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Altes Testament


Middlemas, Jill


The Divine Image. Prophetic Aniconic Rhetoric and Its Contribution to the Aniconism Debate.


Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck 2014. XI, 190 S. = Forschungen zum Alten Testament. 2. Reihe, 74. Kart. EUR 59,00. ISBN 978-3-16-153724-0.


Michael B. Dick

Jill Middlemas addresses her book to those broadly involved in theology as well as to non-specialists interested in how we image and speak of God. She succeeds quite well; her book is detailed, methodical with ample bibliography. Her overall goal is to exam-ine rhetorical strategies used by the prophets to further mono-theistic and aniconic views of Yahweh. She prefers a rhetorical approach, in fact, she insists on the priority of rhetorical over his-torical analyses (150).
The book’s five chapters clearly indicate how Middlemas has broadened the study of Israelite aniconism. Chapter 1 »Aniconism and the Imago Dei« investigates terminology (e. g. de facto and programmatic aniconism, monotheism, idol, iconoclasm, etc.) and provides an extensive survey of earlier scholarship. She especially refers to T. Mettinger’s No Graven Image? (1995). Without involving herself in the debate about the historical priority of the Law or the Prophets (10), M. focuses on the prophets.
Chapter 2 »Idol Polemics« discusses the Polemics against the Idol Passages (PAI) in Jer (10:1–16//51:15–19); Deutero-Isaiah/DI (40:18–25, 41:6–7, 44:9–20, 46:1–7); and Hab (2:18–20). There are shorter passages (Mic 5:12b [13b] and Hos 8:4b), but M. focuses on the rhetorical strategies of more extensive passages; M’s study of these demonstrates broad control of scholarly literature. M. characterizes these parodies as examples of programmatic aniconism. They focus on the human craftsmanship of idols so unstable they have to be nail-ed down; the PAI highlight the earthly materials out of which the images are made, and so they are inert and lifeless. These elements contrast with YHWH, who is not created but creates and saves.
M. also studies deliberate misrepresentations of other gods. Ezekiel avoids using the term »god (̓ĕlōhîm)« for other gods in favor of such derogatory terms as »turds (gillûlîm),« »wood and stone,« and »detestable things (šiqqûṣîm).« Other prophets also employ this strategy. Sensu stricto, only YHWH is ̓ĕlōhîm God. Worshipers of idols can only expect doom. This chapter also considers OT’s de-liberate misrepresentation of such ANE gods as Asherah, Baal, and Molek. The section on a/Asherah, is weak. M. avers that the Bible intentionally confuses the goddess Asherah with her stylized tree to denigrate her (47). Perhaps here, M.’s rigorous rhetorical approach might have availed itself of a diachronic study of the stylized tree and the goddess Asherah.
Towards the end of this second chapter, M. reviews the Mesopotamian ritual Mīs Pî that enlivened the crafted idol. Unfortunately, here M. does not use our critical edition (Walker and Dick, The Induction of the Cult Image in Ancient Mesopotamia [2001]). M. (and D. Lipton) argues that the prophets were aware of this ritual, and they sought to discredit it. However, the prophets would only have the second-hand outsider knowledge of the rite, since informing the uninitiated was »a Taboo of the great Enlil and Marduk (Babylonian Ritual Tablet, l. 66).« The Assyrian King Esarhaddon (680–669 BCE) was as astutely aware of the problems of humans’ creating a god as were contemporary Israelite prophets (Leichty, Royal In-scriptions of Esarhaddon [RINAP IV], 48:66–69).
Chapters 3 »Iconoclasm: Aniconism and Image of Yahweh« and 4 »Incomparability, Metaphor, and Multiple Imaging« are most interesting. In these chapters, M. focuses on Yahwistic imagery. First, she distances Yahweh from any tangible form, such as the Bull icon of northern Israel, and the Judahite Ark and Cherubim Throne (or Ezekiel’s Mobile Throne Chariot). At one time, these may have been acceptable symbols (e. g. Cherubim Throne as Mettinger’s empty-space aniconism; however, by the Second Temple period they were no longer tolerated in prophetic circles. In Ezekiel’s restored Temple, there is no longer a Cherubim Throne (Ezek 43:2–5), and primacy is afforded to the divine word.
Next M. details the prophetic extension of material aniconism to include even mental images of Yahweh. The prophets achieve such radical aniconic observance by expunging any attempt to form a stabile cognitive image of Israel’s God, which might constitute a mental ideal. They achieve this by use of metaphor, modeling similes, and multiple imaging. As an example, Ezekiel’s use of demûṯ with comparative ke and particularly demûṯ kemar’ê, an »extended simile« M. translates as »the form like the general appearance of … [72],« serves to »de-focus« any representation of the deity so that it becomes a »blurred photograph.« The variety of such blurry images of Yahweh’s morphé as a human, fire, brightness, splendor, and the mar’ê demûṯ keôḏ-yhwh (1:28a)
Chapter 5 »The Imago Dei and Prophetic Aniconism« addresses the anthropomorphism in the Priestly Writer’s (P) use of ṣelem and demûṯ in his anthropogony (Gen 1:26–27). This would seem to be at odds with the prophetic aniconism of chapters 2–4. M. argues that God created ’āḏām in his image and likeness (1:26), however, God creates hā’ ’āḏām male and female (1:27). This approximates the aniconic strategy of multiple imaging as found in both Ezekiel and DI: in P the closest created thing to the divine image is hā’ ’āḏām, but the human is said to be male and female (147). This multivalent imagery suggests an anti-iconic deity.
The book is well thought out and written. Apart from the ca-veats I have mentioned, I would recommend it to the audience M. envisions on p. VII.