A Kingdom of Priests: Ancestry and Merit in Ancient Judaism by Martha Himmelfarb

By Martha Himmelfarb

According to the account within the booklet of Exodus, God addresses the kids of Israel as they stand prior to Mt. Sinai with the phrases, "You will be to me a nation of monks and a holy state" (19:6). The sentence, Martha Himmelfarb observes, is paradoxical, for clergymen are via definition a minority, but the which means in context is apparent: the full humans is holy. The phrases additionally aspect to a couple major tensions within the biblical figuring out of the folks of Israel. If the full humans is holy, why does it want monks? If club in either humans and priesthood is an issue no longer of benefit yet of delivery, how can both the folks or its monks wish to be holy? How can one reconcile the gap among the honour due the priest and the particular habit of a few who stuffed the function? What can the folk do to make itself actually a state of priests?

Himmelfarb argues that those questions develop into relevant in moment Temple Judaism. She considers various texts from this era, together with the Book of Watchers, the Book of Jubilees, felony files from the lifeless Sea Scrolls, the writings of Philo of Alexandria, and the ebook of Revelation of the recent testomony, and is going directly to discover rabbinic Judaism's emphasis on descent because the fundamental criterion for inclusion one of the selected humans of Israel—a place, she contends, that took on new strength in response to early Christian disparagement of the concept mere descent from Abraham was once adequate for salvation.

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Extra resources for A Kingdom of Priests: Ancestry and Merit in Ancient Judaism (Jewish Culture and Contexts)

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This c o n t e x t makes b e n Sira's use o f the phrase for Aaron's descendants all the m o r e pointed. 84 85 86 87 88 After Aaron, b e n Sira turns to Phinehas and his zealous violence against idolatry at Baal Peor ( N u m 25:12-13). Ben Sira's focus is the covenant Phinehas receives as a reward for his zeal rather than the nature o f the d e e d h e performs (Sir 45:23-24). H e notes the eternity o f this covenant t o o and compares it to the covenant with David (Sir 45:24-25). T h e details o f the c o m p a r i s o n , which differ significantly in Greek a n d Hebrew, are n o t clear, but there can b e n o d o u b t a b o u t the point, the superiority o f the priestly c o v e n a n t to the Davidic c o v e n a n t .

Presumably the metaphors betray an anxiety about the claims for himself that h e did n o t feel for Moses. Yet despite the anxiety it is clear that b e n Sira understands himself and his fellow learned teachers as following in the footsteps o f Moses, just at the rabbis w o u l d later. It is worth n o t i n g that b e n Sira also assigns A a r o n a teaching role in language similar to that h e applies to Moses: "In his c o m m a n d m e n t s h e gave h i m authority in statutes and j u d g m e n t s , to teach J a c o b the testi­ m o n i e s , and to enlighten Israel with his law" (Sir 4 5 : 1 7 ) .

But perhaps the most important reason to reject the view that the Book of the Watchers c o n d e m n s violations o f the purity laws that c o u l d lead to defilement o f the temple is that the Watchers w h o are the objects o f the c o n d e m n a t i o n s have in fact a b a n d o n e d the heavenly temple. T h e y are d o i n g just what priests ( o r anyone else) in a state o f impurity should d o : staying away from the temple. I n d e e d , a c c o r d i n g to the Torah, there is nothing w r o n g with b e c o m i n g i m p u r e through sexual relations.

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