53. Priesthood

Describe the development of the priesthood and the various priestly groups in ancient Israel. What do you consider to be the major unanswered questions about the priesthood? Why?

Summary: The central question involved with this essay question is simply: what is the origin of priests and Levites in ancient Israel? Reading through the Bible it is clear that there are many priests and Levites performing sacrifices, etc. But where did the priests come from? Are we supposed to believe the desert stories as recorded in Exod/Numbers? Are the desert stories recording actual historical events or are they later etiological stories created to explain a reality that dates to sometime just prior to and during the monarchy? Different scholars have given different answers to these thorny questions. This is what is involved with this essay question.

According to the Biblical text, Levi is the ancestor of all the Levites and Priests. Moses and Aaron are also descendants of Levi and they are the founders of the cult. There are several Levitic groups (Aaronides, Levites, Mushites, Korahites, etc.). All Priests and Levites theoretically should be descendants of Levi; but there are exceptions to this (keep reading). In the Desert traditions, the descendants of Levi are split into 2 distinct groups: the Levites take care of the tabernacle; however, a particular group of Levites, the Aaronides (i.e. descendants of Aaron), were priests who did sacrifices. So it seems even at an early stage in Israelite traditions, there were different roles for Levites (non-Aaronides) and Priests (i.e. Aaronides); thus, the Aaronides were priests in charge of sacrifice and the Levites were those in charge of non-sacrificial activities. Although the descendants of Moses could be Levites, technically they should not be sacrifical priests since they are NOT Aaronides; but reality did not always match the ideal standard.

As mentioned, only descendants of Levi could be Levites and/or Priests. But, during the period of Judges and even the monarchy and after the monarchy, certain non-Levites were sacrificial priests (e.g. Micah, Jgs 17-18; Samuel was an Ephramite). That is, these non-levitical priests were neither Levites, nor Aaronides, but they still functioned as sacrificial priests at local shrines! Nevertheless, it seems that during the time of the Judges, priests of Levitical heritage were preferred (e.g. Jgs 17-18). 

Presumably, there were priestly shrines/sites of worship in various parts of Canaan; for instance, Shiloh, Nob (connected with Shiloh), Dan, Bethel, Hebron, also, Arad, and Qadesh. And Levites, Priests, and non-levitical priests functioned at these various shrines.

David centralized worship at Jerusalem, and thus, the Shiloh center went away. David established Abiather (from Shiloh; a Mushite; Mushites were probably Levites) and Zadok (Aaronide from Hebron) as priests in Jerusalem. With the establishment of centralized worship, many priests were left without a job and had to search for livelihood in local shrines. Solomon, banished Abiather and affirmed Zadok as priest. From then on, the Zadokites became the Priests of Israel/Judah. Nevertheless, in the Northern kingdom, there were non-Levitical priests appointed by kings such as Jeroboam. 

Throughout, there is a clear distinction between Levitical Aaronide Priests (who perform sacrifice), Levites (non-Aaronide Levites who are NOT priests and who DON'T perform sacrifices), and non-Levitical priests (e.g. Micah; Samuel); the Zadokites eventually become the only sacrificing priests for Judah until post-Exilic times.

Warning: the genealogies and discussion of the Levitic groups is pretty confusing. I have given you the genealogical chart as it appears in the Bible (See III). However, discussion of the Levitic groups (see IV) contradicts a lot of the genealogical tree. I got this info from ABD, so it is legit. Apparently, the genealogies are not supposed to be taken seriously, so argue the scholars. Unfortunately, we need to know both models. After you read through this labyrinth several times, it should become somewhat clearer.

I. Introduction

The HB employs two terms for “priest” (de Vaux, 345): 

1) The most common term is כהן (about 780x), and this word is used for both Israelite and foreign priests, whether they be Egyptian (Gen. 41:45, 47:22), Philistine (1Sam. 5:5, 6:2), Phoenician (2Kgs. 10:19, 11:18), Moabite (Jer. 48:7), or Ammonite (Jer. 49:3). The same Semitic root is also used in Phoenician; Ugaritic texts also use the term kāhinu, and Ug. ritual texts mention other specialized kinds of priests, such as, a ṯā‘iyu-priest; see D. Pardee, Ritual and Cult at Ugarit, Atlanta: Society of Biblical Literature, 2002).

