For anyone to seriously consider themselves chosen to serve as a priest under High Priest Jesus Christ, they should be eager to learn about what it is a priest does. The only method to understand what God and Christ expect is by examining the pattern of the priesthood God established as His example of what is required.
It is reasonable to believe that anyone with that prospect held before them would be consumed with gaining and growing in an understanding of what the role is about and its disciplines. All called to the priesthood in God’s arrangement with Israel were both well-trained and well-disciplined in proper ritual conduct.
The following article from the Jewish Encyclopedia offers insight into understanding the life and service functions of a priest of God.
Laymen as Priests-The Priestly Code
One consecrated to the service of the sanctuary and, more particularly, of the altar. This definition, however, holds true rather for the later than for the earlier stages of Hebrew priesthood. In ancient Israel one was not required to be specially consecrated in order to perform the sacrificial functions; any one might approach the altar and offer sacrifices. Thus Gideon, of the tribe of Manasseh (Judges vi. 26 et seq.), and the Danite Manoah (ib. xiii. 16, 19) sacrificed in person at the express command of God and the angel of God respectively; similarly, David sacrificed on the altar he had built at God’s command on the thrashing-floor of Araunah (II Sam. xxiv. 25); and Solomon, before the ark in Jerusalem (I Kings iii. 15). David, on the occasion of the transference of the Ark to Zion, and Solomon, at the dedication of the Temple of Jerusalem, ministered as priests (II Sam. vi. 14, 17, 18;. I Kings viii. 22, 54 el seq.); the latter continued to personally offer sacrifices on the altar of Yhwh at regular intervals (I Kings ix. 25). Similar instances, in later times, are presented by Elijah, sacrificing on Mount Carmel (I Kings xviii. 32 et seq.), and by Ahaz, in the Temple at Jerusalem (II Kings xvi. 12 et seq.).
In accordance with this usage in ancient Israel, the ordinances contained in the Book of the Covenant, the oldest code, concerning the building of altars and the offering of sacrifices are addressed not to the priest, but to the people at large (Ex. xx. 24-26). Even where there was a sanctuary with a priesthood, as at Shiloh, any layman might slaughter and offer his sacrifices without priestly aid (comp. I Sam. ii. 13-16). As access to the altar was not yet guarded in accordance with later Levitical ordinances, so the priesthood was not yet confined to one family, or even to one tribe. The Ephraimite Samuel became priest of the sanctuary at Shiloh, wearing the priestly linen coat (“efod bad”) and the pallium (I Sam. ii. 18 et seq., iii. 1). The kings of Israel ordained as priest whomever they chose (I Kings xli. 31); David, too, invested his own sons, as well as the Jairite Ira, of the tribe of Manasseh, with the priestly office (II Sam. viii. 18, xx. 26).
Functions of the Priest.
If a distinct established priesthood is nevertheless found at the sanctuary of Shiloh and at that of Dan as early as the time of the Judges, it is obvious that its real office can not have been connected with the altar or the sacrifices, and that, consequently, its origin can not be looked for in the sacrificial functions. Wherein the origin of the Israelitish priest-hood really lies is sufficiently apparent from the older Biblical records of the time of the Judges and the following period. According to these, the functions of the priest were twofold: to care for and guard the sanctuary and its sacred images and palladia, and (of still greater importance) to consult the oracle. Thus the Ephraimite Micah, after having provided an ephod and teraphim (see Ephod) for his shrine, installed one of his sons as priest to take care of them, but only until he could secure a professional priest, a Levite, for the purpose, one who was qualified to consult the oracle (Judges xvii. 5-13). (a mediator with God)
It is evident that not the shrine, but the images it sheltered, were the essential thing. These it was that the migrating Danites coveted and carried off to their new home, together with the priest, who had consulted the oracle in behalf of their exploring party with auspicious results (ib. xviii.). The sacred palladium of the sanctuary at Shiloh was the ARK, over which the sons of Eli and Samuel kept guard. The former carried it when it was taken to the battle-field, while the latter, having special charge of the doors, slept nightly near it (I Sam, iii. 3, 15; iv. 4 et seq.). When, later, the ark was returned from the field of the Philistines and brought to the house of Abinadab at Kirjath-jearim, Abinadab’s son Eleazar was at once consecrated guardian over it (ib. vii. 1). The bearing of the ark, with which, at Shiloh, the sons of Eli were entrusted, remained, as the frequent statements to this effect in later Biblical literature show, a specific priestly function throughout pre-exilic times (comp. Deut. x. 8, xxxi. 9; Josh. iii. 6 et seq., iv. 9 et seq., vi. 12, viii. 33; I Kings viii. 3). After the capture of its ark by the Philistines the sanctuary of Shiloh disappeared from history (its destruction is referred to in Jer. vii. 12, 14; xxvi. 6); its priesthood, however, appeared in the following period at the sanctuary of Nob, which also had an ephod (I Sam. xiv. 3; xxi. 1, 10; xxii. 9, 11).
