Why Did The Israelites Worship A Calf?

The Events

Many Christians have grown up hearing about the Exodus story and it’s many sub-narratives. Some of the sub-narratives, such as the sea crossing and the calf incident are so well-known that even people outside the Abrahamic faiths are familiar with the events. When I was a child and I learned the calf-worship episode, I was struck by how quickly the people abandoned YHWH but I was also confused about why in the world they would worship a calf. As a modern American we are so disconnected from ancient cultures that some parts are simply inexplicable. However, the golden calf is quite understandable to the ancient world. In this article I will be explaining both the system of idol worship in the ancient Near East as well as why a calf was specifically selected for worship.

Before we get into an explanation, let’s also re-familiarize ourselves with the passage from Exodus 32.

Now when the people saw that Moses delayed to come down from the mountain, the people assembled around Aaron and said to him, “Come, make us a god(אֱלֹהִ֗ים) who will go(יֵֽלְכוּ֙) before us; for this Moses, the man who brought us up from the land of Egypt—we do not know what happened to him.” 2 Aaron said to them, “Tear off the gold rings which are in the ears of your wives, your sons, and your daughters, and bring them to me.” 3 So all the people tore off the gold rings which were in their ears and brought them to Aaron. 4 Then he took the gold from their hands, and fashioned it with an engraving tool and made it into a molded metal calf; and they said, “These(אֵ֤לֶּה) are your gods(אֱלֹהֶ֙יךָ֙), Israel, who brought you up from the land of Egypt.” 5 Now when Aaron saw this, he built an altar in front of it; and Aaron made a proclamation and said, “Tomorrow shall be a feast to Yahweh. 6 So the next day they got up early and offered burnt offerings, and brought peace offerings; and the people sat down to eat and to drink, and got up to engage in lewd behavior.

7 Then the Lord spoke to Moses, “Go down at once, for your people, whom you brought up from the land of Egypt, have behaved corruptly. 8 They have quickly turned aside from the way which I commanded them. They have made for themselves a molded metal calf, and have worshiped it and have sacrificed to it and said, ‘These are your gods, Israel, who brought you up from the land of Egypt!’” 9 Then the Lord said to Moses, “I have seen this people, and behold, they are an obstinate people. 10 So now leave Me alone, that My anger may burn against them and that I may destroy them; and I will make of you a great nation.”

11 Then Moses pleaded with the Lord his God, and said, “Lord, why does Your anger burn against Your people whom You have brought out from the land of Egypt with great power and with a mighty hand? 12 Why should the Egyptians talk, saying, ‘With evil motives He brought them out, to kill them on the mountains and to destroy them from the face of the earth’? Turn from Your burning anger and relent of doing harm to Your people. 13 Remember Abraham, Isaac, and Israel, Your servants to whom You swore by Yourself, and said to them, ‘I will multiply your descendants as the stars of the heavens, and all this land of which I have spoken I will give to your descendants, and they shall inherit it forever.’” 14 So the Lord relented of the harm which He said He would do to His people.

15 Then Moses turned and went down from the mountain with the two tablets of the testimony in his hand, tablets which were written on both sides; they were written on one side and the other. 16 The tablets were God’s work, and the writing was God’s writing engraved on the tablets. 17 Now when Joshua heard the sound of the people as they shouted, he said to Moses, “There is a sound of war in the camp.” 18 But he said,

“It is not the sound of the cry of victory,
Nor is it the sound of the cry of defeat;
But I hear the sound of singing.”

(Exodus 32:1-18)

Who’s Being Replaced; Moses or YHWH?