2) Another term, kōmer/kәmārîm occurs 3x—only speaking of “idolatrous” or foreign priests—in 2Kgs. 23:5 (כמרים), Hos. 10:5 (כמריו), and Zech. 1:4 (כמרים). This word is also attested as early as c. 2000 BCE from the Assyrian colony at Kanesh (modern Kültepe), and then later in Aramaic and Syriac.

II. Scholarship on the Priests and Levites (Cross's view is most important for the JH/JAH School)

A. Wellhausen: 3-stage development:

Wellhausen’s solution in his 1882 Prolegomena (see ch. IV, esp. pp. 141ff.) was, like so many aspects of Wellhausen’s work, accepted for a long time, and still is to some extent. Basically, Wellhausen posited that before the monarchy, priests did not play a prominent role in Israel, and thus the priests were not Levites; however, during the time of Josiah, Deuteronomy was written and the notion of priests and Levites was linked for the first time. This “new” priestly class was not derived from the ancient tribe of the Levites, but rather, these priests assumed the title “Levite” as a patronymic label.

Summary of Wellhausen's View

•Pre-monarchic period:

no fixed, hereditary priesthood (JE)

tribe of Levi existed, but had nothing to do with priests, and dissapeared before monarchy

Those who functioned as priests were not Levites.

•Monarchical period:

Priests call themselves “Levites” to bind themselves together

The Levitical priests are distinguished from the ancient tribe of Levi; these “Levites” are related by vocation rather than geneology (see Deut. 33:9 and Jud 17:7). 

Levitical priesthood becomes dominant in Jerusalem (D).

•Post-exilic theocracy

Decendents of Zadok become dominant and other Levites are demoted (Ezek). 

Eventually, the Zadokites come to identify as the only decendents of Aaron (P).

Pros & Cons of Wellhausen's Theory


•First theory to account for variations between sources by positing historical development. 

•Explains why Ezek polemicizes that which P seems to take for granted.


•Suspiciously congruent with W’s theory of 3-stage devolution of  Israelite religion from naturalistic,

egalitarian religion to rigid, oppressive hierocracy;

•late date for P has been challenged (Kaufmann, Hurvitz, Milgrom et al.);

•difficult to account for Zadokites usurping Aaronid label in such a short period (Kaufmann).

B. Möhlenbrink (Contra Wellhausen)

However, others were soon willing to see the Levites-as-priests as a premonarchic notion; here, I quote from Rehm’s ABD article:

“One of the most important of these post-Wellhausenian studies of the Levites that uses the history-of-traditions method is Kurt Möhlenbrink’s article, “Die levitischen Überlieferungen des Alten Testaments” (The Levitical Traditions of the Old Testament), published in 1934. Möhlenbrink investigates four Levitic Gattungen (genres): Listen (lists), Geschichten (stories), Satzungen (regulations), and poetische Stücken (poems). In his discussion of the Listen he suggests how the Levitic genealogies may have come into their present form. One of his major contentions is that the Aaronite and Zadokite lines were secondarily added to earlier Levitic genealogies. The original form of the genealogy in Exod 6:16–25 (his Schema A) he dates sometime between David and Josiah, and Num 26:58 (his Schema E) he believes originated in the time “between Deborah and David.” Thus, Möhlenbrink argues that that ancient traditions can be taken seriously in some respect.

C. **F.M. Cross**

F.M. Cross came along in 1973 with his Canaanite Myth and Hebrew Epic (pp. 195- 215) and made a very different argument regarding the antiquity of priests and priestly groups: Cross attempted to show that various stories of priestly conflict can be used as evidence of very old and competing notions of priestly legitimacy dating back to early times.

