Calf Worship

CALF WORSHIP. A part of the religious worship of almost all ancient Semitic peoples. At least as early as the Exodus, living bulls were worshiped in Egypt. The Babylonians looked on the bull as the symbol of their greatest gods. The bull was a sacred animal in Phoenicia and Syria. Among the Semitic Canaanites the bull was the symbol of Baal. It appears that the bull was in some way connected with the reproductive processes of plants and animals and with the sun. It symbolized strength, vigor, and endurance.

Aaron made a golden image of a male calf in order that the people might worship the Lord under this form (Exod.32.4). It is very unlikely that the golden calf was a representation of an Egyptian deity. The feast held in connection with this worship was a “festival to the Lord” (Exod.32.5).

After the division of the kingdom, Jeroboam set up two golden calves in his kingdom, one at Bethel and one at Dan (1Kgs.12.28-1Kgs.12.29), because he feared that his people might desert him if they continued to worship in Jerusalem. He was not trying to make heathenism the state religion, for the bull images were erroneously supposed to represent God. In time, these images, at first recognized as symbols, came to be regarded as common idols (1Kgs.12.30; Hos.13.2).