The priesthood in ancient Israel with special reference to the status and function of the Levites

Allan, M. W. T (1972) The priesthood in ancient Israel with special reference to the status and function of the Levites. PhD thesis, University of Glasgow.

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Abstract

An attempt is made to trace the development of Israel's priesthood from the earliest traditions of the Old Testament down to the exile. An investigation is also made for the same period of the status and function of the Levites, as priests and Levites were often inextricably connected in ancient Israel. Hence this historical survey begins with an examination of the early traditions relating to the name Levi in both its connotations. Although no definite relationship can be found between the secular tribe Levi and the later landless and non-tribal connotation of the word, it would appear that the latter meaning denoted priestly and non-priestly elements both sharing a common characteristic, their devotion to Yahweh. Both these elements seem to have existed contemporaneously in ancient Israel. The Levites' association with Moses as Yahweh's devotees, points to the wilderness period as the most likely time for the inauguration of the Levites to a distinct position among the tribes of Israel, and the fact that following the Israelite conquest of Canaan, levitical settlements are found in southern Palestine suggests their possible entrance into the land as part of the northward thrust led by Caleb from Kadesh. The story of Micah's Levite is interpreted as illustrating the tendency of non-priestly Levites to seek priestly office either at private shrines or tribal sanctuaries. The story is important for it shows a development away from the ancient custom by which the head of the household performed priestly duties, to the concept of one specifically appointed to discharge these functions. Both the traditions recorded in the closing chapters of the book of Judges illustrate how the Levite, although landless and tribeless, was a respected member of ancient Israelite society, who due to his unique relationship with Yahweh was considered especially eligible to function as Yahweh's priest, and was sufficiently esteemed to command national attention in redress of any wrong he might sustain. The survey proceeds to the monarchic period, and deals with the narratives relating to the various priesthoods of that time. The most notable of these was the family of Eli, at whose sanctuary the Ark was located. The priesthood at Gibeah, Saul's town, and that at Nob, as also the Shiloh priesthood, appear to represent three distinct and unrelated priestly families. The derivation of Zadok is considered, and a Gibeonite origin advanced as a possible solution to this problem. By a process of elimination the lists of levitical cities are assigned to the early years of Solomon's reign, and are identified with a possible arrangement of Levites in areas of doubtful allegiance to the Davidic monarchy. This religio-political network of government officials was broken up following the secession of the ten northern tribes from the two southern. As a result, the Levites of the northern kingdom being removed from office, either fled to Judah or joined those elements which were actively critical of northern state policy. The book of Deuteronomy contains traditions relating to Levites functioning as priests, priestly Levites who, as a result of the religious upheavals in both the northern and southern kingdoms, found themselves deprived of their shrines and therefore redundant, and non-priestly Levites enumerated amongst those who due to their poverty were considered worthy of public charity. Although the centralization of Yahweh worship ultimately succeeded, the attempted gathering together of all Yahweh's priests to function at the place of his choice largely failed. Some priests did gain access to the Jerusalem priesthood but the majority remained in the country deprived of their sanctuaries, and therefore unable to exercise their priestly office. During the exile however, it is possible that these redundant levitical priests made good their claim to officiate at Jerusalem, and provided some sort of cult amid its ruins. It seems probable that these circumstances may have provoked the polemic recorded in Ezek. 44 as a successful attempt by the Zadokites, who following the Deuteronomic reform had lost their overall monopoly of the Jerusalem cult, to reassert themselves in the post-exilic, temple. Finally, the significance of Aaron in the later literature of the Old Testament is discussed. Reference is made to his role as a tribal leader in the early pentateuchal narratives, and the wilderness tabernacle of P is compared with Solomon's temple. It is concluded that the priestly writer authenticated the temple of Solomon by projecting it back into the wilderness period, and in a similar way projected the two central figures of the pre-exilic temple, i.e. the king and priest, into the source period by seeing Moses and Aaron as their earlier prototype. This, together with the fact that the high priest became the leader of the post-exilic state is the hypothesis advanced in explanation of Aaron's high priestly significance.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Qualification Level: Doctoral
Keywords: Religious history, Clergy
Date of Award: 1972
Depositing User: Enlighten Team
Unique ID: glathesis:1972-72753
Copyright: Copyright of this thesis is held by the author.
Date Deposited: 11 Jun 2019 11:06
Last Modified: 11 Jun 2019 11:06
URI: http://theses.gla.ac.uk/id/eprint/72753

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