Standard Religious Iconography to Show Subject is Demonic/Unholy?
May 30, 2004 3:16 PM   Subscribe

In religious iconography, there are standardized symbols to depict "holiness" in figures--haloes, rays, flames, those little horns on Moses's forehead, etc. Are there equivalent "anti-haloes" for demonic/unholy icons? Any links to examples would be appreciated. Non-western examples welcome.
posted by DaShiv to Religion & Philosophy (19 answers total)
Horns on Moses? This sounds like that whole Jews have horns mess. What are you talking about?
posted by caddis at 3:32 PM on May 30, 2004

Yes, horns on Moses.
posted by i_am_joe's_spleen at 3:51 PM on May 30, 2004

Right, horns on Moses. That is where the very anti-semitic idea of Jews having horns comes from. There are some people that still believe that Jews have horns (and of course that sort of equates Jews with the Devil now doesn't it). So, horns on Moses is not some innocent religious symbol, but rather represents something much darker.
posted by caddis at 4:30 PM on May 30, 2004

They're due to a mistranslation of the word "rays" from Hebrew. That's what I've heard. Moses came down from the mountain with "rays" coming out of his head, mistranslated as "horns".

That statue by Michaelangelo's mostly to blame.
posted by interrobang at 4:38 PM on May 30, 2004

Here's some stuff.
posted by interrobang at 4:42 PM on May 30, 2004

I can recommend a great resource on demonology,
You might also ask for some examples on the forum there,
it's quite an impressive group with some very helpful and knowledgeable people.
posted by milovoo at 4:42 PM on May 30, 2004

That is where the very anti-semitic idea of Jews having horns comes from.

Not according to this analysis. It seems complicated, but to say "horns on Moses"="anti-semitic" is certainly an oversimplification.

That statue by Michaelangelo's mostly to blame.

See the link above: the statue is predated by a long series of horned depictions of Moses.
posted by mr_roboto at 4:47 PM on May 30, 2004

I guess mr_roboto's right. I didn't know that horned depictions of Moses predated the Michaelangelo piece.
posted by interrobang at 4:52 PM on May 30, 2004

This article blames Saint Jerome's translation of the bible for the misunderstanding. Jerome lived in the 400s:

Michelangelo takes the horns from Jerome's mistranslation of a biblical passage. Where it says that rays of light issued from Moses' face, Jerome wrote horns. Michelangelo was aware of the mistranslation. He put horns on Moses, anyway.
posted by interrobang at 5:01 PM on May 30, 2004

Whether some ancient mistranslated some biblical passage or not, today this carries a dark meaning. Please read A Brief History of anti-semitism.
posted by caddis at 5:02 PM on May 30, 2004

Wait, are you asking "what are the marks of the beast?"

There are lots of those! But since the Devil's minions are rarely depicted in iconography, I'm not sure where you're going to find representations of these in art. Look to literature.
posted by scarabic at 6:41 PM on May 30, 2004

caddis, I'm confused at how exactly your article relates to horns on Moses. Yes, some perjorative "art" has depicted jews with horns, but that's not really what's going on with Moses. After all, Moses is a revered figure in Christianity as well. In fact, most traditional interpretations of Christianity would say that Moses was a Christian, according to the doctrine of supercession of Christianity over Judaism as it existed before the resurrection of Jesus. Now, is that doctrine antisemitic in and of itself? Oh, hell yes. But because of it, Moses, Abraham, and the other patriarchs are almost exclusively coopted by Christian culture, not used as tools of antisemitic insinuation.
posted by LittleMissCranky at 6:53 PM on May 30, 2004

Also, the Moses/horns thing isn't the source of that particular Jews-as-devil bullshit. Rumors of certain races having horns (and thus being evil) have been widespread since at least the time of Alexander the Great, so it considerably predates Jerome's mistranslation. Horns were initially symbols of great power (which may have been one reason that Jerome didn't question that particular translation more carefully), but, as power often breeds contempt, became signs of a lower, animal nature, and then of evil.
posted by LittleMissCranky at 7:00 PM on May 30, 2004

The Holocaust Project article is a bit general. This is more specific.
posted by caddis at 7:12 PM on May 30, 2004

Jeez! If you want Jews with horns, just listen to Jews with horns.
posted by milovoo at 8:07 PM on May 30, 2004

damien says: three 6s on the scalp

but anyway, aren't the whole goat-thing very evil? horns, hooves, tail and all?
posted by mr.marx at 8:49 PM on May 30, 2004

isn't. isn't. isn't.
posted by mr.marx at 8:50 PM on May 30, 2004

I've heard of Mormons having horns, but I didn't realize until now that this was probably extension of this whole mess. Cool.
posted by oissubke at 10:16 PM on May 30, 2004

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