Aaron (Ahrown) in Canaanite Mythology
H. Abdul Al-Dahir
The name Aaron or Ahrown (Haroun in Arabic) is found as a god in the Canaanite and Egyptian pantheon. He may have originated as a Canaanite, cultural hero, a prince, who was later deified. In Canaanite lore, Haurun was a chthonic (underworld) deity who planted the tree of death which makes him the antithesis of Yhwh, the guardian of the tree of life. He is also associated with snakes. The name Haurun has been known to the Egyptians since 1900 BCE where Haurun was evidently the name of a foreign prince who was regularly cursed by the Egyptians. This god was identified with the sphinx who was depicted as the lioness goddess Sekhment with either the head of a pharaoh or the animal head of an Egyptian god. She was worshiped in Egypt by Canaanites in the New Kingdom who settled in the region near the sphinx and saw in this image the image of their god, Haurun, as a protective deity who was also known to them as the ‘victorious herdsman’. The Canaanites actually built a shrine in front of the sphinx. So, the god Haurun was both a protective deity and a god of death and his place in the Canaanite pantheon was prominent enough that a prince was named after this deity. The foregoing points to Haurun as a very ancient Canaanite name whose worship may have extended into the Arabian Peninsula.
The Judean clergy was founded by ‘Levites’; a priesthood whose origin was the Minaeans or Dedan in Biblical literature. Midianites and Minaeans dwelt in close proximity. The exodus event surrounding Moses seems to have originated in the Arabian peninsula near the northwest border with Jordan as a cultic site associated with Jabal al Lawz (Mount of Almonds) and Jabal Maqla (Burnt Mountain) that has many of the landmarks associated with the exodus as a ‘burnt’ mountain, the name ‘almond’ (almond flowers blooming from Aaron’s rod), an oasis with date palms, the split rock, the stream and 12 wells, an altar and many depictions of cows. Could Haurun have been worshiped here as the ‘victorious herdsman’? The worship would have included the sacrifice of cattle. As the Judean religion evolved, did Haraun’s status devolve as he was associated with polytheism? Is this why he is depicted as the polytheistic forger of the golden calf? Somewhere along the line, Haurun regained his status and became the founder of the Judean priesthood while Moses, the Shasw rebel, lost his status and handed over his priestly duties to his ‘brother’. Did Ahrwon (Aaron’s) elevation over Moses happen because of Egyptian influence under the Ptolemies? The Ptolemies invented the god Serapis, who was a combination of the god Osiris and the sacred bull Apis. Is this why Haurun became the head of the Judean priesthood and Moses was left staring at his homeland but unable to enter? It appears that the LXX authors were attempting to please their Ptolemaic overlords by writing the ‘victorious herdsman’ as of higher rank than the Shasw rebel who challenged a pharaoh.
In any case, Haurun is a Canaanite deity that dates prior to 1900 BCE. He was brought to Egypt during the New Kingdom or between 1600 and 1100 BCE where Canaanites dedicated a temple to him, which implies he had an established priesthood. Another Semitic deity, the moon god Sin had been worshiped in Canaan since 3000 BCE as was proven by the discovery of a huge monument in Israel dedicated to this moon god. The god Haurun could have been conflated with the moon god Sin using the name of one of the most famous cities dedicated to him, Haran; a city which dates to prior 3000 BCE. The word ‘harranu ‘in Akkadian means journey and the path of celestial body. In the case of Sin, it would be the path of the moon. The conflation of the Haranite/Canaanite moon god Sin with El and the absorption of the chthonic deity, Haurun, may have spawned an Haranite priesthood dedicated to El. The absorption of Haurun, a chthonic deity, with El is plausible as El was the father of Mot or death and Haurun planted the tree of death. This scenario would explain the name Ahrwn as well as the name of Abram’s brother Haran. (The name Haran is spelled with a ‘Het’ and the name of the city Haran is spelled with a ‘Chet’. However, the difference in spelling is most likely due to dialectical pronunciation). Perhaps, when the Kingdom of Israel, which was devoted to the moon god El, was defeated by Assyria and the Israelites fled south, they brought the Haurunite/Haranite/Ahrownite/Aaronite priesthood with them.
