Monday, October 21, 2019

Iconoclasm Means the Destruction of Heritage

The Sun overshadows the golden bull calf as a sign of divine appointment. 
This is a Messianic image that iconoclasts attempted to obliterate.

Alice C. Linsley

A great threat to the preservation of antiquities comes from groups seeking to destroy images of which they disapprove. This is called "iconoclasm" from the Greek Eikonoklasmos meaning "image-breaking."

Today we read about statues of Confederate soldiers being damaged or removed because some find them offensive. In most cases, the statues are safely stored or placed in a less public place. The historical value of these statues and monuments is recognized by more resilient minds.

Smashing images or destroying places of historical value does not erase the tragic events of the past. It almost insures that similar events will happen again. It is better that Auschwitz be preserved as a reminder of Nazi hatred and genocidal actions.

Iconoclasm and the destruction of monuments and antiquities is prompted by prejudice, hatred, and ideological fervor. Religious extremism also leads to smashing images in an attempt to destroy the religious tradition of others. The destruction of artifacts of historical and anthropological value leads to the destruction of a people's social and religious heritage. It is difficult for a people to recover from the loss and it may take many generations to recover.

In the sixteenth century, the Puritans stripped the churches in England of crosses, statues, icons, and stained glass windows. Under Oliver Cromwell, thousands of sacred objects were destroyed. Items of value such as precious metals and gems were re-purposed and sold to fund Cromwell's wars in Scotland and Ireland.

Iconoclasm is endorsed by the Deuteronomist in the Bible.
"...  ye shall destroy their altars, and break down their images, and cut down their groves, and burn their graven images with fire." (Deuteronomy 7:5)
The main targets to be smashed were the bamot (high or exalted places). These "high places" were originally royal places of worship. Under the guise of opposing "idolatry" the places of worship that competed with the high place of Jerusalem were to be destroyed.

King Josiah destroyed the solar horses that had been a sacred symbol among the ancient Hebrew for many generations (II Kings 23:11). Iconoclasts attempted to remove the Messianic image of the Golden Calf which was fabricated by the ruler-priest Aaron and which were found at the high places of Israelite worship at Bethel and Dan.

In 2001, Islamic fundamentalists destroyed images regarded as world treasures in Afghanistan. Extremists smashed three hundred of the 2,500 objects that had been painstakingly reassembled at the Kabul Museum and looted thousands of artifacts.

Recently, ardent opposition to the controversial Amazon Synod led some Roman Catholics to toss indigenous Pachamama figurines into the Tiber River. Though the figurines are not appropriate in the context of a Christian church, they should not have been destroyed. They have historical, religious, and anthropological value.

Related reading: Graven Images and Idols; Fundamentalism and Syncretism in Hebrew History; Looting and Burning of Churches and Images in Chile

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