Called of God as was Aaron – Steve St.Clair

Israelite and Christian High Priests in the Epistle to the Hebrews

Steve St.Clair

The author of the Epistle to the Hebrews[1] interprets Christ’s sacrifice as a priestly act; and a pri­mary task undertaken by the book is to resolve the issue of what authority he had used when he functioned as a priest. Being of the tribe of Judah rather than Levi, Jesus could not have been a priest after the order of Aaron. To settle the dilemma, his authority is related to that of the ancient priest-king Melchizedek, “priest of God Most High” (Gen. 14:18), who unquestionably had autho­rization to offer sacrifices to God and the ritual bread and wine to Abraham. Melchizedek’s prece­dence to Aaron in time is taken to imply that his authority must also have preceded and been greater than that of Aaron.

But most of the material on the subject of the priesthood in Hebrews also connects Christ’s priesthood with the functions of the high priest under the Law of Moses. Indeed, the bulk of the book is based on concepts found in two Old Testament rituals: (1) The consecration of the high priest as described in Exodus and Leviticus;[2] and (2) the ritual of the Day of Atonement in Leviti­cus.[3] Jewish commentators assumed that Aaron’s consecration took place immediately prior to the first Day of Atonement rite, and thus the two actually formed a single, comprehensive ceremony.[4] Hebrews often draws contrasts between the Israelite high priest and Christ, to show Christ’s superi­ority (Heb. 5:3; 7:11, 27); but this merely underscores the one as the prefiguration of the other, and characterizes the difference as one of degree and not of kind.

This study throws additional light on connections between the High Priest of the Hebrew scrip­tures and the Christ of the Epistle to the Hebrews, by looking at ideas found in the scriptures and in early Jewish and Christian traditional, liturgical, and mystical sources.[5] More importantly, it makes a break from standard interpretation of the purpose of Hebrews. It rejects the idea that the “high priest” passages mean that since his atonement Christ was the only high priest, and leaves room for the view that others after him could be holders of that office.

Evidence will be presented defending the idea that the author of Hebrews considered himself a high priest, and wrote to a group of fellow believers whom he saw as holders of that same office. The key to understanding the message of Hebrews is in recognizing that the author is encouraging his readers to emulate the Israelite high priest, and Christ the high priest, on a spiritual journey that only a high priest could make. They are invited to be consecrated as only a high priest was, and charged with priesthood duties that were restricted to high priests. They are invited to undergo spiri­tual equivalents of the Day of Atonement ritual, including submitting to the necessary ritual prepara­tions, approaching and passing through the veil, and entering into the Holy of Holies, the symbolic presence of God.[6]

What follows are some key concepts from Old Testament descriptions of the functions of high priests; explanations of the meaning and purpose of the rituals from early sources; the interpretive ideas of the author of Hebrews on their completion and fulfillment by Christ; and an examination of his instructions and exhortation to the recipients of his letter to spiritually carry on the functions of high priests.

Purification as Part of the High Priestly Preparation
All the priests in ancient Israel, in order to perform their ritual functions, were required to main­tain a condition of purity from the defiling things and people around them. This condition of purity was referred to by such terms as “undefiled,” “clean,” and “pure,” and it was symbolically achieved by washing in water. It was the first step in the consecration of both the priests and the high priests: “You shall bring Aaron and his sons to the door of the tent of meeting, and wash them with water” (Exod. 29:4).[7]

The purpose for seeking this condition of purity was specifically related to the temple: “No man even if he were clean could enter the temple court without having immersed himself.”[8] A passage from the Psalms expresses the great desire of the priests to be pure enough to perform their duties there: “Who shall ascend the hill of the Lord? And who shall stand in his holy place? He who has clean hands and a pure heart” (Ps. 24:3-4). The passage also expresses the hoped-for final result: “Such is the generation of those who seek him, who seek the face of the God of Jacob” (Ps. 24:6).[9] Based on this, Jewish tradition concluded that “In truth, it befits only him who is entirely clean of any stirring of sin or transgression to see God.”[10] Christ taught that “blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God” (Matt.5:8), and the Pearl of Great Price confirms this concept, reminding that “no unclean thing can dwell in the presence of God” (PGP Moses 6:57).

In the high priest’s case, the undefiled condition was required especially in order to be fit to per­form the ritual of the Day of Atonement, since on that day he would symbolically pass through the veil and enter God’s presence. Indeed, washings on that day were forbidden to anyone other than the high priest.[11] In his case, how­ever, the extreme opposite was true. During the seven days of preparation “they sprinkled upon him water mixed with the ashes of red heifers in order to purify him.”[12] Then, on the day of the ritual, he underwent five immersions and ten “sanctifications” (washings of hands and feet) as he changed back and forth between his priestly and high-priestly garments.[13] The immersions had to be “in water which covers his whole body,”[14] and the water had to be living (running) water; i.e., it “must not be drawn through a vessel, but must come directly from spring, river, sea or rain.”[15]

Christ the high priest is recognized in Hebrews to have been in such a prepared state of purity: “For such an high priest became us, who is … undefiled” (Heb. 7:26 KJV).[16] The audience to whom the epistle is addresssed are admonished to undergo the spiritual equivalents of these same ritual preparations, along with the author: “Let us draw near … with our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience, and our bodies washed with pure water” (Heb. 10:22); i.e., let us be prepared to serve as high priests by means of the rituals that ensure purity.

