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Images and the Political: On Jan Assmann’s Concept of Idolatry 1

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image of Method & Theory in the Study of Religion

Abstract This essay explores the political implications and historical basis of noted Egyptologist Jan Assmann’s assertion—based on a distinction made canonical by Carl Schmitt—that the Biblical prohibition of images polarizes the world into friend and enemy. The focus is on two aspects of Assmann’s position: his claims regarding how the Bible represents Egypt and how he reads the first two commandments of the Decalogue. The essay concludes that Assmann relies more on the reception history than on the biblical text itself and ends with a suggestion regarding how to get at an alternative view of the Bible’s political understanding of idolatry.

Affiliations: 1: New York University Gallatin School of Individualized Study, New York University, 1 Washington Place, New York, NY 10003, USA


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1. Assmann Jan Moses the Egyptian: The Memory of Egypt in Western Monotheism. 1997
2. Assmann Jan Joas H."Was ist so schlimm an den Bildern?" Die Zehn Gebote: Ein widersprüchliches Erbe? 2006 Cologne Böhlau. 17 32

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