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Archiv für Religionsgeschichte

Ed. by Bickel, Susanne / Frankfurter, David / Johnston, Sarah Iles / Pironti, Gabriella / Rüpke, Jörg / Scheid, John / Várhelyi, Zsuzsanna

Together with Beard, Mary / Bonnet, Corinne / Borgeaud, Philippe / Henrichs, Albert / Knysh, Alexander / Lissarrague, Francois / Malamoud, Charles / Maul, Stefan / Parker, Robert C. Y. / Shaked, Shaul / Stroumsa, Gedaliahu Guy / Tardieu, Michel / Volokhine, Youri

CiteScore 2018: 0.26

SCImago Journal Rank (SJR) 2018: 0.132
Source Normalized Impact per Paper (SNIP) 2018: 0.435

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The Furniture of the Gods: The Problem with the Importation of ‘Empty Space and Material Aniconism’ into Greek Religion

Henry S. Blume
Published Online: 2016-12-06 | DOI: https://doi.org/10.1515/arege-2015-0004


The field of aniconism has begun to receive more attention within the past 20 years. In Travis Mettinger’s No Graven Image? Israelite Aniconism in Its Ancient Near Eastern Context (1995), he subdivided the field into two distinct categories: material aniconism and empty space aniconism. The former typically refers to stelai, unhewn pieces of wood etc., whereas the latter may refer to empty thrones, a saddled horse without a rider, or the Holy of Holies in the Temple in Jerusalem. In short, empty space aniconism refers to a space where the god is perceived to be positioned. This paper seeks to answer the question: how useful are these categories? To answer it, the altar is offered as one possible type of aniconism. This was first proposed by Milette Gaifman in her 2005 dissertation, refined and expanded in Aniconism in Greek Antiquity (2012), where she makes the case that some altars can be considered as examples of material aniconism. This paper starts from the opposite premise: that altars can be considered forms of empty space aniconism. After demonstrating many instances where altars do fit the criteria of empty space aniconism, examples that might fit Gaifman’s premise are addressed as well. This paper ultimately arrives at the conclusion that altars fall into both categories, thereby showing that these categories are insufficient. Altars, like so many other forms of aniconism, are merely a means to denote divine presence.

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Published Online: 2016-12-06

Published in Print: 2016-12-01

Citation Information: Archiv für Religionsgeschichte, Volume 17, Issue 1, Pages 55–68, ISSN (Online) 1868-8888, ISSN (Print) 1436-3038, DOI: https://doi.org/10.1515/arege-2015-0004.

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