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Bible Encyclopedias

Cyclopedia of Biblical, Theological and Ecclesiastical Literature

Graven Image

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(פֶּסֶל, pe'sel, plur. פְּסִילַים, a carving). From the passage in Deuteronomy 27:15, "Cursed be the man that maketh any graven or molten image, an abomination unto the Lord, the work of the hands of the craftsman, and putteth it in a secret, place; and all the people shall answer and say, Amen," we may fairly infer with Michaelis, in his Commentaries on the Laws of Moses, that there was a marked distinction between idols and images, or rather between idolatry and image-worship, which appears to have prevailed from the earliest times. (See IDOL), Pesel, or graven image, seems to refer to the household gods; an idol is termed אלִֵיל, ell', and in some places הֶבֶל, he'bel, both words having a similar signification, that of "vain, null, void." The distinction is particularly marked in Psalms 90:7 : "Confounded be all they that serve graven images, that boast themselves of idols." Jahn says (Archaeol. § 400), "Every nation and city had its own gods, which at first had acquired some celebrity by the worship of some particular family merely, but were at length worshipped by the other families of that town or nation, yet every family had its separate household or tutelary god. No one felt himself bound to worship every god, but paid his honors, as he chose, to those he deemed most propitious or most powerful. But still he did not think it advisable wholly to neglect other gods, lest perchance, thinking themselves contemned by such neglect, they should revenge themselves by sending some evil retribution." (See Reineccius, De non faciendo sculptili, Weissenfels, 1724.) (See TERAPHIM).

There has been a good deal of discussion as to the extent of the prohibition contained in the second commandment; some (including early Jewish commentators) have contended that all imitative art was forbidden: against this extreme view Michaelis protests (Laws of Moses, art. 250), on the reasonable ground that certain figures were in fact made by God's own command. Both in the Tabernacle and the Temple many objects were provided which would put under contribution largely the arts of carving and engraving, e.g. the two cherubim in the holy of holies (Exodus 25:18; Exodus 25:20); the floral ornaments of the golden candlestick (Exodus 25:34); the various embroidered hangings of the sanctuary (chapter 26); and the brazen serpent (Numbers 21:8-9). So again in the Temple, besides the cherubim, there were on the walls various figures of all kinds, as well as the brazen sea, as it was called, which rested on twelve brazen oxen. Ezekiel's temple, in like manner, has cherubim with the heads of men and lions. Even after the return from Babylon, when men severely interpreted the prohibition of the commandment, there were figures of animals on the golden candlestick (Reland, De Spoliis Templi Hier. in Arcu Titiano), and vines with pendent clusters on the roof of the second Temple, and the golden symbolic vine over the large gate. Not the making of images as works of art, but the worship of them, was excluded by the Decalogue. Among the Mohammedans, the more liberal Persians (followers of Ali) allow themselves the fullest latitude, and paint and mould the human figure, while their stricter rivals confine their art to representations of trees and fruits, or inanimate objects; but all alike abhor all. attempts to represent God, or even their saints (Kitto, Pictorial Bible, Deuteronomy 5:8-9). There were, however, from whatever cause, limitations in fact, which the artisans who ornamented the Tabernacle and the Temple observed. In the former, nothing is mentioned as fabricated of iron; nor is skill in manipulating this metal included among the qualifications of the artificer Bezaleel; while in the Temple there is no mention made of sculptured stones in any part of the building. All the decorations were either carved in wood and then overlaid with metal, or wholly cast in metal. Even the famous pillars of Jachin and Boaz were entirely of brass (Kitto on 2 Chronicles 3:6). The qualifications of the accomplished men who built the Tabernacle (Bezaleel and Aholiab) and the Temple (Hiram) are carefully indicated; to the former, especially Bezaleel, is attributed skill in "carving" and "sculpture" (Exodus 31:5), whereas the latter seems to have rather executed his decorative works by fusile processes (comp. 1 Kings 7:14-15 with 46; Miller's Ancient Art, by Leitch, page 216; and De Wette's Archarol. § 106)" (Kitto, s.v. Carved Work). (See GRAVING).

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Bibliography Information
McClintock, John. Strong, James. Entry for 'Graven Image'. Cyclopedia of Biblical, Theological and Ecclesiastical Literature. https://www.studylight.org/encyclopedias/eng/tce/g/graven-image.html. Harper & Brothers. New York. 1870.

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