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Ezekiel 8:5 (American King James Version) reads:

Then said he to me, Son of man, lift up your eyes now the way toward the north. So I lifted up my eyes the way toward the north, and behold northward at the gate of the altar this image of jealousy in the entry.

What does "this image of jealousy" refer to?

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  • Does [קנאה] mean zealous or jealous ?
    – Cynthia
    Dec 29, 2015 at 8:35
  • The context of Ezekiel 8 is a "spiritual vision", (prophecy), and I hope a valid answer could interpret this phrase in view of that context. There really are two questions here: 1.) Did this phrase actually represent something, literal, at that time; 2.) And, what does it represent "prophetically"? Are you going for both questions? If not, which one? Jul 9, 2017 at 19:49
  • @CynthiaAvishegnath - "קנאה" Is actually from the word meaning "possess", or "attain", or even "possessive". So, if there is "jealousy" - it is in the sense of someone being possessive of something they own, or maybe want to own. Jul 10, 2017 at 3:12
  • Brenton translates the Greek OT as And he stretched forth the likeness of a hand, and took me by the crown of my head; and the Spirit lifted me up between the earth and sky, and brought me to Jerusalem in a vision of God, to the porch of the gate that looks to the north, where was the pillar of the Purchaser. Related: biblehub.com/ezekiel/8-3.htm hermeneutics.stackexchange.com/questions/28493/… jewishencyclopedia.com/articles/1942-asherah
    – Ruminator
    Aug 19, 2020 at 1:34

5 Answers 5

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A problem for the study of Ezekiel is that, with the exception of the sun and Tammuz, he avoids naming the objects of worship that he finds objectionable and even refuses to acknowledge that they are worshipped as gods or goddesses, preferring to use words such as 'abominations'.

Most commentaries (for example The Pulpit Commentary, The Catholic Bible at page 1155 and Ezekiel and the Ethics of Exile at page 121) that attempt to identify the object of the 'statue of jealousy' suggest that it is likely to have been of the goddess Asherah. The first problem I see with this is that throughout the Old Testament, the cultic objects for Asherah are never referred to as statues. The second is that if we see קִנְאָה as meaning 'jealousy', it is hard to imagine Yahweh as jealous of her in the way he might have been jealous of Baal or any other god. On the other hand, it appears that Baal had probably disappeared from the Hebrew pantheon long before the time of Ezekiel. Marvin A. Sweeney (Reading Prophetic Books) suggests that the image is not a statue, but a stele, although this seems unlikely since the word translated here as 'image' (sémel) generally refers to a statue of a god or goddess (G.A. Cooke (Ezekiel, page 92). Cooke (ibid) says what particular god is represented is unknown.

The clue to the idol's identity is probably in the reference to קִנְאָה, which is usually translated as jealousy, but can also mean anger. Ezekiel does not tell us that Yahweh is jealous of 'all the idols of the house of Israel' in the inner court (Ezekiel 8:10), nor Tammuz (8:14) or solar worship (8:16), so why just this one? If we read קִנְאָה to mean 'anger' or 'wrath' then we may have a new perspective. Jill Middlemas ('Transformation of the Image', published in Transforming Visions, page 117) says that an interpretation offered by Margaret Odell might be more fitting in the context of Ezekiel. Odell suggests that this is a votive statue and argues that the sacrifices made at the statue are the problem. In her view, the sacrifices most likely to raise the angst of Yahweh are child sacrifices. I feel that Middlemas does not support Odell's argument, which she calls a 'provocative suggestion', but she agrees that it does fit to some extent with Ezekiel's concerns about child sacrifice elsewhere in the text (16:20-36; 20:26,31; 23:37).

Child sacrifice was as repugnant to Ezekiel as it is to us, but Mark S. Smith says, in The Early History of God, page 172, that child sacrifice was Judean practice in the seventh century BCE, and that it was performed in the name of Yahweh as well as other gods.

Conclusion

The majority view is that the image of jealousy was a statue of Asherah. A possible and certainly plausible alternative is that it was a votive statue for the performance of child sacrifices.

