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The Concise Oxford Dictionary of World Religions

John Bowker


(Gk., eidolon, ‘image’, + latreia, ‘worship’).

The attributing of absolute value to that which is not absolute, and acting towards that object, person, or concept as though it is worthy of worship or complete commitment. In a religious context, this most usually means treating as God that which is not God; and in particular acting towards a representation of God as though it is God. Thus idolatry is associated with the worship of idols, as though these are the actuality of God. In that sense, idolatry is extremely rare, since most religious worshippers are well-aware that the signpost is not to be confused with that which is signified. Judaism is unequivocally opposed to idol worship as is evidenced by the Ten Commandments (Exodus 20). Rabbinic law deals with prohibitions concerning contact with an idolator (Avodah Zarah, passim).

Islam is comparably opposed to idols (Arab., wathan, pl., wuthun; sanam, asnam), which must necessarily detract from the absolute supremacy and oneness of God.