1902 Encyclopedia > Priest


PRIEST (Ger. Priester, Fr. prêtre) is a contracted form of " presbyter " (______, " elder " ; see PRESBYTER), a name of office in the early Christian church, already men-tioned in the New Testament. But in the English Bible the presbyters of the New Testament are called "elders," not "priests"; the latter name is reserved for ministers of pre-Christian religions, the Semitic ______ (kôhânïm, sing. kôhën) and _____ (kemàrïm), or the Greek tcpets. The reason of this will appear more clearly in the sequel ; it is enough to observe at present that, before our English word was formed, the original idea of a presbyter had been over-laid with others derived from pre-Christian priesthoods, so that it is from these and not from the etymological force of the word that we must start in considering historically what a priest is. The theologians of the Greek and Latin Churches expressly found the conception of a Christian priesthood on the hierarchy of the Jewish temple, while the names by which the sacerdotal character is expressed—______, sacerdos—originally designated the ministers of sacred things in Greek and Roman heathenism, and then came to be used as translations into Greek and Latin of the Hebrew kôhën. Kôhën, îepefjs, sacerdos, are in fact fair translations of one another; they all denote a minister whose stated business was to perform, on behalf of the community, certain public ritual acts, particularly sacrifices, directed godwards. Such ministers or priests existed in all the great religions of ancient civilization, and indeed a priesthood in the sense now defined is generally found, in all parts of the world, among races which have a tribal or national religion of definite character, and not merely an unorganized mass of super-stitious ideas, fears, and hopes issuing in practices of sorcery. The term "priest" is sometimes taken to include " sorcerer," just as religion is often taken to include the belief in mysterious or superhuman powers which can be constrained by spells, but this is an abuse of language. Religion begins when the relation of the divine powers to man is conceived—on the analogy of the relations of formed human society—as having a certain stable personal character on which the worshippers can calculate and act. The gods of the ancient religions might do arbitrary acts, but their conduct towards man was not habitually arbitrary. In so far as they could be reckoned on, they had a religion; in so far as they were still arbitrary, or them-selves subject to the influence of unknown forces, room was left for the persistence of sorcery and similar superstitions, which history proves to have always renewed their strength in times when religious faith failed, when men ceased to be fully persuaded that the favour and help of the gods were sure if certain known conditions were fulfilled. In the best times of the antique religions no such doubts were felt; the real interest of the gods in their worshippers was certain, for all good things came from their hands, and the actions on the part of individuals or of the state by which their favour was maintained, lost, or regained were matter of undisputed tradition. The main points of this tradition were known to every one concerned, and difficult cases were resolved by experts—such as the Greek k^riynrai —or referred, through some form of oracle, to the gods themselves. The relations of the gods to men, as thus traditionally defined, were not so much to individuals as to families, tribes, or states, and it was the business of the community to see that they were maintained on a sound footing. This was partly done by watching over the conduct of individuals, for every one had certain religious duties ; and conversely, certain acts of a private as well as of a public character were hateful to the gods, and, unless expiated, might bring calamity to the whole community. But it was also necessary to honour the gods by direct acts of homage, by images and temples, by feasts and sacrifices. To attend to these things was an essential part of the right government of the state, the right ordering of tribal and family life, and they could not be wholly left to the spontaneity of individuals, but necessarily fell to be per-formed on behalf of the community by its natural head or by specially appointed officials. In either case the service done to the gods on behalf of many may properly be called "priestly service," though in the former case the priesthood, being only one of the many functions of domestic or civil authority, was not necessarily recognized by a special name. Both kinds of priesthood are found in the old civilization of southern Europe: thus Homer knows special priests who preside over ritual acts in the temples to which they are attached; but his kings also do sacrifice on behalf of their people. The king, in fact, both in Greece and in Rome, was the acting head of the state religion, and when the regal power came to an end his sacred functions were not transferred to the ordinary priests, but either they were distributed among high officers of state, as archons and prytanes, or the title of "king" was still preserved as that of a religious functionary, as in the case of the rex sacrorum at Rome and the archon basileus at Athens. In the domestic circle the union of priesthood and natural headship was never disturbed; the Roman paterfamilias sacrificed for the whole family. On the other hand, gentes and phratrix, which had no natural head, had special priests chosen from their members; for every circle of ancient society, from the family up to the state, was a religious as well as a civil unity, and had its own gods and sacred rites. The lines of religious and civil so-ciety were identical, and so long as they remained so no antagonism could arise between the spiritual and the temporal power. In point of fact, in Greece and Rome the priest never attained to any considerable independent importance ; we cannot speak of priestly power and hardly even of a distinct priestly class. In Greece the priest, so far as he is an independent functionary and not one of the magistrates, is simply the elected or hereditary minister of a temple charged with " those things which are ordained to be done towards the gods " (see Aristotle, Pol., vi. 8), and remunerated from the revenues of the temple, or by the gifts of worshippers and sacrificial dues. The position was often lucrative and always honourable, and the priests were under the special protection of the gods they served. But their purely ritual functions gave them no means of establishing a considerable influence on the minds of men, and the technical knowledge which they possessed as to the way in which the gods could be acceptably approached was neither so intricate nor so mysterious as to give the class a special importance. The funds of the temples were not in their control, but were treated as public moneys. Above all, where, as at Athens, the decision of questions of sacred law fell not to the priests but to the college of _____, one great source of priestly power was wholly lacking. There remains, indeed, one other sacred function of great importance in the ancient world in which the Greek priests had a share. As man approached the gods in sacrifice and prayers, so too the gods declared themselves to men by divers signs and tokens, which it was possible to read by the art of DIVINATION (q.v.). In many nations divination and priesthood have always gone hand in hand; at Rome, for example, the augurs and the viri sacrorum, who interpreted the Sibylline books, were priestly colleges. In Greece, on the other hand, divina-tion was not generally a priestly function, but it did belong-to the priests of the Oracles (see ORACLE). The great oracles, however, were of Panhellenic celebrity and did not serve each a particular state, and so in this direction also the risk of an independent priestly power within the state was avoided.
In Rome, again, where the functions of the priesthood were politically much more weighty, where the technicalities of religion were more complicated, where priests interpreted the will of the gods, and where the pontiffs had a most important jurisdiction in sacred things, the state was much too strong to suffer these powers to escape from its own immediate control: the old monarchy of the king in sacred things descended to the inheritors of his temporal power ; the highest civil and religious functions met in the same persons (comp. Cic, De Pom., i. 1); and every priest was subject to the state exactly as the magistrates were, referring all weighty matters to state decision and then executing what the one supreme power decreed. And it is instructive to observe that when the plebeians extorted their full share of political power they also demanded and obtained admission to every priestly college of political importance, to those, namely, of the pontiffs, the augurs, and the XVviri sacrorum. The Romans, it need hardly be said, did not have hereditary priests.
The same close connexion between state and religion meets us, under the forms of Oriental despotism, in the great civilizations of Egypt and Babylonia. Here all civil and religious power has its source in the king, and he is therefore himself the centre and head of the priesthood. Nowhere is religion more thoroughly a part of statecraft than in ancient Egypt; the official religion of the united monarchy is plainly an artificial structure built up by priestly fable and speculation out of the old religions of the several nomes and dedicated to the service of the monarchy. The priesthood accordingly has large functions, including, besides the service of the temples, astrology and divination, and the development and preservation of a sort of official theology and ritual theory, by which the conflicting elements of local religion and mythology were reconciled. It has a strict bureaucratic organization, like any other branch of the administration; the higher priests are great officers of state, with civil and even military power; under Smendes (XXIst Dynasty) the priests of Amon at Thebes actually ascended the throne. An absolute mon-archy, in which the king is revered as himself a divine person and in which the ministers of religion are the organs of a comprehensive and mysterious statecraft, obviously offers to sacerdotalism a far greater career than was pos-sible among the free peoples of Greece and Rome; and the priests held in their hands the whole wisdom of the Egyptians, and so kept all parts of culture in such strict subservience, alike to the gods and to the monarchy, as to make the empire of the Nile the ideal type of absolutism based on divine right. In this respect, however, the Babylonian system, of which we have less ample details, probably fell little short of the Egyptian. Here also we find, as in Egypt, a state religion built on a priestly fusion of older cults, and therefore also a mythological theology which is not folk-lore but priest-lore. The older elements of religion are worked into a theoretic system of astral powers, and this in turn gives rise to a priestly study of astrology containing elements of real science. This com-plicated and many-sided lore gave to the priesthoods of Chaldsea and the Nile the character of a learned class, which is quite wanting in Greece and Rome, and it also produced a sacred and sacerdotal literature quite different in range and importance from such Western analogues as the Sibylline books or the libri augúrales.

