Monday, February 05, 2007

A Response to Dr. Kevin Wilson on the Aaronide Priests

update: this discussion / debate continues! Click here after reading the post below.

Nadab and Abihu, Leviticus 10

Dr. Kevin Wilson over on his BlueCord blog (click here) recently asked me to say a bit more about the priestly groups knows respectively as the sons of Zadok and the sons of Aaron. Specifically, Kevin asked for my arguments that Aaronides actually existed apart from Zadokites (for example, as descendents of Aaron's son Ithamar). Here is the response that I made as a comment to his post:

...I've always had a hard time agreeing with the idea of Joseph Blenkinsopp and others that the Aaronides trace back to the priests at Bethel, although I admit that the polemic against the northern monarchic-cult at Bethel in Exodus 32 does make "Aaron" look pretty bad! Lev 10:1-3, which you mention in your post, is a better text for unearthing the Aaronides, since it is written by them (by the PT circle). It carves out a place for the descendents of Ithamar (the Aaronides) as well as those of Eleazar (the Zadokites), since neither of these sons are killed along with Nadab and Abihu in the passage (see also Num 3:4).

Joshua 21 is another passage that carves out a place for the Aaronides. It speaks of a division of "Kohathite" cities, and Kohath is way, way back in the priestly genealogy, allowing this circle to include large groups of priests beyond the Zadokites.


Kevin, you are right that Ithamar's line is not traced well anywhere in the OT. I do not know why this is true, but I believe that this "gap" allowed the Chronicler to give the Levites an Aaronid geneology (cf. Cross, CMHE, 1973, p. 208 etc.). That is, the "gap" allowed the Ithamarite line to function as a rubric for incorporating certain Levites as sacrificing priests when this became necessary. Dean McBride and Robert R. Wilson have suggested 2 Chron 29:34 as one spot where some Levites seem to be rising up to the level of having Aaronide rights and responsibilities.

I want to stress, though, that such Levites were probably incorporated into an already existing body of Ithamarites. This larger body was responsible for writing literature such as the PT source and 2 Isaiah. It is the group that supported Ezra in his reforms, when the Zadokite leadership of Yehud was proving resistant. This corpus of non-Zadokite, non-Levite priestly literature within the Hebrew Bible would be the primary evidence that I would point to as requiring the hypothesis of an actual Aaronid priesthood over-against the pure Zadokites.

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