« Calendar, Hebrew and Jewish Calf, The Golden, and Calf-worship Calixtines »

Calf, The Golden, and Calf-worship


Origin of Calf-worship among the Hebrews (§ 1).

Bull-worship among Other Semites (§ 2).

Bull-worship in Israel (§ 3).

Bull-worship in Judah (§ 4).

The story of the worship of the golden calf during the desert journey is given Ex. xxxii. and Deuteronomy ix. 7–21; cf. Neh. ix. 18; Ps. cvi. 19–20; Acts vii. 39–40. The authorized calf-worship of Northern Israel is mentioned I Kings xii. 28–33; II Kings x. 29, xvii. 16; Hos. viii. 5–6, x. 5–6, xiii. 2; II Chron. xi. 15, xiii. 8. The Hebrew term generally applied to the calf is ‘egel; ‘eglah in Hos. x. 5 is probably a mistake for ‘egel.

1. Origin of Calf-worship among the Hebrews.

It has generally been supposed that the Israelites borrowed calf-worship from the Egyptians, a supposition thought to be supported by the fact that Jeroboam had been recalled from Egypt. But the Egyptian animal-worship was essentially different from the Semitic type, since the Egyptian 346worship was paid to living animals. The bulls or calves of Jeroboam—the classical example in Israel—were, on the other hand, intended to be symbols of Yahweh. In any case Jeroboam would not have introduced a foreign cult to strengthen his new and precarious government. The Hebrew calf-worship did not reproduce the cult of Apis and Mnevis, which were living animals, one black, the other white, dedicated to Osiris, and he was believed to be incarnated in them (J. G. Wilkinson, Manners and Customs of the Ancient Egyptians, iii., London, 1878, 86–95, 306–307). Suggestions of bull-worship among the Hebrews are found in the horns of the altar, in the oxen under the lavers (I Kings vii. 25), and possibly in the cherubim.

2. Bull worship among Other Semites.

While examples of Hebrew bull-worship are rare, the proof of its existence among neighboring nations is abundant. In the Babylonio-Assyrian and Syro-Phenician religions, the bull represented the masculine type of divinity, as was natural to a pastoral people. The primitive Aryans also explained the heavenly phenomena by comparisons drawn from the life of their herds. The Zendavesta makes mention of "the first bull." The bull represented power and strength, and at the same time the destructive and the reproductive omnipotence of the deity. The sun-god is hardly to be recognized in the bull, as has been supposed. The gold of the Hebrew bull idols does not necessarily point to the splendor of the sun, for the images of other gods were also of gold or gilded. Still less credible is the assertion that the strength of the bull represented the scorching blaze of the sun. Among the Babylonians the bull was sacred to the thundergod Ramman (Syrian Rimmon), Assyrian Adad (Syrian Hadad), who is represented in Layard's Monuments, plate 65, as having four horns and holding the lightnings in one hand and a battle-ax in the other. The bull is also the emblem of Ramman-Adad on the stele of Esarhaddon found at Zingirli in Northern Syria, as well as in the procession of the gods depicted on the rock at Maltai (cf. G. Perrot and C. Chipiez, Histoire de l’art dans l’antiquité, ii., Paris, 1881 sqq., 642–643). An image of the Syrian Jupiter of Doliche, which was carried from Syria to Rome, represents him standing upon a bull (cf. F. Hettner, De Jove Dolicheno dissertatio philologica, Bonn, 1877; A. H. Kan, De Jovis Dolicheni Cultu dissertatio, Groningen, 1901). The Jupiter of Hierapolis in Syria was pictured sitting upon bulls (Lucian, De dea Syria, xxxi.). The classical tale of the seduction of Europa is a form of the Baal myth, in which the god, in the shape of a bull, journeys with Astarte to Crete (for the identity of Astarte with Europa, cf. De dea Syria, lv.). The sacredness of cattle among the Philistines also is demonstrated by the story of the return of the ark on a new cart drawn by two milch kine, on which there had come no yoke (I Sam. vi. 7 sqq.).

