Friday, March 8, 2024

Rabbis and Priests


A member of the Facebook group The Bible and Anthropology has asked, "Could a priest be a rabbi and vice versa? Those are always mentioned as two distinct categories, or so it seemed to me."

Dr. Alice C. Linsley

Many rabbis were also priests. The roles are different but could overlap. Rabbis taught and preached in the local synagogues. If their synagogue was in a town with a priestly division such as Nazareth, they also served for a term at the Temple in Jerusalem. 

During the Second Temple period (586 BC-70 AD) the twenty-four priestly divisions or "courses" served in the Temple in rotation. Each course served twice a year for a duration of two weeks. A list of priestly divisions is found in 1 Chronicles 24:7-18.

Nazareth was the home of the eighteenth priestly division, ha·pi·TSETS (Happizzez). In 1962 excavators discovered in the ruins of a synagogue at Caesarea a small piece of a list of the twenty-four priestly divisions. This third to fourth-century marble fragment is inscribed with the names of the places where four of the divisions resided, including Nazareth, the residence of Happizzez.

The priests lived in settlements throughout Israel. When it was "time for the division to go up [to Jerusalem]" (Mishnah, Ta'anit 4:2), the priests went up to Jerusalem to fulfill their obligations. When their appointed time of service in Jerusalem ended, the priests returned to their homes. When not functioning as a priest, these individuals went about their normal routines, tending to their various occupations: stone masons, miners, tomb builders, potters, tent makers, shepherds, goatherds, farmers, merchants, smiths, and carpenters. They also taught and preached in the local synagogues.

Deeper Roots

The point of origin of the Hebrew ruler-priest caste is the Nile Valley long before the time of Abraham. That caste had a moiety system, meaning that it was organized into two ritual groups, the Horite Hebrew and the Sethite Hebrew. Both groups built and maintained shrine and temples along the Nile. The oldest known site of Horite Hebrew worship is at Nekhen on the Nile (4200 BC). 

The Hebrew are probably the oldest known caste. They served at shrines, temples, and mortuary sites at least 1000 years before the caste system of India emerged. Their preserved their ethnic identity by marrying only within their caste (caste endogamy).

During the Old Kingdom (c. 2575-2130 BC) the Hebrew priests were organized in groups called "phyles." Each phyle served a two-week duration at the royal temple before returning home. The later organization of priests in Israel appears to have developed from the earlier Hebrew phyle system.

Sanhedrin Members

The Great Sanhedrin (the highest Jewish court) met in the Hall of Hewn Stones in the Temple in Jerusalem. It convened every day except festivals and Shabbat. Its members included priests, high ranking rabbinical authorities (rabbis), and wealthy Jews whose pure Hebrew ancestral lineages could be verified. The daughters of Sanhedrin members only married priests and rabbis. Only Jewish men belonging to prominent families were members of the Great Sanhedrin (the Beth Din HaGadol). The lesser Sanhedrin courts had members who were priests and rabbis also, but these courts had less authority.

The New Testament reports that many priests became followers of Jesus (Acts 6:7). At least three of Jesus' followers were members of the Sanhedrin: Nicodemus, Joseph Arimathea, and James the Just. The first priests in the service of Christ in southern England were likely ordained by Joseph Arimathea with the written consent of 2 other Sanhedrin members who were followers of the Way.

Members of the Sanhedrin served under the presidency of the high priest much as priests today serve under the presidency of their bishop. The high priest bore the title nasi (ruler, king, prince) and retained this title even after the presidency was transferred to other hands. Similarly, in Anglican and Roman Catholic orders a bishop retains the title "bishop" even after he has stepped down from serving in that office.

Jewish ordination was called semichah and it was necessary for membership in the Great Sanhedrin (The Great Court). Ordination was also required to serve in the lesser courts. Ordination was required to be a member of the Sanhedrin and that was obtained by the imposition of hands by someone who himself had been properly ordained. This is the precedent for the concept of Apostolic Succession in the Church. 

The Sanhedrin members served under the presidency of the high priest much as priests today served under the presidency of their bishop. The high priest bore the title nasi (ruler, king, prince) and retained this even after the presidency was transferred to other hands. Similarly, in Anglican and Roman Catholic orders a bishop retains the title "bishop" even after he has stepped down from serving in that office.

As individuals within the Sanhedrin passed away, or became unfit for service, new members were ordained in what Jews describe as an "unbroken succession" from Moses to Yehoshua the priest of the two crowns (Zec. 6:11), to the elders of Israel, to the prophets (including Haggai, Zechariah and Malachi), to the Anshei Knesses HaGedolah or "Men of the Great Assembly" founded by Ezra c. 520 B.C., to the sages of the Sanhedrin of the Second Temple (c. 520 - A.D. 70).

The second in charge was a ruler-priest who was called ab bet din (father of the court). The role of the ab bet din appears to have been a combination of the roles of the bishop's chaplain and the chancellor of the diocese who serves as the chief legal consultant to the Diocesan bishop. The polity and ordination procedures of the Anglican Church seem to parallel the Sanhedrin. As priestly ordination in Judaism was abolished in 358 AD, Christian priests stand alone as the living succession of priests in the Messianic Faith that we call "Christianity."

The third century Rabbi Johanan enumerates the qualifications for members of the Sanhedrin as follows: they must be tall, of imposing appearance, of advanced age, and scholars. They were also required to be adept in the use of foreign languages. When testimony was given to the Sanhedrin in a foreign language, at least two members who spoke that language were required to examine the witness. There was also a third member who understood the language. These three members constituted a minor court of three, who then reported the testimony to the entire Sanhedrin.

Some High Priests lived in exile among foreign peoples. One example is Hyrcanus who was living among the Parthians. Members of the Sanhedrin did business in foreign parts and visited the local synagogues. Joseph Arimathea would have had Jewish contacts in Cornwall and Devon, places he visited as a mining consultant. Mining in Cornwall and Devon in England began as early as 2150 BC. The Ding Dong mine is one of the oldest mines in Cornwall. An old miner told A. K. Hamilton Jenkin in the early 1940's: "Why, they do say there's only one mine in Cornwall older than Dolcoath, and that's Ding Dong, which was worked before the time of Jesus Christ." (Hamilton Jenkin, A. K. Cornwall and its People. London: J. M. Dent; p. 347) 

Tin ingots from Cornwall dating to 2000 BC have been found in Israel and ingots from Cornwall dating to 1300 BC have been found at archaeological sites in Turkey and Greece. The tin trade brought people together from the Levant, the Nile Valley, Mesopotamia, and parts of Europe.

Local legend holds that the Din Dong mine was one of the places visited by Joseph Arimathea. According to the Sanhedrin rules of ordination Joseph could rightfully ordain the first "Christian" priests while in England. He needed the written consent of only 2 other ruler-priests, and it is inconceivable that he would have neglected to do so.

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