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A Frauenkirche Dresden sculpture depicting Aaron.
Armenian Apostolic Church
A Frauenkirche Dresden sculpture depicting Aaron.
Armenian Apostolic Church
In the Hebrew Bible and the Qur'an, Aaron (pron.: // or //; Hebrew: אַהֲרֹן Ahărōn, Arabic: هارون Hārūn, Greek (Septuagint): Ααρών ), who is often called "'Aaron the Priest"' (אֵהֲרֹן הֵכֹּהֵן) and once Aaron the Levite (אַהֲרֹן הַלֵּוִי) (Exodus 4:14), was the older brother of Moses, (Exodus 6:16-20, 7:7; Qur'an 28:34) and a prophet of God. He represented the priestly functions of his tribe, becoming the first High Priest of the Israelites. While Moses was receiving his education at the Egyptian royal court, and during his exile among the Midianites, Aaron and his sister Miriam remained with their kinsmen in the eastern border-land of Egypt (Goshen). There, Aaron gained a name for eloquent and persuasive speech, so that when the time came for the demand upon the Pharaoh to release Israel from captivity, Aaron became his brother’s nabi, or spokesman, to his own people (Exodus 7:1) and, after their unwillingness to hear, to the Pharaoh himself (Exodus 7:9). Various dates for his life have been proposed, ranging from approximately 1600 to 1200 BC. The Jewish Encyclopedia suggests two possible accounts of Aaron's death. The principal one gives a detailed statement that soon after the incident at Meribah, Aaron, with his son Eleazar and Moses, ascended Mount Hor. There Moses stripped Aaron of his priestly garments and transferred them to Eleazar. Aaron died on the summit of the mountain, and the people mourned for him thirty days (Numbers 20:22-29; compare 33:38-39). The other account is found in Deuteronomy 10:6, where Moses is reported as saying that Aaron died at Moserah and was buried there. Aaron is also mentioned in the New Testament of the Bible.
Great-grandfather: Levi, third of 12 sons and tribes of Israel
Aaron’s function included the duties of speaker and implied personal dealings with the Egyptian royal court on behalf of Moses. The part played by Aaron in the events that preceded the Exodus was, therefore, ministerial, and not directive. He, along with Moses, performed "signs" before his people which impressed them with a belief in the reality of the divine mission of the brothers (Exodus 4:15–16).
At the command of Moses he stretched out his rod in order to bring on the first of three plagues (Exodus 7:19, 8:1,12). In the infliction of the remaining plagues, he appears to have acted merely as the attendant of Moses, whose outstretched rod drew the divine wrath upon the Pharaoh and his subjects (Exodus 9:23, 10:13,22). The display of potency from Aaron's rod had already been demonstrated in the presence of Pharaoh's magicians; when Aaron's rod was thrown down to the ground it had turned into a snake, so Pharaoh's magicians performed the same act with their own rods. However, Aaron's snake ate up all the other snakes (Exodus 7:9) proving his rod was victorious.
During the journey in the wilderness, Aaron is not always prominent or active; and he sometimes appears guilty of rebellious or treasonable conduct. At the battle with Amalek, he is chosen with Hur to support the hand of Moses that held the "rod of God" (Exodus 17:9). When the revelation was given to Moses at Mount Sinai, he headed the elders of Israel who accompanied Moses on the way to the summit. Joshua, however, was admitted with his leader to the very presence of the Lord, while Aaron and Hur remained below to look after the people (Exodus 24:9-14). It was during the prolonged absence of Moses that Aaron yielded to the clamors of the people, and made a Golden Calf as a visible image of the divinity who had delivered them from Egypt (Exodus 32:1-6). (It should be noted that in the account given of the same events, in rabbinic sources (b. Talmud Shabbat 99a; Exodus Rabbah 41) and in the Qur'an, Aaron is not the idol-maker and upon Moses' return begged his pardon as he had felt mortally threatened by the Israelites (Quran 7:142-152).) At the intercession of Moses, Aaron was saved from the plague which smote the people (Deuteronomy 9:20, Exodus 32:35), although it was against Aaron’s tribe of Levi that the work of punitive vengeance was committed (Exodus 32:26).
At the time when the tribe of Levi was set apart for the priestly service, Aaron was anointed and consecrated to the priesthood, arrayed in the robes of his office, and instructed in its manifold duties (Exodus 28, Exodus 29).
On the very day of his consecration, his sons, Nadab and Abihu, were consumed by fire from the Lord for having offered incense in an unlawful manner (Leviticus 10).