The Case for YHWH

At first glance the story tends to tend itself to the idea that the calf was designed to take the place of YHWH. After all, they did worship (bow down/וַיִּשְׁתַּֽחֲווּ) to it. But that in itself isn’t great evidence for a deity replacement, as I will explain in the next section. However, if that is coupled with a properly translated version there is a much stronger case to be made. The reason why the story read different between versions is because there is a difficult phrase in Exodus 32:1, 4 & 7. In verse 1, Aaron is asked to make a “god” who will go before them. In verses 4 & 8, Israelites refer to the calf in a plural form saying “these are your gods, Israel, who brought you up from the land of Egypt!“. The difficulty arises in the use of plural and singular words; specifically for referencing the calf and how many gods are being mentioned. The calf is always referred to as a single entity. There is no more than 1 calf ever being mentioned. But when speaking of the god(s) they desire to lead them, they make use of plural forms. To demonstrate the issue let us look deeper at both examples.

Exodus 32:1 – god or gods?

Come, make us a god(אֱלֹהִ֗ים) who will go(3mp/יֵֽלְכוּ֙) before us (Exodus 32:1)
This(cp/אֵ֤לֶּה) are your god(אֱלֹהֶ֙יךָ֙), Israel, who brought you up from the land of Egypt. (Exodus 32:4)


Come, make us gods(אֱלֹהִ֗ים) who will go(3mp/יֵֽלְכוּ֙) before us (Exodus 32:1)
These(cp/אֵ֤לֶּה) are your gods(אֱלֹהֶ֙יךָ֙), Israel, who brought you up from the land of Egypt. (Exodus 32:4)

Either translation of אֱלֹהִ֗ים as “god” or “gods” is correct. It can be translated as god, God, or gods. The context dictates the translation. Exodus 32:1 is made difficult with the verb “will go” because it’s a 3rd person, masculine, plural construction. It’s the way you would conjugate a verb for multiple people or subjects performing the action. It is not usually the case that a singular god is described as behaving in the plural. For example, in Exodus 20:2 YHWH says to Israel “I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery“. In this instance the verb “brought/הוֹצֵאתִ֛יךָ” is in the singular format even though God is in the plural. In Deuteronomy 5:6 the same usage of “brought/הוֹצֵאתִ֛יךָ” as a singular verb is found. A similar use is found in Genesis 15:7 when God references bringing Abram out of Ur.

I am the LORD your God, who brought(2ms) you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery. (Deuteronomy 5:6)

Thus, it would seem probable that the request by the Israelites to make them a god is referring to multiple gods.

A similar issue appears in Exodus 32:4 with the use of pronouns. The pronouns “this” or “these” are very interchangeable, even though numerical mismatches do happen from time to time. We have two options for interpreting Exodus 32:4. The first option is that the plural form was used to indicate multiple gods. That is certainly a sensible conclusion. The other option is that the plural form was only used for grammatical purposes because אֱלֹהִ֗ים is plural construction. Given that verse 32:1 seems to be referring to multiple gods it is likely that the same is meant in 32:4. A true translation of “אֱלֹהֶ֙יךָ֙ אֵ֤לֶּה” must read “these [are] your gods”. A similar passage with the singular pronoun is found in Deuteronomy 1:21.

See, the Lord your God has given(3ms/נָתַ֨ן) you the land. Go up and take possession of it as the Lord, the God of your ancestors, told(3ms/דִּבֶּ֨ר) you. (Deuteronomy 1:21)

Given the translation pattern in similar verses it seems probable that the Israelites were looking to create new gods. However, the problem remains that they only created a single calf and referred to it as multiple gods. This is a difficult puzzle.

The Case for Moses

There have been a few scholars that have questioned whether or not the Israelites meant to replace the Lord (YHWH) or replace Moses. I think the idea has a lot of merit but takes some background knowledge about idolatry in the ancient world. The episode seemed to have been triggered by Moses’ prolonged disappearance. Furthermore, once the calf is formed they said “These are your gods, Israel, who brought you up from the land of Egypt!“, which seems to imply that there was some connection between being lead out of Egypt and the calf. Additionally, they demanded someone who would “go before us” implying the entity would continue to lead them as Moses did. The suggestion is that, perhaps, the Israelites associated Moses with YHWH so closely that Moses was seen as a manifestation of YHWH. As many are reading this, I can imagine how strange it must sound but there is a strong case to be made for it.