According to the Old Negev inscriptions, Yh was another name for Wadd, the Minean moon god, whose sacred animal was the serpent, and whose priests were Levites or ‘lawiat’. Yhwh had chthonic associations as his image was that of a serpent. After the defeat of Israel, these Haranite priests dedicated to Sin/El were merged into the ‘lawiat’ or the Levitical order of Aaronite’ priests dedicated to Yhw who was conflated with El to become Yhwh Elohim. In other words, just as Yh, the god of the tribe of Judah, which was formerly the Shasw of Yhw (Bedouin who worship Yhw), and El, the god of the Israelites, who were formerly Canaanites, was conflated to become Yhwh Elohim, so was the order of priests conflated. Thus, the Lawiat or Levites dedicated to Yhwh became the Levitical order of the Aaronite (Haranite) priesthood dedicated to the conflated god, Yhwh Elohim. It seems that it would be difficult to apply the Documentary Hypothesis to this scenario as the conflation of Haurun, Haran, Sin and El would predate any biblical text. However, the conflation of Yhwh and El as well as the conflation of the Aaronite priesthood with the Levites can be traced to the Assyrian defeat of Israel.
Haurun was known as the ‘victorious herdsman’ which might explain Ahrown/Aaron’s golden calf. (The word herdsman indicates that Haurun was associated with cattle and not sheep as he was not a shepherd). The bull was El’s sacred animal and this animal may also have been Haurun’s sacred animal.
” In Egypt herdsmen were probably of the lowest caste. Some of Joseph’s brethren were made rulers over Pharaoh’s cattle ( Genesis 47:6 Genesis 47:17 ). (According to the Bible), (t)he Israelites were known in Egypt as “keepers of cattle;” and when they left it they took their flocks and herds with them ( Exodus 12:38 ). Both David and Saul came from “following the herd” to occupy the throne ( 1 Samuel 9 ; 11:5 ; Psalms 78:70 ). David’s herd-masters were among his chief officers of state. The daughters also of wealthy chiefs were wont to tend the flocks of the family ( Genesis 29:9 ; Exodus 2:16 ). The “chief of the herdsmen” was in the time of the monarchy an officer of high rank ( 1 Samuel 21:7 ; Compare 1 Chronicles 27:29 ). The herdsmen lived in tents ( Isaiah 38:12 ; Jeremiah 6:3 ); and there were folds for the cattle ( Numbers 32:16 ), and watch-towers for the herdsmen, that he might therefrom observe any coming danger ( Micah 4:8 ; Nahum 3:8 ).”
So, here is Haurun’s/Aaron’s association with cattle. The cultic site located in northwestern Arabia around Jabal al Lawz and Jabal Maqla has numerous depictions of cattle. The Canaanites in Egypt chose the Sphinx as the site of Haurun’s temple. The Sphinx has the head of a Pharaoh (Khufu?, Djedefre?, Khafre?) but the body of a lioness or Sekhmet, a fierce war goddess and protectress of the pharaohs who was associated with Hathor, the cow-headed goddess who was associated with nurturing, healing and fertility. So, this association would explain the Sphinx as the site for Haurun’s temple.
Interestingly, in Babylonian cosmology:
“Lulal & Latarak (Cetus & part of Eridanus) The Lion-headed figures known as Lulal and Latarak are probably best regarded as protective deities who have been set at the juncture of the old and new years. Their divine role would therefore be to banish the influences of the past year and to purify the coming calendrical cycle.”
Haurun was chthonic deity associated with death, snakes and cattle. Bulls were offered as sacrifices in Yhwh’s temple so there is a link here to Haurun and the temple priesthood. He may also have been associated with agriculture as chthonic deities also signaled the beginning and end of an agricultural season or the time to till and the time to harvest. His chthonic aspect can also be linked to Hathor’s role as one of several goddesses believed to assist deceased souls in the afterlife.
