He hangs her letters, says
to remember beauty,
to not forget what's missed;
this attrition from one who says
we all look behind us too much.

I spread the urge to read her scramble of words
how he read them, until it touches the urge
to touch his profile;
in his peripheral, I'm not really here
yet she is, all over the room.

He is and he is, her too,
faces dogging my empty days.

{E2 Dictionary of Biblical People}

(air' uhn) HEBREW: AHARON
meaning uncertain

Although he plays a major role in the early history of the Israelites, Aaron always stands in the shadow of his charismatic younger brother, Moses. Moreover, the closer to Moses he stands, the more Aaron's stature rises; whenever he opposes his brother, it plummets.

Aaron first appears in the biblical narrative at the age of 83, trekking from Egypt into the Sinai desert to find Moses, who had left the land of his birth 40 years earlier. Little is known of the first eight decades of Aaron's life. He was born in Egypt, perhaps about 1360 B.C., to a couple from the tribe of Levi named Amram and Jochebed. Aaron had an older sister, Miriam, who helped save the life of the infant Moses while Aaron was still a toddler. She stood guard when Jochebed put her baby in a basket at river's edge to escape Pharaoh's new death warrant against male Hebrew infants.

According to the genealogy in Exodus 6:16-20, Aaron's father, Amram, was the son of Kohath and a grandson of the patriarch Levi. Amram married his father's sister Jochebed - a union that would later be prohibited by Mosaic Law but was that apparently legal. Some believe that such biblical genealogies need not be taken literally, and that Aaron and his siblings were simply descendants of Amram and Jochebed, since the family of Amram seems to have been a large clan at the time of the Exodus and since some passages date the Exodus to four centuries after the time of Levi. In the book of Numbers, however, it is said that "Jochebed the daughter of Levi... bore to Amram Aaron and Moses and Miriam their sister" (Num. 26:59).

An elder son, Aaron evidently came to maturity as the leader of his own prominent family and perhaps of the entire tribe of Levi. The younger Moses probably seemed lost to his family and people after he was rescued from the river bank and taken into the house of Pharaoh's daughter. This would have been especially true after he fled from Egypt to avoid punishment for murdering an Egyptian and remained absent for decades. Aaron, however, stayed with his people all through the period of their oppressive slavery to the Egyptians and became known as an eloquent spokesman for the Israelites.

Married to a woman named Elisheba, the daughter of Amminadab, a leader of the tribe of Judah, Aaron had four sons, Nadab, Abihu, Eleazar, and Ithamar. Later Jewish tradition contains stories of Aaron's long experience as a prophet and peacemaker among the Hebrews in Egypt. Unlike the hot-blooded Moses, Aaron pursued reconciliation and avoided disputes. Thus, a saying in the famous first-century B.C. rabbi Hillel urged, "Be of the disciples of Aaron, loving peace and pursuing peace, loving one's fellow men and bringing them nigh to the Torah."

Aaron's life changed dramatically at the moment God spoke to him in Egypt: "Go into the wilderness to meet Moses" (Ex. 4:27). Though Moses seemed to have settled permanently among the Midianites, a tribe of sheepherders in the Sinai Peninsula, Aaron heeded God's command and traveled into the wilderness, all the way out to "the mountain of God" (Ex. 4:27) - Mount Sinai - to find his long lost brother. And when he found him, he joyfully greeted Moses with a kiss. Moses told him the amazing story that God had commissioned him to deliver the Israelites from slavery, and together the brothers returned to Egypt.

After his 40 years' absence, Moses would have been remembered by few if any among Israel's leaders as a man who had stood among the privileged of Egypt. Aaron therefore took the lead in presenting Moses, who was "slow of speech and of tongue" (Ex. 4:10), to the elders of Israel, putting his own eloquence and his talent for leading at the service of his younger brother and his sacred mission from the Lord. Aaron set out to convince the Hebrew elders, who had never known God to intervene on their behalf in times of hardship, that at long last God had heard their cries. By signs given by God to Moses - turning his staff into a serpent and back, causing his hand to appear leprous and then cleansed - Aaron showed them that God had sent a deliverer, this unlikely man Moses, who had been so long absent from them. In spite of any skepticism on the part of his audience, Aaron was successful: "the people believed" (Ex. 4:31).

