Aaron the prophet
The first Old Testament high priest Aaron was three years senior his brother Moses. Aaron was 83 when the Lord called on him to assist Moses in bringing the Israelites out of Egypt and releasing them from captivity. Moses wanted to decline the order by saying he was not a good speaker. Then the Lord pointed to Aaron: “Now you shall speak to him and put the words in his mouth. And I will be with your mouth and with his mouth, and I will teach you what you shall do. So he shall be your spokesman to the people.” (Exodus IV, 15-16; 6, 30-VII, 2). After that Moses and Aaron went to the Pharaoh and demanded upon him to release Israel from captivity, threatening him by predictory signs.
After leaving Egypt, Moses led his people to Mount Sinai where he received from the Lord the stone Tablets of Law with the Ten Commandments. Aaron, together with the elders, accompanied Moses to Mount Sinai where Moses alone came up to the Lord, while his companions bowed to Him from the distance “and they saw the God of Israel” (Exodus 24. 1-2, 9-11). But Aaron couldn’t resist the idolatry sin. As Moses fasted forty days and nights at Mount Sinai, Aaron, forced by the people, made the Golden Calf (Exodus 32. 4).
At Mount Sinai, Moses also received instructions on the arrangements of the Tabernacle. After the Tabernacle was constructed, Moses attired Aaron and anointed him at the entrance to the Tabernacle, thus establishing the right of the Old Testament priests to conduct divine services. Aaron’s functions were not confined only to conducting worship services, he was also vested with judicial power and teaching. Aaron and his sons were to “teach the children of Israel all the statutes which the Lord has spoken unto them by the hand of Moses” (Lev. 10. 11).
The Lord confirmed the choice of Aaron and his son as high-priests, when Korah and other elders insisted on being given the same rights of high-priests as Aaron’s, by performing the miracle of Aaron’s rod (Numbers 16. 1-3). Aaron’s rod that had been put in the Tabernacle together with the rods from the twelve elders was found miraculously blossomed (Numbers 17).
Aaron died at the age of one hundred and twenty three years at the summit of Mount Hor. Israel mourned Aaron for thirty days.
The images of Aaron are known from Christian art memorials, largely from the episodes of Exodus. The most ancient image of Aaron is found on the murals of a synagogue in Dura-Europose (Syria, 245-250 AD). Most of the earliest Byzantine paintings depict Aaron as a young man wearing antique dress (mosaics Santa Maria Majore in Rome, 432 – 440 AD). Stable iconography of Aaron developed in the Macedonian dynasty era (the 9th – 11th centuries). Aaron was portrayed as a gray-haired, long-bearded old man dressed in clerical clothing, with a rod and a censer (or a small chest) in hands. For example, an icon of Aaron was placed among other paintings in an altar space in the Church of St. Sophia in Kiev (the mid-11th century). This tradition continued up to the 16th century (e.g. the Church of St. Pherapontus, 1502).
An icon of Aaron was included in the prophets’ tier of the high iconostasis. One such example is an icon of Aaron from the prophets’ tier of the Church of the Nativity of the Holy Virgin in the St. Antonius Monastery dating the 1550s-1570s. On the icons Aaron is usually portrayed holding an unfolded scroll or the blossoming rod, specifically mentioned in the Orthodox Christian hymnographic as a prototype of the Theotokos.
Ph.D. in Art history, senior research fellow at the Andrei Rublyov Museum, custodian of the tempera painting collection.
Olga E. Savchenko,
research fellow at the Andrei Rublyov Museum.