Anointing and the Condition of Perfection
Part of the consecration ceremony called for the pouring on Aaron’s head of the anointing oil: “And you shall take the anointing oil, and pour on his head and anoint him” (Exod. 29:7).[17] This rite was for the purpose of symbolically reaching a state of wholeness or “perfection.” This term had specific meaning related to the ancient temple service; it described the physically and morally “unblemished” state in which the high priest needed to be in order of officiate.[18] Since the human being in that office was never completely “perfect”, the anointing of oil at the time of his consecration ceremony was meant to symbolically “heal” his blemishes and make him ritually “perfect” (Lev. 8:12).[19] As such, according to the early Christian writer Cyril of Jerusalem, the high priest acquired a very special title: “For what time Moses imparted to his brother the command of God, and made him high priest, after bathing in water, he anointed him, and Aaron was called ‘Christ’ or ‘anointed.'”[20]

In Hebrews, Christ the high priest has the term applied to him: “And being made perfect, he be­came the source of eternal salvation to all who obey him; being designated by God a high priest after the order of Melchizedek” (Heb. 5:9-10). This seems to indicate that the title “Christ,” which means “the anointed one,” applied most specifically to Jesus in his function as high priest.[21]

On this subject, again, the brethren to whom the Epistle to the Hebrews is addressed are chal­lenged to attain and maintain this high-priestly condition, and the author again includes himself in the group. His recommendation is to “let us go on unto perfection” (Heb. 6:1), a passage whose mean­ing is that they should be symbolically anointed themselves, in emulation of Christ in his calling as high priest. In another passage, he calls upon his addressees to let their hands, knees, and feet be made perfect, unblemished, and fit to perform high priestly functions: “Therefore lift your drooping hands and strengthen your weak knees, and make straight paths for your so feet, so that what is lame may not be put out of joint but rather be healed” (Heb. 12:12-13). The high priest’s hands, knees, and feet were used to perform specific functions in his official duties, and thus they had to be in the perfect state.[22] The author’s parting words are an expression of his hope for the holy brethren that “the God of peace … make you perfect” (Heb. 13:21).

Holy Garments and the Condition of Holiness
An important step in the consecration of the Israelite high priest was to clothe him in the appro­priate clothing:

And he (Moses) put on him (Aaron) the coat, and girded him with the girdle, and clothed him with the robe, and put the ephod upon him, and girded him with the skilfully woven band of the ephod, binding it to him therewith. And he placed the breastpiece on him, and in the breastpiece he put the Urim and the Thummim. And he set the turban upon his head, and on the turban, in front, he set the golden plate, the holy crown (Lev. 8:7-9).

The garments being holy, it was natural that they should promote a condition of holiness in the high priest: “And thou shalt make holy garments for Aaron thy brother … to sanctify him” (Exod. 28:2-3).[23] This “sanctification,” from the Hebrew word kodesh, “to make holy,” had specific con­notations in ancient Israelite religion. It was related directly to the temple of God and the service that went on there under the hands of the priests and especially the high priest, who had an extra measure of holiness.[24] The Jewish liturgy describes the Lord’s choice of Aaron for this holiness in these terms: “You desired Levi, Your pious one … from his tribe, You chose one [Aaron] to be Your holiest,” where the Hebrew expression for “holiest” is “holy of holy of holies.”[25] An early Christian attempt to define the condition takes it to be “freedom from all defilement … it is a purity that is total and is utterly untainted.”[26] An apt description of people in this condition also gives the purpose for which it was sought; they are “those who had kept themselves levitically undefiled so that they dared to enter areas where the Lord’s presence was expected to dwell.”[27]

The Book of Hebrews assures us that Christ is appropriately dressed and prepared to serve as high priest: “such an high priest … is holy” (Heb. 7:26). This provides the context for understand­ing the designation of the high priests to whom the epistle is addressed; they are called the “holy brethren” (Heb. 3:1). The author identifies himself as a fellow high priest with Aaron, Christ, and his audience when he says that God “disciplines us for our good, that we may share his holiness” (Heb. 12:10). At the end, the recipients are challenged to maintain this high-priestly condition: “Strive for … the holiness without which no one will see the Lord” (Heb. 12:14); i.e., keep your­self spiritually attired so that you are ready to participate in holy things.

The Heavenly Calling and the Name
Jewish interpretation sees much significance in the three scriptural occasions on which the Lord spoke directly to Aaron rather than speaking to him through his brother, the Prophet Moses.[28] On the death of his two older sons, Aaron did not complain when they were stricken, and “God re­warded him for his silence by addressing him directly.”[29] Again on another occasion “the Lord came down in a pillar of cloud, and stood at the door of the Tent, and called Aaron” (Num. 12:5).[30]

By far the most notable of these events, as described in midrashic writings, was at the time of his consecration as high priest. According to this tradition, Aaron at his setting apart was anxious about whether he had been properly anointed. The matter was resolved, and his assignment as high priest confirmed, when “a heavenly voice came forth and said to him … as Moses is not guilty of trespass, so are you not guilty of trespass.”[31] Thus the heavenly calling, along with or in place of his choice by a human being, became a sign of his designation as high priest.[32]

