ElShamah - Reason & Science: Defending ID and the Christian Worldview
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ElShamah - Reason & Science: Defending ID and the Christian Worldview

Otangelo Grasso: This is my library, where I collect information and present arguments developed by myself that lead, in my view, to the Christian faith, creationism, and Intelligent Design as the best explanation for the origin of the physical world.

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Beyond Idolatry: Diverse Motivations for Depicting Jesus in Art and Film

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Many claim is that making images based on the Shroud can be a temptation for some people to use these images for idolatry. Here, is a response.

Idolatry, in a religious or spiritual context, refers to the worship of idols or false gods. It is the act of giving supreme reverence, love, or adoration to something or someone other than the supreme deity in monotheistic religions, or in polytheistic religions, to an entity that is not considered a legitimate god within that religious framework. Idolatry can take many forms, including:
Literal Idol Worship: This involves the physical worship of idols, statues, or images as divine or as representations of gods. In many ancient cultures, and some modern ones, idols are used as a focal point for religious rituals and prayers.

Figurative or Symbolic Idolatry: This form of idolatry occurs when excessive devotion or importance is given to something other than God, which could include money, power, fame, or even a person. This concept is often used in religious teachings to caution against placing too much importance on materialistic or worldly pursuits.
Ideological Idolatry: This refers to the excessive devotion or blind adherence to an idea or ideology, elevating it to a status that overrides religious or moral beliefs.
In many religions, idolatry is considered a serious transgression. In Christianity, for instance, it's seen as a violation of the first of the Ten Commandments, which instructs believers not to have any gods other than the one true God and not to make idols. Similarly, in Islam, idolatry (known as shirk) is considered one of the gravest sins as it contradicts the fundamental concept of Tawhid, the oneness of God. In Judaism, idolatry is also strictly forbidden, being one of the core prohibitions in the faith.

Iconoclasm was a significant religious and political movement in the Byzantine Empire during the 8th and 9th centuries. This period was marked by two phases of iconoclastic activity: the first between about 726 and 787, and the second between 814 and 842. The reasons for, and the nature of, the controversy, as well as the eventual restoration of icons, are complex and multifaceted.

Reasons for Iconoclasm:
Religious Arguments: Some Byzantine Christians believed that the veneration of icons (paintings, mosaics, and other depictions of saints, Christ, and the Virgin Mary) was a form of idolatry, which violated the Biblical commandment against making and worshiping graven images. They argued that such practices could mislead believers into directing their worship toward the images rather than toward God.

Influence of Monotheistic Religions: The growth of Islam, which strictly prohibits the depiction of religious figures, may have influenced Byzantine thought. The Byzantine Empire had suffered several military defeats against Muslim forces, leading some to believe that these defeats were divine punishment for the practice of icon veneration.

Political and Social Factors: The Iconoclast movement also had political dimensions. Emperors who supported iconoclasm, like Leo III and Constantine V, likely saw it as a means to consolidate power and assert imperial control over the church and its practices. Additionally, iconoclasm had support among certain social groups, such as military and administrative elites.

The Controversy:
Iconoclasm sparked a significant religious and cultural controversy. Those who venerated icons, known as Iconodules, argued that icons were not objects of worship but were instead aids to worship, helping believers to honor and remember the holy figures depicted. Iconodules included prominent church figures like St. John of Damascus and St. Theodore the Studite, who provided theological defenses for the veneration of icons.

Restoration of Icons:
The First Period of Iconoclasm Ended with the Seventh Ecumenical Council (Second Council of Nicaea) in 787: This council declared the veneration of icons to be orthodox Christian practice, distinguishing veneration from worship, which was due to God alone.

The End of the Second Iconoclast Period: The final restoration of icons, known as the "Triumph of Orthodoxy," took place in 843 under Empress Theodora. This followed the death of the last iconoclast emperor, Theophilus, and was partly due to the changing political and religious landscape, including the weakening of iconoclast support.

Theological and Cultural Shifts: The restoration of icons was also influenced by a shift in theological understanding and cultural attitudes. Over time, the arguments of the Iconodules gained more acceptance, and the veneration of icons became deeply integrated into the religious and cultural life of the Byzantine Empire.

