From Joshua to Caiaphas: High Priests after the Exile

From Joshua to Caiaphas: High Priests after the Exile

From Joshua to Caiaphas: High Priests after the Exile

From Joshua to Caiaphas: High Priests after the Exile

Synopsis

Beginning late in the Old Testament period and continuing for the next six hundred years, the Jewish high priests were often the most important members of Jewish society. They not only possessed religious authority but also exercised political control. This book gathers and assesses the surviving evidence about each of the fifty-one men who served as high priest from about 515 BCE until approximately 70 CE when the temple in Jerusalem was destroyed.

Excerpt

The plan to write a history of the Second-Temple Jewish high priests took shape in the 1980s. Reading the literature from and about that period discloses that the high priests were prominent actors in events—think of the Hasmoneans like Jonathan and Simon, for example. Modern scholars often write that the high priests were not only the religious leaders of the Jewish nation but were also its civil heads. With the disappearance of rulers from David’s line after Zerubbabel, we are told, a political vacuum resulted, and the high priests came naturally to fill the void. There were exceptions (for example, when Nehemiah was governor), but, in time, the high priests became the heads of state.

It was surprising to discover 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. There are, of course, studies of individual high priests or of several of them, but no one, to my knowledge, has surveyed the information about all fifty-one of them. the distinguished historian of the Seleucid Empire, Edwyn Bevan, may seem to be an exception. He wrote a short book entitled Jerusalem under the High Priests, but, as the subtitle says, it consists of Five Lectures on the Period between Nehemiah and the New Testament. These lectures he considered introductory in nature and directed to a wider audience, and in them he has little to say about the high priests. the title of his book defines a historical period, not the content. Some standard handbooks offer information about many of the high priests; an example is Emil Schürer’s invaluable The History of the Jewish People in the Age of Jesus Christ. the chronological limits of Schürer’s coverage were, however, from 175 bce to 135 CE; as a result, he did not deal with the high priests from the first three and one-half centuries of the Second-Temple era. Similarly, Joachim Jeremias’s Jerusalem in the Time of Jesus includes much helpful infor-

1. Edwyn Robert Sevan, Jerusalem under the High Priests: Five Lectures on the Period between Nehemiah and the New Testament (London: Arnold, 1904; reprinted 1952).

2. Ibid., iv.

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