced in Eber's time, it must have been toward the end of his life, and could not well have prevailed so universally, and with that obstinacy which some authors have imagined. Terah, the father of Abraham, who lived at Ur, in Chaldea, about B.C. 2000, was unquestionably an idolater; for he is expressly said in Scripture to have served other gods. The authors of the Universal History think, that the origin and progress of idolatry are plainly pointed out to us in the account which Moses gives of Laban's and Jacob's parting,  Genesis 31:44 , &c. From the custom once introduced of erecting monuments in memory of any solemn covenants, the transition was easy into the notion, that some deity took its residence in them, in order to punish the first aggressors; and this might be soon improved by an ignorant and degenerate world, till not only birds, beasts, stocks, and stones, but sun, moon, and stars, were called into the same office; though used, perhaps, at first, by the designing part of mankind, as scare-crows, to overawe the ignorant.

Sanchoniathon, who wrote his "Phenician Antiquities" apparently with a view to apologize for idolatry, traces its origin to the descendants of Cain, the elder branch, who began with the worship of the sun, and afterward added a variety of other methods of idolatrous worship: proceeding to deify the several parts of nature, and men after their death; and even to consecrate the plants shooting out of the earth, which the first men judged to be gods, and worshipped as those that sustained the lives of themselves and of their posterity. The Chaldean priests, in process of time, being by their situation early addicted to celestial observations, instead of conceiving as they ought to have done concerning the omnipotence of the Creator and Mover of the heavenly bodies, fell into the impious error of esteeming them as gods, and the immediate governors of the world, in subordination, however, to the Deity, who was invisible except by his works, and the effects of his power. Concluding that God created the stars and great luminaries for the government of the world, partakers with himself and as his ministers, they thought it but just and natural that they should be honoured and extolled, and that it was the will of God they should be magnified and worshipped. Accordingly, they erected temples, or sacella, to the stars, in which they sacrificed and bowed down before them, esteeming them as a kind of mediators between God and man. Impostors afterward arose, who gave out, that they had received express orders from God himself concerning the manner in which particular heavenly bodies should be represented, and the nature and ceremonies of the worship which was to be paid them. When they proceeded to worship wood, stone, or metal, formed and fashioned by their own hands, they were led to apprehend, that these images had been, in some way or other, animated or informed with a supernatural power by supernatural means; though Dr. Prideaux imagines, that, being at a loss to know how to address themselves to the planets when they were below the horizon, and invisible, they recurred to the use of images. But it will be sufficient to suppose, that they were persuaded that each star or planet was actuated by an intelligence; and that the virtues of the heavenly body were infused into the image that represented it. It is certain, that the sentient nature and divinity of the sun, moon, and stars, was strenuously asserted by the philosophers, particularly by Pythagoras and his followers, and by the Stoics, as well as believed by the common people, and was, indeed, the very foundation of the Pagan idolatry. The heavenly bodies were the first deities of all the idolatrous nations, were esteemed eternal, sovereign, and supreme; and distinguished by the title of the natural gods. Thus we find that the primary gods of the Heathens in general were Saturn, Jupiter, Mars, Apollo, Mercury, Venus, and Diana; by which we can understand no other than the sun and moon, and the five greatest luminaries next to these. Plutarch expressly censures the Epicureans for asserting that the sun and moon, whom all men worshipped, are void of intelligence.

Sanchoniathon represents the most ancient nations, particularly the Phenicians and Egyptians, as acknowledging only the natural gods, the sun, moon, planets, and elements; and Plato declares it as his opinion, that the first Grecians likewise held these only to be gods, as many of the barbarians did in his time. Beside these natural gods, the Heathens believed that there were certain spirits who held a middle rank between the gods and men on earth, and carried on all intercourse between them; conveying the addresses of men to the gods, and the divine benefits to men. These spirits were called demons. From the imaginary office ascribed to them, they became the grand objects of the religious hopes and fears of the Pagans, of immediate dependence and divine worship. In the most learned nations, they did not so properly share, as engross, the public devotion. To these alone sacrifices were offered, while the celestial gods were worshipped only with a pure mind, or with hymns and praises. As to the nature of these demons, it has been generally believed, that they were spirits of a higher origin than the human race; and, in support of this opinion, it has been alleged, that the supreme deity of the Pagans is called the greatest demon; that the demons are described as beings placed between the gods and men; and that demons are expressly distinguished from heroes, who were the departed souls of men. Some, however, have combated this opinion, and maintained, on the contrary, that by demons, such as were the more immediate objects of the established worship among the ancient nations, particularly the Egyptians, Greeks, and Romans, we are to understand beings of an earthly origin, or such departed human souls as were believed to become demons.

Although the Hindoo inhabitants of the East Indies deny the charge of idolatry, using the same description of arguments as are so inconclusively urged by superstitious Europeans in defence of image worship, it is still evident that the mass of the Hindoos are addicted to gross idolatry. The gods of Rome were even less numerous, certainly less whimsical and monstrous, than those at Benares. In Moore's Hindoo Pantheon are given exact portraits of many scores of deities worshipped, with appropriate ceremonies, and under various forms and names, by different sects of that grossly superstitious race. Some of these portraits are of images colossal to a degree perhaps unequalled by any existing statues; others are exceedingly diminutive. Some are metallic casts, and some apparently extremely ancient, which exhibit every gradation of art from the rudest imaginable specimen, up to a very respectable portion of skill, so as to approach to elegance of form, and to ease and expression of attitude.

The principal causes which have been assigned for idolatry are, the indelible idea which every man has of God, and the evidence which he gives of it to himself; an inviolable attachment to the senses, and a habit of judging and deciding by them, and them only; the pride and vanity of the human mind, which is not satisfied with simple truth, but mingles and adulterates it with fables; men's ignorance of antiquity, or of the first times, and the first men, of whom they had but very dark and confused knowledge by tradition, they having left no written monuments, or books; the ignorance and change of languages; the style of the oriental writings, which is figurative and poetical, and personifies every thing; the scruples and fears inspired by superstition; the flattery and fictions of poets; the false relations of travellers; the imaginations of painters and sculptors; a smattering of physics, that is, a slight acquaintance with natural bodies and appearances, and their causes; the establishment of colonies, and the invention of arts, mistaken by barbarous people; the artifices of priests; the pride of certain men, who effected to pass for gods; the love and gratitude borne by the people to certain of their great men and benefactors; and, finally, the historical events of the Scriptures ill understood. "One great spring and fountain of all idolatry," says Sir William Jones, "was the veneration paid by men to the sun, or vast body of fire, which ‘looks from his sole dominion like the god of this world;' and another, the immoderate respect shown to the memory of powerful or virtuous ancestors and warriors, of whom the sun and the moon were wildly supposed to be the parents." But the Scriptural account of the matter refers the whole to wilful ignorance and a corrupt heart: "They did not like to retain God in their knowledge." To this may be added, what indeed proceeds from the same sources, the disposition to convert religion into outward forms; the endeavour to render it more impressive upon the imagination through the senses; the substitution of sentiment for real religious principle; and the license which this gave to inventions of men, which in process of time became complicated and monstrous. That debasement of mind, and that alienation of the heart from God, and the gross immoralities and licentious practices which have ever accompanied idolatry, will sufficiently account for the severity with which it is denounced, both in the Old and New Testaments.

The veneration which the Papists pay to the Virgin Mary, and other saints and angels, and to the bread in the sacrament, the cross, relics, and images, affords ground for the Protestants to charge them with being idolaters, though they deny that they are so. It is evident that they worship these persons and things, and that they justify the worship, but deny the idolatry of it, by distinguishing subordinate from supreme worship. This distinction is justly thought by Protestants to be futile and nugatory, and certainly has no support from Holy Writ.

Under the government of Samuel, Saul, and David, there was little or no idolatry in Israel. Solomon was the first Hebrew king, who, in complaisance to his foreign wives, built temples and offered incense to strange gods. Jeroboam, the son of Nebat, who succeeded him in the greater part of his dominions, set up golden calves at Dan and Bethel. Under the reign of Ahab, this disorder was at its height, occasioned by Jezebel, the wife of Ahab, who did all she could to destroy the worship of the true God, by driving away and persecuting his prophets. God, therefore, incensed at the sins and idolatry of the ten tribes, abandoned those tribes to the kings of Assyria and Chaldea, who transplanted them beyond the Euphrates, from whence they never returned. The people of Judah were no less corrupted. The prophets give an awful description of their idolatrous practices. They were punished after the same manner, though not so severely, as the ten tribes; being led into captivity several times, from which at last they returned, and were settled in the land of Judea, after which we hear no more of their idolatry. They have been, indeed, ever since that period, distinguished for their zeal against it. See Image .

Smith's Bible Dictionary [3]

Idolatry. Idolatry, strictly speaking, denotes the worship of deity in a visible form, whether the images to which homage is paid are symbolical representations of the true God or of the false divinities, which have been made the objects of worship in his stead.

I. History of idolatry among the Jews. - The first undoubted allusion to idolatry or idolatrous customs in the Bible, is in the account of Rachel's stealing her father's teraphim .  Genesis 31:19.

During their long residence in Egypt, the Israelites defiled themselves with the idols of the land, and it was long before the taint was removed.  Joshua 24:14;  Ezekiel 20:7.

In the wilderness, they clamored for some visible shape, in which they might worship the God, who had brought them out of Egypt,  Exodus 32:1, until Aaron made the calf, the embodiment of Apis and emblem of the productive power of nature.

During the lives of Joshua and the elders who outlived him, they kept true to their allegiance; but the generation following, who knew not Jehovah nor the works he had done for Israel, swerved from the plain path of their fathers and were caught in the toils of the foreigner.  Judges 2:1. From this time forth, their history becomes little more than a chronicle of the inevitable sequence of offence and punishment.  Judges 2:12;  Judges 2:14. By turns, each conquering nation strove to establish the worship of its national God.

In later times, the practice of secret idolatry was carried to greater lengths. Images were set up on the corn-floors, in the wine-vats, and behind the doors of private houses,  Isaiah 57:8;  Hosea 9:1-2, and to check this tendency, the statute in  Deuteronomy 27:15 was originally promulgated.

Under Samuel's administration, idolatry was publicly renounced,  1 Samuel 7:3-6, but in the reign of Solomon, all this was forgotten, even Solomon's own heart being turned after other gods.  1 Kings 11:14. Rehoboam perpetuated the worst features of Solomon's idolatry,  1 Kings 14:22-24, erecting golden calves at Beth-el and at Dan, and by this crafty state' policy, severed forever the kingdoms of Judah and Israel.  1 Kings 12:26-33.

The successors of Jeroboam followed in his steps, till Ahab. The conquest of the ten tribes by Shalmaneser was, for them, the last scene of the drama of abominations, which had been enacted uninterruptedly for upwards of 250 years.

Under Hezekiah, a great reform was inaugurated, that was not confined to Judah and Benjamin, but spread throughout Ephraim and Manasseh,  2 Chronicles 31:1, and to all external appearances, idolatry was extirpated. But the reform extended little below the surface.  Isaiah 29:13.

With the death of Josiah, ended the last effort to revive among the people a purer ritual, if not a purer faith. The lamp of David, which had long shed but a struggling ray, flickered for a while, and then went out in the darkness of Babylonian Captivity.

Though the conquests of Alexander caused Greek influence to be felt, yet after the captivity, better condition of things prevailed, and the Jews never again fell into idolatry. The erection of synagogues had been assigned as a reason for the comparative purity of the Jewish worship after the captivity, while another cause has been discovered in the hatred for images acquired by the Jews in their intercourse with the Persians.

