Are there Bible passages that endorse book burning and iconoclasm?


After St Paul preached the gospel in Ephesus, and won numerous converts, the Book of Acts says, with approval, that there was a book burning (19:19-20 KJV):

Many of them also which used curious arts brought their books together, and burned them before all men: and they counted the price of them, and found it fifty thousand pieces of silver. So mightily grew the word of God and prevailed.

Book burning is closely akin to iconoclasm (the destruction of things sacred to others), and when we think of iconoclasm, we perhaps think first of the destruction of temples or the smashing of idols, as in this fearful gesture of iconoclasm under the Taliban-like reign of the zealous monotheist Jehu, recorded in the Bible, in II Kings 10:26-27 (KJV):

And they brought forth the images out of the house of Baal, and burned them.

And they brake down the image of Baal, and brake down the house of Baal, and made it a draught house unto this day.

A “draught house” is a polite way for the King James translators to tell us that the ruins of Baal’s temple were used by the Judeans as a place to take a piss.

Book burning and iconoclasm have disturbing precedents not just on the “Jerusalem” side of Western cultural history, but also is represented on the “Athens” side as well, as when Aristophanes, in his comic play Clouds, ends the play with the gleeful burning of the school of Socrates (which presumably possessed books as well). Plato famously attributed at least part of the reason for Socrates’s death to the popular prejudicial passions inflamed against him by Aristophanes’s play.

And atheists are not immune from the temptation to iconoclasm either, as when, in the summer of 2008, P.Z Myers, in a bizarre and hysterical anti-Catholic rant, asked his readers at his popular blog, Pharyngula, to sneak a consecrated Catholic host out of a Catholic church and send it to him. He said that he wanted to record himself desecrating it, and then post it on the Internet:

Can anyone out there score me some consecrated communion wafers? There’s no way I can personally get them — my local churches have stakes prepared for me, I’m sure — but if any of you would be willing to do what it takes to get me some, or even one, and mail it to me, I’ll show you sacrilege, gladly, and with much fanfare. I won’t be tempted to hold it hostage (no, not even if I have a choice between returning the Eucharist and watching Bill Donohue kick the pope in the balls, which would apparently be a more humane act than desecrating a goddamned cracker), but will instead treat it with profound disrespect and heinous cracker abuse, all photographed and presented here on the web. I shall do so joyfully and with laughter in my heart. If you can smuggle some out from under the armed guards and grim nuns hovering over your local communion ceremony, just write to me and I’ll send you my home address.

Of course, P.Z. Myers scored his Catholic wafer and satisfied himself with a public gesture of desecration, joining the ranks of other iconoclasts and book burners, a short list of which includes these:

  • John Calvin in his destruction of Catholic art and icons in Geneva
  • Nazi book burners in Vienna
  • Anti-Vietnam War American flag burners in the 1960s
  • Taliban fundamentalists in Afghanistan gleefully dynamiting the Bamyan Buddhas
  • Fundamentalist Pakistanis burning Danish flags

Such behavior has an ugly history both within the Bible and without it. Here’s a 16th century depiction of Protestant Calvinists engaged in an iconoclastic “cleansing” of a Catholic cathedral:


And here is a photograph of where one of the Bamyan Buddhas, prior to its destruction by Muslim fanatics, once stood:


About Santi Tafarella

I teach writing and literature at Antelope Valley College in California.
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5 Responses to Are there Bible passages that endorse book burning and iconoclasm?

  1. Does your site have a contact page? I’m having trouble locating it but, I’d like to send you an
    email. I’ve got some creative ideas for your blog you might be interested in hearing. Either way, great blog and I look forward to seeing it expand over time.

  2. Arty says:

    Atheist are not courageous enough to attack Islam 🙂 . . .

    • Anonymous says:

      Actually Islam is too easy a target to attack so they try to find more challenging battles 🙂

      • Santi Tafarella says:

        Um, Islam is a religion that evolved out of Judaism and its interaction with Christianity. So yes, of course this post applies to Islam as well. And if you had actually read the post, you would have perhaps noticed that I closed the piece with an example of Muslim iconoclasm in Afghanistan. I also discussed incidents of atheist and pagan iconoclasm.


  3. alexatedw says:

    Except, the passage refers to burning the bible. In the since, we don’t need it anymore, we realize the truth. Here is a vid I think you’d get a lot from:

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