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Bible Encyclopedias

Cyclopedia of Biblical, Theological and Ecclesiastical Literature

Calf-Worship.


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This appears to have originated in Egypt, where we know that brutes of nearly all sorts were held in reverence by some one or another of the various nomes into which that country was divided. (See ANIMAL WORSHIP). Of all these creatures, however, the calf, or rather bullock, seems to have been most generally adored, especially a peculiar description, or rather peculiarly-colored bull, to which, under the name of Apis or Mnevis, divine honors of the most extraordinary kind were paid throughout Egypt. It is from this form of idolatry that the scriptural examples of calf-worship are clearly derived. Yet it is possible that the commentators are not quite correct in supposing Apis to be the deity whose worship was imitated by the Jews, at least in the first instance. The Egyptians gave that name to a living bull which they worshipped at Memphis; but they also worshipped another living bull in the city of On, or Heliopolis, which they called Mne, or, according to the Greek form, Mnevis, and which they adored as the living emblem of the sun. Now the Israelites, from the circumstance of their living in the land of Goshen, in or near which Heliopolis was situated, and also from the connection of Joseph, the head of their nation, with one of the priestly families of that city, must have been well acquainted with its peculiar forms of idolatry. It is also very probable that many of them had joined in those rites during their sojourn. We might therefore naturally suppose that they would adopt them on this occasion; and the supposition that they did so is confirmed by a very curious fact, which has not yet been noticed, as baring upon this question. Champollion has observed, in his Pantheon Egyptien, that Mnevis is said by Porphyry and Plutarch to have been a black bull, as Apis unquestionably was; but he assures us that this is not the case with regard to the existing remains of ancient Egypt; for, although in the Egyptian paintings Apis is either colored black or black and white, Mnevis, on the contrary, in the only figure of him hitherto discovered; is colored bright yellow, evidently with the intention of representing a golden image. This fact, though not a conclusive proof, affords a strong presumption that the golden calf was made according to the usual form and color of the images of Mnevis. The annexed engraving represents this symbolical deity of Heliopolis as he is painted on the coffin of a mummy at Turin, the name being distinctly written in hieroglyphical characters, MNE, without the Greek termination. It differs in color only, and not in form, from another painting on the same coffin, which bears the name of Apis. Both have the same trappings the sun's disk between the horns, surmounted by the plume of ostrich feathers, signifying justice, and the whip, the emblem of power; and both are accompanied by the serpent, representing the spirit of the gods. The bull Mnevis or MIne-for vus is merely a Greek termination-was sumptuously lodged in the city On or Heliopolis, and this is all that we find recorded of him in ancient writers. Far more ancient than Apis, the era of his consecration is lost, and perhaps forever. The only circumstance which is of importance, save that the Israelites fell into his worship, is that he appears to have represented the zodiacal sign which was depicted yellow, while, by a curious anomaly, Apis, whose attributes all coincide with those of the sun, was black. The worship paid to him, though lasting till the downfall of the Egyptian hierarchy, gradually diminished before the more important and popular rites of Apis, and little is said of Mnevis. (See IDOLATRY).

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Bibliography Information
McClintock, John. Strong, James. Entry for 'Calf-Worship.'. Cyclopedia of Biblical, Theological and Ecclesiastical Literature. https://www.studylight.org/encyclopedias/tce/c/calf-worship.html. Harper & Brothers. New York. 1870.

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