When the Israelites request for Aaron to make them a God to go before them, it is not immediately clear what they mean by “gods”. The Hebrew word “אֱלֹהִ֗ים” has a much wider semantic range than most people realize. In fact, it was common for objects of idolatry to be called by the name of a god. The carved idols of both Ba’al and Asherah in the OT are referred to as Baals and Asherim. Thus, one could refer to an image of Ba’al as simply a Baal or Baals.[1]Asherim, https://www.biblicalarchaeology.org/daily/ancient-cultures/ancient-israel/asherah-and-the-asherim-goddess-or-cult-symbol/  Is it possible that the calf idol was referred to as gods just like Baals and Asherim were? It is quite possible. But does Elohim/אֱלֹהִ֗ים have such a varied semantic range?

Its most ancient form (El) refers to a Canaanite/Phoenician deity. El’s 70 sons were often referred to as the אֱלֹהִ֗ים (gods), because they were the sons of El. The word אֱלֹהִ֗ים here is essentially a plural version of the title, El (although its more complicated than that). It might sound silly but we have similar idioms in the English language. When one had children it is not uncommon for someone to refer to them by the name of a parent. For example, if a friend (we will call him Joseph for the example) has multiple children one might refer to them as little Josephs (or Joseph-im in Hebrew). We see this also in the use of the words Ba’al and Asherah in the Old Testament. Shrines and idols dedicated to such deities were often declared Ba’als and Asherim (Judges 2:11; 1 Samuel 7:4, Judges 10:10, 1 Samuel 7:4, 1 Kings 18:18, etc.). Thus, there is a long running precedent of referring to objects associated with a deity by the plural form of that deity’s name.

Furthermore, the title אֱלֹהִ֗ים often refer to angels and messengers of YHWH. We don’t see it in the English translations but it’s explicit in the Hebrew texts. In fact, even the translators of the Septuagint (LXX) sometimes translated אֱלֹהִ֗ים as angels. Hebrew passages from Exodus 21:6, Exodus 22:8, Psalm 8:5, etc., and others, are examples of thus phenomenon. Therefor, there is a case to be made that Moses was thought of as an אֱלֹהִ֗ים or a surrogate of YHWH.

But how could an idol (a calf or any other) replace Moses? That is where some knowledge of how idols functioned in the ancient world is needed. There seems to be a general idea that ancient people worshipped idols as deities and there seems to be some sense that even the 2nd temple Hebrews viewed idol worship in this way.

The idols of the nations are silver and gold, made by human hands. They have mouths, but cannot speak, eyes, but cannot see. They have ears, but cannot hear, nor is there breath in their mouths.
(Psalm 135:15-17)

All who make idols are nothing, and the things they treasure are worthless. Those who would speak up for them are blind; they are ignorant, to their own shame. Who shapes a god and casts an idol, which can profit nothing? People who do that will be put to shame; such craftsmen are only human beings. Let them all come together and take their stand; they will be brought down to terror and shame. The blacksmith takes a tool and works with it in the coals; he shapes an idol with hammers, he forges it with the might of his arm. He gets hungry and loses his strength; he drinks no water and grows faint. The carpenter measures with a line and makes an outline with a marker; he roughs it out with chisels and marks it with compasses. He shapes it in human form, human form in all its glory, that it may dwell in a shrine. He cut down cedars, or perhaps took a cypress or oak. He let it grow among the trees of the forest, or planted a pine, and the rain made it grow. It is used as fuel for burning; some of it he takes and warms himself, he kindles a fire and bakes bread. But he also fashions a god and worships it; he makes an idol and bows down to it. Half of the wood he burns in the fire; over it he prepares his meal, he roasts his meat and eats his fill. He also warms himself and says, “Ah! I am warm; I see the fire.” From the rest he makes a god, his idol; he bows down to it and worships. He prays to it and says, “Save me! You are my god!” They know nothing, they understand nothing; their eyes are plastered over so they cannot see, and their minds closed so they cannot understand. No one stops to think, no one has the knowledge or understanding to say, “Half of it I used for fuel; I even baked bread over its coals, I roasted meat and I ate. Shall I make a detestable thing from what is left? Shall I bow down to a block of wood?” Such a person feeds on ashes; a deluded heart misleads him; he cannot save himself, or say, “Is not this thing in my right hand a lie?”
(Isaiah 44:9-20)