After the massacre of the priesthood of Nob, Abiathar, who was the sole survivor, fied with the ephod to David (ib. xxiii. 6), whom thenceforward he accompanied on all his military expeditions, bearing the ephod in order to consult the oracle for him whenever occasion demanded (ib. xxiii. 9, xxx. 7). Similarly, in the campaign against the Philistines, Ahiah accompanied Saul and the Israclites, “bearing the ephod” and ascertaining for them the decisions of the oracle (ib. xiv. 3, 18, the latter verse being so read by the LXX.). The priests’ duty of guarding the sanctuary and its sacred contents accounts for the use, in pre-exilic times, of “shomer hasaf,””doorkeeper” (corresponding to the Arabic “sadin”), as synonymous with “kohen” (II Kings xii. 10), and explains also how “shamar” and “sheret” became the technical terms of priestly service and were retained as such even after the nature of the service had materially changed.
To fill the office of doorkeeper no special qualification was necessary, but, as hinted above, to consult the oracle required special training, such as, no doubt, could be found only among professional priests. So, though the doorkeepers were in many cases not of priestly lineage (comp., besides the case of Samuel and of Eleazar of Kirjath-jearim, that of Obededom; II Sam. vi. 10 et seq.), those who consulted the oracle were invariably of priestly descent, a fact which makes it seem highly probable that the art of using and interpreting the oracle was handed down from father to son. In this way, no doubt, hereditary priesthood developed, as indicated by the cases of the sons of Eli at Shiloh and Nob, and of Jonathan and his descendants at Dan, both these priestly houses extending back to the very beginning of Israelitish history. The descendants of Jonathan made express claim to lineal descent from Moses (comp. I Sam. ii. 27; Judges xviii. 30; the reading “Menashshch” in Judges xviii. 30 is, as the suspended נ shows, due to a later change of the original “Mosheh,” a change which is frankly acknowledged in B. B. 109b; comp. also Rashi and Ḳimḥi ad loc., and to ib. xvii. 7); in fact, their claim is supported by Ex. xxxiii. 7-11, according to which not Aaron, but Moses, was the priest of the “tent of meeting” (R. V.) in the wilderness, while Joshua kept constant guard over it.
Interpreters of the Law.
“Whosoever had to consult God went out to the tent of meeting,” where Moses ascertained the will of God; and just as Moses, in his capacity of priest, was the intermediary through whom Yhwh revealed the Torah to the Israelites in the wilderness, and through whom His judgment was invoked in all difficult cases, such as could not be adjusted without reference to this highest tribunal (Ex. xviii. 16 et seq.), so the priests, down to the close of pre-exilic times, were the authoritative interpreters of the Law, while the sanctuaries were the seats of judgment.