The Bible's stance on the fabrication of images, without directing devotion and worship to them, is subject to interpretation and varies among different Christian denominations and traditions. The key biblical references that inform this discussion are found primarily in the Old Testament, particularly in the Ten Commandments, and their interpretations have evolved over time.

Biblical References:
The Second Commandment: In Exodus 20:4-5 (NIV), the Second Commandment states, "You shall not make for yourself an image in the form of anything in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the waters below. You shall not bow down to them or worship them..." This commandment explicitly forbids the creation of idols and the act of worshipping them.
Context and Interpretation: The historical context of this commandment was the prevalence of idol worship among the nations surrounding the Israelites. The commandment primarily addressed the issue of idolatry - the worship of images as gods.

Strict Interpretation: Some Christian groups, like certain Protestant denominations, interpret this commandment very strictly, understanding it to forbid the creation of any representation of God, holy figures, or any living being. This has led to iconoclastic movements throughout history, where religious images were destroyed or banned.

Symbolic and Didactic Use: Other Christian traditions, notably the Orthodox and Catholic Churches, interpret this commandment as prohibiting the worship of images as gods, but not the creation of images themselves. In these traditions, religious images (icons, statues, paintings) are venerated, but not worshipped, and are used as aids for devotion and teaching about the Christian faith.

Veneration vs. Worship: These traditions make a distinction between veneration (honor or respect) and worship (adoration that is due to God alone). They argue that religious images help to focus a believer's thoughts on the divine.
New Testament Context: In the New Testament, there isn't a direct prohibition against creating images, and the focus is more on the internal state of a believer's heart towards God, rather than external practices.

Beyond Idolatry: Diverse Motivations for Depicting Jesus in Art and Film

Creating an image of Jesus, whether in painting or film, can have multiple motivations beyond idolatry. Artists often explore religious themes as a way to express personal beliefs, emotions, or questions about the divine. Depicting Jesus can be a form of artistic exploration of faith, spirituality, or moral questions. Visual depictions of Jesus can serve as educational tools, especially in contexts where literacy rates are low or in teaching children. They can help convey biblical stories and the teachings of Jesus in a more accessible and relatable manner. Artists sometimes use religious figures like Jesus to make broader cultural or social commentaries. Such depictions can be a way to engage with current issues through a religious lens. Filmmakers or painters might depict Jesus to explore historical perspectives on his life and times. This approach can provide insights into the historical context of biblical events. For many, Jesus is a symbol of hope, love, and redemption. Artists may create images of Jesus to inspire these feelings in their audience, offering comfort or encouragement through their work. In film especially, depicting Jesus can be part of storytelling, aiming to bring biblical narratives to life. These stories can have powerful moral, ethical, or spiritual messages. Artists might create images of Jesus as a reflection of their own faith journey, exploring and expressing their relationship with Christianity. Some artists are drawn to religious themes for their aesthetic richness. The iconography associated with Jesus has a long history and can be visually compelling. In some cases, creating religious art, including images of Jesus, is part of a community's tradition or a way to strengthen communal bonds through shared beliefs and stories. Depictions of Jesus can also be used as a means to foster interfaith understanding and dialogue, highlighting the universal themes in his teachings. It's important to recognize that the intention behind creating these images can vary widely based on the artist's goals, the audience, and the cultural context.

the key is what is "worship" -- which is a longer topic -- but in context of what happened after Exodus 20, succeeding kings and judges would have continuing difficulty drawing attention of the Israelites from the material world alone to the spiritual reality from which God created all things. God is transcendent: but still chose after all those failures to come in a human form that people of his generation knew and recognized and remembered. Were people of his generation, Mary included (both of them), condemned because they knew the actual face of God? Worship is the whole point of missions (I agree with John Piper) and therefore this topic deserves investigation.

