Aaron belonged to the tribe of *Levi (Ex. 4:14) and was the elder son of *Amram and *Jochebed (ibid. 6:20; Num. 26:59; i Chron. 5:29; 23:13). He was senior to Moses by three years (Ex. 7:7), but younger than his sister (as may be inferred from Ex. 2:4). There is no narrative recounting Aaron's birth and nothing is known of his early life and upbringing. He apparently stayed in Egypt all the time Moses was in Midian and became known as an eloquent speaker (4:14). Aaron's marriage to Elisheba, daughter of Amminadab (6:23), allied him with one of the most distinguished families of the important tribe of Judah. His brother-in-law, Nahshon, was a chieftain of that tribe (Num. 1:7; 2:3; 7:12,17; 10:14) and a lineal ancestor of David (Ruth 4:19; i Chron. 2:10). The marital union thus symbolized the religio-political union of the two main hereditary institutions of ancient Israel, the house of David and the house of Aaron. Four sons were born of the marriage, Nadab, Abihu, Eleazar, and Ithamar (Ex. 6:23; 28:1; Num. 3:2; 26:60; i Chron. 5:29; 24:1).
The biblical narrative assigns Aaron a role subordinate to that of Moses. No mention is made of him in the initial theophany (Ex. 3:18; 4:12), and he is introduced into the events of the Exodus only because Moses resists the divine commission (4:14–16). He is to be Moses' spokesman ("prophet") to Israel (4:15–16) and to Pharaoh (7:1–2). He receives a revelation from God to go to meet Moses returning from Midian (4:27), and together the two brothers appear before the people, with Aaron performing his signs in their presence (4:28–30). Later, he performs wonders before Pharaoh. His rod turns into a serpent that swallows the serpent rods of the Egyptian magicians (7:9–12). In the ten plagues that befall the Egyptians, Aaron acts jointly with Moses in the first plague (7:19 ff.), operates alone only in the next two (8:1 ff., 12 ff.), is involved with Moses in the sixth and eighth (9:8 ff.; 10:3 ff.), and does not appear at all in the fifth and ninth (9:1–7; 10:21 ff.). For the rest, he is merely a passive associate of his brother. Although Aaron functions whenever the Egyptian magicians are present, it is significant that even where he plays an active role in performing the marvels, it is not by virtue of any innate ability or individual initiative, but solely by divine command mediated through Moses. Aaron's sons do not inherit either his wondrous powers or his potent rod. The secondary nature of Aaron's activities in the cycle of plagues is further demonstrated by the circumstance that he never speaks to Pharaoh alone and that only Moses actually entreats God to remove the plagues, although Pharaoh frequently addresses his request to both brothers (8:4, 8, 21, 25–26; 9:27 ff., 33; 10:16 ff.).
Strangely, Aaron plays no part at all in the events immediately attending the escape from Egypt, the crossing of the Red Sea, the victory hymns, and the water crisis at Marah (13:17; 16:1). He reappears again in connection with the incident of the manna (16:2–36), and at the battle with the Amalekites when, jointly with Hur, he supports Moses' hands stretched heavenward to ensure victory (17:10–13). Together with the elders of Israel, he participates in Jethro's sacrificial meal (18:12), but plays no role in the subsequent organization of the judicial administration. He does, however, again jointly with Hur, deputize for Moses in his judicial capacity while the latter goes up to the Mount of God to receive the Tablets (24:14). At the revelation at Sinai, Aaron again is a minor participant. He is distinguished from the "priests" and the people in being allowed to ascend the mount (19:24), but has the same status as his two sons, Nadab and Abihu, and the seventy elders of Israel in having to maintain a distance from Moses, although they all "see the God of Israel" and survive (24:1, 9 ff.).