Thus the Book of the Covenant prescribes that all dubious criminal cases “be brought before God,” that is, be referred to Him by the priest for decision (Ex. xxii.7, 8). That “Elohim” here means “God” (not, as the A. V. translates, “the judges”) is clear from I Sam. xiv. 36, where the same phrase, “niḳrab el Elohim” is applied to consulting the oracle by means of the Urim and Thummim (comp. the following verses, 37-42, the last two verses as read by the LXX.). The urim and thummim were employed together with the ephod in consulting the oracle, the former, as may be inferred from the description in I Sam. xiv. 41, 42, being a kind of sacred lots: in all probability they were cast before the ephod. Josh. vii. 14 and I Sam. ii. 25 may be cited in further proof of the fact that direct appeal to divine judgment was made in ancient Israel. This primitive custom is reflected even in as late a passage as Prov. xviii. 18. The Blessing of Moses proves that the sacred lots continued to be cast by the priests during the time of the monarchy, inasmuch as it speaks of the urim and thummim as insignia of the priesthood (Deut. xxxiii. 8). This document shows, as does also the Deuteronomic code, that throughout pre-exilic times the expounding of the Torah and the administration of justice remained the specific functions of the priests. It declares that the priests are the guardians of God’s teachings and Law, and that it is their mission to teach God’s judgments and Torah to Israel (Deut. xxxiii. 9, 10), while the Deuteronomic code decrees that all difficult criminal as well as civil cases be referred to the priests (ib. xvii. 8-11, xxi. 5). Further proof to the same effect lies in the frequent references of the Prophets to the judicial and teaching functions of the priesthood (comp. Amos ii. 8; Hos. iv. 6; Isa. xxviii. 7; Micah iii. 11; Jer. ii. 8, xviii. 18; Ezek. vii. 26).
Offering of the Sacrifices.
In addition to the duties thus far discussed, the offering of sacrifices, in the time of the monarchy, must have become the office of the priest, since the Blessing of Moses mentions it with the other priestly functions. No direct information is obtainable from the Biblical records as to the conditions and influences which brought this about, but it may be safely assumed that one of the factors leading thereto was the rise of the royal sanctuaries. In these, daily public sacrifices were maintained by the king (comp. II Kings xvi. 15), and it must certainly have been the business of the priests to attend to them. There is evidence also that among the priests of Jerusalem there were, at least in later pre-exilic times, gradations of rank. Besides the “chief priest” (“kohen ha-rosh”) mention is made of the “kohen mishnch,” the one holding the second place (II Kings xxv. 18 et al.).
As yet, however, it seems apparent that the priest-hood was not confined to one particular branch of the family of Levi, but, as both the Blessing of Moses and the Deuteronomic code state, was the heritage of the whole tribe (comp. Deut. x. 8, 9; xviii. 1 et seq., 5; xxxiii. 8-10; Josh. xviii, 7). This explains why, in the Deuteronomic code, the whole tribe of Levi has a claim to the altar-gifts, the first-fruits, and the like, and to the dues in kind from private sacrifices (Deut. xviii. 1-5), while in Ezekiel and the Priestly Code the Levites have no share therein. It explains also how it comes that, not only in Judges xvii. (see above), but throughout pre-exilic literature, the terms “Levite” and “priest” are used synonymously (comp. Deut. xvii. 9, 18; xviii. 1; xxi. 8; xxiv. 8; xxvii. 9; Josh. iii. 3; Jer. xxxiii. 18, 21: the only exception is I Kings viii. 4, where, however, as the parallel text, H Chron. v. 5, shows, the ו of is a later insertion).
Levites and Priests.
Since, in pre-exilic times, the whole tribe of Levi was chosen “to stand before Yhwh in order to minister unto Him,” It is but consistent that the office “of blessing in Yhwh’s name” (which in the Priestly Code is assigned to Aaron and his sons—Num. vi. 23) should, in the Deuteronomic code, pertain to all the Levites (comp. Deut. x. 8, xxi. 8). A very strong proof that all membersof the Levitical tribe were entitled to priesthood is furnished in the provision which was made by the Deuteronomic code for those Levites who were scattered through the country as priests of the local sanctuaries, and who, in consequence of the Deuteronomic reformation, had been left without any means of support. It stipulated that those Levites who desired to enter the ranks of the priesthood of Jerusalem should be admitted to equal privileges with their brethren the Levites who ministered there unto God, and should share equally with them the priestly revenues (Deut. xviii. 6-8). As a matter of fact, however, this provision was not carried out. The priests of Jerusalem were not willing to accord to their brethren of the local sanctuaries the privileges prescribed by Deuteronomy, and although they granted them support from the priestly dues, they did not allow them to minister at the altar (comp. II Kings xxiii. 8, 9). In this way the Deuteronomic reformation marks, after all, the first step toward the new development in the priesthood in exilic and post-exilic times.