Next Aaron and Moses went before Pharaoh - probably Ramses II (1292-1225 B.C.) - to voice the demand of God: "Let my people go" (Ex. 5:1). Aaron served as Moses' prophet, speaking the words and repeating the signs that God had given to Moses. Although Egyptian magicians were able to match his feat of turning a rod into a serpent, "Aaron's rod swallowed up their rods" (Ex. 7:12). Nonetheless, Pharaoh refused to be swayed by the demands or by the signs wrought by Aaron and Moses.

It took ten plagues to force Pharaoh to submit to God's will. First, Aaron stretched his rod over the waters of Egypt and they became blood. But Pharaoh did not relent. Nor did Pharoah capitulate to subsequent plagues of frogs, gnats, flies, a disease that took the Egyptian cattle, boils that afflicted both men and beasts, hail and lightning, locusts, and a darkness lasting three days. "But the Lord hardened Pharaoh's heart," the biblical narrative reveals, "and he would not let them go" (Ex. 10:27). However, the last plague - the death of all the firstborn in Egypt - brought such horror that the Egyptians drove the Israelites from the land.

Once the refugees had crossed into the harsh desert of the Sinai Peninsula, Aaron continued his role as Moses' spokesman and principal aide. Hungry and thirsty, the people became disheartened and "murmured against Moses and Aaron in the wilderness." Moses asked his brother to speak, and as he did so, "the glory of the Lord appeared in the cloud" (Ex. 16:2,10); the people saw God would care for them, sending miraculous bread called manna and unexpected flocks of quail.

Soon, the Israelites were attacked by desert tribesmen called Amalek, and again Exodus records a miraculous deliverance. While Joshua led Israel's warriors, Moses stood on a hilltop holding aloft "the rod of God" (Ex. 17:9); as long as he did so, the Israelites prevailed. When Moses could no longer hold his arms up, Aaron and Hur, another of Moses' lieutenants, supported them till the victory was won. The scene of Aaron holding up the arms of Moses is perhaps a fitting symbol of the elder brother's entire life.

The long accounts in Exodus, Leviticus, and Numbers of Israel's encampment at Mount Sinai show both positive and negative elements of Aaron's character. When God manifested himself in thunder and lightning on Mount Sinai, Aaron was the first after Moses to be summoned to the mountain. As the revelations on the mountain continued, Aaron and his two eldest sons, Nadab and Abihu, joined Moses and 70 elders of Israel to experience a remarkable epiphany in which "they saw the God of Israel" (Ex. 24:10) and shared a meal celebrating their covenant with the Lord in the divine presence.

Sometime after this revelation, Moses again ascended Mount Sinai, leaving Aaron and Hur in charge of the people during the 40 days he was absent. The laws Moses received included detailed specifications for the investiture of Aaron and his sons as the priests of Israel. In addition, Moses was instructed to commission "holy garments for Aaron your brother, for glory and for beauty" (Ex. 28:2), and he received commands concerning Aaron's anointing and the sacrifices of ordination that were to be offered in the new tabernacle - a portable altar they were to build.

Ironically, it was at that very time that Aaron and the people were undermining their entire relationship with God. Failing to comprehend the revelations of God that were occurring on the mountain, the Israelites grew impatient as they waited day after day for Moses to return. They came to Aaron demanding idols such as they would have seen in Egypt: "Make us gods, who shall go before us" (Ex. 32:1). At this crucial moment, Aaron utterly failed as Moses' spokesman, unable to explain to them why their demand was impossible. Rather, he joined in their apostasy, gathering their gold - probably booty taken from Egypt - and fashioning it into a calf or young bull. In a parody of the beginning of the Ten Commandments, the cry went up that this was the god who had brought them up out of the land of Egypt. Aaron tried to salvage this disaster somewhat by identifying the bullock as an image of Israel's true God, and he proclaimed a feast to the Lord for the following day. But he had already gone too far.

