What follows is a translation of the first chapter of “Laws of idolatry”. (All text added by the translator is bracketed.)
Laws of Idolatry and the practices of Idolaters, chapter one:
Law 1: In the days of Enosh [see Genesis 4:26] mankind made a grave error, and the wise men of that generation began to give foolish counsel; Enosh, himself, was one of those who erred. Their error was thus: they said, “since G-d created stars and planets with which to conduct the world, and he placed them on high and accorded them honor, and they are servants who serve before him – it befits them that we praise them, glorify them, and accord them honor. It is G-d’s will that we exalt and honor that which he himself has exalted and honored. [This] is similar to a king who desires to honor his servants who stand before him. Thus is [,truly,] the king’s honor.”
After they came to this conclusion, they began to build temples for the stars and to offer them sacrifices. They praised and glorified them verbally and they prostrated themselves before them. All this was an attempt to fulfill the will of the creator in accordance with their false view.
This was the ideology behind idolatry. And this was what all idolaters in the know would claim. But they did not hold that there was no G-d other than the particular star [they happened to be worshiping]. [Indeed,] to this Jeremiah referred when he said, “Who does not fear you, O King of nations? For to you it is fitting; for among all the wise men of the nations, and in all their kingdoms, there is none like you. In but one way, they are foolish: their instruction regarding their idols, which are just wood!” [Jeremiah 10:7-8] This verse means to say that all know that you [G-d] are alone; their foolishness and error consist only in that they believe that this tripe is your [G-d’s] will.
Law 2: A long time later, false prophets arose amongst men, claiming that God had appeared to them. They would say to the people that God had said things like,” worship this star “or
“worship all the stars”; “sacrifice unto it” or “offer unto it these libations”. [Or they would say,] “build for it a temple and make a proxy image to which all people-men, women and children- must bow,” and would then go on to describe some form they would make make up themselves, declaring it the form of the star about which had been the prophecy.
Before long, people began to place idols in temples, under trees, and atop mountains and hills. They would congregate at these places and would proclaim to all how the particular idol around which they congregated could bestow goodness, mete out harm and was, therefore, deserving of worship and reverence. Either priests would determine how the idol was to be worshiped, what one must do and what one must not, or charlatans would describe the same, claiming how the star, sphere, or angel, itself, had revealed it to them.
Before long, worshiping idols in various and strange ways, offering them sacrifices and prostrating before them became the norm. And finally, after even more time had passed, God himself came to be forgotten among men. The masses -men, women, and children- knew nothing at all, save for the temples and the wooden or stone idols which they had been raised to worship
and swear by; and the more wise among them, their priests for instance, came to believe that there was no God other than the various entities for which the idols served as proxy.
So, in the end, God himself became utterly unknown, save but to a few unique men, such as Chanoch, Mesushelach, Noach, Shem, and Ever; and, so the world went until the birth of the world’s foundation, namely, Avraham Avinu.
Law 3: As soon as this mighty one [Avraham] was weaned [the beginning of his third year of life], he began to contemplate day and night. He wondered to himself just how the sphere moves in a fixed path without anything directing it. He had no teachers nor guides of any kind, but rather, he was raised in Ur Kasdim among foolish idolaters. His father, mother, and all people, generally, served idols; and he served along with them. But he contemplated constantly until he comprehended the truth. He came to understand and know that there is but one God, who directs the sphere and created everything; he comprehended that there is not in all that is a god aside from him [the one God]; and he came to the conclusion that the entire world was mistaken.
Avraham was forty years old when he recognized his creator. And once he did, he began to argue with the people of Ur Kasdim. He would debate them, telling them that they were not not traveling on the path of truth. He would smash the idols, informing people how it is fit to worship God alone and that to him must one bow, sacrifice and offer libations, so that the coming generations will recognize him. He taught them how it was right to smash and destroy the idols so that people would not stray after them.
After he overwhelmed them with his proofs, the king [Nimrod] tried to kill him, but Avraham survived miraculously and escaped to Haran.
Once he was there, he began to teach, calling out in great voice to the whole world, informing them that there was only one God and that he alone is worthy of worship. He would travel from city to city and from kingdom to kingdom, congregating and teaching people, until he arrived to the land of Cana’an. There he continued to call out, as the Bible says, “there [too,] he called out in the name of Hashem, God of the world”.
When people would come to him, asking him about his message, Avraham would teach each and every person according to his own mental capacity, bringing the person back to the way of truth.
Eventually, Avraham amassed tens of thousands of followers, who are known as the “men of the house of Avraham”. He planted this great truth in their hearts and wrote many books on the subject.
Avraham taught his son Yiztchak (Isaac,) who, in turn, would teach others. Yizchak would go on to teach his son Ya’acov (Jacob), appointing him to teach and bring back all who would join him [Ya’acov].
Ya’acov taught all his children, but he separated Levi and appointed him the head. He sat him in the academy, enjoining him to teach the way of God and to keep all of Avraham’s commandments. Ya’acov instructed his children that they never allow a cessation of appointees from the house of Levi, in order that the learning never be forgotten. And so the matter developed until a nation who knows G-d was formed in the world.
But alas, after Israel spent many years in Egypt, they began to learn the ways of the Egyptians and to serve idols like them. The tribe of Levi, however, remained faithful to the heritage of the fathers; the tribe of Levi never worshiped idols.
A bit more time, and the great truth that Avraham had planted in them would have been uprooted; and the children of Ya’acov would have reverted to the ways and foolishness of the nations. But because of Hashem’s love for us, and in keeping with the vow he made to Avraham our father, he made Moshe [Moses] the master of all prophets, and sent him.
After Moshe had been made, and Hashem chose us for himself as his portion, he crowned us with his commandments and taught us the way to serve him. He taught us the laws of idolatry and the laws of they who stray after it.
Chapter 2: …