Here's one commentary on Exodus 20:
This word/commandment outlaws every sort of idolatry, in any form whatever. It also includes an explanation of how seriously God takes idolatry because of its ability to corrupt successive generations, keeping them from God’s blessing and forcing him to mete out to them his wrath. Verses 4–5a provide the wording of the prohibition itself, in language purposely repetitive and inclusivistic to be sure that the person willing to keep covenant with Yahweh understands that there can be no exception of any kind to the ban on idolatry.

The NIV renders this portion of the commandment rather loosely; a more precise translation would be: “You must not make for yourself an idol, or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water beneath the earth.” Two common words for “idol” appear: pesel (here “idol”) and tĕmûnāh (here “likeness”), the use of the two synonyms suggesting “any sort of idol.” Similarly, “any sort of thing” is prohibited from being depicted—thus the somewhat elaborate and obviously comprehensive delineation of prohibited sources for copying: “heaven above, earth beneath, waters below.” In other words, nothing from anywhere can be copied and used as an object of veneration.

The question might naturally be asked: Were not the tabernacle and its sacred objects, such as the ark (chaps. 25ff.), objects to be venerated? The answer is decidedly no. They were objects associated with Yahweh, things that surrounded his self-manifestation and gave a sense of localization to his presence, but they were not in themselves—even remotely—objects that partook of the divine nature, as idols were thought to do for the supposed gods they represented. And the Israelites certainly neither bowed down to nor worshiped them.

The nature of idolatry is usually misunderstood by modern people. Idolatry was not merely the practice of worshiping by means of statues and/or pictures as focal points for worship; it was rather an entire, elaborate religious system and lifestyle, all of it running counter to what God desired and desires true worship to be. The attractions of idolatry were very powerful and tended to draw even the Israelites away from true worship and covenant obedience to Yahweh in most generations.
Stuart, D. K. (2006). Exodus (Vol. 2, pp. 449–450). Broadman & Holman Publishers.

The intersection between faith, and tangible, verifiable evidence

We are told that John entered the Tomb, where Jesus was buried, and “he saw and believed” (εἶδεν)17 (v. 8 ). Ὁράω serves well as a climax for all that has proceeded. This verb communicates the idea of “mental and spiritual perception.” It is sometimes used for the “supernatural.” Second, we should take note of the fact that there is no object for the verb ὁράω in verse eight: “He saw and believed!” But what exactly did he see? We are not told!  The burial Shroud was lying on the stone slab undisturbed, exactly as it had been before (bound with a couple of thin, linen wrappings), except now lying flat—“sunken down”—without the body.  The scene conveyd the conclusion that, somehow, the body had literally dematerialized and passed through the burial cloth to release itself from the bonds of death and imprisonment. Also, the identity of the “face cloth” is crucial in understanding this passage, but a crux interpretum concerns what one decides to do with the perfect tense of the verb “rolled up” (ἐντετυλιγμένον) in verse seven.

The body had not been stolen! Contrary to what Mary had concluded from her quick appearance at the tomb earlier in the day, the grave clothes are lying in such a way that theft of the body is ruled out. Besides, who would first unwrap the body and then take only the corpse, leaving the Shroud behind? And even if so, the cloth would have appeared smeared with blood, which, as we can see on the Turin Shroud, was not the case.  Second, no one had unwrapped the linens to set Jesus free! His glorious, resurrected body is now able to pass through shut doors. His glorious body had done the same regarding its captivity with the Shroud! His body had dematerialized and passed right through the linen. John could see how the bands of cloth used to secure the corpse to the Shroud were still tied. It is as though the body had somehow vaporized and gone right through the cloth! Now the linens are lying there entirely undisturbed in any way.

This is consistent with the only explanation that begins to answer how the image on the Shroud of Turin was formed (with all its inexplicable characteristics). Based on extensive scientific research over forty years, physicist John Jackson put forward an unconventional hypothesis:
I propose that, as the Shroud collapsed through the underlying body, radiation emitted from all points within that body and discolored the cloth so as to produce the observed image.
The face cloth had probably been used by Joseph of Arimathea when taking the body down from the cross. Once inside the tomb, before enveloping the corpse with the Shroud, the face cloth was removed, rolled up, and set aside.
Since the face cloth was not on the corpse when the Resurrection took place, it does not have an image on it like the Shroud of Turin.
This is in keeping with the Sudarium of Oviedo, a face cloth that has been in Spain since 616 AD. Scientific tests done on both the Shroud of Turin and the Sudarium of Oviedo demonstrated that “both cloths touched the same face.”
The subsequent story of “Doubting Thomas” should not be divorced from our current passage.

