Ancient Israel: Its Life and Institutions

By Roland De Vaux ; John McHugh | Go to book overview

CHAPTER EIGHT
THE PRIESTHOOD AFTER THE EXILE

THE fall of Jerusalem brought disaster to the clergy of the Temple. The head priest, the second priest and the three keepers of the threshold, i.e. all the leading Temple officials, were taken prisoner and executed by Nabuchodonosor at Riblah ( 2 K 25: 18-21= Jr 52: 24-27; 39: 6). The two deportations affected first and foremost the population of Jerusalem ( 2 K 24: 14; 25: 11= Jr 52: 15; 39: 9). Most of the Sadoqite clergy and of the other persons in the service of the Temple were taken away into exile. Those members of the tribe of Levi who were not employed at the Temple (e.g. the family of Ebyathar) were deported with the rank and file of the population. We have shown above1 how the de facto distinction between priests and Levites which resulted from Josias' reform became more clear-cut in Babylonia. On the other hand, the superiority of priests over Levites had no practical consequences during the Exile, because there was no sanctuary where priests could exercise their office.

The deportations did not, however, empty Palestine of all its inhabitants. Part of the tribe of Levi stayed on in Judah: the members of the line of Ebyathar or the Levites who lived up and down the country were counted among the common people whom the Chaldeans left to work the land ( 2 K 24: 14; 25: 12= Jr 52: 16; 39: 10). Moreover, the community in Judah still kept up its religious and liturgical life in some way; the people continued to frequent the provincial sanctuaries which had been reopened after the failure of Josias' reform, and the same syncretist cult was practised there as in the days before the reform. Some of the people, however, remained faithful to the legitimate forms of Yahwism: at least some of the Lamentations ascribed to Jeremias were probably used for liturgical assemblies in Judah: men fasted on the anniversary of the destruction of the Temple ( Za 7: 1-3) and some even came to offer sacrifices amid its ruins ( Jr 41: 4-5). Thus the Levite priests who stayed in Palestine found work once again, now that the monopoly of the Sadoqites no longer existed.

Such was the situation, in Babylonia and in Judah, and it must be kept in mind in order to understand how the priesthood was reconstituted in Jerusalem after the Return.

____________________
1
Cf. pp. 364-366.

-387-

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