In Exod. 32, we have the conflict between Moses and Aaron at the building of the golden calf; for Cross, the conflict here represents a real, old tension between two priestly lines, two cult centers, and two groups:

a) the Aaronid, Bethel-based tradition, favoring the El imagery of the calf 

b) the Mushite line, based out of Shiloh and Nob, favoring the cherubim throne image 

In Exod. 32:26-9 specifically, we read of Levites rallying to Moses side, killing thousands; in the end, who is the leader of the villainous, apostate crowd? Aaron!

In several passages (Exod. 18, Num. 10:29-30, Judg. 1:16, 4:11) we learn that Moses was deeply connected with Midian, an ancient league in which the Kenites played an important role; see esp. Num. 10:29-30, where Hobab helps guide Moses in the wilderness. Thus, this early alliance between Moses and the Midianites played out later as well, when the Mushite-Midianite alliance would have sought to suppress any rival claims to priesthood.

In Num. 25:6-15 we have what Cross thinks is an obvious polemic: at Baal- Peor, an Israelite brings a Midianite woman into the tent of meeting—“before the eyes of Moses”. Phinehas, an Aaronid, corrects the situation, and is extolled as a champion of YHWH’s cause, by killing the transgressors. The Aaronids are then promised “an eternal priesthood.”

In Num. 12, Miriam and Aaron oppose Moses; more conflict. In Lev. 10:1-7, two Aaronid priests, Nadab and Abihu, offer “illicit fire” and are killed.

Thus, Cross concludes that we must posit “an ancient and prolonged strife between priestly houses: the Mushite priesthood which flourished at the sanctuaries of Shiloh (and Nob) and Dan and an allied Mushite-Kenite priesthood of the local shrines at ‘Arad and Kadesh opposed to the Aaronite priesthood of Bethel and Jerusalem” (p. 206).

So, the upshot of all this is simply to say, if Cross’s theory has anything to recommend it, then it would seem that there were indeed ancient lines of priests from the very beginning, and that they were in conflict with one another, as represented by these stories cited above that Cross thinks are genuinely archaic. All of this seems to tell us nothing about the antiquity of the Levites, though.

Summary of Cross's View

Mushite priesthood at Shiloh (also Nob) and Dan; also Mushite-Kenite priesthood at Arad and Qadesh

Aaronid priesthood at Bethel and Jerusalem

Evidence: wilderness conflict stories

Numbers 12 (Miriam and Aaron oppose Moses)

Mushite priesthood is superior to Aaronic priesthood

Mushite priesthood is legitimate, despite its ‘mixed’ blood (Midianite)

Exod 32 (Golden Calf)

Numbers 16 and 25

Leviticus 10

III. Priests/Levites as they are presented in the Desert Traditions

• As mentioned, scholars don't take the desert stories at face value. Cross explains them as ancient traditions of conflict. Hackett explains them as an attempt on the part of the Israelites to grant legitimacy to certain priests/Levites by attaching them to the figures of Moses and Aaron.

• In the desert traditions, only descendants of Levi have connection to priestly functions.

• References to LEVI ( לוי ) are over 350 in OT. Origin is uncertain. Perhaps the root means to "to turn, whirl" which suggests that the Levites were ecstatics. Perhaps it means "to be attached, to accompany"; when Levi was conceived, Leah declared that her husband will be attached to her now that she is pregnant. Finally, it may mean "to lend, to give as a pledge"; the pledge of Levites to God in place of the firstborn of Israel may echo this meaning (Num 18.6). 

•It is in early traditions of desert one first hears of Levites who served as priests.

•Descendants of Levi are divided into 3 main groups: Gershonites, Kohathites, Merarites.  All descendant groups (e.g., Korahites) were also Levites and served in relation to the tabernacle. In Pre-Levitic genealogies (Exod 6:16–25, Num 26:58b–60, 1 Chr 5:27–41, Eng. <6:1-53>) Moses & Aaron are brothers who descended from Kohath, son of Levi. 