Now Thomas (also known as Didymus[a]), one of the Twelve, was not with the disciples when Jesus came. So the other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord!” But he said to them, “Unless I see the nail marks in his hands and put my finger where the nails were, and put my hand into his side, I will not believe.” A week later his disciples were in the house again, and Thomas was with them. Though the doors were locked, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you!”  Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here; see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it into my side. Stop doubting and believe.” Thomas said to him, “My Lord and my God!” Then Jesus told him, “Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.”

John 20:24-29. is a unique account in the New Testament, emphasizing the relationship between belief and having seen. Thomas wasn't present when Jesus first appeared to the disciples after His resurrection. Upon hearing from others that Jesus had risen, Thomas expressed skepticism. He declared that he would not believe it until he saw the nail marks in Jesus' hands and put his finger where the nails were, and his hand into Jesus' side. A week later, Jesus appeared again to the disciples, this time with Thomas present. He invited Thomas to touch His wounds and stop doubting but believe. Thomas responded by acknowledging Jesus as "My Lord and my God!" Jesus then spoke of the blessedness of those who have not seen and yet have believed. This account emphasizes the importance of faith and belief, even in the absence of physical evidence. This incident is unique to the Gospel of John and does not appear in the Synoptic Gospels—Matthew, Mark, and Luke—where Thomas is mentioned only in the listings of the apostles. It's noteworthy that this story illustrates a significant moment of personal transformation for Thomas, moving from doubt to profound faith upon encountering the risen Christ.

In John 20:27, the Greek word used for "see" is ἴδε (ide). This word carries the sense of visual perception or observation. When Jesus tells Thomas to "see" His hands, He is inviting Thomas to not just look, but to observe and understand the reality of His resurrected body. This invitation is a direct response to Thomas's earlier expression of doubt, where he stated he wouldn't believe unless he could see and touch the wounds of Jesus. The use of ἴδε in this context is significant as it addresses Thomas's skepticism and the need for physical proof of Jesus' resurrection. Jesus' words "reach here your hand and put it into My side; and do not be unbelieving, but believing" further emphasize the call for Thomas to move from doubt to belief through physical and visual evidence. This moment highlights the compassionate and understanding nature of Jesus, as He addresses Thomas's doubts directly and provides him the evidence he sought to believe in the resurrection. The exegesis of this passage often focuses on the interplay between faith and doubt, sight and belief. While Jesus provides the physical proof to Thomas, His words also stress the blessedness of those who believe without seeing, thus setting a foundation for faith that goes beyond physical evidence.

The narrative showcases Jesus' understanding of human doubts and His willingness to meet people where they are, providing what they need to move towards faith. This incident with Thomas thus becomes a powerful example of how Jesus responds to human frailty and skepticism with grace and patience, inviting a deeper, faith-based understanding beyond mere physical perception. The incident with Thomas in the Gospel of John highlights Jesus' understanding and compassionate response to human doubts and skepticism. This narrative showcases a significant aspect of the Christian faith: Jesus' willingness to meet people at their point of need and doubt, providing tangible evidence to nurture faith. This approach underscores a profound respect for the human condition and its inherent fragilities.

The Shroud of Turin provides us tangible, physical evidence of Jesus' crucifixion and resurrection, much in the vein of Jesus' response to Thomas's doubts. Powerful evidence indicates that the Shroud is the burial cloth of Jesus, bearing the image of a man who suffered physical trauma in a manner consistent with crucifixion. The Shroud of Turin aligns with the perception that Christ understands and accommodates human needs for physical evidence. Just as Jesus invited Thomas to touch and see His wounds, the image on the Shroud offers physical evidence of the Gospel narratives. Faith comes ultimately by the action of the holy spirit, by hearing the word of God, but is also a result of the careful, rational examination of physical evidence in the world around us. As the apostle Paul writes in Romans 1.19-22:  For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made.

