Who Fashioned the Golden Calf?

Mohd Elfie Nieshaem Juferi (MENJ) claims to present a contradiction in the Bible and challenges us in this article to answer the difficult question:

So who was responsible for the fashioning of the Golden Calf, Aaron or the Israelites? That is a question which behooves for the Christian missionaries to answer!


The question is trivial and the answer is easy: Both. A group of Israelites pressured Aaron to make gods for them, and despite being very uncomfortable with it, Aaron gives in to the pressure and complies with their demand, fashioning a golden calf for them. There simply is no contradiction.

Although MENJ put his name on this article, every bit of the argument was copied from an earlier article by Asif Iqbal. There is no need to give another detailed answer to this plagiarism since all points raised by Iqbal are already answered in sufficient detail by Sam Shamoun in The Qur'an and the Event of Worship to the Golden Calf. In the following I will only point out a couple of things not covered explicitly in Sam Shamoun's answer.

MENJ slightly changed one formulation taken from Iqbal and manages to introduce another error in his alleged contradiction. He states:

It is further interesting to note, however, that the New Testament contradicts the Old Testament on the matter of blaming Aaron(P) solely for the fashioning of the Golden Calf.

No, the Old Testament knows other sins of Aaron. Aaron is not blamed "SOLELY for the fashioning of the Golden Calf". In Numbers 20 we read:

The LORD said to Moses, "Take the staff, and you and your brother Aaron gather the assembly together. Speak to that rock before their eyes and it will pour out its water. You will bring water out of the rock for the community so they and their livestock can drink." So Moses took the staff from the LORD's presence, just as he commanded him. He and Aaron gathered the assembly together in front of the rock and Moses said to them, "Listen, you rebels, must we bring you water out of this rock?" Then Moses raised his arm and struck the rock twice with his staff. Water gushed out, and the community and their livestock drank. But the LORD said to Moses and Aaron, "Because you did not trust in me enough to honor me as holy in the sight of the Israelites, you will not bring this community into the land I give them." These were the waters of Meribah, where the Israelites quarreled with the LORD and where he showed himself holy among them. ... At Mount Hor, near the border of Edom, the LORD said to Moses and Aaron, "Aaron will be gathered to his people. He will not enter the land I give the Israelites, because both of you rebelled against my command at the waters of Meribah. Get Aaron and his son Eleazar and take them up Mount Hor. Remove Aaron's garments and put them on his son Eleazar, for Aaron will be gathered to his people; he will die there." Moses did as the LORD commanded: They went up Mount Hor in the sight of the whole community. Moses removed Aaron's garments and put them on his son Eleazar. And Aaron died there on top of the mountain. ... (Numbers 20:7-13, 24-28)

The reason for Aaron's death, and the sin because of which God denied him entry into the Holy Land, was not the fashioning of the Golden Calf, but the disobedience at Meribah. Aaron died shortly after this incident.

MENJ is wrong on those claims he merely copied from Asif Iqbal, and he is dead-wrong with his added claim that this was Aaron's only sin according to the Old Testament.

However, since MENJ is not a native speaker of English there is a certain probability that this formulation was due to his struggle with English grammar. Maybe he wanted to claim: "... that the New Testament contradicts the Old Testament on the matter of blaming only Aaron for the fashioning of the Golden Calf." However, even with this amendment, MENJ would still be wrong.

Before we look at the text, let me ask one question: If a Mafia boss commands one of his men to kill a certain person, and he kills him, who is guilty of murder? Clearly, both are guilty; the person who killed him is guilty for committing the crime, and the person who gave the order, and who had authority over the killer, is also responsible for his death. Now to the text in question:

"When THE PEOPLE saw that Moses was so long in coming down from the mountain, THEY gathered around Aaron and said, ‘Come, make us gods who will go before us. As for this fellow Moses who brought us up out of Egypt, we don't know what has happened to him.’ Aaron answered them, ‘Take off the gold earrings that your wives, your sons and your daughters are wearing, and bring them to me.’ So all the people took off their earrings and brought them to Aaron. He took what they handed him and made it into an idol cast in the shape of a calf, fashioning it with a tool. Then THEY said, ‘These are your gods, O Israel, who brought you up out of Egypt.’ When Aaron saw this, he built an altar in front of the calf and announced, "Tomorrow there will be a festival to the LORD.’ So the next day THE PEOPLE rose early and sacrificed burnt offerings and presented fellowship offerings. Afterward THEY sat down to eat and drink and got up to indulge in revelry." Exodus 32:1-6

