A while back I asked a question about whether Cain was an idol worshiper (something I long suspected), and the answer seems to indicate that he probably wasn't (notwithstanding the fact that he wasn't very righteous). The first obvious reference to a specific idol in the Tanach seems to be Laban's in Genesis 31.

Who was the first person to specifically worship an idol, or at what point in history was idol worship first established? I can see a few obvious options:

  • Idol worship was established before the Flood, but this fact is not specifically mentioned in the Tanach.
  • Idol worship was established after the flood, but before Babel.
  • Idol worship was instituted at Babel.
  • Idol worship arose after the dispersion of the nations at Babel.

I am specifically asking about situations in which someone intentionally chose to worship a being other than HaShem, not general issues of sinning, worshiping ineffectively, or otherwise violating commandments.

  • 1
    Educated guess - Nimrod.
    – DanF
    Sep 17, 2018 at 16:32
  • @DanF yes, I have suspected that as well, but I'm looking for some source that might establish that other than "it makes sense". Sep 17, 2018 at 16:33
  • Perhaps Ramba"m. Probably near the beginning Yesodei Hatorah.
    – DanF
    Sep 17, 2018 at 16:50
  • I don't see how this is on topic. What does this have to do with Judaism? It's a question about the history of idolatry.
    – msh210
    Sep 19, 2018 at 20:23
  • 2
    @msh210 it implicitly asks who Judaism teaches was the first. Other religions may have a different view. It's like asking what the meaning of life is. Judaism probably teaches something different than Hare Krishnas, or Scientology, or the Happy Hopping Church of Blah Blah Blah, who teach something different than the local secular university's biology department. Sep 19, 2018 at 21:25

3 Answers 3


Rambam discusses the beginnings of idolatry in Hilchot Avodat Kochavim 1:1-2

בימי אנוש טעו בני האדם טעות גדול ונבערה עצת חכמי אותו הדור ואנוש עצמו מן הטועים היה וזו היתה טעותם אמרו הואיל והאלהים ברא כוכבים אלו וגלגלים להנהיג את העולם ונתנם במרום וחלק להם כבוד והם שמשים המשמשים לפניו ראויין הם לשבחם ולפארם ולחלוק להם כבוד וזהו רצון האל ברוך הוא לגדל ולכבד מי שגדלו וכבדו כמו שהמלך רוצה לכבד העומדים לפניו וזהו כבודו של מלך כיון שעלה דבר זה על לבם התחילו לבנות לכוכבים היכלות ולהקריב להן קרבנות ולשבחם ולפארם בדברים ולהשתחוות למולם כדי להשיג רצון הבורא בדעתם הרעה וזה היה עיקר עבודת כוכבים וכך היו אומרים עובדיה היודעים עיקרה לא שהן אומרים שאין שם אלוה אלא כוכב זה הוא שירמיהו אומר מי לא ייראך מלך הגוים כי לך יאתה כי בכל חכמי הגוים ובכל מלכותם מאין כמוך ובאחת יבערו ויכסלו מוסר הבלים עץ הוא כלומר הכל יודעים שאתה הוא לבדך אבל טעותם וכסילותם שמדמים שזה ההבל רצונך הוא

During the times of Enosh, mankind made a great mistake, and the wise men of that generation gave thoughtless counsel. Enosh himself was one of those who erred.

Their mistake was as follows: They said God created stars and spheres with which to control the world. He placed them on high and treated them with honor, making them servants who minister before Him. Accordingly, it is fitting to praise and glorify them and to treat them with honor. [They perceived] this to be the will of God, blessed be He, that they magnify and honor those whom He magnified and honored, just as a king desires that the servants who stand before him be honored. Indeed, doing so is an expression of honor to the king.

After conceiving of this notion, they began to construct temples to the stars and offer sacrifices to them. They would praise and glorify them with words, and prostrate themselves before them, because by doing so, they would - according to their false conception - be fulfilling the will of God.

This was the essence of the worship of false gods, and this was the rationale of those who worshiped them. They would not say that there is no other god except for this star.

