[Issue] Enticing visual learners to study biblical text, did the 1866 La Grande Bible de Tours may correctly interpret Exodus 20:4-5 to justify depictions of angelic figures as helpful illustrations of scripture.

[Scripture] We read in Shemot (Exodus) 20:4 [MT] : "You shall not make for yourself a graven image or any likeness which is in the heavens above, which is on the earth below, or which is in the water beneath the earth." (לֹ֣א תַֽעֲשֶׂה־לְּךָ֣לֹ֣א תַֽעֲשֶׂה־לְּךָ֣ פֶ֣סֶל | וְכָל־תְּמוּנָ֡ה אֲשֶׁ֣ר בַּשָּׁמַ֣יִם | מִמַּ֡עַל וַֽאֲשֶׁר֩ בָּאָ֨רֶץ מִתַּ֜חַת וַֽאֲשֶׁ֣ר בַּמַּ֣יִם | מִתַּ֣חַת לָאָ֗רֶץ)

The Hebrew word "Pesel" (פֶ֣סֶל) could simply mean a "sculpture" but the Tanakh considers Pesel to mean any engraved / carved image used as a god.

The wood-etchings illustrated by Gustave Dore for his images of angels in the 1866 La Grande Bible de Tours could be considered a "Pesel" in regards to Exodus 20:4. - However, Gustave Dore carved the angelic illustrations to depict messengers of God.

[In context to Judaism] https://www.halachipedia.com/index.php?title=Drawing_or_Sculpting_Forbidden_Images#Angels_and_Other_Heavenly_Entities

  • "The Torah prohibits constructing replicas of angelic beings such as Malachei HaSharet, Ofanim, Serafim, and Chayot HaKodesh (the four faces - a human, eagle, bull, and lion). Some argue that the prohibition not only includes constructing these entities, but possessing them, as well, but others disagree.The Ramban and others hold that it is prohibited to construct replicas of upper heavenly entities even if they are two-dimensional, but many disagree. Nevertheless, one should be strict on the matter. If one finds such an object, he may benefit from it but not keep it."

[The Point in Question]

If a "Pesel" (פֶ֣סֶל) of an angel glorifies the Bible as the Word of God, do illustrated Bibles like 1866 La Grande Bible de Tours actually violate Exodus 20:4?

  • Since nobody knows what an angel looks like (except those who have actually witnessed one) then what on earth is the point of other people trying to depict one ? ? ? – Nigel J Aug 20 '20 at 21:25
  • Nigel J - Please read the updated context in regards to Judaism. This update helps compare other principles regarding angelic images with a Jewish and Christian perspective to help develop an answer regarding images of angels. – חִידָה Aug 20 '20 at 21:53
  • 1
    Does Exodus 25:18 violate Exodus 20:4 ? – Lucian Aug 20 '20 at 22:21
  • Lucian, your reference to Exodus 25:18 is the perfect example of why artists can create angelic images without violating Exodus 20:4. - Out of context, readers misinterpret the commandments by not reading the entire book. I agree that angelic images are clearly not idols. I asked the question to practice contextual criticism. – חִידָה Aug 20 '20 at 22:51

Not all statues/holy imagery are idols, according to God who gave this commandment, so images which are not worshipped cannot possibly violate 20:1-7. And no one worships Bible or other art who is Christian.

In Exodus 20:4, God is forbidding idols only, not the making of images in general (cf. Numbers 21:8). The context makes this crystal clear - as well as a few chapters later where God commands even religious imagery to be made, in the Temple, of all places (Exodus 25:18-20).

Exodus 20:1-7 (DRB) And the Lord spoke all these words: 2 I am the Lord thy God, who brought thee out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage. 3 Thou shalt not have strange gods before me. 4 Thou shalt not make to thyself a graven thing, nor the likeness of any thing that is in heaven above, or in the earth beneath, nor of those things that are in the waters under the earth. 5 Thou shalt not adore them, nor serve them: I am the Lord thy God, mighty, jealous, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children, unto the third and fourth generation of them that hate me: 6 And shewing mercy unto thousands to them that love me, and keep my commandments. 7 Thou shalt not take the name of the Lord thy God in vain: for the Lord will not hold him guiltless that shall take the name of the Lord his God in vain.

This is very clearly about taking the divine honor due to God alone, and giving it to idols, not about having images or statues of anything "in heaven or earth," period, which is a patently ridiculous interpretation of this passage, and one which contradicts God's own interpretation, as we see from Exodus 25, and of course other places. Epitomized in the golden calf incident (Exodus 32:1-14) is an example of what God means - deifying some creation as your God instead of Yahweh, of which worshiping a physical idol is the perfect example.

  • I appreciate your response, Sola Gratia! תּוֹדָה – חִידָה Aug 20 '20 at 16:34

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.