The status of images in early Christianity

  Looking back at the history of Christian art through the prism of its very ubiquity in the Middle Ages, and its diversity in the early modern and modern world, it is sometimes hard to remember   that the very development of Christian art itself was not inevitable or unproblematic. Christianity developed out of the religious culture of Judaism, and availed itself of Judaic theology and prophecy in what became the Old Testament, the first part of the Christian Bible. The Jewish holy scriptures recounted the creation of the world, the stories of Adam and Eve, and Moses, who received the Ten Commandments from God, and who led the Jews out of slavery in Egypt to the Promised Land. These stories, together with the later Greek writings that told of the life of Jesus Christ and of his followers, the Apostles, came to form the source material for much Christian art. However, Judaism had prohibited the pictorial representation of God, and was deeply suspicious of representational religious art because of a fear of idolatry. Old Testament writings defined idols as objects made by man, which contain no divine essence and which are not, therefore, appropriate to represent the divine. But Christianity as it developed in Europe, from Rome, also took much from Graeco-Roman social and artistic culture, where images of divinities, and their deeds, were not proscribed in the same way. This affected one crucial way in which Christianity differed from Judaism, namely the centrality of artistic representations of the Christian God. In adapting Graeco-Roman pagan imagery to form images of Christ, and in developing and multiplying images of Christ, the emergent Christian church went against Judaism’s prohibition regarding images and idols, and this helped to mark out the developing church as distinct from the religious and theological culture of Judaism. The very existence of Christian art is therefore one of the things that makes up the specific and fundamental character of Christianity.*

*Work Cited:Christian Art A Very Short Introduction, Oxford Press

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