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Aaron and the Golden Calf in the Rhetoric of the Pentateuch

James W. Watts


In the Pentateuch, the contrast between law and narrative, or more precisely, ritual instructions and ritual narrative, is nowhere more stark than in the relationship between the Golden Calf story (Exod 32-34) and the instructions for building the Tabernacle (Exod 25-31, 35-40). The former vilifies Aaron by placing him at the center of the idolatrous event while the latter celebrates Aaron and his sons as divinely consecrated priests. Though source criticism has long since distinguished the authors of these accounts, it does not explain the intentions behind a literary juxtaposition that is too stark to be anything but intentional. Nor can it explain why the Aaronide dynasties who controlled both the Torah and the Second Temple allowed this negative depiction of Aaron to stand. Rhetorical analysis of the function of Exodus 32-34 in the Second Temple period provides a basis for seeking answers to these questions.

Suggested Citation

Watts, James W. "Aaron and the Golden Calf in the Rhetoric of the Pentateuch." Journal of Biblical Literature 130 (2011), 417-430.