Aaron (Hebrew: אַהֲרֹן, Ahărōn) (2430 AM–m. ca. 2478 AM–1 Av 2552 AM) (1575 BC–m. ca. 1527 BC–13 August 1452 BC) was the older brother of Moses as recorded in the Book of Exodus in the Old Testament of the Bible. and the first High Priest of the Israelites. Aaron was the son of Amram and Jochebed, of the tribe of Levi. He was appointed by the Lord to assist Moses in bringing the children of Israel out of Egypt and to be Moses' spokesman. He was with Moses until his death (the fortieth year of the wanderings).
Life and family
Aaron's career began in earnest when Moses returned from his forty years of exile in Midianite country. (Exodus 4 (27-31)). Aaron went to meet Moses, who shared with him a wondrous story of seeing the face of God and receiving from Him a charge for a mission to lead the Israelites out of their slavery in Egypt. Aaron was eighty-three years old at the time. (Exodus 7:7 )
When Moses and Aaron first presented themselves to Pharaoh, they gave a demonstration of God's power and communicated God's command that he (Pharaoh) let the Israelites go. As God predicted, Pharaoh would not listen, and in fact increased the Israelites' workload. Thus began a forty-day cycle in which ten plagues descended on Egypt, each one striking at the heart of Egyptian agriculture or religion or both. The cycle ended on 15 Abib 2513 AM with the actual Exodus of Israel.
In the first year of the wilderness journey, some Amalekites began to attack the stragglers among the Israelites. Joshua hastily organized the first Israelite army, and Moses ordered Joshua to engage the Amalekites while he, Moses, stood on a high hill and held his rod high to invoke God's blessing on the combat. As Moses expected, as long as he held his rod high, Joshua could prevail, but if Moses let his rod fall, Joshua had to fall back. Finally Aaron and Hur, a Judah-ite, stood to either side of Moses and held up his arms so that he could hold his rod high. Thus Joshua won the day and the untrained army of Israel was blooded in combat and won.
The Golden Calf
In the fourth month of the first year after the Exodus, as the Israelites camped at Sinai, Aaron was one of those who accompanied Moses up the mountain and saw the Lord. When Moses and Joshua were called up into the mount to commune with God (it was then that Moses received the Ten Commandments on the Tablets of Law), Aaron and Hur were appointed judges during their absence. On this occasion Aaron made a major mistake. While Moses was communing with God, God had strictly enjoined the people not to approach the mountain. Moses stayed on the mountain for forty days and forty nights, and toward the end of this period the people despaired of seeing Moses again. They then demanded that Aaron make them a God-substitute. Aaron asked the people to give him all their gold earrings. He melted these down and fashioned a Golden Calf for them. In response the people ran riot throughout the camp, and discipline broke down completely.
Aaron never knew, unless Moses told him, how close God came to destroying the entire nation of Israel on this account and building a nation of Moses in its place. Moses came down from the mountain within one day of the fashioning of the calf. When he saw the calf, he broke the two tablets of law that he was carrying. He melted the calf, ground it to dust, scattered the dust onto a nearby pond, and forced the people to drink it. When Moses asked Aaron how he could have been so derelict in his responsibility, Aaron excused himself by saying that when he asked everyone to surrender their gold earrings and other jewelry, he melted it down, and the calf formed itself out of the melting pot.
Moses very likely did not believe that excuse for one second. He asked all who were on his side to stand by him; only the Levites did so. Then he ordered them to decimate the people. Three thousand summary executions took place that day. (Exodus 32 )
Inauguration of the High Priesthood
Aaron became the first High Priest of Israel with the building of the Tabernacle. Moses returned to Mount Sinai to get new tablets of law to replace those he had broken. When Moses brought these new tablets to the camp, he conveyed the detailed instructions for the collection of materials and the design of the Tabernacle and its furnishings. The people contributed more than enough material, and the Tabernacle and its furnishings were completed before the first month (Abib) of the second year. The most important of these was the Ark of the Covenant, into which Moses deposited the tablets of law.
Moses consecrated Aaron and his four sons to be the first priests. Unhappily, Aaron's two elder sons, Nadab and Abihu, made a mistake that cost them their lives. By God's command, no one was to burn incense inside the Holy Place except by using fire from the brazen altar, because God kindled that original fire and gave instructions that the people never allow that fire to go out. But Nadab and Abihu took coals from their own campfires to charge their censers. This "strange fire" was a grave enough offense, but then Nadab and Abihu compounded their outrage by offering the incense in front of the ark of the covenant in the Holy of Holies. God killed both men instantly. On that day, God made two related laws:
- No one was ever to come into the Holy Place after drinking wine. Nadab and Abihu had been drinking wine before they gave their tragic demonstration.
- Only the high priest was ever to enter the Holy of Holies, and then only on the Day of Atonement (on the tenth day of the seventh month), and he must have a tether attached to his body so that, if he had given offense and been killed, the other priests could drag him out. (Leviticus 10:1-11 , Exodus 34-40 )
Aaron's surviving sons were the progenitors of the Kohanim, the sacerdotal caste of Israelites who alone were responsible, or even authorized, for offering sacrifices in the Tabernacle and later the Temple.
