From Joshua to Caiaphas: High Priests after the Exile

By Helyer, Larry R. | Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society, September 2005 | Go to article overview

From Joshua to Caiaphas: High Priests after the Exile


Helyer, Larry R., Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society


From Joshua to Caiaphas: High Priests after the Exile. By James C. VanderKam. Minneapolis: Fortress, 2004, xix + 548 pp., $35.00.

James C. VanderKam surveys and summarizes what can be known about the Jewish high priests who served after the exile until the destruction of the second Temple in AD 70. Though the book is titled From Joshua to Caiaphas, he discusses all the high priests, a total of 51, from Joshua (ca. 538-30 and 520 BC) to Phannias son of Samuel (AD 68?). The impetus for his book, says VanderKam, first arose in the 1980s. During his research, he was surprised to learn "that, though the high priests were undoubtedly central figures in Second-Temple times, the full list of them has rarely if ever been the subject of a comprehensive history" (p. vii). This lacuna has now been filled with a very thorough treatment. This is not to say the resulting picture is complete; as VanderKam admits, the nature of the sources during the Second Temple period are "daunting indeed" (p. viii). We can be grateful, however, that a specialist like VanderKam, with a well-deserved reputation for meticulous scholarship, has addressed the issue.

VanderKam treats the subject chronologically in five chapters: Chapter 1, "The Beginnings"; Chapter 2, "High Priests of the Persian Period"; Chapter 3, "High Priests in the Early Hellenistic Period"; Chapter 4, "The Hasmonean High Priests (152-37 BCE)"; and Chapter 5, "The High Priests in the Herodian Age (37 BC to AD 70)." For each high priest, he carefully examines the primary sources, seeking to provide a summary of what can be positively stated, what can be cautiously inferred, and what should probably be rejected. Included in his survey are extensive footnotes (1,291) containing a wealth of information mined from journal articles and scholarly monographs, in addition to the standard commentaries, reference works, and specialized books.

One dialogue partner in particular should be mentioned. Deborah Rooke (Zadok's Heirs: The Role and Development of the High Priesthood in Ancient Israel [Oxford Theological Monographs; Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2000]) argues that prior to the Hasmonean high priests, none exercised any significant political or civil authority and that the Hasmonean high priests regarded themselves as primarily rulers, not cultic functionaries. VanderKam concedes that "she has raised important questions regarding the common view of high priests as rulers throughout long stretches of the Second-Temple period," but also insists that "she has overstated her case and misconstrued some of the evidence" (p. xi). Throughout Chapters 1 through 4, he interacts with the positions of Rooke, agreeing a few times (e.g. p. 21, n. 63; p. 62, n. 44; p. 122, n. 36; p. 213, n. 279), but more often disagreeing, sometimes in firm language (e.g. p. 19, n. 57 ["She makes a similarly baseless claim . . ."]; p. 21, n. 61 ["It is difficult to understand how this follows from the data in the text"]; p. 37, n. 138 ["Rooke fails to deal with this point . . ."]; p. 40, n. 150 ["There seems to be no basis for this inference"]; pp. 57-58, n. 34; p. 83, n. 88; p. 96, n. 111; p. 111, n. 158; p. 137, n. 81; p. 154, n. 119; p. 167, n. 159; p. 177, n. 176; p. 180, n. 186; p. 192, n. 222; p. 199, n. 244; p. 195, n. 233; p. 270, n. 89; p. 274, n. 100; p. 305, n. 171). In short, VanderKam reads the evidence as supporting the more traditional view that the Jewish high priests did indeed exercise civil as well as religious authority during much of the some 600 years involved and that the Hasmonean priest-kings placed priority on their religious role.

VanderKam demonstrates a generally conservative stance toward his sources ("I have endeavored to be fair and sensitive to the character of the texts and artifacts-to evaluate them for what they seem to be-and have tried not to dismiss too quickly the claims made about high priests in texts that appear to be nonhistorical in genre" [p.

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