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Home > Dictionaries > Holman Bible Dictionary > ART AND AESTHETICS

Holman Bible Dictionary

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are the making and recognition of objects of beauty produced by the use of skill and understanding. Though neither word appears in the Bible as such, the concepts which they represent certainly do. Old Testament—Genesis 1-2; Genesis 4:21-22; Exodus 12:35; Exodus 20:4-6; Exodus 35:20-29; Exodus 36:9-38:20; Exodus 37:7-9; 1 Samuel 4:4; 1 Samuel 18:6; 2 Samuel 6:14; 1 Kings 5-7; 1 Kings 22:39; 2 Chronicles 3:5; 2 Chronicles 16:14; Psalms 45:8; Isaiah 30:22; Jeremiah 22:14; Ezekiel 23:14; Ezekiel 41:16-26; Hosea 13:2; Amos 3:15; Haggai 1:4. New Testament—Matthew 14:6; Matthew 26:30; Mark 6:22; Luke 15:25; Acts 17:22-29; Acts 19:26,Acts 19:29; Revelation 5:9; Revelation 21:22.

Definition The word “art” is difficult to define. First, a distinction must be made between the product (the art itself) and the producer (the artist). Second, people differ greatly in what they call art and in their appreciation of it. However, many things such as architecture, sculpture, painting, music, dance, and literature are generally accepted as works of art.

The Old Testament Era Though no one knows for sure when or where artistic endeavors began, they may go back to the beauty of the creating events themselves (Genesis 1-2). However, human beings sinned and marred the relationship which they had both with the world in which they lived and the God who gave it to them (Genesis 3:1). Despite this, God still loved them and gave them not only the ability to provide a living, but also to design objects of beauty and grace to make their lives more enjoyable (Genesis 4:21-22). Thus, in time, many groups achieved a very high level of artistic accomplishment.

Unfortunately, the ancient Canaanites were not so lucky, for they were usually subservient to some foreign power. Apparently the Israelites were no better off, for though they did gain their freedom from Egypt, the struggle to claim the Promised Land was a long and difficult one. Moreover, when peace did come, it did not last long. Therefore, since they had little time for aesthetic pursuits, they simply borrowed such artifacts from their neighbors (particularly from the Egyptians and the Mesopotamians).

Not all of the Israelites' lack of artistic ability was the result of their political difficulties, for their religious teachings concerning the making and worshiping of idols (Exodus 20:4-6) also cast a shadow upon artistic endeavors. Yet, the warning was not so much against the art objects themselves as it was against their misuse. After all, God had commanded the Israelites not only to accept the Egyptian artifacts when they left Egypt (Exodus 12:35), but also to use them to build the tabernacle (Exodus 25-27; Exodus 35:20-29) with its fancy ark (Exodus 37:7-9, 1 Samuel 4:4), elaborate veils (Exodus 36:35-37), and other furnishings (Exodus 36:9-38:20). In all likelihood, most of it was done either by outsiders or at least by those trained elsewhere.

Apparently, this trend continued until the time of the monarchy when Israel developed an expanding and refining of artistic talents. By the time of David, music and dance had become a popularly accepted media for artistic presentation (1 Samuel 18:6; 2 Samuel 6:14). With the building of the magnificent Temple (1 Kings 5-6; 1 Kings 7:13-51) and the other royal edifices (1 Kings 7:1-12) during Solomon's reign, Israel had come into its own in the field of artistic endeavors. Even then, most of the intricate wood work on the walls and doors (such as the fancy carvings, appliqué palmettes, and guilloched borders—1 Kings 6:14-36) as well as the fancy metal work (1 Kings 7:23-50) was done by foreigners (1 Kings 5:18; 1 Kings 7:13-14). The Israelites were slowly developing their own craftsmen (1 Kings 5:18).

Before long, they not only built fancy public edifices, but also enhanced the beauty of their own homes (1 Kings 22:39; Jeremiah 22:14; Ezekiel 23:14). Unfortunately, this led to their placing more emphasis upon themselves than upon God and His work. As a result, prophets delivered God's strong condemnation (Psalms 45:8; Isaiah 30:20; Hosea 13:2; Amos 3:15; Haggai 1:4). All was not lost. After the purging of their sin, God promised to restore them unto Him and provide for them a new and better place to live (Ezekiel 40-48; Amos 9:9-15). Quite naturally, the main structure in that new place would be a new and more elaborately decorated temple (Ezekiel 41:1).

The Intertestamental Era The days which followed the Babylonian Exile proved difficult for the Jewish remnant. Before they could get on their feet, Alexander the Great conquered their world. Though he soon died, he left behind a strong Greek influence. Much of this influence is still visible in the remains of the ornate columns, fancy gables, and beautiful paintings and mosaics. Though some of these do depict mythological motifs (such as the zodiac, the chariot of the sun god, etc.), most of them are of more traditional Jewish themes (such as the candlestick, the Star of David, etc.).

The New Testament Era Though the New Testament has little to say directly about art and aesthetics, artistic endeavors such as singing (Matthew 26:30; Luke 15:25) and dancing (Matthew 14:6; Mark 6:22) were apparently quite common. Certainly, Paul was not a bit intimidated by the Aeropagus in Athens, but rather used its theological significance to preach the gospel (Acts 17:22-29). As a result, those who were involved in the making and worshiping of idols became very angry and tried to kill him (Acts 19:23-31). God did not disapprove of their skills, but just the way they used them. When God began to reveal the nature of the new kingdom, He did so not only with the accompaniment of music (Revelation 5:9), but also with great strokes of artistic beauty (Revelation 21:9-21).

Since most of the early Christians came out of a Jewish background which warned against idolatry, they were careful to make a clear distinction between the work of art and the object which it represented. They were aware of the teaching value which art might have. Even though the political situation did not let them openly display their works, they did manage to paint religious symbols and scenes on the walls of the catacombs (or burial chambers). As Christianity gradually became more accepted, the practice of meeting in private homes was replaced by meeting in buildings which were especially designed for worship. Such buildings were usually elaborately decorated with paintings of biblical stories (such as those of Moses, David, Jonah, Daniel, Christ, and the disciples). By the end of the fourth century, such paintings also began to show up on quite a number of the sarcophagi or coffins as well as the tops of boxes, dishes, and other utensils. Unfortunately, most of this artwork has not survived. That which has gives us a glimpse of the skill and appreciation which God's people have always had for artistic endeavors.

Harry Hunt

Copyright Statement
These dictionary topics are from the Holman Bible Dictionary, published by Broadman & Holman, 1991. All rights reserved. Used by permission of Broadman & Holman.

Bibliography Information
Butler, Trent C. Editor.. "Entry for 'ART AND AESTHETICS'". "Holman Bible Dictionary".
<>. 1991.


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