The cult surrounding a statue of a god or goddess. Such idols were common in Near Eastern religions, but it is not certain whether the worshippers held the statue itself to be a deity or whether the deity was somehow embodied by the image in such a way that the worshipper met the deity through the image. It would seem that at the time of the Exile, when the worshippers of Yahweh encountered the alien cults of Babylon, the prophet believed that their neighbours did indeed worship a piece of wood or stone (Isa. 46).

The prohibition against idols is emphatic in the book Exodus and the worship of the God who liberated them from Egypt is part of the covenant. It was, however, often tempting to fuse the worship of Yahweh with the fertility cults of the Canaanites: and the dramatic contest arranged by Elijah on Mount Carmel (1 Kgs. 18) between Yahweh and Baal shows the gravity of the challenge (c. 860 BCE) The efforts earlier (c. 930 BCE) by Jeroboam I to dissuade his subjects from travelling south to Jerusalem by installing a sacred calf at Bethel and another at Dan (1 Kgs. 12: 29) are depicted as gross apostasy, though in fact the calves, or bulls, may have been regarded as a throne or seat for the invisible god—whom some of the worshippers may have regarded as Yahweh himself (Exod. 32: 5).

After the Exile the condemnation of idolatry is less shrill (Zech. 10: 2); monotheism is secure.

Paul warns the Corinthian Christians about a kind of idolatry (1 Cor. 10: 14) which might have been some form of civic ceremony. In the case of meat previously offered in idolatrous sacrifice, the advice is that it is harmless, since the so-called gods are nonentities (1 Cor. 8: 4); but it could be an act of charity towards less instructed Christians to decline such meat (1 Cor. 8: 13). Idolatry is also used metaphorically for evil desires (Col. 3: 5).

Worship of the Roman emperor and obligatory participation in heathen rites was later to prove a fiery test for Christian believers.