The high priest of Judaism is an exotic and mysterious figure. Introduced into the wilderness of the book of Exodus with his elaborate ceremonial dress and exalted degree of sanctity, he has an aura of other-worldliness about him which is epitomized by his role on that highest of holy days, Yom Kippur. Yet despite his apparent significance for the spiritual welfare of his community, the high priest has a surprisingly low profile during the period covered by the canonical literature. According to the present biblical narrative he disappears from view after the period of the settlement, resurfacing for certain only in the post-exilic period and bringing with him the question of where (or whether) he was during the monarchy. Neither is his position during the post-exilic period much clearer; although the high priesthood definitely existed, the status of the high priest is surprisingly ambivalent, a fact which is often disguised by the security of accepted wisdom on the subject. From the time of Wellhausen it has been assumed that once the line of Davidic descendants fell into obscurity or otherwise failed, the high priest moved into the position of being the highest-ranking native authority figure in the Judaean community, thereby emerging from his spiritual enclave into the arena of government and politics. The following selection of quotations serves to illustrate the continuing prevalence of this assumption.
The hierocracy towards which Ezekiel had already opened the way was simply inevitable. It took the form of a monarchy of the high priest, he having stepped into the place formerly occupied by the theocratic king. 1
Who was the chief of the Jewish state? In the early days of the Return we find a civil and a religious chief ruling side by side, Zerubbabel, a descendant of the old royal family, and Joshua the high-priest. . . . But this double headship did not go on. The house of David disappears