The priesthood of Judaism in the Persian period
Weaver, Horace Robert
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In the past the work of the prophet of Israel has received a great deal of attention to the neglect of the work of the priest. The priest has been relegated to a secondary place. And, as a matter of fact, he has been regarded all too often as the antithesis of the prophet. Many scholars have held that the prophet abrogated the sacrificial system of Israel, and preached a religion quite divorced from the ancient cultus. Such a view denies the important place of the cult and the priest. This work is a study of the Jewish priest from ancient times down to the Greek Period (ca. 333 B.C.) with special emphasis upon the priest during the Persian Period. The significant place of the priest for Judaism (and for Christianity) is emphasized. Chapter I is a critical analysis of the primary sources for the history of the Persian Empire, and for the Jewish priesthood of the Persian Period, excepting the Priestly Code which is dealt with in Chapter V. Chapter II traces the Jewish priesthood from the earliest discernible times down to the Persian Period. Chapter III is a survey of the history of the Persian Empire, against the background of which we view the priest of Judaism. Chapter IV deals with the date, authorship, purpose, and style of the Priestly Code (P). In Chapter VI a study is made of the priestly hierarchy and the cult as revealed in the P Code. Chapter VII considers the contributions of the priests of the Persian Period to Judaism and Christianity. In the survey of the history of the Persian Empire, the characteristics and contributions of each of the Persian kings are noted. Only three Persian Kings were found to be Zoroastrians: Darius I (521-485), Xerxes I (485-465), and Artaxerxes I (465- 424). This fact proved to be an important element in dating Ezra, Nehemiah, and the Priestly Code (P). The study of the priesthood prior to the Persian Period revealed the following major points: 1) The function of the priests of ancient Israel (pre-Mosaic) was primarily that of caretaker or guardian of a shrine. Beginning in the Mosaic Period his duties were augmented to include that of giver of toroth (instructions), and giver of oracles via the sacred lots (which function was sloughed off ca. 850, and was assumed by the prophets). With the establishment of the Monarchy was added a fourth function--that of sacrificer at the shrines. 2) With the change in the nature of Yahweh (from the nomadic concept to that of nomadic-agricultural--in which Yahweh was viewed as concerned not only with fecundity of the herds and flocks, but with fertility of the soil too) came a change in the nature of worship. This change in the nature of worship was made and controlled by the priests, who defended and championed the authority of Yahwism against Baalism. 3) The reforming prophets are seen as seeking, not to abrogate the sacrificial system of Israel, but to purify it of the magical, coercive, and sensual elements which entered the cult of Israel when the priests adopted the agricultural rites of the Canaanites. The analysis of the primary sources for our knowledge of the priesthood of the Persian Period revealed the following: 1) our only absolutely reliable sources are Haggai (ca. 520), Zechariah(ca. 519), the Nehemiah Memoirs (ca. 445-432), and the Priestly Code; 2) Malachi, Trito-Isaiah, Lamentations 1 are to be dated ca. 450; 3) the unhistoricity of the book of Ezra is demonstrated. The moat important source for our understanding of the person and work of the priest of the Persian Period is the Priestly Code (P). Realizing that the Priestly Code is not a homogeneous work, it is separated into its component parts: pH (the Holiness Code), pT (early priestly toroth), pS (late secondary material), and P (the Grundscrift, sometimes symbolized by pG). The study of P (i.e., the Priestly Code less its accretions--pH, pT, pS) reveals reasons for dating it ca. 432-424 B.C. The author of P is viewed as expressing his own religious experiences--as an exile in Babylonia (observing the Sabbath, circumcision, dietary laws, and morality) and as a repatriated priest in the Second Temple (with the cultic legislation of Exodus through Joshua)--in the writing of the Priestly Code (P). An analysis of the situation in the fifth century, and especially ca. 432-424, shows the wretched conditions of that time. The times required a great champion of Yahweh. That champion was the author of the Priestly Code. He met the needs of the hour by devising a document--a constitution of the Jewish theocracy. The basic elements of the theocracy are: the divine Sovereign, Yahweh; the subjects, the Jews; the promised land, Canaan. The constitution is in two parts: the preamble, and the laws. Within the preamble of the constitution are portrayed the first three stages of the history of mankind, while within the constitution proper is portrayed the fourth (and last) stage. These stages are: 1) From the Creation to Noah; 2) From Noah to Abraham; 3) From Abraham to Moses; 4) From Moses through Joshua. The first three stages (the preamble) are found in Genesis, While the last stage is found in Exodus--Joshua. In the preamble of the constitution, God is known as Elohim (in the first and second stages), and