The exilic and 2nd temple period saw a serious crusade among the Hebrews to stamp out the practice of idol worship and convert to the true monotheism, or at least a proper henotheism with YHWH at the head. As a result, we see more dialogues in the scriptures about the worthlessness of idols, explaining how a manmade object is useless. However, cultures who worshipped using idols also knew they were worthless, that is, until a deity entered and dwelt in it. Ancient cultures in the Near East actually believed that the idols were empty and useless, but that particular rites would enable the chosen deity to embody the idol. The idol served a similar purpose as the Israelite Holy of Holies. With the proper care and cleanliness the deity would dwell with its people. This relationship had many perks, such as food and rest for the deity.

We can see this in practice in the late story found in the Apocryphal text of Daniel 14 but is often separated as its own book called “Bel and the Dragon”. The story of Daniel and the idol named Bel exposes what was a common practice in the ancient world; the practice of priests making an idol appear to be alive. This was needed to keep the religion alive. But it really only benefited the priests and their families.

Now the Babylonians had an idol called Bel, and every day they provided for it twelve bushels of choice flour and forty sheep and six measures of wine. The king revered it and went every day to worship it. But Daniel worshiped his own God.

So the king said to him, “Why do you not worship Bel?” He answered, “Because I do not revere idols made with hands, but the living God, who created heaven and earth and has dominion over all living creatures.”

The king said to him, “Do you not think that Bel is a living god? Do you not see how much he eats and drinks every day?” And Daniel laughed, and said, “Do not be deceived, O king, for this thing is only clay inside and bronze outside, and it never ate or drank anything.”

Then the king was angry and called the priests of Bel[b] and said to them, “If you do not tell me who is eating these provisions, you shall die. 9 But if you prove that Bel is eating them, Daniel shall die, because he has spoken blasphemy against Bel.” Daniel said to the king, “Let it be done as you have said.”

Now there were seventy priests of Bel, besides their wives and children. So the king went with Daniel into the temple of Bel. The priests of Bel said, “See, we are now going outside; you yourself, O king, set out the food and prepare the wine, and shut the door and seal it with your signet. When you return in the morning, if you do not find that Bel has eaten it all, we will die; otherwise Daniel will, who is telling lies about us.” They were unconcerned, for beneath the table they had made a hidden entrance, through which they used to go in regularly and consume the provisions. After they had gone out, the king set out the food for Bel. Then Daniel ordered his servants to bring ashes, and they scattered them throughout the whole temple in the presence of the king alone. Then they went out, shut the door and sealed it with the king’s signet, and departed. During the night the priests came as usual, with their wives and children, and they ate and drank everything.

Early in the morning the king rose and came, and Daniel with him. The king said, “Are the seals unbroken, Daniel?” He answered, “They are unbroken, O king.” As soon as the doors were opened, the king looked at the table, and shouted in a loud voice, “You are great, O Bel, and in you there is no deceit at all!”

But Daniel laughed and restrained the king from going in. “Look at the floor,” he said, “and notice whose footprints these are.” The king said, “I see the footprints of men and women and children.”