It was during his brother's prolonged absence on the mount that, yielding to popular insistence, he fashioned a golden calf that became a cause of apostasy (ch. 32). On the one hand, the text stresses the grave responsibility of Aaron in this incident. He makes no attempt to dissuade the would-be idolaters, but himself issues instructions, produces the molten image, builds an altar, and proclaims a religious festival (32:2–5). His culpability is thrice emphasized (32:2, 25, 35), and the contrast between his actions and the zealous fidelity of the tribe of Levi is apparent (32:26–29). On the one hand, God wanted to destroy Aaron, but he was saved by virtue of Moses' intercession on his behalf (Deut. 9:20). On the other hand, there is a perceptible tendency to de-emphasize Aaron's share in the episode. The initiative for the idol comes from the people who approach Aaron menacingly (Ex. 32:1). They, not he, identify the calf with a divinity (32:4). He does not participate in the worship and is not mentioned in God's indictment of the people (32:7 ff.); nor is his name mentioned in Moses' intercession (32:11–14, 31–32). The making of the calf is attributed to the people (32:20; cf. Deut. 9:21) and is also described as though the particular bovine form emerged almost accidentally (Ex. 32:24). Despite Aaron's involvement, he was neither punished nor disqualified from the priesthood. The same inclination to play down Aaron's participation in the calf cult is present in the poetic version of the story (Ps. 106:19–22; cf. 106:16; Neh. 9:18).
When it comes to constructing the portable sanctuary, Aaron is conspicuously absent, but he and his sons are appointed priests and are consecrated into that office by Moses (Ex. 28–29; Lev. 8–9). During the ceremonies marking the investiture, his two sons, Nadab and Abihu, died mysteriously, a calamity that he bore in silent resignation (Lev. 10:1–3; Num. 3:4; 26:61; cf. i Chron. 24:2). Aaron's other two sons continued to serve in the priestly office (Num. 3:4; i Chron. 24:2) and Eleazar succeeded his father as high priest (Num. 20:25–28; Deut. 10:6; cf. Josh. 24:33). No reason is given for the selection of Aaron as the archetypal high priest and founder of a hereditary priesthood to the extent that "the house of Aaron" became synonymous with the only legitimate priestly line (see *Aaronides). After his induction as high priest, Aaron is no longer the attendant of Moses, nor does he occupy a position of secular authority, his activities being restricted to the area of the cult. Yet even here, it is Moses, not Aaron, who is the real founder of the cult and who generally receives the divine instructions relative to the priestly duties (cf. Lev. 6:1, 12, 17; et al.). It is to him, too, that the priests are answerable (cf. Lev. 10:16–20). But on one occasion Aaron corrected Moses' understanding of a sacrificial law (ibid.).
Nevertheless, Aaron undoubtedly held an outstanding position of leadership, as may be determined by the fact that God often addresses Moses and Aaron jointly (Ex. 9:8–10; 12:1, 43; Lev. 11:1; 13:1; 14:33; 15:1; et al.) and, sometimes, even Aaron alone (Lev. 10:8; Num. 18:1, 8). With Moses, Aaron shares the popular hostility to authority (Ex. 16:2–36; Num. 14:1–45; 16:3; 20:1–13). In the extra-pentateuchal literature his name is coupled with that of his brother as bearers of the divine mission (Josh. 24:5; i Sam. 12:6, 8; Micah 6:4; Ps. 77:21; 105:26; 106:16; cf. 99:6). Significantly, the period of national mourning at his death is the same as that for Moses (Num. 20:29; cf. Deut. 34:8) and throughout biblical literature the name Aaron remains unique to this one personality. A hint of friction between Moses and his brother is apparent from one narrative in which Aaron and his sister were involved in some act of opposition to Moses' prophetic preeminence. Probably because of priestly immunity he escaped divine punishment, but Miriam was stricken. At Aaron's behest, Moses successfully interceded with God on her behalf (Num. 12).
On another occasion, Aaron, together with Moses, was the target of a widespread insurrection against the monopoly of leadership. The exclusive priestly privileges of Aaron and his family against the challenge of Korah and his associates were upheld in a trial by ordeal, which led to the destruction of the rebels (Num. 16). This aroused the indignation of the people which, in turn, brought down upon them divine anger in the form of a plague. Through an incense offering, brought at Moses' directive, Aaron was able to make expiation for the people and to check the outbreak (Num. 17:1–15). This event necessitated a further vindication of Aaron's priestly preeminence. Twelve staffs, one from each tribe and each inscribed with the name of the tribal chieftain, were deposited in the Tent of Meeting. The following day, that of Levi, on which Aaron's name was written, sprouted blossoms and almonds. Henceforth, Aaron's staff lay in the Tent of Meeting as a witness to his unchallengeable priestly supremacy (17:16–26; cf. 20:8 ff.). Further, the subordination of the Levites to Aaron and his sons and their respective duties and privileges in the service of the sanctuary were unequivocally defined (17:18).