El Shaddai (in the third stage). God made two covenants--one with Noah, and one with Abraham. P contains five narratives, all found in the preamble, each of which relates the origin of some particular Jewish institution such as circumcision, dietary laws, and the observance of the Sabbath--all of which are the distinctive marks of the Jews in exile in Babylonia. The keynote to the theocracy is obedience to the laws of God which are revealed to Moses in the fourth stage of history. Obedience to these divinely ordained laws will fulfill God's command to Abraham: "walk in my presence and be blameless." This phrase is considered the purpose underlying the Priestly Code (P). It is in the fourth stage that God reveals his name as Yahweh to Moses. This revelation makes for the continuity of faith from the Patriarchs down to the time of Moses. After an analysis of the toroth of P is made into their component parts (pH, pT, pS, and P) a comparative study is made of these parts. Thus, Criminal, Private, Civil, Military, Humanitarian, Religious, and Ceremonial Laws are superimposed on these four component parts of the Priestly Code, and the results are noted. In particular P is seen to be free of any concern with Civil, Criminal, Private, Military and Humanitarian laws--except where religious matters may intervene. P's concern is solely with religious and ceremonial laws. P reflects the fact that the Jews of the times were dominated by the Persian authorities. Hence P was concerned only with those laws which God had revealed which would establish and maintain the theocracy. The priestly hierarchy of the Persian Period consists of the High Priest ("the anointed priest"), the priests, and the Levites. The priests must be descendants of Aaron, either through Eleazar or Ithamar. The High Priest must be the firstborn descendant of Eleazar. The Levite cannot officiate in the Temple services, he is only an aid to the priests. By the time the Priestly Code (P) was written the High Priest could enter the Holy of Holies but once a year--on the Day of Atonement. Before doing so he had to bathe, dress in the high priestly garments, and fulfill certain propitiatory rites. This was his major function. The priests' duties were to give toroth (instructions) to the people, and to officiate at the Temple services--offer the offerings and sacrifices. The Levites became the caretakers and guardians of the Temple, aids to the priests, and ministers to the people. In the Priestly Code (P) the festivals are divorced from their earlier connection with agriculture and shepherding. They become either memorials (as the Feast of Passover), or they represent a tax on the time which Yahweh has let them use. In the same way the offerings are generally considered a tax (or tribute) to the divine Sovereign of the theocracy. Sometimes, however, they are considered a fine--to be paid by a person who either purposely or unintentionally violated the divine laws. A part of the tax belonged solely to the Sovereign (particularly the blood and the fat of animal sacrifices, and the whole sacrificial animal in burnt offerings), while the balance went for the maintenance of his vicegerents--the priests--who received all the heave offerings, meal and drink offerings, wave offerings, the first-fruits of agricultural produce and of the herd, and the redemption money for the first-born of man and unclean animals. Besides the offerings which represented either a tax or a fine, were those of a sacramental character--such as the daily burnt offering of a lamb, a meal offering, and a drink offering. The purpose of all of these is to obtain and maintain the correct relationship with Yahweh. The idea is that thus they may "walk in my presence and be blameless." The contributions of the priests of the Persian Period to Judaism and Christianity are as follows: 1) They defended and conserved the faith of the fathers 2) By refuting much of the JE sources and the apocalyptists, the priestly author of P was both a reformer and renovater of the traditional faith. This is particularly true in his conception of the Kingdom of God as having come in the time of Moses. His conception of God (the Sovereign of the theocracy) is the noblest conception of God to be found in the Old Testament. The author is renovator in-so-far as he reinterprets the rites--putting new meaning into the old Canaanite forms which Israel had borrowed: for example, the Passover no longer is associated with sacrifice, but is a memorial of the exodus. 3) The priests emphasized the important place of the cult, and viewed it as a means of obtaining and maintaining right relationship with God. 4) They demonstrated the important place of symbolism and 5) beauty and pageantry in worship. 6) They are responsible for the rise of the scribe and the synagogue. 7) They developed the cultic practices which became the essential elements in the Christian worship services: prayers, hymns, offerings, creeds, pericope texts, and the Aaronic benediction. 8) They founded some of the festivals and the sacraments which Christians observe. 9) Through Malachi they set up the ideal for the minister of God--to so live that he reflects the Spirit of God. 10) They preserved the Law and the Prophets.
Thesis (Ph.D.)--Boston University
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