The art of sculpturing wood, stone, metal, and clay. Under the broad aspects of this subject, carving and engraving are terms used interchangeably to translate a number of Hebrew words. However, the most frequently used Hebrew word, peʹsel, occurs with reference to carved or engraved images.
The prohibition to Israel against making carved images for the purpose of worshiping them was first stated in the Decalogue (Ex 20:4) and was later repeated. “Cursed is the man who makes a carved image.” (De 27:15; 4:16, 23; 5:8) The prophets over and over again pointed out the foolishness of making and worshiping carved idols and they condemned the practice. (Ps 97:7; Isa 42:17; 44:9-20; 45:20; Jer 10:14, 15; Na 1:14; Hab 2:18) For God’s covenant people to give reverential regard to carved images in their worship was to divide the exclusive devotion that was due Jehovah. So, whenever Israel fell away from God and worshiped the carvings of their own hands, they understandably lost divine favor.—Jg 18:18, 30, 31; 2Ki 21:7-9; 2Ch 33:7, 22; Eze 8:10.
On the other hand, the carving work done for the tabernacle and the great temple of Solomon was not to be worshiped but was intended for decorative purposes and to convey symbolic meaning. Jehovah himself commanded that these carvings be made, and God placed his spirit on Bezalel and Oholiab, the skilled craftsmen chosen to oversee the tabernacle construction. (Ex 35:30, 31, 34) Objects such as the lampstand, the cherubs on the Ark’s cover, the engraving on the jewels of the breastpiece, and the gold plate on the turban of the high priest are some examples of carved objects of gold and precious stones in the tabernacle arrangement. (Ex 25:18, 19, 31-40; 28:2, 21, 36) In Solomon’s temple there were cedarwood carvings of cherubs, palm-tree figures, blossoms, and gourd-shaped ornaments, all overlaid with gold. (1Ki 6:18-35; 2Ch 2:7) Similarly, there was a great array of carvings in the pictorial temple envisioned by Ezekiel.—Eze 41:17-20.
Because of the divine condemnation of carved idols and images for worship, it is no surprise that those found in Palestine by archaeologists show pagan origin or influence. Not only did the Israelites abstain from carving monuments of their great leaders but they also refrained from cutting reliefs depicting their military victories. However, reliefs, statues, and other carved replicas from Egypt, Assyria, Babylonia, and Persia shed light on the worship, warfare, and daily life of those ancient people. Some of the more common things that have been found reveal that stone, clay, wood, glass, ivory, precious gems, bone, plaster, shell, metals, and alabaster were used by the carver in making thrones, lions, columns, jewelry, signets and seals, sarcophagi, stone tablets, furniture, wall decorations, and utensils.