This message was conveyed by Jeremiah, who declared (10:7-8): "Who will not fear You, King of the nations, for to You it is fitting. Among all the wise men of the nations and in all their kingdoms, there is none like You. They have one foolish and senseless [notion. They conceive of their] empty teachings as wood;" i.e., all know that You alone are God. Their foolish error consists of conceiving of this emptiness as Your will.

ואחר שארכו הימים עמדו בבני האדם נביאי שקר ואמרו שהאל צוה ואמר להם עבדו כוכב פלוני או כל הכוכבים והקריבו לו ונסכו לו כך וכך ובנו לו היכל ועשו צורתו כדי להשתחוות לו כל העם הנשים והקטנים ושאר עמי הארץ ומודיע להם צורה שבדה מלבו ואומר זו היא צורת הכוכב פלוני שהודיעוהו בנבואתו והתחילו על דרך זו לעשות צורות בהיכלות ותחת האילנות ובראשי ההרים ועל הגבעות ומתקבצין ומשתחוים להם ואומרים לכל העם שזו הצורה מטיבה ומריעה וראוי לעובדה וליראה ממנה וכהניהם אומרים להם שבעבודה זו תרבו ותצליחו ועשו כך כך ואל תעשו כך וכך והתחילו כוזבים אחרים לעמוד ולומר שהכוכב עצמו או הגלגל או המלאך דבר עמהם ואמר להם עבדוני בכך וכך והודיע להם דרך עבודתו ועשו כך ואל תעשו כך ופשט דבר זה בכל העולם לעבוד את הצורות בעבודות משונות זו מזו ולהקריב להם ולהשתחוות וכיון שארכו הימים נשתכח השם הנכבד והנורא מפי כל היקום ומדעתם ולא הכירוהו ונמצאו כל עם הארץ הנשים והקטנים אינם יודעים אלא הצורה של עץ ושל אבן וההיכל של אבנים שנתחנכו מקטנותם להשתחוות לה ולעבדה ולהשבע בשמה והחכמים שהיו בהם כגון כהניהם וכיוצא בהן מדמין שאין שם אלוה אלא הכוכבים והגלגלים שנעשו הצורות האלו בגללם ולדמותן אבל צור העולמים לא היה שום אדם שהיה מכירו ולא יודעו אלא יחידים בעולם כגון חנוך ומתושלח נח שם ועבר ועל דרך זה היה העולם הולך ומתגלגל עד שנולד עמודו של עולם והוא אברהם אבינו

After many years passed, there arose people - false prophets - who told [their nations] that God had commanded them to say: Serve this star - or all the stars - sacrifice to it, offer libations to it, build a temple for it and make an image of it so that all people - including the women, the children, and the common people - could bow to it.

He would inform them of a form that he had conceived, and tell them that this is the image of the particular star, claiming that this was revealed to him in a prophetic vision. In this manner, the people began to make images in temples, under trees, and on the tops of mountains and hills.

People would gather together and bow down to them and the [false prophets] would say: This image is the source of benefit or harm. It is appropriate to serve it and fear it. Their priests would tell them: This service will enable you to multiply and be successful. Do this and this, or do not do this or this.

Subsequently, other deceivers arose and declared that a specific star, sphere, or angel had spoken to them and commanded them: Serve me in this manner. He would then relate a mode of service [telling them:] Do this, do not do this.

Thus, these practices spread throughout the world. People would serve images with strange practices - one more distorted than the other - offer sacrifices to them, and bow down to them. As the years passed, [God's] glorious and awesome name was forgotten by the entire population. [It was no longer part of] their speech or thought, and they no longer knew Him. Thus, all the common people, the women, and the children would know only the image of wood or stone and the temples of stone to which they were trained from their childhood to bow down and serve, and in whose name they swore.

The wise men among them would think that there is no God other than the stars and spheres for whose sake, and in resemblance of which, they had made these images. The Eternal Rock was not recognized or known by anyone in the world, with the exception of a [few] individuals: for example, Chanoch, Metushelach, Noach, Shem, and Ever. The world continued in this fashion until the pillar of the world - the Patriarch Abraham - was born.

(Touger translation)

According to this, idol worship was established before the flood.

