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Cyclopedia of Biblical, Theological and Ecclesiastical Literature
(designated in general by the Hebrew word priests, kohanim', כֹּהֲנַי ם, for the etymology, see various views in Gesenius, Thesaur. 2, 661 sq.). In the patriarchal age the head of a family was its priest (Genesis 35:1 sq. (See JETHRO); SEEMELCHIZEDEK. ); but when the children of Israel became a nation, a special tribe of priests was set apart by law for them. This arrangement was so far similar to that of the Egyptians that they too had a separate caste or body of priests, who indeed were their first and highest caste (Herod. 2, 164; Diod. Sic. 1, 73. On the Indian Brahmins, see Meiner, Gesch. d. Religion, 2, 541 sq.; yet comp. Bahr, Symbolik, 2, 32 sq.). By its hereditary nature, the priesthood acquired more firmness and security; the ritual and ceremonial law was more easily preserved and obeyed; and the higher culture which such a caste always secures obtained a more definite and fixed center.
These priests alone" drew near to God" (Numbers 16:5; Exodus 19:22; Ezekiel 42:13; comp. Numbers 18:3), and hence must alone attend to all the services of the central sanctuary, the penalty of death being denounced against all others who assumed such duties (Numbers 3:6-10; Numbers 3:38; Numbers 16:40). These priests, who exercised their office, after the division of the kingdom, in Judah alone (1 Kings 13:33; 2 Chronicles 11:13 sq.), were confined to the family of Aaron (Exodus 28:1), who were Kohathites (comp. Numbers 4:2). Hence they are called the children of Aaron (Leviticus 3:5; Leviticus 3:13; comp. Leviticus 1:5; Leviticus 2:2); although not all the descendants of Aaron who were legally qualified actually served as priests. Thus Benaiah, a priest's son (1 Chronicles 27:5), held military office under David (2 Samuel 8:18; 2 Samuel 20:23; 1 Kings 2:35). They were required to be without physical defect, as became men who must draw near to God, and mediate between him and his people (Leviticus 21:17 sq.; comp. Mishna, Bechoroth, c. 7; Josephus, War, 5, 5, 7; see Tholuck, Zwei Beil. z. Br. a. d. Hebr. p. 81 sq. On the examination for priesthood, see Mishna, Middoth, 5, 4). They must also be of blameless reputation (Josephus, Ant. 3, 12, 2; Philo, Opp. 2, 225; see Richter, Physiogn. Sacerd. [Jena, 1715] 2, 4; Kiesling, De Legib. Mos. circa Sacerdot. Vitio Corporis Laborantes [Lips. 1755]), which, indeed, was demanded among other nations (Potter, Greek Antiq. 1, 292 sq.; Adam, Rom. Antiq. 1, 529). On the vestals especially, see Aul. Gell. 1, 12. The requirements of the canon law as to physical defects in the clergy may be compared.
The law did not fix any definite year of the priest's age in which he should enter upon his office; yet the Gemarists assert that none was ever admitted before his twentieth year. Indeed, this age was required of the Levites (q.v.) before serving. But since, at a later day, even the high priest might be but a youth (Josephus, Ant. 15, 3, 3), it may be that with priests of lower grade no great strictness was ever exercised in this respect. Indeed the Mishna (Yoma, 1, 7; comp. Tamid, 1, 1) speaks of youths whose beard was just beginning to grow (if the gloss be right) as already entering the sanctuary in the priestly office. At a later day every one was required to prove his genealogy (comp. Mishna, Middoth, 5, 4; Kiddush. 4, 4 sq.), which led the priests to set great value on their family records (comp. Ezra 2:62; Nehemiah 7:64; Josephus, Apion, 1, 7), and the Gemara refers to a special course of instruction for those entering on this office (Kethuboth, cvi, 1). The formal consecration to the priesthood consisted in sacrifices, with symbolic ceremonies, purifications, and investment (Exodus 29; Leviticus 8). (See SACERDOTAL CONSECRATION).