II. Objects of idolatry. - The Sun And Moon were early selected as outward symbols of all-pervading power, and the worship of The Heavenly Bodies was not only the most ancient, but the most prevalent system of idolatry. Taking its rise in the plains of Chaldea, it spread through Egypt, Greece, Scythia, and even Mexico and Ceylon. Compare  Deuteronomy 4:19;  Deuteronomy 17:3;  Job 31:20-28. In the later times of the monarchy, The Planets Or The Zodiacal Signs received, next to the sun and moon, their share of popular adoration.  2 Kings 23:5.

Beast-Worship, as exemplified in the calves of Jeroboam, has already been alluded to of pure hero-worship among the Semitic races we find no trace. The singular reverence with which Trees have been honored is not without example in the history of the Hebrew. The terebinth (oak) at Mamre, beneath which Abraham built an altar,  Genesis 12:7;  Genesis 13:18, and the memorial grove planted by him at Beersheba,  Genesis 21:33, were intimately connected with patriarchal worship.

Mountains And High Places were chosen spots for offering sacrifice and incense to idols,  1 Kings 11:7;  1 Kings 14:23, and the retirement of gardens and the thick shade of woods offered great attractions to their worshippers.  2 Kings 16:4;  Isaiah 1:29;  Hosea 4:13. The host of heaven was worshipped on the house-top.  2 Kings 23:12;  Jeremiah 19:3;  Jeremiah 32:29;  Zephaniah 1:5.

(The modern objects of idolatry are less gross than the ancient, but are none the less idols. Whatever of wealth or honor or pleasure is loved and sought before God and righteousness becomes an object of idolatry. - Editor).

III. Punishment of idolatry. - Idolatry to an Israelite was a state offence,  1 Samuel 15:23, a political crime of the greatest character, high treason against the majesty of his king. The first and second commandments are directed against idolatry of every form. Individuals and communities were equally amenable to the rigorous code.

The individual offender was devoted to destruction,  Exodus 22:20, his nearest relatives were not only bound to denounce him and deliver him up to punishment,  Deuteronomy 13:2-10, but their hands were to strike the first blow, when, on the evidence of two witnesses at least, he was stoned.  Deuteronomy 17:2-5.

To attempt to seduce others to false worship was a crime of equal enormity.  Deuteronomy 13:6-10.

IV. Attractions of idolatry. - Many have wondered why the Israelites were so easily led away from the true God, into the worship of idols.

(1) Visible, outward signs, with shows, pageants, parades, have an attraction to the natural heart, which often fail to perceive the unseen spiritual realities.

(2) But the greatest attraction seems to have been in licentious revelries and obscene orgies with which the worship of the Oriental idols was observed. (This worship, appealing to every sensual passion, joined with the attractions of wealth and fashion and luxury, naturally was a great temptation to a simple, restrained, agricultural people, whose worship and law demands the greatest purity of heart and of life. - Editor).

Hastings' Dictionary of the New Testament [4]

So deep-rooted was the Jewish hatred of idolatry, and so general had been the condemnation of the practice, that our Lord found no reason for insistence upon the generally accepted commandments on the subject. But soon as the gospel message began to be preached outside the pale of Judaism, the matter became one of the pressing questions of the day. Protests against the popular practice had not been wanting from the older Greek thinkers; Heraclitus, Xenophanes, and Zeno had all raised their voices against image-worship. But the popular mind was not affected by their teaching, and many were the apologists who wrote in favour of the established custom. It is not surprising to read ( Acts 17:16) that, when St. Paul visited Athens, ‘his spirit was provoked within him, as he beheld the city full of idols,’ even though the statement is not strictly accurate. His whole training rendered him antagonistic to anything approaching idolatry; and in his letters the same feeling is expressed. No Christian was to keep company with idolaters ( 1 Corinthians 5:10 f.), who could not inherit the Kingdom of God ( 1 Corinthians 6:9,  Ephesians 5:5). He reminds the Thessalonians that they had abandoned the old idolatrous worship ‘to serve the living God’ ( 1 Thessalonians 1:9). Yet from the Christian point of view there is only one God, and the true Christian cannot but recognize that thus ‘no idol is anything in the world’ ( 1 Corinthians 8:4).

But there are two aspects of idolatry which caused the greatest anxiety in the primitive Church.

( a ) The decision of the Jerusalem Council as to the duties incumbent upon heathen converts contains the significant phrase, ‘that they abstain from the pollutions of idols’ ( Acts 15:20), ‘from meats offered to idols’ ( Acts 15:29). The command is intended as a comprehensive one, meaning that idolatry in every form is to be avoided; ‘participation in the idolatrous feasts is especially emphasised, simply because this was the crassest form of idolatry’ (A. Harnack, The Acts of the Apostles , Eng. translation, 1909, p. 257). But it was also the means of subtle temptation, which gave rise to a serious question. The probability was that most of the meat sold in the markets as well as that set before the guests at Gentile tables had been ‘offered to idols.’ What was the Christian to do? Was he to buy no meat? Must he refuse all such invitations? It must not be forgotten that the breach between St. Paul and the Judaizers had never been really healed. The partisans on either side were ever on the look-out for opportunities to widen it. The leaders did their utmost to heal the quarrel. Therefore, in dealing with the questions raised by the Corinthian Church, St. Paul was compelled to remember that he must not give any offence to the Judaizing section, which was evidently represented there ( 1 Corinthians 1:11 ff.), since he had acquiesced in the Apostolic Decree. It is true that this was only in the nature of a compromise, but its recommendations must be carried out as far as possible. On the other hand, the Gentile section of the community, which was responsible for raising the question, was in favour of a broad-minded view. And St. Paul’s dilemma was increased by the fact that his sympathies were with them. He lays the greatest stress, therefore, upon the principle that idolatry is wholly hateful and must be carefully guarded against ( 1 Corinthians 10:14). In the worship of Israel, to eat the sacrifices of the altar is to have communion with the altar. It is true that the idol is nothing, and the sacrifice therefore has no meaning, yet idolatry among the heathen is demon-worship rather than the worship of God; would they wish to have communion with demons? ( 1 Corinthians 10:15 ff.). It was all very well to shelter behind the fact that Christians really know that there is only one God; but all have not this knowledge: consequently the weaker brethren-that is, those who are perplexed and troubled by these questions-may be led into danger by our actions. Yet a compromise is possible. They are to buy what is offered, and eat what is set before them, asking no questions ( 1 Corinthians 10:28 ff.). If either the seller or the host say, ‘This has been offered to idols,’ whether in a friendly or a hostile spirit, the Christians must have nothing to do with it. It is all a matter of expediency and, in part, of love. God’s glory must come first; neither Jew nor Greek nor the Church must be needlessly offended.

( b ) The second aspect of idolatry afforded even more grievous trials, and was eventually the source of serious persecution: it was the rise of Emperor-worship. It is not difficult to see that such a cult was almost inevitable under existing circumstances. There had always been a tendency among Greeks and Romans to deify heroes of the past, but the practice gradually grew up of erecting temples in honour of living heroes (Plutarch, Lysander , xviii.; Herodotus, v. 47). It was perhaps not unnatural that a cult of the all-victorious city of Rome should arise, and as early as 195 b.c. there was a temple in its honour at Smyrna. Taking all these facts into consideration, the development of the Imperial cult under the Empire was only to be looked for. After the death of Julius Caesar a temple in his honour was erected at Ephesus (29 b.c.), and it was only a step to pay a like honour to Augustus during his lifetime (Tacitus, Ann . iv. 37). Such men as Gaius and Domitian were ready enough to encourage the idea (Suetonius, Domit . xiii.). In the province of Asia the cult was hailed with delight, and the result, as touching Christians, is seen in the Apocalypse (13). Such a cult was bound to change the whole relationship between Christianity and the Roman power. As a general rule it would be quite possible to escape offending susceptibilities with regard to the worship of the older gods, but the new cult was so universal and so popular that it soon became fraught with grave danger for members of the Christian community. Antichrist had indeed arisen, and fierce warfare could be the only result.

Literature.-For the whole subject: J. G. Frazer, The Golden Bough 2, 1900, also edition of Pausanias, 1898; V. Chapot, La Province romaine proconsulaire d’Asie , 1904; for ( a ): Commentaries of Heinrici (1896), Schmiedel (1892), Ellicott (1887), Stanley (21858), Robertson-Plummer (1911) on 1 Corinthians 8-10; and for ( b ): H. B. Swete, The Apocalypse of St. John 2, 1907, pp. lxxviii-xciii; B. F. Westcott, Epp. of St. John , 1883, pp. 250-282; E. Beurlier, Le Culte impérial , 1891; G. Boissier, La Religion romaine , 1892, i. 109-186; G. Wissowa, Religion und Kultus der Römer , 1902, pp. 71-78, 280-289.

F. W. Worsley.

Easton's Bible Dictionary [5]

  • Hero worship, the worship of deceased ancestors, or of heroes.

    In Scripture, idolatry is regarded as of heathen origin, and as being imported among the Hebrews through contact with heathen nations. The first allusion to idolatry is in the account of Rachel stealing her father's teraphim ( Genesis 31:19 ), which were the relics of the worship of other gods by Laban's progenitors "on the other side of the river in old time" ( Joshua 24:2 ). During their long residence in Egypt the Hebrews fell into idolatry, and it was long before they were delivered from it ( Joshua 24:14;  Ezekiel 20:7 ). Many a token of God's displeasure fell upon them because of this sin.

    The idolatry learned in Egypt was probably rooted out from among the people during the forty years' wanderings; but when the Jews entered Palestine, they came into contact with the monuments and associations of the idolatry of the old Canaanitish races, and showed a constant tendency to depart from the living God and follow the idolatrous practices of those heathen nations. It was their great national sin, which was only effectually rebuked by the Babylonian exile. That exile finally purified the Jews of all idolatrous tendencies.

    The first and second commandments are directed against idolatry of every form. Individuals and communities were equally amenable to the rigorous code. The individual offender was devoted to destruction ( Exodus 22:20 ). His nearest relatives were not only bound to denounce him and deliver him up to punishment ( Deuteronomy 13:20-10 ), but their hands were to strike the first blow when, on the evidence of two witnesses at least, he was stoned ( Deuteronomy 17:2-7 ). To attempt to seduce others to false worship was a crime of equal enormity (13:6-10). An idolatrous nation shared the same fate. No facts are more strongly declared in the Old Testament than that the extermination of the Canaanites was the punishment of their idolatry ( Exodus 34:15,16;  Deuteronomy 7;  12:29-31;  20:17 ), and that the calamities of the Israelites were due to the same cause ( Jeremiah 2:17 ). "A city guilty of idolatry was looked upon as a cancer in the state; it was considered to be in rebellion, and treated according to the laws of war. Its inhabitants and all their cattle were put to death." Jehovah was the theocratic King of Israel, the civil Head of the commonwealth, and therefore to an Israelite idolatry was a state offence ( 1 Samuel 15:23 ), high treason. On taking possession of the land, the Jews were commanded to destroy all traces of every kind of the existing idolatry of the Canaanites ( Exodus 23:24,32;  34:13;  Deuteronomy 7:5,25;  12:1-3 ).

    In the New Testament the term idolatry is used to designate covetousness ( Matthew 6:24;  Luke 16:13;  Colossians 3:5;  Ephesians 5:5 ).

    Copyright Statement These dictionary topics are from M.G. Easton M.A., DD Illustrated Bible Dictionary, Third Edition, published by Thomas Nelson, 1897. Public Domain.

    Bibliography Information Easton, Matthew George. Entry for 'Idolatry'. Easton's Bible Dictionary. 1897.

