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Archive for October 26th, 2005

Icons

Any person who is on the road to becoming Orthodox will have to eventually come to grips with the place of icons and the practice of their veneration. There are, of course, many biblical and theological arguments to be made in favor of the practice and its theology. Two important such arguments are St. John Damascene’s account of icons and St. Theodore the Studite’s important work on icons.

But there are historical arguments as well. After all, even the most intransigent of Protestant iconoclasts has to reckon with the weight of history, especially when a belief or practice goes right back to the apostles. And Orthodox are always ready to affirm that icons and their veneration have apostolic foundations. In fact, not only are icons an ancient practice, both Jews and Christians practiced iconography–though surely with different theologies.

Evidence of this ancient practice goes back to the third century–for both Christians and Jews–and the site of Dura Europos. There, in the early 1920s, was discovered a very well preserved synagogue with extensive iconography, as well as a home that had been converted to a Christian temple (or what we today would call a church building). Both sites date back to as early as AD 230s. That is to say, the first third to half of the third century. Which implies that the practice of iconography at least dated from the second century, and to within the lifetimes of the disciples of the Apostles.

And that is just another way to say that icons go all the way back.

For an informative site that provides evidence for the early use of icons in both Christianity and Judaism, you can see photos here. (See also here.) Be sure to read this article, on a Sepphoris’ synagogue’s iconography, as well.

Gotta love archaeology.

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