The Israelitish priests, during active service (and, according to Jewish tradition, during their stay in the Temple; but see Josephus, War, 5, 5, 7; according to the Mishna, Tamid, 1, 1, they were merely prohibited from sleeping in their clothes; these were kept in the Temple under a special officer [Mishna, Shekal. 5, 1]), wore clothing of white linen (בִּדַ, bad), as did the Egyptian priests (Herod. 2, 37), whose white linen garments, the simple expression of purity, were known through the ancient world (see Spencer, Leg. Rit. 3, 5; Celsius, Hierobot. 2, 290). Bahr supposes the Israelitish priestly garments to have been copied from the Egyptian (Symbol. 2, 89 sq.), but on insufficient grounds (comp. Hengstenberg, Mos. p. 149 sq.). These garments of the Jewish priests consisted of the following distinct parts, which, however, are not accurately described (Exodus 28:40; Exodus 28:42; Exodus 39:27 sq.; Leviticus 6:3; Leviticus 8:13):
(1.) מַכְנָסַי ם, miknasim (Sept. περισκελῆ, A.V. "linen breeches"), which were simply drawers, a covering for the pudenda, extending from the hips to the thighs (so described by Josephus, Ant. 3, 7, 1; but comp. Philo, Opp. 2, 225).
(2.) כְּתנֶת, kethoneth (A.V. "coat"), a woven tunic for the body. It is described by Josephus (Ant. 3, 7, 1) as reaching to the feet and fitting the body, with sleeves tied fast to the arms, and girded to the breast a little above the elbows.
(3.) אִבְנֵט, abnet, the "girdle" used to bind the tunic. It passed round the body several times, beginning at the breast, and was then tied, and hung loosely down to the ankles, save when the priest was serving, when, for convenience, it was thrown over the shoulders. It was broad, loosely woven, and embroidered (Josephus, Ant. 3, 7, 2).
(4.) מַגְבָּעָה, migbaah (A.V. "bonnet, "Exodus 28:40), properly a cap or turban, not made conical, but covering rather more than half the head, and so made as to resemble a crown. It was of heavy linen, in many folds, and sewed together, and had a cover of fine linen, which reached down to the forehead. It was fitted closely to the head (Josephus, Ant. 3, 7, 3). But Bihr has made some well grounded objections to this description of Josephus (Symbol. 2, 64 sq.), and the migbadh may, perhaps, have been a real cap, possibly in the form of a flower cup (comp. especially the extracts from Schilte Haggibbor, in Hebrew and German, in Ugolini Thesaur. vol. 13, and Braun, De Vestitu Sacerdot. [Amst. 1701]). There is no sufficient reason for supposing the forms of these articles of clothing to have been imitated from Egyptian models. The Israelitish priests seem not to have worn shoes: no mention, at least, is made of them; and the belief prevailed that on a holy place one should tread only with bare feet (Exodus 3:5; Joshua 5:15). (See SHOE). The Egyptian priests performed their service barefoot (Sil. Ital. 3, 28; for other similar examples, see Carpzov, Appar. p. 790 sq.; Walch, De Vet. Relig. ἀνυποδησίᾷ [Jena, 1756], p. 12 sq.; Baldwin, De Calceo Antiq. c. 23), though Herodotus ascribes to them sandals of papyrus (2, 37). The Rabbins assure us expressly that the priests wore no shoes (Bartenora, Ad Cod. Shekal. 5, 1 Maimonides, Chele Hammikd. 5, 14; comp. Theodoret, Ad Exodus 3, qu. 7; Mishna, Berachoth, 9, 5), and refer in part to this cause the frequency of diseases of the bowels among the priests, which rendered it necessary to keep a special physician at the Temple skilled in those diseases (comp. Braun, Vestit. Sacerd. 1, 3, 33 sq.; Kall, De Morbis Sacerdot. V.T. ex Ministerii eor. Condif. Oriundis [Hafn. 1745]).
