According to the
Bible , the GOLDEN CALF (עֵגֶּל הַזָהָב
‘ēggel hazāhāv) was an idol (a cult image ) made by the
Moses ' absence, when he went up to
Mount Sinai . In
Hebrew , the incident is known as ḥēṭ’ ha‘ēggel (חֵטְא
הַעֵגֶּל) or "The Sin of the Calf". It is first mentioned in
Bull worship was common in many cultures. In Egypt, whence according
to the Exodus narrative the Hebrews had recently come, the Apis Bull
was a comparable object of worship, which some believe the Hebrews
were reviving in the wilderness; alternatively, some believe the God
of Israel was associated with or pictured as a calf/bull deity through
the process of religious assimilation and syncretism . Among the
Egyptians' and Hebrews' neighbors in the ancient Near East and in the
Aegean , the
Aurochs , the wild bull, was widely worshipped, often as
the Lunar Bull and as the creature of El .
* 1 In the Book of Exodus
* 1.1 Exclusion of the Levites and mass murder
* 2 Other mentions in the
* 3 Jeroboam\'s golden calves at
Bethel and Dan
* 4 Islamic narrative
* 5 Criticism and interpretation
* 5.1 As adoration of wealth
* 6 In popular culture
* 7 See also
* 8 Notes
* 9 External links
IN THE BOOK OF EXODUS
The Worship of the Golden Calf by
Filippino Lippi (1457–1504)
Moses went up into
Biblical Mount Sinai to receive the Ten
Commandments (Exodus 24:12-18), he left the
Israelites for forty days
and forty nights . The
Israelites feared that he would not return and
Aaron make them "gods" to go before them (Exodus 32:1).
Aaron gathered up the Israelites' golden earrings and ornaments,
constructed a "molten calf" and they declared: "These thy gods, O
Israel, which brought thee up out of the land of Egypt." (Exodus 32:4)
Aaron built an altar before the calf and proclaimed the next day to
be a feast to the LORD. So they rose up early the next day and
"offered burnt-offerings , and brought peace-offerings ; and the
people sat down to eat and to drink, and rose up to play." (Exodus
32:6) God told
Moses what the
Israelites were up to back in camp, that
they had turned aside quickly out of the way which God commanded them
and he was going to destroy them and start a new people from Moses.
Moses besought and pleaded that they should be spared (Exodus
32:11-14), and God "repented of the evil which He said He would do
unto His people."
Moses went down from the mountain, but upon seeing the calf, he
became angry and threw down the two
Tablets of Stone , breaking them.
Moses burnt the golden calf in a fire, ground it to powder, scattered
it on water, and forced the
Israelites to drink it. When
Aaron admitted collecting the gold, and throwing it into the
fire, and said it came out as a calf (Exodus 32:21-24).
EXCLUSION OF THE LEVITES AND MASS MURDER
Bible records that the tribe of Levi did not worship the golden
Moses stood in the gate of the camp, and said: 'Whosoever
is on the LORD's side, let him come unto me.' And all the sons of Levi
gathered themselves together unto him. And he said unto them: 'Thus
saith the LORD, the God of Israel: Put ye every man his sword upon his
thigh, and go to and fro from gate to gate throughout the camp, and
slay every man his brother, and every man his companion, and every man
his neighbour.' And the sons of Levi did according to the word of
Moses; and there fell of the people that day about three thousand men.
OTHER MENTIONS IN THE BIBLE
The golden calf is mentioned in Nehemiah 9:16–21.
"But they, our ancestors, became arrogant and stiff-necked, and they
did not obey your commands. They refused to listen and failed to
remember the miracles you performed among them. They became
stiff-necked and in their rebellion appointed a leader in order to
return to their slavery. But you are a forgiving God, gracious and
compassionate, slow to anger and abounding in love. Therefore you did
not desert them, even when they cast for themselves an image of a calf
and said, 'This is your god, who brought you up out of Egypt,' or when
they committed awful blasphemies. "Because of your great compassion
you did not abandon them in the wilderness. By day the pillar of cloud
did not fail to guide them on their path, nor the pillar of fire by
night to shine on the way they were to take. You gave your good Spirit
to instruct them. You did not withhold your manna from their mouths,
and you gave them water for their thirst. For forty years you
sustained them in the wilderness; they lacked nothing, their clothes
did not wear out nor did their feet become swollen."
The language suggests that there are some inconsistencies in the
other accounts of the
Israelites and their use of the calf. As the
version in Exodus and 1 Kings are written by Deuteronomistic
historians based in the southern kingdom of Judah, there is a
proclivity to expose the
Israelites as unfaithful. The inconsistency
is primarily located in Exodus 32.4 where "gods" is plural despite the
construction of a single calf. When Ezra retells the story, he uses
the single, capitalized God.
