Helping the Chronically Overworked Find Life Balance

Three Stories About Abraham Leading Change

Chapter 2: Idolatry Then & Now Post 2

The story of idolatry begins with Abraham, who is revered in the Judeo/Christian/Islamic faiths as the person who first believed in God.  But the biblical account of Abraham starts with his life as an adult, following God’s direction.  In Judaism, there is a wide collection of additional stories and commentary about Abrhams life.  In this story that I first learned as a child, Abraham elegantly shows that the statues people worshiped were false gods.

Abraham’s father Terah made and sold clay idols that the people of ancient Sumeria worshipped as gods.  One day when Abraham was left to watch the shop, he put a plate of food in the middle of room and smashed all the idols except the largest one.  “There was a fight over the food,” he explained,” and the largest one smashed the others.”[i]  This claim was absurd, and Terah called Abraham on his bold-faced lie.  “Statues cannot move.  I made them with my own hands.”  To which Abraham replied “Then why do you worship them?”

Abraham’s father was in an untenable position.  To tolerate the challenge to idolatry was to risk the wrath of the king, for the king was a godlike figure himself and thus a challenge to idolatry was indirectly a challenge to the king’s authority.

The Talmud tells another story of Abraham in his father’s shop[ii], in which people asked for idols that reflected their self-image.  For example, a man asked for an idol that reflected his high station, and was happy to be given an idol from the top shelf.  “The one who sits above all the others is the mightiest of all.”  Conversely, a poor woman was satisfied to be given an idol from the lowest shelf.  This story in exaggerated form shows the pervasive role idols played in everyday life. (For the record, both people demanded their money back after Abraham started mocking them for giving devotion to a piece of clay.)

On another occasion, The Talmud says that Abraham put a noose around the neck of two idols, and dragged them face down through the street calling “Who wishes to buy an idol good for nothing?  It has a mouth but cannot speak, eyes but cannot see, and ears but cannot hear? Who wishes to waste his money on dumb things made of wood and stone?” [iii]  

Now that is what I call Social Media Sumarian Style.  I guess it worked, because Abraham certainly built a following!  Of course like all advertising, the message was only as good as the underlying product. I think Abraham reached people who were already conflicted or unhappy about the social order, and were ready for a change.

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[i] The Classic Tales 4,000 years of Jewish Lore by Ellen Frankel.  Jason Aronson Inc 1993. p. 50

[ii] Book of Legends, Sefer Ha-Aggadah Legends from the Talmud and Midrash. Edited by Hayim Bialik and Yehoshua Ravinitzky.  Translated by William Braude.  Schoken books 1992. p. 32:8

[iii] The Classic Tales 4,000 Years of Jewish Lore by Ellen Frankel  Jason Aronson Inc p. 51


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