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  • Thank you so much. Your research and application is awesome and I am learning. Appreciate it so much. Dec 28, 2015 at 3:18
  • Dick - I rolled back an edit to your answer, which was submitted to the review queue by an anonymous user. Please check it out, (roll back?). I didn't feel their comment represented your intent - but it is hard to guess about these things. Jul 9, 2017 at 19:44
  • @elikakohen Thank you for that. It looked like a comment that had nothing to do with hermeneutic methods or my answer. Jul 9, 2017 at 21:52
  • @DickHarfield - Although you have shown that the Asherah interpretations do not have a lot of merit, there is still an issue with the the "Votive Offering for Child Sacrifice" interpretation, since it is contingent on interpreting "קִנְאָה" as "wrath". And, since Ezekiel 35:11 shows that the writer is NOT using the terms synonymously - and since no other passages in all of Scripture require "קִנְאָה" to be interpreted as "anger", then the argument is not very strong, at all. Ezekiel 35:11 - וְעָשִׂ֗יתִי כְּאַפְּךָ֙ וּכְקִנְאָ֣תְךָ֔ אֲשֶׁ֣ר עָשִׂ֔יתָה Jul 10, 2017 at 1:41
  • I don't see anywhere in the Hebrew text of the Bible of a god named "Baal". Like I can't find a person or demon named "satan". Yes, I can find "your baalim" or "your baal" - but they are more adjectival than proper nouns. How did people conclude there is a particular god named "baal"? Is calling my husband "baal", calling him a "god"? Is "baal shem tov" the name of a god?
    – Cynthia
    Jul 10, 2017 at 4:27
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In Eze. 8:3, it is written,1

3 And He sent forth the form of a hand, and He took me by a lock of my head, and the Spirit lifted me up between earth and heaven, and it brought me to Jerusalem in the visions of God, to the door of the gate of the inner [court]2 which faces to the north, where the seat of the image of jealousy which provokes to jealousy was.

ג וַיִּשְׁלַח֙ תַּבְנִ֣ית יָ֔ד וַיִּקָּחֵ֖נִי בְּצִיצִ֣ת רֹאשִׁ֑י וַתִּשָּׂ֣א אֹתִ֣י ר֣וּחַ בֵּֽין־הָאָ֣רֶץ וּבֵ֣ין הַשָּׁמַ֡יִם וַתָּבֵא֩ אֹתִ֨י יְרוּשָׁלְַ֜מָה בְּמַרְאֹ֣ות אֱלֹהִ֗ים אֶל־פֶּ֜תַח שַׁ֤עַר הַפְּנִימִית֙ הַפֹּונֶ֣ה צָפֹ֔ונָה אֲשֶׁר־שָׁ֣ם מֹושַׁ֔ב סֵ֖מֶל הַקִּנְאָ֥ה הַמַּקְנֶֽה׃ (WLC)

The phrase in question is מוֹשַׁב סֵמֶל הַקִּנְאָה הַמַּקְנֶה (mōšáv sēmel há-qinʾāh há-maqnéh).

The Hebrew word מוֹשַׁב (mōšáv) refers to a dwelling or habitation, i.e. where something resides.

The Hebrew word סֵמֶל (sēmel), the construct form of the lemma סֶמֶל (sémel), is a relatively rare word occurring five (5) times in five (5) verses in the Tanakh, two (2) of which are in the Book of Ezekiel. It is translated in the KJV (1769) twice as "image," twice as "idol," and once as "figure." It is the first noun (נִסְמַךְ) in the construct phrase סֵמֶל הַקִּנְאָה.

The Hebrew word הַקִּנְאָה (há-qinʾāh) consists of the definite article הַ prefixed to the noun קִנְאָה, most often translated as "jealousy."3 It is the second noun (סוֹמֵךְ) in the construct phrase סֵמֶל הַקִּנְאָה.

The Hebrew word הַמַּקְנֶה (há-maqnéh) consists of the definite article הַ prefixed to the word מַקְנֶה, a participle conjgated in binyan Hifʿil, masculine gender, singular number, from the lemma קָנָה (qānāh). The phrase means "that causes to be jealous," i.e. that provokes to jealousy.