Conversely, a more biblically conservative view offers a tenable
explanation accounting for the discrepancy between "gods" in Exodus 32
and "God" in Nehemiah 9:18. In both instances, the Hebrew 'elohim' is
used. Since ancient Hebrew failed to distinguish 'elohim' God (known
as the majestic plural) from 'elohim' gods, Biblical translations are
either determined by a) context or b) the local verb(s). In the
original account in Exodus 32, the local verb is in the 3rd person
plural. In Nehemiah 9, the verb connected to 'elohim' is singular. For
the JEDP (i.e. Deuteronomistic) theorist, this inconsistency is
confirmatory since the theory maintains a roughly equivalent date for
the composition of Exodus and Nehemiah. More conservative scholarship
would argue that these two texts were composed about 1000 years apart:
Exodus (by Moses) circa 1500 BCE, and Nehemiah circa 500 BCE. The
biblically conservative framework would therefore account for the
verbal inconsistency from Exodus to Nehemiah as a philological
evolution over the approximate millennium separating the two books.
JEROBOAM\'S GOLDEN CALVES AT BETHEL AND DAN
Jeroboam Worshiping the Golden Calf
According to 1 Kings 12:26–30, after
Jeroboam establishes the
northern Kingdom of Israel , he contemplates the sacrificial practices
of the Israelites.
Jeroboam thought to himself, "The kingdom will now likely revert to
the house of David. If these people go up to offer sacrifices at the
temple of the LORD in Jerusalem, they will again give their allegiance
to their lord,
Rehoboam king of Judah. They will kill me and return to
King Rehoboam." After seeking advice, the king made two golden calves.
He said to the people, "It is too much for you to go up to Jerusalem.
Here are your gods, Israel, who brought you up out of Egypt." One he
set up in Bethel, and the other in Dan. And this thing became a sin;
the people came to worship the one at
Bethel and went as far as Dan to
worship the other.
His concern was that the tendency to offer sacrifices in Jerusalem,
which is in the southern
Kingdom of Judah
Kingdom of Judah , would lead to a return to
Rehoboam . He makes two golden calves and places them in Bethel
and Dan . He erects the two calves in what he figures (in some
interpretations) as substitutes for the cherubim built by King Solomon
Richard Elliott Friedman says "at a minimum we can say that the
writer of the golden calf account in Exodus seems to have taken the
words that were traditionally ascribed to
Jeroboam and placed them in
the mouths of the people." Friedman believes that the story was turned
into a polemic , exaggerating the throne platform decoration into
idolatry, by a family of priests sidelined by Jeroboam.
The declarations of
Jeroboam are almost identical:
* 'These are your gods, O Israel, who brought you up from the land
of Egypt' (Exod 32:4, 8);
* 'Behold your gods, O Israel, who brought you up from the land of
Egypt (1 Kings 12:28)
After making the golden calf or golden calves both
Aaron and Jeroboam
Aaron builds an altar and
Jeroboam ascends an
altar (Exod 32:5–6; 1 Kings 12:32–33).
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Moses in Islam and Islamic view of
* Mūsa ٰمُوسَى
* Ṣuḥuf Mūsā
* Samiri fashioned the gold into a golden calf along with the dust
on which the angel Gabriel had trodden, which he proclaimed to be the
Moses and the God who had guided them out of Egypt. There is a
sharp contrast between the Qur'anic and the biblical accounts the
prophet Aaron's actions. The
Qur'an mentions that
Aaron attempted to
guide and warn the people from worshipping the Golden Calf. However,
Israelites refused to stop until
Moses had returned. The
righteous separated themselves from the pagans. God informed Moses
that He had tried the
Israelites in his absence and that they had
failed by worshipping the Golden Calf.
Returning to the
Israelites in great anger,
Aaron why he
had not stopped the
Israelites when he had seen them worshipping the
Golden Calf. The
Qur'an reports that
Aaron stated that he did not act
due to the fear that
Moses would blame him for causing divisions among
Moses realized his helplessness in the situation, and
both prayed to God for forgiveness (Qur\'an 7:150-151).
questioned Samiri for the creation of the Golden Calf; Samiri
justified his actions by stating that he had thrown the dust of the
ground upon which Gabriel had tread on into the fire because his soul
had suggested it to him.
Moses informed him that he would be banished
and that they would burn the Golden Calf and spread its dust into the
Moses ordered seventy delegates to repent to God and pray for
forgiveness. The delegates traveled alongside
Moses to Mount Sinai,
where they witnessed the speech between him and God but refused to
believe until they had witnessed God with their sight. As punishment,
God struck the delegates with lightning and killed them with a violent
Moses prayed to God for their forgiveness. God forgave
and resurrected them and they continued on their journey.
