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Sonja G. Anderson, PhD
Carleton College (Northfield, MN 55057-4044)
Idolatry and the Invention of Biblical Religion

Research and writing two chapters of a book on conceptions of and discussions about idolatry in the early Christian era (to 500 AD).

When early Christians railed against “idolatry,” what did they mean? What did they think idolaters believed, why did they think idolaters did what they supposedly did, and how did they think idolaters differed from Christians? I argue that ancient idolatry polemic produced both the idols spoken of and several assumptions that still govern modern Biblical Studies: that something called “biblical religion” existed; that the Bible contains a single, clear concept of idolatry; that idolatry is only about the erroneous treatment of images; and that ancient Jewish and Christian worship was scrupulously observant of the second commandment. A close reading of ancient Jewish, Christian, and “pagan” texts, however, shows that these assumptions are as misleading as they are intuitive. The project I propose here is to draft two new chapters (on “biblical religion” and early Christian worship) to orient what will become my first book, "Idol Talk: False Worship in the Early Christian World."

Project fields:
Ancient Literature; Comparative Religion; Jewish Studies

Summer Stipends

Research Programs

$6,000 (approved)
$6,000 (awarded)

Grant period:
7/1/2020 – 8/31/2020