The Bible begins with God. God creates "...all things visible and invisible (Nicene Creed)" and saw that it was good. God lived in close fellowship with His creation until mankind had other ideas in Genesis 3. At that point mankind declared their independence essentially rejecting the rule of God. (A story that has been repeated many times.)

Idolatry is the ultimate rejection of God by substituting other things in His place, according to Jewish tradition it was...

In the days of Enosh, the people deviated, and the counsel of the wise people degenerated into stupidity. Enosh himself was amongst those who deviated. Their mistaken reasoning was that since G-d created the skies and spheres as part of nature, and placed them high up [in the skies], and gave them dignity, and that they are servants who serve Him, it would be appropriate to laud, glorify and honour them as well. It is the will of the Almighty to make great and to dignify those who make Him great and honour Him, in the same way that a king wants to honour the servants who serve him - such is the honour of a king. Once this matter was decided upon, they proceeded to build temples to the stars, to bring sacrifices to them, to laud and glorify them verbally and to bow down to them, in order to attain [by these means] the will of the Creator by their opinions, which were evil. This was the core of idolatry, but the knowledgeable worshipers did not deny the existence of G-d by saying that only such-and-such a star exists. (see Rambam: Laws of Idol Worship 1:1)

The Rambam is reflecting a Jewish tradition about the beginning of Idol worship based on Genesis 4.6. Enosh is a son of Seth and is mentioned only in his genealogy (although the genealogy is repeated in several other places). "To Seth also a son was born, and he called his name Enosh. At that time people began to call upon the name of the Lord (Gen 4.26 ESV)." A Jewish translation of the verse is on "And to Seth also to him a son was born, and he named him Enosh; then it became common to call by the name of the Lord." Rashi's commentary on this verse is as follows: 

then it became common: Heb. הוּחַל, is an expression of חוּלִין profaneness: to name people and idols with the name of the Holy One, blessed be He, to make them idols and to call them deities. — [from Gen. Rabbah 23:7; Baraitha of 49 Methods, quoted in Yalkut Shimoni] 4/13/15

Christians are familiar with the notion that putting anything in the place of God is idolatry. If this was the beginning of Idol worship then we can also see its development along with main Bible story. In Exodus 32 we have the story of the Golden Calf. When Moses is delayed on the Mountain and Aaron is faced with a rebellion, he fashions a Golden calf for the people and says "these are your gods" or something similar. By the time Moses gets down the people are having a festival around it. Jewish commentators are more reluctant to blame the inclination to idolatry on the Israelites than are Christian commentators but that is a secondary point, again from Rashi:

These are your gods: But it does not say, "These are our gods." -[from here [we learn] that the mixed multitude who had come up from Egypt [see Exodus 12.38] were the ones who gathered against Aaron, and they were the ones who made it [the calf]. Afterwards, they caused the Israelites to stray after it. -[from Midrash Tanchuma 19] 4/13/15

Rashi does admit that Israel is eventually drawn away from the worship of the true God but the primary blame is placed on the mixed multitude of Exodus 12.38. Still in our day we live in a world where material possessions can take the place of God, as well as being surrounded by a mixed multitude who is going after other gods with reckless abandon and inviting us to do the same. The notion here is that there are those who try to remain faithful to their God and those who, like many during the Exodus wander off after "...strange gods; with abominations they provoked him to anger (Deuteronomy 32:16)." As the story progresses we find that the worship of false gods included:

Numerous attempts were made by the priests and the rulers to stop the worship false gods like when Gideon destroys that alter of Baal (see Judges 6.28-32) or Elijah's showdown with the prophets of Baal in 1 Kings 18:17-40.  Several kings tried to institute reforms:

  • Jehu, king of Israel, wipes out the worship of Baal in Israel 2 Kings 10:18-28;
  • The story of Athaliah and Joash: Athaliah is the only queen to rule Judah she reigned for 6 years while Joash, who is just a baby, is hidden in the temple until is is able to assume the throne in 2 Kings 11; Josaiah has been trained in the ways of God. He renews the covenant with God and restores the Passover in 2 Kings 23:1-26.

Neither of these were completely successful. Faithfulness of the leadership is important but it does not necessarily translate into faithfulness of the nation.

It is also interesting to note that there were some from outside of Israel who realized the foolishness of worshiping these false gods. Recall 

  • Nebuchadnezzar in the book of Daniel, after the three in the fiery furnace Daniel 3.29.  
  • Nebuchadnezzar, after his period of madness brought on by his pride. Daniel 4.37 


The first Christians were confronted with the worship of Greek and Roman deities

  • Zeus and Hermes Acts 14.8-19 Zeus was the patron god of the city of Lystra and his temple was there. Paul was identified as the god Hermes (the Roman Mercury), Zeus'attendant and spokesman.
  • An Idol maker stirs up a mob - Artemis Acts 19.24-28 Artemis was the Greek name for the Roman goddess, Diana.
  • Castor and Pollux on the bow of a ship  Acts 28.11 the two "sons of Zeus", regarded as the guardian deities of sailors

Because of the miracles performed through Paul there were attempts to deify human beings

Following is a list of the divinities mentioned in the Bible. Some of them had images that were involved in their worship while others were mythical. Some Israelites became involved in idolatrous worship of these gods.

