The Whole Story of the Golden Calf Incident

Life-size basalt statue of the Apis Bull dedicated by Hadrian to Serapis in Alexandria (Egypt), Osiris, Sunken Mysteries of Egypt exhibition, Paris (2015)

Intro

In one of my previous posts, “How Many Times Did Moses Climb Mount Sinai?” I said I would give a full account of the so-called “Golden Calf incident” later, as the story is not as simple as it seems. This is the post.

I think many people understand the event as follows:

Moses, at the command of YHWH, had climbed mount Sinai, stayed 40 days and nights, and received YHWH’s laws (or Torah) as well as the tablets of stone. In the meantime, the people of Israel committed idolatry by worshiping a golden calf that they made. When Moses found out about it, he threw the stone tablets and broke them out of control, feeling outraged at the scene. So he had to climb the mountain to receive the stone tablets once again to replace the original ones.

Overall, this understanding of the story is not wrong, but this simple version veils some textual inconsistencies and contradictions, which may lead the reader of the Bible to critical theological questions about the Pentateuch or the Bible. Let’s try to disentangle the story on an issue-by-issue basis.

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How Many Times Did Moses Climb Mount Sinai

Introduction

In the third month, after Israelites left Egypt, they arrived in the wilderness of Sinai, in which they received the law of God, including the Decalogue through Moses. Mount Sinai is the place where Moses communicated with God.

I assume that most readers understand the plot of the story quite simply. For example, Moses climbed Mount Sinai as God commanded, and he fasted for forty days and night to receive the law of God and the stone tablets of the Decalogue. But when Moses went down the mountain, he threw the tablets and broke them because he was outraged as he witnessed Isralietes committing idolatry while he was absent. So he had to go up the mountain again to receive new tablets of the Decalogue.

Honestly, this is how I understood the story in the past, but the actual story is far from it. If you don’t read the text as if you are analyzing it, it is almost impossible to follow the storyline, especially Moses’s move precisely.

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Joseph’s Surrounding People: (1) Potiphar and a Chief Jailer

Joseph’s story starts at Gen 37, but the story of Judah and Tamar abruptly intervenes in Gen 38. So Joseph’s story resumes in ch. 39, where Potiphar purchases Joseph. According to Gen 39:1, Potiphar bought Joseph from Ishmaelites, but Gen 37:36 tells us a different story: it was Midianites who sold Joseph to Potiphar. There can be various ways to explain the discrepancy; traditionally, scholars understand the contradiction based on the documentary hypothesis (search “Joseph’s Story or “documentary hypothesis” in this blog). However, explaining the contradiction is not the concern here; the purpose of the post is, as the title suggests, simply to introduce the people Joseph met in Egypt, first of all, Potiphar and the chief jailer. 

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창조 이야기와 초기 문서가설

For English version click here

창세기 1, 2장에는 두 개의 창조 이야기가 등장한다. 첫 번째 창조 이야기는 창 1:1에서 시작하여 창 2:4 전반절, “하늘과 땅을 창조하실 때의 일은 이러하였다”(새번역)라는 표현으로 마무리된다. 첫째 날부터 여섯째 날까지의 창조, 그리고 일곱째 날의 안식 이야기로 구성된 이 이야기는 아마도 성경에서 가장 잘 알려진 이야기 중 하나일 것이다. 그러나첫 번째 창조 이야기에서 의외로 잘 알려지지 않은 사실은 이 이야기에 여호와/야웨라는 이름이 등장하지 않고 오직 ‘엘로힘’이라는 명칭만 등장한다는 것이다. 즉 야웨께서 천지를 만드셨다고 표현하지 않고 신(하나님)께서 천지를 만드셨다고 표현한다는 말이다. 문서가설 연구 초기에는 이러한 특징에 착안하여 이 본문의 출처를 ‘엘로힘자료’라고 불렀다. 하지만 지금은 이 본문이 안식일의 기원을 설명한다는 점과, 문체가 간결하며 정보 전달을 중시하는 듯 하다는 점, 그리고 마지막 구절(2:4a)에서 톨레도트라는 사제계자료의 특징적 어휘를 사용한다는 점 등을 들어  사제계자료, 즉 P로 분류한다.

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