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The golden calf was a figure made by Aaron as described in Exodus 32. While waiting for Moses to return from the mountain were he had went to seek council with God, the people became anxious; and becoming anxious they went to Aaron, pleading with him to make them gods to go before them and lead them. The reason for their request was that they were not sure of what had became of Moses, their leader, who has led them out of Egypt.
The biblical description relates their forthcoming doom. Even before returning to the people, upon the mountain the Lord, God Yahweh, told Moses the people had corrupted themselves. He wanted to turn his wrath against them, but Moses pleaded with him not to. However, when descended the mountain, with the two tablets upon which God had written his commandments, Moses immediately saw what the people had done. Seeing the calf and the people dancing about it; Moses' angered flared and he smashed the tablets. Then he smashed the calf, burned it in fire, ground it to pieces, scattered it upon water which he forced the children of Israel to drink.
Moses asked Aaron for an explanation. Aaron said the people were mischievous, and explained why they wanted to make the calf. Then Aaron described how he had told the people to bring their earrings to him; then he melted them down in order to fashion the calf with an engraving tool. Afterwards the people said, "These are the gods, O Israel, which brought thee up out of the land of Egypt." And when Aaron saw it, he erected an altar before it, declaring the next day to be a feast of the Lord.
While standing at the camp gate, Moses saw that the people were naked for Aaron had made them naked in their shame among their enemies. He then asked who was still on the Lord's side; and they did his bidding, all who were still sons of Levi gathered about him. And Moses told them with sword at side to go through the camp killing each man and his brother, companion, and neighbor. And on that day about three thousand were killed. After the act Moses told his loyal followers to consecrate themselves to the Lord, that he might bestow his blessing upon them.
According to another version of this description after the people drank of the water in which Moses scattered the ground particles of the calf, a plague fell upon the camp and the people died. The Jewish people still readily remember this incident: according to the aggadah "There is not a misfortune that Israel has suffered which is not attributed to the calf." (B. Sanh, 102a) and stated in Pes. K. "The High Priest would not enter the Holy of Holies wearing any item of gold, lest it recall the Golden Calf." A.G.H.
Bowker, John, The Oxford Dictionary of World Religions, New York, Oxford University Press, 1997, p. 382