It is called the "image of jealousy" because it is an idol, and idols provoke Yahveh to jealousy. Elsewhere in the Tanakh, it is written that the Israelites provoked Yahveh to jealousy by "strange gods" (Deu. 32:16). Furthermore, "they provoked Me to jealousy by that which is not God; they angered Me with their vanities" (Deu. 32:21). Other verses in the same chapter describe the Israelites' idolatry.4

As for the identity of the idol, Delitzsch comments,

The expression “image of jealousy” is explained by המּקנה, which excites the jealousy of Jehovah (see the comm. on Exodus 20:5). Consequently, we have not to think of any image of Jehovah, but of an image of a heathen idol (cf. Deuteronomy 32:21); probably of Baal or Asherah, whose image had already been placed in the temple by Manasseh (2 Kings 21:7); certainly not the image of the corpse of Adonis moulded in wax or clay. This opinion, which Hävernick advances, is connected with the erroneous assumption that all the idolatrous abominations mentioned in this chapter relate to the celebration of an Adonis-festival in the temple.


Footnotes

  1. I have quoted Eze. 8:3 rather than Eze. 8:5 as that is where the phrase "image of jealousy" first occurs in this context.

  2. As Delitzsch notes,

    הַפְּנִימִית is not an adjective belonging to שַׁעַר, for this is not a feminine noun, but is used as a substantive, as in Ezekiel 43:5 (= הֶֽחָצֵר הַפְּנִימִי: cf. Ezekiel 40:40): gate of the inner court, i.e., the gate on the north side of the inner court which led into the outer court.

  3. In 25 of its 43 occurrences in the 1769 KJV.

  4. cp. Eze. 8:6, 8:9-17, where the Israelites are described as worshipping the sun, Tammuz, and other idols.

References

  1. Delitzsch, Franz; Keil, Carl Friedrich. Commentary on the Old Testament, Vol. 8. Trans. Martin, James. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1900.
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  • Thank you. Your explanation and study is incredible as we Dec 28, 2015 at 3:20
  • @SimplyaChristian +1, great answer! A.) However, even though you note the definite article in "הַקִּנְאָה", you still translate it as "jealousy". How should you deal with the definite article in this case? B.) And, is it really possible to infer that "סֵמֶל" MUST mean "idol" from only 5 instances, even when other explicit words for "idol" are used in the same exact contexts? Jul 10, 2017 at 1:22
  • @elikakohen—**A.)** It is a construct phrase. Just as we do not translate עֵץ הַחַיִּים (Gen. 2:9) as “the tree of the life” or “a tree of the life,” but rather, “the tree of life,” likewise, we translate סֵמֶל הַקִּנְאָה as “the image of jealousy,” with the definite article in English preceding the first noun in the construct phrase, rather than the second. B.) Just like English, Hebrew also has synonyms. Not just one word in Hebrew can be understood as “idol.”
    – user862
    Jul 12, 2017 at 19:28
  • @SimplyaChristian - A.) Where the definite article gets injected in the construct case is probably best in discussion. But regardless, the definite article is serving as a "qualifier" to indicate a specific, among several. So no matter where the definite article is injected, the "pragmatic meaning" is still the same: "a Memorial, of the jealous one", and "the jealous one's memorial" ... are pragmatically mean the same. The Memorial/Idol of Jealousy does not at all mean the same thing. Jul 13, 2017 at 6:41
  • @SimplyaChristian - B.) Authors, especially poets, use "diction", (choice of words in speech/writing), to add "robustness" to a text, for visual imagery, emotions, etc. It is an invalid hermeneutic conclusion to suggest that an author only employs "Diction" if it only occurs in one place only,. So, in order to show that the author was using words interchangeably, it would be necessary to show that they employed "diction" elsewhere - otherwise there is no strength to the argument. Jul 13, 2017 at 6:59
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1. Question:

What does "this image of jealousy" refer to?


2. Clarifications of Hebrew Definitions and Syntax:

2.1. "קָנָה" : Possessiveness, Possessor, Possess, Buyer, Attain ...:

Septuagint, Ezekiel 8:3 - στήλη τοῦ κτωμένου, (Lexicon)

NASB, Genesis 14:19 - God Most High, Possessor | קֹנֵ֖ה of heaven and earth;

If there is "jealousy" - it is due to a right of ownership, (a personal possession that someone else has).


