- This article is about Aaron the Levite in the Hebrew Bible, the Qu'ran, and other sources. For other uses of the word Aaron, see Aaron.
In the Hebrew Bible, Aaron (), or Aaron the Levite (אהרֹן הלוי), was the brother of Moses. He was the great-grandson of Levi (Exodus 6:16-20) and represented the priestly functions of his tribe, becoming the first High Priest of the Hebrews. While Moses was receiving his education at the Egyptian royal court and during his exile among the Midianites, Aaron and his sister remained with their kinsmen in the eastern border-land of Egypt (Goshen). He there 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 4:16) and, after their unwillingness to hear, to the Pharaoh himself (Exodus 7:9). He is said to have flourished about 1200 BC (traditionally 1597 BC).
The meaning of the name "Aaron" is unclear. Possible meanings are:
- Pregnancy - In Hebrew - הריון. In Ancient Egyptian herr is to conceive and hrara is conception.
- From the mountain - In Hebrew הר - 'HAR', which may refer to place of his death.
- High mountain - In Arabic هارون - 'HAROUN' or 'HARUN'.
- One of light
He was the elder son of Amram and Jochebed of the tribe of Levi. Moses, the other son, being three years younger (Exodus 7:7), and Miriam, their sister, several years older (Exodus 2:4, Exodus 6:16, Numbers 33:39). Aaron was the great-grandson of Levi (Exodus 6:16-20).
Aaron’s function included the duties of speaker and implied personal dealings with the Egyptian royal court on behalf of Moses, who was always the central moving figure. 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 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 potency of Aaron’s rod had already been demonstrated by its victory over the rods of the Egyptian magicians, which it swallowed after all the rods alike had been turned into serpents (Exodus 7:9). 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 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 to 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 KJV, Exodus 29 KJV).
On the very day of his consecration, his sons; Nada and Abidjan, were consumed by fire from the Lord for having offered incense in an unlawful manner (Leviticus 10 KJV).
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, "phod". God, on Mount Sinai instituting a worship, and also instituted an order of priests.
According to the patriarchal customs, the First Born son in every family used to perform the functions connected with God's worship, "phod". It might have been expected, consequently, that Rueben'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 should ever burn 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 Common People by their sacred functions, were likewise to receive holy vestments suitable to their office.
Aaron offered the different sacrifices and performed the many ceremonies of the consecration of the new priests, according to the 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 so as to take possession thereof. As 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). So was the institution of the Aaronic priesthood inaugurated and solemnly ratified by the Lord.
Rebellion of KorahEdit
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 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 was smitten with tzara'as. 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 Numbers 12, Micah (6:4) 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). In the present instance it is made clear by the express words of the oracle (Numbers 12:6-8) 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. On the morrow Aaron’s rod was found to have budded and blossomed and borne 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, nor 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 they, or rather Moses, brought water out of a rock to quench the thirst of the people. Thus Aaron, the typical priest, ranks far below Moses: he is but 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 which shaped the destinies of the nation under Persian rule, a different ideal of the priest was formed, as is learned from Malachi 2:4-7; and the prevailing tendency was to place Aaron on a footing equal with Moses. 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... Aaron’s activity as a prophet began earlier than that of Moses. Hillel in Herod’s time saw before him mainly a degenerate class of priests, selfish and quarrelsome, held Aaron of old up as a mirror, saying: “Be of the disciples of Aaron, loving peace and pursuing peace; love your fellow creatures and draw them nigh unto the Law!” Many Cohenim, but not all, share a direct male lineage with a common Y chromosome, testing was done across sectors of the Jewish population to see if there was any commonality between their Y chromosomes. Many of the results were found to cluster rather closely around a particular DNA signature, which the researchers named the Cohen modal haplotype, implying that many of the Kohanim do share a distinctive common ancestry. This information was also used (perhaps prematurely) to support the claim of the Lemba (a sub-Saharan tribe) that they were in fact, a tribe of Jews.
The Cohen Modal Haplotype or CMH is found in Haplogroup Haplogroup, which geneticists estimate originated in the Southern Levant (modern day Israel, Jordan; biblical Canaan) or North Africa (Egypt) approximately 10,000 - 15,000 years ago. Biblical tradition holds that Abraham and his ancestors, the Semitic tribes, originated from Southern Arabia or East Africa (Genesis 10); Aaron and Moses were 7th generation descendants from Abraham (Exodus 6). The traditional date for Abraham is circa 2200-2000 BCE. Behar, et al, found Cohenim in a variety of haplogroups (E3b, G2, H, I1b, J, K2, Q, R1a1, R1b), which included those which originated in the Levant (J1, J2) and those from Southern Arabia, East Africa, or another geographic region.
The sons of Aaron were Eleazar, Ithamar, Nadab and Abihu. A priestly descendant of Aaron is an Aaronite or Cohen. A Levite is a non-Aaronic descendant of Levi assigned to assist the Levitical priests of the family of Aaron in the care of the tabernacle and later of the temple.
Aaron in ChristianityEdit
Aaron is considered a type of Christ, the High priest of the new dispensation. In the Eastern Orthodox Church and the Maronite Church he is venerated as a saint, with a Feast day celebrated on September 4, together with Moses (for those churches which follow the traditional Julian Calendar, September 4 falls on September 17 of the modern Gregorian Calendar). He is also commemorated, together with other righteous saints from the Old Testament on the Sunday of the Holy Fathers (the Sunday before Christ).
He is commemorated as one of the Holy Forefathers in the Calendar of Saints (Armenian Apostolic Church) of the Armenian Apostolic Church on July 30. He is commemorated on July 1 in the modern Latin calendar and in the Syriac Calendar.
Aaron in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (LDS)Edit
In the LDS church, the Aaron 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 has one or more quorums of each office of the Aaronic priesthood.
Aaron in IslamEdit
Aaron is believed to be a Prophet in Islam and is known as Harun, which is the Arabic name for Aaron. His role also found an analogue in the person of Ali, to whom Muhammad said: Will you not be pleased that you will be to me like Aaron was to Moses?
A significant difference in the Quran is the fact that Aaron was not involved with the creation of the Golden Calf, but did not prevent it as he feared for his life at the hands of the idol-makers.
- McCurdy, J. F. and Kaufmann Kohler. "Aaron". Jewish Encyclopedia. Funk and Wagnalls, 1901-1906; which cites
- Numbers Rabbah 9
- Leviticus Rabbah 10
- in Jellinek’s Bet ha-Midrash, 1:91-95
- Baring-Gould, Legends of Old Testament Characters
- Chronicles of Jerahmeel, ed. M. Gaster, pp. cx1:130-133
- B. Beer, in Wertheimer’s Jahrb., 1855
- Hamburger, Der Geist der Haggada, pp. 1-8
- the same, Realencyklopädie für Bibel und Talmud, s. v.
- Holweck, F. G., A Biographical Dictionary of the Saint. St. Louis, MO: B. Herder Book Co. 1924.