Against the genuine intellectual achievements of the Chaldasan and Egyptian priests must be set the incorporation of magic and sorcery in the circle of priestly sciences. The ordinary functions of religion are directed to conciliate or persuade the gods, but magic pretends to constrain the supernatural powers, and belongs, as we have seen, to superstition rather than to religion. But in Egypt and Baby-lonia the state religion was an artificial mosaic of old beliefs, in which the crassest superstitions had their place, and thus magical arts received a state recognition and were part of the business of the state priests in a way unknown in the West. Occult arts, in fact, are part of the machinery of government. Now when we go still farther east to the Aryans of India we again find the idea prominent that certain formulas have the power of con-straining the gods, but in a form somewhat different from that of mere sorcery, and less primitive. All ancient peoples sought victory from the gods, and they sought it by sacrifice and prayer; but nowhere is the power of sacrifice more strongly felt than among the ancient Aryans; it was Agni, the sacrificial flame, as ancient legend has it, that led the conquerors of India from victory to victory. But there were also bloody struggles among the Aryans themselves, between men who invoked the same deity, and here the issue was not whether Indra was stronger than the gods of the non-Aryans, but which of the rival sacrifices he would accept. Now the priests accompanied sacrifice with songs of invocation, and so it became essential to have the most powerful song, which the god could not resist. The knowledge of these songs and of all that accompanied their use was handed down in priestly families, whose aid became indispensable to every sovereign, and at last out of these families there grew up the great and privileged caste of Brahmans. For further details as to the development of the priestly caste and wisdom in India the reader must refer to BRAHMANISM ; here it is enough to observe that among a religious people a priesthood which forms a close and still more an hereditary corporation, and the assistance of which is indispensable in all religious acts, must rise to practical supremacy in society except under the strongest form of despotism, where the sovereign is head of the church as well as of the state.

