New York University Public Law and Legal Theory Working Papers

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This article considers the Golden Calf episode in the Book of Exodus as an amendment to the constitution of Ancient Israel, adopted at or around the time of the Josianic political and cultic reforms of 621 BCE. These reforms represented a fundamental change because the high places played a deeply embedded role in the politics, religion, and culture of the society. Josiah’s campaign was, accordingly, an attempt to effect a constitutional revolution in the government of Judah. The golden calf text retrojects into the fundamental legitimating national text -- the story of the giving of the law to Moses on Sinai -- an episode in which Aaron, the representative of the priests of the high places, commits apostasy by building an altar and leading the people in worship of a false idol. The text revises the constitution of Judah by banning the high places and requiring centralization of cultic observances in Jerusalem.

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