Scholarly consensus is that in Aaron's high priesthood the sacred writer intended to describe a model, the prototype, so to say, of the Jewish high priest. God, on Mount Sinai instituting a worship, also instituted an order of priests. According to the patriarchal customs, the firstborn son in every family used to perform the functions connected with God's worship. It might have been expected, consequently, that Reuben's family would be chosen by God for the ministry of the new altar. However, according to the biblical narrative it was Aaron who was the object of God's choice. To what jealousies this gave rise later, has been indicated above. The office of the Aaronites was at first merely to take care of the lamp that was to burn perpetually before the veil of the tabernacle (Exodus 27:21). A more formal calling soon followed (Exodus 28:1). Aaron and his sons, distinguished from the commoners by their sacred functions, were also to receive holy garments suitable to their office.
Aaron offered the various sacrifices and performed the many ceremonies of the consecration of the new priests, according to divine instructions (Exodus 29) and repeated these rites for seven days, during which Aaron and his sons were entirely separated from the rest of the people. When, on the eighth day, the high priest had inaugurated his office of sacrifice by killing the animals, he blessed the people (very likely according to the prescriptions of Numbers 6:24-26), and, with Moses, entered into the tabernacle to possess it. They "came forth and blessed the people. And the glory of the Lord appeared to all the multitude: And behold a fire, coming forth from the Lord, devoured the holocaust, and the fat that was upon the altar: which when the multitude saw, they praised the Lord, falling on their faces" (Leviticus 9:23-24). In this way the institution of the Aaronic priesthood was established.
From the time of the sojourn at Mount Sinai, where he became the anointed priest of Israel, Aaron ceased to be the minister of Moses, his place being taken by Joshua. He is mentioned in Numbers 12 in association with Miriam in a jealous complaint against the exclusive claims of Moses as the LORD’s prophet. The presumption of the murmurers was rebuked, and Miriam became leprous, as white as snow. Aaron entreated Moses to intercede for her, at the same time confessing the sin and folly that prompted the uprising. Aaron himself was not struck with the plague on account of sacerdotal immunity; and Miriam, after seven days’ quarantine, was healed and restored to favor. Micah a prophet in Judaism, mentions Moses, Aaron, and Miriam as the leaders of Israel after the Exodus (a judgment wholly in accord with the tenor of the narratives). (Micah 6:4) In the present instance it is made clear by the express words of the oracle ( ) that Moses was unique among men as the one with whom the Lord spoke face to face. The failure to recognize or concede this prerogative of their brother was the sin of Miriam and Aaron.
The validity of the exclusive priesthood of the family of Aaron was attested after the ill-fated rebellion of Korah, who was a first cousin of Aaron. When the earth had opened and swallowed up the leaders of the insurgents (Numbers 16:25-35), Eleazar, the son of Aaron, was commissioned to take charge of the censers of the dead priests. And when the plague had broken out among the people who had sympathized with the rebels, Aaron, at the command of Moses, took his censer and stood between the living and the dead till the plague was stayed (Numbers 17:1-15, 16:36-50).
Another memorable transaction followed. Each of the tribal princes of Israel took a rod and wrote his name upon it, and the twelve rods were laid up over night in the tent of meeting. The next morning Aaron’s rod was found to have budded and blossomed and produced ripe almonds (Numbers 17:8). The miracle proved merely the prerogative of the tribe of Levi; but now a formal distinction was made in perpetuity between the family of Aaron and the other Levites. While all the Levites (and only Levites) were to be devoted to sacred services, the special charge of the sanctuary and the altar was committed to the Aaronites alone (Numbers 18:1-7). The scene of this enactment is unknown, as is the time mentioned.
Aaron, like Moses, was not permitted to enter Canaan with the others. The reason alleged is that the two brothers showed impatience at Meribah (Kadesh) in the last year of the desert pilgrimage (Numbers 20:12-13), when Moses brought water out of a rock to quench the thirst of the people. The action was construed as displaying a want of deference to the Lord, since they had been commanded to speak to the rock, whereas Moses struck it with the staff, twice (Numbers 20:7-11).
Of the death of Aaron we have two accounts. The principal one gives a detailed statement that soon after the incident at Meribah, Aaron, with his son Eleazar and Moses, ascended Mount Hor. There Moses stripped Aaron of his priestly garments and transferred them to Eleazar. Aaron died on the summit of the mountain, and the people mourned for him thirty days (Numbers 20:22-29; compare 33:38-39). The other account is found in Deuteronomy 10:6, where Moses is reported as saying that Aaron died at Moserah and was buried there. There is a significant amount of travel between these two points, as the itinerary in Numbers 33:31–37 records seven stages between Moseroth (Mosera) and Mount Hor.
