For the Canaanites, Ēl or Il was the supreme God, the father of mankind and all creatures. His sons were Hadad, Yam, and Mot… Though Ugarit had a large temple dedicated to Dagon and another to Hadad, there was no temple dedicated to Ēl.
Ēl is called again and again Tôru ‘Ēl (“Bull Ēl” or “the bull God”). He is bātnyu binwāti (“Creator of creatures”), ’abū banī ’ili (“father of the Gods”), and ‘abū ‘adami (“father of man”). He is qāniyunu ‘ôlam (“creator eternal”), the epithet ‘ôlam appearing in Hebrew form in the Hebrew name of God’ēl ‘ôlam “God Eternal” in Genesis 21.33. He is ḥātikuka (“your patriarch”). Ēl is the grey-bearded ancient one, full of wisdom, malku (“King”), ’abū šamīma (“Father of years”), ’El gibbōr (“Ēl the warrior”). He is also named lṭpn of unknown meaning, variously rendered as Latpan, Latipan, or Lutpani (“shroud-face” by Strong’s Hebrew Concordance).
Archaic Biblical Hebrew from the 10th to the 6th century BCE, corresponding to the Monarchic Period until the Babylonian Exile and represented by certain texts in the Hebrew Bible (Tanach), notably the Song of Moses (Exodus 15) and the Song of Deborah (Judges 5). Also called Old Hebrew or Paleo-Hebrew. It was written in a form of the Canaanite script.
“Aaron! What have you done?” Moses staggered into the tent. His eyes were on fire.
Aaron jumped, as if he was seeing the dead. “Moses-!”
“You made an image! Why, Aaron?”
“What do you mean? We didn’t know what happened to you! You know how the people are! They were starting to panic. They were starting to pack up and leave- a few families at a time, under cover of darkness. They were saying that God must have killed you and that they were going to be next. I had them bring me their gold earrings- and other jewelry- and I just threw it into the fire- and out popped this calf. And they stopped panicking and stayed.”
“I knew you would come back!” Aaron added loyally.
Moses groaned and collapsed onto a pile of tent cloth. He covered his face in his hands and his shoulders shock like he was weeping, though there was no sound.
“He’s going to kill us all.” he told his brother.
“What do you mean?” Aaron asked. The open flap of the tent framed the Mountain- still smoking and burning. Moses had been well educated when he lived at the Court of Egypt. He had once described to Aaron the volcanoes on the Northern shores and islands of the Mediterranean. The Mountain reminded Aaron of those stories. But this was no volcano. There was no fire. The Mountain shone with a light that could burn without consuming. Darkness rose from it instead of smoke. Even in the day.
Moses’ distress was frightening Aaron.
“The image…” Moses said through his hands.
Aaron knelt in front of his brother, peering as if trying to draw the problem, like a magnet does, from his brother’s heart to his own.
“What’s wrong with the image?”
“Its a bull- a bull-calf.”
“That’s how we’ve always portrayed El Shaddai. It’s… so flattering. Bulls are powerful creatures, and the metaphor-”
“That isn’t how He looks.” Moses’ shoulders had stopped shaking. They were slumped now in utter exhaustion. “I’ve seen him, Aaron. You saw Him. The elders all saw Him”
“But no one ever, in their right mind, believed that the image is supposed to be what He actually looks like! That’s not why people make images of their gods!”
“He’s not going to believe that, Aaron. He thinks we’re idiots.”
Moses was roused to temporary, muffled eloquence. He sometimes was around his brother. No one else, though.
“He’s going to be insulted if we let Him think that the people think He’s an animal-spirit. And He’s going to be insulted if we try to convince Him that He was wrong in his opinion of us. Because that would mean that He was wrong about us and that He’s the imbecile for not noticing. And either way He’s going to kill. Kill us all.”
Moses finally looked out through his hands at his brother. His eyes were red rimmed and bloodshot from grief and lack of sleep. Aaron stared in stunned disbelief.
