The Bible consistently instructs against idols. It is the second of the Ten Commandments:

“You shall not make for yourself a carved image, or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth. You shall not bow down to them or serve them, for I the Lord your God am a jealous God... (Exodus 20:4-5 ESV)

In writing on myths Giovanni Filoramo makes this statement about Philo of Alexandria:

Philo's polemic against pagan mythology, under Platonic influence, turns principally on its patent immorality: the second commandment forbids not only the construction of idols, images, and statutes, but also the acceptance of mythic invention about births and marriages of gods, their innumerable scandals and the inexhaustible lasciviousness associated with them. 1

It seems logical myths, especially of the type Philo lists, would be wrong. However mythic invention (or believing them) strikes me as an action prohibited by the first commandment:

“You shall have no other gods before me. (Exodus 20:3 ESV)

I believe Philo's position is a myth when written becomes tangible and therefore is the same as a statute: both are physical manifestations seeking to depict a false god, or false ideas about God.

  1. Is Philo's position consistent with sound hermeneutics and exegesis of the first and second commandments?
  2. Are there other scholars or writings which state myths were considered to be the construction of idols and/or a violation of the second commandment?

1. Giovanni Filoramo, A History of Gnosticism, translated by Anthony Alcock, Basil Blackwell, 1990, p 49.

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    @RevelationLad Specifically WRT second commandment no. It looks to me that Philo needed to find the closest fit and hit on the second commandment. Philo being an Alexandrian Allegorist, this is not a surprising assertion.
    – user17080
    May 16, 2017 at 16:26
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    Contrary to the close reasons given, the question is clearly based off of the text of the second commandment, and seeking "historical-interpretation" and therefore appropriate. The suggestion that "Hermeneutical Methods cannot be applied when no [specific verse] is referenced" is profoundly false anyway. May 16, 2017 at 16:57
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    Could we please not have the historical-interpretation tag attached to this question, please? Any Q which connects rabbinic interpretation and "myth" to the Decalogue is patently not about an Exodus/exodus "historical" context. Thank you.
    – Dɑvïd
    May 16, 2017 at 18:28
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    @Dɑvïd Since myths were in the world prior to the giving of the 10 commandments ins't it reasonable to examine the meaning and application of the commandment in the context of history? Fashioning a golden calf is making an idol, but what about the myths behind selecting a calf or the material, or its shape, etc. Should we not consider whether the mythological ideas behind the physical object would be addressed in an historical context? Moses ground up the calf, what did he do with the myth which in some sense, caused Aaron to produce a calf and not a serpent? May 16, 2017 at 19:07
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    @David If a stone is made into an image it is an idol. If the myth which details the meaning and working of the image is written on the stone without adding an image is it an idol? Doesn't the historical growth of written language bring issues into question which may not have been present at first? May 16, 2017 at 20:00

1 Answer 1


According to Scripture, mythological deities are either idols (Psalm 96:5, Hebrew text) or demons (Psalm 95:5 LXX).

Justin Martyr, a 2nd century Church Father, wrote extensively on Greek mythology in his Hortatory Address to the Greeks, but, speaking to Pagans and not Jews or Christians, he does not cite Old Testament Scriptures. In his Dialog with Trypho the Jew, however, Justin agrees with Trypho that "The gods of the nations, reputed gods, are idols of demons, and not gods; and He [God] denounces a curse on those who worship them" (Chapter LV).

Cyprian, bishop of Carthage in the early 3rd century, relates Psalm 96 (Psalm 95 in his Psalter):

In the Wisdom of Solomon: All the idols of the nations they counted gods, which neither have the use of their eyes for seeing, nor their nostrils to receive breath, nor their ears for hearing, nor the fingers on their hands for handling; but their feet also are slow to walk. For man made them; and he who has borrowed his breath, he fashioned them. But no man will be able to fashion a god like to himself. For since he is mortal, he fashioneth a dead thing with wicked hands. But he himself is better than they whom he worships, since he indeed lived, but they never [Wisdom 15:15-17]. On this same matter: Neither have they who have regarded the works known who was the artificer, but have thought that either fire, or wind, or the rapid air, or the circle of the stars, or the abundant water, or the sun and moon, were the gods that rule over the world; and if, on account of the beauty of these, they have thought thus, let them know how much more beautiful than these is the Lord; or if they have admired their powers and operations, let them perceive from these very things that He who has established these mighty things is stronger than they [Wisdom 13:1-4]. Also in the 134th Psalm: The idols of the nations are silver and gold, the work of men’s hands. They have a mouth, and speak not; they have eyes, and see not; they have ears, and hear not; and neither is there any breath in their mouth. Let them who make them become like unto them, and all those who trust in them [Psalm 134:16-18 LXX]. Also in the ninety-fourth Psalm: All the gods of the nations are demons, but the Lord made the heavens. Also in Exodus: Ye shall not make unto yourselves gods of silver nor of gold [Exodus 20:23]. And again: Thou shalt not make to thyself an idol, nor the likeness of any thing [Exodus 20:23].

There is a similar associations of Psalm 96:5 with the 2nd commandment in Irenaeus' (Bishop in Gaul, late 2nd/early 3rd century) Against Heresies III.VI,

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