In the second year after the Exodus, in the fourth month, Moses married a second wife, specifically an Ethiopian. Miriam and Aaron murmured in resentment against Moses, not merely on this account but also because they felt that Moses was claiming too much credit for speaking on behalf of God. In fact, Moses never showed any presumption, as the Bible says. In response, God reminded Miriam and Aaron sharply that an ordinary prophet might receive a dream or vision from God, but God spoke to Moses face to face and in plain language. Then God afflicted Miriam with leprosy for seven days and was placed under quarantine. Seven days later, she was cleansed and could come back to camp, and on that day the Israelites struck camp and moved on. (Numbers 12 )
Despite this, God upheld the authority of Aaron as high priest against those who questioned it. Aaron witnessed the mutiny of Korah and the disastrous penalty that Korah and his confederates paid. Immediately after this, God prepared a demonstration designed to end all grumbling. At His order, Moses gathered a rod from each of the leaders of the twelve tribes, with Aaron's name on the Levite rod. Moses left these in the Holy Place. On the next day, Moses examined the rods, and Aaron's rod had budded and produced ripe almonds. Thereafter this rod was kept in the ark of the covenant. (Numbers 17 )
Aaron died in the fifth month of the fortieth year after the Exodus. This occurred after the second episode in which the Israelites ran out of water. God instructed Moses and Aaron to lead the Israelites to a rock near Kadesh. There Moses was to speak to the rock to draw water from it. Instead of merely speaking, Moses struck the rock twice with his rod. For this violation of God's instructions, God declared that neither Moses nor Aaron would enter the promised land.
Again at God's command, Moses led Aaron and his son Eleazar to the top of Mount Hor. There Moses stripped Aaron of his sacerdotal vestments and put them on Eleazar. When Moses had done this, Aaron died. The Israelites observed a month of mourning for him. Eleazar succeeded him as high priest. (Numbers 20:2-29 )
Extrabiblical confirmation of the Aaronic line
In the early 1990s, genetic studies found strong evidence that the tradition that Kohanim are actually descended from Aaron was supported by genetic testing. Since the kohanic status is passed down through the male line and males pass on their common Y chromosome to their male children, testing was done across sectors of the Jewish population to see if there was any commonality between their Y chromosomes. Most of the people who self-identified as Kohanim were found to share a common male ancestor about 3000 years ago, as would be expected if the tradition were true. Christians and Jews have pointed to the so-called "Kohain Gene" as evidence for the truth of the Biblical accounts. Further genetic testing with the relevant haplotype has supported the claims of the Lemba, an African tribe who claim that they were in fact descended from one of the ten lost tribes of Israel.
Aaron in fiction
Aaron appears in two famous motion picture projects that describe the Exodus and the life and career of Moses. The portrayal of Aaron in the Cecil B. DeMille film The Ten Commandments is without question the more accurate of the two. In it, Aaron introduces himself to Moses when Moses, still considering himself a prince of Egypt, begins to inquire about his origins. The DeMille film does not show Aaron coming to the Sinai desert to greet Moses, and that is probably the only major flaw in the portrayal. The film does show Aaron appearing with Moses before Pharaoh and then yielding to popular pressure to make the Golden Calf. (The excuse that Aaron gives is slightly different from the Biblical narrative, in that in this version Aaron says only that "the people made [him] do it.")
The Jeffrey Katzenberg animated-cartoon feature The Prince of Egypt shows Aaron being openly skeptical of Moses from the beginning, and not being really convinced until Moses parts the Red Sea. Aaron's first meeting with Moses occurs when Zipporah stops to ask Aaron and Miriam for water as she tries to make her escape from Egypt. (For the full particulars of this instance of dramatic license, see here.) Miriam then drops a water jug at Moses' feet and starts to apologize, and then starts to tell Moses that he is not Egyptian at all, but Hebrew. Aaron, aghast, tries to restrain Miriam by force, but of course Miriam will not be restrained, as is her defiant nature. Aaron stands by helplessly as Moses knocks Miriam to the ground and sternly threatens punishment. But when Miriam sings a lullaby that Jochebed is supposed to have sung to Moses when she placed him in a wicker basket (an event Aaron remembers, though he was only three years old at the time), Moses runs in horror from the slave quarter.
Aaron does not see Moses again until Moses comes back to demand of the Pharaoh (Ramesses II) to "let my people go!" Ramesses' response is to double the workload. Aaron then upbraids Moses severely for his previous arrogance, and this time Miriam stops Aaron and speaks encouragingly to Moses. Shortly thereafter, Moses delivers the Plague Upon the Nile, but Aaron again watches as Ramesses' magicians seem to duplicate that feat. In anguish, he protests to Moses that Ramesses still has the power over their lives. Moses tells Aaron that even Ramesses cannot take from them their faith.
As mentioned above, Aaron does not really believe until he witnesses the pillar of fire that stops Ramesses and his pursuing army from overrunning the fleeing Israelites, and then the Red Sea parts and leaves a dry seabed for the Israelites to walk on. The project ends with Aaron firmly convinced of Moses' message, and for whatever reason, this project leaves out the uninspiring story of the Golden Calf.
- Exodus 7:7
- Exodus 6:16-20
- Exodus 4:10-16,27-31 , Exodus 5:1-12
- James Ussher, The Annals of the World, Larry Pierce, ed., Green Forest, AR: Master Books, 2003, pgh. 162
- Floyd Nolen Jones, The Chronology of the Old Testament, Green Forest, AR: Master Books, 2004, p. 70
- Ussher, op. cit., pghh. 178-191
- Exodus 19:24 , Exodus 24:1,9-11
- Exodus 24:14,18
- Ussher, op. cit., pghh. 198-201
- Leviticus 8:9-13
- Ussher, op. cit., pghh. 204-228
- Ussher, op. cit., pgh. 270