Thursday, April 22, 2010

Golden Calf or YHWH?

Most people have heard the story of the Hebrews roaming the desert and how they made a golden calf. Moses was up on the mount with God (lucky him). The Hebrews got restless and convinced Aaron to make an idol--a golden calf.

This story is usually used to condemn (as usual) the Hebrews and point out their wickedness and stupidity. They have God right there on the hill. They have seen great miracles. Yet they create a crummy little golden calf as their god.

I wonder if this is really as accurate as think it is. I've never heard this interpretation, but I'm going to throw it out as an option. As many people know, God's name in Hebrew is YHWH, often written as Yahweh in English. There are many records of this name, both biblically and extra-biblically.

As many know, the various gods were represented in images. But did you know Yahweh was, too? I don't remember the exact details, but he was represented as bull or cow or something along those lines.

Does that sound similar at all to the golden calf story? What if the Hebrews were not replacing Yahweh, but simply creating a representation of him that they could see and touch? Most of us essentially do that with various religious trinkets, most notably crosses. It's a way of feeling God's presence with us.

What if the issue was not the Hebrews replacing God, but them interacting with God in ways similar to other cultures (i.e. using a physical idol)? Many of the strict rules set forth as the Hebrews transitioned from Egypt to Israel were changed over time to be made less strict. Many interpretations of the rules include them existing in order to set the Hebrew nation apart from other nations. The Hebrews were messing with this by creating the idol.

What do you think? Could this be a possibility? I throw it out, not because it will make much difference, but we should remember that our interpretations of biblical stories on first read (or second, third, etc.) may not be as accurate as they actually are. Things may be much more complicated...

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