Israel's Golden Calf worship is a recollection of Egyptian Solar Cults at Serabit el Khadim in the Sinai?
                                Walter Reinhold Warttig Mattfeld y de la Torre, M.A. Ed.
                                                                  05 Oct 2004

Below, a photo of a fragment of a bas-relief at Serabit el Khadim showing the Egyptian patron goddess of miners, Hat-Hor, as a cow wearing a sacred Menat beaded necklace. Did 9th-8th century BCE Israelites or Judeans who left their pottery at the nearby Feiran Oasis visit Serabit el Khadim, and noting this shattered visage, relate it to the Golden Calf worship of their ancestors? Thus a shattered visage of Hathor may have become the nucleus for a story about Moses shattering the Golden Calf, and pounding it into dust (Allowing for a little transformation, hyperbole and embellishment?). In Egyptian myths Hathor was also a sky-cow-goddess who gave birth to the sun at daybreak as a Golden Calf (Golden Horus) and Hathor was also called Nubt meaning "the Golden [One]" as an epithet. (cf. p.109 for the photo. Raphael Giveon. 
The Stones of Sinai Speak. Tokyo. Gakuseisha. 1978)
Below, another fragment of a bas-relief found at Serabit el Khadim shows Pharaoh (as Horus) sucking of the udder of Hathor (the "mother" of Horus in some myths). Did this "motif " come to be transformed into Israel being made "TO DRINK" of the Golden Calf after its having been shattered and pounded into dust (Again, via a reinterpretation or transformation or "inversion" of Hathor into her calf, along with some hyperbole and embellishment)? (cf. Plate LXXXI Fig. 337. Alan H. Gardiner & T. Eric Peet. The Inscriptions of Sinai. Part I, Introduction and Plates. London. Egypt Exploration Fund. 1917)
Alternately, the Notion that Israel is forced to "consume" the Golden Calf by Moses, might be a transformation/inversion of certain stelae found at Serabit el Khadim which show deceased Egyptians seated before a Funerary Meal, part of which shows butchered portions of a bovine, with a hornless head, thus perhaps it is a Calf? Evidently the Egyptians enjoyed tender Veal or Calf like ourselves. Did scenes of Calves carved up into pieces "become" the calf smashed into pieces by Moses and fed to Israel ? (cf. Plate XLVII. Fig. 125A.  Alan H. Gardiner & T. Eric Peet. The Inscriptions of Sinai. Part I, Introduction and Plates. London. Egypt Exploration Fund. 1917)
To the degree that the Golden Calf incident at Mount Sinai or Horeb is associated with Israel's consumption of the Calf, as well as the death of thousands at Moses'' command for its worship, these may be "inversions" or "transformations" of myths, events or physical phenomena found atSerabit el Khadim. Hathor was the prominent goddess there. She was the goddess who admitted ALL the dead into the underworld. She was also the cow-sky-goddess who gave birth to the Sun each day as a Golden Calf. In tombs in Egypt the dead are shown riding the back of a calf in a resurrection of the dead, the calf being the symbol of Horus the bull, born of Hathor. That is to say the dead see themselves as Horus "types" being resurrected in a like form. So Israel's motifs of Golden Calf worship associated with thousands of  dead Israelites in the southern Sinai may be recalling Egyptian myths concerning aspects of the Egyptian Cult of Hathor she being called Nubt or "golden" and her Golden Calf (Horus) whom she gave birth to each day at sunrise as the Sun-god. In the below mural the sun is shown as a calf and has the dead man Sennedjem with a green face who becomes a "Horus" at sunrise. In Heliopoltian myths (biblical On), the sun was said to rise each day between two sycamore trees made of Turquoise in form of a calf. Hathor was called the "Mistress of Turquoise" and she was alternately rendered as a Sycamore tree-goddess who gives drink and food cakes to the righteous dead, thus I understand the Turquoise trees represent Hathor giving birth to her son the "golden Horus" as a "Golden Calf" or sun-god. (cf. p. 332. "Mural from the tomb of Sennedjem at Thebes. " Kent R. Weeks. La Valle Dei Re, Le Tombe E I Templi Funerari Di Tebe Ovest [The Valley of Re, Funerary Temples of Western Thebes]. White Star S.r.I. via Candido Sassone. Vercelli. Italia. ISBN 88-8095-667-1)
Rothenberg noted a number of items found in association with the Hathor shrine at Har Timna appeared to have been deliberately broken and suggested that this activity is attested elsewhere as cultic rite associated with the worship of Hathor. If he's right, then perhaps Moses' destruction of the Golden Calf is an allusion to the breaking into pieces of a bovine donative so as to prevent its being employed for personal or private use ? That is to say, the image is destroyed to make it useless to anyone, assuring its dedication solely to Hathor. If my hunch is right, then perhaps later generations transformed the breaking of the bovine image into an act of rage by Moses, when originally it was an act of piety ?


