03.04.18 Zadokite Priesthood Ends; Temple Priesthood Sold; The Essenes

Bill Heinrich  -  Jan 15, 2016  -  Comments Off on 03.04.18 Zadokite Priesthood Ends; Temple Priesthood Sold; The Essenes

03.04.18 171 B.C. Zadokite Priesthood Ends; Temple Priesthood Sold; The Essenes.

Until this time, the office of high priest was an inherited position, handed down from father to son. From the time of Solomon the Jewish priesthood was always selected from one family, that of Zadok. However, the once-held belief that the name was derived from Zadok, a high priest in Solomon’s court has some serious etymological difficulties.[1] The Zadokite High Priest Onias III had a brother who was the leader of the Hellenist party. His Jewish name was Joshua, but he preferred to be called by his Greek name, Jason. As was so often the case in human history, one brother caused the death of another for the sake of power and wealth. A tragedy such as this occurred here as well.

At one time, Jason offered Antiochus IV a huge sum of money to be positioned as high priest. The king accepted the bribe, sent Onias on a state trip to Antioch to answer trumped-up charges of treachery.  In route, he was assassinated and Jason became the new high priest. This level of religious corruption existed almost continuously until the temple was destroyed in A.D. 70.[2] As evil as this act was, later, during the days of Jesus, the religious and political corruption was much worse.[3] As a result, many survivors of the Zadok family isolated themselves and became known as the Essenes who are credited today with having written the Dead Sea Scrolls. The former high priest realized that his future in the Holy Land was rather bleak, so he relocated to Egypt.  There Ptolemy Philometor gave him permission to build a temple at Leontopolis, about 200 miles south of Alexandria.[4]  It is the only temple other than the one in Jerusalem where sacrifices were offered to God.

In the days of Jesus, the Jewish temple in Leontopolis, in southern Egypt,[5] added to the social and religious tensions in Judaea. Even though Egyptian Jews felt an allegiance to Jerusalem, the leaders in the Holy City were quite displeased with a competing temple.[6] The rabbis in Jerusalem were already disturbed by the translation of the Bible into Greek, a feat that was accomplished in Egypt in the previous century. The result was Jewish anti-Semitism – antagonism and bitterness between these two Jewish groups.

In the meantime, Antiochus was not unique in his decision to sell the office of high priest.  It was common in ancient times that a king would develop an extremely loyal supporter who controlled the temple and the religious affairs of the people.  In a similar manner, years later the Herodian family placed, or “sold” the same office to Annas, and later to Caiaphas. This enhanced the controlling powers and improved the wealth of the monarch.

Another example of a priesthood being sold was uncovered by archaeologists in Egypt. In this papyrus document, Pekebkis, the son of Marsisouchus, made a generous offer to purchase the position of prophet (high priest).  This document, dated A.D. 146, reads in part as follows:

To Tiberius Claudius Justus, administrator of the private account,[7] from Pakebkis, son of Marsisouchus, exempted priest[8] of the famous temple of Soknebtunis also called Cronus…. I wish to purchase the office of prophet[9]  in the aforesaid temple, which has been for sale for a long time, on the understanding that I shall … carry the palm-branches and perform the other functions of the office of prophet and receive in accordance with the orders a fifth part[10]  of all the revenue which falls to the temple, at a total price of 2,200 drachmae instead of the 640 drachmae offered long ago by Marsisouchus, son of Pakebkis, which sum I will pay, if my appointment is ratified, into the local public bank at the customary dates; and I and my descendants and successors shall have the permanent ownership and possession of this office forever with all the same privileges and rights, on payment [by each one] of 200 drachmae for admission.  If, therefore, it seems good to you, my Lord, you will ratify my appointment here in the city upon these terms and to write to the strategies about this matter, in order that the due services to the gods who you love may be performed…. Farewell, the 10th year of the Emperor Caesarea.

Titus Aelius Hadrianus Antonius Augustus Pius, Tubi 10.[11]


[1]. Guignebert, The Jewish World in the Time of Jesus. 162; Edersheim, The Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah. 123-24.


[2]. Bruce, New Testament History. 56-58.


[3]. Grabbe, Judaism from Cyrus to Harian. 249; Blaikie, A Manual of Bible History. 393; Golub, In the Days. 82-86.

[4]. Golub, In the Days. 229-32, 238-39.


[5]. See my comments on this temple in “Babylonian Captivity” in 03.02.15.


[6]. See “Babylonin Captivity” in 03.02.15.


[7]. All real estate in Egypt was considered to be the private property of the monarchs (with certain religious leaders exempted), and therefore, any income derived from these lands belonged to the royal treasury.

[8]. The holder of a religious office did not have to pay taxes to the Egyptian government, which was a puppet agent of the Romans.

[9]. “The prophet” was most likely the high priest who was also responsible for all financial matters of the temple, as he would be if he owned any other business.

[10]. “Fifth part” would be funds donated to the pagan temple as well as funds derived from the crops raised on sacred lands and controlled by the temple.

[11]. Barrett, The New Testament Background. 32-33.

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