In this rapid glance at some of the chief priesthoods of antiquity we have hitherto passed over the pure Semites, whose priesthoods call for closer examination because of the profound influence which one of them—that of the Jews—has exercised on Christianity, and so on the whole history of the modern world. But before we proceed to this it may be well to note one or two things that come out by comparison of the systems already before us. Priestly acts—that is, acts done by one and accepted by the gods on behalf of many—are common to all antique religions, and cannot be lacking where the primary subject of religion is not the individual but the natural community. But the origin of a separate priestly class, distinct from the natural heads of the community, cannot be explained by any such broad general principle; in some cases, as in Greece, it is little more than a matter of convenience that part of the religious duties of the state should be con-fided to special ministers charged with the care of particu-lar temples, while in others the intervention of a special priesthood is indispensable to the validity of every religious act, so that the priest ultimately becomes a mediator and the vehicle of all divine grace. This position, we see, can be reached by various paths: the priest may become in-dispensable through the growth of ritual observances and precautions too complicated for a layman to master, or he may lay claim to special nearness to the gods on the ground, it may be, of his race, or it may be of habitual practices of purity and asceticism which cannot be com-bined with the duties of ordinary life, as, for example, celibacy was required of priestesses of Vesta at Borne. But the highest developments of priestly influence are hardly separable from something of magical superstition ; the opus operatum of the priest has the power of a sorcerer's spell. The strength of the priesthood in Chaldasa and in Egypt stands plainly in the closest connexion with the survival of a magical element in the state religion, and Rome, in like manner, is more priestly than Greece because it is more superstitious. In most cases, however, where an ancient civilization shows us a strong priestly system

Among the Zoroastrian Iranians, as among the Indian Aryans, the aid of a priest to recite the sacrificial liturgy was necessary at every offering (Herod., i. 132), and the Iranian priests (athravans, later Magi) claimed, like the Brahmans, to be the highest order of society ; but a variety of conditions were lacking to give them the full place of their Indian brethren. Zoroastrianism is not a nature religion, but the result of a reform which never, under the old empire, thoroughly penetrated the masses; and the priesthood, as it was not based on family tradition, did not form a strict hereditary caste. Under the Sasanians, however, Zoroastrianism was a state religion in the strictest sense, and the priests attained very great power, their assistance being absolutely necessary not only in the public ritual of the fire-temple but for the constant guidance of every individual in the minute details of ceremonial observance, which make up the chief body of the religious system of the sacred books, and every breach of which involved penance. It is thus easily understood that the clergy formed a compact hierarchy not inferior in influence to the clergy of the Christian Middle Ages, had great power in the state, and were often irksome even to the great king. But the best established hierarchy is not so powerful as a caste, and the monarchs had one strong hold on the clergy by retaining the patronage of great ecclesi-astical places, and another in the fact that the Semitic provinces on the Tigris, where the capital lay, were mainly inhabited by men of other faith. we are unable to make out in any detail the steps by which that system was elaborated; the clearest case perhaps is the priesthood of the Jews, which is not less interesting from its origin and growth than from the influence exerted by the system long after the priests were dispersed and their sanctuary laid in ruins.