It was quiet for a moment inside the tent. Outside was the sound of music and dancing. The people were holding a festival in honor of their new-found ancestral God. El the Bull. El of the Mountain. El, who had laid low the Egyptians and brought them out of Egypt. The people had been so afraid for so long. Afraid of the Egyptians who had enslaved them, afraid of the malevolent Sea and Desert. Afraid of El- his unpredictable rage and all-destroying power.
And now they thought there was going to be peace. That they’d found a way to make El happy. That they didn’t have to be afraid anymore.
They were laughing.
“NO!! No! No! No!”
Aaron took Moses by the shoulders and jerked him to his feet. He shook him, screaming, and Moses hung unresisting as a rag in his hands.
“He said we weren’t supposed to make images of other gods and we didn’t!” He let go of Moses and his brother swayed weakly for a moment before collapsing backwards. Aaron’s face was streaked with tears.
“He told us not to make images at all.” Moses whispered.
“You had the book with you! He spent so much time talking about the other gods- I thought that’s what he meant-”
Aaron raised his hands towards the hidden heavens.
“It took us more than a week to make an image that size! He must have known what we were doing- how could He not? And He waited till now to tell us it was wrong? You! You waited till now to tell us!”
Moses’ shoulders had started shaking again, but he made no sound and there were no tears.
“If He knew- I certainly didn’t-” he squinted up at Aaron. “It took you a week? How long have I been gone? ”
“A month, Moses! A month and ten days!”
It was quiet in the tent.
“He wouldn’t stop talking.” Moses said said finally. He was picking at a thread in the cloth. “We’re supposed to build him a- a sort of- tent temple. I was starting to think it had been a long time.”
“What?” Aaron was having trouble comprehending.
“There are all these- these- purple curtains and ropes, and lamps and gems. Do you remember what he did to the Egyptians as we were leaving?”
“That they kept walking up to us with blank faces and handing us treasure?” Aaron still was having trouble comprehending.
“I think this is what that was for. Its- its going to take every thing we have. He went on and on about it. Oh- and Aaron- images of the cherubim.”
Aaron’s eyes were nearly bugging out of his head.
“He said we were forbidden to make images! He’s about to kill us for making an image!”
Moses was on his feet. He was screaming.
“Don’t you understand? Don’t you understand? Nothing He says matters! Nothing!”
They were both sitting on the floor again.
“That’s what’s more important to him than whether our people live or incur his wrath and die. Not even a temple. A fancy tent.” Moses finished. He was picking at a thread again. He was thinking of an Egyptian he had once buried in a shallow grave. The flight into the desert afterwards. “When He lives in a Mountain.”
“You said he lives everywhere.” Aaron was staring off into the distance.
“Nothing I say matters” Moses was staring off into the distance in the other direction.
The laughter and dance music outside went on. The flicker of the firelight was blending with the flicker of the Light of the Mountain. The two lights looked happy, flickering together.
“What are we going to do?” Aaron asked finally.
“We have to appease Him.” Moses sighed. “Call together your tribesmen. Tell them to arm themselves. I’ll- I’ll go talk to him.”
Aaron looked over at Moses, brows knit.
“Arm- ? Why?”
Moses stood up. “If He starts killing the people, He wont stop.”
Aaron stared at his brother. Then his face changed. He stood. “You can’t mean…” he breathed.
“If you can think of another way- I’ll gladly follow you.”
Aaron slowly looked at the ground. He stared at it for a long time. He slowly looked back up at Moses. He didn’t speak.
Moses shrugged, then turned and went out of the tent.
Slowly, Aaron went to the opening. He caught himself standing, stock-still, watching the dancers in their circles. He put his eyes on the ground as if he had been burned by the sight and hurried towards his tribe’s tents.
He cursed in his heart, wishing that Moses could do this himself. It was Moses’ word, after all. But the curse and the wish were both futile. The people loved and feared and sometimes hated Moses as they did El himself.
But the people, not even Aaron’s own tribe of Levi, would never take an order like this from a man whose father was an Egyptian. That was why Aaron had to speak for him.