"...contrary  to the finds of numerous complete grinding bowls, mortars and querns in the smelting camps of Timna...all such implements found in the Temple, with the exception of fig. 50:1, which was found in the upper fill layer of Locus 101 (Plate 8), were found broken and of little practible use. Since not even one mortar or quern could be restored from these fragments, it is possible that the latter were brought to the Temple as votive offerings already "killed", according to the widespread Hathor ritual of 'breaking the offerings (Kertesz, 1976)." (pp. 268-269. "Some Stone Implements and Mineral Votive Gifts." Beno Rothenberg, et al. The Egyptian Mining Temple at Timna. Vol. I. Institute for Archaeo-Metallurgical Studies Institute of Archaeology, University College, London. 1988. ISBN 0-906183-02-2)

Pinch noting Kertesz assessment of damaged items being a cultic rite, disagrees and sees the broken objects as only "superficial," as a result of time, weathering and accident, noting that at times complete images exist among votives, and that if the ritual demanded breakage of all objects there are exceptions to the rule. For my own part, having looked at the images Pinch provides in her book on the Hathor Cult, I note the majority appear with various stages of breakage, its the exceptional item that is free of any damage. Bovine images in clay or especially vulnerable while images engraved on metal plaques appear to be unscathed.

Pinch :

"Another type of ritual that can sometimes be associated with votive offerings may be described as a 'nullification ritual'. In this, objects are broken in order to prevent their reuse or to emphasize that they are passing into the ownership of the deity (Merrifiekd 1987. 29-30, 110-12, 190-2).  On the evidence of the Timna material, Kertesz (1976) suggested that most votive offerings to Hathor were ritually broken in this fashion (Kertesz 1976). Examples of ritual breakage do occur in a funerary context (Garstang 1907. 121, 158-60; Borchardt 1930) but they are not very common. The way in which most of the votive objects from the six sites are broken suggests accidental damage. Many intact objects survive, especially from the relatively undisturbed shrine of Mirgissa, and at Zebel Zeit. Ritual breakage cannot be entirely ruled out -it is a strong possibility for vessels used in sacrifice- but it was not standard practice." (p. 341. "Votive Objects in Popular Religion- Presentation." Geraldine Pinch. Votive Offerings to Hathor. Oxford. Griffith Institute, Ashmolean Museum. 1993. ISBN  0-900416-55-6 pbk.)

Some of the vessels found at Serabit el Khadim by Petrie were in the forms of Hathor and of Bes. They all were shattered beyond reconstruction efforts. To the degree Hathor in a bovine form exists as a vessel, could the biblical motif of Israel "drinking" the pulverived Golden Calf be an allusion to Hathor form vases for liquids ?

"Petrie stated...'The alabaster vases had been plentiful in the temple, but all were reduced to fragments...There were also many vases in the form of figures of the god Bes or the cow of Hat-Hor. (1906. 137)" (pp. 302-303. "The Votive Objects: Vessels." Geraldine Pinch.

Pinch also noted that in formulary hymns or prayers addressed to Hathor by her devotees that she was called called Nubt "The Golden [One]", _and_ 'The Pure Water'. Did some Asiatics at Serabit el Khadim envison Hathor as "The-Golden-One-IN-the Pure-Water", identifying the Golden One as being "in" or a part of the Pure Water ? Could this motif be what's behind the notion that Moses forces Israel to "drink" the Golden Calf after pounding it into dust and scattering it into the water supply ? If this is so, then Hathor as the "Golden {One]" and "The Pure Water", has been transformed via an "inversion" into the Golden Calf.