Aaron died on the first day of the fifth month at the age of 123 years (33:38–39). The account of his passing is unusually detailed, doubtlessly due to the fact that it involved the all-important matter of priestly succession. The Israelites arrived at Mount Hor from Kadesh and, by divine decree, Aaron ascended the mount accompanied by Moses and Eleazar. The high priest was stripped of the garments of his office and his son was invested in his stead. Aaron then died on the summit of the mount and a 30-day mourning period was held by the entire community (20:22–29; cf. 33:37–38; Deut. 32:50). It should be noted that another tradition has the place of Aaron's death as Moserah (Deut. 10:6), which was seven stages behind Mount Hor in the wilderness wanderings (Num. 33:31–37). Like Moses, Aaron was not permitted to enter the promised land in punishment for disobeying the divine command in connection with the waters of Meribah (20:12, 24; 27:13–14; cf. Deut. 32:50–51), although no clear account of Aaron's role in that incident has been preserved (Num. 20:10). A poetic digest of the narrative mentions only Moses as suffering the consequences of the people's provocation (Ps. 106:32). No explanation for Aaron's death in the wilderness is given in either Numbers 33:37–38 or Deuteronomy 10:6, except that the latter passage follows the story of the golden calf and the sequence may possibly imply a connection between the two events.
The difficulty of reconstructing a comprehensive biography and evaluation of Aaron is due to the meager and fragmentary nature of the data available. It is aggravated by the fact that the details are scattered over several originally independent sources which, in the form they have come down to us, represent an interweaving of various traditions. This explains the differences in approach, emphasis, and detail, outlined above. Moreover, consideration has to be given to the possibility that the picture of Aaron, the archetypal high priest, may well be the idealized retrojection of a later period, and that subsequent developments have influenced the narratives in the Pentateuch. While there is no unanimity among scholars of the source critical school as to the proper distribution of many passages among the different pentateuchal sources, especially in regard to those relating to J and e, there is a wide measure of agreement that in the original J and e documents Aaron was neither a priest nor a levite, and that he had no part in the narrative of the ten plagues. In fact, it is regarded as likely that J did not originally mention Aaron. To e is attributed the picture of Aaron as Miriam's brother, as Moses' attendant, as participating in the war with Amalek, Jethro's sacrifice, and the golden calf, as well as acting together with Miriam in opposition to Moses. The redactor who combined je introduced the story of Aaron as a levite and as Moses' brother and spokesman and, possibly, portrayed him as assisting in the plagues. There is no agreement as to whether D originally mentioned Aaron, or as to the source of the few references to him in that document. To the P source is assigned the exalted image of Aaron as the archetypal and only legitimate levitical high priest, and a leader of the people. Here, too, is the source of the Aaronite genealogies and the notices of his age and his death.
[Nahum M. Sarna]
In the Aggadah
The many praises heaped on Aaron in the aggadah are due to the desire to minimize his guilt with regard to the sin of the golden calf and to explain why, despite it, he was worthy to be appointed high priest (see: Sif. Deut. 307).
Aaron had great love for Moses. He was completely free of envy and rejoiced in his success. Moses was reluctant to assume his call (Ex. 4:14), because Aaron had for long been the prophet and spokesman of the Jews in Egypt, and Moses was unwilling to supplant him, until God told him to assume the leadership. Far from resenting it, Aaron was glad. For this he was given the reward of wearing the holy breastplate (Urim and Thummim) upon his heart (Tanḥ. Ex. 27). Aaron is especially praised for his love of peace. Unlike Moses, whose attitude was "let the law bend the mountain" (i.e., the law must be applied), Aaron loved peace and pursued peace.