  • Charles Buck Theological Dictionary [6]

    The worship of idols, or the act of ascribing to things and persons, properties which are peculiar to God alone. The principal sources of idolatry seem to be the extravagant veneration for creatures and beings from which benefits accrue to men. Dr. Jortin says, that idolatry had four privileges to boast of. The first was a venerable antiquity, more ancient than the Jewish religion; and idolaters might have said to the Israelites, Where was your religion before Moses and Abraham? Go, and enquire in Chaldes, and there you will find that your fathers served other gods.

    2. It was wider spread than the Jewish religion. It was the religion of the greatest , the wisest, and the politest nations of the Chaldeans, Egyptians, and Phoenicians, the parents of civil government, and of arts and sciences.

    3. It was more adapted to the bent which men have towards visible and sensible objects. Men want gods who shall go before them, and be among them. God, who is every where in power, and no where in appearance, is hard to be conceived.

    4. It favoured human passions: it required no morality: its religious ritual consisted of splendid ceremonies, revelling, dancing, nocturnal assemblies, impure and scandalous mysteries, debaucined priests, and gods, who were both slaves and patrons to all sorts of vices. "All the more remarkable false religions that have been or are in the world, recommend themselves by one or other of these four privileges and characters." The first objects of idolatrous worship are thought to have been the sun, moon, and stars. Others think that angels were first worshipped. Soon after the flood we find idolatry greatly prevailing in the world. Abraham's father's family served other gods beyond the river Euphrates; and Laban had idols which Rachel brought along with her. In process of time, noted patriots, or kings deceased, animals of various kinds, plants, stones, and, in fine, whatever people took a fancy to, they idolized.

    The Egyptians, though high pretenders to wisdom, worshipped pied bulls, snipes, leeks, onions, &c. The Greeks had about 30, 000 gods. The Gomerians deified their ancient kings, nor were the Chaldeans, Romans, Chinese, &c. a whit less absurd. Some violated the most natural affections by murdering multitudes of their neighbours and children, under pretence of sacrificing them to their god. Some nations of Germany, Scandinavia, and Tartary, imagined that violent death in war, or by self-murder, was the proper method of access to the future enjoyment of their gods. In far later times, about 64, 080 persons were sacrificed at the dedication of one idolatrous temple in the space of four days in America. The Hebrews never had any idols of their own, but they adopted those of the nations around. The veneration which the Papists pay to the Virgin Mary, and other saints and angels, and to the bread in the sacrament, the cross, relics, and images, lays a foundation for the Protestants to charge them with idolatry, though they deny the charge.

    It is evident that they worship them, and that they justify the worship, but deny the idolatry of it, by distinguishing subordinate from supreme worship: the one they call latria, the other dulia: but this distinction is thought by many of the Protestant to be vain, futile, and nugatory. Idolatry has been divided into metaphorical and proper. By metaphorical idolatry, is meant that inordinate love of riches, honours, and bodily pleasures, whereby the passions and appetites of men are made superior to the will of God; man, by so doing, making a god of himself and his sensual temper. Proper idolatry is giving the divine honour to another. The objects or idols of that honour which are given are either personal, 1:e. the idolatrous themselves, who become their own statues; or internal, as false ideas, which are set up in the fancy instead of God, such as fancying God to be a light, flame, matter, &c. only here, the scene being internal, the scandal of the sin is thereby abated; or external, as worshipping angels, the sun, stars, animals, &c. Tenison on Idolatry; A. Young on Idolatrous Corruptions; Ridgley's Body of Div. qu. 106. Fell's Idolatry of Greece and Rome; Stillingfleet's Idolatry of the Church of Rome; Jortin's Ser. vol. 6: ser. 18.

    Morrish Bible Dictionary [7]

    The worship of idols — a sin which is mentioned as committed after the flood. There seems to have been a universal giving up of the knowledge of the true God. Paul, speaking of men, says that when they knew God, they glorified Him not as God, they did not like to retain God in their knowledge, notwithstanding that what may be known of God in nature, His eternal power and Godhead, was manifested to them. They degraded the worship of the true God everywhere, and idolatry became universal. In this, man had no excuse. Images were made like corruptible man, and birds, and four-footed beasts, and creeping things.  Romans 1:20-23 . From this state Abram was rescued by the God of glory appearing to him. Scripture shows the folly of a man cutting down a tree, and burning part of it to cook his food and to warm himself, and yet making a god of the rest, and worshipping it,   Isaiah 44:14-17; and yet Israel, to whom God had revealed Himself, not only as Creator but in redemption, adopted these wicked follies. There were also molten images and images of stone.

    Imaginary creatures were regarded as gods, and these were feared and propitiated. Some believed in a fetish of good and a fetish of evil. Others had an elaborate system of mythology, as the Greeks, with husbands and wives and sons and daughters of the gods and goddesses. Man himself was exalted by some into a god, as with the Greeks and the Romans.

    In Israel at first there might have been the thought that the idol was only a representative of God, just as the Egyptians professed to have representations of their unseen gods. When the golden calf was made Aaron built an altar before it, and said, "To-morrow is a feast to Jehovah;" but the people said, "These be thy gods, O Israel, which brought thee up out of the land of Egypt."  Exodus 32:4,5 . Yet they had been commanded to make no graven image, because they saw no similitude when God spake to them at Horeb. This species of idolatry is seen further developed in the case of Micah, who had a house of gods. See Micah

    The secret of all the abominations in idolatry is, that Satan is the grand mover of it. To Israel it was said that they were no more to offer sacrifices unto demons.  Leviticus 17:7 . They "sacrificed their sons and their daughters unto demons ."  Psalm 106:37 . They made their children pass through the fire to Molech,  2 Kings 23:10;  Ezekiel 23:37,39; "slaying the children in the valleys under the clefts of the rocks."  Isaiah 57:5 .

    As to the sacrificing being to demons, the same thing is said of the idolatry at Corinth, with its Grecian mythology.  1 Corinthians 10:20 . Satan being the real promoter of it all, he knows how to lead a poor unintelligent heathen to be satisfied with an imaginary fetish; the Greeks and Romans to be pleased with their stately statues; and the Brahmins and Hindus to pride themselves in their superior and refined mysticism. Satan has also succeeded in introducing into the professing church the worship of the Virgin Mary and of the saints. To this must be added another species of idolatry to which Christians are sometimes enticed, namely, that of letting anything but Christ have the first place in the heart; for in Him God is revealed, He "is the image of the invisible God" — "He is the true God." "Little children, keep yourselves from idols."  1 John 5:21 . The word εἴδωλον is from εἶδος, 'that which is seen, ' and covetousness is specially characterised as idolatry.  Colossians 3:5 .

    People's Dictionary of the Bible [8]

    Idolatry. The worship of other objects or beings than the one true God. Probably the heavenly bodies were among the earliest objects of idolatrous reverence. Thus the sun and moon, the Baal and Astarte of Phœnician worship, were regarded as embodying these active and passive principles respectively. And the idol deities of other nations bore similar characters. It is easy to see how such worship would be tainted by licentiousness of thought, and that the rites of it would be immoral and obscene. Unnatural lusts would be indulged, till the frightful picture drawn by the apostle Paul of heathenism was abundantly realized among even the most refined nations of antiquity.  Romans 1:18-32. It was in order to guard the Israelites against such abominable things that many of the enactments of the Mosaic law were directed.

     Deuteronomy 22:5. The ancient Hebrews had no fixed form of idolatry; but they frequently imitated the superstitions of other nations.  Genesis 31:30;  Joshua 24:23;  Judges 2:11-12;  Judges 8:27;  Judges 17:5;  Judges 18:30-31. Solomon, seduced by his strange wives, caused temples to be erected in honor of their gods, and himself impiously offered incense to them.  1 Kings 11:6-7. Under the reign of Ahab, idolatry reached its greatest height; and the impious Jezebel endeavored to destroy the worship of Jehovah. Even the sacrifice of children, forbidden as it was under the most severe and summary penalties, became common.  Leviticus 20:2;  Jeremiah 7:31;  Ezekiel 16:21. The severe chastisement of the captivity in a great measure uprooted Hebrew idolatry. Perhaps those who went into Egypt were the worst class of the Jews.  Jeremiah 44:15-30. Yet even there idolatry did not last among them. And, though after the return there was much lukewarmness shown, and alliances were made afresh with ungodly nations,, and false prophets appeared,  Ezra 9:1-2;  Nehemiah 6:14, yet so far as we can judge by the national covenant,  Nehemiah 10:1-39, and the general tone of the post-exilian prophets, Haggai, Zechariah, and Malachi, idolatry ceased to nourish. In the New Testament the Christians, who were continually brought into contact with idolaters through the extent of the Roman empire, were cautioned as to their behavior. Not only were they to abhor idol-worship itself, but they were also to abstain from meats which had been offered to idols.  Acts 15:29. It was true that the meat itself was not thereby defiled, for an idol was nothing; and therefore Christians need not be too particular in inquiring into the history of what was set before them But, if any one apprised them that it had been so presented, they were not to eat, lest an occasion of offence should be given to a weak brother or to a censorious heathen.  1 Corinthians 8:4-13;  1 Corinthians 10:25-32.

    Vine's Expository Dictionary of NT Words [9]

    1: Εἰδωλολατρία (Strong'S #1495 — Noun Feminine — eidololatria — i-do-lol-at-ri'-ah )

    whence Eng., "idolatry," (from eidolon, and latreia, "service"), is found in  1—Corinthians 10:14;  Galatians 5:20;  Colossians 3:5; and, in the plural, in  1—Peter 4:3 .

     1—Corinthians 10:19 Romans 1:22-25 Ephesians 2:3 Galatians 4:8,9 Titus 3:3

    Hawker's Poor Man's Concordance And Dictionary [10]

    Idol, Idolatry

    These things have been generally confined to the idea of the worshipping of creatures or images, but, in fact, may be properly applied to every thing which men set up in their hearts to regard, and which tend to the lessening their reverence for the Lord. ( Exodus 20:3-4;  Ezekiel 14:1; Eze 14:5)

    King James Dictionary [11]

    IDOL'ATRY, n. L. idololatria. Gr. idol, and to worship or serve.

    1. The worship of idols, images, or any thing made by hands, or which is not God.

    Idolatry is of two kinds the worship of images, statues, pictures, &c. made by hands and the worship of the heavenly bodies,the sun, moon and stars, or of demons, angels, men and animals.

    2. Excessive attachment or veneration for any thing, or that which borders on adoration.

    Webster's Dictionary [12]

    (1): ( n.) The worship of idols, images, or anything which is not God; the worship of false gods.

    (2): ( n.) Excessive attachment or veneration for anything; respect or love which borders on adoration.

    Holman Bible Dictionary [13]


    Fausset's Bible Dictionary [14]

    (See Idol .)

    Cyclopedia of Biblical, Theological and Ecclesiastical Literature [15]

    is divine honor paid to any created object. It is thus a wider term than image-worship (q.v.). For many old monographs on the various forms of ancient idolatry, see Volbeding, Index Programmatum, p. 108 sq. (See False Gods); (See Beast-Worship).

    We find the idea of idolatry expressed in the O.T. by כָּזָב (a Lie,  Psalms 45:5;  Amos 2:4), or שָׁוְא (nullity), and still oftener by תּוֹעֵבָה (Abomination). In after times the Jews designated it as עָבוּדָה רָעָה (foreign worship). Thus we see that it had no name indicative of its nature, for the Biblical expressions are more a monotheistic qualification of divine worship than a definition of it; the last Hebrew expression, however, shows idolatry as not being of Jewish origin. The word Εἰδωλολατρεία in the N.T. is entirely due to the Septuagint, which, wherever any of the heathen deities are mentioned, even though designated in the sacred text only as אֵַלילַים (Nothings), translates by Εἴδωλον , an Idol; a practice generally followed by later versions. A special sort of idolatry, namely, the actual adoration of images (Idololatria) thus gave name to the whole species ( 1 Corinthians 10:14;  Galatians 5:20;  1 Peter 4:3). Subsequently the more comprehensive word Εἰδολατρεία (Idolatria, instead of Idololatria) was adopted, which included the adoration and worship of other visible symbols of the deity ( Ε Δος ) besides those due to the statuary art. Herzog.