Geneologies of Levites (Exod 6:14-25)

Levi -> Gershon, Kohath, Merari

1) Gershon -> Libni, Shimi -> Gershonites,

->  Libnites

2) Kohath -> Amram, Izhar, Hebron, Uzziel -> Kohathites

-> Hebronites

a) Amram -> Moses, Aaron

Aaron -> Nadab, Abihu, Eleazar, Ithamar -> Aaronides

Eleazar -> Phineas - > Eleazarites

- > (Hebronites?)

Moses -> Gershom -> (Mushites?)

b) Izhar -> Korah, etc.

Korah -> etc. -> Korahites

3) Merari -> Mahli, Mushi

-> Mushites

-> "...these are the heads of the fathers' houses of the Levites according to their families".

Duties of Priests/Levites

•Beginning in Exodus ch. 28, then, specific instructions from Sinai are given regarding the status of the priest, who should be a priest, what a priest should wear, and so on....

•28:1: Aaron and his sons (Nadab, Abihu, Eleazar, and Ithamar) are to be set apart as priests; the priesthood is thus hereditary, though the Bible never explains why. It seems there were Aaronide priests (i.e., descendents of Aaron) who perform sacrifices/ altar duties; other Levites were responsible for transporting tabernacle, guarding the sancta, and serving as priests’ assistants. The incident of Korah's (Num 16) rebellion demonstrates that Aaronide priests had a higher position than other Levites, such as the Korahites. Num 3 (P): Levites become servants of Aaronid priests, taking place of first-born.

•28:2ff.: Priestly garments are made, including a breastpiece, an ephod, a robe, a fringed tunic, a headdress, and a sash. Urim and Thummim (28:30) are to be placed inside the breastpiece.

Lev. 21ff. discusses various rules and ritual regulations that apply only to priests... 

o A priest cannot defile himself by touching a corpse of anyone but a close relative (21:1). No shaving the head or the sides of beards, or gashing their flesh (21:5). No marrying a woman who has been a prostitute, or a divorced woman (21:7). If the daughter of a priest acts like a whore, she should be burned (21:9). The high priest shall not bare his head or tear his clothes (21:10), etc.

•Moses, Israel’s leader, also a priest (e.g., Exod 24: Moses sprinkles blood on the people when he affirms the covenant between the people and God), a Levite (Exod 6:16-25: Levi geneology includes Moses and Aaron as brothers and sons of Kohath, son of Levi).

•Num 3:21–37 & 10:17, 21 state Levites encamped around tabernacle, transported, setting up, took down. Deut 10:8, Levites set apart “to carry the ark … , to stand before Yahweh to minister to him.” Priests in Desert traditions were descendants of Levi. Aaronide priests were responsible over sacrifices, while other Levites were responsible over the tabernacle.

IV. More Levitic Groups

According to a number of scholars, Num 26:58a preserves the memory of four Levitic groups in the tribal league period, namely, Mushites, Hebronites, Korahites, and Libnites.

The Mushites are considered to be the descendants of Moses; but it is difficult to see a clear genealogical line of progression from Moses to the Mushites; they are suggested to be the descendants of Gershom, the son of Moses. Perhaps they were associated with Moses, but not actual descendants. However, in the genealogy above, they are descendants of Merari! According to Cross, the Mushites served in the Shiloh/Nob/Dan/Arad/Qadesh sanctuaries.

The Korahites would naturally represent the descendants of Korah and, like the Mushites, date to the tribal league. They probably served in local shrines.

The Hebronites were no doubt the inhabitants of the city of Hebron, mentioned in Josh 10:36 as having been taken by the Israelites during the conquest. By a process of elimination the Hebronites could be the descendants of either Kohath or Merari; (in the genealogy, they are descendants of Kohath). Since the Mushites probably were in control of the sanctuaries at Dan (Judges 17–18) and Kedesh (Judges 1 and 4), one would expect their rivals, the Aaronides, to be located in the South (although Arad in the South apparently remained Mushite). Hebron would therefore be the most likely place for their center. It is significant, accordingly, that in the account of the Levitical cities, Hebron is assigned to “the sons of Aaron, one of the families of the Kohathites who belonged to the Levites” (Josh 21:13 and 1 Chr 6:39–40, 42—Eng 6:54–55, 57). Thus the connection of the Hebronites with Aaron and vice versa seems very probable. Hebronites and other Aaronides served in Bethel and Jerusalem. Not clear if Hebronites were descendants of Aaron or simply associated as Aaronides.

