Jeffrey wrote:But given that the vinaya contains so many minute prescriptions and prohibitions, why do we find no mention of Buddha images?
Well my opinion about the Tipitaka is that we got it through people who may not always have respected it and who may have been more interested in gathering followers than actually preserving the original teaching, which Buddhists nowadays have a lot of difficulties to acknowledge. In this light, early Buddhists monks would have preserved whatever they thought would bring them followers, which included preserving large portions of the texts as they were, but may have meant discarding some passages people wouldn't like to know about. And my opinion is that statue worshiping may have fallen into this category.
It is also well known that Buddhism got rapidly keyed down to stupa worship in many sects, and that monks would add texts to the existent corpus that they may have just written themselves to please people. This is how what is known today as Mahayana Buddhism started evolving from the original teaching. And I don't think the Buddha would not have foreseen it and would not have tried to prevent it from happening by setting up such a rule (this is pure speculation on my side).
It is not difficult to get convinced that our texts may not be that clean by reading about what has happened in the centuries after the birth of Buddhism, and the kind of crazy things Buddhists would write and add to the Canon. We have no guarantee whatsoever that our corpus of text has never been altered in any way. Actually, there are evidences it has been, and a number of scholars are of this opinion. Govind Chandra Pande, for example, in his book available here
(a very interesting book btw, especially untill p50, although often disputable) states that most of the Vinaya rules' stories have been made up at a time when they went missing, possibly after a famine at a time when only a handful of elders would have kept that knowledge. I remember also have read a quotation from a text dating back to circa 100 CE where people said that the Vinaya had already been lost and it was not possible to reconstruct it exactly as it was originally.
= edit: 100 AD replaced by 100 CE = English is not my mothertongue
Where knowledge ends, religion begins. - B. Disraelihttp://www.buddha-vacana.org
As a sweet-smelling and beautiful lotus flower may grow upon a heap of rubbish thrown on the highway, so also, out of the rubbish heap of beings may appear a disciple of the Buddha, who with his wisdom, shines resplendent in wisdom. -/ Dhp 58-59