Too often we think of Aaron and Abraham and others through a modern lens. I still remember someone asking what it must have been like to be Abraham’s home teaching companion.

Aaron and the Golden Calf, Leading the People in Dance
[Aaron and the Golden Calf]

I thought about this when someone asked me about this ditty that has been going around:

Aaron was a prophet, built a golden calf.
Led the people dancing, and he made them laugh
Moses heard about it, he was not amused,
And for the people, they felt rather used …

I think they expected me to tell them it was inaccurate.  Irreligious and disrespectful, perhaps, but that really happened.  See Exodus 32:1–6 and this essay about the golden calf.

So, Abraham?

As for Abraham and home teaching?  Abraham probably didn’t do any home teaching.  He started as a refugee, fleeing his home after his father tried to have him killed over idol worship.  He sought ordination to the priesthood from sources that have disappeared and left Abraham as their only trace. He then became a wandering scholar who survived the court of Pharaoh.  In the end he was a warrior prince with over three hundred men who were trained only for war and also herdsmen and flocks.

We tend to forget that Abraham owned no land until he had to bury his wife and that he won the battle of the five kings.  His heritage is reflected well in Esau and Jacob.  Jacob was a herdsman.  Esau had men under arms (and was completely disinterested when Jacob offered him herds as a peace offering, but finally accepts the gift).

Abraham casting out his son and his plural wife
[probably not how Abraham dressed.]
So we talk a little of how Lot went to live in the city and Abraham did not, and about Abraham and Issac, but we really don’t talk about the rest of the story of Abraham, including the troubling parts (even apologetic discussions of what happened look troubling).

Aaron is even more alien to us than Abraham. Would you really expect to see Elder Nelson leading a worship service around a golden calf because President Monson was not available and the congregation wanted him to do something they were comfortable with?

The truth is that while parts of the story of Abraham touch us, much of it is alien to us.  Abraham did not live in a church or community that we would recognize and the gospel he followed did not have much in common with ours in many ways (no Book of Mormon, no Bible, no house of Israel, he paid tithing only once, and many other factors).

What about Aaron?

The story of Aaron, called to speak for Moses because Moses did not feel comfortable talking for himself, also is strange to us.  Read about his ordination.  Read the story of the golden calf, or when he and Miriam challenged Moses (and only Miriam got in trouble).  Much about the story and about his life is nothing like anything we have in common with each other.

The Problem

Too often on any gospel topic there is black and white thinking on inadequate foundations, and too much assuming that likening something to ourselves means that the story is really one that would fit into the lives of our next door neighbors without changing any of the details.

I think we are better served to think that we are like blind men and the elephant – except that there isn’t an elephant.  Or that we lack the words, ideas, background and concepts to see the elephant as it is (and that those of other times, eras or cultures just lacked different parts of what they needed to see the elephant as it is).

Speaking English and living in a progressive modern country doesn’t suddenly make us superior to everyone else from every other era.

So, what should you have been told?

The voyage of Abraham

Someone should have told you that we understand so very little about Abraham or Aaron, both because of holes in the record and because their lives are so alien to  us.

Outcast wandering scholars who become warrior princes are alien to us. Aaron, whose function was to be Moses’ mouthpiece because Moses felt he didn’t have a good enough gift of public speaking, is even more alien to us in many ways.

We can understand so much by realizing just how alien they are to our modern life and expectations and by appreciating that the complete picture is much bigger than the one we have.

And we can understand even more by avoiding building golden calves.  Which is what we do when we idolize our own understandings over everything else.

What do you think that we over-estimate that we understand?