Since “voice” and “calling” were based on the same word in ancient Hebrew,[33] these traditions give interesting insights into the meaning of the passage in Hebrews that says “no man taketh this honor unto himself, but he that was called of God as was Aaron” (Heb. 5:4). Evidently this meant more than that a high priest must by chosen by someone with true authority. Early Jewish and Christian writers assumed that a direct call by the voice of God was an important part of being cho­sen for the office of high priest.[34]

Latter-day Saint scriptures have much to say on this subject. Joseph Smith’s expansion of the story of the ancient Melchizedek recounts that the high priesthood “was delivered unto men by the calling of his own voice, according to his own will” (Gen. 14:29 JST). The Doctrine and Covenants describes the high priesthood in similar terms: “Hearken unto me, saith the Lord your God, who are ordained unto the high priesthood … listen to the counsel of him who has ordained you from on high, who shall speak in your ears the words of wisdom” (D&C 78:1-2). The great priesthood covenant in section 84, addressed to high priests in the words “you are mine apostles, even God’s high priests” (D&C 84:63), was also delivered by the voice of God: “This priesthood … which I now confirm upon you … by mine own voice out of the heavens” (D&C 84:42); “I say unto you, who now hear my words, which are my voice, blessed are ye” (D&C 84:60). Frederick G. Williams received word of his assignment as a high priest in these words: “Listen to the voice of him who speaketh, to the word of the Lord your God, and hearken to the calling wherewith you are called, even to be a high priest in my church” (D&C 81:1). Based on the biblical phrase “God said to Noah” (Gen. 6:13), Joseph Smith commented in these words: “Thus we behold the keys of this priesthood consisted in obtaining the voice of Jehovah that he talked with him in a familiar and friendly manner.”[35] Without discounting the possibility that high priests may be meant to actually hear the voice of the Lord, we may be just as correct in picturing this “calling” by the voice of God as having taken place in the pre-existence. There, according to Alma, is where high priests were fore-ordained, “being called and prepared from the foundation of the world … and thus they have been called to this holy calling” (Alma 13:3-4).[36]

The Testament of Levi indicates that the heavenly voice proclaiming “this is my beloved son” (Matt. 3:17) at the time of Jesus’s baptism was related to his priesthood: “And then the Lord will raise up a new priest … the heavens will be opened, and from the temple of glory sanctification will come upon him, with a fatherly voice.”[37] Mormon apologists may also notice that this meaning of the heavenly voice may throw light on an often-discussed dilemma in LDS theology: how the 14-year-old Joseph Smith was able to see the Father without being a holder of the Melchizidek Priest­hood, as Doctrine & Covenants 84:22 seems to require.[38] His hearing of the voice of God repeating the familiar phrase “this is my beloved son” may have signified his timely, and perhaps temporary, “calling” as a high priest.

Those to whom the Epistle to the Hebrews was written are thus designated high priests them­selves when they are addressed as “holy brethren, partakers of the heavenly calling” (Heb. 3:1 KJV). A warning to them near the close of the epistle also hints that they had been blessed to hear the heavenly voice: “See that ye refuse not him that speaketh. For if they escaped not who refused him that spake on earth (referring to the children of Israel, who heard the voice of God on Mount Si­nai and refused to listen), much more shall not we escape, if we turn away from him that speaketh from heaven” (Heb. 12:25 KJV).

When a call is made, usually what is called is a name, since the Hebrew verb for “to call” also means “to give a name to.”[39] Thus ever since the first beings were created, and “God … called their names Adam and Eve,”[40] calling and names have gone together. To Abraham the Lord said “As many as receive the gospel shall be called after thy name” (PGP Abr. 2:10), and great promises are made in the Doctrine and Covenants to “every soul that … calleth upon my name” (D&C 93:1). Abraham was also assured that receiving a name was part of the priesthood: “I will lead thee by my hand … to put upon thee my name, even the priesthood of thy father” (PGP Abr. 1:18). Calling or naming signifies that the giver of the name has a claim of dominion, and the receiver of the name has a duty of obedience.[41]

According to Jewish mystical tradition, on one occasion a high priest in the temple heard a voice calling him “So-and-so, My son.” Whether the name given was a new name, as in such cultic set­tings as the changing of Abram’s name to Abraham (Gen. 17:5) or Jacob’s to Israel (Gen. 32:28), or merely a repetition of his actual name, is indifferent: When the Lord called a name, the dominion/ obedience relationship was established. The designation “my son” carries the same naming implica­tions, and is repeated in the pattern of calling priesthood holders in the modern church the “sons of Moses” or the “sons of Aaron” (D&C 84:34).

In Hebrews, Christ the high priest is said to have received a name more excellent than that of the angels (Heb. 1:4). God was the giver of the name, and he did it with the words: “Thou art my son, today I have begotten thee,” adding that “I will be to him a father, and he shall be to me a son” (Heb. 1:4-5). The recipients of the letter, too, are to receive a name: “I will proclaim thy (i.e., God’s) name to my brethren” (Heb. 2:12). The fact that Christ and his high-priestly followers had received these names explains why they could appropriately be exhorted to, and commended for, their obedience to the one who made the heavenly call.[42]

Consecration or Ordination and the Filled Hands
When the Children of Israel were being punished for their worship of the golden calf, the Levites showed great zeal for the Lord. Afterward, Moses told them “today you have filled your hands (RSV: ordained yourselves) for the service of the Lord” (Exod. 32:29). “To fill one’s hand” is the usual term for consecration for the priesthood.[43] Several ideas related to the high priest’s service may throw light on the meaning of this term.

