— This appears to have originated in Egypt, where we know that brutes of nearly all sorts were held in reverence by some one or another of the various nomes into which that country was divided. SEE ANIMAL WORSHIP. Of all these creatures, however, the calf, or rather bullock, seems to have been most generally adored, especially a peculiar description, or rather peculiarly-colored bull, to which, under the name of Apis or Mnevis, divine honors of the most extraordinary kind were paid throughout Egypt. It is from this form of idolatry that the scriptural examples of calf-worship are clearly derived. Yet it is possible that the commentators are not quite correct in supposing Apis to be the deity whose worship was imitated by the Jews, at least in the first instance. The Egyptians gave that name to a living bull which they worshipped at
Memphis; but they also worshipped another living bull in the city of On, or Heliopolis, which they called Mne, or, according to the Greek form, Mnevis, and which they adored as the living emblem of the sun. Now the Israelites, from the circumstance of their living in the land of Goshen, in or near which Heliopolis was situated, and also from the connection of Joseph, the head of their nation, with one of the priestly families of that city, must have been well acquainted with its peculiar forms of idolatry. It is also very probable that many of them had joined in those rites during their sojourn. We might therefore naturally suppose that they would adopt them on this occasion; and the supposition that they did so is confirmed by a very curious fact, which has not yet been noticed, as baring upon this question. Champollion has observed, in his Pantheon Egyptien, that Mnevis is said by Porphyry and Plutarch to have been a black bull, as Apis unquestionably was; but he assures us that this is not the case with regard to the existing remains of ancient Egypt; for, although in the Egyptian paintings Apis is either colored black or black and white, Mnevis, on the contrary, in the only figure of him hitherto discovered; is colored bright yellow, evidently with the intention of representing a golden image. . This fact, though not 'a conclusive proof, affords a strong presumption that the golden calf was made according to the usual form and color of the images of Mnevis. The annexed engraving represents this symbolical deity of Heliopolis as he is painted on the coffin of a mummy at Turin, the name being distinctly written in hieroglyphical characters, MNE, without the Greek termination. It differs in color only, and not in form, from another painting on the same coffin, which bears the name of Apis. Both have the same trappings — the sun's disk between the horns, surmounted by the plume of ostrich feathers, signifying justice, and the whip, the emblem of power; and both are accompanied by the serpent, representing the spirit of the gods. The bull Mnevis or MIne-for vus is merely a Greek termination- was sumptuously lodged in the city On or Heliopolis, and this is all that we find recorded of him in ancient writers. Far more ancient than Apis, the era of his consecration is lost, and perhaps forever. The only circumstance which is of importance, save that the Israelites fell into his worship, is that he appears to have represented the zodiacal sign which was depicted yellow, while, by a curious anomaly, Apis, whose attributes all coincide with those of the sun, was black. The worship paid to him, though lasting till the downfall of the Egyptian hierarchy, gradually diminished before the more important and popular rites of Apis, and little is said of Mnevis. SEE IDOLATRY.
1. The most ancient and remarkable notice in the Scriptures on this head is that of the golden calf which was cast by Aaron while the Israelites were encamped at the foot of Sinai. In Ex 32:4, we are told that Aaron, constrained by the people, in the absence of Moses, made a molten calf of the golden earrings of the people, to represent the Elohim which brought Israel out of Egypt. He is also said to have "finished it with a graving- tool;" but the word חֶרֶט, che'ret, may mean a mould (comp. 2Ki 5:23, Auth. Vers. "bags;" Sept. θυλάκοις). Bochart (Hieroz. lib. ii, car. xxxiv) explains it to mean, "he placed the earrings in a bag," as Gideon did (Jg 8:24). Probably, however, it means that, after the calf had been cast, Aaron ornamented it with the sculptured wings, feathers, and other marks which were similarly represented on the statues of Apis, etc. (Wilkinson, 4:348). It does not seem likely that the earrings would have provided the enormous quantity of gold required for a solid figure. More probably it was a wooden figure laminated with gold, a process which is known to have existed in Egypt. "A gilded ox covered with a pall" was an emblem of Osiris (Wilkinson, 4:335). SEE GOLD.
