I think you’re all missing coffeecat’s question, which was not about today’s religions, but about way back when:
Simple answer: In Jewish belief, yes, they really were.
The Midrash, a Jewish collection of stories and interprations of the Bible, whose authority ranks up there with the Talmud, has the following story about Abraham, and his father Terach:
Terach ran a store where he sold idols. Maybe manufactured them too, I’m not sure. One day he had to take care of something, so he left Abraham in charge. Abraham was exploring his theories about idolatry and monotheism at the time. He took an object (hammer? axe? don’t remember) and wrecked one of the idols, and then put that weapon in the hands of a nearby idol which was larger than the one Abraham broke.
When Terach returned and saw the damage, he asked his son what happened. Abraham answered that the two idols got into a fight, and the bigger one won. Terach screamed “That’s ridiculous! They can’t do anything!”. Abraham answered, “Listen to yourself! Why do you worship them if they can’t do anything?” So Terach disowned his son and threw him out of the house.
To me, and to this forum, it is significant that Terach did not answer, “It is just a symbol.” Rather, he really believed those idols to be gods, despite the contradiction that his son pointed out.
In the Jewish view, the veneration of objects as gods has been pretty effectively wiped out, to the point where we cannot fathom how otherwise intelligent individuals ever fell for it. But they did indeed.
(It seems to me that they even got a physical pleasure from doing so, such as we get from eating or from sex, which is very different from the emotional and intellecual pleasures which people get from religion nowadays. It was a whole different world, and I don’t understand it one bit.)