Among the Hebrews, as among the other agricultural Semites, the bull was associated with deity in a sacred character (see Ox). The form in which this thought found expression in Israel was in their representation of
It has been often held (for example, by Renan and Maspero) that this calf-worship was derived from Egypt; but that view is now generally abandoned. The Egyptians worshiped the living animal, and not an image; and the prevalence of bull-worship among agricultural Semites sufficiently accounts for the origin. Among the Hebrews, the bull was a symbol of strength (compare Num. xxiii. 22, xxiv. 7).
Ex. xxxii. attributes the making of a golden calf to Aaron at Mount Sinai (see Calf, Golden). The critics assert that this is hardly possible; since the bull is the symbol of divinity only among settled agriculturists, and not among nomads such as the Israelites then were. The narrative in question is declared by them to be in reality a prophetic polemic against the calves of Jeroboam.
Jeroboam, in making the sanctuaries of Beth-el and Dan the recipients of his royal patronage, placed in them images of
The prophets of the northern kingdom inveighed continually against the rites connected with these calf-shrines; and with the overthrow of that kingdom they disappear. There are no traces of this form of calf-worship in the southern kingdom; though the twelve oxen on which rested the great laver in the Temple of Solomon (I Kings vii. 25; II Kings xvi. 17; Jer. lii. 20) are regarded as evidence that there was some sacred character attached to the bull.
- Kuenen, Religion of Israel, i. 73-75, 235-236, 260-262, 545-547;
- Baethgen, Beiträge zur Semitischen Religionsgeschichte, pp. 198 et seq.;
- Robertson, Early Religion of Israel. ch. ix.;
- Baudissin, Studien, etc., vol. i.;
- König, Hauptprobleme, etc., pp. 55-58;
- Dillmann, Alttestamentliche Theologie, pp. 98, 99, 166, 167;
- Sayce, Hibbert Lectures, 1887, pp. 289 et seq.;
- Jensen, Kosmologie der Babylonier, pp. 88 et seq.