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Was the Offering a Calf or Bull

bread, between the evenings, Christian Passover, Law Moses, Law of Moses, animal sacrifice, Abraham covenant, Israel exodus

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Exodus 24:5 indicates that ‘par’, generally translated bull or bullock, was sacrificed at the confirming of the Sinai Covenant. The Gesenius, Brown-Driver- Briggs Hebrew Lexicon indicates this is "a bull, especially a young bull". The account of Hebrews 9:19 indicates the Old Covenant was confirmed with the offering of a ‘calf’, (Greek, moschos).

Only two cases of ‘par’ in the NKJV are translated something other than what would indicate some sort of full-grown male bovine animal. One is Judges 6:25 where the word is used along with ‘showr’ which also indicates a bull. Here ‘par’ is translated ‘young’. In this case the age of the bull is given as seven years. That is hardly a calf. The other is in Hosea 14:2, where the NKJV text says "calves of our lips". The meaning is ‘sacrifice of our lips’ or the praise we give to God. ‘Calf’ is not intended at all.


Psalms 22:12 indicates a ‘par’ is a strong animal. Psalms 69:31 indicates it typically has horns and hooves. Bovine hooves harden a short time after birth. Horns are a different story. Different breeds will develop horns at different ages. However, they don’t tend to be fully developed until the animal is full sized. They begin to poke through the skin at about six months.  This would not indicate a calf.


The KJV tends to call a ‘par’ a bullock, which indicates a young bull. This might seem odd considering the frequency of words used in conjunction with ‘par’ that seem to indicate a young ‘par’. A young bullock would be a young, young bull. This probably would indicate a calf.


In fact ‘ben’, Hebrew for ‘son’, is used in connection with ‘par’ in the following scriptures: Ex 29:1, Lev 4:3, 14, 16:3, 23:18, Num 8:8, 15:24, 29:13, 17, 2Chr 13:9, Eze 43:19, 23, 25, 45:18, 46:6. Since ‘par’ indicates a male already, ‘ben’ is interpreted as intending ‘young’, i.e. a son. There are also a number of instances where ‘par’ is paired with ‘baqaraqar aqar’ again interpreted as ‘young bull’. ‘Baqar’ indicates a connection with a herd. This animal would be running with the heard likely still with its mother. So in many cases it seems the original Hebrew feels the need to clarify particular instances of ‘par’ as meaning ‘young par’ and specifically includes something to indicate that. This would tend to indicate a calf. ‘Par’ then by itself would not tend to indicate that.


The Brown-Driver-Briggs lexicon goes on to indicate a yearling is often intended for ‘par’.  This would be an animal that might draw a cart. This would typically be a full-grown animal, not a calf.


In Hebrews 9:19 ‘moschos’ is used and typically translated 'calf'. The primary definition according to Thayer is "a tender juicy shoot". If talking of humans it indicates a ‘boy or girl’. Liddell & Scott indicate "young shoot or twig… leaf-stalk, petiole". Calf is actually the main secondary meaning when an animal is indicated. This word can also refer to a young bull. It can also refer to a young cow or heifer.


Other Greek words can give us a clue as to the general usage of ‘moschos’. A ‘moschion’ is a young calf. ‘Moschinos’ indicates calf-skin or calf-meat. ‘Moschothutes’ is a slaughter of calves. Interestingly ‘moscheuo’ is to plant a sucker.


There is an obvious difference in emphasis between ‘moschos’ and ‘par’. Exodus 24:5 (par) is talking of at least a mostly grown strong animal with developed horns. Hebrews is likely talking of a young immature animal (‘moschos’), still running with its mother in the herd. Considering that there is also no indication of a goat in the Exodus account the animal sacrifice in Exodus 24 does not reflect the sacrifice described in Hebrews 9:19.


Unfortunately though not everything is totally clear or simple. As it turns out the translators of the Septuagint used ‘moschos’ for ‘par’ in Exodus 24:5. We have to assume the people that created the Septuagint were very knowledgeable of both languages, but word meanings do change over time. The Septuagint was written about 700 years after the bulk of Psalms and over 1000 years after Exodus.


Another factor we should consider is that the Moab covenant was confirmed on a new moon (Deu 1:1-3, 26:16-18, 30:19). The offering on the typical new moon (Num 28:11) consisted of two young (running with the herd) ‘par’, one ram, seven lambs, some flour mixed with oil, some wine and a goat.


This is not an exact match with Hebrews 9:19, but certainly has more matching elements than that of Exodus 24. Two ‘young par’ or ‘par’ running with the herd would fit very well with the calves (‘moschos’) specified in Hebrews 9:19. Although only one goat was specifically required in Numbers 28:15, Exodus 24 indicates no goats at all. Two goats could have been offered on the occasion of Deuteronomy 1. It wouldn’t be a stretch to presume that the occasion of the confirmation of the Moab covenant was not a standard run of the mill New Moon observance.


Actually, the Talmud tractate Pesachim 76b-77a mentions the goatS of the new moons.  Even though Numbers 28 only expects one, it was evidently practice to offer at least two.  “I will tell you: It is necessary for him [to teach about] the he-goats of New Moons”.


All in all it seems the animal offered at the confirming of the Sinai covenant was likely a young but full-grown bull. The bovine animal indicated in Hebrews is a young sexually immature animal.