Among the nomadic Semites, to whom the Hebrews belonged before they settled in Canaan, there has never been any developed priesthood. The acts of religion partake of the general simplicity of desert life; apart from the private worship of household gods and the oblations and salutations offered at the graves of departed kinsmen, the ritual observances of the ancient Arabs were visits to the tribal sanctuary to salute the god with a gift of milk first-fruits or the like, the sacrifice of firstlings and vows (see NAZARITE and PASSOVER), and an occasional pilgrimage to discharge a vow at the annual feast and fair of one of the more distant holy places (see MECCA). These acts required no priestly aid; each man slew his own victim and divided the sacrifice in his own circle; the share of the god was the blood which was smeared upon or poured out beside a stone (nosb, ghahghab) set up as an altar or perhaps as a symbol of the deity. It does not appear that any portion of the sacrifice was burned on the altar, or that any part of the victim was the due of the sanctuary. We find therefore no trace of a sacrificial priesthood, but each temple had one or more doorkeepers (sadin, hajib), whose office was usually hereditary in a certain family and who had the charge of the temple and its treasures. The sacrifices and offerings were acknowledgments of divine bounty and means used to insure its continuance; the Arab was the " slave " of his god and paid him tribute, as slaves used to do to their masters, or subjects to their lords; and the free Bedouin, trained in the solitude of the desert to habits of absolute self-reliance, knew no master except his god, and acknowledged no other will before which his own should bend. Hence the other side of Arab religion was to look for divine direction in every grave or difficult concern of life; what could not be settled in the free council of the tribesmen, or by the unenforced award of an umpire, was referred to the command of the god, and the oracle was the only authority by which dissen-sions could be healed, lawsuits determined, and judgment authoritatively spoken. The voice of the god might be uttered in omens which the skilled could read, or con-veyed in the inspired rhymes of soothsayers, but frequently it was sought in the oracle of the sanctuary, where the sacred lot was administered for a fee by the sadin. The sanctuary thus became a seat of judgment, and here too compacts were sealed by oaths and sacrificial ceremonies. These institutions, though known to us only from sources belonging to an age when the old faith was falling to pieces, are certainly very ancient. Their whole stamp is primitive, and they correspond in the closest way with what we know of the earliest religion of the Israelites, the only other Semitic people whose history can be traced back to a time when they had not fully emerged from nomad life. And, in fact, the fundamental type of the Arabic sanctuary can be traced through all the Semitic lands, and so appears to be older than the Semitic disper-sion ; even the technical terms are mainly the same, so that we may justly assume that the more developed ritual and priesthoods of the settled Semites sprang from a state of things not very remote from what we find among the heathen Arabs. Now among the Arabs, as we have seen, ritual service is the affair of the individual, or of a mass of individuals gathered in a great feast, but still doing worship each for himself and his own private circle; the only public aspect of religion is found in connexion with, divination and the oracle to which the affairs of the community are submitted. In Greece and Rome the public sacrifices were the chief function of religion, and in them the priesthood represented the ancient kings. But in the desert there is no king and no sovereignty save that of the divine oracle, and therefore it is from the soothsayers or ministers of the oracle that a public ministry of religion can most naturally spring. With the beginning of a settled state the sanctuaries must rise in importance and all the functions of revelation will gather round them. A sacrificial priesthood will arise as the worship becomes more complex (especially as sacrifice in antiquity is a common preliminary to the consultation of an oracle), but the public ritual will still remain closely associated with oracle or divination, and the priest will still be, above all things, a revealer. That this was what actually happened may be inferred from the fact that the Canaanite and Phoenician name for a priest (kohen) is identical with the Arabic kahin, a "soothsayer." Soothsaying was no modern im-portation in Arabia; its characteristic form—a monotonous croon of short rhyming clauses—is the same as was prac-tised by the Hebrew " wizards who peeped and muttered " in the days of Isaiah, and that this form was native in Arabia is clear from its having a technical name (saf), which in Hebrew survives only in derivative words with modified sense. The kahin, therefore, is not a degraded priest but such a soothsayer as is found in most primitive societies, and the Canaanite priests grew out of these early revealers. In point of fact some form of revelation or oracle appears to have existed in every great shrine of Canaan and Syria, and the importance of this element in the cultus may be measured from the fact that at Hierapolis it was the charge of the chief priest, just as in the Leviti-cal legislation. But the use of "kahin" for "priest" in the Canaanite area points to more than this : it is connected with the orgiastic character of Canaanite religion. The soothsayer differs from the priest of an oracle by giving his revelation under excitement and often in a frenzy allied to madness. In natural soothsaying this frenzy is the necessary physical accompaniment of an afflatus which, though it seems supernatural to a rude people, is really akin to poetic inspiration. But it is soon learned that a similar physical state can be produced artificially, and at the Canaanite sanctuaries this was done on a large scale. We see from 1 Kings xviii., 2 Kings x., that the great Baal temples had two classes of ministers, kdhanim and nebiim, " priests" and " prophets," and as the former bear a name which primarily denotes a soothsayer, so the latter are also a kind of priests who do sacrificial service with a wild ritual of their own. How deeply the orgiastic character was stamped on the priesthoods of north Semitic nature-worship is clear from Greek and Roman accounts, such as that of Appuleius (Metam., bk. viii.). Sensuality and religious excitement of the wildest kind went hand in hand, and a whole army of degraded ministers of a religion of the passions was gathered round every famous shrine.

