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Cyclopedia of Biblical, Theological and Ecclesiastical Literature
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 GODS, FALSE); (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
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McClintock, John. Strong, James. Entry for 'Idolatry'. Cyclopedia of Biblical, Theological and Ecclesiastical Literature. https://www.studylight.org/encyclopedias/eng/tce/i/idolatry.html. Harper & Brothers. New York. 1870.