Then the king was enraged, and he arrested the priests and their wives and children. They showed him the secret doors through which they used to enter to consume what was on the table. Therefore the king put them to death, and gave Bel over to Daniel, who destroyed it and its temple.
(Bel and the Dragon 3-21)

The story of Bel and the Dragon reflects a tradition rooted in ancient idolatry but not identical to the form of idolatry known to the ancient Hebrews in the desert. The man-made idol was not believed to be the deity itself. It was merely a vessel. Thus, it could be destroyed and the deity unaffected. Moreover, a deity could embody multiple idols at once. Ancient Mesopotamian texts describe idol worship is a slightly different light than what we see in the exilic and 2nd temple period. A deity could chose to embody an idol and its temple but was not bound to it. One ancient text from the Hittite region (NW of Canaan) recounts how a new convert worshiping the “Goddess of the Night” can build and dedicate an additional temple to her. The ritual text describes the building of the temple, its implements, and how to draw the spirit or essence of the deity into the additional new idol and temple.

If a person becomes associated with the Deity of the Night in some temple of the Deity of the Night and if it happens that, apart from that temple of the Deity of the Night, he builds still another temple of the Deity of the Night, and settles the deity separately, while he undertakes the construction in every respect:

The smiths make a gold image of the deity. Just as her ritual (is prescribed) for the deity, they treat it (the new image) for celebrating in the same way. Just as (it is) inlaid 5 (with) gems of silver, gold, lapis, carnelian, Babylon–stone, chalcedon, quartz, alabaster, sun disks, a neck (lace), and a comet of silver and gold — these they proceed to make in the same way


On the day on which they take the waters of purification, (they attract) the previous deity with with red wool and fine oil along seven roads and seven paths from the mountain, from the river, from the plain, from heaven and from the earth.

On that day they attract (lit., pull) (the deity). They attract (lit. pull) her into the previous temple and bind the uliḫi to the deity (’s image). The servants of the deity take these things:

(The Context of Scripture[2]William W. Hallo and K. Lawson Younger, The Context of Scripture (Leiden; New York: Brill, 1997–), 173-174.)

The ritual goes on to describe an elaborate ritual of “pulling” and attracting the deity to the new temple and image using expensive colored yarns and food offerings. Similar rituals likely existed for other ancient Near Eastern deities which is assumed by the fact that more famous deities like Ishtar had as few as 7 temples dedicated to her. In these temples both priests and royals could meet with the divine presence of their deity. These religious concepts were not unique to Mesopotamian religions. Similar idols and temples existed in Canaanite/Israelite religion. One such temple existed in northern Canaan dedicated to the deity El and his divine sons, the Elohim. Smaller places of worship existed in locations like Bethel (house of El). Archaeological findings have confirmed a number of shrines in northern Canaan dedicated to the Israelite deity El which contained simplistic versions of the Mesopotamian idols. One of the more recently studied shrines is located at Tel Arad and I encourage the reader of this article to google the many publicly available archaeological reports on this site.

I bring all this up to make a point which is that ancient religion in the Levant, Egypt, Mesopotamia, and Anatolia (basically the entire Near East) practiced some form of idolatry in which the deity inhabited various objects, including mane made idols. Another fascinating ancient text describing the ritual of attracting a deity to indwell an idol goes by the name of the “Mouth Opening” or “Mîs-pî”. This ceremony describes in detail how an idol is created from scratch and the process for attracting the deity to dwell in it. Some scholars such as Amy L. Balogh and Joshua M. Matson have written on the matter, suggesting that both the calf incident and Moses’ calling parallel the Mouth Opening ritual. Matson suggests that the biblical authors appear to be contrasting the making of the calf in Exodus 32:1-6 with the making of Moses in Exodus 3, arguing that Moses was a superior bearer of the divine than the calf. However, these parallels are not widely accepted by mainstream academia nor another Old Testament scholars. I agree with the more skeptical scholars on this matter. Nevertheless, it seems as though the calf is meant to replace Moses and not God/Elohim. Thus, the Hebrews were not necessarily rejecting the Lord but making a new vessel for him because of Moses’ absence. This seems clear by the fact that they only sought to make the calf after Moses failed to return.