Moses, burning with anger, descended the mountain and confronted his brother incredulously: "What did this people do to you that you have brought a great sin upon them?" (Ex. 32:21). Aaron tried lame excuses but could not escape his guilt. At that moment Moses revealed his true greatness: Despite his outrage at the sins of both Aaron and the people, he asked God to forgive them and even restored Aaron to his role as a leader of the people.

The book of Leviticus records how Aaron and his sons were ordained as priests with all the solumnity and beauty that God had commanded. But tragedy befell Aaron's family in the process. His eldest sons, Nadab and Abihu, presumptuously ignored the laws of holiness God had prescribed for sacrifices in his sanctuary and were miraculously destroyed by fire. The chastened Aaron "held his peace" (Lev. 10:3) as he accepted God's judgement.

Aaron's new role as the chief priest of Israel, however, may have undermined his willingness to accept the leadership of his younger brother. Aaron and Miriam, who had both been designated as prophets of the Lord, challenged Moses' right to act as God's unique spokesman. But the Lord defended Moses emphatically by striking Miriam with leprosy, though he spared Aaron so that he could continue to function as a priest. Aaron showed his penitence by pleading with Moses on behalf of Miriam, and at Moses' request God soon healed her. Thereafter, Aaron and Miriam stood firmly with Moses to the end of their lives.

Numbers relates that God later confirmed his choice of Aaron and the tribe of Levi in their priestly duties through another remarkable miracle. Wooden rods representing Aaron and the other heads of the tribes were placed overnight before the ark of the covenant. Entering the tent of meeting the next morning, Moses saw that "the rod of Aaron for the house of Levi had sprouted and put forth buds, and produced blossoms, and it bore ripe almonds" (Num. 17:8). No one could doubt Aaron's diving calling to be the Lord's priest.

Aaron's faithfulness to Moses also brought its problems. The harsh years of wandering in the Sinai desert repeatedly caused the Hebrews to complain about the leadership of Moses and Aaron. Once, God promised miraculously to provide for the thirst wanderers by having Moses command a certain rock to give water. Moses and Aaron stood together before the unhappy people and, in exasperation at the incipent revolt, Moses used his rod and twice struck the rock, saying, "Hear now, you rebels; shall we bring forth water for you out of this rock?" (Num. 20:10). Supported by Aaron, Moses had used God's gracious miracle to assert his own power and authority. As a result, the Lord ruled that neither Aaron nor Moses would be allowed to accompany the people into the Promised Land.

A few years later, as the 40 years of wandering drew to a close and the people came to Mount Hor near Edom, south of Canaan, God's judgement on the elder brother was finally carried out. In full priestly regalia, the 123-year-old Aaron climbed the mountain with his son Eleazar and Moses. Removing the high priest's vestments from Aaron, Moses put them on his nephew, and "Aaron died there on the top of the mountain" (Num. 20:28). Learning of Aaron's death, the people mourned for 30 days.

Later generations looked back to Moses as a unique figure without and real successor. Aaron, however, began a priestly dynasty that in spite of many vagaries continued more than a thousand years, till the Romans put an end to temple worship then they captured and destroyed Jerusalem in A.D. 70.

{E2 Dictionary of Biblical People}


Brother of Moses, and High Priest of the Old Law.


Altogether different views are taken of Aaron's life, according as the Pentateuch, which is the main source on the subject, is regarded as one continuous work, composed by Moses or under his supervision--hence most trustworthy in the narration of contemporary events--or as a compilation of several documents of divers origins and dates, strung together, at a late epoch, into the present form. The former conception, supported by the decisions of the Biblical Commission, is held by Catholics at large; many independent critics adopt the latter. We shall study this part of the subject under this twofold aspect, although dwelling longer, as is meet, on the former.