3 This appears even in the words used as synonyms for "priest,"

The Hebrews, who made the language of Canaan their own, took also the Canaanite name for a priest. But the earliest forms of Hebrew priesthood are not Canaanite in character; the priest, as he appears in the older records of the time of the Judges, Eli at Shiloh, Jonathan in the private temple of Micah and at Dan, is much liker the tadin than the kahin? The whole structure of Hebrew for that out of the multiplicity of words for soothsayers and the like common to Hebrew and Arabic (either formed from a common root or expressing exactly the same idea—'____, 'arraf; 1311, habir; ____, _____, hazi; ____, comp. ____) the two nations should have chosen the same one independently to mean a priest is, in view of the great difference in character between old Hebrew and Canaanite priest-hoods, inconceivable. Besides |ri3 Hebrew has the word 1D3 (pi. D,-ID3), which, however, is hardly applied to priests of the national religion. This, in fact, is the old Aramaic word for a priest (with suffixed article, kuinra). Its origin is obscure, but, as it belongs to a race in which the mass of the people were probably not circumcised (Herod., ii. 104, compared with Joseph., Ant., viii. 10, 3, and G. Ap., i. 22) while the priests were (Dio Cassius, Ixxix. 11; Ep. Barnabas, ix. 6 ; comp. Chwolson, Ssdbier, ii. 114), it may be conjectured that kumra means the circumcised (Ar. kamara, "glanspenis").

4 It is not clear from 1 Sam. ii. 15 whether even at Shiloh the priest had anything to do with sacrifice, whether those who burned the fat were the worshippers themselves or some subordinate ministers of the temple. Certainly it was not "the priest" who did so, for he in this narrative is always in the singular. Hophni and Phinehas are not called priests, though they bore the ark, and so were priests in the sense of Josh. iii.


society at the time of the conquest was almost precisely that of a federation of Arab tribes, and the religious ordi-nances are scarcely distinguishable from those of Arabia, save only that the great deliverance of the Exodus and the period when Moses, sitting in judgment at the sanctuary of Kadesh, had for a whole generation impressed the sovereignty of Jehovah on all the tribes, had created an idea of unity between the scattered settlements in Canaan such as the Arabs before Mohammed never had. But neither in civil nor in religious life was this ideal unity expressed in fixed institutions; the old individualism of the Semitic nomad still held its ground. Thus the firstlings, first-fruits, and vows are still the free gift of the individual which no human authority exacts, and which every house-holder presents and consumes with his circle in a sacrificial feast without priestly aid. As in Arabia, the ordinary sanc-tuary is still a sacred stone (H3SO = nosb) set up under the open heaven, and here the blood of the victim is poured out as an offering to God (see especially 1 Sam. xiv. 34, and compare 2 Sam. xxiii. 16, 17). The priest has no place in this ritual; he is not the minister of an altar, but the guardian of a temple, such as was already found here and there in the land for the custody of sacred images and palladia or other consecrated things (the ark at Shiloh, 1 Sam. iii. 3 ; images in Micah's temple, Judges xvii. 5 ; Goliath's sword lying behind the " ephod " or plated image at Nob, 1 Sam. xxi. 9; no doubt also money, as in the Canaanite temple at Shechem, Judges ix. 4). Such trea-sures required a guardian; but, above all, wherever there was a temple there was an oracle, a kind of sacred lot, just as in Arabia (1 Sam. xiv. 41, Sept.), which could only be drawn where there was an "ephod" and a priest (1 Sam. xiv. 18 Sept. and xxiii. 6 sq.). The Hebrews had already possessed a tent-temple and oracle of this kind in the wilderness (Exod. xxxiii. 7 sq.), of which Moses was the priest and Joshua the sedituus, and ever since that time the judgment of God through the priest at the sanctuary had a greater weight than the word of a seer, and was the ultimate solution of every controversy and claim (1 Sam. ii. 25; Exod. xxi. 6, xxii. 8, 9, where for "judge," "judges," read " God "). The temple at Shiloh, where the ark was preserved, was the lineal descendant of the Mosaic sanctuary—for it was not the place but the palladium and its oracle that were the essential thing— and its priests claimed kin with Moses himself. In the divided state of the nation, indeed, this sanctuary was hardly visited from beyond Mount Ephraim; and every man or tribe that cared to provide the necessary apparatus (ephod, teraphim, &c.) and hire a priest might have a temple and oracle of his own at which to consult Jehovah (Judges xvii., xviii.); but there was hardly another sanctuary of equal dignity. The priest of Shiloh is a much greater person than Micah's priest Jonathan; at the great feasts he sits enthroned by the doorway, preserving decorum among the worshippers; he has certain legal dues, and if he is disposed to exact more no one ventures to resist (1 Sam. ii. 12 sq., where the text needs a slight correction). The priestly position of the family survived the fall of Shiloh and the captivity of the ark, and it was members of this house who consulted Jehovah for the early kings until Solomon deposed Abiathar. Indeed, though priesthood was not yet tied to one family, so that Micah's son, or Eleazar of Kirjath-jearim (1 Sam. vii. 1), or David's sons (2 Sam. viii. 18) could all be priests, a Levite—that is, a man of Moses' tribe—was already preferred for the office elsewhere than at Shiloh (Judges xvii. 13), and such a priest naturally handed down his place to his posterity (Judges xviii. 30).
Ultimately, indeed, as sanctuaries were multiplied and the priests all over the land came to form one well-marked class, " Levite" and legitimate priest became equivalent expressions, as has been explained in detail in the article LBVITES. But between the priesthood of Eli at Shiloh or Jonathan at Dan and the priesthood of the Levites as described in Deut. xxxiii. 8 sq. there lies a period of the inner history of which we know almost nothing. It is plain that the various priestly colleges regarded themselves as one order, that they had common traditions of law and ritual which were traced back to Moses, and common interests which had not been vindicated without a struggle (Deut., ut sup.). The kingship had not deprived them of their functions as fountains of divine judgment (comp. Deut. xvii. 8 sq.) ; on the contrary, the decisions of the sanctuary had grown up into a body of sacred law, which the priests administered according to a traditional precedent. According to Semitic ideas the declaration of law is quite a distinct function from the enforcing of it, and the royal executive came into no collision with the purely declaratory functions of the priests. The latter, on the contrary, must have grown in importance with the unification and progress of the nation, and in all probability the consolidation of the priesthood into one class went hand in hand with a consolidation of legal tradition. And this work must have been well done, for, though the general corruption of society at the beginning of the Assyrian period was nowhere more conspicuous than at the sanctuaries and among the priesthood, the invective of Hos. iv. equally with the eulogium of Deut. xxxiii. proves that the position which the later priests abused had been won by ancestors who earned the respect of the nation as worthy representatives of a divine Torah.

