Zadok's Heirs: The Role and Development of the High Priesthood in Ancient Israel

By Deborah W. Rooke | Go to book overview

7 The Elephantine Papyri

The Elephantine papyri are significant for this investigation of the high priesthood in two ways. First, they provide evidence for another Jewish temple apart from the one in Jerusalem, a scenario which raises a number of questions: whether or not there was a high priest in Elephantine, the status of any such high priest both in his own community and in relation to the Judaean community, and whether comparison with the Elephantine community and its structures could be used to elucidate the workings of the Jerusalem high priesthood. Secondly, and more importantly, two of the papyri mention correspondence addressed to the Jerusalem high priest Johanan (cf. Neh. 12: 22, 23) in the context of an attempt to secure rebuilding of the Elephantine temple, which had apparently been destroyed by the Egyptians. This raises the question of what kind of jurisdiction (if any) the Jerusalem high priest had both within the province of Judah itself and over expatriate Jewish communities such as the one at Elephantine. The papyri are important source documents inasmuch as they are contemporary with the period to which they pertain, and consist largely of official correspondence which is less likely to be subject to theological bias or idealization than the biblical material examined so far. Hence, any insights which can be gained from them will form a vital comparison with, and perhaps a necessary corrective to, the picture of the high priesthood which has been built up so far.

The first questions to be dealt with, then, are those which arise from the presence of a Jewish temple in Elephantine: whether or not the community had a high priest, and if it did, the high priest's status both in Elephantine itself and in relation to the Jerusalem Temple. The papyri make no direct reference to a high priest at Elephantine, but they do mention an individual named Jedaniah (Yedoniah) who was obviously a figure of some standing and who appears several times as a representative of the whole community. Three papyri concerning community matters are addressed to

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