A segment on CNN from March of this year identifies the most common question from visitors to Brooklyn Museum's Egyptian art galleries: Why are the statues’ noses broken?
Edward Bleiberg, who oversees the museum's Egyptian art, was surprised the first few times he heard this question. He had taken for granted that the sculptures were simply damaged. Certainly, after thousands of years, an ancient artifact should show wear and tear. But the broken noses led Bleiberg to uncover a widespread pattern of deliberate destruction. He said, “The consistency of the patterns … of damage found in sculpture suggests that it's purposeful.” A protruding nose on a three-dimensional statue is easily broken, he conceded, but the plot thickens when flat reliefs also have smashed noses.
The ancient Egyptians believed that the essence of a deity could inhabit an image of that deity. These campaigns of vandalism were therefore intended to "deactivate an image's strength." The damaged part of the body is no longer able to do its job. Without a nose, the statue-spirit ceases to breathe, so that the vandal is effectively "killing" it. To hammer the ears off a statue of a god would make it unable to hear a prayer. Pharaohs regularly issued decrees with terrible punishments for anyone who would dare threaten their likeness.
Bleiberg noted the skill evidenced by the iconoclasts. They were not vandals recklessly and randomly striking out at works of art. In fact, the targeted precision of their chisels suggests that they were skilled laborers, trained and hired for this exact purpose.
The idols we pursue are obviously different today than in ancient times. Our idols might be career, fitness, adventure, personal pursuits, weekend getaways, home, cars, SUVs…. Of course, none of these are inherently wrong/bad in and of themselves. They become idols when we pursue them at the expense of pursuing God. Though they may provide a short-term, fun distraction, they are powerless to give us what we ultimately desire and hope for. Their noses have been broken. Only in pursuing God can we find true meaning, purpose and peace.
Hebrews 11:6 tells us, “And without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him.”
See you Sunday morning!
Keep the faith,
Originally from Huntington Beach, CA, Tony received his Bachelor's degree in religion from USC and his Master of Divinity and Doctor of Ministry from Talbot School of Theology. Tony loves spending time with his wife, Sheri, and their two sons and daughter (Bryce, Braden, and Brooke); cheering for the USC Trojan football team; and playing tennis.