The older prophets and prophetical writers beheld in their priests the representatives of a religious form inferior to the prophetic truth; men without the spirit of God and lacking the will-power requisite to resist the multitude in its idolatrous proclivities. Thus Aaron, the first priest, ranks below Moses: he is his mouthpiece, and the executor of the will of God revealed through Moses, although it is pointed out that it is said fifteen times in the Pentateuch that "the Lord spoke to Moses and Aaron." Under the influence of the priesthood that shaped the destinies of the nation under Persian rule, a different ideal of the priest was formed, according to Malachi 2:4–7, and the prevailing tendency was to place Aaron on a footing equal with Moses. "At times Aaron, and at other times Moses, is mentioned first in Scripture—this is to show that they were of equal rank," says Mekilta, who strongly implies this when introducing in his record of renowned men the glowing description of Aaron’s ministration.
In fulfilment of the promise of peaceful life, symbolized by the pouring of oil upon his head (Leviticus Rabbah x., Midrash Teh. cxxxiii. 1), Aaron's death, as described in the Haggadah, was of a wonderful tranquility. Accompanied by Moses, his brother, and by Eleazar, his son, Aaron went to the summit of Mount Hor, where the rock suddenly opened before him and a beautiful cave lit by a lamp presented itself to his view. "Take off thy priestly raiment and place it upon thy son Eleazar!" said Moses; "and then follow me." Aaron did as commanded; and they entered the cave, where was prepared a bed around which angels stood. "Go lie down upon thy bed, my brother," Moses continued; and Aaron obeyed without a murmur. Then his soul departed as if by a kiss from God. The cave closed behind Moses as he left; and he went down the hill with Eleazar, with garments rent, and crying: "Alas, Aaron, my brother! thou, the pillar of supplication of Israel!" When the Israelites cried in bewilderment, "Where is Aaron?" angels were seen carrying Aaron's bier through the air. A voice was then heard saying: "The law of truth was in his mouth, and iniquity was not found on his lips: he walked with me in righteousness, and brought many back from sin" (Malachi 2:6). He died, according to Seder Olam Rabbah ix., R. H. 2, 3a, on the first of Ab." The pillar of cloud which proceeded in front of Israel's camp disappeared at Aaron's death (see Seder 'Olam, ix. and R. H. 2b-3a). The seeming contradiction between Numbers 20:22 et seq. and Deuteronomy 10:6 is solved by the rabbis in the following manner: Aaron's death on Mount Hor was marked by the defeat of the people in a war with the king of Arad, in consequence of which the Israelites fled, marching seven stations backward to Mosera, where they performed the rites of mourning for Aaron; wherefore it is said: "There [at Mosera] died Aaron."
The rabbis also dwell with special laudation on the brotherly sentiment which united Aaron and Moses. When the latter was appointed ruler and Aaron high priest, neither betrayed any jealousy; instead they rejoiced in one another's greatness. When Moses at first declined to go to Pharaoh, saying: "O my Lord, send, I pray thee, by the hand of him whom thou wilt send" (Exodus 4:13), he was unwilling to deprive Aaron, his brother, of the high position the latter had held for so many years; but the Lord reassured him, saying: "Behold, when he seeth thee, he will be glad in his heart" (Exodus 4:14). Indeed, Aaron was to find his reward, says Shimon bar Yochai; for that heart which had leaped with joy over his younger brother's rise to glory greater than his was decorated with the Urim and Thummim, which were to "be upon Aaron's heart when he goeth in before the Lord" (Canticles Rabbah i. 10). Moses and Aaron met in gladness of heart, kissing each other as true brothers (Exodus 4:27; compare Song of Songs 8:1), and of them it is written: "Behold how good and how pleasant [it is] for brethren to dwell together in unity!" (Psalms 133:1). Of them it is said: "Mercy and truth are met together; righteousness and peace have kissed [each other]" (Psalms 85:10); for Moses stood for righteousness, according to Deuteronomy 33:21, and Aaron for peace, according to Malachi 2:6. Again, mercy was personified in Aaron, according to Deuteronomy 33:8, and truth in Moses, according to Numbers 12:7 .
When Moses poured the oil of anointment upon the head of Aaron, Aaron modestly shrank back and said: "Who knows whether I have not cast some blemish upon this sacred oil so as to forfeit this high office." Then the Shekhinah spoke the words: "Behold the precious ointment upon the head, that ran down upon the beard of Aaron, that even went down to the skirts of his garment, is as pure as the dew of Hermon" (Psalm 133:2-3) .
