the Week of Proper 3 / Ordinary 8
Cyclopedia of Biblical, Theological and Ecclesiastical Literature
[vulgarly pronounced Ar'on] (Heb. Aharon', אתְֲרֹן, derivation uncertain: Gesenius, Thesaur. Hebrews p. 33, thinks from the obsolete root אָתִר, to be libidinous [so the Heb. Lex. Aruch, from תָרָת, referring (erroneously) to his conception during the Pharaonic edict]; but in his Hebrews Lex. s.v. compares with תָרוֹן, mountaineer; Furst, Hebrews Handworterbuch, s.v., makes it signify enlightener, from an obsolete root אָתִר = אוֹר, to shine. Sept., N.T., and Josephus, Ἀαρών).
I. History. — Aaron was the eldest son of the Levite Amram by Jochebed, and the brother of Moses (Exodus 6:20; Exodus 7:7; Numbers 26:59); born B.C. 1742. He is first mentioned in the account of Moses' vision of the burning bush (Exodus 4:14), whore the latter was reminded by the Lord that Aaron possessed a high degree of persuasive readiness of speech, and could therefore speak in His name in his behalf. During the absence of Moses in Midian (B.C. 1698-1658), Aaron had married a woman of the tribe of Judah, named Elisheba (or Elizabeth), who had borne to him four sons, Nadab, Abihu, Eleazar, and Ithamar; and Eleazar had, before the return of Moses, become the father of Phinehas (Exodus 6:23-25). Pursuant to an intimation from God, Aaron went into the wilderness to meet his long-exiled brother, and conduct him back to Egypt. They met and embraced each other at the Mount of Horeb (Exodus 4:27), B.C. 1658. When they arrived in Goshen, Aaron, who appears to have been well known to the chiefs of Israel, introduced his brother to them, and aided him in opening and enforcing his great commission (Exodus 4:29-31). In the subsequent transactions, Aaron appears to have been almost always present with his more illustrious brother, assisting and supporting him; and no separate act of his own is recorded, although he seems to have been the actual instrument of effecting many of the miracles (Exodus 7:1-25; Exodus 19:1-25 sq.). Aaron and Hur were present on the hill from which Moses surveyed the battle which Joshua fought with the Amalekites (Exodus 17:10-12); and these two long sustained the weary hands upon whose uplifting (in order to extend the official rod, rather than in prayer, see ver. 9) the fate of the battle was found to depend. Afterward, when Moses ascended Mount Sinai to receive the tables of the law, Aaron, with his sons and seventy of the elders, accompanied him part of the way up, and were permitted to behold afar off the symbol of the Sacred Presence (Exodus 24:1-2; Exodus 24:9-11). During the absence of Moses in the mountain the people seem to have looked upon Aaron as their head, and an occasion arose which fully vindicates the divine preference of Moses by showing that, notwithstanding the seniority and greater eloquence of Aaron, he wanted the high qualities which were essential in the leader of the Israelites (see Niemeyer, Charakt. 3, 238 sq.). The people at length concluded that Moses had perished in the fire that gleamed upon the mountain's top, and, gathering around Aaron, clamorosly demanded that he should provide them with a visible symbolic image of their God, that they might worship him as other gods were worshipped (Exodus 32:1-35). Either through fear or ignorance, Aaron complied with their demand; and with the ornaments of gold which they freely offered, cast the figure of a calf (see Kitto's Daily Bible Illust. in loc.). (See CALF).