This passage offers a perspective on how the physical world and human reasoning can lead to an understanding of God's existence and attributes.  The creation of the world reveals God's "invisible qualities," specifically His eternal power and divine nature. By observing the world around us, its complexity, beauty, and order, we can infer the existence of a divine creator. The natural world acts as a testament to God's power and divinity, and through reason and observation, humans can come to an understanding of these attributes. This passage has been influential in shaping Christian thought on how faith and reason interact. It suggests that faith in God is not irrational or based solely on internal belief but is also supported by rational observation of the world.  Paul's message in Romans 1:19-22 is a call to observe the world and use reason as tools to understand and acknowledge the divine. It is a reminder that the physical world is not just a backdrop to human existence but a canvas that, to those who believe, reveals the handiwork of a divine creator.

The Shroud of Turin, much like the concept discussed in Romans 1:19-22, provides a physical, tangible element that invites observation and study, potentially leading to rational inferences about Christ's historicity and biblical identity. The Shroud represents a convergence of faith, history, and science, offering a unique opportunity for believers and skeptics alike to engage with the Christian narrative in a tangible way. The Shroud can be physically examined, studied, and tested. Its existence provides a tangible connection to the past, a physical object that can be scrutinized using scientific methods. The Shroud offers a direct link to the events of the Gospels, serving as a material witness to Christ's crucifixion and resurrection. It engages with the human desire for concrete evidence, particularly events of such significant impact. Over the years, the Shroud has been subjected to various scientific analyses. This scientific engagement embodies the interplay of faith and reason, where faith does not negate the need for rational inquiry, but rather, invites it. The Shroud offers a focal point for personal reflection on the life and suffering of Jesus. This aspect resonates with the notion that the physical world, in all its complexity and mystery, can lead to profound spiritual insights and strengthen faith. The Shroud provides an opportunity to meditate on the nature of Christ's sacrifice and the central tenets of the Christian faith. The Shroud reflects the dynamic nature of faith, which accommodates questioning, discussion, and diverse viewpoints. This debate can be constructive, as it encourages deeper exploration and understanding of the historical foundations of Christianity. The Shroud serves a function similar to the role of the natural world as described in Romans 1:19-22. It stands at the intersection of faith and reason, inviting individuals to explore, question, and reflect. The Shroud challenges to consider the historical and spiritual dimensions of the Christian narrative, integrating scientific inquiry with spiritual contemplation.

The distinction between the creation of images and the prohibition against idolatry in the Bible is an important one, particularly when considering representations like those based on the Shroud of Turin.

Exodus 20:4-6 and Deuteronomy 5:8-10 explicitly forbid the making of idols. This commandment is rooted in the belief that God is transcendent and beyond any physical representation. The concern was that creating images or idols could lead to them being worshipped as gods, which would be a form of idolatry, a practice strictly forbidden in Judaism.  The New Testament does not specifically address the creation of religious images. Any image, icon, or representation should not be an object of worship. Images based on the Shroud of Turin are not objects of worship but aid in a deeper understanding of the suffering of Christ. These representations are not meant to be divine or to possess any power in themselves. Instead, they are reminders of the historical Jesus and his sacrifice.In the history of Christianity, particularly within the Orthodox and Catholic traditions, the use of religious images (icons, statues, paintings) has been a common practice for centuries. These images are not meant to be worshipped. The Second Council of Nicaea in 787 AD addressed the use of icons and distinguished veneration from worship, which is due to God alone. While some Christian denominations avoid the use of religious images almost entirely, others embrace them as powerful tools for spiritual engagement and education. This diversity reflects the broader Christian understanding that the relationship with God is personal and transcends physical representations. While the Old Testament prohibits the creation of idols for worship, the New Testament and Christian tradition do not explicitly forbid the creation of religious images. Instead, these images, like those based on the Shroud of Turin, aid in understanding, provided they are not themselves objects of worship.

Larry Stalley Is the Shroud of Turin in the Background of John’s Resurrection Narrative? (John 20:1-10) (2020)


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