The ritual functions of the priesthood still appear in Deut. xxxiii. as secondary to that of declaring the sentence of God, but they were no longer insignificant. With the prosperity of the nation, and especially through the absorption of the Canaanites and of their holy places, ritual had become much more elaborate, and in royal sanctuaries at least there were regular public offerings maintained by the king and presented by the priests (comp. 2 Kings xvi. 15). Private sacrifices, too, could hardly be offered without some priestly aid now that ritual was more complex ; the provision of Deut. xviii. as to the priestly dues is certainly ancient, and shows that besides the tribute of first-fruits and the like the priests had a fee in kind for each sacrifice, as we find to have been the case among the Phoenicians accord-ing to the sacrificial tablet of Marseilles. Their judicial functions also brought profit to the priests, fines being exacted for certain offences and paid to them (2 Kings xii. 16; Hos. iv. 8; Amos ii. 8). The greater priestly offices were therefore in every respect very important places, and the priests of the royal sanctuaries were among the grandees of the realm (2 Sam. viii. 18; 2 Kings x. 11, xii. 2); minor offices in the sanctuaries were in the patronage of the great priests and were often miserable enough, the petty priest depending largely on what "customers" he could find (2 Kings xii. 7 [8]; Deut. xviii. 8). That at least the greater offices were hereditary—as in the case of the sons of Zadok, who succeeded to the royal priesthood in Jerusalem after the fall of Abiathar—was almost a matter of course as society was then constituted, but there is not the slightest trace of an hereditary hierarchy officiating by divine right, such as existed after the exile. The sons of Zadok, the priests of the royal chapel, were the king's servants as absolutely as any other great officers of state ; they owed their place to the fiat of King Solomon, and the royal will was supreme in all matters of cultus (2 Kings xii., xvi. 10 sq.); indeed themonarchs of Judah, like those of other nations, did sacrifice in person when they chose down to the time of the captivity (1 Kings ix. 25; 2 Kings xvi. 12 sq.; Jer. xxx. 21). And as the sons of Zadok had no divine right as against the kings, so too they had no claim to be more legitimate than the priests of the local sanctuaries, who also were reckoned to the tribe which in the 7th century B.C. was recognized as having been divinely set apart as Jehovah's ministers in the days of Moses (Deut. x. 8, xviii. 1 sq.).

The steps which prepared the way for the post-exile hierarchy, the destruction of the northern sanctuaries and priesthoods by the Assyrians, the polemic of the spiritual prophets against the corruptions of popular worship, which issued in the reformation of Josiah, the suppression of the provincial shrines of Judah and the transference of their ministers to Jerusalem, the successful resistance of the sons of Zadok to the proposal to share the sanctuary on equal terms with these new-comers, and the theoretical justification of the degradation of the latter to the position of mere servants in the temple supplied by Ezekiel soon after the captivity, have already been explained in the article LEVITES and in PENTATEUCH (vol. xviii. p. 510), and only one or two points call for additional remark here.