The Libnites are probably to be connected with the city Libnah conquered by Joshua in Josh 10:29–30. Hence, the Levitic Libnites probably date to the tribal period. Since we suggested the Mushites to be descendants of Gershon, the Hebronites of Aaron, and the Korahites of Korah, by a process of elimination the connection of the Libnites with Merari and/or Ithamar of the desert period suggests itself. (But in the genealogy above, they are descendants of Gershon!)

V. Period of Judges through early monarchy 

•Non-levite priests allowed but Levites are preferred

•Non-levitical priests allowed

Mikah installed his son as a priest (Judg 17–18). Samuel an Ephramite (1 Sam 1:1) at Shiloh sanctuary and wore priests’s loincloth (1 Sam 2:18) and offered sacrifices (1 Sam 7:9; 9:13; 10:8); Supposedly has Levitical genealogy in 1 Chr 6:18–23. David’s sons were priests (2 Sam 8:18). Ira from Manasseh also a priest (2 Sam 20:26)

•Levitical priests preferred

Mikah preferred Levite rather than his son to be a priest (Judg 17–18). Moses was Levitical (Exod 2:1; 6:20; Num 26:59; 1 Chr 5:29; 23:13).

•Too many Levites for central sanctuary some Levites serve at local sanctuaries

•Priests performed three main duties in pre-monarchic times:

1) Performed sacrifice (Deut 33:10b)

2) Divination (i.e. Thummim and Urim; Deut 33:8; Jdg 18:5-6)

3) Played central role in earliest, agricultural-based festivals.

VI. Monarchic period (Abiathar and Zadok are priests)

• Mushite priest (Abiather) from the North (Shiloh); and Aaronid priest (Zadok) from the South (Hebron)

•Fall of Shiloh after David establishes Jerusalem as central worship site: Levites had to seek employment away from central sanctuary at local shrines

•Under David

1.) Puts Mushite priesthood of Abiathar in charge at central sanctuary at Jerusalem.

•(FMC: Abiathar is descendant of Eli of Shilonite house which claimed descent from Moses; 1Sam 2:27). Abiather is from the North. But 1Chr 24:3 states Ahimelek (father of Abiathar is "of sons of Ithamar" (son of Aaron)! Chr is NOT reliable!

2.) David also brought non-Mushite, Aaronide, priest (Zadok) to central sanctuary at Jerusalem.

•(1Chr 6:1-10; Levi-> Kohath-> Amram-> Aaron-> Eleazar-> Phineas-> ...Ahitub-> Zadok; but this is perhaps unreliable!) Still, FMC sees Zadok as an Aronide/Hebronite who was in Hebron. In 1 Chr 12:27-9; 27:17, a certain Zadok is mentioned; David had connection with Zadok before David became king in Hebron. Later, David appointed Zadok as priest, since he was an Aaronide from Hebron. Also, 1Chr 24:3 states Zadok is "of sons of Eleazar (descendant of Aaron).  Zadok is from the South!

3.) Levitical cities may have been a Davidic institution, with Levitical priests loyal to David running the local sanctuaries and teaching the laws.

•Under Solomon

•Solomon banished Abiathar (from Shilonite priesthood) and installed Zadok (from Hebron) as chief priest. From then on, the Zadokites are the main priests into the post-exilic period!

•Under Jeroboam I in the North

•Jeroboam disenfranchised the Levites, replacing them with his own priests

•Now Levites lack big sanctuaries to serve at, either North or South.

