"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 Aaron—if 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,