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In the decalogue God forbids the making and or worshipping of images in the form of anything in the created order.

And God spoke all these words: “I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery. You shall have no other gods before me. You shall not make for yourself an image in the form of anything in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the waters below. You shall not bow down to them or worship them; for I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God, punishing the children for the sin of the parents to the third and fourth generation of those who hate me, 6 but showing love to a thousand generations of those who love me and keep my commandments.

In Genesis 1:26-28 God makes man in his own image.

And God said, Let us make man in our image, after our likeness: and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth. So God created man in his own image, in the image of God created he him; male and female created he them. And God blessed them, and God said to them, Be fruitful, and multiply, and replenish the earth, and subdue it: and have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over every living thing that moves on the earth.

Did the authors of the Torah intend for us to see a relationship between these two ideas? Is Man an idol directed toward the worship of God?

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I find it interesting how you set up your question--you contrast man making an image in the form of a created being against God making an image in the form of himself. Perhaps man is not a forbidden image because God is not created? –  Ray May 9 '13 at 22:20
Also, it may be beneficial to be clear on what an "idol" is--is it a forbidden image, or is it a false god? –  Ray May 9 '13 at 22:20
I agree. I'm asking if the word "idol" is appropriate here. It at least appears to me that there is intended connection between these two ideas. But if man is made in the image of God why can't Man copy the image of man for according to Genesis he is the image God? –  Matthew Miller May 9 '13 at 22:31
Of course God doesn't worship the image which he creates. Did He, however, create Man in his own image in order that the creation might worship Him through image stamped on man? The pagans thought their idols were not the gods themselves but were made in there image in order that Man might worship the gods through the image. –  Matthew Miller May 9 '13 at 22:33
From an Eastern Orthodox perspective, we are "icons" of God (this becomes explicit in the Greek, especially in NT). –  Dan May 10 '13 at 6:48

1 Answer 1

The confusion comes in part from imperfect translation. The commandment, in both Exodus 20 and Deuteronomy 5, reads as follows:

לֹא-תַעֲשֶׂה לְךָ פֶסֶל, וְכָל-תְּמוּנָה, אֲשֶׁר בַּשָּׁמַיִם מִמַּעַל, וַאֲשֶׁר בָּאָרֶץ מִתָּחַת--וַאֲשֶׁר בַּמַּיִם, מִתַּחַת לָאָרֶץ.

Thou shalt not make unto thee a graven image, nor any manner of likeness, of any thing that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth;

The word translated here as "graven image" is פֶסֶל, a word we also see in Leviticus 26:1 when the people are receiving their instructions for claiming the land:

לֹא-תַעֲשׂוּ לָכֶם אֱלִילִם, וּפֶסֶל וּמַצֵּבָה לֹא-תָקִימוּ לָכֶם, וְאֶבֶן מַשְׂכִּית לֹא תִתְּנוּ בְּאַרְצְכֶם, לְהִשְׁתַּחֲו‍ֹת עָלֶיהָ: כִּי אֲנִי יְהוָה, אֱלֹהֵיכֶם.

Ye shall make you no idols, neither shall ye rear you up a graven image, or a pillar, neither shall ye place any figured stone in your land, to bow down unto it; for I am the LORD your God.

There is something else interesting in the Leviticus passage -- the word translated here as "idols" is אֱלִילִם, a word that does not appear in the Exodus/Deuteronomy passage. Apparently "graven images" and "idols" are different. Graven images are forbidden in the decalogue and that's followed by "thou shalt not bow down unto them, nor serve them" -- a practice that sounds like idolatry.

Now, how does this relate to Genesis? The passage in 1:26 is:

... וַיֹּאמֶר אֱלֹהִים, נַעֲשֶׂה אָדָם בְּצַלְמֵנוּ כִּדְמוּתֵנוּ

And God said: 'Let us make man in our image, after our likeness;

The words used here for "image" and "likeness" are not the words used in the other passages quoted above. Whatever "image" and "likeness" mean, it seems to be something different than graven images or idols.

Please note: This answer was written for a neutral, academic audience and is not intended to be interpreted in the context of a religious belief or doctrine.

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I probably wouldn't have made the Leviticus connection if I hadn't chanted that very passage last Shabbat. :-) –  Gone Quiet May 10 '13 at 1:37
I've been doing a little more reading on the subject. I recognize that the words are not identical but they seem to have a similar meaning. For instance Numbers 33:52 uses selem, the word used in Genesis 1:26-26, with the idols that the Cananites worship. –  Matthew Miller May 10 '13 at 2:02
Interesting find. I wonder to what extent the noun chain there is relevant -- the phrase is כָּל-צַלְמֵי מַסֵּכֹתָם, which JPS translates as "molten images". The form there is "images of (moltenness? something like that)". So it's not just "image"/tzelem on its own; it's modified. I'm not sure what it means or if it means anything, but... –  Gone Quiet May 10 '13 at 2:11

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