    I. Origin Of Idolatry. In the primeval period man appears to have had not alone a revelation, but also an implanted natural law. Adam and some of his descendants, as late as the time of the Flood, certainly lived under a revealed system, now usually spoken of as the patriarchal dispensation, and Paul tells us that the nations were under a natural law ( Romans 2:14-15). "Man in his natural state must always have had a knowledge of God sufficient for the condition in which he had been placed. Although God in times past suffered all nations [or, rather, all the Gentiles, Πάντα Τὰ Ἔθνη ] to walk in their own ways, nevertheless he left not himself without witness, in that he did good, and gave us rain from heaven, and fruitful seasons, filling our hearts with food and gladness' ( Acts 14:17). For the invisible things of him, from the creation of the world, are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, [even] his eternal power and godhead' ( Romans 1:20). But the people of whom we are speaking' changed the glory of the incorruptible God into an image made like to corruptible man, and to birds, and four-footed beasts, and creeping things,' and worshipped and served the creature more than the Creator, who is blessed forever' ( Romans 1:21-25). Thus arose that strange superstition which is known by the term Fetishism [or low nature- worship], consisting in the worship of animals, trees, rivers, hills, and stones" (Poole, Genesis Of The Earth And Of  Prayer of Manasseh 1:2 nd ed. p. 160, 161). Paul speaks of those who invented this idolatry as therefore forsaken of God and suffered to sink into the deepest moral corruption ( Romans 1:28). It is remarkable that among highly-civilized nations the converse obtains; moral corruption being very frequently the cause of the abandoning of true religion for infidelity. Kitto. That theory of human progress which supposes man to have gradually worked his way up from barbaric ignorance of God to a so-called natural religion is contradicted by the facts of Biblical history.

    Nothing is distinctly stated in the Bible as to any antediluvian idolatry. It is, however, a reasonable sup-position that in the general corruption before the Flood idolatry was practiced. There is no undoubted trace of heathen divinities in the names of the antediluvians; but there are dim indications of ancestral worship in the postdiluvian worship of some of the antediluvian patriarchs. It has been supposed that the SET or SUTEKH of the Egyptian Pantheon is the Hebrew Seth. The Cainite Enoch was possibly commemorated as Annacus or Nannacus at Iconium, though, this name being identified with Enoch, the reference may be to Enoch of the line of Seth. It is reasonable to suppose that the worship of these antediluvians originated before the Flood, for it is unlikely that it would have been instituted after it. Some Jewish writers, grounding their theory on a forced interpretation of  Genesis 4:26, assign to Enos, the son of Seth, the unenviable notoriety of having been the first to pay divine honors to the host of heaven, and to lead others into the like error (Maimon. De Idol. i, 1). R. Solomon Jarchi, on the other hand, while admitting the same verse to contain the first account of the origin of idolatry, understands it as implying the deification of men and plants. Arabic tradition, according to Sir W. Jones, connects the people of Yemen with the same apostasy. The third in descent from Joktan, and therefore a contemporary of Nahor, took the surname of Abdu Shams, or "servant of the sun," whom he and his family worshipped, while other tribes honored the planets and fixed stars (Hales, Chronol. 2, 59, 4to ed.). Nimrod, again, to whom is ascribed the introduction of Zabianism, was after his death transferred to the constellation Orion, and on the slender foundation of the expression "Ur of the Chaldees" ( Genesis 11:31) is built the fabulous history of Abraham and Nimrod, narrated in the legends of the Jews and Mussulmans (Jellinek, Bet Ha-Midrash, 1. 23; Weil, Bibl. Leg. p. 47-74; Hyde, Rel. Pers. c. 2).

    II. Classification Of Idolatry. All unmixed systems of idolatry may be classified under the following heads; all mixed systems may be resolved into two or more of them. We give in this connection general illustrations of these species of false worship as evinced by the nations associated with the Jewish people, reserving for the next head a more complete survey of the idolatrous systems of the most important of these nations separately.

    1. Low nature-worship, or Fetishism, the worship of animals, trees, rivers, hills, and stones. The fetishism of the Negroes is thought to admit of a belief in a supreme intelligence: if this be true, such a belief is either a relic of a higher religion, or else is derived from the Muslim tribes of Africa. Fetishism is closely connected with magic, and the Nigritian priests are universally magicians.

    Beast-worship was exemplified in the calves of Jeroboam and the dark hints, which seem to point to the goat of Mendes. There is no actual proof that the Israelites ever joined in the service of Dagon, the fish-god of the Philistines, though Ahaziah sent stealthily to Baalzebub, the fly-god of Ekron (2 Kings 1). Some have explained the allusion in  Zephaniah 1:9 as referring to a practice connected with the worship of Dagon; comp. 1 Samuel 5, 5. The Syrians are stated by Xenophon (Anab. 1, 4, § 9) to have paid divine honors to fish. In later times the brazen serpent became the object of idolatrous homage ( 2 Kings 18:4). But whether the latter was regarded with superstitious reverence as a memorial of their early history, or whether incense was offered to it as a symbol of some power of nature, cannot now be exactly determined. The threatening in  Leviticus 26:30, "I will put your carcasses upon the carcasses of your idols," may fairly be considered as directed against the tendency to regard animals, as in Egypt, as the symbols of deity. Tradition says that Nergal, the god of the men of Cuth, the idol of fire according to Leusden (Philippians Hebr. Mixt. diss. 43), was worshipped under the form of a cock; Ashima as a he-goat, the emblem of generative power; Nibhaz as a dog; Adrammelech as a mule or peacock; and Anammelech as a horse or pheasant. The singular reverence with which trees have in all ages been honored is not without example in the history of the Hebrews. The terebinth at Mamre, beneath which Abraham built an altar ( Genesis 12:7;  Genesis 13:18), and the memorial grove planted by him at Beersheba ( Genesis 21:33), were intimately connected with patriarchal worship though in after ages his descendants were forbidden to do that which he did with impunity, in order to avoid the contamination of idolatry. Jerome (Onomasticon, s.v. Drys) mentions an oak near Hebron which existed in his infancy, and was the traditional tree beneath which Abraham dwelt. It was regarded with great reverence, and was made an object of worship by the heathen. Modern Palestine abounds with sacred trees. They are found "all over the land covered with bits of rags from the garments of passing villagers, hung up as acknowledgments, or as deprecatory signals and charms; and we find beautiful clumps of oak-trees sacred to a kind of beings called Jacob's daughters" (Thomson, The Land and the Book, 2, 151). (See Grove). As a symptom of the rapidly degenerating spirit, the oak of Shechem, which stood in the sanctuary of Jehovah ( Joshua 24:26), and beneath which Joshua set up the stone of witness, perhaps appears in Judges ( Judges 9:37) as "the oak (not plain,' as in the A.V.) of soothsayers" or "augurs." This, indeed, may be a relic of the ancient Canaanitish worship; an older name associated with idolatry, which the conquering Hebrews were commanded and endeavored to obliterate ( Deuteronomy 12:3).

    2. Shamanism, or the magical side of fetishism, the religion of the Mongolian tribes, and apparently the primitive religion of China.

    3. High Nature-Worship, the worship of the sun, moon, and stars, and of the supposed powers of nature. The old religion of the Shemitic races consisted, in the opinion of Movers (Plin. 1, c. 5), in the deification of the powers and laws of nature; these powers being considered either as distinct and independent, or as manifestations of one supreme and all-ruling being. In most instances the two ideas were co-existent. The deity, following human analogy, was conceived as male and female: the one representing the active, the other the passive principle of nature; the former the source of spiritual. the latter of physical life. The transference of the attributes of the one to the other resulted either in their mystical conjunction in the hermaphrodite, as the Persian Mithra and Phoenician Baal, or the two combined to form a third, which symbolized the essential unity of both. (This will explain the occurrence of the name of Baal with the masculine and feminine articles in the Sept.; comp.  Hosea 11:2;  Jeremiah 19:5;  Romans 11:4. Philochorus, quoted by Macrobius [Sat. 3, 8], says that men and women sacrificed to Venus or the Moon, with the garments of the sexes interchanged, because she was regarded both as masculine and feminine [see Selden, De Dis Syr. 2, 2]. Hence Lunus and Luna.) With these two supreme beings all other beings are identical; so that in different nations the same nature-worship appears under different forms, representing the various aspects under which the idea of the power of nature is presented. The sun and moon were early selected as outward symbols of this all-pervading power, and the worship of the heavenly bodies was not only the most ancient, but the most prevalent system of idolatry. Taking its rise, according to a probable hypothesis, in the plains of Chaldsea. it spread through Egypt, Greece, Scythia, and even Mexico and Ceylon; and it is worthy of notice that even the religion of remote India presupposes a grand symbolic representation of the divine by the worship of these great physical powers (compare Lassen, Ind. Alterth. 1, 756 sq.; Roth, Geschichte der Religionen). (See Hinduism).

    It was regarded as an offence amenable to the civil authorities in the days of Job ( Job 31:26-28), and one of the statutes of the Mosaic law was directed against its observance ( Deuteronomy 4:19;  Deuteronomy 17:3); the former referring to the star worship of Arabia, the latter to the concrete form in which it appeared among the Syrians and Phoenicians. It is probable that the Israelites learned their first lessons in sun worship from the Egyptians, in whose religious system that luminary, as Osiris, held a prominent place. The city of On (Bethshemesh or Heliopolis) took its name from his temple ( Jeremiah 43:13), and the wife of Joseph was the daughter of his priest ( Genesis 41:45). The Phoenicians worshipped him under the title of "Lord of heaven," בִּעִל שָׁמִיַם , Baal-Shamayim ( Βεελσάμην , acc. to Sanchoniatho in Philo Byblius), and Adon, the Greek Adonis, and the Tammuz of Ezekiel (8:14). (See Tammuz).

    As Molech or Milcom, the sun was worshipped by the Ammonites, and as Chemosh by the Moabites. The Hadad of the Syrians is the same deity, whose name is traceable in Benhadad, Hadadezer, and Hadad or Adad, the Edomite. The Assyrian Bel or Belus is another form of Baal. According to Philo (De Vit. Cont. § 3), the Essenes were wont to pray to the sun at morning and evening (Joseph. War, 2, 8, 5). By the later kings of Judah, sacred horses and chariots were dedicated to the sun-god, as by the Persians ( 2 Kings 23:11; Bochart, Hieroz. pt. 1, bk. 2, c. 11; Selden, De Dis Syr. 2, 8), to march in procession and greet his rising (R. Solomon Jarchi on  2 Kings 23:11). The Massagetae offered horses in sacrifice to him (Strabo, 11, p. 513), on the principle enunciated by Macrobius (Sat. 7, 7), "like rejoiceth in like" ("similibus similia gaudent;" compare Herod. 1, 216), and the custom was common to many nations.

    The moon, worshipped by the Phoenicians under the name of Astarte (Lucian, de Dea Syra, c. 4), or Baaltis, the passive power of nature, as Baal was the active (Movers, 1, 149), and known to the Hebrews as Ashtaroth or Ashtoreth, the tutelary goddess of the Zidonians, appears early among the objects of Israelitish idolatry. But this Syro-Phoenician worship of the sun and moon was of a grosser character than the pure star worship of the Magi, which Movers distinguishes as Upper Asiatic or Assyro-Persian, and was equally removed from the Chaldean astrology and Zabianism of later times. The former of these systems tolerated no images or altars, and the contemplation of the heavenly bodies from elevated spots constituted the greater part of its ritual.