"He [Moses] said to Aaron, ‘What did these people do to you, that you led them into such great sin?’ ‘Do not be angry, my lord,’ Aaron answered. ‘You know how prone these people are to evil. They said to me, "Make us gods who will go before us. As for this fellow Moses who brought us up out of Egypt, we don't know what has happened to him." So I told them, "Whoever has any gold jewelry, take it off." Then they gave me the gold, and I threw it into the fire, and out came this calf!’ Moses saw that the people were running wild and that Aaron had let them get out of control and so become a laughingstock to their enemies. So he stood at the entrance to the camp and said, ‘Whoever is for the LORD, come to me.’ And all the Levites rallied to him." Exodus 32:21-26

Yes, it is Aaron who built the Golden Calf. However, it was under the pressure of hundreds or even thousands of Israelites who had gathered around him and who demanded that he make them some gods. He should have refused, but he gave in to their pressure. They had power over him. Just as in the above example of the Mafia boss who has power over his men, BOTH parties share the responsibility for the sin of this idolatry and disobedience to God. Reading the text with some common sense is all that is needed to understand it. [The above illustration was not chosen arbitrarily. The relevancy will become obvious when consulting the section on Muhammad and his enemies.]

Moreover, the Old Testament refers to this story in more than one place. Have a look at Moses' sermon to Israel before they enter the Holy Land:

Remember this and never forget how YOU [Israel] provoked the LORD your God to anger in the desert. From the day you left Egypt until you arrived here, you have been rebellious against the LORD . At Horeb YOU aroused the LORD's wrath so that he was angry enough to destroy you. When I went up on the mountain to receive the tablets of stone, the tablets of the covenant that the LORD had made with you, I stayed on the mountain forty days and forty nights; I ate no bread and drank no water. The LORD gave me two stone tablets inscribed by the finger of God. On them were all the commandments the LORD proclaimed to you on the mountain out of the fire, on the day of the assembly. At the end of the forty days and forty nights, the LORD gave me the two stone tablets, the tablets of the covenant. Then the LORD told me, "Go down from here at once, because YOUR PEOPLE whom you brought out of Egypt have become corrupt. THEY have turned away quickly from what I commanded them and have made a cast idol for themselves." And the LORD said to me, "I have seen this people, and they are a stiff-necked people indeed! Let me alone, so that I may destroy them and blot out their name from under heaven. And I will make you into a nation stronger and more numerous than they." So I turned and went down from the mountain while it was ablaze with fire. And the two tablets of the covenant were in my hands. When I looked, I saw that you had sinned against the LORD your God; YOU had made for yourselves an idol cast in the shape of a calf. You had turned aside quickly from the way that the LORD had commanded you. So I took the two tablets and threw them out of my hands, breaking them to pieces before your eyes. Then once again I fell prostrate before the LORD for forty days and forty nights; I ate no bread and drank no water, because of all the sin you had committed, doing what was evil in the LORD's sight and so provoking him to anger. I feared the anger and wrath of the LORD , for he was angry enough with you to destroy you. But again the LORD listened to me. And the LORD was angry enough with Aaron to destroy him, but at that time I prayed for Aaron too. Also I took that sinful thing of yours, the calf YOU had made, and burned it in the fire. Then I crushed it and ground it to powder as fine as dust and threw the dust into a stream that flowed down the mountain. (Deuteronomy 9:7-21)

In Exodus 32 the emphasis is on the guilt of Aaron, but it is clear that the Israelites are very much part of that sin and guilty as well. In Deuteronomy 9 the story is retold but the emphasis is on the sin of the Israelites, though the anger of God about Aaron is also mentioned. However, at the time of this sermon, Aaron was already dead, so when Moses preached to the people of Israel he reminded them of their sins so that they may learn from it. The same holds for Stephen's sermon in Acts, being very much along the lines of Deuteronomy 9:

THEY [the Israelites] told Aaron, 'Make us gods who will go before us. As for this fellow Moses who led us out of Egypt--we don't know what has happened to him!' That was the time THEY made an idol in the form of a calf. THEY brought sacrifices to it and held a celebration in honor of what their hands had made. (Acts 7:40-41)

MENJ's (and Iqbal's) claim that the Old Testament blames only Aaron for the sin of fashioning the Golden Calf is clearly wrong. There is neither a contradiction between the Old and New Testaments on this issue, nor do the two Old Testament accounts in Ex. 32 and Deut. 9 contradict each other. Being so over-eager to publish yet another attack on the Bible, both Muslim polemicists failed to do their homework of carefully checking the sources before making accusations.

Jochen Katz

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