(a) Traditional Catholic Standpoint

According to I Paral., vi, 1-3, Aaron (the signification of whose name is unknown) was the great-grandson of Levi, and the second of the children of Amram and Jochabed, Mary being the eldest and Moses the youngest. From Ex., vii, 7, we learn that Aaron was born eighty-three, and Moses eighty years, before the Exodus. It may be admitted, however, that this pedigree is probably incomplete, and the age given perhaps incorrect. We know nothing of Aaron's life prior to his calling. The first mention of his name occurs when Moses, during the vision on Mount Horeb, was endeavouring to decline the perilous mission imposed upon him, on the plea that he was slow of speech and lacking in eloquence. Yahweh answered his objection, saying that Aaron the Levite, who was endowed with eloquence, would be his spokesman. About the same time Aaron also was called from on high. He then went to meet Moses, in order to be instructed by him in the designs of God; then they assembled the ancients of the people, and Aaron, who worked miracles to enforce the words of his divine mission, announced to them the good tidings of the coming freedom (Ex., iv). To deliver God's message to the King was a far more laborious task. Pharao harshly rebuked Moses and Aaron, whose interference proved disastrous to the Israelites (Ex., v). These latter, overburdened with the hard work to which they were subjected, bitterly murmured against their leaders. Moses in turn complained before God, who replied by confirming his mission and that of his brother. Encouraged by this fresh assurance of Yahweh's help, Moses and Aaron again appeared before the King at Tanis (Ps. lxxvii, 12), there to break the stubbornness of Pharao's will by working the wonders known as the ten plagues. In these, according to the sacred narrative, the part taken by Aaron was most prominent. Of the ten plagues, the first three and the sixth were produced at his command; both he and his brother were each time summoned before the King, both likewise received from God the last instructions for the departure of the people, to both was, in later times, attributed Israel's deliverance from the land of bondage; both finally repeatedly became the target for the complaints and reproaches of the impatient and inconsistent Israelites.

When the Hebrews reached the desert of Sin, tired by their long march, fearful at the thought of the coming scarcity of food, and perhaps weakened already by privations, they began to regret the abundance of the days of their sojourn in Egypt, and murmured against Moses and Aaron. But the two leaders were soon sent by God to appease their murmuring by the promise of a double sign of the providence and care of God for His people. Quails came up that same evening, and the next morning the manna, the new heavenly bread with which God was to feed His people in the wilderness, lay for the first time round the camp. Aaron was commanded to keep a gomor of manna and put it in the tabernacle in memory of this wonderful event. This is the first circumstance in which we hear of Aaron in reference to the tabernacle and the sacred functions (Ex., xvi). At Raphidim, the third station after the desert of Sin, Israel met the Amalecites and fought against them. While the men chosen by Moses battled in the plain, Aaron and Hur were with Moses on the top of a neighbouring hill, whither the latter had betaken himself to pray, and when he "lifted up his hands, Israel overcame: but if he let therm down a little, Amalec overcame. And Moses' hands were heavy: so they took a stone, and put under him and he sat on it: and Aaron and Hur stayed up his hands on both sides" until Amalec was put to flight (Ex., xvii). In the valley of Mount Sinai the Hebrews received the Ten Commandments; then Aaron, in company with seventy of the ancients of Israel, went upon the mountain, to be favoured by a vision of the Almighty, " and they saw the God of Israel: and under his feet as it were a work of sapphire stone, and as the heaven when clear." Thereupon Moses, having entrusted to Aaron and Hur the charge of settling the difficulties which might arise, went up to the top of the mountain.

