Michael D. Coogan: The Golden Calf Incident

Michael D. Coogan, The Old Testament: A Historical and Literary Introduction to the Hebrew Scriptures, third edition (OUP, 2014), 138.

Closer examination of the narrative in Exodus 32, however, reveals much complexity. First, despite the ancient interpretation found in Psalm 106, the calf is apparently not a symbol of another deity, a false god as it were. The people proclaim that it is the gods who brought Israel out of Egypt, but there is only one calf and Aaron proclaims a “festival to Yahweh” (32.4-5), who was the god who did bring Israel out of Egypt. Moroever, while it is clear that for the final editors of the Pentateuch, as for other biblical writers (for example, Hos 8:4-5; 13.2), the making of the calf was a violation of the aniconic principle of the Second Commandment, the prohibition against making graven images, in the chronology of the narrative the Ten Commandments had not yet been delivered to the people, at least in written form.

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