On November 14–16, 2012, we (with Alec J. Lucas) convened an international conference at Loyola University Chicago titled “The Reception of Golden Calf Traditions in Early Judaism, Christianity, and Islam.” Fourteen papers were presented on that occasion, covering centuries of reflection on the controversial “sin of the golden calf” as interpreted in various ways in the Scriptures and other important texts of the three Abrahamic religions. Those papers constituted the first drafts of most of the chapters in the present book.1 After the conference we invited three additional scholars to contribute to the volume in order to offer a more complete overview of the religious and cultural impact the golden calf narrative had in the three religious traditions, from their origins through the end of Late Antiquity. This book is the final result of that common endeavor.
The idea for the conference and subsequent volume emerged from conversations at Loyola University Chicago in the Spring 2010 semester. Eric F. Mason was a visiting scholar on sabbatical leave from his institution and was familiar with the dissertation work of Lucas, then a Ph.D. candidate in Loyola’s Department of Theology.2 Golden calf traditions in several texts were central to Lucas’s research. He and Mason began to consider the possibilities for a conference exploring the ancient reception of the calf traditions more broadly; they sketched out initial plans for the texts to be examined and the speakers to invite, with the goal of publication in the Themes in Biblical Narrative series from the outset. At this point they engaged Edmondo F. Lupieri, the John Cardinal Cody Endowed Chair in Theology at Loyola; together they brought further clarification to the plans for the conference, and Lupieri administered the financial arrangements that made the conference possible. The event was scheduled over two years in advance so it could coincide with the 2012 Annual Meeting of the Society of Biblical Literature in Chicago and to accommodate Lucas’s time away in Heidelberg on a Fulbright fellowship. Though Lucas was unable to continue as an editor for this volume due to his subsequent employment outside the academic field, his vital and prolific contributions to the project have been very much appreciated by his colleagues.
The organizers sought from the beginning to include contributing scholars both from the region and beyond. Naturally Loyola was very well represented, but scholars from several other Chicago-area institutions also participated, both as speakers and dialogue partners. In particular, members of the Chicago Society of Biblical Research were actively engaged in all aspects of the meeting. Other program participants were from various regions in the United States, and one came from Ethiopia. Several Italian scholars attended; unfortunately, a scheduled speaker from Europe had to withdraw from the conference shortly before it opened. In addition, the conference was planned alongside the seventh annual John Cardinal Cody Lecture, offered by John J. Collins of Yale Divinity School on the topic “What Have We Learned from the Dead Sea Scrolls?”3
The present volume comprises seventeen contributions, which we have arranged following a roughly chronological order according to their contents. The golden calf narrative depicts Israel’s idolatry during the exodus saga and was considered by some ancient writers to be the worst of their sins in the history of their relationship with God. Their own uses of the tradition are diversified and sometimes controversial. Accordingly, the seventeen contributions in this volume reflect that diversity, both in terms of methodology and content. The first chapters discuss the earliest biblical attestations of the legend and their intra-biblical connections. Then we follow subsequent paths of analysis in Jewish, Christian, and qur’anic and Islamic texts and traditions. The ancient interpreters sometimes handle the calf narrative explicitly, sometimes use it implicitly as a conceptual and literary model for a new and different narrative, or sometimes avoid it in contexts where it would have been logical and expected to be utilized. In this way we have not only analyzed the calf tradition’s explicit Fortleben, but also its allusions and echoes, and even the silence of some apologetic texts.