At the high priest’s consecration, the ram of consecration (Heb. Milu’im, “to fill, fill the hand”) was offered, and its use involved the hands: “Then he (Moses) presented … the ram of consecra­tion,[44] and Aaron and his sons laid their hands on the head of the ram” (Lev.8:22). The great me­dieval commentator Rashi explains that this consecration offering had the same consequence as the ram of peace-offering (Heb. shelamim), because “consecration has the same force as peace-offering; that is, they fulfil and perfect the priests in their priesthood.”[45]

The high priest’s hands were crucial to his service. According to Philo, he was not to appear be­fore the Lord with empty hands:

What is the meaning of the words “Thou shalt not appear with empty hands before me?[46] The literal meaning is this, namely that those who approach the shrines of God should come near with full hands, bearing the first-fruits of every living thing in which there is no blemish … It is impossible for anyone who comes into the sight of God to be empty but rather must he be full of every good. For just as one who comes near the light is straightway illumined, so also is filled the entire soul of him to whom God has appeared.[47]

The hands were also used to wave the wave-offering, which was made up of parts of the ram of consecration: “Moses put the whole upon the hands of Aaron, and upon the hands of his sons, and waved them for a wave-offering before the Lord” (Lev. 8:27). This is relevant because the normal word for “hand”[48] is not used here, but rather the word meaning “something arched or hollow, the palm, the hand in cupping shape.”[49] The same word is used in the description of the cereal offering: “he … filled his hand from it, and burned it upon the altar” (Lev. 9:17).

This same word is also used in the Talmud to designate the small ladle which the high priest car­ried in his left hand as he performed the ceremony of the incense in the Holy of Holies.[50] This in­cense ceremony required the high priest’s complete concentration, because of its complexity:

He bends three of his fingers up to his wrist and takes a fistful. In the case of the meal-offering baked in a griddle and the meal-offering of the stewing -pan, he makes it even with his thumb from above and with his small finger from below. And this was the most difficult service in the sanctu­ary.[51]

No doubt related to this use of the hands is the passage in the Testament of Levi which depicts the consecration ceremony: “The seventh (heavenly visitor) placed the priestly diadem on me and filled my hands with incense, in order that I might serve as priest for the Lord God.”[52]

At another point in the Day of Atonement ceremony, the raising of the right or the left hand was an important sign to those who were watching. The high priest would draw from the casket the two golden lots marked “for the Lord” and “for Azazel,” to designate which goat would be offered and which would be sent into the wilderness. If he took up the lot inscribed “for the Lord” in his right hand, it was an excellent omen. In either case, the prefect would order him to raise whichever hand had picked that lot, intoning “raise your right hand” or “raise your left hand” so the people would know the service was properly performed.[53] Raising the right hand or the left hand also had recog­nized oath-taking connotations; based on the passage “I heard the man clothed in linen … he held up his right hand and his left hand unto heaven, and sware by him that liveth for ever” (Dan. 12:7),[54] the Babylonian Talmud comments that if a man says, “By my right hand” or “by my left hand,” it is accounted an oath.[55]

At the end of his consecration, the high priest raised both hands into the air for another purpose: “Then Aaron lifted up his hands toward the people and blessed them” (Lev. 9:22). This was a fitting finish to the ordination during which the hands had become a symbol of the authority and duties of the office.

This intense use of the hands gives relevence to the passage in Hebrews that admonishes the brethren to “lift up your drooping hands and strengthen your weak knees” (Heb. 12:12).[56] Since a high priest’s hands would have been exhausted at the completion of his ceremonies, the author may have seen the passage from Isaiah as the ideal words of encouragement to his audience of high priests to persevere in their duties.

Seclusion in Preparation for the Day of Atonement Ritual
So crucial were the atoning effects of the Day of Atonement to the ancient Israelites, and so im­portant to its success was the ritual purity of the high priest, that extraordinary measures were taken to seclude him from any defiling contacts for the full week before the holy day. He was separated from his wife, his family, and contact with anyone except other priests, and was kept in a room within the temple precincts. A good description of this period of seclusion is found in the Jewish li­turgy for the high holy days. It reads:

The Sanhedrin, a week before the tenth day of Tishrei, secluded the high priest as was done in the seven days after the completion of the Mishkan (i.e., the seven days of consecration). They sprinkled upon him water mixed with the ashes of red heifers in order to purify him. Each of the seven days he sprinkled the blood of the daily sacrifices, burned the incense upon the golden altar in the Sanctuary, and cleaned away the ashes to acquaint himself with the daily service … Each day he was visited by wise men, the elders of the Sanhedrin, who said to him, “Please study the order of the Daily Ser­vice.” The elders of his tribe taught him how to perform chafina (the ritual of the handful of in­cense).[57]

This picture of a high priest who required intense coaching before performing the ritual reflects an interesting time in Jewish history. The Sanhedrin was made up predominantly of Pharisees, while the high priestly families were Sadducees, and thus performed the ritual differently. In addi­tion, the high priests at the time held their office by purchase or by political influence, and were anything but religious men.[58] Thus the Mishna describes the words of the coaches: “Perhaps you have forgotten the service, or perhaps you never learned it.”[59] The ritual of taking a handful of in­cense and bringing it into the Holy of Holies was singled out for special instruction because it was unfamiliar, being a special service done only on the Day of Atonement.

