From Gods to God: How the Bible Debunked, Suppressed, or Changed Ancient Myths & Legends

By Avigdor Shinan; Yair Zakovitch et al. | Go to book overview

11
Was Worshiping the Golden Calf a Sin?

The Israelites, recent refugees from Egypt now wandering in the wilderness, had trouble exchanging the authority of their Egyptian oppressor with that of an unseen God. They fail the tests that God sets for them and in their audacity even try God with their own test. Meanwhile, their time in the wilderness stretches longer and longer, filling itself with their stubborn ungratefulness.

The worst of all the sins that the Israelites commit in the wilderness is that of the golden calf, an event recounted in Exodus 32. When Moses ascends Mount Sinai to receive the Law and is late to return, the anxious people turn to Aaron and request that he make for them a god that will lead them in the wilderness in place of Moses (v. 1). Aaron molds a golden calf, a molten calf, and the people call out, “This is your god, O Israel, who brought you out of the land of Egypt” (v. 4). When the calf is erected, the people celebrate unrestrainedly, “and they rose to copulate” (v. 6; for this meaning of letzaḥeq, “to copulate,” see Genesis 26:8).

Meanwhile, at the summit God informs Moses of the sin of the Israelites below and of His decision to destroy them (Exodus 32:7–10), but Moses succeeds in calming God’s anger (vv. 11–14). When Israel’s leader descends the mountain and witnesses the people in their revelry before the calf, he shatters the two tablets he has brought with him, tablets of the Law that were inscribed by God Himself (vv. 15–19). Moses burns the calf and grinds it to a fine powder, which he mixes with water and forces the Israelites to drink (v. 20). Drinking this water is an ordeal, a trial to prove God’s judgment and distinguish the guilty

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