•Levites are poor

•Levites concentrate on teaching (like von Rad and GE Wright say)

•N Levites preserve traditions that are eventually found in Deuteronomy

VII. Post-Monarchid Period.

1) Deuteronomistic period

•Centralization of sacrifice led to distinction between Levite-priests in the central sanctuary and Levite-priests elsewhere. Despite the promised equality of priests and Levites in Deuteronomy, after Josiah's reform, the Levites lost their shrines. And although they were invited to go up to Jerusalem and minister at the temple as priests (Deut 18:6-8), nevertheless they suffered exclusion at the Jerusalem Temple (2 Kgs 23:9) despite Deuteronomy's support. 

•Sacrifice only permitted in central sanctuary, so levite-priests elsewhere are out of a job. They can move to central sanctuary and be supported as priests there (Deut 18:6–7). But, 2 Kgs 23:9 says that they can’t.

2)  Exilic Period & Ezekiel

•Clear preference for Zadokites (i.e. Aaronides) over Levites!

•Ezek 44:6–31 distinguishes Levites from Levite priests, and demotes Levites by applying rule of 2 Kgs 23:9 to them. Ezek 40-48: only descendents of Zadok are acceptable “priests.”

•Zadokites are now simply “priests” or “sons of Aaron;” And “Levites” are mainly Mushites; Levites were also singers and musicians (1Chr 15:16ff).

3) Post-Exilic & Ezra/Nehemiah

•But, in Ezra, we see a type of merging of the Deuteronomic model of priesthood and P/Ezekiel's model of priesthood. Ezra is a Zadokite priests as is prescribed by P and Ezekiel. But, he also a scribe of the Torah as is prescribed by Deuteronomy, which focuses on learning and keeping the Torah.

•The Zadokites apparently managed to hold the high priesthood until the time of Antiochus Epiphanes, and the origin of the community of the Dead Sea Scrolls likely was related to the loss of that office by the Zadokites (Cross 1961: 127–60; CMHE, 334–42).

VIII. Unresolved Issues

1) Origin of Levites? 

•If Israelites are actually Canaanites, then what are we to do with all the geneoligies of the priests? What are we to do with Desert traditions? (But this same question can be asked about much of the Pentateuch!)

•Wellhausen argues that tribe of Levi disappeared before monarchy and later priests had no true connection with the earlier tribal Levites. But, FMC takes traditions as polemics. Argues for a Mushite priesthood in Shiloh and Dan, and for an Aaronid priesthood at Bethel and Jerusalem. How are we to explain the mysterious origins of the Levites, Priests, and non-levitical priests? 

•There is still little agreement about the emergence of the different priestly groups and the social standing of different levitical/priestly groups.

2) Non-Levitical Practicing Priests

•If the Biblical text clearly states that only descendants of Levi are to be priests, how is that we see non-Levitical priests? (Micah, Jgs 17-18; Samuel, the Ephramite 1Sam). Perhaps there were different types of altars; some were only for priests, and others for any Israelite (Haran). In addition to this question, what exactly is the origin of the Shiloh priesthood or the Nob Priesthood? Are they really the Mushites (connected to Moses)? Why doesn't the text state this clearly?

3) Dating of Priestly Texts

•A debate rages over when to date P and the stories of the levites and priests. Some (e.g., Avi Hurvitz, Kaufmann, Weinfeld) consider P as pre-Exilic and others consider P as post-Exilic (Wellhausen).

4) Genealogies of Zadok and Abiather

•Zadok and Abiather are presented as functioning Levites (2Sam 15:24-9). Both presented as descendants of Aaron; Zadok thru Eleazar and Abiather thru Ithamar (1Chr 24:3); but Chr geneologies are not reliable according to scholars. There are unresolved issues in the geneologies of both priests.

Abiather: presented as son of Ahimelech, son of Ahituv (1Sam 22:20); Ahituv is descendant of Eli (1Sam 14:3); Abiather is connected to priesthood of Eli in Shiloh (1Kgs 2:26-7, 35; 1Sam 2:27-36). Additionally,  the Shilonite priesthood is considered to be descendants of Moses (1Sam 2:27), NOT of Aaron! So, this contradicts Chronicles which connects Abiather with Aaron. 