However, to fix the meaning of this image as a symbol of the true God, Aaron was careful to proclaim a feast to Jehovah for the ensuing day (see Moncaeius, Aaron purgatus sive de vitulo aures, Atreb. 1605, Franckf. 1675). At this juncture, Moses' reappearance confounded the multitude, who were severely punished for this sin. Aaron attempted to excuse himself by casting the whole blame upon the people, but was sternly rebuked by his brother, at whose earnest intercessions, however, he received the divine forgiveness (Deuteronomy 9:20). During this and a second absence in the mountain, Moses had received instructions regarding the ecclesiastical establishment, the tabernacle, and the priesthood, which he soon afterward proceeded to execute. (See TABERNACLE); (See WORSHIP). Under the new institution Aaron was to be high-priest, and his sons and descendants priests; and the whole tribe to which he belonged, that of Levi, was set apart as the sacerdotal or learned caste. (See LEVITE). Accordingly, after the tabernacle had been completed, and every preparation made for the commencement of actual service, Aaron and his sons were consecrated by Moses, who anointed them with the holy oil and invested them with the sacred garments (Leviticus 8:1-36; Leviticus 9:1-24), B.C. 1657. The high-priest applied himself assiduously to the duties of his exalted office, and during the period of nearly forty years that it was filled by him his name seldom comes under our notice. But soon after his elevation his two eldest sons, Nadab and Abihu, were struck dead for daring, seemingly when in a state of partial inebriety, to conduct the service of God in an irregular manner, by offering incense with unlawful fire. On this occasion it was enjoined that the priests should manifest none of the ordinary signs of mourning for the loss of those who were so dear to them. To this heavy stroke Aaron bowed in silence (Leviticus 10:1-11). Aaron joined in, or at least sanctioned, the invidious conduct of his sister Miriam, who, after the wife of Moses had been brought to the camp by Jethro, became apprehensive for her own position, and cast reflections upon Moses, much calculated to damage his influence, on account of his marriage with a foreigner — always an odious thing, among the Hebrews. For this Miriam was struck with temporary leprosy, which brought the high-priest to a sense of his sinful conduct, and he sought and obtained forgiveness (Numbers 12:1-16). (See MIRIAM).
Subsequently to this (apparently B.C. 1620), a formidable conspiracy was organized against Aaron and his sons, as well as against Moses, by chiefs of influence and station — Korah, of the tribe of Levi, and Dathan and Abiram, of the tribe of Reuben. (See KORAH). But the divine appointment was attested and confirmed by the signal destruction of the conspirators; and the next day, when the people assembled tumultuously, and murmured loudly at the destruction which had overtaken their leaders and friends, a fierce pestilence broke out among them, and they fell by thousands on the spot. When this was seen, Aaron, at the command of Moses, filled a censer with fire from the altar, and, rushing forward, arrested the plague between the living and the dead (Numbers 16:1-50). This was, in fact, another attestation of the divine appointment; and, for its further confirmation, as regarded Aaron and his family, the chiefs of the several tribes were required to deposit their staves, and with them was placed that of Aaron for the tribe of Levi. They were all laid up together over night in the tabernacle, and in the morning it was found that, while the other rods remained as they were, that of Aaron had budded, blossomed, and yielded the fruit of almonds. The rod was preserved in the tabernacle (comp. Hebrews 9:4) as an authentic evidence of the divine appointment of the Aaronic family to the priesthood — which, indeed, does not appear to have been ever afterward disputed (Numbers 17:1-13). Aaron was not allowed to enter the Promised Land, on account of the distrust which he, as well as his brother, manifested when the rock was stricken at Meribah (Numbers 20:8-13). When the host arrived at Mount Hor, in going down the Wady Arabah (See EXODE), in order to double the mountainous territory of Edom, the divine mandate came that Aaron, accompanied by his brother Moses and by his son Eleazar, should ascend to the top of that mountain in the view of all the people; and that he should there transfer his pontifical robes to Eleazar, and then die (Numbers 20:23-29). He was 123 years old when his career thus strikingly terminated; and his son and his brother buried him in a cavern of the mountain, B.C. 1619. (See HOR).
The Israelites mourned for him thirty days; and on the first day of the month Ab the Jews yet hold a fast in commemoration of his death (Kitto, s.v.). The Arabs still show the traditionary site of his grave (Numbers 20:28; Numbers 33:38; Deuteronomy 32:50), which in the time of Eusebius was reputed to be situated in Petra, in the modern Wady Mousa (Onomast. s.v. Or; Am. Bib. Repos. 1838, p. 432, 640). He is mentioned in the Koran (Hottinger, Hist. Orient. p. 85 sq.), and the Rabbins have many fabulous stories relating to him (Eisenmenger, Ent. Judenth. 1:342,855,864). For Talmudical references, see Real-Encyklop. s.v. For an attempted identification with Mercury, see the Europ. Mag. 1:16. (See MOSES).
In Psalms 133:2, Aaron's name occurs as that of the first anointed priest. His descendants ("sons of Aaron," Joshua 21:4; Joshua 21:10; Joshua 21:13, etc.; poetically, "house of Aaron," Psalms 115:10; Psalms 115:12; Psalms 118:3, etc.) were the priesthood in general, his lineal descendants being the high- priests. (See AARONITE). Even in the time of David, these were a very numerous body (1 Chronicles 12:27). The other branches of the tribe of Levi were assigned subordinate sacred duties. (See LEVITE). For the list of the pontiffs, including those of the line of Ithamar (q.v.), to whom the office was for some reason transferred from the family of the senior Eleazar (see Josephus, Ant. v. 11, 5, 8:1, 3), but afterward restored (comp. 1 Samuel 2:30), (See HIGH-PRIEST).
