Aaron In the Bible, O.T., son of Amram and Jochebed and elder brother of Moses and Miriam; married Elisheba; father of four sons. He was a leader of the Exodus. Aaron, a Levite, is first mentioned in the book of Exodus (4:14). He was appointed by Yahweh (a cult name of the Hebrew god) to be the interpreter of his brother Moses, who was “slow of speech” (Exod. 4:16). Aaron is the instrument of many of the miracles associated with the Exodus from Egypt, such as when he caused the rivers of Egypt to turn to blood (Exod. 7:20) and when he brought on Egypt a plague of frogs (Exod. 8:5). But Aaron was not as strong a personality as Moses. When his brother went up to the mountain to converse with Yahweh, Aaron gave in to the demands of the people and fashioned a golden calf for them to worship (Exod. 32). When Moses descended from Mount Sinai, he found the people wor
shipping their new god (based on Egyptian deities) and in anger destroyed the tables of stone containing the Ten Commandments that Yahweh had given him on the sacred mountain. Then he burned the golden calf, ground it to powder, mixed it with water, and forced the worshippers to drink it. Yahweh intended to destroy Aaron for his sin, but Moses intervened and prayed for his brother (Deut. 9:20). Aaron was then consecrated High Priest of Yahweh by Moses. From that time the legend of Aaron turns almost entirely to his priestly functions. One tells of the rebellion of the sons of Korah (Num. 16:1–35). Korah, a Levite, with Dathan and Abiram, questioned Aaron’s right to the priesthood. Moses then challenged them to offer incense to Yahweh (a rite only to be done by the priests). As a punishment Yahweh had the earth open up and swallow Korah and his men. Aaron was the keeper of the tribal rod, an official talisman that each of the Twelve Tribes possessed. At Yahweh’s command Moses ordered each of the 12 to bring its rod to the Tabernacle. When the rods were left in front of the Ark, Aaron’s rod miraculously budded, bearing almonds (Num. 17:5–11) and was seen as Yahweh’s approval of Aaron’s role as priest. Aaron died at Mount Hor at 123 years of age after transference of his priestly robes and office to Eleazar (Num. 20:28). Jewish folk tradition not included in the Bible says that at Aaron’s
death the cave on the mountain was obliterated by God, but the people claimed that Moses had killed his brother out of jealousy for his popularity. To prove the people wrong, God produced a vision of Aaron on a couch, floating in midair. In Islamic legend Aaron is called Harun. In the Koran (sura 19) Moses and Aaron went up to the mountain together, knowing that one was about to die but not knowing which. They found a coffin that did not fit Moses but fit Aaron. Moses then told Aaron to rest in it, and Aaron was taken up to heaven. Jewish folk tradition records that Aaron is in Paradise seated beneath the Tree of Life, where he instructs priests in their duty. Christian writers during the Middle Ages looked on Aaron as a prefiguration of Christ. Thus, just as Aaron was a high priest of the Old Testament, so Jesus was the high priest of the New Testament. Some of the cult objects associated with Aaron in the Old Testament were viewed as prefigurations of the
vestments worn by Christian priests and bishops. This, however, is not the actual case; the vestments were based on secular Roman dress of the early Christian era. Western art frequently pictures Aaron in paintings of Moses. Often Aaron holds a censer pears in full priestly vestments, which are described in detail in Exodus (chap. 28). He may wear a turban or a crown that resembles the papal crown of later Christian art. His robe may have bells, which he used to frighten off Demons. Tintoretto painted Worship of the Golden Calf, and Felix Chretien painted Moses before the Pharaoh; the latter portrays Aaron and his magic rod and the transformation of the snakes, as told in the Bible. In music, Rossini’s opera Mosè in Egitto (Moses in Egypt) and Arnold Schoenberg’s opera Moses und Aron (Moses and Aaron) both contain roles for Aaron. In Christian folklore the name “Aaron’s beard” is applied to several wild plants, such as St. John’s wort, the ivy-leaved toadflax, and meadowsweet. The name is derived from the mention of Aaron’s beard in Psalm 133, which also inspired a poem by the 17th-century English poet George Herbert. “Aaron’s rod” is a name given to various plants, including the great mullein and the goldenrod. It is also a name for the divining rod or magic wand used by magicians. The expression “Aaron’s serpent” refers to the biblical legend that his rod turned into a serpent and swallowed up the serpents of the Egyptian priests (Exod. 8:10–12).


Encyclopedia of World Mythology and Legend, Third Edition – Written by Anthony S. Mercatante & James R. Dow– Copyright © 2009 by Anthony S. Mercatante

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