The attitude of the priests of Jerusalem toward those of the local sanctuaries was sanctioned by Ezekiel. In his book (and later in II Chron. xxxi. 10) the priesthood of Jerusalem is called “bene Ẓadoḳ” or “the house of Zadok,” after Zadok, who replaced Abiathar, Eli’s descendant, when Abiathar, because of his partizanship for Adonijah, was deposed by Solomon (comp. I Kings ii. 27, 35). Ezekiel ordained that of all the Levite priests only the Zadokites, who had ministered to God in His legitimate sanctuary at Jerusalem, should be admitted to the service of the altar; the rest, who had defiled themselves by officiating at the local sanctuaries, should be degraded to the position of mere servants in the sanctuary, replacing the foreign Temple attendants who had heretofore performed all menial services (Ezek. xl. 46, xliii. 19, xliv. 6-16). Naturally, the altar-gifts, the tribute of the first-fruits, and the like, were to be awarded thenceforward to the Zadokites alone (xliv. 29, 30). Though Ezekiel assigns to the priests the duty of sitting in judgment in legal disputes, as before (xliv. 24), he makes their ritual functions, not their judicial functions, the essential point in his regulations governing the priests. Administering the Law, according to him, extends only to matters of ritual, to the distinctions between holy and profane, clean and unclean, and to the statutory observance of Sabbaths and festivals (xliv. 23, 24).
The Priestly Code.
Ezekiel’s new regulations formed, in all essentials, the basis of the post-exilic priestly system which is formulated in detail in the Priestly Code. A striking difference between Ezekiel and the Priestly Code, however, is at once evident in that the latter betrays no idea of the historical development of things. Whereas Ezekiel records the old usage and, by virtue of his authority as a prophet, declares it abolished, the Priestly Code recognizes only the new order of things introduced by Ezekiel, which order it dates back to the time of Moses, alleging that from the very first the priest-hood had been confined to Aaron and his sons, while the mass of the Levites had been set apart as their ministers to fill the subordinate offices of the sanctuary (comp. Ex. xxviii. 1; Num. i. 48 et seq.; iii. 3-10; viii. 14, 19, 24-26; xviii. 1-7; I Chron. vi. 33 et seq.). The priestly genealogy of I Chron. v. 29-41 and vi. 35-38 was but the logical result of this transference of post-exilic conditions back to the period of the wandering in the wilderness. This genealogy, the purpose of which was to establish the legitimacy of the Zadokite priesthood, represents the Zadokites as the lineal descendants of Phinehas (the son of Eleazar, the son of Aaron), who, for his meritorious action in the case of Zimri, according to Num. xxv. 10-13, had been promised the priesthood as a lasting heritage. That this genealogy and that of I Chron. xxiv. 1-6, in which the descent of the Elite Abiathar is traced from Aaron’s son Ithamar, are fictitious is evident from the fact that they conflict with the authentic records of the books of Samuel and Kings: (1) they know nothing of the priesthood of Eli; (2) Ahitub, the son of Phinehas, the son of Eli, and father of Ahimelech of Nob (comp. I Sam. xiv. 3; xxii. 9, 11), appears in them as the son of an unknown Amariah and the father of Zadok; (3) contrary to I Kings ii. 27, 35 (see above), Abiathar and his descendants remain priests at the Temple of Jerusalem.
The Priestly Orders.
Regarding the characteristic attribution of postexilic conditions to pre-exilic times, a notable example may be pointed out in Chron. xxiii.-xxvi. Both priests and Levites were, in post-exilic times, divided into twenty-four families or classes, with a chief (called “rosh” or “sar”; comp. especially I Chron. xv. 4-12; xxiii. 8 et seq.; xxiv. 5, 6, 31; Ezra viii. 29) at the head of each. The institution of this system, as well as of other arrangements, is, in the passage cited, ascribed to David.