Aaron never reproached a person by telling him that he had sinned, but employed every stratagem in order to reconcile disputes (arn2 48) especially between man and wife (ibid., emended text p. 50). According to one account this love for peace determined Aaron's attitude toward the golden calf. He could have put to death all those who worshiped it, as Moses did, but his love and compassion for the people prevented him. He regarded peaceful persuasion as the best way of inculcating love of the Torah, and thus Hillel declared: "Be of the disciples of Aaron, loving peace and pursuing peace, loving one's fellow men and bringing them nigh to the Torah" (Avot 1:12). For this behavior Aaron was chosen to be the high priest; God knew that his intentions were honorable (Ex. R. 37:2). According to other accounts Aaron agreed to make the golden calf after procrastinating as much as possible, because his life was threatened, and he feared the same fate as overtook Hur, who according to the Midrash, was assassinated by the people when he opposed them (Ex. R. 41:9; Sanh. 7a). Aaron's rod possessed the same miraculous powers as the staff of Moses and some aggadic sayings make them identical (Yal. Ps. 869). With it, Aaron brought about the first three of the Ten Plagues because the water of the Nile, that shielded Moses as an infant, should not suffer through Moses, by being turned into blood or bringing forth frogs, and the earth that afforded Moses protection when it concealed the slain Egyptian overseer (Ex. 2:12) should not bring forth lice by his action. Both the aggadah and Josephus emphasize the great spiritual strength of Aaron at the death of his two sons Nadab and Abihu; he saw his two "chickens" bathed in blood and kept silent (Lev. R. 20:4). "He withstood his ordeal with great courage because his soul was inured to every calamity" (Jos., Ant., 3:208). He did not question God's dealing with him, as Abraham did not when ordered to sacrifice his only son Isaac (Sifra 46a).
Aaron was one of those who died not on account of sin "but through the machinations of the serpent" (Sif. Deut. 338–9). When Aaron died "all the house of Israel" wept for him (Num. 20:29), while after the death of Moses, the stern leader who reprimanded them by harsh words, only part of the people, "the men," bewailed him (Sifra 45d).
[Elimelech Epstein Halevy]
In Christian Tradition
As the ancestor and founder of the one priesthood entitled to offer acceptable sacrifice to God, Aaron was taken as the type of Christ in the New Testament and later Christian tradition: he offers sacrifice, mediates between the people and God, and ministers in the Holy of Holies. The typology is developed especially in the Epistle to the Hebrews which stresses the superiority of Jesus' perfect sacrifice to the animal sacrifices of the Aaronic priesthood. Jesus, the high priest of the New Covenant, is foreshadowed by Aaron, the high priest of the Old Covenant, but Christ's priesthood, which is "after the order of Melchizedek," supersedes and replaces the inferior priesthood of Aaron (see Heb. 5:2–5; 7:11–12; 8:23–27). Influenced by this distinction, the Mormons distinguished in their hierarchy between a lesser, Aaronic priesthood, and the office of high priest which is according to the order of Melchizedek.
[R.J. Zwi Werblowsky]
In the Koran and in Islamic Literature
Like some other biblical figures, Aaron (Arabic: Hārūn) only became known to Muhammad gradually. In the Koran (37:114–20), Moses and Aaron appear together as those who were redeemed (from Egyptian slavery) at the head of their people and to whom the Book was given. In 20:29–30, Moses requests, in a general way, that his brother Aaron be his helper (wazīr; cf. also 25:37; see below). In 26:12, he voices his fear that he might be inhibited and unable to speak. Finally, in 28:35 Moses prays to God: "Aaron is more eloquent than I am; send him to strengthen me." Just as the Midrash tries in various ways to exonerate Aaron from all blame in the incident of the golden calf, so the Koran account of that incident assigns him the role of an onlooker and administrator rather than that of chief participant, and attributes the actual making of the golden calf to one Samiri (20:96–7; perhaps meaning "a Samaritan"; see the detailed discussion by H. Speyer, pp. 329–32). The post-koranic Islamic legend describes, in a number of fanciful variations, how Moses demonstrated to the children of Israel that he had not killed his brother, as they suspected, but that he had died a natural death. The relationship of these legends to similar stories in the late Midrash still needs elucidation. An attempt to explain why Mary, the mother of Jesus, is addressed during her pregnancy as "sister of Aaron" (Koran 19:27–29, cf. Ex. 15:20) is made by H. Speyer (p. 243, where further literature is available). The Koran never mentions the fact that Aaron was the father of the priestly tribe of the Kohanim; the ancient biographer of Muhammad, however, was aware of this fact. The two main Jewish tribes in Medina, the Quraiẓa and *Naḍīr, were called al-Kāhinān, "the two priestly tribes." When Muhammad's Jewish spouse, Ṣafiyya, was insulted by one of the Prophet's other wives, he allegedly advised her to retort: "My father was Aaron and my uncle Moses." The word wazīr, by which Aaron's subordination to Moses is designated in the Koran, became the title "vizier," a kind of prime minister with wide or full powers in Islamic states.