2.2. Other words, but never "סֵ֫מֶל", are consistently used for "idol" - even in Ezekiel:

Deuteronomy 29:17 - גלליהם עץ ואבן כסף וזהב אשר עמהם׃

1 Kings 11:5 - שקץ עמנים

1 Kings 11:7 - אז יבנה שלמה במה לכמוש שקץ מואב בהר אשר על־פני ירושלם ולמלך שקץ בני עמון׃

Psalms 106:38 - לעצבי כנען

Isaiah 2:20 - אלילי כספו ואת אלילי זהבו

Isaiah 19:1 - אלילי מצרים

Jeremiah 51:47 - על־פסילי בבל

Ezekiel consistently uses "גלולי" for "Idol | Wooden Log(?)":

Ezekiel 8:10 - גלולי בית ישראל

Ezekiel 18:6 - גלולי בית ישראל

Ezekiel 18:15 - גלולי בית ישראל

Ezekiel 20:7,8 - ובגלולי מצרים

Ezekiel 20:24 - גלולי אבותם


2.3. "סֵ֫מֶל", Is distinct from "Idol":

Every other context shows that "סֵ֫מֶל" is very distinct from "Idol". For example, graven images are made to look like "סֵ֫מֶל", (whatever "סֵ֫מֶל" is ...).

NASB, Deuteronomy 4:16 - a graven image for yourselves in the form of any figure | סָ֑מֶל.

NASB, 2 Chronicles 33:7 - Then he put the carved image of the idol | הַסֶּ֙מֶל֙ which he had made in the house of God ...

NASB, 2 Chronicles 33:15 - He also removed the foreign gods and the idol | הַסֶּ֙מֶל֙ from the house of the Lord


2.4. Even Earliest Translations are inconsistent - Hebrew, Septuagint, and Aramaic:

Regarding Targum Jonathan, Neofiti, etc., in Aramaic, (צלם) - http://cal1.cn.huc.edu, ṣlm, ṣlmˀ (ṣlem, ṣalmā) n.m. image - In Syriac the only plural is ܨܠܡ̈ܐ ‏; in best JLAtg texts a clear distinction is made between "idols" as representative of idolatrous worship ( צַלמַיָא ‏) and a reference to specific idols, in which case the individuating form צלמנין ‏ is used, for which see s.v. ṣlmn. Naturally, later scribal confusion was rampant.

Deuteronomy 4:16 - סָ֑מֶל, ὁμοίωμα πᾶσαν εἰκόνα ὁμοίωμα [Perhaps untranslatable: likenesses of all images that are likenesses???]

2 Samuel 18:18 - לַמַּצֶּ֙בֶת֙, στήλην [Monument, covenant, tombstone, memorial, (used in Greek Septuagint of Ezekiel 8:3)]

2 Chronicles 33:7 - פסל הסמל, τὸ γλυπτὸν καὶ τὸ χωνευτόν εἰκόνα [Carvings and engravings]

2 Chronicles 33:15 - הַסֶּ֙מֶל֙, γλυπτὸν [Carving, not metallic]

Ezekiel 8:3 - סמל הקנאה | στήλη τοῦ κτωμένου

Ezekiel 8:5 - סמל הקנאה | Completely omitted in the Greek(???)


2.5. Only ONE other use with The Definite Article occurs:

So far, there is only one other instance - where "Idol of [anything]" appears WITH the definite article "ה", in the Hebrew Construct syntax.

Psalms 135:15 - עֲצַבֵּ֣י הַ֭גֹּויִם [Carvings, Idol, etc.]

Jeremiah 14:22 - בְּהַבְלֵ֤י הַגֹּויִם֙ [Futility of the nations]

So, It is nearly certain that הקנאה is a reference to a very specific entity.


3. Possible Alternative Answers:

Since the oldest Aramaic and Greek translations are inconsistent, it is necessary to defer to the context.

Given all of these facts, there really isn't any justification to translate this phrase as "Idol of Jealousy" - at all.


3.1. An indirect reference to God(?) - "A Memorial of the Jealous One":

If the Septuagint's translation to "στήλη" is valid - then the passage might be indicating a "memorial", a "covenant", a "foundation stone", etc. (See Logeion, "στήλη".)

NASB, Exodus 34:14 - ... for you shall not worship any other god, for the Lord, whose name is Jealous, is a jealous God—

The "Memorial of the Jealous One(??)", a place where God's Glory "dwelled"?:

NASB, Ezekiel 8:3-4 - ... to the entrance of the north gate of the inner court, where the seat [lit. "dwelling place", (Interlinear Hebrew)] of the idol of jealousy, which provokes to jealousy, was located. 4 And behold, the glory of the God of Israel was there, like the appearance which I saw in the plain, (a vision of God, see Ezekiel 3:22,23).