  • WHy so long, the first line of Rambam suffice. Really, the rest is irrelevant to the question. I think
    – Al Berko
    Sep 17, 2018 at 18:26
  • 1
    @AlBerko The first line doesn't even mention idolatry.
    – Alex
    Sep 17, 2018 at 18:35
  • "בימי אנוש טעו בני האדם טעות גדול"
    – Al Berko
    Sep 17, 2018 at 18:37
  • What's the Ta'us?
    – Alex
    Sep 17, 2018 at 18:38
  • 2
    @AlBerko If the question was just the title (as you suggested) then it would only be asking for a simple name. But the question appears to be more nuanced, especially the last paragraph, and I think the entirety of the quote deals with the nuances.
    – Alex
    Sep 17, 2018 at 18:50

Bereshis 4,26:

"וּלְשֵׁת גַּם־הוּא יֻלַּד־בֵּן וַיִּקְרָא אֶת־שְׁמוֹ אֱנוֹשׁ אָז הוּחַל לִקְרֹא בְּשֵׁם ה'


"אז הוחל. לְשׁוֹן חֻלִּין, לִקְרֹא אֶת שְׁמוֹת הָאָדָם וְאֶת שְׁמוֹת הָעֲצַבִּים בִּשְׁמוֹ שֶׁל הַקָּבָּ"ה לַעֲשׂוֹתָן עֲ"זָ וְלִקְרוֹתָן אֱלֹהוּת:"

אז הוחל THEN IT WAS BEGUN [TO CALL etc.] — The word הוחל must be connected in meaning with חולין “profane matters “ viz, calling the names of men and the names of idols after the name of the Holy One, blessed be He — making them the objects of idolatrous worship and calling them Deities (Genesis Rabbah 23:7).

NB Enosh was Adam's grandson from Shet.

  • I don't see how this answers the question. Are you basically saying the same thing as is stated in Alex's answer, that idolatry started in the days of Enosh?
    – ezra
    Sep 18, 2018 at 0:48
  • @ezra Yes but I bring an earlier source. That's what מדרש רבה says (way before Rambam)
    – Al Berko
    Sep 18, 2018 at 9:38

Who was the first to worship an idol ?

Most pagan idols are anthropomorphic representations of man's questionable passions and desires; thus, there are gods of war(fare), which is usually caused by strife or greed; gods of nature, representing fertility, whose worship commonly involved orgiastic expressions, characterized by overeating, excessive drinking, immorality, and marital infidelity; etc.

As such, the very first idolater is none other than Eve, the mother of all mankind, who worshiped the three cravings mentioned explicitly in Genesis 3:6 (taste, sight, curiosity) more than God Himself, the source of all knowledge, who made both the tree and its fruit, following the serpent's suggestion that the Creator Lord is Himself allegedly enslaved by dubious human inclinations, such as envy.

And the second one was Adam himself, the father of all humanity, who, succumbing to her physical beauty, put his wife's advice before God's fatherly warning, thereby turning their initially-innocent love for one another into the previously-unknown feeling of lust. That the number of the cities of the plain (such as Sodom and Gomorrah) is the same as that of the five physical senses is also pointed out by the famous Hellenistic philosopher Philo, in his commentary on Abraham.

Is it therefore any surprise that their firstborn son, Cain, shared similar pagan tendencies, worshiping the idols of envy and petty jealousy more than his God-given brotherly love for his sibling Abel, as described in Genesis' very next chapter ?

True monotheism can only be achieved by undoing these false idols, and breaking free of the incredible power they wield over our minds, through various uncontrollable passions; how else are we supposed to serve (only one) God, if we are ruled over and enslaved by (countless) tormenting desires ?

Exodus 20:1-3 ¶And God spake all these words, saying: I am the LORD thy God, which have brought thee out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage. Thou shalt have no other gods before me.

Deuteronomy 6:4-5 ¶Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God is one LORD: And thou shalt love the LORD thy God with all thine heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy might.

  • Pagans worshiped idols made of gold and silver; the greedy, in a certain sense, do the same.
    – user18041
    Sep 25, 2020 at 6:23

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