In the Biblical account of the golden calf (Exodus 32), abnormal importance is devoted to the metal of the statuette, its origin, and even its destruction. The present analysis identifies this latter process as an act of cementation, a technique used in antiquity to separate gold from its alloyed metals, mainly copper. In parallel, the tabernacle symbolism reveals that pure gold is a marker of YHWH’s theophany whereas gold-copper alloy is associated with the man-god relationship. Consequently, instead of condemning idolatry, the cementation treatment of the golden calf symbolizes the abortion of the project of divine residence in the tabernacle, the re-establishment of YHWH’s distance from humankind, and the restoration of an intermediate divine figure between YHWH and the Israelites. It is concluded that, in Exodus 32, the transgression inherent in the making of the golden calf results from the combination of two antagonistic goals: the indirect worship of YHWH via the golden calf and closeness to the supreme deity via the tabernacle project.
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