The prominence which the ritual receives in Ezekiel reaches its culmination in the Priestly Code, where the judicial functions of the priest, formerly much emphasized, have given way altogether to the ritualistic. To minister at the altar and to guard the sanctity of Israel, which means practically the sanctity of the sanctuary, constitute from this time on the priest’s exclusive office. For this purpose, it is pointed out, God chose Aaron and his sons, distinguishing them from the rest of the Levites, and bid them consecrate themselves to their office (comp. Ex. xxviii. 1, 41-43; xxix. 1, 30, 33, 37, 43-46; xxx. 20, 29 et seq.; Lev. i.-vii., xiii. et seq., xvii. 5 et seq.; Num. vi. 16 et seq., xvi. 5-11, xviii. 3-7; I Chron. xxiii. 13; II Chron. xxvi. 18). Any one not of priestly descent was forbidden, under penalty of death, to offer sacrifice, or even to approach the altar (Num. xvii. 1-5, xviii. 7). As the guardians of Israel’s sanctity the priests formed a holy order (comp. Lev. xxi. 6-8), and for the purpose of protecting them against all profanation and Levitical defilement they were hedged about with rules and prohibitions. They were forbidden to come in contact with dead bodies, except in the case of their nearest kin, nor were they permitted to perform the customary mourning rites (Lev. x. 6, xxi. 1-5; Ezek. xliv. 20, 25). They were not allowed to marry harlots, nor dishonored or divorced women (Lev. xxi. 7).They were required to abstain from wine and all strong drink while performing sacerdotal duties (Lev. x. 9; Ezek. xliv. 21). Any priest having incurred Levitical defilement was excluded, under penalty of death, from priestly service and from partaking of holy food during the time of his uncleanness (Lev. xxii. 2-7, 9; Ezek. xliv. 26 et seq.). If afflicted with any bodily blemish the priest was held permanently unfit for service; such a one was, however, permitted to eat of the holy food (Lev. xxi. 17-23).
A noteworthy feature of the post-exilic priestly system is the place which the high priest occupies in it, for which see High Priest.
Baudissin, Gesch. des Alttestamentlichen Priestertums, 1889;
Benzinger, Hebräische Archäologie, 1894, pp. 405-428;
Nowack. Lehrbuch der Hebräischen Archäogic. 1894, il. 87-130:
Wellhausen, Prolegomena zur Gesch. Isracls, 1899, pp. 118-165.
To Make Atonement.
—In Rabbinical Literature:
The status of the priesthood in later Judaism and the views that prevailed concerning it were in full accordance with the Priestly Code. Like the latter (comp.Ex. xxix. 42-46; Lev. ix. et seq.; xv. 15, 30-33; xvi.; Num. vi. 27; Zech. iii. 7; Mal. ii. 7), later Judaism saw in the sanctuary the manifestation of God’s presence among His people, and in the priest the vehicle of divine grace, the mediator through whose ministry the sins of the community, as of the individual, could be atoned for. In Yoma 39b and Lev. R. i. (where Zech. xi. 1 is taken as referring to the Temple) the name “Lebanon” (= “white one”) for the Temple is explained by the fact that through the Temple Israel is cleansed from its sins. That the chief purpose of altar and priesthood is to make atonement for, and effect the forgiveness of, sin is stated again and again in Talmud and Midrash (comp. Ber. 55a; Suk. 55b; Ket. 10b; Zeb. 85b; Lev. R. xvi. 2; Tan. to Ex. xxvii. 2; Yalḳ. ii. 565). Even the priestly garments were supposed to possess efficacy in atoning for sin (Zeb. 85b; Yalḳ. i. 108). According to the rabbinical decision, “the priests were the emissaries, not of the people, but of God”; hence, a person who had sworn that he would not accept a service from a priest might nevertheless employ him to offer sacrifices and might make atonement for sin through him (Yoma 19a; Ned. iv. 3; 35b; Ḳid. 23b).
Importance of Pedigree.
