My Response to Dr. Gary Knoppers Article on Aaron & Jeroboam’s Apostasy? or Not?

Article: Gary N. Knoppers “Aaron’s Calf and Jeroboam’s Calves,” Fortunate the Eyes that See: Essays in Honor of David Noel Freedman In celebration of His Seventieth Birthday, ed. Astrid B. Beck, Andrew H. Bartelt, Paul R. Raabe, and Chris A. Franke. (Eerdmans: Grand Rapids, 1995), pp. 92-104.



Dr. Gary N. Knoppers studied Near Eastern Languages and Civilizations at Harvard University, wrote his Ph.D. dissertation on “”What Share Have We in David?”: The Division of the Kingdom in Kings and Chronicles” under the direction of Frank Moore Cross Jr. His most popular work is his 2-volume set in The Anchor Yale Bible Commentaries on 1 Chronicles, which granted him the R. B. Y. Scott award in May of 2005 from the Canadian Biblical Studies. He has written, contributed to, and edited nine books and written over 75 articles dealing with issues on his numerous fields, such as: Ancient Historiography, Old Testament Biblical Theology, The Books of Kings and Chronicles, Comparative Ancient Near Eastern Religions, Inner Biblical Exegesis, and Northwest Semitic Epigraphy. Since 2002, Dr. Knoppers has been the Edwin Erle Sparks Professor in the Department of Classics and Ancient Mediterranean Studies at The Pennsylvanian State University.

Unfortunately, Dr. Knoppers’ field of Ancient Mediterranean Studies seems to have been more and more infected with a serious syndrome; a disease that even coming from Calvin College and Gordon Conwell cannot keep one immune from. So it is with Dr. Knoppers, that Source Criticism has taken its toll on him, to which whoever it was that wrote Deuteronomy, must have written the books of Kings and Chronicles too. Dr. Knoppers, like much of his field in Ancient Studies, can sometimes place too much importance upon the historical, and therefore lose sight of the literary value in the Old Testament. How this affects one’s interpretation and reading of the Old Testament is that what flaws their historical view—JEDP disease.


So it is, the disease of JEDP affects Dr. Knoppers’ article from the very beginning. Not even four sentences into the article written in honor of David Noel Freedman, does Dr. Knoppers get off on the wrong path, saying, “The Deuteronomist could have devoted greater coverage to Jeroboam’s fortifications (1 Kings 12:25) and to his military campaigns.” From the very beginning of the article, Dr. Knoppers’ whole argument lies on finding the importance of the history of the accounts of “Aaron’s Calf and Jeroboam’s Calves,” but does it without having a proper history of the events taking place. Dr. Knoppers goes on to point out that the Deuteronomist wrote of very similar stories in how he described Aaron’s calf in Exodus 32 and Jeroboam’s Calves in 1 Kings 12.

After his introduction, stating that both Deuteronomy and the books of Kings are written by the same person, he moves on to compare the two events of Aaron and the golden calf and Jeroboam’s calves. Here Dr. Knoppers shows the similarities in both narratives and how they announce each covenant at the time with God (Mosaic & Davidic). He gives an overview of the events with a point which the writer is getting across—that is that with the covenant event comes covenant breaking. Like that of Aaron during the giving of the Law, Jeroboam plays a most famous role during the giving of the Davidic covenant of the kingdom. One man gave to David and Solomon what was given to Moses and Joshua, comparatively speaking; then the nation fell into apostasy under Aaron and Jeroboam.

From there Dr. Knoppers goes on to show that the motives of both men were that of the same; each, as he puts it, “reacts against an established orthopraxis.” Both men made a corporate decision to apostatize from the LORD—a decision that would not only have an affect upon themselves, but also their followers and their future lineage.  Dr. Knoppers mentions that in both accounts they directly make mention of them “referring to deity” and reacting totally against the Lord. Dr. Knoppers sees that it was Aaron’s calf that perverted the people of Israel, but it was Jeroboam’s calves that extended that prevision among YHWH’s people.