To punish the apostasy, Moses burnt the calf, and then, grinding it to powder, scattered it over the water, where, according to some, it produced in the drinkers effects similar to the water of jealousy (Numbers v). He probably adopted this course as the deadliest and most irreparable blow to their superstition (Jerome, Ep. 128; Plut. De Isaiah p. 362), or as an allege rical act (Job 15:16), or with reference to an Egyptian custom (Herod. 2:41; Poll Syncpsis, in loc.). It has always been a difficulty to explain the process which he used; some account for it by his supposed knowledge of a forgotten art (such as was one of the boasts of alchemy) by which he — could reduce gold to dust. Goguet (Orgine des Lois) invokes the assistance of natron, which would have had the additional advantage of making the draught nauseous. Baumgarten easily endows the fire employed with miraculous-properties. Bochart and Rosenmüller merely think that he cut, ground, and filed the gold to powder, such as was used to, sprinkle over the hair (Josephus, Ant. 8:7, 3). There seems little doubt that the Hebrews term here rendered "burnt" (שָׂרִŠ, Sept. κατακαίω) properly has this signification (Hivernick's Introd. to the Pentat. p. 292). Those commentators who have been at so great pains to explain in what manner Moses reduced the golden calf to such a state as to make it potable in water seem to have overlooked the consideration that, as the science of making gold leaf for gilding was already practiced in Egypt, there could be no great difficulty, even if chemical processes had not then been discovered, in effecting the object. SEE METAL.
The legends about the calf are numerous. The suggestion is said by the Jews to have originated with certain Egyptian proselytes (Godwyn's Mos. and A aa. 4:5); Hur, "the desert's martyr," was killed for opposing it; Abulfeda says that all except 12,000 worshipped it; when made, it was magically animated (Ex 32:24). "The devil," says Jonathan, "got into the metal and fashioned it into a calf" (Lightfoot, Works, v. 398). Hence the Koran (7:146) calls it "a corporeal calf, made of their ornaments, which lowed." This was effected, not by Aaron (according to the Mohammedans), but by al-Sameri, a chief Israelite, whose descendants still inhabit an island of the Arabian Gulf. He took a handful of dust from the footsteps of the horse of Gabriel, who rode at the head of the host, and threw it into the mouth of the calf, which immediately began to low. No one is to be punished in hell more than forty days, being the number of days of the calf-worship (Sale's Koran, ed. Davenport, p. 7, note; and see Weil's Legends, p. 125). It was a Jewish proverb that "no punishment befalleth the Israelites in which there is not an ounce of this calf" (Godwyn, ut sup.). SEE AARON.
2. The next notice refers to an event which occurred ages after, when Jeroboam, king of Israel, returning from his long exile in Egypt, set up two idols in the form of a calf, the one in Dan (comp. Josephus, War, 4, 1:1) and the other in Bethel, the two extremes of his kingdom, to prevent the ten tribes from resorting to Jerusalem to worship, and so more effectually to separate them from the house of David. Temples were built and altars erected for these images; priests were appointed from all the tribes without distinction, and the priestly functions performed even by the monarch himself. The calves continued to be a snare to the people of Israel until the captivity. The calf at Dan was carried away by Tiglath-Pileser, and that of Bethel ten years after by his son Shalmaneser (1Ki 15:29; 1Ki 17:13; Prideaux, Connection, 1:15). Jeroboam's sin is always mentioned whenever his name is used (1Ki 11:40; 1Ki 12:26-33; 2Ch 11:15; Ho 8:5-6; Ho 10:5; Ho 13:2). SEE JEROBOAM.
Bochart thinks that the ridiculous story of Celsus about the Christian worship of an ass-headed deity (called Θαφαβαὼθ ἢ Ο᾿νιήλ-a story at the source of which Tertullian, Ο᾿νοκοίτης, Apol. 16; Ad Nat. 1:14, could only guess) sprang from some misunderstanding of such emblems as the golden calf (Minuc. Fel. Apol. ix). But it is much more probable, as Origen conjectured, that the Christians were confounded with the absurd mystic Ophiani, or Ophite Gnostics (Tacitus, Hist. 5:4; Merivale, Hist. of Emp. 6:564). SEE ASS'S HEAD.
