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I. Origin and Progress of Idolatry.—II. Sketch of its History among the Israelites and Jews.-III. Idols worshipped by the Israelites along. —IV. Idols of the Ammonites, worshipped by the Israelites—W. Idols of the Canaanites or Syrians.—VI. Phoenician Idols—WII. Idols worshipped in Samaria during the captivity.—Hieroglyphi. Stones, why prohibited to the Jews.-VIII. Idols of the Greeks and Romans mentioned in the New Testament.—IX. Willusions in the Scriptures to the idolatrous worship of the heathen nations—Ds. ferent kinds of divination.
I. IDOLATRY is the superstitious worship of idols or false gods. From Gen. vi. 5. compared with Rom. i. 23. there is every reason to believe that it was practised before the flood; and this conjecture is confirmed by the apostle Jude (ver. 4.), who describing the character of certain men in his days that denied the only Lord God, adds, in the eleventh verse of his epistle, Woe unto them, for they are gone into the way of Cain; whence it may be inferred that Cain and his descendants were the first who threw off the sense of a God, and worshipped the creature instead of the Creator. “That the worship of the one true God was the religion of Noah and his posterity before the dispersion of mankind, admits not a doubt. In this primitive and patriarchal religion, as incidentally disclosed by Moses, we discover the leading characters of that worshirwhich was afterwards restored and guarded by the Jewish institutions; and which was calculated to preserve the knowledge of God, as the Creator of the world, by the observance of the sabbath; as well as to inculcate the heinousness of sin, and typify the death of Christ, by the use of sacrifice. These simple ceremonies, together with the observance of the great rules of morality, and the prohibition of blood, in order to excite a stronger abhorrence against shedding the blood of one another, formed the entire exterior of the religion of Noah. The higher we are able to trace the history of every antient nation, and the nearer we approach the sources of eastern tradition, the more plain traces do we discover of this pure and simple worship; in which every father of a family acted as its priest, and assembled his progeny round the rustic altar of earth, to join in the sacrifice and the prayers he offered to the Creator and Governor of the world; to deprecate his wrath, and implore his blessing. But the corrupt imaginations of men's hearts would not permit them to rest satisfied with a religion so pure and a
ritual so simple: they looked to the sun' in its glory, they observed the moon and the stars walking in their brightness: they felt the benefits which through their influence were derived to men. They perhaps first considered them as the peculiar residence, or the chief ministers, or the most worthy representatives, of the divinity; and in honouring and worshipping them, possibly conceived they were honouring the majesty, and fulfilling the will of their Creator : but they soon forgot the Creator whom they could not see, and gave his glory to the creature, whose existence was obvious to the sense and captivating to the imagination. They seem to have conceived these luminaries to be moved and animated by distinct and independent spirits,” and therefore fit objects of immediate worship. To represent them in their absence, they erected pillars and statues on the tops of hills and mountains, or on pyramids and high buildings, raised for the purpose;” as if they could thus approach nearer the presence of their divinities. They set apart priests, and appointed times and sacrifices suited to the luminary they adored: hence the rising and the setting sun, the different seasons of the year, the new and full moon, the quarters of the heavens, the constellations and conjunctions of the stars, acquired a peculiar sacredness, and were conceived to possess a peculiar influence. It now became the interests of the priests to persuade men, that the pillars and statues set up as representatives of the host of heaven, partook themselves of the same spirit, and communicated the same influence, as the sacred objects which they represented. Thus degraded man bowed down to the senseless image which he had himself set up, and forgot that there was a lie in his right hand. (Isa. xliv. 20.) From similar principles,” other men adopted different objects of worship; light o air, wind and fire, seemed to them active spirits, by whose beneficent energy all the operations of nature were conducted and controlled. Water and earth" formed the universal parents, from which all things derived their origin and to which they were still indebted for their sustenance. Thus these also became the objects, first of gratitude and admiration, next of awe and reverence. They also had their temples and emblematic images, their priests, and worshippers. But the folly of idolatry did not stop here. Not satisfied with adoring the host of heaven and the elements of nature, as the beneficent instruments of blessing, human weakness led man, first to tremble with horror, and then to bow down with a base and grovelling superstition to objects of an opposite nature, to every thing which seemed gloomy and malignant. The mixture of good and evil in the world suggested the idea of an evil principle independent of and at war with the good, which it was necessary to sooth and conciliate. Darkness, storm, and pestilence, the fates, the furies, and a multitude of similar objects, were honoured with a heart-debasing homage, by their terrified and trembling votaries. Nor was this yet the worst; gratitude to the inventor of useful arts, to the wise legislator, to the brave defender of his country, combined with the vanity of kings, the pride of conquerors, and even private affection and fond regret for the parent, the child, the consort, the friend, led men first to erect monuments to the memory of the dead, and then to worship them as divine. They sometimes transferred to these their fellow-creatures, the names of the luminaries and elements of nature, whose utility and beneficence they conceived were thus best represented. Hence, in process of time, arose a” communication of attributes and honours, of priests and worshippers; and,-to close the degrading catalogue of idolatrous absurdities, and verify St. Paul's assertion, that professing themselves to be wise, they became fools, Egypt," the chief seat of antient wisdom and policy, of arts and letters, introduced objects of worship, still more grovelling and base than any which had preceded. In some instances, the policy of its kings led them to encourage the preservation of those animals, whose labours they employed in cultivating the earth, or whose useful activity they saw exerted in destroying the venomous reptiles and destructive animals by which they were infested. For this purpose, they sanctified them as emblematic of some divinity, or even worshipped them as in themselves divine; while, on the other hand, the Egyptian priests, with an affectation of mysterious wisdom, expressed the attributes of God, the operations of the elements, the motions and influences of the heavenly bodies, the rising and falling of the Nile, and its effects, by symbolic representations derived from the known and familiar properties of animals and even vegetables. Hence these became, first, repre: sentations of their divinities, and afterwards the direct objects of divine reverence. Thus man was taught to bow down to birds and beasts and creeping things, to plants and herbs, to stocks and stones. Nothing was too base for grovelling superstition to adore; the heavens, the earth, the air, the sea, each hill, each river, each wood, was peopled with imaginary deities; every nation, every city, 1 Wide Vossius de Idololatria, lib. i. cap. v. Vossius however imputes, as appear: to me, a much greater antiquity to this species of idolatry, than the testimony of history warrants. Wide the authorities quoted in note 1. p. 333. .* Cicero de Natura Deorum, lib. ii. cap. xxiv. Leland's Advantage of Revel». tion, part i. ch. iv. arb. Div. Leg. b. ii. sect. vi. *Yide Selden de Diis Syris. Prologomena, cap. iii. p. 53.; and Bryant's Analy: of Mythology, vol. i. p. 33s. &c. Warburton's Divine Legat. b. iv.sec. iv. vol.iii.