The high priest under preparation was kept under such close watch that “”it was arranged that a mezuzah be affixed at the cell lest the people say the high priest is being kept in prison.”[60] Evi­dently, their extreme care paid off; tradition had it that one of the ten miracles of the temple was that “no pollution ever befell the high priest on the Day of Atonement.”[61]

It is now possible to begin to appreciate the meaning of a term in the Epistle to the Hebrews. Christ the high priest is designated by terms that define this ritual seclusion and separation: “For such an high priest became us, who is … separate from sinners” (Heb. 7:26). It may also give us reason to conjecture about the timing of Christ’s performance of his act of entering into the true tabernacle in heaven. His instructions to Mary, “Do not hold me (KJV: touch me not), for I have not yet ascended to the father” (John 20:17)) express exactly the feelings a high priest would have felt during the time he was avoiding the touch of any potentially defiling object. Like it or not, a woman was a potentially defiling object, and completely off-limits to the secluded high priest. Later the same day Christ appeared to the eleven disciples and invited them to “handle me and see” (Luke 24:39). Had he, during the intervening hours, performed his high-priestly intercession, and thus ended the need for seclusion?[62]

Ministering and the Offering of Sacrifices
One of the consequences of the consecration of the high priest was that he could now “serve me as priest” (Exod. 28:3), which might be better translated “minister unto me in the priest’s office.”[63] Commentary by Rashi notes that “the term kehunah (related to Heb. Kohen, ‘priest’) means “ministering.”[64] Performing the work of the ministry was a technical term in ancient Israel for doing what the priests, and only the priests, could do. The Epistle to the Hebrews admits that normally “every priest standeth daily ministering and offering oftentimes the same sacrifices” (Heb. 10:11 KJV). But on the Day of Atonement, ministering by other priests ceased, and the duty to minister fell upon the high priest alone. Rashi again clarifies by explaining that “the priest … who cometh into the tent of meeting to minister in the holy place” actually means “that priest who is prepared to enter into the innermost part of the holy place on the Day of Atonement; and that is the high priest.”[65]

The offering of sacrifices was the most prominent form of ministering, and was normally a duty of all the priests (Lev. 1:5-9). But on the Day of Atonement the emphasis was on the special sacri­fices that only the high priest offered on that day. Hebrews says that “only the high priest goes, and he but once a year … taking blood which he offers for himself, and for the errors of the people” (Heb. 9:7)[66]

In the book of Hebrews, Christ is described as performing this unique high-priestly function of ministering: “We have such an high priest … a minister of the sanctuary” (Heb. 8:1-2). His min­istry is described as consisting specifically of offering sacrifice, in the unique way that only he could: “This man, after he had offered one sacrifice for sins for ever, sat down on the right hand of God” (Heb. 10:12).

Again the author designates the recipients of the epistle as high priests, by complimenting them for symbolically performing the duty of ministering: “For God is not unrighteous to forget your work and labour of love, which ye have showed toward his name, in that ye have ministered to the saints, and do minister” (Heb. 6:10 KJV). He also encourages them, and himself, to perform their equivalent of the function of sacrifice: “By him therefore let us offer the sacrifice of praise to God continually” (Heb. 13:15).

Approaching God in the Holy of Holies
The culmination of the Israelite high priest’s ritual activities on the Day of Atonement was to pass through the veil and enter into the Holy of Holies, the one area of the temple where only the high priest was permitted, and only on this day. The Lord was visualized as dwelling in the Holy of Holies, so entering there represented going into his presence.[67] Philo explained why so much preparation was required to enter his presence: “He graciously grants His appearance if only there be a suitable place, purified with holiness and every kind of purity.”[68]

The approach to the veil was considered to be a progressive journey,[69] and some traditions even suggest that different people were qualified to travel different distances along the path. A mystical setting in the Zohar shows that the high priest could actually enter the holiest place, but that other righteous people could approach the veil and have special spiritual experiences, including being called by name, passing through doors, showing tokens, learning myteries, and promising to keep secrets:

All stand without and no one enters save Aaron alone, but occasionally one or another of them is called by name … Ye truly virtuous, enter and see, for permission is given you to enter as far as the place where the curtain is hung, happy is your lot! … They saw a door and went in through it, and they then saw a temple, in which they went and sat down. Two young men were there … The two youths said to them: Have you a token? They said ‘yes’, and brought out the two roses. They smelt them, and said: ‘Sit here till you shall hear two profound mysteries from the head of the academy, which you must always keep secret.’ They promised to do so.[70]

The closeness of the approach to the veil seems to have depended upon the level of priesthood held by the participant. Rashi reads into the scriptural passage “Thou (i.e., Moses) shalt come up, thou and Aaron with thee, and the priests” (Exod. 19:24 MT)[71] the meaning that “you, Moses, have a designated place for yourself, and Aaron has a designated place for himself, and they (the priests) have a designated place for themselves; Moses came nearer than Aaron, and Aaron nearer than the priests.”[72]

