Aaron and the Golden Calf in the Rhetoric of the Pentateuch (Critical Essay) by Journal of Biblical Literature

Aaron and the Golden Calf in the Rhetoric of the Pentateuch (Critical Essay)

By Journal of Biblical Literature

  • Release Date: 2011-09-22
  • Genre: Arts et disciplines linguistiques
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In the Pentateuch, the contrast between legal or instructional material, on the one hand, and stories, on the other, is nowhere more stark than in the relationship between the story of the golden calf (Exodus 32-34) and the instructions and narratives (Exodus 25-31; 35-40) that surround it. The story tells of ritual failure with disastrous consequences, while the ritual instructions and narratives around it recount fulfilling those divine instructions to the letter. The contrast becomes most excruciating in each section's characterization of the high priest: the golden calf story seems to vilify Aaron by placing him at the center of the idolatrous event, while the ritual texts celebrate Aaron and his sons as divinely consecrated priests. Though source and redaction criticism have long since distinguished the authors of these accounts, the critics explain the intentions behind a literary juxtaposition that is too stark to be anything but intentional. Why did the Aaronide dynasties who controlled both the Second Temple and its Torah allow this negative depiction of Aaron to stand? Over the last decade, increasing numbers of scholars have dated part or all of Exodus 32 to the postexilic period, which makes the problem of an anti-Aaronide polemic in an otherwise pro-Aaronide Pentateuch even harder to explain. Thus, both synchronic and diachronic approaches have trouble explaining the depiction of Aaron in this story. Rhetorical analysis of the possible function of Exodus 32 in the Pentateuch of the Second Temple period provides new answers to these questions. I. EXODUS 32 IN HISTORICAL CRITICISM