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Opposition to Idolatry in the Book of Habakkuk

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image of Vetus Testamentum

Habakkuk is unique among books in the Twelve in its criticism of foreign cultic practices. Instead of condemning Israel and Judah for the worship of other gods, it criticizes the worship offered to a foreign deity by that deity’s own people. This article examines Hab 2:18-19, arguing that the reduction of the pesel or massēkâ to a lifeless object is intelligible in moral rather than ontological terms. The integration of this cultic criticism into a more standard denunciation of a foreign nation’s non-cultic transgressions yields a distinctive form of opposition to idolatry. What Habakkuk shows is that disbelief in the reality of idols may owe less to a mocking, debunking rationalism than to a cynicism regarding the uses of ritual.

Affiliations: 1: Pennsylvania State University


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