It is instructive to observe how differently the prophets of the 8th century speak of the judicial or " teaching" functions of the priests and of the ritual of the great sanctuaries. For the latter they have nothing but condemnation, but the former they acknowledge as part of the divine order of the state, while they complain that the priests have prostituted their office for lucre. In point of fact the one rested on old Hebrew tradition, the other had taken shape mainly under Canaanite influence, and in most of its features was little more than the crassest nature-worship. In this respect there was no distinction between the temple of Zion and other shrines, or rather it was just in the greatest sanctuary with the most stately ritual that foreign influences had most play, as we see alike in the original institutions of Solomon and in the innovations of Ahaz (2 Kings xvi. 10 sq., xxiii. 11 sq.). The Canaanite influence on the later organization of the temple is clearly seen in the association of temple prophets with the temple priests under the control of the chief priest, which is often referred to by Jeremiah; even the viler ministers of sensual worship, the male and female prostitutes of the Phoenician temples, had found a place on Mount Zion and were only removed by Josiah's reformation. So, too, the more complex sacrificial ritual which was now in force is manifestly not independent of the Phoenician ritual as we know it from the Marseilles tablet. All this necessarily tended to make the ritual ministry of the priests more important than it had been in old times; but it was in the dark days of Assyrian tyranny, in the reign of Manasseh, when the sense of divine wrath lay heavy on the people, when the old ways of seeking Jehovah's favour had failed and new and more powerful means of atonement were eagerly sought for (Micah vi. 6 sq.; 2 Kings xxi.; and comp. MOLOCH), that sacrificial functions reached their full importance. In the time of Josiah altar service and not the function of " teaching" has become the essential thing in priesthood (Deut. x. 8, xviii. 7); the latter, indeed, is not forgotten (Jer. ii. 8, xviii. 18), but by the time of Ezekiel it also has mainly to do with ritual, with the distinction between holy and profane, clean and unclean, with the statutory observances at festivals and the like (Ezek. xliv. 23 sq.). What the priestly Torah was at the time of the exile can be seen from the collection of laws in Lev. xvii.-xxvi., which includes many moral precepts, but regards them equally with ritual precepts from the point of view of the maintenance of national holiness. The sacrificial ritual of the Priestly Code (see PENTATEUCH) is governed by the same principle. The holiness of Israel centres in the sanctuary, and round the sanctuary stand the priests, who alone can approach the most holy things without profanation, and who are the guardians of Israel's sanctity, partly by protecting the one meeting-place of God and man from profane contact, and partly as the mediators of the continual atoning rites by which breaches of holiness are expiated.
The bases of priestly power under this system are the unity of the altar, its inaccessibility to laymen and to the inferior ministers of the sanctuary, and the specific atoning function of the blood of priestly sacrifices. All these things were unknown in old Israel: the altars were many, they were open to laymen, and the atoning function of the priest was judicial, not sacrificial. So fundamental a change as lies between Hosea and the Priestly Code was only possible in the general dissolution of the old life of Israel produced by the Assyrians and by the prophets; and indeed, as is explained under PENTATEUCH, the new order did not take shape as a system till the exile had made a tabula rasa of all old institutions; but it was undoubtedly the legitimate and consistent outcome of the latest develop-ment of the temple worship at Jerusalem before the exile. It was meant also to give expression to the demands of the prophets for spiritual service and national holiness, but this it did not accomplish so successfully; the ideas of the prophets could not be realized under any ritual system, but only in a new dispensation (Jer. xxxi. 31 sq.), when priestly Torah and priestly atonement should be no longer required. Nevertheless, the concentration of all ritual at a single point, and the practical exclusion of lay-men from active participation in it—for the old sacrificial feast had now shrunk into entire insignificance in compari-son with the stated priestly holocausts and atoning rites —lent powerful assistance to the growth of a new and higher type of personal religion, the religion which found its social expression not in material acts of oblation but in the language of the Psalms. In the best times of the old kingdom the jniests had shared the place of the prophets as the religious leaders of the nation; under the second temple they represented the unprogressive traditional side of religion, and the leaders of thought were the psalmists and the scribes, who spoke much more directly to the piety of the nation.