Why a Calf?

The question in which this article seeks to explain is still without an answer. If the Hebrews were making an idol for their deity to dwell in, why a calf? Why not a lion or an adult ox? Both images were abundant in ancient religions. There are two very realistic answers to this question. The first is that the cow was a common symbol for Israelite people. However, a cow is not the same as a calf. The second answer is that calves were popular in Mesopotamian religion.

A number of people have pointed out that there was a calf deity (Apis) in Egyptian religion and the Israelites were leaving Egypt so it’s probable that there is an Egyptian connection. Apis was occasionally pictured with a crescent moon, which will become important later in this section, however, Apis was not worshipped via idolatry.[3]Daily Offering Ritual in ancient Egyptian temples In fact, Egyptians did not practice idolatry like the Canaanites and Mesopotamians did. While they did make images, they did not believe in the notion that such an image would be indwelled by the deity. Additionally, Apis was closely associated with the Pharaoh, the very demigod that the Israelites were escaping from. For these reasons, it seems unlikely that the escaping Israelites would create an idol representing an Egyptian deity. The origin and the religious practice was thoroughly Canaanite in origin. Nevertheless, the association of the moon with a calf is an important and universal connection in the ancient Near East.

Calf as a Symbol in Canaanite Religion

The ancient Canaanite religion was replete with descriptions of El as an Ox or a bull (CTA1:22, 30, CTA 2:30-35, CTA 4:120). Neighboring cultures in Mesopotamia also honored the high gods with bull images. Ishtar was often called the wild ox of heaven (ETCSL t.1.3.2, KTU 1.92, COS 1.173). The image of an ox or bull was reserved for high deities as they are the most powerful common animal in the region. It was such a common image that the letter A in semitic languages was derived from the symbol of the ox head. The ox allowed humans in the ancient Near East to plant crops in a rather difficult location. Farming was somewhat reliant on the strength of the ox.

Nevertheless, the passage in Exodus clearly describes a calf and not a mature bull/ox. A number of lesser deities (children of El) were associated with a calf. The most common was Nanna/Sin the moon god. Interestingly, moon worship was abundant in Canaanite and Mesopotamian religion. Nanna is described in Sumerian texts as the “Calf of Enlil”. Of course, Enlil was often represented as an adult bull, so it would make sense that his offspring was described as Enlil’s calf.  The calf is also connected with the moon deity through symbology. The crescent moon was often connected to the crescent shaped calf horns. In Mesopotamia religion the moon deity, Nanna, is said to be a keeper of the flocks and had many of his own.[4]The Herds of Nanna, https://etcsl.orinst.ox.ac.uk/cgi-bin/etcsl.cgi?text=t.4.13.06# The connection between calves and the moon deity seems to play a role in the exodus narrative.

Such, worship of calves in Canaanite and Israelite religion is seen a few times in the Bible. Jeroboam is recorded as mimicking the Judean harvest feast of Sukkot by setting up calf idols and demanding them to be worshipped on the 15th day of the 8th month.

And Jeroboam appointed a feast on the fifteenth day of the eighth month like the feast that was in Judah, and he offered sacrifices on the altar. So he did in Bethel, sacrificing to the calves that he made. And he placed in Bethel the priests of the high places that he had made.
(1 Kings 12:32)

The significance of the date should not be overlooked as this was a significant day in moon cults. The 1st day, 7th day, and 15th day were all recognized in Canaan as special days. The 1st day of the month is that day of the new moon cycle. The 7th was sacred because the moon was 1/2 way to its zenith and 7 was a sacred number by itself. The 15th day of the month was very special because the moon was full and in its greatest part of the cycle. Jeroboam’s feast day being in the middle of the month was placed directly on the full moon and incorporated calves.

Even more interesting, the passover feast (commemorating the exodus event) began on the 15th day of the month. The Passover connection to the moon cycle is lauded to in Psalm 81  and Exodus 12.