3. Bull worship in Israel.

That bull-worship among the Hebrews was ancient the foregoing makes quite possible. It was, however, hardly practised before the final settlement in Canaan, since it was always characteristic of peoples who had either reached or passed the agricultural stage. The prohibition of the Book of the Covenant (Ex. xx. 23, cf. xxxiv.17) is, therefore, the first warning against this type of worship. Ex. xxxii. assumes, however, that it was practised during the journey in the wilderness. The leading features of the narrative are as follows: The people had become impatient under the continued absence of their leader, and Aaron made for them an image of the god who had led them out of Egypt. With the material furnished by the golden earrings of the women and children, "a molten calf" was fashioned, before which an altar was built, and to it divine honors were paid. The rest of the chapter tells of Yahweh's anger, of Moses's energetic intervention, of Aaron's apology, and finally of the destruction of the calf and of 3,000 of its worshipers. The narrative—a composite of J and E—has been, however, considered by many modern critics as unhistorical and really a polemic against Jeroboam's newly instituted worship. The cardinal passage on calf-worship is I Kings xii. 28–29 (cf. II Chron. xi. 15), where the story is told of the bulls set up by Jeroboam I., who ordained a non-levitical priesthood, and did not pretend to do more than return to the Yahweh-worship of the past. That he did thus return is proved by his success. When Jehu destroyed the Baal-worship, he did not touch the bulls, a clear proof that he acknowledged the bull-worship as Yahweh-worship (II Kings x. 29). Yet the spiritual prophets opposed the bull-worship from the beginning. Indirect testimony to this may be seen in Amos (v. 5). Direct testimony is first found in Hosea. This younger contemporary of Amos is the only one of the prophets who alludes to bull-worship; and to him the worship of an image is the worship of an idol (viii. 5–6, xiii. 2, cf. x. 5–6). With regard to the precise form and structure of Jeroboam's bulls there is no direct information. Gold being scarce and precious, it is probable that the images were small—an assumption supported by the fact that they are called calves. Naturally these royal statues would be of pure gold and not merely gilded.

4. Bull worship in Judah.

In the kingdom of Judah bull-worship does not seem to have flourished, for nowhere is found a reference to Judaic worship of this kind, and the polemics of Hosea exclusively against the calf of Samaria at Bethel would be unintelligible, had he been aware of the same cult in Judah. The Deuteronomic redactor of the book of Kings saw in the bull-worship the special sin of Jeroboam, wherewith he caused Israel to sin (I Kings xiv. 16, xv. 26).

Bibliography:W. Baudissin, Studien, vol. i., Leipsic,1878; J. Selden, De dis Syris, pp. 45–64, London, 1617; C. T. Beke, The Idol of Horeb . . . the Golden Image . . . a Cone . . . not a Calf, ib. 1871; A. Kuenen Religion of Israel, i. 73–75, 235–236, 260–262, 345–347, ib. 1874; E. König, Hauptprobleme der altisraelitischen Religionsgeschichte, pp. 53–92, Leipsic, 1884; idem Bildlösigkeit des legitimen Jahwehcultus, ib. 1886; F. Baethgen, Beiträge 347zur semitischen Religionsgeschichte, pp. 198 sqq., Berlin, 1889; J. Robertson, Early Religion of Israel, chap. ix., Edinburgh, 1891; F. W. Farrar, Was there a Golden Calf at Dan? in Expositor, viii. (1893) 254–265; S. Oettli, Der Kultus bei Amos und Hosea, in Greifswalder Studien, 1895, pp. 1–34; DB, i. 340–343; EB, i. 631–632. Consult also the works on O. T. Theology, especially that by H. Schultz, Eng. transl., Edinburgh, 1892, and the works mentioned under Idolatry; Images and Image-Worship.

« Calendar, Hebrew and Jewish Calf, The Golden, and Calf-worship Calixtines »
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