Friday, October 19, 2007

An odd question

The previous question about icons seemed to stray from the topic at hand. With this latest question, apparently we are straying even further, and apparently any issues whatsoever we have with each others doctrines is now up for grabs in the debate.

Like a lot of things, the answer to this question has been subject to a lot of scholarly debate. No doubt the answer Francis is looking for is Ex. 32:5 "Now when Aaron saw this, he built an altar before it; and Aaron made a proclamation and said, “Tomorrow shall be a feast to the LORD.”, and therefore implying that this was a representation of the LORD.

On the other hand, the stated request of the people was "Ex. 32:1 “Come, make us a god". And what Aaron said was Ex. 32:4 “These are your gods, O Israel".

Many scholars have suggested that the calves were really the Egyptian cow god "Apis", which would have been well known to them in captivity of the Egyptians. Other scholars have thought the calves were associated with Baal who was sometimes called the "calf".

So if I am asked to give the most literal answer to the question, it would have to be (e), Aaron says that the golden calves themselves are gods, because he says "these are your gods". Whether he gives the calves the name Yahweh, or whether he thinks of them as other gods who are somehow associated with Yahweh it not explicit in the text, but from the most literal reading of the text, I would go with the latter. These calves were other gods which in Aaron's mind are other gods in the arena of gods, which would certainly be in agreement with the Egyptian religion they just left, as well as in agreement with Aaron's plural statement: "These are your gods". But there are many other ways of looking at the episode, including any of (a) to (d).

The main and undeniable thing we find in the text is that the calves were either false gods, or a false view of God. God is not a cow, nor are there any cow gods, nor are there multiple gods, as apparently Aaron still thought when he said "these are your gods, O Israel". Idolatry is setting up a false view of God, or false gods, and we can do that in our minds when we have a false view of who God is, without ever making an image.

Presumably Francis wants to equate icons of Jesus with the golden calves as images of God. But we didn't make Jesus an image of God, God made Christ incarnate, becoming Col. 1:15 "the icon of the invisible God". Now God has made for himself an image, it is not the false image of the golden calf. The Church saw this image, "what we have seen with our eyes" (1Jn 1:1) and "what we have seen and heard we proclaim to you also", 1Jn 1:3. When you gaze upon an icon of Christ, this is the Church proclaiming to you also, what the apostles have seen and heard and touched concerning the Word of Life. The image of Christ proclaims to you what they saw, that Christ was made flesh and dwelt among us.

Do you think maybe if Jesus came to earth today, that people would make photographs of Jesus? Yes of course they would. People would be photographing him left, right and centre. He'd be the most photographed person in history. Do you think maybe Christians, even protestants would carry around with them one of these pictures if that happened? I think so.

Well, icons are the photographic technology of 2000 years ago. It was quite common to make an image of your loved ones. Hand painted pictures was the method of the time. Unimaginably primitive by the standards of today, or even the quality of art by later standards, but nevertheless, the culture of the time. And the Christians simply did exactly what we would do today, but with their own technology of the time. And then they did what even the Jews did with holy things, they kissed them to show reverence to holy things. It was all very natural and normal which is why there is very little objection found in the early church.

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