This Is An Idol (Ancient Near East Artifact)


I’m not even sure if it’s “art,” which we know is a modern construct. Best to define these things as narrowly as possible, an “idol” is an ancient Near Eastern artifact. These home votives sit and stand there, they strike like with a metalic, alien presence.  With no one left to care for them, their force has been “nullified.” As nullified objects, they now belong to a museum where we can go to look “at” them. Little domestic gods, they are what Max Müller would have called a “tangible” object, tangible meaning that one can pick them up in the round at a single grasp. One tries to get one’s head around the phenomenon. As objects of phenomenological attention, what were these things “about” and why did they provoke such intense resistance? Most likely we’re talking about nothing more than the clash of cultures and conventions. But perhaps there is a structural difference as well. Unlike a medieval image of Shiva or Vishnu, these guys seem more distant and uncaring in the authority they command. In that sense, they are more “transcendent” than the God of Israel.

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About zjb

Zachary Braiterman is Professor of Religion in the Department of Religion at Syracuse University. His specialization is modern Jewish thought and philosophical aesthetics.
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