Later Judaism enforced rigidly the laws relating to the pedigrees of priests, and even established similar requirements for the women they married. Proof of a spotless pedigree was absolutely necessary for admission to priestly service, and any one unable beyond all doubt to establish it was excluded from the priesthood (comp. Ket. 13a, b, 14a, 23a, b, 27a, b; Ḳid. 73a, b; Maimonides, “Yad,” Issure Biah, xx. 2, 16; Shulḥan ‘Aruk, Eben ha-‘Ezer, 3, 6, 7). Unless a woman’s pedigree was known to be unimpeachable, a priest, before marrying her, was required to examine it for four generations on both sides, in case she was of priestly lineage; for five generations if she was not of priestly descent (Ḳid. iv. 4, 5; 77a, b; “Yad,” l.c. xix. 18; Eben ha-‘Ezer, 2, 3). How scrupulously such examinations were made may be seen from the observations of Josephus regarding this custom (“Contra Ap,” i., § 7). In addition to the persons enumerated in Lev. xxi. 7, the Talmudic law enjoined the priest even from marrying a ḥaluẓah (see ḤALIẒAH). In a dubious case of ḥaluẓah, however, the priest was not obliged to annul his marriage, as he was in the case of a woman excluded by the Levitical law; nor were the sons born of such a marriage debarred from the priesthood (comp. Yeb. vi. 2; 54a; Soṭah iv. 1; Ḳid. iv. 6; Sifra, Emor, i. 2; “Yad,” l.c. xvii. 1, 7; Eben ha-‘Ezer, 6, 1). Neither might a priest marry a proselyte or a freedwoman. Regarding a daughter of such persons, opinion in the Mishnah is divided as to whether or not it was necessary that one of the parents should be of Jewish descent. The decision of later authorities was that, in case both of the woman’s parents were proselytes or freed persons, a priest should not marry her, but if he had done so, then the marriage should be considered legitimate (Bik. i. 5; Yeb. vi. 5; 60a, 61a; Ḳid. iv. 7; 78b; “Yad,” l.c. xviii. 3, xix. 12; Eben ha-‘Ezer, 6, 8; 7, 21).
Contact with Dead Prohibited.
The Levitical law which forbids the priest to defile himself by coming in contact with a dead body is minutely defined in the Talmud on the basis of Num. xix. 11, 14-16. Not only is direct contact with the dead prohibited, but the priest is forbidden to enter any house or enclosure, or approach any spot, where is lying or is buried a dead body, or any part of a dead body—even a piece of the size of an olive—or blood to the amount of half a “log” (about a quarter of a liter); he is forbidden also to touch any one or anything that is unclean through contact with the dead (comp. Sifra, Emor, i. 1, ii. 1; Naz. vii. 2, 4; 42b, 43a, 47b, 48b, 56a, b; Yer. Naz. 56c, d; “Yad,” Bi’at ha-Miḳdash, iii. 13-15; ib. Ebel, iii.; Shulḥan ‘Aruk, Yoreh De’ah, 369, 371). In contradistinction to Lev. xxi. 2-4, the Talmudic law includes the wife among the persons of immediate relationship. It specifies, moreover, that it is the duty of the priest to defile himself for the sake of his deceased wife or, in fact, for any of his immediate kin, and that compulsion must be used in the case of any priest who refuses to do so, as in the case of the priest Joseph on the occasion of his wife’s death (Sifra, l.c.; M. Ḳ. 20b; Yeb. 22b, 90b; Naz. 47b, 48a, b; Zeb. 100a; “Yad,” Ebel, ii.; Yoreh De’ah, 373).
But even while occupied in burying a relative, the priest may not come in contact with other dead bodies (“Yad,” l.c. ii. 15; Yoreh De’ah, 373, 7). The Talmud prescribes, further, that if any priest, even the high priest, finds a corpse by the wayside, and there be no one in the vicinity who can be called upon to inter it, he himself must perform the burial: the technical term referring to such a case is “met miẓwah” (comp. Sifra, Emor, ii. 1; Naz. vii. 1; 43b, 47b, 48b; “Yad,” l.c. iii. 8; Yoreh De’ah, 374, 1, 2). Finally, the Talmud permits and indeed orders the priest to defile himself in the case of the death of a nasi; it relates that when Judah ha-Nasi died the priestly laws concerning defilement through contact with the dead were suspended for the day of his death (Yer. Ber. iii. 6a; Yer. Naz. vii. 56a, Ket. 103b; “Yad,” l.c. iii. 10; Yoreh De’ah, 374, 11).
