Archive for March, 2009


Aaron (6 of 6)

In Jewish exegesis little is said about him, though he is mentioned as a man who created peace among men.  Many attempts have been made to explain the episode of the golden calf.  According to some esegetes,  Aaron had to make the calf in order to avoid being killed.  In the early 14th century, Gersonides explained that this would have been fatal not only for Aaron but ever more for the people.  Earlier, in the 11th century, Rashi contended that the calf was a symbol of the leader, Moses, who was at that time on the mountain. 

The relationship between Moses and Aaron is also discussed in the Talmud.  Some traditionists have wondered why Aaron, and not Moses, was appointed high priest.  The answer has been found in an indication that Moses was rejected because of his original unwillingness when he was called by Yahweh.  It also seems to have been hard for some traditionists to accept that Aaron was described as older than Moses.  The death of Aaron is related in the Midrash Petirat Aharon.

The first Christian communities admitted that Aaron, “the sons of Aaron,” or “the order of Aaron” were a symbols of the highest priesthood.  But in the Letter to the Hebrews, Christ is described as a high priest according to the order of Melehizedek, which was set against “the order of Aaron.”  Of the Church Fathers, Cyril of Alexandria says that Aaron was divinely called to a priesthood in spirit and in truth and that he was a type of Christ.  Gregory the Great translates the name Aaron as “mountain of strength” and sees in him a redeemer who mediated between God and man.


Aaron (5 of 6)

Aaron in later Jewish and Christian thought.  Aaron continued to live as a symbol of Jewish religion and traditions, and the position of the priests was strengthened after the exile.  Also in the Qumran sect, a Jewish community that flourished in the era immediately before and contemporary with the birth of Christianity, Aaron was a symbol for a strong priesthood, as can be seen from the Dead Sea Scrolls.  At the end of time, men of the community should be set apart, as a select group in the service of Aaron. 

Only the sons of Aaron should “administer judgment and wealth,” and according to the Manual of Discipline two messiahs were expected, one of Aaron, the priestly one, and one of Israel.  According to a fragment found near Qumran, the priest would have the first sent in the banquets in the last days and bless the bread before the Messiah of Israel.  Here” the sons of Aaron” have the highest position.

In Talmud and Midrash (Jewish commentative and interpretative writings), Aaron is seen less as a symbol that as the leading personality at the side of Moses.  The relationship between the two brothers is painted as prototypical in the Haggada (“Narrative”-the non legal parts of Talmud and Midrash).  Rabbi Hillel, the great liberal sage, praised Aaron as peace loving, a man of goodwill, who wanted to teach his fellow men the Law.


Aaron (4 of 6)

The Elohist narrator was creadited with making Aaron the brother and helper of Moses, who stood at the side of Moses in the conflict with the Pharaoh and assisted him as a leader in battles and in the cult.  It may also be the Elohist who provides the unfavorable story about Aaron’s objection to Moses’ who mentions Aaron at the side of Moses in the revolt at Meribah, but here also Aaron, together with Moses, is actually reproached. 

There is reason to believe that the original author but that his name has been added by a redactor.  The main bulk of the traditions about Aaron and the frequent addition of “and Aaron” after the mention of Moses are found in the Priestly source, which was written at a time when the priests had a more dominant position in Judah than they had before the exile.  By then Moses had ceased to be the hero of the priests, and Aaron had taken over that role.

Many modern scholars prefer to speak of traditions and layers of traditions where their predecessors spoke of sources, but apart from this terminology, the view concerning Aaron has not greatly changed.  There have been new attempts, however, to see the contrasting figures of Moses and Aaron in a new light.  It has been suggested that the tradition, about Moses represent a southern Judean tradition, while the old traditions about Aaron originated in the northern kingdom. 

It has also been indicated that the traditions about Moses are primarily concerned with a prophet, while those about Aaron are connected with priesthood.  There may be a kernel of truth in all these suggestions, as also in the theory of Ivan Engnell that Moses represents the royal ideology while Aaron stands for priesthood and priesthood alone.  The standing struggle between the king and the leading priest is reflected both in the laws and in the narratives of the historical books.


Aaron (3 of 6)

Aaron and the biblical critics.  Scholars have long been aware that the figure of Aaron as it is now found in the Pentateuch, or first five books of the Old Testament, is built up from several sources or layers of traditions.  According to Julieus Wellhausen, a German biblical scholar, and his followers, the Jahwist source was the oldest one, followed in order by the Elohist, Deuteronomist, and Priestly code.

Scholars have attributed the passages about Aaron to one or the other of these sources.  Although percent of the material about Aaron to the Priestly source.  According to Wellhausen, Aaron to the Priestly source.  According to the Wellhausen, Aaron was not mentioned at all in the Jahwist narrative, but he may have been inserted by later redactors.  It was Moses who was the hero of the priests before the eile, and it was Joshua, not Aaron who officiated in the tabernacle.

Other scholars, such as Sigmund Mowinckel, believe that the narrative about the golden calf, which presents Aaron in an unfavorable light, was part of the ancient tradition in the Jahwist work, being the only passage in it that mentions him.  This narrative, according to these Israel and described Aaron as the ancestor of the priests in northern Israel; later it was rewritten in a way defamatory to Aaron.  But there are also features in the narrative that may indicate that a later source (or tradionist), the Elohist, tried to excuse Aaron and to put the main responsibility on the people. 


Aaron (2 of 6)

Once a year, in Yom Kippur (the Day of Atonement),  Aaron was allowed to come into the Holy of Holies, the most sacred part of the tabernacle, or sanctuary, in which the Hebrew tribes worshipped, bringing his offering. 

Together with this sister, Miriam, Aaron spoke against  Moses because he had married a foreigner (a Cushite woman);  but as in the episode of the golden calf, the narrative tells how Aaron was merely reproved, though Miriam was punished, for the offense.  In the rebellion of Korah the Levite, however, Aaron stood firmly at the side of Moses. 

According to Numbers 20, Aaron died on the top of Mt. Hor at the age of 123;  in Deuteronomy 10, which represents another tradition, he is said to have died in Moserah and was buried there.

Aaron is a central figure in the traditions about the Exodus, though his role varies in importance.  At the beginning he seems to be coequeal with Moses, but after the march out of Egypt he is only a shadow at Moses’ side.  Moses is obviously the leading figure in the tradition, but it is also clear that he is pictured as delegating his authority in all priestly and cultic matters to Aaron and “his son.”



Aaron (1 of 6)


Aaron is the traditional founder and head of the Jewish priesthood, who, in company with Moses, led the Israelites out of Egypt.

Life.  Aaron is described in the Old Testament book of Exodus as a son of Amram and Jochebed of the tribe of Levi, three years older than his brother Moses.  He acted together with his brother in the desperate situation of the Israelites in Egypt and took an active part in the Exodus.  Although Moses was the actual leader,  Aaron acted as his “mouth.” 

The two brothers went to the Pharaoh together, and it was Aaron who told him to let the people of Israel go, using his magic rod in order to show the might of Yahweh.  When the Pharaoh finally decided to release the people, Yahweh gave the important ordinance of the Passover, the annual ritual remembrance of the Exodus, to Aaron and Moses.  But Moses alone went up on Mt.  Sinai, and he alone was allowed to come near to Yahweh.  Moses later was ordered to “bring near”  Aaron and his sons, and they were anointed and consecrated to be priests “by a perpetual statue.”  Aaron’s sons were to take over the priestly garments after him.  Aaron is not represented as wholly blameless.  It was he who, when Moses was delayed on Mt. Sinai, made th golden calf that was idolatrously worshiped by the people. – A.S.K


March 2009

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