According to Tanhuma, Aaron’s activity as a prophet began earlier than that of Moses. Hillel held Aaron up as an example, saying: "Be of the disciples of Aaron, loving peace and pursuing peace; love your fellow creatures and draw them nigh unto the Law!" This is further illustrated by the tradition preserved in Abot de-Rabbi Natan 12, Sanhedrin 6b, and elsewhere, according to which Aaron was an ideal priest of the people, far more beloved for his kindly ways than was Moses. While Moses was stern and uncompromising, brooking no wrong, Aaron went about as peacemaker, reconciling man and wife when he saw them estranged, or a man with his neighbor when they quarreled, and winning evil-doers back into the right way by his friendly intercourse. The mourning of the people at Aaron’s death was greater, therefore, than at that of Moses; for whereas, when Aaron died the whole house of Israel wept, including the women. Numbers 20:29 Moses was bewailed by "the sons of Israel" only (Deuteronomy 34:8). Even in the making of the Golden Calf the rabbis find extenuating circumstances for Aaron. His fortitude and silent submission to the will of God on the loss of his two sons are referred to as an excellent example to men how to glorify God in the midst of great affliction. Especially significant are the words represented as being spoken by God after the princes of the Twelve Tribes had brought their dedication offerings into the newly reared Tabernacle: "Say to thy brother Aaron: Greater than the gifts of the princes is thy gift; for thou art called upon to kindle the light, and, while the sacrifices shall last only as long as the Temple lasts, thy light shall last forever."
While Aaron and his descendants were the high priests of Judaism, Melchizedek, a mystical figure who lived more than seven centuries before Moses, is considered a high priest and Christ is said to be of the same rite of Melchizedek of the New Covenant (see the Book of Hebrews).
However, in the Eastern Orthodox and Maronite churches, Aaron is venerated as a saint whose feast day is shared with his brother Moses and celebrated on September 4. (Those churches that follow the traditional Julian Calendar celebrate this day on September 17 of the modern Gregorian Calendar). Aaron is also commemorated with other Old Testament saints on the Sunday of the Holy Fathers, the Sunday before Christmas.
Aaron is commemorated as one of the Holy Forefathers in the Calendar of Saints of the Armenian Apostolic Church on July 30. He is commemorated on July 1 in the modern Latin calendar and in the Syriac Calendar.
In the The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, the Aaronic order is the lesser order of priesthood, comprising the grades (from lowest to highest) of deacon, teacher, and priest. The chief office of the Aaronic priesthood is the presiding bishopric; the head of the priesthood is the bishop. Each ward includes a quorum of one or more of each office of the Aaronic priesthood.
Aaron (Arabic: هارون, Harun) is also mentioned in the Qur'an as a prophet of God. The Qur'an praises Aaron repeatedly, calling him a "believing servant" as well as one who was "guided" and one of the "victors". Aaron is important in Islam for his role in the events of the Exodus, in which, according to the Qur'an and Muslim tradition, he preached with his brother Moses to the Pharaoh of the Exodus. Aaron's significance in Islam, however, is not limited to his role as the helper of Moses. Islamic tradition also accords Aaron the role of a patriarch, as tradition records that the priestly descent came through Aaron's lineage, which included the entire House of Amran.
The Qur'an states that Aaron was the brother of Moses and like his brother he too was a prophet who was tasked by God with saving the Israelites from the tyrannical Pharaoh. In the Qur'an God says:
Then after them We sent Moses and Aaron with Our signs to the Pharaoh and his nobles; but they behaved arrogantly, for they were a people full of guilt.
Thus, when the truth had come to them from Us, they said: "Surely this is nothing but pure magic."—Qur'an, sura 10 (Yunus), ayat 75-76
Aaron was a gifted speaker. He was largely responsible with teaching the Israelites the way of worship as it was laid out in the Torah of the time. According to the Qur'an, Moses prayed to God to grant him his brother Aaron as a helper to be with him in all his tasks ahead. God, in the Qur'an, says that Moses said:
So send my brother Aaron with me as helper for he is more fluent than I with words, that he should affirm me, for I fear that they would call me a liar."