Bodily Defects Incapacitate.
The Talmudic law also specifies minutely what constitutes a bodily defect sufficient to render the subject unfit for priestly service. Bek. vii. and Sifra, Emor, iii. enumerate 142 cases; whether the defect is permanent or only temporary is not taken into account (comp. Zeb. xii. 1; 102a, b; “Yad,” Bi’at ha-Miḳdash, vi.-viii.; Philo, “De Monarchia,” ii. 5; Josephus, “Ant.” iii. 12, § 2).
The division of the priests into twenty-four classes, mentioned in Chronicles, continued down to the destruction of the Second Temple, as statements to this effect by Josephus (“Ant.” vii. 14, § 7; “Vita,” § 1) and the Talmudic sources show. These divisions took turns in weekly service, changing every Sabbath, but on the festivals all twenty-four were present in the Temple and took part in the service. These twenty-four divisions or classes were subdivided, according to their numbers, into from five to nine smaller groups, each of which was assigned to service in turn. The main divisions were called “mishmarot,” the subdivisions “batte abot” (terms which in Chronicles are used interchangeably). There was a chief at the head of each main division, and also one at the head of each subdivision (Ta’an. ii. 6, 7; iv. 2; 27a, b; Yer. Ta’an. 68a; Tosef., Ta’an. ii.; Suk. v. 6-8; 25a, b, et al.; ‘Ar. 12b; Yoma iii. 9, iv. 1; Yer. Hor. iii.; 48b).
Besides the various chiefs, the Talmudic sources frequently mention also the “segan” as an official of high rank. As early as Tosef., Yoma, i. 6; Yoma 39a, Naz. 47b, and Soṭah 42a the view is found that the segan was appointed for the purpose of serving as substitute for the high priest on the Day of Atonement in case the high priest should incur Levitical defilement. Schürer (“Gesch.” 3d ed., ii. 265) rightly points out, however, that this view is erroneous, since, according to the statement in Yoma i. 1, it was customary every year, seven days before the Day of Atonement, to appoint a priest to perform the service on that day in case the high priest should become Levitically unclean; and there would have been no need for such an appointment if, in the person of the segan, a permanent provision existed for such an emergency. (Further reference to this custom is found in Yoma 12b; Tosef., Yoma, i.) Conclusive proof of Schürer’s argument may be found in the fact that in Sanh. 19a the priest appointed as the high priest’s potential substitute for the Day of Atonement is called “mashuaḥ she-‘abar” (anointed one that has been retired), and is clearly distinguished from the segan. The passage reads: “If the high priest offers consolation the segan and the mashuaḥ she-‘abar stand at his right hand, and the chief of the ‘bet ab,’ with the mourners and the rest of the people, at his left hand. . . . And if he receives consolation the segan stands at his right hand, and the chief of the bet ab, with all the people, at his left; the mashuaḥ she-‘abar, however, is not admitted for fear the high priest, in the excitement of his grief, might think that he looked with complacency on his bereavement.”
The name “mashuaḥ she-‘abar” is to be accounted for by the fact (stated in Tosef., Yoma, i.; Yer. Yoma i., 38a, and Yoma 12b, and illustrated by the case of Jose ben Illem) that a substitute who has actually taken the place of the high priest on the Day of Atonement may not thereafter perform the services of an ordinary priest; neither may he aspire to the high-priesthood. In the light of this statement it can readily be understood why Meg. i. 9 calls the temporary substitute of the high priest “Kohen she-‘abar.” The names “mashuaḥ she-‘abar” and “Kohen she-‘abar” are in themselves proof of Schürer’s assertion, inasmuch as the office of the segan was a permanent one. But apart from this negative evidence, which merely shows that the segan was not identical with the mashuaḥ she’abar, there is (contrary to Schürer, l.c. ii. 264) positive evidence in the Talmudic sources to show that his real office was identical with that of the latter. Thus, in the baraita Sanh. 19a, quoted above, the title “Segan” is used to designate the “memunneh” spoken of in the preceding mishnah (ii. 1), a circumstance which would point to the conclusion drawn by the Gemara (ib.) that the segan and the memunneh were identical. This conclusion is, in fact, corroborated by Mishnah Tamid, where the titles “segan” and “memunneh” are used interchangeably. There can be no doubt that in Mishnah Tamid iii. 1-3, v. 1-2, vi. 3, vii. 3 these titles refer to one and the same official, whose office is described in great detail—the office, namely, of superintendent of the whole Temple service. Note especially vi. 3 and vii. 3, which define the duty of the superintending priest when the high priest offers incense or sacrifice: in vi. 3 this official is called” memunneh”; in vii. 3, “Segan.”