Some traditions picture individuals making an analogous heavenly journey, and having experi­ences similar to the aproach to the veil. Enoch’s progressive trip to the presence of God reached its culmination when

The Lord called me with his own mouth and said to me, “Come near to me, Enoch, and to my holy Word.” And he lifted me up and brought me near to the gate … “Do not fear, Enoch, righteous man, scribe of righteousness; come near to me and hear my voice.”[73]

The Falashas of Ethiopia pictured the corresponding heavenly experience as being available to others who were in a ritual condition appropriate to the high priest:

The priests of heaven bring incense before His holy throne at all times, without pause, and God says: “Enter with them openly into the heavenly kingdom, you, men just and pure in body (who keep) from committing sins.”[74]

The community at Qumran appears to have pictured angels as ministers within the heavenly veil: “For he has established supreme holiness among the everlastingly holy, ministers of the Presence in his glorious innermost temple chamber.”[75] They sometimes seem to have dispaired of human beings making the trip: “For what shall our priesthood be counted in their dwellings?”[76] Yet it must be re­membered that their Teacher of Righteousness was probably a high priest himself,[77] and that his de­scriptions of personal spiritual experiences sound like claims of an ascent to the presence of the Lord and the angels.[78]

The Epistle to the Hebrews recognized the part that the Israelite high priest played in this rite: “After the second veil, the tabernacle which is called the holiest of all … into the second went the high priest alone, once every year” (Heb. 9:3,7). It also pictures Christ emulating the Israelite high priest, in an real rather than a symbolic way, by actually entering into the presence of God in heaven: “For Christ has entered, not into a sanctuary made with hands, a copy of the true one, but into heaven itself, now to appear in the presence of God on our behalf” (Heb. 9:24).

The epistle is particularly rich in instructions given to the “holy brethren” that they themselves should undergo this high-priestly spiritual quest. A fitting invitation is to “let us therefore come boldly unto the throne of grace” (Heb. 4:16). The “throne” is a designation for the ark of the covenant in the Holy of Holies, and “coming unto it” meant passing through the veil. In another passage, Christ is the one “which entereth into that within the veil; whither the forerunner is for us entered, even Jesus, made an high priest for ever after the order of Melchizedek” (Heb. 6:19-20). The appropriate action by the followers of the forerunner is to enter after him.

A particularly moving invitation is worded this way: “Having therefore, brethren, boldness to enter into the holiest (i.e., the Holy of Holies) by the blood of Jesus, by a new and living way, which he hath consecrated for us, let us draw near” (Heb. 10:19-21). “Drawing near” was a term for approaching the ark in the Holy of Holies. A final admonition is to “follow peace with all men, and holiness, without which no man shall see the Lord” (Heb. 12:14). “Seeing the Lord” meant symbolically entering into his presence in the Holy of Holies.

Without Harm
The Israelite high priest was considered to be courting mortal danger by going into the Holy of Holies, since any unworthiness would have resulted in his being stricken by God. If he entered without being commanded, he was liable to be struck by leprosy,[79] a particularly serious conse­quence since it would render him unable to serve in the future. Improper offering of the incense was also particularly dangerous.[80] Entering without the holy garments, or without the bells on the fringes, constituted additional capital offenses.

To be prepared for the eventuality of the high priest’s being harmed, special preparations were made before he entered: “A cord was tied to the feet of the high priest before he entered the Holy of Holies, so that if he died suddenly within they should be able to draw him out.”[81] While he was in­side, the people out in the courtyard were anxiously following omens to know if all was well. The high priest inside might give the people a sign that he was still safe: “He would then shake his gar­ments and the sound of the bells would be heard outside and Israel would know that it was a time of grace.”[82] It was also possible to tell by the change in color of a thread tied to the door of the temple:

They used to know by a certain thread of scarlet if the priest had been successful in his intercessions. If its colour did not change, they knew that the priest within was not free from sin, but if he was to issue in peace, it was known by the thread changing its colour to white, when there was rejoicing above and below. If it did not, however, all were distress, knowing that their prayer had not been ac­cepted.[83]

The officiating high priest also had ways of knowing that everything was going well, and he was still safe. One tradition says that “he would hear a voice, saying: ‘So-and-so, My son, bless Me.’ Then would the High Priest know that it was a time of grace.”[84] Rabbi Judah’s method was to listen for special sounds:

When he went in and closed his eyes so as not to see what he had no right to see, and heard the voice of the Cherubim chanting praises, he knew that all was in joy and that he would come out in peace, and another sign was if his words came forth joyfully, so as to be accepted and blessed.[85]

Other descriptions of his feelings of peace and tranquility report them as manifestations of light and of fragrance:

If the High Priest was worthy that there should be rejoicing on high, then here below, too, there came forth an illumination, expressing exceptance, sweetened from the hills of pure balsam on high. This pervaded the whole of that place. The fragrant odor entered into his two nostrils and his heart was made tranquil again. Then all was silent and no accuser was there found.[86]