In the Islamic view, the Calf-worshipers' sin had been shirk (Arabic
: شرك), the sin of idolatry or polytheism . Shirk is the
deification or worship of anyone or anything other than the singular
God (Allah), or more literally the establishment of "partners" placed
beside God, a most serious and unforgivable sin, with the
Calf-worshipers' being ultimately forgiven being a mark of special
forbearance by Allah.
CRITICISM AND INTERPRETATION
This section RELIES LARGELY OR ENTIRELY ON A SINGLE SOURCE .
Relevant discussion may be found on the talk page . Please help
improve this article by introducing citations to additional sources.
Despite a seemingly simplistic façade, the golden calf narrative is
complex. According to Michael Coogan, it seems that the golden calf
was not an idol for another god, and thus a false god. He cites
Exodus 32:4-5 as evidence: He took the gold from them, formed it in a
mold, and cast an image of a calf; and they said, "These are your
gods, O Israel, who brought you up out of the land of Egypt!" When
Aaron saw this, he built an altar before it; and
proclamation and said, "Tomorrow shall be a festival to the Lord
(Yahweh)." Importantly, there is a single calf in this narrative.
While the people refer to it as representative of the "gods", this is
a possessive form of the word Elohim (אֱלֹהֶיךָ elo'hecha,
from אֱלֹהִים), which is a name of God as well as general
word for "gods". While a reference to singular god does not
necessarily imply Yahweh worship, the word useually translated as
'lord' is Yahweh יהוה in the original, so at least it can't be
ruled out. It should also be noted that "in the chronology of the
narrative of the Ten Commandments" the commandment against the
creation of graven images had not yet been given to the people when
they pressed upon
Aaron to help them make the calf, and that such
behavior was not yet explicitly outlawed.
Another understanding of the golden calf narrative is that the calf
was meant to be the pedestal of Yahweh. In Near Eastern art, gods were
often depicted standing on an animal, rather than seated on a throne.
This reading suggests that the golden calf was merely an alternative
to the ark of the covenant or the cherubim upon which Yahweh was
The reason for this complication may be understood as 1.) a criticism
of Aaron, as the founder of one priestly house that rivaled the
priestly house of Moses, and/or 2.) as "an attack on the northern
kingdom of Israel." The second explanation relies on the "sin of
Jeroboam ," who was the first king of the northern kingdom, as the
cause of the northern kingdom’s fall to Assyria in 722 BCE.
Jeroboam’s "sin" was creating two calves of gold, and sending one to
Bethel as a worship site in the south of the Kingdom, and the other to
Dan as a worship site in the north, so that the people of the northern
kingdom would not have to continue to go to
Jerusalem to worship (see
1 Kings 12.26–30). According to Coogan, this episode is part of the
Deuteronomistic history, written in the southern kingdom of Judah,
after the fall of the Northern kingdom, which was biased against the
northern kingdom. Coogan maintains that
Jeroboam was merely
presenting an alternative to the cherubim of the Temple in Jerusalem,
and that calves did not indicate non-Yahwehistic worship.
The documentary hypothesis can be used to further understand the
layers of this narrative: it is plausible that the earliest story of
the golden calf was preserved by E (Israel source) and originated in
the Northern kingdom. When E and J (Judah source) were combined after
the fall of northern kingdom, "the narrative was reworked to portray
the northern kingdom in a negative light," and the worship of the calf
was depicted as "polytheism, with the suggestion of a sexual orgy"
(see Exodus 32.6). When compiling the narratives, P (a later Priest
source from Jerusalem) may have minimized Aaron’s guilt in the
matter, but preserved the negativity associated with the calf.
Alternatively it could be said that there is no golden calf story in
the J source, and if it is correct that the
Jeroboam story was the
original as stated by Friedman, then it is unlikely that the Golden
Calf events as described in Exodus occurred at all. Friedman states
that the smashing of the
Ten Commandments by
Moses when he beheld the
worship of the golden calf, is really an attempt to cast into doubt
the validity of Judah's central shrine, the
Ark of the Covenant
Ark of the Covenant . "The
author of E, in fashioning the golden calf story, attacked both the
Israelite and Judean religious establishments."
As to the likelihood that these events ever took place, on the one
hand there are two versions of the ten commandments story, in E
(Exodus 20) and J (Exodus 34), this gives some antiquity and there may
be some original events serving as a basis to the stories. The Golden
Calf story is only in the E version and a later editor added in an
explanation that God made a second pair of tablets to give continuity
to the J story. The actual
Ten Commandments as given in Exodus 20
were also inserted by the redactor who combined the various sources.