Lastly, Dr. Knoppers ends his article focusing on the consequences of these two men’s innovations. He makes light of Aaron’s apostasy, since his event was cut short and ended quickly, therefore not affecting the people of Israel (whereas Jeroboam’s taking of the nation lead them astray). Moses’ being there at the time, Dr. Knoppers says, allowed him to plead on the people’s behalf. Here the intent of Aaron was deliberate, which can be seen by the way Moses treats the calf as a cult symbol. The difference in these two stories of covenant breaking apostates is that in Jeroboam’s story there is no swift resolution. Where Moses mediates for the sins of Aaron, the sins of Jeroboam go unrequited. Here Jeroboam’s symbols of the calves continue on throughout the history of the 10 tribes; even the purge of Jehu does not eradicate them in 2 Kings10:29. Although Dr. Knoppers confesses that the people of Aaron and the followers of Jeroboam “find blessing only through Zion,” he ends on an awful note. He states that the unresolved episodes of Jeroboam’s calves is only because, “That history, as Deuteronomistic commentary on the relationship between Israel and its deity, is unkind to the northern kingdom is therefore hardly surprising. Its course testifies to the enduring value of the Jerusalem temple.” The problem is that Dr. Knoppers does not see the Divine, but only sees a book of history written by people no better than himself. But we will deal with this in the end of my evaluation of Dr. Knoppers’ article.


Although I must start by saying I in no way hold to the JEDP disease theory, there was one positive idea I found in Dr. Knoppers’ article. That is, that both the Mosaic and the Davidic covenants have an act of apostasy shortly after the giving of them. In Exodus 20 the Mosaic covenant is given, and soon following, in Exodus 32, Aaron the apostate has a prominent place in the book. Then once more, in 2 Samuel 7 the Davidic covenant given, and just a little while later in history in 1 Kings 12, Jeroboam the apostate is wrecking the covenant. Taking this a little further, every covenant that is given has a major covenant-breaker that brings damnation upon them and their descendents. For example:

  • Edaic – Cain
  • Nohaic – Ham
  • Abrahamic – Esau
  • Mosaic – People of the Wilderness
  • Davidic – Jeroboam & 10-Tribes
  • New Covenant – Judas

Although this particular idea was not spoken of in Dr. Knoppers’ article, he did compare Aaron and Jeroboam’s events which lead to their so-called “apostasy” as he puts it, in the Old Testament. This got me thinking about how the Lord has planned to have not only a famous person through whom He makes His covenant with people, but also has planned a famous person through the history of redemption who would be an apostate from His covenant each time. People that knew God and knew the truth, and were part of Israel in some way or form; yet they fell away, broke covenant, and left from living for the God of Israel.

As far as examining this article, the heart of the issue is JEDP—seeing that the same author of Exodus 32 is the same writer of 1Kings 12, as Dr. Knoppers does. Since Dr. Knoppers has fallen to the lies in JEDP, he cannot see the history of redemption, nor its unfolding through the covenants for the LORD’s people in the way which the LORD has designed. Dr. Knoppers sees that the reason for Jeroboam’s apostasy and turning of the nation of the LORD’s people away from what was the norm, is simply because of the author’s intent to speak ill, or to belittle the northern kingdom. Dr. Knoppers defends this as if it is the writer’s own personal feeling about them.

This is what leads to the second issue: that Dr. Knopper does not see Jeroboam as an apostate, but as one who just had a difference with his nation and decided to break away, and happened to have most—10 of the 12—tribes follow him. Dr. Knoppers simply sees Jeroboam’s situation not being dealt with properly by the author of the material simply because the author was not a part of the northern kingdom and would have disliked them in his writing. My question to such a line of thought is, why even believe in the Bible as a historical book, if one sees its human authorship over the divine authority from God Himself? Dr. Knoppers’ view that the Scriptures only give us a commentary on history, and are not the very historical happenings of that which has taken place, skews how he sees what is spoken of in the Old Testament. If Dr. Knoppers’ lenses are already set in stone that he must look at the Bible of Old as only some author’s intent to write ill of their northern kingdom, and not as an apostate nation—which believed in idols, left the true God of Israel, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob—then he will never see the true historical timeline which God Himself has planned.


2 Comments on “My Response to Dr. Gary Knoppers Article on Aaron & Jeroboam’s Apostasy? or Not?”

  1. Ben says:

    Speaking of a Deuteronomistic redaction of Kings is not suggesting that whoever wrote Kings wrote Exodus. Rather, it understands the books of Joshua, Judges, Samuel and Kings to be written as a unified whole. This has very little to do with source criticism (JEDP is typically only applied to the Pentateuch anyways) and more to do with the idea of a redactor or compiler. This redactor/compiler is not neutral, but is interpreting Israel’s history and assessing it theologically from a certain perspective (post-exilic, Noth views the DH as a theodicy explaining God’s actions in light of the exile). J. Alan Groves compares the historical books to extended sermons using Deuteronomy as their text.

  2. Ben, thanks for your words of wisdom. I am way over my head on this, and wrote according to his article and his other works for a class I had during my ThM which happen to be my worse grade so far during my ThM. needless to say when it comes to the Old Testament, and criticism, I’m studied, however I do plan to sharpen that up…. one day.

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