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 Deut. 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.
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
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 nonlevitical 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.
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 Hoses 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
zur 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.
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