James Hastings Dictionary of the Bible: Aaron

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James Hastings Dictionary of the Bible: Aaron


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AARON.—In examining the Biblical account of Aaron, we must deal separately with the different ‘sources’ of the Hexateuch.

1. In J [Note: Jahwist.] , Aaron plays a very subordinate part. He, Nadah and Ahihu, along with 70 elders, accompanied Moses up Mt. Sinai (Exo_19:24; Exo_24:9). In the former passage he is distinguished from the priests, who are forbidden to come up; he would seem, therefore, to have been an elder or sheikh, perhaps somewhat superior to the 70. In Exo_32:25 Aaron ‘let the people loose for a derision among their enemies.’ What this refers to is not known; it was not the making of the golden bull, which in the eyes of the surrounding nations would be only an act of piety.

In other passages, which cannot be assigned either to E [Note: Elohist.] or P [Note: Priestly Narrative.] , the mention of Aaron is probably due to a later hand. In Exo_4:13-16 Moses is allowed to nave Aaron as a spokesman. But ‘the Levite’ (Exo_4:14) is suspicious: for Moses was also of the tribe of Levi, and the description is superfluous. The verses probably belong to a time when ‘Levite’ had become a technical term for one trained in priestly functions, and when such priestly officials traced their descent from Aaron. In the narratives of the plagues Aaron is a silent figure, merely summoned with Moses four times when Pharaoh entreats for the removal of the plagues (Exo_8:8; Exo_8:25, Exo_9:27, Exo_10:16). In each case Moses alone answers, and in the last three he alone departs. In Exo_10:3 Moses and Aaron went in to announce the plague, but Moses alone ‘turned and went out’ (Exo_10:6). The occurrence of Aaron’s name seems to be due, in each case, to later redaction.

2. In E [Note: Elohist.] , Aaron is the brother of Miriam (Exo_15:20). He was sent to meet Moses in the wilderness, and together they performed signs before the people (Exo_4:27-31). They demanded release from Pharaoh, and on his refusal the people murmured (Exo_5:1-2; Exo_5:4; Exo_5:20 f.). Little of E [Note: Elohist.] has survived in the narrative of the plagues, and Aaron is not mentioned. In Exo_17:10; Exo_17:12 he and Hur held up Moses’ hands, in order that the staff might be lifted up, during the fight with Amalek. And while Moses was on the mountain, the same two were left in temporary authority over the people (Exo_24:13 f.). Aaron is related to have abused this authority, in making the golden bull (Exo_32:1-6; Exo_32:21-24). [The narrative is composite, and in its present form must be later than E [Note: Elohist.] . It has some connexion with the story of 1Ki_12:26-30, for Jeroboam’s words, which are suitable in reference to two bulls, are placed in Aaron’s mouth.] In Exo_18:12 Aaron, with the elders, was called to Jethro’s sacrifice—an incident which must he placed at the end of the stay at Horeb. In Num_12:1-16 Aaron and Miriam claimed that they, no less than Moses, received Divine revelations; only Miriam, however, was punished. In Jos_24:5 there is a general reference to the part played by Aaron in the Exodus.

It is noteworthy that there is not a word so far either in J [Note: Jahwist.] or E [Note: Elohist.] , which suggests that Aaron was a priest. But it is probable that by the time of E [Note: Elohist.] the belief had begun to grow up that Aaron was the founder of an hereditary priesthood. Deu_10:6 occurs in a parenthesis which seriously interrupts the narrative, and which was perhaps derived from E [Note: Elohist.] (cf. Jos_24:33).

3. In D [Note: Deuteronomist.] , Aaron was probably not mentioned. Deu_10:6 has been referred to; Deu_32:50 is from P [Note: Priestly Narrative.] ; and the only remaining passage (Deu_9:20) appears to be a later insertion.

4. Outside the Hexateuch, two early passages (1Sa_12:6; 1Sa_12:8, Mic_6:4) refer to Aaron merely as taking a leading part in the Exodus.

5. In P [Note: Priestly Narrative.] , the process by which the tradition grew up that Moses delegated his priesthood to Aaron is not known. But the effect of it was that the great majority of ‘Levites,’ i.e. trained official priests, at local sanctuaries throughout the country traced their descent to Aaron. The priests of Jerusalem, on the other hand, were descendants of Zadok (1Ki_1:39; 1Ki_2:27); and when local sanctuaries were abolished by Josiah’s reforms, and the country priests came up to seek a livelihood at Jerusalem (see Deu_18:6-8), the Zadokite priests charged them with image-worship, and allowed them only an inferior position as servants (see 2Ki_23:9, Eze_44:9-15). But at the Exile the priests who were in Jerusalem were carried off, leaving room in the city for many country (Aaronite) priests, who would establish themselves firmly in official prestige with the meagre remnant of the population. Thus, when the Zadokite priests returned from Babylon, they would find it advisable to trace their descent from Aaron (see Ezr_2:61 f.). But by their superiority in culture and social standing they regained their ascendancy, and the country priests were once more reduced, under the ancient title of ‘Levites,’ to an inferior position.

This explains the great importance assigned to Aaron in the priestly portions of the Hexateuch. Reference must be made to other articles for his consecration, his purely priestly functions, and his relation to the Levites (see articles Priests and Levites, Sacrifice, Tabernacle). But he also plays a considerable part in the narrative of the Exodus and the wanderings. His family relationships are stated in Exo_6:20; Exo_6:23; Exo_6:25, Lev_10:4. He became Moses’ spokesman, not to the people but to Pharaoh (7:1), in whose presence he changed the staff into a ‘reptile’ (contrast ‘serpent’ in 4:3 J [Note: Jahwist.] ). P [Note: Priestly Narrative.] relates the 2nd plague (combined with J [Note: Jahwist.] ), the 3rd and the 6th, in each of which Aaron is conspicuous. Aaron as well as Moses suffered from the murmurings of the people (Exo_16:2, Num_14:2; Num_16:3; Num_16:41; Num_20:2); both were consulted by the people (Num_9:6; Num_15:33); and to both were addressed many of God’s commands (Exo_9:8-10; Exo_12:1; Exo_12:43, Lev_11:1; Lev_13:1; Lev_14:33; Lev_15:1, Num_2:1). Aaron stayed a plague by offering incense (Num_16:46-48). [On the combined narratives in chs. 16, 17 see Aaron’s Rod, Korah]. At Meribah-kadesh he, with Moses, sinned against J″ [Note: Jahweh.] (Num_20:1-13), but the nature of the sin is obscure (see Gray, Com. p. 262 f.). He was consequently forbidden to enter Canaan, and died on Mt. Hor, aged 123, Eleazar his son being clothed in the priestly garments (Num_20:22-29; Num_33:38 f., Deu_32:50).

6. In the NT: Luk_1:5, Act_7:40, Heb_5:4; Heb_7:11; Heb_9:4.

A. H. M‘Neile.