Theory of this Idolatry. — This almost incomprehensible degradation of human reason was, more particularly in the first instance, no doubt the result of the debasing influences which operated on the minds of the Israelites during their sojourn in Egypt, where,' amid the daily practice of the most degrading and revolting religious ceremonies, they were accustomed to see the image of a sacred calf, surrounded by other symbols, carried in solemn pomp at the head of marching armies, such as may still be seen depicted in the processions of Rameses the Great or Sesostris. The accompanying figure is a representation of a calf-idol, copied from the original collection made by the artists of the French Institute of Cairo. It is recumbent, with human eyes, the skin flesh-colored, and the whole afterparts covered with a white and sky-blue diapered drapery; the horns are not on the head, but above it, and contain within them the symbolical globe surmounted by two feathers. Upon the neck is a blue and yellow yoke, and the flagellum, of various colors, is suspended over the back; the whole is fixed upon a broad stand for carrying, as here shown. The rendering of the Auth. Vers., which alludes to the image being finished with a graving-tool, is obviously correct, for all the lines and toolings of the covering cloth, of the eyes, and of the feathers must have required that manual operation (Ex 32:4). It is doubtful whether this idolatrous form is either Apis or Mnevis; it may perhaps represent the sun's first entrance into Taurus, or, more probably, be a symbol known to the Egyptians by an undeciphered designation, and certainly understood by the Edomites of later ages, who called it bahumed and/kharuf, or the calf, the mysterious anima mundi; according to Von Hammer (Pref. to Ancient Alphabets), the Nabathmean secret of secrets, or the beginning and return of every thing. With the emblems on the back, it may have symbolized the plural Elohim long before the cabalistical additions of this mysterious type had changed the figure. At the time of the departure of the Israelites from Egypt this may have been the Moloch of their neighbors, for that idol was figured with the head of a calf or steer. A similar divinity belonged to the earliest Indian, Greek, and even Scandinavian mythologies, and therefore it may be conceived that the symbol, enduring even to this day, was at that period generally understood by the multitude, and consequently that it was afterward revived by Jeroboam without popular opposition. Egyptian paintings illustrate the contempt which the prophet Hosea (Hoesa 10:5) casts upon the practice of those whom he designates as "coming to sacrifice and kiss the calves." SEE BAAL.
a. Some regard the golden calf both of Aaron and Jeroboam as intended by the Jews for an Egyptian god. The arguments for this view are,
1. The ready apostasy of the Jews to Egyptian superstition (Ac 7:39, and chap. v, passim; Lactant. Inst. 4:10).
2. The fact that they had been worshippers of Apis (Jos 24:14), and their extreme familiarity with his cultus (1Ki 11:40).
3. The resemblance of the feast described in Ex 32:5, to the festival in honor of Apis (Suidas, s.v. ῎Απιδες). Of the various sacred cows of Egypt, that of His, of Athor, and of the three kinds of sacred bulls, Apis, Basis, and Mnevis, Sir G. Wilkinson fixes on the latter as the prototype of the golden calf; "the offerings, dancings, and rejoicings practiced on that occasion were doubtless in imitation of a ceremony they had witnessed in honor of Mnevis" (Anc. Egyp. v. 197, see pl. 35, 36). The ox was worshipped from its utility in agriculture (Plut. De Isaiah 74), and was a symbol of the sun, and consecrated to him (Hom. Od. i, xii, etc.; Warburton, Div. Leg. 4:3, 5). Hence it is almost universally found in Oriental and other mythologies.
4. The expression, "an ox that eateth hay," etc. (Ps 106:20, etc.), where some see an allusion to the Egyptian custom of bringing a bottle of hay when they consulted Apis (Godwyn's Mos. and Aar. 4:5). Yet these terms of scorn are rather due to the intense hatred of the Jews both to this idolatry and that of Jeroboam. Thus, in Tob. 1:5, we have one of Jeroboam's calves called "the heifer Baal" (ἡ δάμαλις Βάαλ), which is an unquestionable calumny; just as in the Sept. version of Jer 46:15, "Apis, the chosen calf" (῎Απις ὁ μοσχος σου ὁ ἐκλεκτός), is either a mistake or a corruption of the text (Bochart, Hieroz. 2:28, 6, and Schleusner, s.v. Awrtc). SEE APIS.
b. According to others, the Jews in these cases simply adopted a well- known cherubic emblem, merely applying it as a symbol of Jehovah. SEE CHERUB. In support of this position it may be urged,
1. That it is obvious they were aware of this symbol, since Moses finds it unnecessary to describe it (Ex 25:18-22).
2. Josephus seems to imply that the calf symbolized God (Ant. 8:8, 4).
3. Aaron, in proclaiming the feast (Ex 32:5), distinctly calls it a feast to Jehovah, and speaks of the god as the visible representation of Him who had led them out of Egypt.
4. It was extremely unlikely that they would so soon adopt a deity whom they had so. recently seen humiliated by the judgments of Moses (Nu 33:4).
5. There was only one Apis, whereas Jeroboam erected two calves (but see Jahn, Bibl. Arch.§ 464).
6. Jeroboam's well-understood political purpose was, not to introduce a new religion, but to provide a different form of the old, and this alone explains the fact that this was the only form of idolatry into which Judah never fell, since she already possessed the archetypal emblems in the Temple.
7. It appears from 1Ki 22:6, etc., that the prophets of Israel, though sanctioning the calf-worship, still regarded themselves, and were regarded, as "prophets of Jehovah." SEE GOLDEN CALF.