God granted Moses his request and told him that he could take his brother along with him. God says:
(And) God said: "We shall strengthen your arm with your brother, and give you power with Our signs and give you authority, so that they will not be able to harm you. Both of you and your followers will be victorious."—Qur'an, sura 28, ayah 35
Aaron, being a prophetic messenger, was also given the law by God, to preach to the Children of Israel according to the Torah. The Qur'an mentions the holy scripture as a light and guidance for those who would accept the Message. God says in the Qur'an:
We gave Moses and Aaron the Criterion, and a light and reminder for those who take heed for themselves,
When Moses led his people on the Exodus to Mount Sinai, he told them that he would be gone for a few days to receive the Tablets of the Law. He informed the Israelites that Aaron would be their leader in his absence. However, the moment Moses left, an evil man, Samiri, fashioned an idol calf out of the people's gold and jewelry and he made the Israelites succumb to idolatry.
Aaron preached with powerful zeal to his people, but they refused to listen to him. It is here that the Qur'anic narrative of the incident sharply contrasts with the Biblical story, which blames Aaron for making the golden calf. Aaron was overpowered and was threatened with being killed by his people. When Moses returned from Mount Sinai, he blamed Aaron for allowing the Israelites to worship this idol and seized his brother by his beard, but Aaron then gave his explanation, after which Moses prayed to God to forgive both of them. As God says in the Qur'an:
When Moses came back to his people, angry and grieved, he said: "Evil it is that ye have done in my place in my absence: did ye make haste to bring on the judgment of your Lord?" He put down the tablets, seized his brother by (the hair of) his head, and dragged him to him. Aaron said: "Son of my mother! the people did indeed reckon me as naught, and went near to slaying me! Make not the enemies rejoice over my misfortune, nor count thou me amongst the people of sin."
Moses prayed: "O my Lord! forgive me and my brother! admit us to Thy mercy! for Thou art the Most Merciful of those who show mercy!"—Qur'an, sura 7 (Al-'A'raf), ayat 150-151
Muhammad, in many of his sayings, speaks of Aaron. In the event of the Mi'raj, his miraculous ascension through the Heavens, Muhammad is said to have encountered Aaron in the fifth heaven. According to old scholars, including Ibn Hisham, Muhammad, in particular, mentioned the beauty of Aaron when he encountered him in Heaven. Martin Lings, in his biographical Muhammad, speaks of Muhammad's wonderment at seeing fellow prophets in their heavenly glory:
Aaron was also mentioned by Muhammad in likeness to Ali. Muhammad had left Ali to look after his family, but the hypocrites of the time begun to spread the rumor that the prophet found Ali a burden and was relieved to be rid of his presence. Ali, grieved at hearing this wicked taunt, told Muhammad what the local people were saying. In reply, the Prophet said: "They lie, I bade thee remain for the sake of what I had left behind me. So return and represent me in my family and in thine. Art thou not content, O Ali, that thou should be unto me as Aaron was unto Moses, save that after me there is no prophet. "
According to Islamic tradition the tomb of Aaron is located on Jabal Harun, or Aaron's Mountain, near Petra in Jordan. At 1350 meters above sea-level it is the highest peak in the area; and it is a place of great sanctity to the local people for here. A 14th century Jordanian mosque stands here with its white dome visible from most areas in and around Petra.
Aaron married Elisheba, daughter of Amminadab and sister of Nahshon (Exodus 6:23) of the tribe of Judah. The sons of Aaron were Eleazar, Ithamar, and Nadab and Abihu. A descendant of Aaron is an Aaronite, or Kohen, meaning Priest. Any non-Aaronic Levite—i.e., descended from Levi but not from Aaron—assisted the Levitical priests of the family of Aaron in the care of the tabernacle; later of the temple.
Depictions of Aaron within art history are rare. Other than Aaron's inclusion in the crowd of revelers around the Golden Calf ceremony—most notably in Nicolas Poussin’s "The Adoration of the Golden Calf" (ca. 1633–34, National Gallery London)—there is little else. The recent discovery in 1991 of Pier Francesco Mola’s "Aaron, Holy to the Lord" (ca. 1650, Private Collection, New York: image available for study at Fred R. Kline Gallery Archives) adds to the Aaronic mythos. The painting offers a portrayal of the single figure of Aaron in his priestly garments celebrating Yom Kippur in the wilderness Tabernacle. The Mola "Aaron" is considered the unique single figure of Aaron to have been painted by an old master artist, circa 15th–18th centuries (A.Pigler, "Barockthemen" Vol. 1; although unknown to Pigler). The carefully rendered Judaic iconographic details in the Mola painting are rare and may have importance in relationship to mid-17th century Jewish history. "Aaron, Holy to the Lord" was originally commissioned along with a now lost pendant of Moses (both from Mola) by the nobel Colonna family, wealthy Catholic art patrons living in Rome.
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