    But, though we have no positive historical account of star-worship before the Assyrian period, we may infer that it was early practiced in a concrete form among the Israelites from the allusions in  Amos 5:26 and  Acts 7:42-43. Even in the desert they are said to have been given up to worship the host of heaven, while Chiun and Remphan, or Rephan, have on various grounds been identified with the planet Saturn. It was to counteract idolatry of this nature that the stringent law of  Deuteronomy 17:3 was enacted, and with a view to withdrawing the Israelites from undue contemplation of the material universe, Jehovah, the God of Israel, is constantly placed before them as Jehovah Sabaoth, Jehovah of Hosts, the king of heaven ( Daniel 4:35;  Daniel 4:37), to whom the heaven and heaven of heavens belong ( Deuteronomy 10:14). However this may be, Movers (Phon. 1, 65, 66) contends that the later star-worship, introduced by Ahaz and followed by Manasseh, was purer and more spiritual in its nature than the Israelito-Phoenician worship of the heavenly bodies under symbolical forms, as Baal and Asherah; and that it was not idolatry in the same sense that the latter was, but of a simply contemplative character; He is supported, to some extent, by the fact that we find no mention of any images of the sun or moon or the host of heaven, but merely of vessels devoted to their service ( 2 Kings 23:4). But there is no reason to believe that the divine honors paid to the "Queen of Heaven" ( Jeremiah 7:18;  Jeremiah 49:19; or, as others render, "the frame" or "structure of the heavens") were equally dissociated from image-worship. Mr. Layard (Nin. 2, 451) discovered a bas-relief at Nimrod which represented four idols carried in procession by Assyrian warriors.

    One of these figures he identifies with Hera, the Assyrian Astarte, represented with a star on her head (Amos 5, 26), and with the "queen of heaven," who appears on the rocktablets of Pterium "standing erect on a lion, and crowned with a tower, or mural coronet," as in the Syrian temple of Hierapolis (ib. p. 456; Lucian, de Dea Syra, 81, 32). But, in his remarks upon a figure which resembles the Rhea of Diodorus, Layard adds, "The representation in a human form of the celestial bodies, themselves originally but a type, was a corruption which appears to have crept at a later period into the mythology of Assyria; for, in the more ancient bas-reliefs, figures with caps surmounted by stars do not occur, and the sun, moon, and planets stand alone" (ib. p. 457,458). The allusions in  Job 38:31-32 are too obscure to allow any inference to be drawn as to the mysterious influences which were held by the old astrologers to be exercised by the stars over human destiny, nor is there sufficient evidence to connect them with anything more recondite than the astronomical knowledge of the period. The same may be said of the poetical figure in Deborah's chant of triumph, "the stars from their highways warred with Sisera" ( Judges 5:20). In the later times of the monarchy, Mazzaloth, the planets, or the zodiacal signs, received, next to the sun and moon, their share of popular adoration ( 2 Kings 23:5); and the history of idolatry among the Hebrews shows at all times an intimate connection between the deification of the heavenly bodies and the superstition which watched the clouds for signs, and used divination and enchantments. It was but a step from such culture of the sidereal powers to the worship of Gad and Meni, Babylonian divinities, symbols of Venus or the moon, as the goddess of luck or fortune. Under the latter aspect the moon was reverenced by the Egyptians (Macrob. Sat. 1, 19),; and the name Baal-Gad is possibly an example of the manner in which the worship of the planet Jupiter, as the bringer of luck, was grafted on the old faith of the Phoenicians. The false gods of the colonists of Samaria were probably connected with Eastern astrology Adrammelech Movers regards as the sun-fire-the solar Mars, and Anammelech the solar Saturn (Pho. 1, 410, 411). The Vulg. rendering of  Proverbs 26:8, "Sicut qui mittit lapidem in Acervum Mercurii," follows the Midrash on the passage quoted by Jarchi, and requires merely a passing notice (see Selden, De Dis Syrzs, 2, 15; Maim. de Idol. 3, 2; Buxtorf, Lex. Talm. s.v. מרקולים ).

    4. Hero-worship, the worship of deceased ancestors or leaders of a nation. Of pure hero-worship among the Shemitic races we find no trace. Moses, indeed, seems to have entertained some dim apprehension that his countrymen might, after his death, pay him more honors than were due to man, and the anticipation of this led him to review his own conduct in terms of strong reprobation ( Deuteronomy 4:21-22). The expression in  Psalms 106:28, "The sacrifices of the Dead," is in all probability metaphorical, and  Wisdom of Solomon 14:15 refers to a later practice due to Greek influence. The Rabbinical commentators discover in  Genesis 48:16 an allusion to the worshipping of angels ( Colossians 2:18), while they defend their ancestors from the charge of regarding them in any other light than mediators, or intercessors with God (Lewis, Orig. Hebrews 5, 3 ). It is needless to add that their inference and apology are equally groundless. With like probability has been advanced the theory of the daemon-worship of the Hebrews, the only foundation for it being two highly poetical passages ( Deuteronomy 32:17;  Psalms 106:37). It is possible that the Persian dualism is hinted at in  Isaiah 45:7.

    5. Idealism, the worship of abstractions or mental qualities, such as justice, a system never found unmixed. This constituted the mythology of the Greeks and Romans, as also of the Scandinavians. (See Mythology).

    III. Idolatry Of Certain Ancient Heathen Nations In Detail. All idolatry is in its nature heathenish, and it has in all ages been a characteristic mark of heathendom, so that to the present day the vivid description of Romans 1 remains the most striking portraiture of heathen peoples. We have space in this article for a systematic view only of those early nations whose contact with the Hebrew race was the means of the importation of idolatry among the chosen people. (See Polytheism).

    1. Mesopotamian Mythology.-The original idolatrous condition of the kindred of Abraham (q.v.) himself in the great plain of Aram is distinctly alluded to in Judges 24:2. According to Rawlinson (Essay in his Herod.), the Pantheons of Babylon and Nineveh, though originally dissimilar in the names of the divinities, cannot as yet be treated separately. The principal god of the Assyrians was Asshur, replaced in Babylonia by a god whose name is read II or Ra. The special attributes of Asshur were sovereignty and power, and he was regarded as the especial patron of the Assyrians and their kings. It is the Shemitic equivalent of the Hamitic or Scythic Ra, which suggests a connection with Egypt, although it is to be noticed that the same root may perhaps be traced in the probably Canaanitish Heres. Next to Asshur or Il was a triad, consisting of Anu, who appears to have corresponded to Pluto, a divinity whose name is doubtful, corresponding to Jupiter, and Hea or Hoa, corresponding in position and partly in character to Neptune. The supreme goddess Mulita or Bilta (Mylitta cr Beltis) was the wife of the Babylonian Jupiter. This triad was followed by another, consisting of Ether (Il-a?), the sun, and the moon. Next in order are "the five minor gods, who, if not of astronomical origin, were at any rate identified with the five planets of the Chaldaean system." In addition, Sir H. Rawlinson enumerates several other divinities of less importance, and mentions that there are "a vast number of other names," adding this remarkable observation: "Every town and village, indeed, throughout Babylonia and Assyria appears to have had its own particular deity, many of these no doubt being the great gods of the Pantheon disguised under rustic names, but others being distinct local divinities." Sir H. Rawlinson contents himself with stating the facts discoverable from the inscriptions, and does not theorize upon the subject further than to point out the strong resemblances between this Oriental system and that of Greece and Rome, not indeed in the Aryan ground-work of the latter, but in its general superstructure. If we analyze the Babylonian and Assyrian system, we discover that in its present form it is mainly cosmic, or a system of high nature-worship.

    The supreme divinity appears to have been regarded as the ruler of the universe, the first triad was of powers of nature; the second triad and the remaining chief divinities were distinctly cosmic. But beneath this system were two others, evidently distinct in origin, and too deep- seated to be obliterated, the worship of ancestors and low nature-worship. Asshur, at the very head of the Pantheon, is the deified ancestor of the Assyrian race; and, notwithstanding a system of great gods, each city had its own special idolatry, either openly reverencing its primitive idol, or concealing a deviation from the fixed belief by making that idol another form of one of the national divinities. In this separation into its first elements of this ancient religion. we discover the superstitions of those races which, mixed, but never completely fused, formed the population of Babylonia and Assyria, three races whose three languages were yet distinct in the inscribed records as late as the time of Darius Hystaspis. These races were the primitive Chaldaeans, called Hamites by Sir H. Rawlinson, who undoubtedly had strong affinities with the ancient Egyptians, the Shemitic Assyrians, and the Aryan Persians. It is not difficult to assign to these races their respective shares in the composition of the mythology of the countries in which they successively ruled. The ancestral worship is here distinctly Shemitic: the name of Asshur proves this. It may be objected that such worship never characterized any other Shemitic stock; that we find it among Turanians and Aryans: but we reply that the Shemites borrowed their idolatry, and a Turanian or Aryan influence may have given it this peculiar form. The low nature-worship must be due to the Turanians. It is never discerned except where there is a strong Turanian or Nigritian element, and when once established it seems always to have been very hard to remove. The high nature worship, as the last element, remains for the Aryan race. The primitive Aryan belief in its different forms was a reverence for the sun, moon, and stars, and the powers of nature, combined with a belief in one supreme being, a religion which, though varying at different times, and deeply influenced by ethnic causes, was never deprived of its essentially cosmic characteristics. (See Assyria).

    2. Egyptian. The strongest and most remarkable peculiarity of the Egyptian religion is the worship of animals (see Zickler, De Religione Bestiarum Ab Agyptiis Consecratarum, Lips. 1745; Schumacker, De Culiu Animalium Inter Egyptios Et Judceos, Wolfenb. 1773), trees, and like objects, which was universal in the country, and was even connected with the belief in the future state. No theory of the usefulness of certain animals can explain the worship of others that were utterly useless, nor can a theory of some strange anomaly find even as wide an application. The explanation is to be discovered in every town, every village, every hut of the Negroes, whose fetishism corresponds perfectly with this low nature- worship of the ancient Egyptians.

    Connected with fetishism was the local character of the religion. Each home, city, town, and probably village, had its divinities, and the position of many gods in the Pantheon was due rather to the importance of their cities than any powers or qualities they were supposed to have. For a detailed account of the Egyptian deities, with illustrative cuts, see Kitto's Pictorial Bible, note on  Deuteronomy 4:16; compare also EGYPT (See Egypt) .

    The Egyptian Pantheon shows three distinct elements. Certain of the gods are only personifications connected with low nature-worship. Others, the great gods, are of Shemitic origin, and are connected with high nature- worship, though showing traces of the worship of ancestors. In addition, there are certain personifications of abstract ideas. The first of these classes is evidently the result of an attempt to connect the old low nature-worship with some higher system. The second is no doubt the religion of the Shemitic settlers. It is essentially the same in character as the Babylonian and Assyrian religion, and, as the belief of a dominant race, took the most important place in the intricate system of which it ultimately formed a part. The last class appears to be of later invention, and to have had its origin in an endeavor to construct a philosophical system.

    In addition to these particulars of the Egyptian religion, it is important to notice that it comprised very remarkable doctrines. Man was held to be a responsible being, whose future after death depended upon his actions done while on earth. He was to be judged by Osiris, ruler of the West, or unseen world, and either rewarded with felicity or punished with torment. Whether these future states of happiness and misery were held to be of eternal duration is not certain, but there is little doubt that the Egyptians believed in the immortality of the soul.