The priests appear to have been divided by David into twenty-four classes for the daily service (1 Chronicles 24:3 sq.; comp. 2 Chronicles 8:14; 2 Chronicles 35:4 sq.; Josephus, Ant. 7, 14, 7), each of which had its president or ruler (2 Chronicles 36:14; Ezra 10:5; Nehemiah 12:7 : he is called ἀρχιερεύς by Josephus, Ant. 20, 7, 8; Life, 5, 38, 39; and in the New Test., Matthew 2:4; Matthew 16:21; Luke 22:52), and performed the service for one week, from Sabbath to Sabbath (2 Kings 11:9; 2 Chronicles 23:4; comp. Luke 1:5; Josephus, Apion, 2, 7 sq.); dividing itself further into six sections, one for each day of the week, the whole number acting on the Sabbath. These twenty-four classes still existed in the period after the exile (Josephus, Life, p. 1; Apion, 2, 7; comp. 1 Maccabees 2, 1), and the Talmud asserts (Lightfoot, Hor. Reb. p. 708 sq.) that the four priestly families which returned with Ezra (Ezra 2:36 sq.) were immediately divided into twenty-four parts by the prophets (comp. Sonntag, De Sacerd. V.T. Ephem. [Altorf, 1691]; Maius, De Ephem. Sacerd. in his Exercit. 1, 20). Herzfeld, however. considers the account of the original division into classes as a fable of the chronicler, yet without reason (Gesch. des Volkes Israel, 1, 392 sq.). The several duties, as they returned in order, were distributed by lot (Luke 1:9; Mishna, Yoma, 2, 3 sq.; and Tanid; see Lightfoot, Hor. Heb. p. 714 sq.), and there was a special officer at the Temple to preside over this distribution (Mishna, Shekal. 5, 1). The office of priest, in distinction from that of Levite, consisted in "coming nigh" to the vessels of the sanctuary and to the altar (Numbers 18:3); and included the following special duties: (1.) In the Temple itself, the kindling of the incense (q.v.) morning and evening (Luke 1:10); the cleansing of the lamps in the "golden candlestick" and filling them with oil; the weekly renewal of the shew bread. (2.) In the court of the Temple, the feeding of the continual fire on the altar of burned offering (Leviticus 6:5), and daily removal of the ashes from it (Yoma, 2, 8, 3, 1; Tamid, 1, 2, 4); all the exclusively priestly services in sacrificing, sprinkling the blood (Leviticus 1:5; Leviticus 1:11; Leviticus 3:2; Leviticus 3:13; Leviticus 4:25; 2 Chronicles 30:17, etc.); waving the wave pieces (Leviticus 14:24; Leviticus 23:11; Leviticus 23:20); presenting the sacrifices and gifts upon the altar, and burning those which were to be burned (Leviticus 2:2; Leviticus 2:8; Leviticus 2:16; Leviticus 3:11; Leviticus 3:16; Leviticus 4:26, (See SACRIFICE) ); then the sacred ceremonies at the cleansing of the Nazarite, on the final release from his vow (Numbers 6), and at the ordeal of a woman suspected of adultery (Numbers 6:12 sq.), and the blowing of the metal trumpets at set times (Numbers 10:8 sq.; 2 Chronicles 5:12; 2 Chronicles 7:6; 2 Chronicles 29:26; Nehemiah 12:41; Mishna, Succa, 5, 5; Arach, 2, 3). To these were added the examination of the unclean, especially of lepers and their cleansing (Leviticus 13:14; comp. Deuteronomy 24:8; Matthew 8:4; Luke 17:14, (See PURIFICATION). ), the estimation of vows (Leviticus 27), and the nightly watch of the inner sanctuary (Mishna, Mliddoth, 1, 1). How these were related to the priests who kept the threshold (2 Kings 12:9; 2 Kings 25:8; Jeremiah 52:23) is uncertain. (See THRESHOLD). The overseer of the regular watch of the priests is mentioned (Middoth, 1, 2); perhaps the same with the captain of the Temple, στρατηγὸς τοῦ ἱεροῦ (Acts 4:1; Acts 5:24; comp. Deyling, Observ. 3, 302 sq.). But who, then, are the captains of the Temple, στρατηγοί, in the plural (Luke 22:52)? Perhaps under officers of the Levitical Temple watch (comp. Mishna, Shekal. 5, 1, 2). (See TEMPLE).
The priests were also required to instruct the people in the law, and in certain cases to give judicial answers (Deuteronomy 17:8 sq.; Deuteronomy 19:17; Deuteronomy 21:5; comp. 2 Chronicles 17:8. sq.). King Jehoshaphat even established a high tribunal, consisting of priests and Levites, in Jerusalem (2 Chronicles 19:8; comp. Josephus, Apion, 2, 21; Diod. Sic. Ecl. 40, 1). On the services of priests in armies, (See WAR).
