II Clement 1:7 states, “We were defective in our understandings; worshipping stones and wood; gold, and silver, and brass, the work of men’s hands…” (Translation from The Lost Books of the Bible and the Forgotten Books of Eden.)
In my academic experience, I’ve often read and heard that the Hebrew Bible and Christianity grossly misunderstood idolatry. “Pagans never worshipped word, stone, and metal,” scholars say. “Rather, they believed that the idols were a symbol or a temple of the deity.”
Maybe. But I wonder if Jewish and Christian understandings of idolatry should be blown off so easily. II Clement, after all, was written for Gentiles. Clement was the bishop of Rome. (I’m assuming that he wrote II Clement, but this is disputed). Should we assume that neither he nor his audience understood the paganism from which they converted?
Maybe the early Christians believed pagans worshipped the “work of men’s hands” because their (the pagans’) gods did not actually exist. If the pagan gods aren’t real, then what are the pagans really worshipping? Stones, woods, and metals.