The Christian destruction of pagan images in Late Antiquity frequently has been regarded as a mindless aspect of religious intolerance. A closer study of the phenomenon, as observed through the extant historical and archaeological sources from Egypt, however, suggests a more complex modus operandi in Christian responses to pagan images that is furthermore revelatory of contemporary conceptions of religious imagery. This study argues that Christian responses are best understood through a particular conception of embodied images, that is, that they possessed qualities of the human body. In spite of Christian authors claiming otherwise, bodies in stone were linked to flesh and blood bodies through the destructive practices that were undertaken to counteract the powers believed to dwell in pagan images. These practices included burning and selective destruction of body parts to negate the bodily qualities of an image. The responses of Christian image-breakers in Egypt are interpreted here with reference to both contemporary methods of punishment (of human bodies) and older traditions of visual practices particularly pertinent to Egyptian culture.


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pp. 224-250
Launched on MUSE
Open Access
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