The priests were required to perform all their offices in a state of ceremonial purity (Josephus, War, 5, 5, 6), which led to their oft repeated washings; especially before each performance of official duty (Exodus 30:19 sq.; Tamid, 1, 2, 4; 2, 1), for which purpose vessels of water for bathing were kept in the court of the sanctuary. (On the duties of priests when rendered unclean, see the Mishna, Middoth, 2, 5.) They were not permitted, while engaged in official service, to take wine or any other intoxicating drink (Leviticus 10:9 sq.; Ezekiel 44:21; Josephus, Ant. 3, 12, 5; War, 5, 5, 7). According to Rabbinical regulations, those who had the daily ministration must entirely abstain, and the rest of the weekly division might drink wine only at night, because during the day they were liable to be called on for aid (Mishna, Taanith, 2, 7; comp. Josephus, Apion, 1, 22, p. 457 ed. Haverc.). All extravagant demonstrations of sorrow, as rending the clothes, wounding the body, shaving the head, etc., were forbidden them (Leviticus 10:6 sq.; Leviticus 21:5, (See MOURNING) ), and they were to avoid with care the touch of a corpse (Leviticus 21:1 sq.; Ezekiel 44:25 sq.; Bahr, Symbol. 2, 182 sq.). With these restrictions may be compared those enjoined on the flamen dialis among the Romans (Aul. Gell. 10, 15). They were required in marrying, too, to have regard to priestly dignity; though not compelled to celibacy, as the Egyptian priests (Diod. Sic. 1, 80), they could only marry virgins or widows of character (never divorced women. Mishna, Sota, 8, 3), and of Israelitish descent (Leviticus 21:7; Ezekiel 44:22; comp. Ezra 10:18), though no limit was enjoined as to the particular tribe; and in a later age even the Israelitish descent needed not to be direct (Mishna, Biccur. 1, 8). Yet intermarriage with the families of priests was especially sought (Luke 1:5; comp. Josephus, Apion, 1, 7; Muinch, De Matrim. Sacerd. V. T. c. Filiab. Sacerd. [Nuremb. 1747]). The law even extended its special care to the dignity and honor of the daughters of the priests (Leviticus 21:9; comp. 22:12; Mishna, Terumoth, 7, 2).
It is not difficult to understand how the priests enjoyed the peculiar reverence of the people (comp. Jeremiah 18:18; Sirach 7:31 sq.; Josephus, Apion, 2, 21), although their want of piety, and even their immorality, often called for severe rebukes from the prophets (Jeremiah 5:31; Jeremiah 6:13; Jeremiah 23:11; Lamentations 4:13; Ezekiel 22:26; Hosea 6:9; Micah 3:11; Zephaniah 3:4; Malachi 2). A number of cities (thirteen) were set apart for the residences of the priests, as also for the Levites (Joshua 21:4; Joshua 21:10 sq.), which lay near together in the vicinity of the sanctuary, in the tribes of Judah, Simeon, and Benjamin, (See SACERDOTAL CITIES), and between which and Jerusalem they made their journeys on official duty (comp. Luke 10:31. (On the station or reserve body of priests in Jericho, see Lightfoot, flor. Heb. p. 89, 709.) In the Holy City, the priests inhabited chambers in the neighborhood of the Temple (Nehemiah 11:10 sq.).
The priesthood was supported (comp. Numbers 18; Josephus, Ant. 4, 4, 4) by the assigned portions of the sacrifices (Leviticus 2:3; Leviticus 2:10; Leviticus 5:13; Leviticus 6:9; Leviticus 6:13; Leviticus 7:6; Leviticus 7:9; Leviticus 7:14; Leviticus 7:32; Leviticus 7:34; Leviticus 10:12 sq.; Numbers 6:20; Deuteronomy 18:3), as in Egypt (see Herod. 2, 37; and (See SACRIFICE); comp. also Schol. ad Aristoph. Plut. 1186). This sacred portion was distributed also to those of priestly descent who were infirm, or for other reasons not called into service (Leviticus 21:22; Josephus, War, 5, 5, 7; see Hottinger, Apolog. pro Benigna Lege, Leviticus 22 [Frankf. 1738]; Cremer, in the Miscell. Groning. 2, 294 sq.; Deyling, Observ. 5, 70 sq.). First-fruits, heave offerings (Numbers 31:29), tithes (q.v.), the shew bread, when removed (Leviticus 24:9; Matthew 12:4; comp. Succa, 5, 8), the fines for Levitical transgressions (Numbers 5:6 sq.), the redemption price of the first-born (18:15 sq.), and the subjects of vows, or the price of their redemption (Leviticus 27; Numbers 18:14; see in general Philo, De Proemiis Sacerd. in vol. 2 of Mangey's Ausg. p. 232 sq.), were also perquisites; some of which were only to be enjoyed by the priests themselves, and only then in the vicinity of the sanctuary, as the pieces of the trespass-offering (Leviticus 6:19 sq.) and the shew bread (24:9); others only within the Holy City; while the tithes, heave offerings, etc., were eaten in the sacerdotal cities, and by the entire families of the priests.