The five opening chapters deal with explicit or potential golden calf imagery in Jewish canonical and extracanonical texts. In the first chapter, Robert A. Di Vito argues that Exod 32 and Deut 9:7–10:11 are intertexts, products of inner-biblical interpretation. The second contribution, by Ralph W. Klein, analyzes the so-called “sin” of Jeroboam and concludes that his calves may very well represent an earlier tradition that linked Aaron in a positive way to the golden calf incident. Pauline A. Viviano concludes that the books of Hosea and Jeremiah show no awareness of the Sinai/Horeb calf story, but the golden calves of Jeroboam are alluded to in Hosea. The following chapter, by Richard J. Bautch, explores the penitential uses of the golden calf episode in Nehemiah and in Ps 106. Finally, Daniel Assefa and Kelley Coblentz Bautch demonstrate that the worship of the golden calf is indeed narrated—even if obliquely—in the Animal Apocalypse of 1 Enoch.
Next, three chapters examine Hellenistic Jewish authors for whom the golden calf episode is so embarrassing that it has to be reworked and retold (Philo, by Thomas H. Tobin, S.J.; and Pseudo-Philo’s Liber Antiquitatum Biblicarum, by John C. Endres, S.J., with the assistance of Peter Claver Ajer) or even fully omitted (Josephus, by Gregory E. Sterling) in their reconstructions of past Jewish history.
Four chapters are dedicated to direct engagement with or echoes of the golden calf narrative by New Testament authors. Alec J. Lucas identifies five Pauline references to the golden calf incident and argues that Paul reflects a competing tradition found in Wisdom of Solomon. Joel B. Green critically analyzes the significant role of the golden calf memory in Stephen’s speech in Acts 7. Eric F. Mason shows how vocabulary and imagery from the calf story in Deut 9 are utilized by the author of the Epistle to the Hebrews, even if the text lacks any explicit mention of the incident. Similarly, Edmondo F. Lupieri suggests that the golden calf imagery plays a constitutive background role in some of the apocalyptic visions in John’s Book of Revelation.
The five concluding chapters follow further developments of the golden calf narrative in subsequent Jewish, Christian, and Islamic traditions. Devorah Schoenfeld studies how the biblical incident becomes a useful tool for midrashic and liturgical reflections about the nature of sin and the possibility for repentance in rabbinic Jewish thought. Wesley E. Dingman analyzes the anti-Jewish use of the golden calf narrative in polemical works by patristic authors as well as its pedagogical (and allegorical) reinterpretation, particularly in the Augustinian tradition. Andrew Radde-Gallwitz focuses on how for Justin Martyr the biblical event becomes the quintessential example of Jewish infidelity and hardness of heart in order to support his argument to demarcate the “Jews” from the “Christians.” Pre-Islamic Syriac authors are the subject of Andrew J. Hayes’s essay, which shows how for them the biblical narrative is a key text for understanding the church in salvation history and for commending repentance and asceticism, not simply for anti-Jewish polemic. Finally, Michael E. Pregill discusses qur’anic and Islamic interaction with the narrative, arguing that the mysterious “Samaritan” of the calf account in the Qur’an is indeed an epithet for Aaron and showing how post-qur’anic Islamic and Jewish interpretive traditions developed by influencing each other reciprocally.
We are delighted that the manuscript was accepted by Brill to be published in the Themes in Biblical Narrative series, and we benefitted much from the guidance of series editor Rob Kugler and Brill’s Tessa Schild and Ester Lels at numerous points. We also wish to acknowledge the many people who helped us with the conference and the resulting volume. The conference was made possible by generous financial support from the Chicago Society of Biblical Research and various institutions at Loyola, including the Office of the Provost, the College of Arts and Sciences, the Graduate School, the John Cardinal Cody Chair in Theology, and the Department of Theology. Also, Randall Newman from the Department of Theology handled vital logistical arrangements that ensured the conference ran smoothly. Several Loyola Ph.D. students in New Testament and Early Christianity assisted during the conference and especially throughout the long editorial process, including Scott Brevard, Wesley Dingman, Shane Gormley, Jonathan Hatter, Joshua King, and Jef Tripp. Finally and foremost, we are extremely grateful for the participation and the patience of the contributors, without which this book would not have come to light. We have learned much from their scholarly insights and dialogue, and we offer our sincere thanks to each and every one of them.