God Description Reference

Also Amun, Ammon or Amen. A typical depiction of Amon has two plumes on his head, the ankh symbol and the was scepter the chief god of Egypt.

Greek equivalent to Zeus

Egyptian gods, Jeremiah 46.25
Asherah Canaanite goddess, Asherah was the consort of El (also Ba'al or Baal), the chief Canaanite god. Wooden poles, perhaps carved in her image, were often set up in her honor and placed near other pagan objects of worship. Gideon destroys an Asherah pole. Elijah summons 400 prophets of Asherah to Mount Carmel.

Ex 34:13-14; Dt 7:5; Jdg 6:25-30; 1Ki 14:15,23; 1Ki 15:13; 1Ki 16:33; 1Ki 18:19

King Josiah's reforms: 2 Ki 23:4-7,13-16;
Isa 27:9; Jer 17:2; Mic 5:14


The a goddess of war and fertility.

Ashtoreth, the consort of Baal, was associated with the evening star and was worshiped as Ishtar in Babylon and as Athtart in Aram. To the Greeks she was Astarte or Aphrodite and to the Romans, Venus.

Jdg 2:12-13

Jdg 10:6; 1Sa 7:3-4; 1Sa 12:10; 1Sa 31:10; 1Ki 11:5,33

Baal Canaanite and Phoenician god of fertility and rain. Baal, meaning "lord", was pictured standing on a bull, a popular symbol of fertility and strength. Baal was associated with Asherah and Ashtoreth, goddesses of fertility. Jdg 2:10-13
Baal-Zebub A popular deity among the Philistines Beelzebub is the Greek form of the Hebrew name "Baal-Zebub", meaning "lord of the flies". Mt 12:24 pp Mk 3:22 pp Lk 11:15 2Ki 1:1-6,16-17
Bel The chief deity of Babylon. Bel was another name for the sun god, Marduk. Nebo, the god of learning and writing was the son of Marduk. Isa 46:1; Jer 50:2; Jer 51:44
Chemosh the chief god of Moab 1Ki 11:7 See also Nu 21:29; 1Ki 11:33; 2Ki 23:13; Jer 48:7,13,46
Dagon worshipped in Babylonia and Philistia Jdg 16:23 See also 1Sa 5:2-7; 1Ch 10:10
El The word El is a Northwest Semitic word meaning "god" or "deity." It was used by many of the peoples around Israel but it is not generally brought forward in translation. As this can be a confusing topic I point the confused to more confusion on the Names of God page. Genesis 33.20; Genesis 35.7; 
Molech The chief deity of Ammon 1Ki 11:4-5 See also Lev 18:21
  The practice of sacrificing children to Molech was common in Phoenicia and the region; Lev 20:2-5; 1Ki 11:7,33; 2Ki 23:10
  Josiah destroyed the area where the altars for child sacrifice were located; 2Ki 23:13; Isa 57:9; Jer 32:35; Jer 49:1,3; Zep 1:5; Ac 7:43
Nebo Nebo, the god of learning and writing was the son of Marduk, also known as Bel Is 46.1

A Babylonian fertility god, Also known as Dumuzid and Adonus outside the Bible, was associated with shepherds and was the primary consort of the goddess Inanna (later known as Ishtar).

In Inanna's Descent into the Underworld, Dumuzid fails to mourn Inanna's death and, when she returns from the Underworld, she allows the galla demons to drag him down to the Underworld as her replacement. Inanna later regrets this decision and decrees that Dumuzid will spend half the year in the Underworld, but the other half of the year with her, while his sister Geshtinanna stays in the Underworld in his place, thus resulting in the cycle of the seasons. (wikipedia)

Tammuz'  yearly death during the summer and his return in the spring leads some to compare him to Jesus in the Easter story.

The woman in Ezekiel 8 is protrayed as weeping for Tammuz in the form of Idol Worship that would have been part of the Babylonian ritual of summer.

Eze 8:14




The word "Baal" was not originally a proper name (it can also mean owner, lord or husband) in the sense of lord, the word baal is also used in conjunction with the proper names of other gods. The word came to be used as a proper name . See  II Chronicles 28.1-4; Hoseiah 13.1-2

  • Warnings against and condemnation of, the worship of false gods

Sumarian gods: from

Anu, An god of heaven, the firmament
Enlil god of the air (from Lil = Air); patron deity of Nippur
Enki god of freshwater, male fertility, and knowledge; patron deity of Eridu
Ereshkigal goddess of the underworld
Kigal or IrkallaInanna goddess of warfare, female fertility, and sexual love; matron deity of Uruk
Nammu Nammu was the primeval sea (Engur), who gave birth to An (heaven) and Ki (earth) and the first deities; eventually became known as the goddess Tiamat
Ninhursag goddess of the earth
Nanna god of the moon; one of the patron deities of Ur
Ningal wife of Nanna
Ninlil an air goddess and wife of Enlil; one of the matron deities of Nippur; she was believed to reside in the same temple as Enlil
Ninurta god of war, agriculture, one of the Sumerian wind gods; patron deity of Girsu, and one of the patron deities of Lagash
Utu god of the sun at the E-babbar temple of Sippar 1/17/15