A major figure in Israel's origins and the first of its high priests. In very ancient narratives, he appears without specifically priestly features, as a leader with Hur (Exod. 17.9–16; 24.14), or as Miriam's brother with no mention of their being related to Moses (Exod. 15.20), to whom they even appear opposed (Num. 12). Later, but still in fairly early stages of the Pentateuch's formation, Aaron is said to be Moses' brother and a Levite (Exod. 4.14), and he begins to appear with features that implicitly suggest a tie with priesthood. He is with Moses when Pharaoh asks for intercession with Israel's God (Exod. 8.25; 9.27–28; 10.16–17); in Exodus 18.12, he may have been added to the account of the covenant between Midian and Israel because a later editor may have felt that the covenant sacrifice required a priest; his presence with his sons Nadab and Abihu, reckoned elsewhere as priestly sons, seems also to have been added to the covenant‐making scene at Sinai (Exod. 24.1, 9). The important question of Aaron's role in the episode of the golden calf (Exod. 32) is problematic. The incident is almost certainly told with the sanctuaries in mind established by Jeroboam I at Bethel and Dan in the northern kingdom of Israel (1 Kings 12.26–32), but in the story Aaron is not presented as a priest or as a Levite; his guilt is brought out mainly in Exodus 32.25b, 35b, evident additions to a text in which the behavior of the people, looking to Aaron for leadership, was already contrasted negatively with the religiously correct zeal of Levites (32.25–29). In the Priestly components of the Pentateuch (P), Aaron's role as Moses' companion in Egypt and in the wilderness is heightened, but in P he is above all Israel's first high priest, and the other priests inaugurated with him are called his sons (Exod. 28–29; 39; Lev. 8–10; Num. 3.5–4.49; 16–18). The historical background of this development in the figure of Aaron is not clear. Although legitimate priests are called sons of Zadok in Ezekiel (40.46; 43.19; 44.15; 48.11), with Aaron's name quite unused in that exilic book, some suspect that the preexilic priesthood of Jerusalem itself claimed an Aaronite origin; others believe that the first group to do so was the priesthood of Bethel, or a Levitical group in Judah not originally identical with the priesthood of Jerusalem. In any case, the postexilic priests of Jerusalem settled peacefully into their own claim to be the sons of Aaron.
Aelred Cody, O. S. B.