    The religion of the Shepherds, or Hyksos, is not so distinctly known to us. It is, however, clear from the monuments that their chief god was SET, or SUTEKH, and we learn from a papyrus that one of the Shepherd-kings, APEPI, probably Manetho's "Apophis," established the worship of SET in his dominions, and reverenced' no other god, raising a great temple to him in Zoan, or Avaris. SET continued to be worshipped by the Egyptians until the time of the 22nd dynasty, when we lose all trace of him on the monuments. At this period, or afterwards, his figure was effaced in the inscriptions. The change took place long after the expulsion of the Shepherds, and was effected by the 22nd dynasty, which was probably of Assyrian or Babylonian origin; it is, therefore, rather to be considered as a result of the influence of the Median doctrine of Ormud and Ahriman than as due to the Egyptian hatred of the foreigners and all that concerned them. Besides SET, other foreign divinities were worshipped in Egypt-the god RENPU, the goddesses KEN, or Ketesh, Anta and ASTARTA. All these divinities, except ASTARTA, as to whom we have no particular information, are treated by the Egyptians as powers of destruction and war, as SET was considered the personification of physical evil. SET was always identified by the Egyptians with Baal; we do not know whether he was worshipped in Egypt before the Shepherd-period, but it is probable that he was.

    This foreign worship in Egypt was probably never reduced to a system. What we know of it shows no regularity, and it is not unlike the imitations of the Egyptian idols made by Phoenician artists, probably as representations of Phoenician divinities. The gods of the Hyksos are foreign objects of worship in an Egyptian dress. (See Hyksos).

    3. Idolatry Of Canaan And The Adjoining Countries. The center of the idolatry of the Palestinian races is to be sought for in the religion of the Rephaites and the Canaanites. We can distinctly connect the worship of Baal and Ashtoreth with the earliest kind of idolatry; and, having thus established a center, we can understand how, for instance, the same infernal rites were celebrated to the Ammonitish Molech and the Carthaginian Baal. The most important document for the idolatry of the Hittites is the treaty concluded between the branch of that people seated on the Orontes and Rameses II. From this we learn that SUTEKH (or SET) and ASTERAT were the chief divinities of these Hittites, and that they also worshipped the mountains and rivers and the winds. The SUTERKHS of several forts are also specified. (See Hittites).

    SET is known from the Egyptian inscriptions to have corresponded to Baal, so that in the two chief divinities we discover Baal and Ashtoreth, the only Canaanitish divinities known to be mentioned in Scripture. The local worship of different forms of Baal well agrees with the low nature-worship with which it is found to have prevailed. Both are equally mentioned in the Bible history. Thus the people of Shechem worshipped Baal-berith, and Mount Hermon itself seems to have been worshipped as Baal-Hermon, while the low nature- worship may be traced in the reverence for groves, and the connection of the Canaanitish religion with hills and trees. The worst feature of this system was the sacrifice of children by their parents-a feature that shows the origin of at least two of its offshoots.

    The Bible does not give a very clear description of Canaanitish idolatry. As an abominable thing, to be rooted out and cast into oblivion, nothing is needlessly said of it. The appellation Baal, ruler, or possessor, implies supremacy, and connects the chief Canaanitish divinity with the Syrian Adonis. He was the god of the Canaanitish city Zidon, or Sidon, where "Ashtoreth, the abomination of the Zidonians," was also specially worshipped. In the Judge-period we read of Baalim and Ashteroth in the plural, probably indicating various local forms of these divinities, but perhaps merely the worship of many images. The worship of Baal was connected with that of the groves, which we take to have been representations of trees or other vegetable products. (See High Place). In Ahab's time a temple was built for Baal, where there was an image. His worshippers sacrificed in garments provided by the priests; and his prophets, seeking to propitiate him, were wont to cry and cut themselves with swords and lances. Respecting Ashtoreth we know less from Scripture. Her name is not derivable from any Shemitic root. It is equivalent to the Ishtar of the cuneiform inscriptions, the name of the Assyrian or Babylonian Venus, the goddess of the planet. The identity of the Canaanitish and the Assyrian or Babylonian goddess is further shown by the connection of the former with star-worship. In the Iranian languages we find a close radical resemblance to Ashtoreth and Ishtar in the Persian, Zend stara, Sansk. stra, Ἀστήρ , Stern, all equivalent to our "star." This derivation confirms our opinion that the high nature-worship of the Babylonians and Assyrians was of Aryan origin. As no other Canaanitish divinities are noticed in Scripture, it seems probable that Baal and Ashtoreth were alone worshipped by the nations of Canaan. Among the neighboring tribes we find, besides these, other names of idols, and we have to inquire whether they apply to different idols or are merely different appellations.

    Beginning with the Abrahamitic tribes, we find Molech, Malcham, or Milcom ( מֹלֶךְ , מִלְכָּם , מַלְכֹּם ) spoken of as the idol of the Ammonites. This name, in the first form, always has the article, and undoubtedly signifies the King ( הִמֹּלֶךְ , equivalent to הִמֶּלֶךְ ), for it is indifferently used as a proper name and as an appellative with a suffix (comp.  Jeremiah 49:1;  Jeremiah 49:3, with  Amos 1:15). Milcom is from Molech or its root, with ם formative, and Malcham is probably a dialectic variation, if the points are to be relied upon. Molech was regarded by the Ammonites as their king. When David captured Rabbah, we are told that "he took Malcham's crown from off his head, the weight whereof [was] a talent of gold with the precious stones: and it was [set] on David's head" ( 2 Samuel 12:30; comp.  1 Chronicles 20:2). The prophets speak of this idol as ruler of the children of Ammon, and doomed to go into captivity with his priests and princes ( Jeremiah 49:1;  Jeremiah 49:3;  Amos 1:15). The worship of Molech was performed at high places, and children were sacrificed to him by their parents, being cast into fires. This horrible practice prevailed at Carthage, where children were sacrificed to their chief divinity, Baal, called at Tyre "Melcarth, lord (Baal) of Tyre" מלקרת בעל צר (Inscr. Melit. Biling. ap. Gesen. Lex. s.v. בצל ), the first of which words signifies King Of The City, for מֶלֶךְ קֶרֶת . There can therefore be no doubt that Molech was a local form of the chief idol of Canaan, and it is by no means certain that this name was limited to the Ammonitish worship, as we shall see in speaking of the idolatry of the Israelites in the Desert.

    We know for certain of but one Moabitish divinity, as of but one Ammonitish. Chemosh appears to have held the same place as Molech, although our information respecting him is less full. Moab was the "people of Chemosh" ( Numbers 21:29;  Jeremiah 48:46), and Chemosh was doomed to captivity with his priests and princes ( Jeremiah 48:7). In one place Chemosh is spoken of as the god of the king of the children of Ammon, whom Jephthah conquered ( Judges 11:24); but it is to be remarked that the cities held by this king, which Jephthah took, were not originally Ammonitish, and were apparently claimed as once held by the Moabites (2126; comp.  Numbers 21:23-30); so that at this time Moab and Ammon were probably united, or the Ammonites ruled by a Moabitish chief. The etymology of Chemosh is doubtful, but it is clear that he was distinct from Molech. There is no positive trace of the cruel rites of the idol of the Ammonites, and it is unlikely that the settled Moabites should have had the same savage disposition as their wild brethren on the north. There is, however, a general resemblance in the regal character assigned to both idols and their solitary position. Chemosh, therefore, like Molech, was probably a form of Baal. Both tribes appear, to have had other idols, for we read of the worship, by the Israelites, of "the gods of Moab, and the gods of the children of Ammon" ( Judges 10:6); but, as there are other plurals in the passage, it is possible that this maybe a general expression. Yet, in saying this, we do not mean to suggest that there was any monotheistic form of Canaanitish idolatry. There is some difficulty in ascertaining whether Baal-Peor, or Peor, was a Moabitish idol. The Israelites, while encamped at Shittim, were seduced by the women of Moab and Midian, and joined them in the worship of Baal-Peor. There is no notice of any later instance of this idolatry. It seems, therefore, not to have been national to Moab, and, if so, it may have been borrowed, and Midianitish, or else local, and Canaanitish. The former idea is supported by the apparent connection of prostitution, even of women of rank, with the worship of Baal-Peor, which would not have been repugnant to the pagan Arabs; the latter finds some support in the name Shittim, the acacias, as though the place had its name from some acacias sacred to Baal, and, moreover, we have no certain instance of the application of the name of Baal to any non-Canaanitish divinity. Had such vile worship as was probably that of Baal-Peor been national in Moab, it is most unlikely that David would have been on very friendly terms with a Moabitish king.

    The Philistine idolatry is connected with that of Canaan, although it has peculiarities of its own, which are indeed so strong that it may be questioned whether it is entirely or even mainly derived from the Canaanitish source. At Ekron, Baal-zebub was worshipped, and had a temple, to which Ahaziah, the wicked son of Ahab, sent to inquire. This name means either the lord of the fly, or Baal the fly. It is generally held that he was worshipped as a driver-away of flies, but we think it more probable that some venomous fly was sacred to him. The use of the term Baal is indicative of a connection with the Canaanitish system. The national divinity of the Philistines seems, however, to have been Dagon, to whom there were temples at Gaza and at Ashdod, and the general character of whose worship is evident in such traces as we observe in the names Caphar-Dagon, near Jamnia, and Beth-Dagon, the latter applied to two places, one in Judah and the other in Asher. The derivation of the name Dagon, דָּגוֹן , as that of a fish-god, is from דָּג , A Fish. Gesenius considers it a diminutive," little fish," used by way of endearment and honor (Thes. s.v.), but this is surely hazardous. Dagon was represented as a man with the tail of a fish. There can be no doubt that he was connected with the Canaanitish system, as Derceto or Atargatis, the same as Ashtoreth, was worshipped under a like mixed shape at Ashkelon ( Αὔτη Δὲ Τὸμὲν Πρόσωπον Ἔχει Γυναικός , Τὸδ᾿ Ἄλλο Σῶμα Πᾶν Ἰχθύος , Diod. Sic. ii, 4). In form he is the same as the Assyrian god supposed to correspond to the planet Saturn. The house of Dagon at Gaza, which Samson overthrew, must have been very large, for about 3000 men and women then assembled on its roof. It had two principal, if not only, pillars in the midst, between which Samson was placed and was seen by the people on the roof. The inner portion of some of the ancient Egyptian temples consisted of a hypsethral hall, supported by two or more pillars, and inner chambers. The overthrow of these pillars would bring down the stone roof of the hall, and destroy all persons beneath or upon it, without necessarily overthrowing the sidewalls.

    The idolatry of the Phoenicians is not spoken of in the Bible. From their inscriptions and the statements of profane authors we learn that this nation worshipped Baal and Ashtoreth. The details of their worship will be spoken of in the article PHOENICIA. Syrian idols are mentioned in a few places in Scripture. Tammuz, whom the women of Israel lamented, is no doubt Adonis, whose worship implies that of Astarte or Ashtoreth. Rimmon, who appears to have been the chief divinity of the Syrian kings ruling at Damascus, may, if his name signifies high (from רָמִם ), be a local form of Baal, who, as the sun-god, had a temple at the great Syrian city Heliopolis, now called Baalbek.

    The book of Job, which, whatever its date, represents a primitive state of society, speaks of cosmic worship as though it was practiced in his country, Idumaea or northern Arabia. "If I beheld a sun when it shined, or a splendid moon progressing, and my heart were secretly enticed, and my hand touched my mouth, surely this [were] a depravity of judgment, for I should have denied God above" (31:26-28). See Poole, Genesis of the Earth and of  Prayer of Manasseh 1:2 nd ed. p. 184. This evidence is important in connection with that of the ancient prevalence of cosmic worship in Arabia, and that of its practice by some of the later kings of Judah.-Kitto.