"One of the basins from Deir el-Bahri is inscribed with a fragmentary htp di nsw  formula addressed to Hathor, Lady of Djeser...The similar basins from Deir el-Medina are usually inscribed with the htp di nsw   formulae naming Hathor, or Taweret [a Hippopotamus goddess of childbirth, Hathor also being identified with childbirth] 'The Pure Water', and requesting standard life and funerary benefits for the donors (Bruyere 1930.21; 1934.64; 1939.198, fig. 89). The basins found in public areas of tombs, shrines and temples were presumably intended to continue in use long after the donor's death. There are two possible functions for such basins. On the basis of frequent mention of Taweret 'The Pure Water', Bruyere suggested that they held water for  lustration rituals...The basins might have been placed in the outer areas of shrines or tombs so that visitors could use them as lustration vessels...Alternately, the function of the basins may have been to receive libations, either from priests, or temple visitors." (p. 302. "The Votive Objects: Vessels." Geraldine Pinch)

At Serabit el Khadim Petrie found a number of stone basins which he assumed were for lustration rites associated with the Hathor Cult and Shrine.

Jewelry was dedicated to Hathor in the form of rings, earrings, bracelets, and necklaces. I note that such items were offered to the Tabernacle by Israel while encamped at Mount Sinai. Perhaps, again, rites from the Hathor cult are being recalled in a transformed and inverted manner. That is to say, we may have an "inversion" whereby these jewelry items originally dedicated to an Egytian bovine goddess are dedicated instead to Yahweh ? (cf. pp. 276-277. "The Votive Objects: Jewelry." Geraldine Pinch)

Alternately, some Egyptian myths have the sky-cow-goddess Nut or Hathor at sunset, "swallowing" the sun, and giving birth to it the next day at daybreak or dawn. To the degree the Golden Calf is identifiable with the rising Sun, could the act of _swallowing_ the "Golden-Calf-Sun" be what is being recalled in Israel's "swallowing" of the Golden Calf in the water provided by Moses ? As the sun is swallowed by the heavenly cow-goddess, could the Golden Calf or sun have been seen as BEING IN the water of the heavenly Nile, which descends to the earth to become an earthly Nile ? That is to say, Hathor, Meht-urt and Nut are also personifications of water, and having "swallowed the sun at sunset" and giving birth to him at sun rise, the sun is _in_ their watery bodies at night, emerging at sunrise as the Golden Calf ? So, perhaps the act of drinking water in a Hathor Cult context, may have been alluded to the sun's being swallowed by the watery heavenly cow-goddess. Perhaps the participants of this rite -if such existed- saw themselves being reborn after death like the Golden Calf or Sun-god ? I am admittedly "speculating here, I know of no statement by an Egyptologist averring that the Golden Calf or Sun was "in" the water consumed by Egyptians in any religious rite.

Hath-Hor means "House of Horus" according to Budge :

"Het-heru or Hathor, the "house of Horus," was the goddess of the sky wherein Horus the Sun-god rose and set. Subsequently a great number of goddesses of the same name were developed from her, and these were identified with Isis, Neith, Iuaset and many other goddesses whose attributes they absorbed...She is often depicted in the form of a woman having disk and horns upon her head...often she has the form of a cow...and in this form...provides meat and drink to the deceased." (pp.187-188. "The Papyrus of Ani." E. A. Wallis Budge. The Book of the Dead, the Hieroglyphic transcript of the Papyrus of Ani. New York. Bell Publishing Company. 1960 Reprint of 1920 edition)

I suspect that the cow-goddess Meht-urt was assimilated to Hat-Hor, of note is that Meh-urt means "Great Flood", alluding to her being associated with the flood waters of the Nile, the Nile being portrayed in myth as circular, in the heavens and on the earth. The heavenly stream carries the solar bark of the Sun-god and his entourage across the sky, thus the reason in some tomb murals the solar bark is shown gliding alongside the gold body of the heavenly cow-goddess, variously described at Hathor, Meht-urt or Nut. Perhaps the Egyptian myths associating Hathor and Meht-urt as not only cow-goddesses  -but water-deities as well-  is behind the notion of Moses scattering the dust of the Golden Calf into water, making Israel "drink" it? That is to say, that perhaps at the Hathor shrine at Serabit el Khadim, ceremonies existed were Hat-hor/Meht-urt/Nut, were consumed as water and Hathor's epithet of Nubt "the golden {one]" became the drinking of the Golden Calf? Of interest is that the Bible does make a puzzling reference to the Golden Calves erected by Jeroboam as Heifers. Could this be "in derision" of his notion that the Calf was Yahweh, or perhaps might this be a relic or echo of the Hathor cult of the southern Sinai and Arabah?