His long delay finally excited in the minds of the Israelites the fear that he had perished. They gathered around Aaron and requested him to make them a visible God that might go before them. Aaron said: "Take the golden earrings from the ears of your wives, and your sons and daughters, and bring them to me." When he had received them, he made of them a molten calf before which he built up an altar, and the children of Israel were convoked to celebrate their new god. What was Aaron's intention in setting up the golden calf ? Whether he and the people meant a formal idolatry, or rather wished to raise up a visible image of Yahweh their deliverer, has been the subject of many discussions; the texts, however, seem to favour the latter opinion (cf. Ex., xxxii, 4). Be this as it may, Moses, at God's command, came down from the mountain in the midst of the celebration -- at the sight of the apparent idolatry, filled with a holy anger, he broke the Tables of the Law, took hold of the idol, burnt it and beat it to powder, which he strowed into the water. Then, addressing his brother as the real and answerable author of the evil: " What," said he, "has this people done to thee, that thou shouldst bring upon them a most heinous sin?" (Ex., xxxii 21). To this so well deserved reproach, Aaron made only an embarrassed answer, and he would undoubtedly have undergone the chastisement for his crime with the three thousand men (so with the best textual authority, although the Vulgate reads three and twenty thousand) that were slain by the Levites at Moses' command (Ex., xxxii, 28), had not the latter prayed for him and allayed God's wrath (Deut., ix, 20).

In spite of the sin, God did not alter the choice he had made of Aaron (Hebr., v, 4) to be Israel's first High Priest. When the moment came, Moses consecrated him, according to the ritual given in Ex., xxix, for his sublime functions; in like manner Nadab, Abiu, Eleazar, and Ithamar, Aaron's sons he devoted to the divine service. What the high priesthood was, and by what rites it was conferred we shall see later. The very day of Aaron's consecration, God, by an awful example, indicated with what perfection sacred functions ought to be performed. At the incense-offering, Nadab and Abiu put strange fire into the censers and offered it up before the Lord, whereupon a flame, coming out from the Lord, forthwith struck them to death, and they were taken away from before the sanctuary vested with their priestly garments and cast forth out of the camp. Aaron whose heart had been filled with awe and sorrow at this dreadful scene, neglected also an important ceremony; but his excuse fully satisfied Moses and very likely God Himself, for no further chastisement punished his forgetfulness (Lev., x, Num., iii, 4, xxvi, 61).

In Lev., xvi, we see him perform the rites of the Day of Atonement -- in like manner, to him were transmitted the precepts concerning the sacrifices and sacrificers (Lev., xvii, xxi, xxii). A few months later, when the Hebrews reached Haseroth, the second station after Mount Sinai, Aaron fell into a new fault. He and Mary "spoke against Moses, because of his wife the Ethiopian. And they said: Hath the Lord spoken by Moses only? " (Num., xii). From the entire passage, especially from the fact that Mary alone was punished, it has been surmised that Aaron's sin was possibly a mere approval of his sister's remarks; perhaps also he imagined that his elevation to the high priesthood should have freed him from all dependence upon his brother. However the case may be, both were summoned by God before the tabernacle, there to hear a severe rebuke. Mary, besides, was covered with leprosy; but Aaron, in the name of both, made amends to Moses, who in turn besought God to heal Mary. Moses' dignity had been, to a certain extent, disowned by Aaron. The latter's prerogatives likewise excited the jealousy of some of the sons of Ruben; they roused even the envy of the other Levites. The opponents, about two hundred and fifty in number, found their leaders in Core, a cousin of Moses and of Aaron, Dathan, Abiron, and Hon, of the tribe of Ruben. The terrible punishment of the rebels and of their chiefs, which had at first filled the multitude with awe, soon roused their anger and stirred up a spirit of revolt against Moses and Aaron who sought refuge in the tabernacle. As soon as they entered it " the glory of the Lord appeared. And the Lord said to Moses: Get you out from the midst of this multitude, this moment will I destroy them" (Num., xvi, 43-45). And, indeed, a burning fire raged among the people and killed many of them. Then again, Aaron, at Moses' order, holding his censer in his hand, stood between the dead and the living to pray for the people, and the plague ceased. The authority of the Supreme Pontiff, strongly confirmed before the people, very probably remained thenceforth undiscussed. God, nevertheless, wished to give a fresh testimony of His favour. He commanded Moses to take and lay up in the tabernacle the rods of the princes of the Twelve Tribes, with the name of every man written upon his rod. The rod of Levi's tribe should bear Aaron's name: "whomsoever of these I shall choose," the Lord had said "his rod shall blossom." The following day, when they returned to the tabernacle, they " found that the rod of Aaron . . . was budded: and that the buds swelling it had bloomed blossoms, which, spreading the leaves were formed into almonds." All the Israelites, seeing this, understood that Yahweh's choice was upon Aaron, whose rod was brought back into the tabernacle as an everlasting testimony. Of the next thirty-seven years of Aaron's life, the Bible gives no detail; its narrative is concerned only with the first three and the last years of the wandering life of the Hebrews in the desert, but from the events above described, we may conclude that the life of the new pontiff was passed unmolested in the performance of his sacerdotal functions.