    4. Much indirect evidence on this subject might be supplied by an investigation of Proper Names. Mr. Layard has remarked, "According to a custom existing from time immemorial in the East, the name of the supreme deity was introduced into the names of men. This custom prevailed from the banks of the Tigris to the Phoenician colonies beyond the Pillars of Hercules; and we recognize in the Sardanapalus of the Assyrians, and the Hannibal of the Carthaginians, the identity of the religious system of the two nations, as widely distinct in the time of their existence as in their geographical position" (Nineveh, 2, 450). The hint which he has given can be but briefly followed out here. Traces of the sun worship of the ancient Canaanites remain in the nomenclature of their country. Beth-Shemesh, "house of the sun;" En-Shemesh, "spring of the sun," and Ir-Shemesh, "city of the son," whether they be the original Canaanitish names or their Hebrew renderings, attest the reverence paid to the source of light and heat, the symbol of the fertilizing power of nature. Samson. the Hebrew national hero, took his name from the same luminary, and was born in a mountain village above the modern Ain Shems (En- Shemesh: Thomson, The Land and the Book, 2, 361). The name of Baal, the sun-god, is one of the most common occurrence in compound words, and is often associated with places consecrated to his worship, and of which, perhaps, he was the tutelary deity. Bamoth-Baal, "the high places of Baal;" Baal-Hermon, Beth-Baal-Meon, Baal-Gad, Baal-Hamon, in which the compound names of the sun god of Phoenicia and Egypt are associated, Baal-Tamar, and many others, are instances of this. [That temples in Syria, dedicated to the several divinities, did transfer their names to the places where they stood, is evident from the testimony of Lucian, an Assyrian himself. His derivation of Hiera from the temple of the Assyrian Hera shows that he was familiar with the circumstance (De Dea Syr. c. 1). Baisampsa (=Bethshemesh), a town of Arabia, derived its name from the sun-worship (Vossius, De Theol. Gent. 2, c. 8), like Kir-Heres ( Jeremiah 48:31) of Moab.] Nor was the practice confined to the names of places: proper names are found with the same element. Esh-baal, Ish- baal, etc., are examples. The Amorites, whom Joshua did not drive cut. dwelt on Mount Heres, in Aijalon, "the mountain of the sun." (See Tiainath-Heres).

    Here and there we find traces of the attempt made by the Hebrews, on their conquest of the country, to extirpate idolatry. Thus Baalah or Kirjath-Baal, "the town of Baal," became Kirjath-Jearim, "the town of forests" ( Joshua 15:60). The Moon. Astarte or Ashtaroth, gave her name to a city of Bashan ( Joshua 13:12;  Joshua 13:31), and it is not improbable that the name Jericho may have been derived from being associated with the worship of this goddess. (See Jericho). Nebo, whether it be the name under which the Chaldaeans worshipped the Moon or the planet Mercury, enters into many compounds: Nebu-zaradan, Samgarnebo, and the like. Bel is found in Belshazzar, Belteshazzar, and others. Were Baladan of Shemitic origin, it would probably be derived from Baal-Adon, or Adonis, the Phoenician deity to whose worship  Jeremiah 22:18 seems to refer; but it has more properly been traced to an Indo-Germanic root. Hadad, Hadadezer, Benhadad are derived from the tutelar deity of the Syrians, and in Nergalsharezer we recognize the god of the Cushites. Chemosh, the fire-god of Moab, appears in Carchemish, and Peor in Beth-Peor. Malcom, a name which occurs but once, and then of a Moabite by birth, may have been connected with Molech and Milcom, the abomination of the Ammonites. A glimpse of star-worship may be seen in the name of the city Chesil, the Shemitic Orion, and the month Chisleu, without recognizing in Rahab "the glittering fragments of the sea-snake trailing across the northern sky." It would, perhaps, be going too far to trace in Engedi, "spring of the kid," any connection with the goat-worship of Mendes, or any relics of the wars of the giants in Rapha and Rephaim. Furst, indeed, recognises in Gedi,Venus or Astarte, the goddess of fortune, and identical with Gad (Handw. S. t.). But there are fragments of ancient idolatry in other names in which it is not so palpable. Ishbosheth is identical with Eshbaal, and Jerubbesheth with Jerubbaal, and Mephibosheth and Meribbaal are but two names for one person (comp.  Jeremiah 11:13). The worship of the Syrian Rimmon appears in the names HadadRimmon, and Tabrimmon; and if, as some suppose, it be derived from רַמּוֹן , Rimmon, "a pomegranate-tree," we may connect it with the towns of the same name in Judah and Benjamin, with En-Rimmon and the prevailing tree-worship. It is impossible to pursue this investigation to any length: the hints which have been thrown out may prove suggestive. See each of these names in its place.

    5. Idolatrous Usages. Mountains and high places were chosen spots for offering sacrifice and incense to idols ( 1 Kings 11:7;  1 Kings 14:23), and the retirement of gardens and the thick shade of woods offered great attractions to their worshippers ( 2 Kings 16:4;  Isaiah 1:29;  Hosea 4:13). It was the ridge of Carmel which Elijah selected as the scene of his contest with the priests of Baal, fighting with them the battle of Jehovah as it were on their own ground. (See Carmel). Carmel was regarded by the Roman historians as a sacred mountain of the Jews (Tacit. Hist. 2, 78; Sueton. Vesp. 7). The host of heaven was worshipped on the housetop ( 2 Kings 23:12;  Jeremiah 19:3;  Jeremiah 32:29;  Zephaniah 1:5). In describing the sun worship of the Nabataei, Strabo (16, 784) mentions two characteristics which strikingly illustrate the worship of Baal. They built their altars on the roofs of houses, and offered on them incense and libations daily. On the wall of his city, in the sight of the besieging armies of Israel and Edom, the king of Moab offered his eldest son as a burnt offering. The Persians, who worshipped the sun under the name of Mithra (Strabo, 15:732), sacrificed on an elevated spot, but built no altars or images. (See Mount).

    The priests of the false worship are sometimes designated Chemarim, a word of Syriac origin, to which different meanings have been assigned. It is applied to the non-Levitical priests who burnt incense on the high places ( 2 Kings 23:5) as well as to the priests of the calves ( Hosea 10:5); and the corresponding word is used in the Peshito ( Judges 18:30) of Jonathan and his descendants, priests to the tribe of Dan, and in the Targum of Onkelos ( Genesis 47:22) of the priests of Egypt. The Rabbis, followed by Gesenius, have derived it from a root signifying "to be black," and without any authority assert that the name was given to idolatrous priests from the black vestments which they wore. But white was the distinctive color in the priestly garments of all nations from India to Gaul, and black was only worn when they sacrificed to the subterranean gods (Bahr, Symb. 2, 87, etc.). That a special dress was adopted by the Baal-worshippers, as well as by the false prophets ( Zechariah 13:4), is evident from  2 Kings 10:22 (where the rendering should be "The apparel"): the vestments were kept in an apartment of the idol temple, under the charge probably of one of the inferior priests. Micah's Levite was provided with appropriate robes ( Judges 17:11). The "foreign apparel" mentioned in  Zephaniah 1:8, doubtless refers to a similar dress, adopted by the Israelites in defiance of the sumptuary law in  Numbers 15:37-40. (See Chemiarim).

    In addition to the priests, there were other persons intimately connected with idolatrous rites, and the impurities from which they were inseparable. Both men and women consecrated themselves to the service of idols: the former as קְדֵשַׁים , Kedeshim, for which there is reason to believe the A.V. ( Deuteronomy 23:17, etc.) has not given too harsh an equivalent; the latter as קְדֵשׁוֹת kedeshoth, who wove shrines for Astarte ( 2 Kings 23:7), and resembled the Ἑταίραι of Corinth, of whom Strabo (8, 378) says there were more than a thousand attached to the temple of Aphrodite. Egyptian prostitutes consecrated themselves to Isis (Juvenal, 6:489; 9:22- 24). The same class of women existed among the Phoenicians, Armenians, Lydians, and Babylonians (Herod. 1, 93, 199; Strabo, 11:p. 532; Epist. of Jerem. ver. 43). They are distinguished from the public prostitutes ( Hosea 4:14), and associated with the performances of sacred rites, just as in Strabo (12, p. 559) we find the two classes co-existing at Comana, the Corinth of Pontus, much frequented by pilgrims to the shrine of Aphrodite. The wealth thus obtained flowed into the treasury of the idol temple, and against such a practice the injunction in  Deuteronomy 23:18 is directed. Dr. Maitland, anxious to defend the moral character of Jewish women, has with much ingenuity attempted to show that a meaning foreign to their true sense has been attached to the words above mentioned; and that, though closely associated with idolatrous services, they do not indicate such foul corruption (Essay on False Worship). But if, as Movers, with great appearance of probability, has conjectured (Phon. 1, 679), the class of persons alluded to was composed of foreigners, the Jewish women in this respect need no such advocacy. That such customs existed among' foreign nations there is abundant evidence to prove (Lucian, De Syra Dea, c. 5); and from the juxtaposition of prostitution and the idolatrous rites against which the laws in Leviticus 19 are aimed, it is probable that, next to its immorality, one main reason why it was visited with such stringency was its connection with idolatry (compare  1 Corinthians 6:9). (See Harlot).

    But besides these accessories there were the ordinary rites of worship which idolatrous systems had in common with the religion of the Hebrews. Offering burnt sacrifices to the idol gods ( 2 Kings 5:17), burning incense in their honor ( 1 Kings 11:8), and bowing down in worship before their images ( 1 Kings 19:18) were the chief parts of their ritual, and, from their very analogy with the ceremonies of true worship, were more seductive than the grosser forms. Nothing can be stronger or more positive than the language in which these ceremonies were denounced by Hebrew law. Every detail of idol-worship was made the subject of a separate enactment, and many of the laws, which in themselves seem trivial and almost absurd, receive from this point of view their true significance. We are told by Maimonides (Mror. Veb. c. 12) that the prohibitions against sowing a field with mingled seed, and wearing garments of mixed material, were directed against the practices of idolaters, who attributed a kind of magical influence to the mixture ( Leviticus 19:19; Spencer, De Leg. Hebr. 2, 18). Such, too, were the precepts which forbade that the garments of the sexes should be interchanged ( Deuteronomy 23:5; Maimonides, De Idol. 12, 9). According to Macrobius (Sat. 3. 8), other Asiatics, when they sacrificed to their Venus, changed the dress of the sexes. The priests of Cybele appeared in women's clothes, and used to mutilate themselves (Creuzer, Symbo 2, 34,42): the same custom was observed "by the Ithyphalli in the rites of Bacchus, and by the Athenians in their Ascophoria" (Young, Idol. Corinthians in Rel. 1, 105; comp. Lucian, De Dea Syra, c. 15).

    To preserve the Israelites from cont

    Kitto's Popular Cyclopedia of Biblial Literature [16]

    In giving a summary view of the forms of idolatry which are mentioned in the Bible, it is expedient to exclude all notice of those illegal images which were indeed designed to bear some symbolical reference to the worship of the true God, but which partook of the nature of idolatry; such, for example, as the golden calf of Aaron (cf. ); those of Jeroboam; the singular ephods of Gideon and Micah ; and the Teraphim.