1 Wide Job xxxi. 26, 27. Deut. iv. 19. Wisdom of Sol. xiii. 2, 3. Maimonides de Idololatria, the five first chapters. Diod. Sicul, lib,i. cap. i. Euseb. Praepar. Evang. lib. i. cap. ix. Herodotus, Clio, cap. cxxxi. Plato, in Cratylus, p. 397– Wide also Banier's Mythology, book iii, ch. iii. Leland's Advantage of Revelation, part i. ch. iii. And Bryant's Analys. of Mythology, who affirms that the gods of Greece were originally one god, the sun, vol. i. 305. * Cicero de Natura Baorum, lib. ii. cap. xv. to xxiii. * Maimonides More Nevochim, pars ài. cap. xxix. p. 423. Winder's History of Knowledge, vol. i. cap. xii. sect. 3. * Maimonides ut supra. Herod. Clio, cap. xiii.; and as to the use of mountains by the Persians. Ibid. * Wisdom, xiii. 2. Herod. Clio, cap. cxxx. Cicero de Natura Deorum, lib. ii. “p. xxviii., Hutchinson, vol. i. pp. 24, 25. Cicero de Natura Deorum, lit, i. cap. x.
p. 197. Cicero de Natura Deorum, lib. i. sect. Kxxvi. Cudworth's Intellectual Sys: tom, ch. iv. sect. xviii.
every family, had its peculiar guardian gods. The name and reverence of the Supreme Father of the universe was banished from the earth; or, if remembered at all, men scrupled not to associate with him their basest idols; and deeming him too exalted and remote to regard human affairs, they looked to these idols as the immediate authors of evil and of good; they judged of their power by comparing the degrees of prosperity their worshippers enjoyed. Was one nation or family more successful than another, their guardian gods were adopted by their rivals; and every day extended more widely this intercommunity of folly and of blasphemy.” II. The heavenly bodies, we have seen, were the first objects of idolatrous worship; and Mesopotamia and Chaldaea were the countries where it chiefly prevailed after the deluge. Before Jehovah vouchsafed to reveal himself to them, both Terah and his son Abraham were idolaters (Josh. xxiv. 2.), as also was Laban, the father-in-law of Jacob (Gen. xxxi. 19. 30.); though he appears to have had some idea of the true God, from his mentioning the name of Jehovah on several occasions. (Gen. xxiv. 31. 50, 51.) Previously to Jacob and his sons going into Egypt, idolatry prevailed in Canaan : and while their posterity were resident in that country, it appears from Josh. xxiv. 14. and Ezek. xx. 7, 8. that they worshipped the deities of Egypt, of which the river Nile was one of the principal. And as the Egyptians annually sacrificed a girl, or, as some writers state, both a boy and a girl to this river, in gratitude for the benefits they received from it, the plague, by which its waters were converted into blood, might have been designed by God as a punishment for such cruelty, and also as a display of retributive justice against the Egyptians for the murderous decree, which enacted that all the male children of the Israelites should be drowned in that river, the waters of which, so necessary to their support and life, were now rendered not only insalubrious, but deadly, by being turned into blood, and rendered fetid and corrupt. The contempt, thus poured upon the object of their adoration must have had a direct tendency to correct their idolatrous notions, and lead them to acknowledge the power and authority of the true God.” On the departure of the Israelites from Egypt, although Moses by the command and instruction of Jehovah had given them such a religion as no other nation possessed, and notwithstanding all his laws were directed to preserve them from idolatry; yet, so wayward were the Israelites, that almost immediately after their deliverance from bondage, we find them worshipping idols. (Exod. xxxii. 1. Psal. cwi. 19, 20. Acts vii. 41–43.) Soon after their entrance into the land of Canaan, they adopted various deities that were worshipped by the Canaanites, and other neighbouring nations (Judges ii. 13. viii. 33.); for which base ingratitude they were severely punished.
o ** *
* Dr. Graves's Lectures on the Pentateuch, vol. i.£. 183–190. ** Universal History, vol. i. p. 178, (fol. edit.) Dr. A. Clarke on Exod Hi, 2.
Shortly after the death of Joshua, the government became so un-
seemed to encourage the worship at the temple; but his giving to
smallest countenance in the breach of the divine law among a people so prone to idolatry, could not but be attended with the worst too *Tuences, especially being done by a prince, who enjoyed such an