GOLDEN CALF, a molten image made by the Israelites when Moses had ascended the Mount of Yahweh to receive the Law (Ex. xxxii.). Alarmed at his lengthy absence the people clamoured for "gods" to lead them, and at the instigation of Aaron, they brought their jewelry and made the calf out of it. This was celebrated by a sacred festival, and it was only through the intervention of Moses that the people were saved from the wrath of Yahweh (cp. Deut. ix. 19 sqq.). Nevertheless 3000 of them fell at the hands of the Levites who, in answer to the summons of Moses, declared themselves on the side of Yahweh. The origin of this particular form of worship can scarcely be sought in Egypt; the Apis which was worshipped there was a live bull, and image-worship was common among the Canaanites in connexion with the cult of Baal and Astarte (qq.v.). In early Israel it was considered natural to worship Yahweh by means of images (cp. the story of Gideon, Judg. viii. 24 sqq.), and even to Moses himself was attributed the bronze-serpent whose cult at Jerusalem was destroyed in the time of Hezekiah (2 Kings xviii. 4, Num. xxi. 4-9). The condemnation which later writers, particularly those imbued with the spirit of the Deuteronomic reformation, pass upon all image-worship, is in harmony with the judgment upon Jeroboam for his innovations at Bethel and Dan (1 Kings xii. 28 sqq., xvi. 26, etc.). But neither Elijah nor Elisha raised a voice against the cult; then, as later, in the time of Amos, it was nominally Yahweh-worship, and Hosea is the first to regard it as the fundamental cause of Israel's misery.
See further, W.R. Smith, Prophets of Israel, pp. 175 sqq.; Kennedy, Hastings' Dict. Bib. i. 342; and Hebrew Religion.
(S. A. C.)
Note - this article incorporates content from Encyclopaedia Britannica, Eleventh Edition, (1910-1911)