Moses Indignant at the Golden Calf by William Blake, 1799–1800

Idolatry is the worship of an idol or cult image, being a physical image, such as a statue, or a person in place of God.[1][2][3] In Abrahamic religions, namely Christianity, Islam and Judaism, idolatry connotes the worship of something or someone other than God as if it were God. In these monotheistic religions, idolatry has been considered as the "worship of false gods" and is forbidden by the values such as the Ten Commandments. Other monotheistic religions may apply similar rules.[4] In many Indian religions, such as theistic and non-theistic forms of Hinduism, Buddhism and Jainism, idols (murti) are considered as symbolism for the absolute but not The Absolute,[5] or icons of spiritual ideas,[5][6] or the embodiment of the divine.[7] It is a means to focus one's religious pursuits and worship (bhakti).[5][8][6] In the traditional religions of ancient Egypt, Greece, Rome, Africa, Asia, the Americas and elsewhere, the reverence of an image or statue has been a common practice, and cult images have carried different meanings and significance.[1]

The opposition to the use of any icon or image to represent ideas of reverence or worship is called aniconism.[9] The destruction of idols and images as icons of veneration is called iconoclasm,[10] and this has long been accompanied with violence between religious groups that forbid idol worship and those who have accepted icons, images and idols for worship.[11][12] The definition of idolatry has been a contested topic within Abrahamic religions, with many Muslims and Protestant Christians condemning the Catholic veneration and statues of the Virgin Mary in many churches as a form of idolatry.[13][14]

The history of religions has been marked with accusations and denials of idolatry. These accusations have considered statues and images to be devoid of symbolism. Alternatively, the topic of idolatry has been a source of disagreements between many religions, or within denominations of various religions, with the presumption that icons of one's own religious practices have meaningful symbolism, while another person's different religious practices do not.[15][16]

Moses breaks the Ten Commandments in response to the golden calf worship in this 1860 woodcut by Julius Schnorr von Carolsfeld.

Etymology and nomenclature

The word idolatry comes from the Greek word eidololatria (εἰδωλολατρία) which itself is a compound of two words: eidolon (εἴδωλον "image") and latreia (λατρεία "worship", related to λάτρις).[17] The word eidololatria thus means "worship of idols", which in Latin appears first as idololatria, then in Vulgar Latin as idolatria, therefrom it appears in 12th century Old French as idolatrie, which for the first time in mid 13th century English appears as "idolatry".[18][19]

Although the Greek appears to be a loan translation of the Hebrew phrase avodat elilim, which is attested in rabbinic literature (e.g., bChul., 13b, Bar.), the Greek term itself is not found in the Septuagint, Philo, Josephus, or in other Hellenistic Jewish writings.[citation needed] The original term used in early rabbinic writings is oved avodah zarah (AAZ, worship of avoda zara, or "pagan"), while avodat kochavim umazalot (AKUM, worship of planets and constellations) is not found in its early manuscripts.[20]

Idolatry has also been called idolism,[21] iconolatry[22] or idolodulia in historic literature.[23]