So happy was he to complete the ritual without harm and in good health that he would throw a party and celebrate. The Talmud says “he would arrange for a day of festivity for his friends when­ever he had come forth from the sanctuary in peace.”[87] One early work records his words: “Go drink with a good heart, for God has forgiven iniquity and pardoned transgression! … they accom­pany him to his house, rejoicing that he has come forth from the sanctuary without mishap.”[88] Other sources render the unscathed condition as “when he came out in peace and without harm;”[89] “after he had entered the most holy place safely and left it safely;” or “upon coming out from the most holy place in perfect health.”[90] The descriptions always involve peace or safety (Heb. Beshalom), and an unharmed condition (Heb. Beli Pega’) .[91]

The author of Hebrews exults in the knowledge that Christ the high priest completed his inter­cession without incident: “Such a high priest becomes us, who is … harmless” (Heb. 7:26 KJV). The concept may also explain why Jesus, after giving his disciples the wine at the last supper, told them to look forward to “that day when I drink it new with you in my Father’s kingdom” (Matt. 26:29), and why in several accounts of post-resurrection visits the Gospel writers emphasized that Jesus ate and drank with his disciples.[92] It may be that the high priest had accomplished his task “without harm,” and was eager to celebrate his victory with his friends.

The High Priesthood and Sonship
According to Jewish tradition, the priesthood in the days before the Law of Moses had always been hereditary, and part of the right that went to the firstborn son.[93] Under the Law, the Levites were given the priesthood in place of the firstborn (Num. 3:12), and the ordinary priests were from among all the Levites who were descendants of Aaron; only in the case of the high priest did the priesthood line of authority follow the earlier father-to-firstborn-son pattern.[94] Thus, in relationship to his predecessor and source of authority, the high priest stood in a relationship of “son”. The scriptures and traditional explanations highlighted the importance of this “sonship” in connection with the right to exercise the office of high priest.

The hereditary nature of the high priesthood is clearly pointed out in early Jewish thought. The scriptural description of the consecration ritual of the high priest provides the raw material in these words:

And the holy garments which are for Aaron shall be for his sons after him … seven days shall the priest put them on … who will be in his place, of his son … even he who cometh into the tent of meeting to minister in the holy place.[95]

Rashi says of this verse that “his sons after him” does not mean the priests, all of Aaron’s sons while he is alive, but rather “him who will enter the high priesthood after him … who will arise of his sons in his stead into the high priesthood, when they will appoint him to be the high priest.” The phrase “he who cometh into the tent of meeting to minister in the holy place” refers to “that priest who is prepared to enter into the innermost part of the holy place on the Day of Atonement; and that is the high priest; for the service of the Day of Atonement is ritually proper only through him.”[96]

Rashi adds that this passage tells us something about the handing down of high-priestly author­ity: “If the high priest has a son that can fill his place they shall appoint him high priest after him.”[97] This would have required, of course, that the high priest instruct his son in the intricate ritual actions and esoteric meanings surrounding the Day of Atonement program. A later Jewish mystic assures us that “after he (the high priest) had emerged from the Holy Place he would impart his skills to his son if the latter was worthy to be the high priest, or to another priest worthy of becoming High Priest, so that when he entered the Holy of Holies he would be adept in the knowledge of the illuminations and not stumble, causing Israel to stumble with him.”[98] Thus the secret ritual was passed from father to son.[99]

Aaron’s two older sons, who offered “strange fire” before the Lord, were destroyed and thus lost out on the possibility of eventually succeeding their father as high priests. A reason for their death given in the Zohar is that “they were not sheltered under the wings of the holy Rock, because they had no children, and they were therefore not fitted for the high priesthood.”[100]

In Jewish sources, another kind of sonship was also envisioned for the high priest: if he was worthy and acceptable to the Lord, he was actually considered to by the Lord’s son. Rabbi Ishmael ben Elisha, who was a high priest before the destruction of the temple, described his experience upon entering into the holy of holies: “I once entered into the innermost part [of the Sanctuary] to of­fer incense and saw Akathriel Jah, the Lord of Hosts, seated upon a high and exalted throne. He said to me: Ishmael, My son, bless Me!”[101] A later mystical description illustrates that this was considered to be standard for the high priest:

When he saw the Ark covered by the cloud he would say: “Sovereign of all worlds! Pardon my sins and the sins of my household and the sins of the children of Israel.” After this he would hear a voice, saying: “So-and-so, My son, bless Me.” Then would the High Priest know that it was a time of grace.[102]

The Jewish philosopher Philo of Alexandria expressed in these words the concept that those who come near to God have a special family relationship with Him:

He who is resolved into the nature of unity, is said to come near God in a kind of family relation, for having given up and left behind all mortal kinds, he is changed into the divine, so that such men be­come kin to God and truly divine.[103]

The Epistle to the Hebrews not only portrays Jesus as a “son,” but throws more light on the meaning of his sonship than perhaps any other scripture. “God … in the last days … has spoken to us by a son, whom he appointed the heir of all things” (Heb. 1:1-2). “Thou art my Son, today I have begotten thee” (Heb. 1:5, quoted from Ps. 2:7). “I will be to him a father, and he shall be to me a son” (Heb. 1:5, quoted from 2 Sam. 7:14) “Christ was faithful over God’s house as a son” (Heb. 3:6). “Although he was a Son, he learned obedience through what he suffered” (Heb. 5:8). “The law appoints men in their weakness as high priests, but the word of the oath .. appoints a Son” (Heb. 7:28).[104] These phrases have new meaning seen in the context of the importance of sonship to the high priesthood. Like the Israelite high priest, Christ is a high priest by virtue of his spiritual sonship to heavenly father and his physical sonship to a qualifying physical father; but he is unique in having those two fathers be the same. The true title of the Melchizedek priesthood is most appro­priate: the “holy priesthood, after the order of the Son of God” (D&C 107:3).

