Deuteronomy 7 ends with a chiastically-structured exhortation concerning the images of the Canaanites:

A. Burn images of their gods, 25a

B. Do not covet gold or silver nor take it, lest you be snared, 25b

C. An abomination ( to’evah ) to Yahweh, 25c

C’. Do not bring abomination ( to’evah ) into house, 26a

B’. Lest you come under the ban ( herem ), 26b

A’. You shall detest and abhor, for it is something banned ( herem ), 26c

The passage gives important insight into the phenomenon of revulsion.

Israel is to destroy the images and not covet them because ( ki ) they have been designated as abominations to Yahweh. Likewise, Israel is to refuse to bring them into their homes and are to detest them because ( ki ) they are designated as herem . Yahweh’s classification of images as abominations and as banned comes first; Israel’s revulsion and disgust is based on Yahweh’s classification.

This is the opposite of the way some anthropologists think revulsion and disgust operate. For some anthropology, the disgust comes first and the classification is based on disgust. Pigs are dirty creatures, so Israel recoils and refuses to eat them; skin disease and menstrual blood are repelling, and so classified as impure.This doesn’t really explain anything, though, since some cultures do not see pigs or menstrual blood as disgusting.

In Deuteronomy, revulsion is a response to Yahweh’s classification rather than the basis of classification. The warning is given precisely because the images will not naturally appear disgusting, but may in fact be enticing. Israel has to learn Yahweh’s tastes, and then learn to mimic them. Revulsion isn’t natural; it is cultural, and as such has to be learned and cultivated .

Articles by Peter J. Leithart

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