Rambam in his code of law under the section of idol worship (1:1-2) delineates the historical process which lead to the existence of idol worship starting with according honor to elements in nature which were seen as 'emissaries' (for lack of a better word) of God (eg Sun as the emissary to provide light) then eventually over time and due to (false) prophetic involvement the reasons for serving the 'emissaries' was forgotten and they were worshipped on their own as deities. I would like to know what the Rambam's sources were (if any) for this history.

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    rabbeinu zl quoted the kitaab al filaha an nabatiyya/the book of nabatean agriculture written by ahmad bin wahshiyya. he used the word sabiyyun to refer to paganism/idolatry in general terms and not specifically to the sabaeans. he quotes the name of the book and the author in his mora 3 29 sefaria.org/Guide_for_the_Perplexed,_Part_3.29?lang=bi Sep 19, 2017 at 2:06
  • @mevaqesh I have edited and hope this clarifies that I am looking for sources regarding the whole process, not just when and by whom idol worship began. I have seen all the sources cites in the Frankel Rambam (which are in the answer below + Bereshit Rabba 23:7) but these seem to contradict, not support Rambam's history. Sep 19, 2017 at 14:18

1 Answer 1


R. ZH Chajes (glosses to Rambam loc. cit.) points to the gemara Shab. (118b) as a source intimating that Enosh (his generation) was the first to commit idolatry:

כן משמע מגמרא (שבת קי"ז) אפילו עובד עכו"ם כאנוש, משמע שהוא היה הראשון לטעות בזה

Midrash Tanhuma (Noach n. 18) is rather clear in recording that generation as the beginners:

כך עמדו דורו של אנוש קראו שמו של הקב"ה לעבודת כו"ם שנאמר (בראשית, ד) אז הוחל לקרוא בשם וגו', והקדוש ברוך הוא קרא ים אוקיינוס והציף שלישו של עולם, שנא' (עמוס, ה) הקורא למי הים וישפכם על פני הארץ לה' שמו, ואומר (איוב, יד) אבנים שחקו מים תשטף ספיחיה עפר ארץ ותקות אנוש האבדת. דור המבול אמרו לאל סור ממנו ולא למדו מדור אנוש עד שמחה זכרם, דור הפלגה לא למדו מדורות הראשונות הוי אם תכתוש את האויל במכתש

See also Sifre (Ekev 43):

ר' יוסי אומר: למה נקרא שמם אלהים אחרים? שלא ליתן פתחון פה לבאי העולם לומר, אלו הן נקראים על שמם - היה בהם צורך. והרי נקראים על שמו - ולא היה בהם צורך! ואימתי נקראים על שמו? בימי דור אנוש, שנאמר בראשית ד ולשת גם הוא יולד בן ויקרא שמו אנוש, אז הוחל לקרוא בשם ה'

  • Note also Sh'iltot: שאילתות דרב אחאי פרשת בראשית שאילתא א אמר רבי יוחנן כל המשמר את השבת כהלכתה אפילו עובד ע"ז כאנוש מוחלין לו
    – mevaqesh
    Sep 19, 2017 at 1:23
  • @mevaqesh that's a quote from the cited gem. in Shab.
    – Oliver
    Sep 19, 2017 at 1:30
  • There are different versions of the passage in Shabbat. The very Vilna Shas that you link to has כדור in brackets before אנוש which then isnt a source for Rambam's assertion that Enoch himself worshiped avoda zara. The Sh'iltot is significant in regards to the correct text of the passage in Shabbat. Similarly note Radak Yirmiyah (17:24), Rabbenu Bahaya to Shemot (20:8), and Rosh to Shabbat (16:5) whose text is in accordance with the Vilna Shas.
    – mevaqesh
    Sep 19, 2017 at 1:38
  • Fair point, even though brackets ordinarily attest to the omission by other mss. and clearly Chajes himself had "כאנוש". Dikduke Soferim (no. 70) also cites numerous sources and mss. that had like the above: hebrewbooks.org/…
    – Oliver
    Sep 19, 2017 at 1:56
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    @rikitikitembo With respect, I think it does offer insight, at the least. These rabbinic sources illustrate the move of Enosh's generation to designate representations of God, based on the testament "אז הוחל לקרוא בשם ה׳". This fits Rambam's narrative. Even though the former is more vague than the precise developments that the latter delineates in Mishneh Torah, IMHO those details were based on independent secular knowledge, cf. commentary to mishnah AZ 4:7 & 3:3-4. From his letter to Marseilles his familiarity with ancient deification is also evident.
    – Oliver
    Sep 19, 2017 at 18:57

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