Israel Finkelstein and
Neil Asher Silberman say that
while archaeology has found traces left by small bands of
hunter-gatherers in the Sinai, there is no evidence at all for the
large body of people described in the Exodus story: "The conclusion
– that Exodus did not happen at the time and in the manner described
Bible – seems irrefutable... repeated excavations and surveys
throughout the entire area have not provided even the slightest
AS ADORATION OF WEALTH
A metaphoric interpretation emphasizes the "gold" part of "golden
calf" to criticize the pursuit of wealth.
This usage can be found in Spanish where
Mammon , the Gospel
personification of idolatry of wealth, is not so current.
IN POPULAR CULTURE
* In Episode 79 of Batman the Golden Calf was nabbed by
* Le veau d'or est toujours debout (The Golden Calf is still
standing) is an aria in
Charles Gounod 's opera Faust
Cave of the Golden Calf was a notorious nightclub in Edwardian
London, created by
Moses und Aron (composed 1932–1933), a three-act, uncompleted
Arnold Schoenberg , includes the episode "The Golden Calf and
the Altar" (Act II, Scene 3).
Bob Dylan references the Calf in his song "Gates of Eden".
The Band 's songs "To Kingdom Come " and "Forbidden Fruit " each
reference the story of the golden calf.
* The Golden Calf is the award given at the Netherlands Film
Festival , regarded as the Dutch counterpart to the
Academy Awards .
* In 2008, conceptual artist
Damien Hirst put his sculpture The
Golden Calf up for auction at Sotheby\'s . The dead calf in
formaldehyde, complete with gold-plated horns and hooves, sold for
10.3 million pounds.
Prefab Sprout has a song on the album From Langley Park to Memphis
called "The Golden Calf".
Mooby the Golden Calf is a fictional character featured in Kevin
Smith's films, comics and animated series—an indictment of
Mickey Mouse and
Disney overall. In Dogma , the Angel of
Death Loki explicitly links Mooby with the mammon-based implications
of the Golden Calf in Exodus.
The Little Golden Calf is a satirical novel by Soviet authors Ilf
and Petrov .
Rhode Island band
The Low Anthem
The Low Anthem recorded the track "Golden
Cattle" for their 2011 album
Smart Flesh .
* The Hooters\' song "All You Zombies " references the golden calf.
* In the Supernatural season 10 episode "Brother's Keeper", a piece
of the golden calf was required as the spell to remove the Mark of
Cain . Crowley was able to retrieve the needed piece and the spell was
completed with it.
Father John Misty 's song "The Memo," on the album
Pure Comedy ,
references the golden calf.
Ki Tissa and
Eikev , Torah parshiot dealing with the Golden Calf
* ^ The early
Apostolic Constitutions , vi. 4 (c. 380),
mentions that "the law is the decalogue, which the Lord promulgated to
them with an audible voice, before the people made that calf which
represented the Egyptian Apis."
* ^ Coogan, 2009, pg. 116–7.
* ^ Coogan, pg. 117, 2009
* ^ Friedman, Richard Elliott "Who Wrote the Bible?" 1987 pp 72–3
* ^ Harvey, John E. (2004). Retelling the Torah: the
Deuteronomistic historian\'s use of Tetrateuchal Narratives. New York;
London: T & T Clark International. p. 2. : "The subsequent
declarations of Aaron's people and
Jeroboam are almost identical:
'These are your gods, O Israel, who brought you up from the land of
Egypt' (Exod 32:4, 8); 'Behold your gods, O Israel, who brought you up
from the land ..."
* ^ A B M. Th Houtsma. First encyclopaedia of Islam: 1913-1936. p.
* ^ Abdul-Sahib Al-Hasani Al-'amili. The Prophets, Their Lives and
Their Stories. p. 354.
* ^ IslamKotob, Sayyed Abul Hasan Ali Nadwi. Stories of the
Prophets - قصص الانبياء. p. 115.
* ^ IslamKotob, Sayyed Abul Hasan Ali Nadwi. Stories of the
Prophets - قصص الانبياء. p. 113.
* ^ Iftikhar Ahmed Mehar. Al-Islam: Inception to Conclusion. p.
* ^ A B C D E F G H I J Coogan, M. A Brief Introduction to the Old
Testament: The Hebrew
Bible in its Context. Oxford University Press:
Oxford, 2009. p.115.
* ^ Friedman, Richard Elliott "Who Wrote the Bible?" 1987 p 74
* ^ Friedman, Richard Elliott "The
Bible with Sources Revealed"
2003 page 177
* ^ Friedman, Richard Elliott "The
Bible with Sources Revealed"
2003 page 153
* ^ Finkelstein, Israel and Silberman, Neil Asher "The Bible
Unearthed" 2001 p 63
* ^ becerro de oro in the Diccionario de la Real Academia Española
Wikimedia Commons has media related to GOLDEN CALF .
Golden calf from a Jewish perspective at