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Sir Diarmaid MacCulloch, professor of church history at Oxford University, thinks that the Second Commandment has always posed a problem for Christians and Jews. “This commandment has often been ignored, not just in Christian art, but also in Jewish art,” he says. We were discussing the upcoming exhibition Imagining the Divine: Art and the Rise of World Religions, which will display examples of the breaking of the Second Commandment: “Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image, or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth. Thou shalt not bow down thyself to them, nor serve them” (Exodus 20:4-5). The exhibition, which explores the imagery and art of the first millennium of Buddhism, Christianity, Hinduism, Islam and Judaism, does not avoid controversy. When it opens at Oxford’s Ashmolean Museum on October 19 it will show the iconography and the visual identity of these faiths. Indeed, images, symbols and objects will challenge some commonly held views, especially regarding the contradictions between the Second Commandment and religious expression. One myth is that Jewish culture was then aniconic, that is, without religious imagery. Professor MacCulloch […]

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