    Idolatry was the most heinous offence against the Mosaic law, which is most particular in defining the acts that constitute the crime, and severe in apportioning the punishment. Thus, it is forbidden to make any image of a strange god to prostrate oneself before such an image, or before those natural objects which were also worshipped without images, as the sun and moon to suffer the altars, images, or groves of idols to stand or to keep the gold and silver of which their images were made, and to suffer it to enter the house to sacrifice to idols, most especially to offer human sacrifices; to eat of the victims offered to idols by others; to prophesy in the name of a strange god; and to adopt any of the rites used in idolatrous worship, and to transfer them to the worship of the Lord . As for punishment, the law orders that if an individual committed idolatry he should be stoned to death that if a town was guilty of this sin, its inhabitants and cattle should be slain, and its spoils burnt together with the town itself . To what degree also the whole spirit of the Old Testament is abhorrent from idolatry, is evident (besides legal prohibitions, prophetic denunciations, and energetic appeals like that in ) from the literal sense of the terms which are used as synonyms for idols and their worship. Thus idols are called the inane vanities ; nothing abominations and their worship is called whoredom.

    The early existence of idolatry is evinced by , where it is stated that Abram and his immediate ancestors dwelling in Mesopotamia 'served other gods.' The terms in , and particularly the plural form of the verb, seem to show that some members of Terah's family had each different gods. From , and , we learn that the Israelites, during their sojourn in Egypt, were seduced to worship the idols of that country; although we possess no particular account of their transgression. In , and , it is stated that they committed idolatry in their journey through the wilderness; and in , sq., that they worshipped the Moabite idol Baal-peor at Shittim. After the Israelites had obtained possession of the Promised Land, we find that they were continually tempted to adopt the idolatries of the Canaanite nations with which they came in contact. The book of Judges enumerates several successive relapses into this sin. The gods which they served during this period were Baal and Ashtoreth, and their modifications; and Syria, Sidon, Moab, Ammon, and Philistia, are named in , as the sources from which they derived their idolatries. Then Samuel appears to have exercised a beneficial influence in weaning the people from this folly (1 Samuel 7); and the worship of the Lord acquired a gradually increasing hold on the nation until the time of Solomon, who was induced in his old age to permit the establishment of idolatry at Jerusalem. On the division of the nation, the kingdom of Israel (besides adhering to the sin of Jeroboam to the last) was specially devoted to the worship of Baal, which Ahab had renewed and carried to an unprecedented height; and although the energetic measures adopted by Jehu, and afterwards by the priest Jehoiada, to suppress this idolatry, may have been the cause why there is no later express mention of Baal, yet it is evident from; , that the worship of Asherah continued until the deportation of the ten tribes. This event also introduced the peculiar idolatries of the Assyrian colonists into Samaria. In the kingdom of Judah, on the other hand, idolatry continued during the two succeeding reigns; was suppressed for a time by Asa was revived in consequence of Joram marrying into the family of Ahab; was continued by Ahaz; received a check from Hezekiah; broke out again more violently under Manasseh; until Josiah made the most vigorous attempt to suppress it. But even Josiah's efforts to restore the worship of the Lord were ineffectual; for the later prophets, Zephaniah, Jeremiah, and Ezekiel, still continue to utter reproofs against idolatry. Nor did the capture of Jerusalem under Jehoiachim awaken this peculiarly sensual people; for Ezekiel (1 Kings 8) shows that those who were left in Jerusalem under the government of Zedekiah had given themselves up to many kinds of idolatry; and Jeremiah charges those inhabitants of Judah who had found an asylum in Egypt, with having turned to serve the gods of that country. On the restoration of the Jews after the Babylonian captivity, they appear, for the first time in their history, to have been permanently impressed with a sense of the degree to which their former idolatries had been an insult to God, and a degradation of their own understanding—an advance in the culture of the nation which may in part be ascribed to the influence of the Persian abhorrence of images, as well as to the effects of the exile as a chastisement. In this state they continued until Antiochus Epiphanes made the last and fruitless attempt to establish the Greek idolatry in Palestine (1 Maccabees 1).

    The particular forms of idolatry into which the Israelites fell are described under the names of the different gods which they worshipped [[[Ashtoreth, Baal]] etc.]: the general features of their idolatry require a brief notice here. According to Movers, the religion of all the idolatrous Syro-Arabian nations was a deification of the powers and laws of nature, an adoration of those objects in which these powers are considered to abide, and by which they act. The deity is thus the invisible power in nature itself, that power which manifests itself as the generator, sustainer, and destroyer of its works. This view admits of two modifications: either the separate powers of nature are regarded as so many different gods, and the objects by which these powers are manifested—as the sun, moon, etc.—are regarded as their images and supporters; or the power of nature is considered to be one and indivisible, and only to differ as to the forms under which it manifests itself. Both views coexist in almost all religions. The most simple and ancient notion, however, is that which conceives the deity to be in a human form, as male and female, and which considers the male sex to be the type of its active, generative, and destructive power; while that passive power of nature whose function is to conceive and bring forth, is embodied under the female form. The human form and the diversity of sex lead naturally to the different ages of life—to the old man and the youth, the matron and the virgin—according to the modifications of the conception; and the myths which represent the influences, the changes, the laws, and the relations of these natural powers under the sacred histories of such gods, constitute a harmonious development of such a religious system.

    Those who saw the deity manifested by, or conceived him as resident in, any natural objects, could not fail to regard the sun and moon as the potent rulers of day and night, and the sources of those influences on which all animated nature depends. Hence star-worship forms a prominent feature in all the false religions mentioned in the Bible. Of this character chiefly were the Egyptian, the Canaanite, the Chaldean, and the Persian religions. The Persian form of astrolatry, however, deserves to be distinguished from the others; for it allowed no images nor temples of the god, but worshipped him in his purest symbol, fire. It is understood that this form is alluded to in most of those passages which mention the worship of the sun, moon, and heavenly host, by incense, on heights (;; ). The other form of astrolatry, in which the idea of the sun, moon, and planets is blended with the worship of the god in the form of an idol, and with the addition of a mythology (as may be seen in the relations of Baal and his cognates to the sun), easily degenerates into lasciviousness and cruel rites.

    The images of the gods were, as to material, of stone, wood, silver, and gold. Those of metal had a trunk or stock of wood, and were covered with plates of silver or gold or were cast. The general rites of idolatrous worship consist in burning incense; in offering bloodless sacrifices, as the dough-cakes and libations in , and the raisin-cakes in; in sacrificing victims , and especially in human sacrifices [MOLOCH]. These offerings were made on high places, hills, and roofs of houses, or in shady groves and valleys. Some forms of idolatrous worship had libidinous orgies [ASHTORETH]. Divinations, oracles , and rabdomancy form a part of many of these false religions. The priesthood was generally a numerous body; and where persons of both sexes were attached to the service of any god, that service was infamously immoral. It is remarkable that the Pentateuch makes no mention of any temple of idols; afterwards we read often of such.

    International Standard Bible Encyclopedia [17]

    ı̄ - dol´a - tri ( תּרפים , terāphı̄m , "household idols," "idolatry"; εἰδωλολατρεία , eidōlolatreı́a ): There is ever in the human mind a craving for visible forms to express religious conceptions, and this tendency does not disappear with the acceptance, or even with the constant recognition, of pure spiritual truths (see Images ). Idolatry originally meant the worship of idols, or the worship of false gods by means of idols, but came to mean among the Old Testament Hebrews any worship of false gods, whether by images or otherwise, and finally the worship of Yahweh through visible symbols ( Hosea 8:5 ,  Hosea 8:6;  Hosea 10:5 ); and ultimately in the New Testament idolatry came to mean, not only the giving to any creature or human creation the honor or devotion which belonged to God alone, but the giving to any human desire a precedence over God's will ( 1 Corinthians 10:14;  Galatians 5:20;  Colossians 3:5;  1 Peter 4:3 ). The neighboring gods of Phoenicia, Canaan, Moab - B aal, Melkart, Astarte, Chemosh, Moloch, etc. - were particularly attractive to Jerusalem, while the old Semitic calf-worship seriously affected the state religion of the Northern Kingdom (see Golden Calf ). As early as the Assyrian and Babylonian periods (8th and 7th centuries bc), various deities from the Tigris and Euphrates had intruded themselves - the worship of Tammuz becoming a little later the most popular and seductive of all ( Ezekiel 8:14 ) - while the worship of the sun, moon, stars and signs of the Zodiac became so intensely fascinating that these were introduced even into the temple itself ( 2 Kings 17:16;  2 Kings 21:3-7;  2 Kings 23:4 ,  2 Kings 23:12;  Jeremiah 19:13;  Ezekiel 8:16;  Amos 5:26 ).

    The special enticements to idolatry as offered by these various cults were found in their deification of natural forces and their appeal to primitive human desires, especially the sexual; also through associations produced by intermarriage and through the appeal to patriotism, when the help of some cruel deity was sought in time of war. Baal and Astarte worship, which was especially attractive, was closely associated with fornication and drunkenness ( Amos 2:7 ,  Amos 2:8; compare  1 Kings 14:23 f), and also appealed greatly to magic and soothsaying (e.g.   Isaiah 2:6;  Isaiah 3:2;  Isaiah 8:19 ).

    Sacrifices to the idols were offered by fire ( Hosea 4:13 ); libations were poured out ( Isaiah 57:6;  Jeremiah 7:18 ); the first-fruits of the earth and tithes were presented ( Hosea 2:8 ); tables of food were set before them ( Isaiah 65:11 ); the worshippers kissed the idols or threw them kisses ( 1 Kings 19:18;  Hosea 13:2;  Job 31:27 ); stretched out their hands in adoration ( Isaiah 44:20 ); knelt or prostrated themselves before them and sometimes danced about the altar, gashing themselves with knives ( 1 Kings 18:26 ,  1 Kings 18:28; for a fuller summary see EB ).

    Even earlier than the Babylonian exile the Hebrew prophets taught that Yahweh was not only superior to all other gods, but reigned alone as God, other deities being nonentities ( Leviticus 19:4;  Isaiah 2:8 ,  Isaiah 2:18 ,  Isaiah 2:20;  Isaiah 19:1 ,  Isaiah 19:3;  Isaiah 31:7;  Isaiah 44:9-20 ). The severe satire of this period proves that the former fear of living demons supposed to inhabit the idols had disappeared. These prophets also taught that the temple, ark and sacrifices were not essential to true spiritual worship (e.g.  Jeremiah 3:16;  Amos 5:21-25 ). These prophecies produced a strong reaction against the previously popular idol-worship, though later indications of this worship are not infrequent ( Ezekiel 14:1-8;  Isaiah 42:17 ). The Maccabean epoch placed national heroism plainly on the side of the one God, Yahweh; and although Greek and Egyptian idols were worshipped in Gaza and Ascalon and other half-heathen communities clear down to the 5th or 6th century of the Christian era, yet in orthodox centers like Jerusalem these were despised and repudiated utterly from the 2nd century bc onward. See also Golden Calf; Gods; Images; Teraphim .


    Wm. Wake, A D iscourse concerning the Nature of Idolatry , 1688; W.R. Smith, Lectures on the Religion of the Semites  ; E.B. Tylor, Primitive Culture  ; J.G. Frazer, Golden Bough (3 vols); L.R. Farnell, Evolution of Religion , 1905; Baudissin, Studien zur semitischen Religionsgeschichte  ; Beathgen, Der Gott Israels u. die Götter der Heiden , 1888.

    The Nuttall Encyclopedia [18]

    Worship paid to a mere symbol of the divine while the heart is dead to all sense of that which it symbolises; a species of offence against the Most High, of which many are flagrantly guilty who affect to regard with pity the worshipper of idols of wood or stone. "Idolatry," says Buskin, apropos of Carlyle's well-known doctrine, "is summed up in the one broad wickedness of refusing to worship Force and resolving to worship No-Force; denying the Almighty, and bowing down to four-and-twopence with a stamp on it."