Israel's intent was to expunge the Glory of God, by:

NASB, Ezekiel 8:6 - “Son of man, do you see what they are doing, the great abominations which the house of Israel are committing here, so that I would be far from My sanctuary?

Christians might connect the Messianic contexts in Ezekiel with Jesus' claim to be the "cornerstone which the builder's rejected", or perhaps "zeal for my house".


3.2. An Abomination:

... But if it is insisted that "Idol of Jealousy" must indicate an "evil thing", then it could be that this is a reference to Satan himself.

Note: This argument really can only be made in view of very early Biblical literature, (Enoch, etc.).

This is quite the reach, but one of the closest words, (other than "fragrance"), that might explain the "degree" of the abominations being committed.

Perhaps Ezekiel was pointing to "Satan, The Jealous One":

Jewish Encyclopedia, Samael - Prince of the demons, and an important figure both in Talmudic and in post-Talmudic literature, where he appears as accuser, seducer, and destroyer. His name is etymologized as = "the venom of God," since he is identical with the angel of death (Targ. Yer. to Gen. iii. 6; see also Death, Angel of), who slays men with a drop of poison ('Ab. Zarah 20b; Kohut, "Angelologie und Dämonologie," pp. 69, 71). It is possible, however, that the name is derived from that of the Syrian god Shemal (Bousset, "Religion," p. 242).

There are a LOT of objections for this second possibility.

Regardless, both of these alternatives seem to have more linguistic/historical support than interpreting this phrase as "Idol of Jealousy".

Conclusion: In other words, I have no idea how a conclusive answer can be given. But, I feel that presupposing the accuracy of "Idol of Jealousy" is sabotaging proper interpretation.

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I'm no expert, but by reading what the other comments say, and looking at the context and layout of the Temple, I would suggest that it should read like this:

8:5 He spoke to me, "Manchild, look at what is hidden, so I looked at what is hidden and beheld at the gate of the BRAZEN ALTAR (that section of the court) an IMAGE that provokes jealousy here within the entrance (that section of the court).

Verse 7 "hole in the wall" is the clue that the Almighty is showing Ezekiel the hidden abominations, rather than northward, plus when you add the context of the layout of the temple, it is kind of obvious that it is not speaking about north.

Verses 9-18 gives us the whole understanding of what that HIDDEN IMAGE is that provokes the Almighty to jealously is:

  1. "do you see what THEY are doing"
  2. "do you see what the ELDERS of the house of Israel are committing IN THE DARK"
  3. "women were sitting there weeping for Tammuz"
  4. "they were prostrating themselves eastward toward the sun"
  5. "Is it too light a thing for the house of Judah to commit the ABOMINATIONS"

Then in verse 18 the Almighty tells Ezekiel that these HIDDEN despicable acts are what provokes Him to jealousy, in which He judges in WRATH.

So to summarize: it is safe to say the context gives us the answer to what the IMAGE (idol) is that provokes jealousy….the HIDDEN assembly of men and women within the courts of the Temple worshiping false gods…..IDOLATRY

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In Ezekiel 8:3

And He extended the form of a hand and took me by the hair of my head; and the Spirit lifted me up between earth and heaven and brought me in the visions of God to Jerusalem, to the entrance of the north gate of the inner courtyard, where the seat of the idol of jealousy, which provokes to jealousy, was located.

and further in verse 5 we're made known of an idolatrous object which provoked God's jealousy.

Then He said to me, “Son of man, raise your eyes now toward the north.” So I raised my eyes toward the north, and behold, to the north of the altar gate was this idol of jealousy at the entrance.

We also know from Deuteronomy 32:16 that the worship of "strange gods" excites the jealousy of Jeovah, so this idol could be any statue of a "strange god" like Baal.

They made Him jealous with strange gods;

With abominations they provoked Him to anger.

From 2 Kings 21:7 we see that Manasseh placed in the temple an image of the Canaanite goddess Asheran, so it could be from her too.

Then he put the carved image of Asherah that he had made in the house of which the Lord had said to David and to his son Solomon, “In this house and in Jerusalem, which I have chosen from all the tribes of Israel, I will put My name forever.

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