golden calf

Cultural Dictionary

golden calf definition


An idol that the Israelites made during the Exodus. While God was giving Moses the Ten Commandments and other provisions of the Mosaic law on Mount Sinai, the people whom Moses was leading to the Promised Land melted down their gold jewelry and ornaments and built a golden calf, which they began to worship. Moses came down from the mountain carrying two stone tablets on which the Ten Commandments were written; when he saw the calf, he smashed the tablets and made the people destroy the idol.

Note: By extension, a “golden calf” is any false god or anything worshiped undeservedly.
The American Heritage® New Dictionary of Cultural Literacy, Third Edition
Copyright © 2005 by Houghton Mifflin Company.
Published by Houghton Mifflin Company. All rights reserved.
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