In the first month of the thirty-ninth year after the Exodus, the Hebrews camped at Cades, where Mary, Aaron's sister, died and was buried. There the people were in want of water and soon murmured against Moses and Aaron. Then God said to Moses: "Take the rod, and assemble the people together thou and Aaron thy brother, and speak to the rock before them, and it shall yield waters" (Num., xx, 8). Moses obeyed and struck the rock twice with the rod, so that there came forth water in great abundance. We learn from Ps. cv, 33, that Moses in this circumstance was inconsiderate in his words, perhaps when he expressed a doubt as to whether he and Aaron could bring forth water out of the rock. Anyway God showed himself greatly displeased at the two brothers and declared that they would not bring the people into the Land of Promise. This divine word received, four months later, its fulfilment in Aaron's case. When the Hebrews reached Mount Hor, on the borders of Edom, God announced to Moses that his brother's last day had come, and commanded him to bring him up on the mountain. In sight of all the people, Moses went up with Aaron and Eleazar. Then he stripped Aaron of all the priestly garments wherewith he vested Eleazar, and Aaron died. Moses then came down with Eleazar and all the multitude mourned for Aaron thirty days. Mussulmans honour on Djebel Nabi-Haroun a monument they call Aaron's tomb, the authenticity of this sepulchre, however, is not altogether certain. By his marriage with Elizabeth Nahason's sister four sons were born to Aaron. The first two, Nadab and Abiu, died without leaving posterity, but the descendants of the two others, Eleazar and Ithamar, became very numerous. None of them, however, honoured Aaron's blood as much as John the Baptist, who besides being the Precursor of the Messias, was proclaimed by the Word made Flesh "the greatest among them that are born of women" (Matt., xi, 11).

(b) Independent Standpoint

Aaron's history takes on an entirely different aspect when the various sources of the Pentateuch are distinguished and dated after the manner commonly adopted by independent critics. As a rule it may be stated that originally the early Judean narrative (J) did not mention Aaronif his name now appears here and there in the parts attributed to that source, it is most likely owing to an addition by a late redactor. There are two documents, principally, that speak of Aaron. In the old prophetic traditions circulating among the Ephraimites (E) Aaron figured as a brother and helper of Moses. He moves in the shadow of the latter, in a secondary position, as, for instance, during the battle against Amalec; with Hur, he held up his brother's hands until the enemy was utterly defeated. To Aaron, in some passages, the supreme authority seems to have been entrusted, in the absence of the great leader, as when the latter was up on Mount Sinai; but his administration proved weak, since he so unfortunately yielded to the idolatrous tendencies of the people. According to the document in question, Aaron is neither the pontiff nor the minister of prayer. It is Moses who raises his voice to God at the tabernacle (Ex., xxxiii, 7-10), and we might perhaps understand from the same place (v. 11) that Josue, not Aaron, ministers in the tent of meeting; in like manner, Josue, not Aaron, goes up with Moses on Mount Sinai, to receive the stone Tables of the Law (Ex., xxiv, 13).