II. Priesthood. — Aaron and his sons were invested by Moses with the priestly office, which was to remain in Aaron's line forever (Exodus 29:1-46). This was altogether distinct from the semi-sacerdotal character with which his mere seniority in the family invested him according to patriarchal usage. The duty and right of sacrificing to God was thereafter reserved to that family exclusively. The high-priesthood was confined to the first-born in succession; and the rest of his posterity were priests, simply so called, or priests of the second order (Ernesti, De Aarone, Wittenb. 1688-9). (See SACERDOTAL ORDER).
III. Typical Character. — Aaron was a type of Christ (see Hylander, De Aarone summisque Judoeor. pontificibus, Messioe typis, Lond. and Goth. 1827) — not, indeed, in his personal, but in his official, character:
1. As high-priest, offering sacrifice;
2. In entering into the holy place on the great day of atonement, and reconciling the people to God; in making intercession for them, and pronouncing upon them the blessing of Jehovah, at the termination of solemn services;
3. In being anointed with the holy oil by effusion, which was pre-figurative of the Holy Spirit with which our Lord was endowed;
4. In bearing the names of all the tribes of Israel upon his breast and upon his shoulders, thus presenting them always before God, and representing them to Him;
5. In being the medium of their inquiring of God by Urim and Thummim, and of the communication of His will to them. But, though the offices of Aaron were typical, the priesthood of Christ is of a far higher order. Aaron's priesthood was designed as "a shadow of heavenly things," to lead the Israelites to look forward to "better things to come," when "another priest" should arise, "after the order of Melchizidek" (Hebrews 6:20), and who should "be constituted, not after the law of a carnal commandment, but after the power of an endless life." (See Hunter, Sacred Biog. p. 282 sq.; Evans, Scrip. Biog. 3, 77; Williams, Characters of O.T. p. 97; Gordon, Christ in the Ancient Church, 1:271.) (See PRIEST).
ADDENDUM FROM VOLUME 11:
The following description of the ascent to his reputed tomb on Mount Hor is taken from Porter's Handbook for Syria (p. 91). See HOR.
"Ascending the ravine from the south-eastern angle of the valley, we reach in about half an hour the plain called Sutuh Harun, which skirts the base of Mount Hor. Crossing this towards the south-east side of the peak, we find a path winding up to the summit. The ascent from the plain must be made on foot, and occupies about an hour. It is neither difficult nor dangerous if the proper track be followed, for in the steeper portions rude steps aid the pilgrim. Not far from the summit is a little platform, from which the central and culminating peak rises in broken masses, giving a peculiar character to the mountain, like —
‘ Embattled towers raised by Nature's hands.'
A deep cleft in the rock opens a way to the top. A little way up are the openings to subterraneous vaults with rounded arches, nearly similar to those in front of the tomb in the eastern cliff of Petra. From hence a staircase leads to the narrow platform on which the tomb stands.
"The tomb, as it now stands, is comparatively modern; but it is composed of the ruins of a more ancient and imposing structure. Some small columns are built up in the walls, and fragments of marble and granite lie scattered around. The door is in the- outh-west corner. An ordinary cenotaph, such as met with in every part of the East — a patchwork of stone and marble — is the only thing in the interior. It is covered with a ragged pall, and garnished with the usual accompaniments — old shawls, ostrich-eggs, and a few heads;" Near the north-west angle a staircase leads down to a dark vault, partly hewn in the rock. Visitors desirous of exploring this grotto would do well to have lights in readiness. The real tomb of the high-priest is here shown at the far end of the vault. It was formerly guarded by an iron grating. The date of the building is at least prior to the time of the Crusades; for the author of the Gesta Prancorum mentions that in the time of Baldwin (A.D. 1100) an expedition was made in vallem Moysi, to Wady Musa;' and that there, on the summit of a mountain, was an oratory. Fulcher of Chartres, who also gives an account of the expedition, says he saw the chapel. It is highly probable that the spot was held sacred by the Christians before the Mohammedan Conquest.
Aaron is commemorated as a Christian saint in the Ethiopic calendar on March 27; and his deposition on Mount Hor is assigned in early Roman martyrologies to July 1.
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McClintock, John. Strong, James. Entry for 'Aaron'. Cyclopedia of Biblical, Theological and Ecclesiastical Literature. https://www.studylight.org/​encyclopedias/​eng/​tce/​a/aaron.html. Harper & Brothers. New York. 1870.