Zadok: presented as an Aaronide, son of Ahituv (1Chr 6:1-8 eng.; 6:50-53). But Chr is not reliable according to scholars. Nevertheless, 2Sam 8:17 reads "Zadok, son of Ahitub and Ahimelech, son of Abiather." This is a mistake. It should say "...Abiather, son of Ahimelech." Furthermore, scholars restore the verse to read, "Zadok and Abiather, son of Ahimelech, son of Ahitub." This leaves Zadok without a genealogy! 

•So where is Zadok from? Some suggest the Jebusite Hypothesis. FMC rejects the Jebusite Hypothesis. Instead, claims Zadok is of Aaronid descent (1 Chr 12:27-9; 27:17).

Zadok priesthood?

Theory that he was a Jebusite priest from pre-Israelite Jerusalem

Evidence: problematic geneology

Evidence: “zadok” is like Melchizedek and Adonizedek of pre-Israelite Jerusalem

FM Cross argues against this:

"ṣ-d-q" is a common element in NWS

David the orthodox Yahwist would not have appointed a pagan priest

If Zadok descended from Melchizedek, why doesn’t Bible make this claim?

FM Cross argues that Zadok an Aaronide from Hebron

Evidence: complicated textual reconstruction of Zadok’s geneology makes Zadok Aaronide

Evidence: 1 Chr 12:27–9; 27:17 says Zadok is over the priests in Hebron

Additional Info

Kaufmann on Priests: 

Concedes that non-Levites offered sacrifices initially, but denies that this made them “priests.” 

The official office of the priesthood was always reserved for the tribe of Levi, though most of the Levites who actually offered sacrifices were desecendents of Aaron. 

Eventually, the priesthood was entirely consolidated in the hands of the Aaronid family. 

This development, however, was not “political” as much as “theological:” a more centralized priesthood was more in keeping with Israelite monotheism.  

Ezekiel is discounted as an eccentric whose plan was never realized.


•Correctly notes that evidence against Levites being genetically related is weak;

•argument that a hereditary priesthood can coexist with other individuals offering sacrifices is reasonable.


•Minimizes distinctions between sources and doesn’t take all material seriously;

•notion that Aaronids were motivated by purely religious considerations no less biased than Wellhausen’s notion that they were power-hungry despots.

Haran on Priests:

J and E distinguish between altars, at which any Israelite may officiate, and temples, at which only Levitical priests may officiate.  (The latter are only mentioned rarely, since there were no temples until the settlement period according to the epic tradition, but Ex 32:25-9 makes it clear that the special status of the Levites was recognized.) 

Josh 21 indicates that the Aaronids lived in the south, while the other Levites lived in the north. 

When Josiah consolidated the cult,

the priests of the “high places” could not officiate at the Jerusalem temple (2 Kgs 23:8) because they were non-Levites;

temple priests, who were Levites, could officiate, in keeping with D. 

P’s two-tier priesthood was likely introduced at a time when northern Levites came to the south seeking positions in the Jerusalem cult; this may have been the Hezekian period. 

Ezekiel’s program to restrict the priesthood to Zadokites never materialized.


•Like Kaufmann, recognizes that hereditary priesthood can coexist with individuals offering sacrifices;

•comprehensive treatment of biblical data.


•No solid evidence for distinction between altars and temples as far as Levites are concerned;

•evidence for dating P to Hezekian period is weak.

Priests are only mentioned in two contexts in the patriarchal narratives of Genesis: 

1) In Gen. 14:18, Melchizedek, who is called “priest of ’El ’Elyon,” comes out to confront Abraham. 

2) In Gen. ch. 41ff., reference is made to a certain “Asenath, daughter of Potiphera, priest of On” who is given to Joseph (by Pharaoh) as a wife.

•Otherwise, in the patriarchal narratives, the patriarchs themselves perform duties usually assigned to priests in other biblical narratives. See, e.g., building of altars in Gen. 8:20, 12:7-8, 13:8, 22:9, 26:25, 33:20, 35:7, and sacrifices, Gen. 31:54, 46:1. Presumably, such actions were accepted since no official instructions had at that point been given as to how to make altars, who should perform sacrifices, etc. 

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