In the Priestly narratives (P) Aaron, on the contrary, occupies a most prominent place -- there we learn, indeed, with Aaron's pedigree and age, almost all the above-narrated particulars, all honourable for Moses' brother, such, for instance, as the part played by Aaron in the plagues, his role in some memorable events of the desert life, as the fall of the manna, the striking of water from the rock, the confirmation of the prerogatives of his priesthood against the pretensions of Core and the others, and, finally, the somewhat mysterious relation of his death, as it is found in Num., xx. From this analysis of the sources of his history Aaron's great personality has undoubtedly come out belittled, chiefly because of the reputation of the writer of the Priestly narrative; critics charge him with caste prejudices and an unconcealed desire of extolling whatever has reference to the sacerdotal order and functions, which too often drove him to exaggerations, upon which history can hardly rely, and even to forgeries.


Whatever opinion they adopt with regard to the historical value of all the traditions concerning Aaron's life, all scholars, whether Catholics or independent critics, admit that in Aaron's High Priesthood the sacred writer intended to describe a model, the prototype, so to say, of the Jewish High Priest. God, on Mount Sinai, instituting a worship, did also institute 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. It might have been expected, consequently, that Ruben's family would be chosen by God for the ministry of the new altar. According to the biblical narrative, it was Aaron, however, who was the object of Yahweh'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 (Ex., xxvii, 21). A more formal calling soon followed (xxviii, 1). Aaron and his sons, distinguished from the common people by their sacred functions, were likewise to receive holy vestments suitable to their office. When the moment had come, when the tabernacle, and all its appurtenances, and whatever was required for Yahweh's worship were ready Moses, priest and mediator (Gal., iii, 19), offered the different sacrifices and performed the many ceremonies of the consecration of the new priests, according to the divine instructions (Ex., xxix), 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 sacrificer by killing the victims. he blessed the people, very likely according to the prescriptions of Num., vi, 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|Lev . ix. 23. 24). So was the institution of the Aaronic priesthood inaugurated and solemnly ratified by God.

According to Wellhausen's just remarks, Aaron's position in the Law with regard to the rest of the priestly order is not merely superior, but unique His sons and the Levites act under his superintendence (Num., iii, 4), he alone is the one fully qualified priest; he alone bears the Urim and Thummin and the Ephod -- he alone is allowed to enter the Holy of Holies, there to offer incense (Lev., xxiii, 27) once a year on the great Day of Atonement. In virtue of his spiritual dignity as the head of the priesthood he is likewise the supreme judge and head of the theocracy (Num., xxvii, 21- Deut., xvii). He alone is the answerable mediator between the whole nation and God, for this cause he bears the names of the Twelve Tribes written on his breast and shoulders; his trespasses involve the whole people in guilt, and are atoned for as those of the whole people, while the princes, when their sin offerings are compared with his, appear as mere private persons (Lev., iv, 3, 13, 22, ix, 7, xvi, 6). His death makes an epoch; it is when the High Priest, not the King, dies, that the fugitive slayer obtains his amnesty (Num., xxxv, 28). At his investiture he receives the chrism like a king and is called accordingly the anointed priest, he is adorned with a diadem and tiara like a king (Ex., xxviii), and like a king, too, he wears the purple, except when he goes into the Holy of Holies (Lev., xvi,4).

Aaron, first High Priest of the Old Law, is most naturally a figure of Jesus Christ, first and sole Sovereign Priest of the New Dispensation. The writer of the Epistle to the Hebrews was the first to set off the features of this parallel, indicating especially two points of comparison. First, the calling of both Xigh Priests: "Neither doth any man take the honour to himself, but he that is called by God as Aaron was. So Christ also did not glorify himself, that he might be made a high priest, but he that said unto him: Thou art my Son, this day have I begotten thee" (Heb., v, 4, 5). In the second place, the efficacy and duration of both the one and the other priesthood. Aaron's priesthood is from this viewpoint inferior to that of Jesus Christ. If indeed, the former had been able to perfect men and communicate to them the justice that pleases God, another would have been useless. Hence its inefficacy called for a new one, and Jesus' priesthood has forever taken the place of that of Aaron (Heb., vii, 11-12).


The 1913 Catholic Encyclopedia

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