In addition to their receipts, the priests were free from taxes and from military service; and the freedom from taxation was granted them even in the period after the exile, and by the foreign rulers of Palestine (Ezra 7:24; Josephus, Ant. 12, 3, 3). In the last period of the Jewish state the rapacity of the high priests reduced the common priests even to want (Josephus, Ant. 20, 9, 2; comp. 8, 8). As the priests and Levites formed one thirteenth of the whole population, the support of this class was no small burden on the productive industry of the nation; yet the constant increase of the Levitical families caused such division of the revenues that the income of a Levite could never have been very great. In relation to this subject, it should be borne in mind,
(1) that the tithes and first-fruits, on a soil so fruitful, and with property secured by law, could never be very burdensome;
(2) that the other gifts, pieces from the sacrifices, vows, etc., depended in great part on the free choice of worshippers;
(3) that, apart from the priests and a few officers of government, the whole people were producers, and, during the early period at least, the body of consumers was not increased by a standing army or a learned class;
(4) that the increase in numbers of the Levites themselves did not increase the tithes, which were a fixed percentage of the produce. The true view is that one thirteenth of all the land rightfully belonged to the tribe of Levi; and, as this share was abandoned to the other tribes, their revenues were not payments for their sacerdotal services, but interest or rent for their land.
Thus, until the destruction of the Temple at Jerusalem by the Romans, the priestly order continued as a hereditary and honored body (contrasted with the laity in the Talmud, Terum. 5, 4), directing and expressing the religious views of the people by symbolic usages, and when their relations to Jehovah were disturbed by sin, restoring them by expiatory sacrifices. It was a kind of nobility (Josephus, Life, sec. 1). It seems to have been in correspondence with their natural position; in the nation that at an early period the priests had an active share in the government as political counsellors (Numbers 27:2; Numbers 27:19; Numbers 31:12; Numbers cf., Numbers 31:26; Numbers 32:2; Deuteronomy 27:9; Joshua 17:4). Under the kings, they sometimes mediated between the prince and the people (2 Samuel 19:11), or were prized as counselors at court (1 Kings 1:7 sq., 1 Kings 1:39; 1 Kings 4:4; 2 Samuel 8:17); but later, when the corruption of the people and the State became obvious, they allied themselves with kings and princes for the suppression of the bold speaking of the prophets (Jeremiah 20:1 sq., Jeremiah 26:7 sq.), for their love of form and ritual would naturally endanger the spirit of faith within them, and place them in opposition to the prophets. (See SEER).
The rule of the sacerdotal caste in Palestine does not seem to have begun with the settlement of the Israelites there. In the time of the Judges there were family priests appointed by the head of the household (Judges 17:5 sq.; Judges 18:3; Judges 18:27; Judges 18:30). Those who were not Levites, or at least not priests, offered on altars which they had themselves built (Judges 6:26; Judges 13:19; 1 Samuel 7:9; 1 Samuel 16:5; but Judges 6:18 does not belong here; see Rosenmü ller, ad loc.; so in 1 Samuel 6:14, as in 2 Samuel 6:17, though priests are not expressly named); and in Shiloh, near the sanctuary, where a family of priests performed service, the people visited high-places and altars long before consecrated. (See SACRIFICE). Even under David, it would seem that the Levitical priests were not exclusively intrusted with the sanctuary, for David's sons were priests (2 Samuel 8:18). It is true that the word כֹּהַנַי ם, kohinim, is here often rendered privy-councillors, or, as in the A.V., "princes;" and so in other places where the priests are named with the people of the court, but without philological grounds (Gesenius, Thesaur. 2, 663 sq.). An exclusive priesthood, as a distinct caste, was confirmed by the building of the Temple, and their influence may have been increased by being concentrated within the little kingdom of Judah. According to 2 Chronicles 11:13 (comp. 1 Kings 12:31; 1 Kings 13:33) the priests and Levites left the kingdom of Israel under its first king, and gathered in the kingdom of Judah (but comp. 2 Kings 17:27 sq.).
See, in general, Philo, in the first book, De Monarchia. p. 225 sq.; Saubert, De Sacerdot. Hebr. in his Op. Posth. p. 283 sq., and De Sacrif. Vet. p. 637 sq.; also in Ugolini Thesaur. vol. 12; Krumbholz, Sacerdot. Hebr. and Ugolini Sacerdot. Hebr. in Thesaur. vol. 13; Carpzov, Appar. p. 89 sq.; Reland, Ant. Sac. 2, 4 sq. (See PRIEST).
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McClintock, John. Strong, James. Entry for 'Sacerdotal Order'. Cyclopedia of Biblical, Theological and Ecclesiastical Literature. https://www.studylight.org/encyclopedias/eng/tce/s/sacerdotal-order.html. Harper & Brothers. New York. 1870.
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