The animals you choose must be year-old males without defect, and you may take them from the sheep or the goats. Take care of them until the fourteenth day of the month, when all the members of the community of Israel must slaughter them at twilight. Then they are to take some of the blood and put it on the sides and tops of the doorframes of the houses where they eat the lambs. That same night they are to eat the meat roasted over the fire, along with bitter herbs, and bread made without yeast. Do not eat the meat raw or boiled in water, but roast it over a fire—with the head, legs and internal organs. Do not leave any of it till morning; if some is left till morning, you must burn it. This is how you are to eat it: with your cloak tucked into your belt, your sandals on your feet and your staff in your hand. Eat it in haste; it is the Lord’s Passover.
(Exodus 12:5-12)

Sound the ram’s horn at the New Moon,
and when the moon is full, on the day of our festival;
this is a decree for Israel,
an ordinance of the God of Jacob.
When God went out against Egypt,
he established it as a statute for Joseph.
(Psalm 81:3-5)

Thus, there might be a connection to the full moon with the passover. Is it possible that the full moon exodus of Israel inspired the creation of the calf? It is very possible as some might rightly assume the moon deity played a role in the passover and exodus events. It is also significant that the entire Hebrew calendar is based on the lunar cycle and appears to be copied from Mesopotamian culture. This would make sense considering the early Canaanites practiced a religion very similar to the Mesopotamians which included the Mesopotamians moon deities. Below is a layout of the Babylonian and Hebrew calendars, both based on the lunar cycle.


Nīsannu Nīsān
Ayyāru Iyyār
Sīmannu Sīwān
Duʾūzu Tammūz
Ābu Āb
Ulūlū Elūl
Tašrītu Tišrī
Araḫsamna Marḥešwān
Kisilīmu Kislēw
Ṭebētu Ṭēbēt
Šabāṭu Šebāṭ
Addāru Adēr

In addition to the aformentioned Canaanite customs, the worship of the moon deity can be traced back to ancient Mesopotamia and the migration of Abraham’s relatives. It has been suggested that Abraham’s father, Terah, was named after the moon which is “yeraḥ/יָרֵחַ”. Of course, Terah was from Ur [of the Chaleans] who had a fully functioning moon cult with temples and offerings. Even today a partial temple exists there dedicated to the moon deity. It is known as the Zuggurat of Ur. Joshua 24 alludes to the previous religious practices of Abraham and his family.

And Joshua said to all the people, “Thus says the Lord, the God of Israel, ‘Long ago, your fathers lived beyond the Euphrates, Terah, the father of Abraham and of Nahor; and they served other gods.
(Joshua 24:2)


So, what does all this mean? It would appear that we can glean at least two important points from the exodus calf episode. The first is that the calf might not be replacing YHWH but rather Moses – in an attempt to manifest YHWH’s power since Moses was no longer available to do so. However, this theory is not without its holes. The second is that the calf was associated with the Canaanite moon deity, Nanna/Sin. Archaeology has found a number of inscriptions associating YHWH with the moon cult and the bull calf. In fact, a discovered artifact from Samaria refers to YHWH as as calf, perhaps pointing to some syncretism between the YHWY cult and the Canaanite bull cults. [5]Bull Worship in Israel Thus, the worship of both calves (and bulls) were an already established form of worship in the Canaanite and Mesopotamian cultures. These cultures birthed the people groups we know as the Israelites.



1 Asherim, https://www.biblicalarchaeology.org/daily/ancient-cultures/ancient-israel/asherah-and-the-asherim-goddess-or-cult-symbol/
2 William W. Hallo and K. Lawson Younger, The Context of Scripture (Leiden; New York: Brill, 1997–), 173-174.
3 Daily Offering Ritual in ancient Egyptian temples
4 The Herds of Nanna, https://etcsl.orinst.ox.ac.uk/cgi-bin/etcsl.cgi?text=t.4.13.06#
5 Bull Worship in Israel

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