(עֵגֶל מִסֵּכָה, e'gel massekah', a steer-image, Ex 32:4,8; De 9:16; Ne 9:19, lit. a calf, a molten image, and therefore massive, snot a mere wooden idol plated with gold), an idolatrous representation of a young bullock, which the Israelites formed at Mount Sinai (Ex 32:3 sq.; compare Ps 106:19; Ac 7:39 sq.), interdicted by Jehovah (Hengstenberg, Pentat. 1:159); and eventually, in the time of Jeroboam I of the kingdom of Israel, erected into a national object of worship (1Ki 12:28 sq.; 2Ki 10:29; comp. 17:16; Ho 8:5 sq.; 10:5; Tobit 1:5) at Bethel and Dan (q.v.). SEE IMAGE. The symbol was undoubtedly borrowed from Egypt (comp. Eze 20:7-8; Ac 6:15; see Philo, 2:159; Hengstenberg, Pentat. 1:156 sq.), where living bullocks, Apis (q.v.), as a living symbol of sins (Plutarch, Isid. 33) in Memphis (Herod. 3:28; Diod. Sic. 1:21; Strabo, 17:805), and Mnevis (q.v.) as a representation of the sun-god, SEE EGYPT, at Heliopolis (Diod. Sic. 1:21; Strabo, 17:903), were objects of worship (see Jablonsky, Panth. AEgypt. 1:122 sq.; 258 sq; Creuzer, Symbol. 1:480 sq.). One of these two, possibly Apis (Lactant. Instit. 4:10; Jerome, is Ho 4:15; comp. Spencer, Leg. Rit. Hebrews I, 1:1, page 32 sq.; Witsii AEgypt. II, 2, page 61 sq.; Selden, De diis Syr. I, 4, page 125 sq.; Lengerke, Ken. p. 464), but more probably Mnevis (Wilkinson, Anc. Eg. 2d ser. 2:97), was the model of the golden calf which the Israelites in the desert, and perhaps Jeroboam afterwarnds, set up. On the contrary, Philo (Opp. 1:371), with whom Mill (Dissert. Sacr. page 309 sq.) agrees, asserts that the Israelitish calf was an imitation of the Egyptian Typhon; but this view was dictated rather by theological prejudices than historical considnidrations. Nevertheless, the bovine symbol is found in the ornamentation of the Temple (Eze 1:10; 1Ki 7:29), and is one of wide prevalence in antiquity (Movers, Phönic. page 373 sq.). SEE CHERUBIM.
How Moses was able to consume the golden calf with fire (שׂרŠ), and reduce it to powder (טחן, pulverize), as stated is Ex 32:20, is difficult to say; for although gold readily becomes weak and to some extent friable under the action of fire, yet it is by no means thus burnt to such a degree as to be reducible to dust, and be susceptible of dissolution in drink.
Most interpreters, e.g. Rosenmüller (Schol. ad loc.), think of some chemical process (which Moses may have learned in Egypt, see Wilkinson, Ancient Egypt. abridgm. 2:136 sq.), by which gold may have been calcined, and so hame been taiturated as a metallic salt. Others (Ludwig, De modo quo comminutus est a Moses vitulus aureus, Altdorf, 1745) believe that Moses beat the fire-checked gold into leaves, and then ground these into fine particles in a mill, or filed the melted gold into dust (scobis aurea; comp. Josephus, Ant. 8:7, 3; see Bochart, Hieroz. 1:363). The difficulty lies in the double procedure, and in the expression "burned with fire" (וִיַּשׁרֹŠ בָּאֵשׁ), which does not seem applicalale to a chemical, but rather to a mechanical pro cess. SEE CALF, GOLDEN.