But, on the other hand, the material influence of the priests was greater than it had ever been before; the temple was the only visible centre of national life in the ages of servitude to foreign power, and the priests were the only great national functionaries, who drew to them-selves all the sacred dues as a matter of right and even appropriated the tithes paid of old to the king. The great priests had always belonged to the ruling class, but the Zadokites were now the only hereditary aristocracy, and the high priest, who now stands forth above his breth-ren with a prominence unknown to the times of the first temple, is the one legitimate head of the theocratic state, as well as its sole representative in the highest acts of religion (comp. PENTATEUCH, vol. xviii. p. 510). When the high priest stood at the altar in all his princely state, when he poured out the libation amidst the blare of trumpets, and the singers lifted up their voice and all the people fell prostrate in prayer till he descended and raised his hands in blessing, the slaves of the Greek or the Persian forgot for a moment their bondage and knew that the day of their redemption was near (Ecclus. 1.). The high priest at such a moment seemed to embody all the glory of the nation, as the kings had done of old, and when the time came to strike a successful blow for freedom it was a priestly house that led the nation to the victory which united in one person the functions of high priest and prince. From the foundation of the Hasmonean state to the time of Herod the history of the high-priesthood merges in the political history of the nation; from Herod onward the priestly aristocracy of the Sadducees lost its chief hold over the nation and expired in vain controversy with the Pharisees. (See ISRAEL.)

The influence of the Hebrew priesthood on the thought and organization of Christendom was the influence not of a living institution, for it hardly began till after the fall of the temple, but of the theory embodied in the later parts of the Pentateuch. Two points in this theory were laid hold of—the doctrine of priestly mediation and the system of priestly hierarchy. The first forms the text of the principal argument in the Epistle to the Hebrews, in which the author easily demonstrates the inadequacy of the mediation and atoning rites of the Old Testament, and builds upon this demonstration the doctrine of the effectual high-priesthood of Christ, who, in His sacrifice of Himself, truly "led His people to God," not leaving them outside as He entered the heavenly sanctuary, but taking them with Him into spiritual nearness to the throne of grace. This argument leaves no room for a special priesthood in the Christian church, and in fact nothing of the kind is found in the oldest organization of the new communities of faith. The idea that presbyters and bishops are priests and the successors of the Old Testament priesthood first appears in full force in the writings of Cyprian, and here it is not the notion of priestly mediation but that of priestly power which is insisted on. Church office is a copy of the old hierarchy. Now among the Jews, as we have seen, the hierarchy proper has for its necessary condition the destruction of the state and the bondage of Israel to a foreign prince, so that spiritual power is the only basis left for a national aristocracy. The same conditions have produced similar spiritual aristocracies again and again in the East in more modern times, and even in antiquity more than one Oriental priesthood took a line of development similar to that which we have traced in Judaea. Thus the hereditary priests of Kozah (Koft) were the chief digni-taries in Idumaea at the time of the Jewish conquest of the country (Jos., Ant., xv. 7, 9), and the high priest of Hierapolis wore the princely purple and crown like the high priest of the Jewrs (De Dea Syria, 42). The kingly insignia of the high priest of the sun at Emesa are described by Herodian (v. 3, 3), in connexion with the history of Elagabalus, whose elevation to the Boman purple was mainly due to the extraordinary local influence of his sacerdotal place. Other examples of priestly princes are given by Strabo in speaking of Pessinus (p. 567) and Olbo (p. 672). As no such hierarchy existed in the West, it is plain that if the idea of Christian priesthood was influenced by living institutions as well as by the Old Testament that influence must be sought in the East (comp. Lightfoot, Philippians, p. 261). The further development of the notion of Christian priesthood was connected with the view that the Eucharist is a propitiatory sacrifice which only a consecrated priest can perform. The history of this development is still very obscure, especially as regards its connexion with heathen ideas, but something will fall to be said on it under the heading of SACRIFICE. It is sufficient to remark here that the presentation of the sacri-fice of the mass came to be viewed as the essential priestly office, so that the Christian presbyter really was a sacerdos in the antique sense. Protestants, in rejecting the sacrifice of the mass, deny also that there is a Christian priesthood "like the Levitical," and have either dropped the name of "priest" or use it in a quite emasculated sense.

There is probably no nature religion among races above mere savagery which has not had a priesthood ; but an ex- amination of other examples would scarcely bring out any important feature that has not been already illustrated. Among higher religions orthodox Islam has never had real priests, doing religious acts on behalf of others, though it has, like Protestant churches, leaders of public devotion (imams) and an important class of privileged religious teachers ('ulema). But a distinction of grades of holiness gained by ascetic life has never been entirely foreign to the Eastern mind, and in the popular faith of Mohammedan peoples something very like priesthood has crept in by this channel. For where holiness is associated with ascetic practices the masses can never attain to a perfect life, and naturally tend to lean on the professors of special sanctity as the mediators of their religious welfare. The best example, however, of a full-blown priestly system with a monastic hierarchy grafted in this way on a religion originally not priestly is found in Tibetan Buddhism (see LAMAISM), and similar causes undoubtedly had their share in the development of sacerdotalism in the Christian church. The idea of priestly asceticism expressed in the celibacy of the clergy belongs also to certain types of heathen and especially Semitic priesthood, to those above all in which the priestly service is held to have a magical or theurgic quality. (W. R. S.)

The above article was written by: Prof. William Robertson Smith, LL.D.

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