Moshe Halbertal, "Of Pictures and Words: Visual and Verbal Representation of God
But why is a visual representation of God inappropriate even though a verbal representation is appropriate? A picture is meant to capture the entire essence of what is being represented; it strives to create a full representation, leaving no gaps. Not so language: a verbal description is only partial, and the open spaces it leaves make language an appropriate medium for representing God…How, then, is it possible to create a representation that makes the sublime God present to worshipers without desecrating, fixing, or replacing God? Only through language. Implicit within the distinction between word and picture is the possibility of confronting the complexity of representing the sublime.
Barnett Newman, Onement, 1948
Mark Rothko, No. 8, 1952
Brent Spodek, "I (Don't) Believe in God, Times of Israel, July 13, 2016
Divinity is an abstract noun, almost a verb, like love or electricity. The idea of God, the character of “Mr. God” is a representation of something much larger and elusive. We know this from the prohibitions on idolatry; it’s not that we shouldn’t represent the Divine — it’s that we can’t represent the Divine. If you can see it in a picture, it’s not the Divine.
Think of contemporary art — it’s not powerful because it capture reality more accurately than a photograph; it’s powerful because it indicates things which cannot be apprehended directly.
Marc-Alain Ouaknin, Mysteries of the Alphabet
The history of meaning is the history of forgetting the image, the history of a suppression of the visible. No doubt there are good reasons for this. In his book Moses and Monotheism Freud claimed that "the prohibition on making an image of God-the compulsion to worship a God whom one cannot see ... meant that a sensory perception was given second place to what may be called an abstract idea-a triumph of intellectuality over sensuality."
Through this extrapictorial image, "The new realm of intellectuality was opened up, in which ideas, memories and inferences became decisive in contrast to the lower psychical activity which had direct perceptions by the sense-organs as its content. This was unquestionably one of the most important stages on the path to hominization."
For Freud, a departure from the visibility of the divine represented the dematerialization and deterritorialization of the sacred, the transition from the sacred-pagan to the holy. This movement eventually resulted in a transition from the stone-built place of worship (the Temple) to worship through the book, a transition from the cult to the cultural. The prohibition on graven images also applied to writing and the letters. The fact that images could not be depicted may well have been the mechanism that caused the alphabet to change so radically from its pictographic form to the abstractions of the alphabetic form. It is not going too far to consider, as did L. Benveniste, that "writing was born on Sinai." On the basis of these considerations, it would appear that the abstract form of the letters of the alphabet have a superior status to that of the pictorial form as we encountered it in proto-Sinaitic. However, we believe that it is important to take the trip back to the original image and that this step is required if we are to be able to link up with our most ancient and deeply buried memories. This is not a violation of the prohibition on representation, as long as we are in a dialectic mode and seeking the meaning and we do not fall into the trap of being stuck in the rut of "this means that and that alone" !