Budge :

"Meht-urt is the personification of that part of the sky wherein the sun rises, and also of that part of it in which he takes his dail course; she is depicted in the form of cow, along the body of which the two barks of the sun are seen sailing." (p. 186. Budge.)

A very ancient Sky-goddess called "Mehurt arit Ra", i.e., "Mehurt, the daughter of Ra." Her face is yellow and her body red. She has a deep collar, or halter, round her neck, to which is fastened a menant, emblem of virility, fecundity and female sexulaity, which lies along her back." (p. 261. Budge)

At Serabit el Khadim Hathor appears with the Menant collar about her neck as a cow just like Meht-urt.

Mercante :

"Meh-urt. The celestial cow, the goddess who gave birth to the sky when nothing else existed. Her name literally means "the great flood." Meh-urt is portrayed as a cow who represents heaven's ocean, which the Greeks called Methyer. In some texts she is associated with Isis and described as the protector of the dead. Various spellings of her name are Mehturt and Mehueret." (pp. 93-94. "Meh-urt."  Anthony S. Mercante. Who's Who in Egyptian MythologyNew York. Clarkson N. Potter, Inc. Publishers. 1978. ISBN 0-517-53446-0 pbk.)

Mercante on water being "in" the sky-cow-goddess Nut :

"Nut. Goddess who personified the sky...In the Book of the Dead there are several allusions to the meat and drink Nut provides for the deceased. She is described as a friend and protector of the dead in other Egyptian texts. The sycamore was sacred to her. One text reads: "Hail, thou sycamore of the goddess Nut ! Grant thou to me of THE WATER and of the air WHICH DWELL IN THEE." In one myth, Ra passed between the goddess' two turquoise-colored sycamores at Heliopolis when he began his journey across the sky each morning...In Egyptian art Nut was usually portrayed as a woman bearing a vase of water upon her head. She sometimes wears a headdress of horns and the disk of the goddess Hathor..." (pp. 109-110. "Nut." Mercante)

Budge suggests for me that Nut was the feminine aspect of Nu, a water-deity.

"We have already seen in the paragraphs on the god Nu that he had a female counterpart called Nut, who represented the great watery abyss out of which all things came, and who formed the celestial Nile whereon the Sun sailed in his boats...The goddess is usually represented in the form of a woman who bears upon her head a vase of water, which has the phonetic value of Nu, and which indicates both her name and her nature; she sometimes wears on her head the horns and disk of the goddess Hathor...she appears in the form usually identified with Hathor, that is as a woman standing in a sycamore tree and pouring out water from a vase for the souls of he dead who come to her." (pp. 102-103. Vol. 2. "Nut." E. A. Wallis Budge. The Gods of the Egyptians. (2 volumes). New York. Dover Publications, Inc. 1969 reprint of 1904 edition by the Open Court Publishing Company, Chicago and Methuen & Company, London)

"According to one myth Nut gave birth to her son the Sun-god daily, and passing over her body [in a solar bark] he arrived at her mouth, into which he disappeared, and passing through her body he was re-born the following morning." (p. 104. Vol. 2. "Nut." Budge)

Quirke on the Sun-god Ra, and his watery association (emphasis mine) :

"The king worships Ra at daybreak, in his emergence as he opens his disk, as he arises to the sky as Khepri, ENTERING THE MOUTH, emerging from the thighs, in his birth at the East of the sky...The king knows...THE BIRTH OF RA AND HIS FORMS THAT ARE IN THE FLOODWATER. He knows this secret gate by which the great god emerges. He knows those who are in the Morning Barque..." (p. 53.  Stephen Quirke. The Cult of Ra, Sun-Worship in Ancient Egypt. London. Thames & Hudson. 2001. ISBN 0-500-05107-0)

A "water-ritual" is performed accompanying the Sun-god's birth at dawn :

