Busted! A vandal broke off the nose of the Virgin Mary in Michelangelo's Pietà.
Imagine the U.S. government or a major religion taking a hammer to Michelangelo’s Pietà as a madman did in 1972 while shouting, “I am Jesus Christ—Risen from the dead!”
Variations on that horrific scenario have been committed since the days of the Hebrews of the Old Testament.
In 1956, statues of Joseph Stalin in Budapest fell victim to political iconoclasts during the Hungarian Revolution.
In 2001, the Taliban destroyed giant statues of Buddha in Bamiyan, Afghanistan, deemed blasphemous because they were graven images.
Ever since Moses liquidated some of his Chosen People for worshipping a golden calf, pious vandals or “iconoclasts” have destroyed priceless works of religious art, enraging “iconodules,” those who venerated icons.
Moses may not have known what art is, but he knew what he didn't like.
The granddaddy of iconoclasts may have been Moses. The author of Genesis threw down on his Unchosen People three tablets containing the Fifteen, oops! Ten Commandments, thank you, Mel Brooks and your History of the World, Part I.
Commandments Three through Five warned God’s Self-selected People accordingly:
III …you shall have no other gods before me.
IV You shall not make for yourself an idol, whether in the form of anything that is in heaven above, or that is on the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth.
V You shall not bow down to them or worship them; for I the Lord your God am a jealous God…
Those harsh commands compelled the Hebrews of the Bible, Mohammed and his followers, Byzantine emperors, and leaders of the Protestant Reformation among others to interpret the Commandments literally and broadly.
Their iconoclastic activities destroyed images of people, animals and things. Only abstract designs were and still are permitted by observant Jews and devout Muslims.
After Moses finished obliterating some of his long-suffering followers during 40 years of meandering in the Sinai desert, the next iconoclast was probably Mohammed.
The prophet and founder of Islam swept out of the Arabian peninsula in the Seventh century CE (AD for politically incorrect historians – like me) and conquered half of the known world with his militant brand of religion that promised heaven and 72 virgins to Islamic warriors who died fighting for their faith.
Thirteen centuries later, Mohammed’s iconoclasm was embraced by the Taliban, who destroyed the priceless Buddhas of Bamiyan, Afghanistan.
In Constantinople, the capital of the Byzantine or Eastern Roman Empire, a century after Mohammed became a lethal art critic, iconoclastic zealots destroyed religious icons, which gave iconoclasm, iconodule and iconolaters (icon-worshipers) their name.
The Emperor Leo III introduced iconoclasm into the Byzantine Empire. The religious movement represented the belief of the poorer, non-Greek subjects of the emperor.
Marxist historians, a dying, somewhat delusional breed after the collapse of the Soviet bloc and its failed economic policies, have embraced iconoclasm, despite its devastating effect on art.
Marxists and other left-wing scholars believe iconoclasm represented class struggle between Byzantine haves and have-nots, with the poor seeking the dictatorship of a religious proletariat.
Leo III’s iconoclasm also reflected admiration of the iconoclasm of Muslim warriors, whose military conquests made them the envy and whose strict interpretation of the Biblical and Koranic ban on “graven images” underpins iconoclasm to this day.
Byzantine iconoclasm represents a toxic case of keeping up with the (Muslim) Joneses.
Click on the following link for a list of iconoclasm’s greatest hits.
Readers of the hit list above will be surprised to learn that the Second Vatican Council in the 1960s put many works of art in storage permanently because they depicted saints whom theologians and scholars believe never existed.
These counterfeit saints were also discarded, that is, removed from the pantheon of virtuous individuals the Church once believed had made it into heaven due to martyrdom or a saintly life.
Atheists justify their disbelief in part by noting more crimes have been committed in the name of God than for any other reason.
Atheists as well as believers might add that more art has been lost to posterity in the name of an infinitive, “to be” (in Hebrew, Yahweh). The Judaic ban on graven images included a prohibition on identifying God by name, which explains how the Old Testament's deity became a nameless verb.
After reading the greatest hits list above, the next time you look at a masterpiece, imagine religious fanatics or madmen, like Jack Nicholson’s Joker in Batman, spray painting a priceless art work.
And be glad you didn’t live in Biblical times, Mohammed’s or too many other, regrettable eras whose bigotry that have robbed the world of irreplaceable works of religious art.
And while you are at the museum, watch out for a crazy guy with a sledgehammer who thinks he’s Jesus Christ – risen from the dead.
Causes Frank Sanello Supports
ACLU, ASPCA, Amnesty International, Doctors Without Borders