First English edition of the Nuremberg chronicle: being the Liber chronicarum of Dr. Hartmann Schedel…

During these times the children of Israel made a molten image of a calf, according to the customs of the Egyptians (who worshipped Busiris, their king).[Busiris, king of Egypt, son of Poseidon and Lysianassa, is said to have sacrificed all foreigners who visited Egypt. Hercules on his arrival there, was likewise seized and led to the altar; but he broke his chains and slew Busiris.] This occurred while Moses was detained up in the Mount with the Lord. The people asked Aaron to make gods for them to worship and to go before them. And as Hur opposed them, he was (as the Scriptures state) suffocated with spittle.

According to Josephus, Hur was the husband of Miriam, sister of Moses. Exodus makes no mention of Hur’s protest and fate on this occasion. At a previous time he and Aaron held up the hands of Moses in order that by continual uplifting of the sacred staff Israel might prevail over Amalek (Exodus 17:10). And with Aaron he was left in charge of the people when Moses ascended Mount Sinai (Exodus 24:14). But there is no further reference to him.

When Moses returned from the mountain the situation of his people and the depravity (in his eyes) into which they had fallen astounded him. It was natural that he should demand an explanation of Aaron. And Aaron replied, "Let not the anger of my lord grow hot; you know the people, that they are set on mischief (Exodus 32:22). There is no reference to Hur’s fate, although this, according to the chronicler, influenced Aaron to give way to the people. Neither Vulgate nor the King James Version of the Bible attest the death of Hur at this time.

So Aaron was afraid, and said, Take the golden earrings of your wives and of your children; and as they took them, he made a molten calf thereof. And the people said, ‘Israel, these be they gods which brought thee up out of the land of Egypt.’ And Aaron built an altar and proclaimed a feast for the following morning. And the people rose up early and offered the Host; and they sat down to eat and drink, and then rose up to play (that is) to idolize. Then the Lord said to Moses, ‘Depart, thy people have sinned with idolatry. Let me destroy them.’ But Moses said, ‘Lord, allay thine anger, so that the Egyptians may not say, For deceitfully he brought them out to give them the land which he promised them.’ And as the Lord repented of his wrath, Moses departed with the stone tablets inscribed by the finger of God. And Joshua ran to meet him, saying, ‘There are lamentations of war in the tents.’ But Moses said ‘It is the noise of singing.’ And as Moses came near he saw the calf and the ring of dancers, and he was very angry. And he cast down the tablets, and they were broken. Having reprimanded Aaron for setting up the calf, and having heard his explanation, he burned the graven image and ground the fragments to powder, which he cast into the water and gave it to the children of Israel to drink. And this same powder appeared in the beards of the idolaters. And Moses asked the people to take swords and to slay all the guilty thus identified. Many thousand men fell on that same day. [Neither nor authenticates these latter details. True, according to the Scriptures, Moses burnt the calf in the fire, ground the fragments to powder, strewed the powder upon the water, and made his people drink (Exodus 32:20); but what followed was this: "Then Moses stood in the gate of the camp and said, Who is on the Lord’s side? Let him come to me. And all the sons of Levi gathered themselves together to him. And he said to them, Thus says the Lord God of Israel, put every man his sword by his side, and go in and out from gate to gate, throughout the camp, and slay every man his brother, and every man his companion, and every man his neighbor. And the children of Israel did according to the words of Moses" (Exodus 32:26-28). There is no mention of beards polluted with the powder of idolatry. The whole people are put to their choice.]


Size 8-3/8" x 10-5.8"

Forty days and forty nights Moses sojourned with the Lord on Sinai, securing the fundamental law written by the finger of God, voluminous instructions governing the holy service to be observed by the children of Israel, as well as minute plans for the Tabernacle (Exodus 25-31). But matters were moving too slowly for the idle hordes encamped below. "Up, make us gods which shall go before us," they demanded of Aaron. Knowing their temper he made them a molten calf from the golden earrings that they broke from the ears of their wives and children. And here, on a high pedestal, isolated form the world in the manner of St. Stilus, the first flagpole sitter, is the precious little calf. The morning of the feast proclaimed by Aaron on the day before is at hand. The sacrifices and offerings have been made, and the people have partaken of the feast. So now they rise up ‘to play.’ Out of their tents they come, and the dance of men, women and children about the calf of gold is in progress. The artist, in his modesty, has not depicted the temper of the people as Moses saw it. He introduces us to a very sedate performance, participated in by a handful of fully appareled and serious people. "Stiff-necked," to use the language of the Bible, they do appear, and by no means exuberant with festive joy.

And so here, as we look again, we feel that all is under a heavy cloud, as though a storm were approaching. And not without reason, for the Lord has observed this stiff-necked people, and his wrath has grown hot against them. Seeing his divine plans for his chosen people frustrated by corruption, he orders Moses down from the mountain in order that he may be alone in carrying out their doom. Except for the intercession of the horned one, his congregation would have been consumed before now.

And as we give the work further study we see Moses himself coming down from the mountain. Joshua has rushed up to meet him, for there is much to be explained. By word and gesture he indicates that there is a noise of war in the camp, but the wise Moses recognizes it as the hilarity of song. And as he sees the handiwork of Aaron, high up on the stile, and his people dancing about it in idolatrous worship, his patience is exhausted. He casts the precious tablets upon the ground and there they lie in fragments. Soon the precious little calf will also succumb to his wrath, and the dance will come to an end, and three thousand idolaters will bite the dust.

In the background of the woodcut are two mountains, Sinai (Sinay), the taller, to the right, and Horeb (Oreb), the lesser, to the left. Moses has apparently come down from Horeb, although according to the Scriptures, he received the law on Sinai. And so we become puzzled. But Mount Sinai, whose name connects it with the old Babylonian moon god Sin, is also known as Horeb (I King 8:9; Mal. 4:4, etc.); and not only is the site disputed, but it is possible that there were originally two mountains, which later harmonizing tradition has combined. There is no genuine pre-Christian tradition on the subject. The chief authority form the ancient sanctity of Mount Sinai is Antoninus Martyr (end of the 6th century CE), who tells that the Arabs (before Mohammed and Islam) in his time celebrated a moon-festival there. As Sin was a moon-god, the feast has been connected with the name of Sinai. Some authorities are of the opinion that Horeb is the name of the whole range, Sinai for a particular peak. Apparently the artist knew of the two names but not of the probable identity of the mountain. On the other hand, he may have had different views on the subject.

Opposite the peak of Sinai is the inscription ‘Sepulchru(m) S. Katherine.’ The female saint here referred to is St. Catherine of Alexandria, not to be confused with St. Catherine of Siena. Catherine of Alexandria was beheaded after a wheel equipped with blades for her torture broke up and would not do its work. The broken wheel is her symbol. According to legend angels carried her body over the desert and the Red Sea, and deposited it on the summit of Mt. Sinai. There it rested in a marble sarcophagus, and in the eight century a monastery was built over her remains. On the summit of Horeb is a house, probably a hospice or monastery, inscribed ‘S. Salvatoris.’