[Shelomo Dov Goitein]
For Aaron in Art, see *Moses.
Aberbach and Smolar, in: jbl, 86 (1967), 129–40; Albright, Arch Rel, 109–10, 119; Kennett, in: jts, 6 (1904–05), 161–8; S.E. Loewenstamm, Masoret Yeẓi'at Miẓrayim be-Hishtalshelutah (1965), 60–64; Meek, in: ajsl, 45 (1928–29), 144–66; idem, Hebrew Origins (1960), 119–47; North, in: zaw, 66 (1954), 191–9;H. Oort, in: Theologisch Tijdschrift, 18 (1884), 235–89; Westphal, in: zaw, 26 (1906), 201–30. add. bibliography: S. Gevirtz, in: Biblica, 65 (1984), 377–81; S.D. Sperling, The Original Torah (1998), 103–21. aggadah: Ginzberg, Legends, index; Guttmann, Mafte'aḥ, 2 (1917), 37–55. islamic literature: J.W. Hirschberg, Juedische und christliche Lehren im vor- und fruehislamischen Arabien (1939), 61 ff., 129–30; S.D. Goitein, Studies in Islamic History and Institutions (1966), 168–96; H. Speyer, Die biblischen Erzaehlungen im Qoran (1961), 260 ff., 323–6; Schwarzbaum, in: Fabula, 5 (1962–63), 185–227. add. bibliography: eis2iii (1971), 231–32, s.v. Hārūn (incl. bibl.).
AARON , or, in Hebrew, Aharon; Israelite leader and priest who flourished, according to tradition, in the thirteenth century bce. In its redacted form, the Pentateuch provides a fairly complete biography of Aaron, the first priest in the biblical tradition. Born to Amram and Jochebed of the Levite tribe when the Israelites were slaves in Egypt, he was the elder brother by three years of the great prophet-leader Moses, and he assisted Moses in liberating the Israelites and leading them through the Sinai wilderness to the Promised Land of Israel. Israel's God, YHVH, instructed Moses to appoint Aaron and his sons as the exclusive priests of the people, and Aaron ministered in the capacity of chief priest until he died, in the last year of the journey.
Most Bible scholars, however, regard this unified picture of the life and role of Aaron as a relatively late invention of the so-called Priestly school (the P source). Biblical traditions concerning Aaron present diverse views. In addition to the Priestly representation, in which the functions of Aaron and his sons establish precedents for the official priests of all succeeding generations (see, for example, Exodus 30:10, 40:15, and Leviticus 6:11), Aaron is remembered as a military-political leader who acts as a lieutenant of Moses in the Israelites' battle against the Amalekites (Ex. 17:12) and who serves as a magistrate in Moses' absence (Ex. 24:14). Aaron is cited as a leader of the Exodus in Micah 6:4 and in Psalms 77:21.
Aaron also fulfills an apparently prophetic role. He serves as Moses' spokesman to the Israelites and to the pharaoh of Egypt, performing magical feats by the power of YHVH. In Numbers 12, Aaron and his sister Miriam challenge Moses' unique prophetic status, claiming revelation for themselves as well, but YHVH rebukes them.
Two Pentateuchal narratives revolve around the legitimacy of Aaron's priesthood. In Numbers 17:16ff. Moses vindicates Aaron: he inscribes the names of the tribes on twelve poles, but only the pole of the Levite tribe, bearing Aaron's name, sprouts blossoms. In Exodus 32 Aaron succumbs to the people's plea to construct a physical image of God and makes a golden calf. The Pentateuch (Ex. 32:35, Dt. 9:20) condemns Aaron for this apostasy and appears to favor those Levites associated with Moses over the priests represented by Aaron.
Aaron's golden calf is generally associated with the calves set up centuries later by King Jeroboam I (r. 928–907 bce) in the far northern town of Dan and in the central town of Bethel after the northern tribes of Israel seceded from the Israelite empire circa 920 bce. On the basis of this, and of the connection of Aaronite priests to Bethel mentioned in Judges 20:26–28, some scholars have concluded that Aaron was the founder of the northern priesthood, which was later assimilated into the Jerusalem priesthood. Others believe that the Aaronites originated in the south and because of their traditional legitimacy were appointed to positions in the northern cult.
