Collection Ecole des Beaux Arts, Paris/Photo by Erich Lessing
“These are your gods, O Israel, who brought you up from the land of Egypt!” (1 Kings 12:28), King Jeroboam of Israel proclaims before a golden calf statue he has erected, in this painting by the 18th-century French Rococo painter Jean-Honoré Fragonard. In the late tenth century B.C.E., Jeroboam led a revolt against Solomon’s son and became the first king of the breakaway northern kingdom of Israel. It is no accident that his proclamation before the idols he set up (at Dan and Bethel) is exactly the same as the Israelites’ in Exodus 32:4. According to Hurowitz, the author of the Exodus story was using Aaron to show the error of idolatrous kings of his own day—kings like Jeroboam who apparently believed that idols were gods created by gods. By recounting what really happened with the Golden Calf (“[Aaron] made it”) and then telling Aaron’s spurious account (“out came this calf”), the narrator is trying to locate and lambast certain false notions held by idol worshipers.