Thursday, February 12, 2015

Sympathetic magic

Bnonn has an interesting interpretation of the 2nd commandment:

The gist of his argument is that pagans used idols as a form of sympathetic magic. 

Aside from the merits of that interpretation in its own right, it's striking to compare that interpretation with a related interpretation of the 3rd commandment:

There is a third way someone in the ancient world might have taken God's name in vain: by using it as a magical term to make a spell or incantation more potent. The Egyptians thought that there was great power in knowing a god's secret name; the goddess Isis in on myth gains power over Re by learning his secret name. Something like this may be occurring in Acts 19:13-16, where Jewish exorcists use the name of Jesus to try to gain control over demons. D. Garrett, A Commentary on Exodus (Kregel 2014), 477. 

That would offer a unified interpretation of both commandments, based on a common principle: prohibiting various forms of witchcraft.  

In the same vein, notice the link between sorcerers and idolaters in Rev 21:8.


  1. I rad the original article and agree in part, but ISTM the thesis does not exhaust he commandment. The Jewish Church was aniconic, and the Reformers weren't ignorant of Hebrew and history. So, don't use sympathetic magic and, better yet, don't make images in the first place.

  2. A cursory review of the churches which have institutionalized images of Christ serves to offer some pretty weighty evidence that they are not spiritually helpful or healthy.