There is a biblical association between Hathor, the cow goddess, and Haurun, the victorious herdsman. Hathor was associated with turquoise and as a goddess of turquoise, she was dressed in blue. She was also a patroness of miners (see Timna depiction of Hathor) and as such she was robed in red. In other words, as a patroness of miners, she was portrayed as a red heifer.
According to Numbers 19:2-8, the ashes of the red heifer as a burnt offering were used to purify the temple:
“This is a requirement of the law that the Lord has commanded: Tell the Israelites to bring you a red heifer without defect or blemish and that has never been under a yoke. 3 Give it to Eleazar the priest; it is to be taken outside the camp and slaughtered in his presence. 4 Then Eleazar the priest is to take some of its blood on his finger and sprinkle it seven times toward the front of the tent of meeting. 5 While he watches, the heifer is to be burned—its hide, flesh, blood and intestines. 6 The priest is to take some cedar wood, hyssop and scarlet wool and throw them onto the burning heifer. 7 After that, the priest must wash his clothes and bathe himself with water. He may then come into the camp, but he will be ceremonially unclean till evening. 8 The man who burns it must also wash his clothes and bathe with water, and he too will be unclean till evening.”
The sacrifice of a calf without blemish originated in Egypt. According to Herodotus: “The Egyptian priests were very particular about the animals they sacrificed and the ritual slaughter was laid down precisely. The males of the ox kind they consider to belong to Epaphos, and on account of him they test them in the following manner:–If the priest sees one single black hair upon the beast he counts it not clean for sacrifice; and one of the priests who is appointed for the purpose makes investigation of these matters, both when the beast is standing upright and when it is lying on its back, drawing out its tongue moreover, to see if it is clean in respect of the appointed signs, which I shall tell of in another part of the history: he looks also at the hairs of the tail to see if it has them growing in a natural manner; and if it be clean in respect of all these things, he marks it with a piece of papyrus, rolling this round the horns, and then when he has plastered sealing-earth over it he sets upon it the seal of his signet-ring, and after that they take the animal away. But for one who sacrifices a beast not sealed the penalty appointed is death.”
The article further relates that such a calf was offered to Isis in her form as a sacred cow. Cows or heifers were sacred to both Hathor and Isis. According to the Hathor Wikipedia article both Isis and Hathor were the mothers of Horus, so the two goddesses were conflated. According to Jewish laws regarding the sacrifice of the red heifer: “According to Mishnah Parah, the presence of two black hairs invalidates a Red Heifer, in addition to the usual requirements of an unblemished animal for sacrifice.”
As for Haurun’s association with snakes, the name Haurun appears to be related to the MT name Ahrown or Aaron in Greek and English, but Haroun in Arabic. It was Aaron’s staff that morphed into a snake and consumed the snakes tossed by Pharaoh’s magicians. According to Exodus 7:
8 The Lord said to Moses and Aaron, 9 “When Pharaoh says to you, ‘Perform a miracle,’ then say to Aaron, ‘Take your staff and throw it down before Pharaoh,’ and it will become a snake.”
10 So Moses and Aaron went to Pharaoh and did just as the Lord commanded. Aaron threw his staff down in front of Pharaoh and his officials, and it became a snake. 11 Pharaoh then summoned wise men and sorcerers, and the Egyptian magicians also did the same things by their secret arts: 12 Each one threw down his staff and it became a snake. But Aaron’s staff swallowed up their staffs. 13 Yet Pharaoh’s heart became hard and he would not listen to them, just as the Lord had said.
So, Haurun (Aaron, the high priest), became the high priest whose staff turned viper defeated Pharaoh’s magicians. He was also the victorious herdsman who meets with Hathor, as the red heifer, in Jerusalem in a ritual sacrifice of temple purification.