"Hail Ra in your rising, Atum in your perfect setting. You rise, you shine on the back of your mother. Risen as king of the Nine Gods. Nut performs the WATER-RITUAL at your face [i.e. at the sight of you]...You travel the sky...the waterway...Ra is indeed in fair sailing." (p. 66. "Assmann Hymn A." Quirke)

Hail Ra, as you set in life, When you have merged with the horizon of the sky...You have descended into the body of your mother Nunet as your father Nun is performing the WATER-RITUAL...the gods...are they see their lord...Amun-Ra lord of all humankind." (p. 67. "Assmann Hymn B." Quirke)

"Hail He who rises from Nun...whose rising is the life of the populace...Adration to you say all creatures..." (p. 69. "Assmann Hymn E." Quirke)

"Hail Amun-Ra-Horakhty, Atum Khepri, Horus...May you awake perfect upon daybreak...Kenmut glorifies you, One who sleeps conceived, you at whose birth dawn breaks. Your mother absorbs you every full day...You cross the sky in life and power." (p. 70. "Assmann Hymn F." Quirke)

Silverman on the sky as being composed of water :

"Looking at the sky without telescopes, the Egyptians saw only an undifferentiated background of blue by day, or black by night -the same qualities visible in the river Nile. Understandably, therefore, the Egyptians concluded that the sky, like the Nile was composed of water." (p. 114. "The Egyptian Cosmos." David P. Silverman. Editor. Ancient Egypt. New York. Oxford University Press. 1997)

Silverman on Ramesside depictions of the celestial domain:

"The scene depicts the surface of the sky (the godess Nut, "watery one") held above the earth (the god Geb) by the atmosphere...while along Nut's body the sun is depicted at various points in its daily cycle...Texts elsewhere in the scene describe the Duat as lying within the body of Nut, the sky. This reflects the Egyptian concept of the sky "giving birth" to the sun each morning." (p. 115. "The Egyptian Cosmos." David P. Silverman)

Perhaps Israel's song and dance at Mount Sinai recalls the rites for Hathor ?

Pinch :

"Hathor fulfils all these criteria. She appears to have been the goddess of sexual love. Appeals to the 'Golden One' to grant a lover his beloved are found in New Kingdom love poetry...Songs and dances invoking Hathor seem to have been performed for actual births, for symbolic rebirth and revitalization of the king at his jubilee, and at funerals and festivals associated with the rebirth of the dead." (p. 222. "The Votive Objects: Fertility Figurines." Geraldine Pinch. Votive Offerings to Hathor. Oxford. Griffith Institute, Ashmolean Museum. 1993. ISBN  0-900416-55-6 pbk.)

Hathor as the mother of Horus, becomes the mother of all Egypt's kings or pharaohs by virtue of they being called the "Golden Horus" :

"The ruling king was identified with Horus, and, in turn, Hathor was regarded as the divine mother of each reigning king. "Son of Hathor" was one of the royal titles." (p. 116. Erik Hornung & Betsy M. Bryan. Editors. The Quest for Immortality, Treasures of Ancient Egypt. National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C. 2002)

The deceased Pharaoh Pepi in the Old Kingdom Pyramid Texts declares he ressurected back to life as a Golden Calf, born at dawn of the sky. I note that the sky was a cow-goddess (Nut, Hathor or Meht-urt?) :

"The idea of the king as the nursling of the divine cow is at least as old as the Old Kingdom, since he is described as 'The Calf of Gold' and is told 'Your mother is the great wild cow who lives in el Kab. She will nurse you." (Pyramid Text 729a. cf. p.175. "The Cow and marsh motif." Geraldine Pinch. Votive Offerings to Hathor. Griffith Institute Ashmolean Museum, Oxford. 1993)

"Pepi comes to thee, O Ra, a calf of gold, born of heaven. I have come to
you Ra, a calf of gold born in the sky, a fatted calf of gold...O Horus, do
not leave me boatless." (Pyramid text Utterance 485a)

Pinch noted that one of Hathor's many epitheths was "Lady of Heaven," she being the Heaven as a sky-cow-goddess.

