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Mirrors and the Bible: Reflecting on the human experience

REFLECTION

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John Burger - published on 03/28/19

The reflective instrument has been around for thousands of years, even playing a role in sacred texts.

Mirrors. They’re all around us, even on our smart phones. They compliment us when we look good and provide a stark reality check when we don’t. They’ve become essential in many aspects of life, such as driving a car.

And they’ve been part of man’s experience for thousands of years.

According to the website Mirror History, the genesis of the reflective instrument is probably in nature: people noticed their own reflection in the water and were entranced. For many people, the feeling that Narcissus experienced had to be replicated, so some genius began polishing different kinds of stone until a reflection appeared. A “natural” for this, which in fact didn’t need much polishing, is obsidian—black volcanic glass.

“Some examples of this kind of mirrors have been found in Turkey dating back at least 6000 years,” Mirror History says. It continues:

The Ancient Egyptians used polished copper to produce mirrors, and often the round face of the mirror would be embellished with ornamentation. The Ancient Mesopotamians also produced polished metal mirrors and mirrors made from polished stone were known in Central and South America from about 2000 BC. In China mirrors began to be made from metal alloys, a mixture of tin and copper called speculum metal that could be highly polished to make a reflective surface as well as mirrors made of polished bronze. Metal alloys or precious metals mirrors were very valuable items in ancient times only affordable to the very wealthy.

It is believed that mirrors made of metal-backed glass were first produced in Lebanon in the first century A.D., and the Romans made crude mirrors from blown glass with lead backings, the website says.

In the Bible, mirrors are referenced as early as the 8th century B.C. Book of Proverbs. “Can you, with Him, spread out the skies, Strong as a molten mirror?” asks Elihu of his famously afflicted friend in Job 37:18.

Other examples from Holy Scripture include:

  • Exodus 38:8: “Moreover, he made the laver of bronze with its base of bronze, from the mirrors of the serving women who served at the doorway of the tent of meeting.”
  • Isaiah 3:23: “… hand mirrors, undergarments, turbans and veils.”
  • Proverbs 27:19: “As in water face reflects face, So the heart of man reflects man.”
  • James 1:23: “For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man who looks at his natural face in a mirror, for once he has looked at himself and gone away, he has immediately forgotten what kind of person he was.”
  • 2 Corinthians 3:18: “But we all, with unveiled face, beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory, just as from the Lord, the Spirit.”

But perhaps the best known verse from the Bible that refers to mirrors is 1 Corinthians 13:12: “For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face; now I know in part, but then I will know fully just as I also have been fully known.“

One notable thing about references to mirrors in the Bible, though, is the absence of any sense of supernatural powers. Superstitions surrounding mirrors have captivated man over the ages, and the thought that breaking a mirror results in seven years of bad luck persists to this day. That idea comes from an old Roman legend that a soul shatters with a broken mirror and takes seven years to regenerate.

In addition, in some cultures, mirrors are covered when someone dies, because, as the superstition goes, a mirror can trap the soul of the person who dies.

“It is also said that a mirror in the house falling from a wall is a sign that someone was going to die,” Mirror History says.

If anything, we might look at the entire Bible itself as a mirror. As with any great literature, when we read Scripture, contemplating its characters, stories and lessons, we see our own lives see more clearly.

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Bible
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