As the various traditions were combined in the Pentateuch, Aaron became the paradigm of the priest and Moses of the prophet, but Aaron's role was clearly subordinated to that of his younger brother.
The most commonly held reconstruction of the history of the Israelite priesthood and the place of Aaron and the Aaronites in it is Aelred Cody's A History of Old Testament Priesthood (Rome, 1969), which also contains a comprehensive bibliography. An important revision of the common theory is Frank Moore Cross's Canaanite Myth and Hebrew Epic: Essays in the History of the Religion of Israel (Cambridge, Mass., 1973), pp. 195–215. For the view that Aaron was the founder of the northern Israelite priesthood, see Theophile J. Meek's Hebrew Origins (1936; reprint, New York, 1960), pp. 31–33, 119–147. Extensive analyses of the Aaron passages in the Pentateuch can be found in Hugo Gressmann's Mose und seine Zeit: Ein Kommentar zu den Mose-sagen (Göttingen, 1913), pp. 199–218, 264–283, 338–344. The most comprehensive history of the scholarly debate, with a detailed literary-historical analysis of the pertinent biblical passages, is Heinrich Valentin's Aaron: Eine Studie zur vor-priesterschriftlichen Aaron-Überlieferung (Göttingen, 1978).
Edward L. Greenstein (1987)
Son of Amram and Jochabed; brother of moses and Mariam (Ex 6.20); and husband of Elisabe, who bore him Nadab, Abiu, Eleazar, and Ithamar (6.23). The actual role of Aaron has been obscured in the development of the pentateuch. Most scholars question whether Aaron appeared in the original yahwist tradition and suggest that a later editor was responsible for linking him with Moses.
In the elohist tradition Aaron acts as Moses' deputy, holds up his hands at Raphidim (Ex 17.10–12), goes up the mountain with him and sees the Lord (19. 24), and acts as leader with Hur in Moses' absence. He accedes to the wishes of the insecure Hebrews, casts the golden calf, and constructs an altar in its honor (32.1–24). He joins Mariam in a complaint against Moses' marriage to a Chusite woman, although the text indicates their envy of Moses as the instrument of God's revelation (Nm 12.1–15). Later, the Pentateuchal priestly writers cast Aaron in the role of religious leader who figured prominently in the liberation of Israel. When he and Moses appear before the pharaoh, Aaron brings on the plagues (Ex 7.19–20; 8.1–2, 12–13). As coadjutor of Moses, he too suffers from the complaints of the people (16.2), is likewise consulted by them (Nm 9.6), is addressed by God (Ex 9.8–10), and is forbidden to enter the Promised Land because of the incident at Meriba, where he sinned against the Lord (Nm 20.1–13). The tragic fate of the followers of Core, the checking of the plague (Nm ch. 16), as well as the event of the flowering rod, are presented as the divine witness to the priesthood of Aaron with its exclusive rights and privileges (Nm 17.16–26). Tradition assigns Mt. Hor (Nm 20.22–29) and Moser (Dt 10.6) as the location of his death.
Bibliography: Encyclopedic Dictionary of the Bible, tr. and adap. by l. hartman (New York 1963) 1–2. h. junker, Lexikon für Theologie und Kirche, ed. j. hofer and k. rahner (Freiberg 1957–65) 1:3–4. f. maass, Die Religion in Geschichte und Gegenwart (Tübingen 1957–65) 1:2–3. f. s. north, "Aaron's Rise in Prestige," Zeitschrift für die alttestamentliche Wissenschaft 6 (1954) 191–199.
Aaron, churchman and music theorist who was known as Aaron Scotus after the belief that he was born in Scotland; date of birth unknown; d. Cologne, Nov. 18, 1052. He was Benedictine abbot at St. Martin and at St. Pantaleon in Cologne from 1042. His three treatises, De utilitate cantus vocalis, De modo cantaridi et psallendi, and De regulis tonorum et symphoniarum, are not extant.
—Nicolas Slonimsky/Laura Kuhn/Dennis McIntire