Pinch speaking of a votive cow image of Hathor bearing this epithet :

"The only inscribed example I have traced has "Hathor, Lady of Heaven" written on one flank.(p.162. Pinch)

"Cow-goddess who gave birth to the king in the form of a golden calf. In general she is a milk goddess quenching the thirst of mankind with divine liquid described as the 'beer of Hesat'." (

In the Bible Aaron makes a Golden Calf and the people proclaimed "behold Israel the gods who led you up out of Egypt" (Ex 32:4). This statement may in fact recall some reality. Mining expeditions into the southern Sinai for turquoise and copper were staged at Avaris (Tell ed-Dab'a) and later Pi-Ramesses (Qantir) as well as Succoth (Tjeku). They would have taken their bearings to Serabit el Khadim and vicinity from the Sun as it rose each morning. They would be heading in a ESE direction toward the rising Sun. So, to the degree that certain Egyptian myths made the rising Sun of dawn a Golden Calf born of the watery-sky-cow-goddess (Hathor, Nut or Meht-urt), it is conceivable that the Egyptian miners and their Asiatic workcrews could have comprehended that "the Golden Calf was leading them up out of Egypt and into the southern Sinai and the sacred mount" of Hathor.

Somewhat related here is the vision Pharaoh had of 7 fat cows rising forth from the Nile followed by 7 thin or emaciated cows. Joseph explained there would be 7 years of abundance of food followed by 7 years of famine. The Egyptians understood that the Nile on earth was part of a Nile in the heavens. The heavenly Nile was associated with watery-cow-goddesses, Hathor, Nut and Meht-urt. When the Nile rises, it floods and the silt makes possible abundant harvests. When Nile does not rise or "flood" less silt is laid down and the harvest is meager. It is apparent to me that the Bible is correctly identifying harvests and famines with "cows" associated with the Nile's waters, an association which appears in Egyptian myths. Scenes exist on tomb walls of the Egyptians worshipping 7 cows and their bull, perhaps this is recalled in Pharaoh's dream?

There exist over a dozen proposals for the location of Mount Sinai or Horeb yet none have a universal scholarly consensus. The problem ? None have the pottery debris evidence of encampments near the base of the mount indicating a presence during the time the Exodus is believed to have occurred.
Conservative scholars following 1 Kings 6:1 suggest the event was ca. 1446 BCE, while Liberals prefer a Ramesside event in the 13th-12th centruies BCE. I know of only TWO LOCATIONS which possess the "missing" pottery debris and encampments, Har Timna in the southern Negev, north of the modern port of Eilat on the Gulf of Aqaba and Serabit el Khadim in the SW Sinai. I have argued elsewhere that events at these two Egyptian camps and their Hathor shrines have been fused together and are what is   -in part-  behind the Exodus motifs at Mount Sinai/Horeb. Perhaps Mount Sinai is Gebel Saniya near Serabit el Khadim?


Although no Egyptian text exists specifically stating that a Golden Calf is "in" the water drunk or poured out as libations in religious rites, I have nevertheless attempted to bring together a number of Egyptian myths concerning the birth of the Sun as a Golden Calf, born of a Watery-Sky-Cow-Goddess.

I have also noted that the Sun-god was apparently conceived at times as being "in" the water of the heavenly Nile ( "The king knows...THE BIRTH OF RA AND HIS FORMS THAT ARE IN THE FLOODWATER..." perhaps an allusion to Meht-urt "the floodwater" heavenly sky-goddess) and have proposed that perhaps the notion that Israel "drank" the Golden Calf "in water" provided by Moses is alluding to aspects of the Egyptian Solar Cults associated with Cow-sky-goddesses like Hathor, Nut, Meht-urt and the Cult of the Golden Calf.  

Noting that an Egyptian Hathor shrine exists at Serabit el Khadim in the southern Sinai as well as Har Timna in in the southern Arabah, I have proposed that events at these two locations may have been fused together and may be  -in part- behind the Exodus motifs of Israel at a sacred mount (Horeb/Sinai). Perhaps the "drinking, in water," of the Golden Calf, is a later Iron II (9th-6th centuries BCE) "reformatting" of Rameside era traditions of the birth of the Sun from a watery-sky-goddess and its "forms that are in the floodwater".

If there is any merit to the above "speculations," perhaps the Exodus narratives, in a somewhat garbled and transformed manner, are drawing upon real events in the southern Sinai and Arabah, locations associated in the Bible with a wandering Israel under Moses?

Main Page    Archaeology Menu      OT Menu     NT Menu     Geography Menu

Illustrations Menu      Bibliography Menu     Links Menu