Zev Radovan

This bronze bull, discovered in the Samaria hills at the oldest known cult site considered to be Israelite (dating to the 12th century B.C.E.), provides early evidence of the possible use of animal images in worship. But the Biblical authors specifically condemn the deification of calf figurines: After Aaron makes a golden calf and the people worship it on Mount Sinai, the Lord tells Moses, “Let me be, that my anger may blaze forth against them and that I may destroy them” (Exodus 32:10). Their punishment stems from identifying the object with YHWH and worshiping it, however, and not merely from making it.

Author Victor Hurowitz reminds us that Israelite religion and religious customs underwent a long development, and that the order in which events and laws are presented in the Bible does not necessarily correspond to their historical order. Prohibitions on idolatrous practices, although found in the stories concerning the sojourn at Mount Sinai and the desert wanderings, may have originated at later periods. Even the Ten Commandments may have been formulated after the time of the kings. Thus, while early Israelites may have manufactured these images and considered them permissible in the pre-monarchic period, when seen through the eyes of later biblical authors and editors with different religious ideas, these images are a heinous offense.