It may logically be inferred from these passages that the duties ascribed to the segan on the Day of Atonement in Yoma iii. 9, iv. 1, vii. 1 were a regular part of his office as superintendent of the service. Indeed, this is borne out by Yer. Yoma iii., 41a, where, together with the Day of Atonement duties of the segan that are specified in the Mishnah, is mentioned that of waving a flag as a signal to the Levites to join in with their singing, the giving of which signal, according to Mishnah Tamid vii. 3, was a regular feature of the segan’s daily official routine. The fact that the segan had to act as superintendent of the service even on the Day of Atonement fully precludes the idea that he could ever have been appointed substitute for the high priest for that day.
Considering the importance of such a position of superintendence, some weight must be attached to the statement in Yer. Yoma (l.c.) that “no one was appointed high priest unless he had previously occupied the office of segan.” It substantiates, at least, the conclusion drawn by Schürer (ib.) from the fact that the segan invariably appears at the right hand of the high priest (comp. the baraita Sanh. 19a, quoted above)—the conclusion, namely, that the segan was the next in rank to the high priest. Schürer is probably correct, too, in pointing out (ib.) that the segan is identical with the στρατηγóς τοῦ ἱεροῡ, frequently mentioned by Josephus and in the New Testament.
Other important officials were the “gizbarim” (treasurers), who had charge of the Temple property, and the “amarkelin” (a word of Persian origin,meaning “cashier”), who probably shared the duties of the gizbarim (comp. Josephus, “Ant.” xiv. 7, § 1; xv. 11, § 4; xviii. 4, § 3; Peah i. 6, ii. 8, iv. 8; Shek. ii. 1; v. 2, 6; Me’i. iii. 8; Men. viii. 2, 7; et al.). Yer. Sheḳ. v., 49c, mentions also the “ḳaṭolikin” (καθολικοι), placing them in rank before the amarkelin.
According to Talmudic law, the regulations demanding an unimpeachable pedigree and relating to Levitical defilement continued to be binding on the priest, even after the Temple had been destroyed, in order that he might be fit for priestly service when, on the advent of the Messiah, the Temple would be rebuilt and the service of the altar renewed. Any one not complying with these requirements is not allowed to give the priestly blessing, the pronouncing of which remained the duty of the priest, according to Talmudic law, even after the destruction of the Temple (see Blessing, Priestly). Talmudic law prescribes further that the honor of being first called upon for the reading of the Torah should belong to the priest (comp. “Yad,” Issure Biah, xx. 13; ib. Tefillah, xiv., xv.; Eben ha-‘Ezer, 3, 1; Oraḥ. Ḥayyim, 128; 135, 3, 4; Soṭah 38b; Giṭ. v. 8; see, however, Hor. iii. 8).
Schürer, Gesch. 3d ed., ii. 225-279;
Carpzow, Apparatus Historio-Criticus Antiquitatum Sacri Codicis;
Haneberg, Die Religiösen Altertümer der Bibel;
Lightfoot, Ministerium Templi Quale Erat Tempore Nostri Salvatoris;
Lundius. Die Alten Jüdischen Heiligtümer, Gottesdienste und Gewohnheiten, etc.:
Selden. De Successione in Pontificatum Ebrœorum;
Ugolini, Saccrdotium Hebraicum.