But if the Hebrews passages about Christ’s sonship draw contrasts and distinctions between him and the prophets, him and the angels, or him and Moses, they do not draw such contrasts between Christ and the recipients of the letter, whom “he is not ashamed to call brethren” (Heb. 2:11). In­deed, his priestly work “brings many sons to glory” (Heb. 2:10), making each of them as a son po­tentially an exerciser of the high priesthood. The Joseph Smith Translation of Hebrews 7:3 does well to suggest that “those who are ordained unto this priesthood are made like unto the son of God, abiding a priest forever” (Heb.7:3 JST). The passages in Chapter 12 can also best be read as an invi­tation to enjoy the high priesthood that goes with being a son:

Have you forgotten the exhortation which addresses you as sons? … God is treating you as sons … We have had earthly fathers to discipline us and we respected them; shall we not much more be sub­ject to the Father of spirits and live? … he disciplines us for our good, that we may share his holiness (Heb. 12:5-10).

The tradition of passing the secret teachings of the ritual from father to son may explain the pur­pose of the the author of Hebrews. It is not unreasonable to picture him as an old holy man who saw himself as a Christian “high priest,” and who was anxious to pass his esoteric knowledge on to his spiritual “sons,” high priests of the next generation.

Without Father or Mother
Given the ever-present emphasis on the sonship of the high priest, it is an irony and an ongoing puzzle that the author of Hebrews applied to at least two holders of this priesthood, Melchizedek and Christ, the term “without father and mother, without beginning of days or end of years.” A note in the Oxford Annotated Bible (Revised Standard Version) suggests that “nothing more is implied than that Melchizedek’s ancestors, birth, and death are not recorded in scripture.”[105] Seen in the light of the high priest Aaron’s association with the subject, however, additional implications may be seen.

In the first place, the very fact of a hereditary priesthood held by a single person at a time meant that a high priest would be “without father.” It was physically impossible for a living high priest to have a living father, because if the father were still alive, he would still be the high priest.

In addition, there were specific ways in which the high priest forsook his family in order to as­sume his office. He literally gave up family duties for his priesthood duties. For example, while the ordinary priest could defile himself by contact with the dead if it was a close family member,[106] the high priest was expressly forbidden: “the priest who is chief among his brethren … shall not go in to any dead body, nor defile himself, even for his father or for his mother” (Lev. 21:10-11).[107] A similar situation arose when he was separated from his family during the seven days of preparation for the Day of Atonement.[108]

It is also likely that the descent of Aaron from the tribe of Levi was a factor. At the time of the Exodus, when Moses punished the people who had worshipped the golden calf, the Levites earned their later right to the priesthood by their zeal — and their indifference to family ties — in wreaking vengeance on the sinners. “Go to and fro from gate to gate throughout the camp, and slay every man his brother, and every man his companion, and every man his neighbor …and Moses said, Today you have ordained yourselves for the service of the Lord, each one at the cost of his son and of his brother” (Exod. 32:27-29). The blessing of Moses on the tribe of Levi at the end of Deuteronomy praises their zealous action, calling them the tribe “who said of his father and mother, I regard them not; he disowned his brothers, and ignored his children” (Deut. 33:8).[109] Philo repeats the story with favor: “the Levites have left children, parents, brothers, their nearest and dearest, to win an undying portion in place of that which perishes.”[110] Thus a willingness to give up family, including father and mother, was seen as a prerequisite to priesthood service. This is in harmony with the idea expressed in Christ’s instruction to his disciples that “If anyone comes to me and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters … he cannot be my disciple” (Luke 14:26).[111]

The Joseph Smith Translation of Genesis 14 states that it is the priesthood of Melchizedek, rather than the man himself, which is “neither by father nor mother, neither by beginning of days nor by end of years” (Gen.14:28 JST). This reminds us that Theodor H. Gaster reached the same conclu­sion about the other passage in Psalms applied to Melchizedek in Hebrews: “Through a mistaken interpretation of Psalm 110:4, he (Melchizedek) himself, rather than the priesthood which he served, was popularly deemed to be eternal.”[112] In fact, the words of the Psalm that designate the priest­hood after the order of Melchizedek as eternal, “You are a priest forever” (Heb. kohen le’olam), are repeated nearly verbatim in the promise to Aaron’s descendants in relation to the Israelite high priest­hood: “the covenant of an eternal priesthood” (Heb. kehunat ‘olam) (Num. 25:13).

The concept of Christ as high priest is highly dependent upon ideas associated with the Conse­cration and Day of Atonement functions of the Israelite high priest. Indeed, this aspect of Christ’s work and mission are nearly impossible to grasp without an in-depth understanding of the practices that marked the high priest under the Law of Moses. Christ did in truth come “not to abolish them, but to fulfill them” (Matt. 5:17).[113]

The author of Hebrews was not only a perceptive expositor on the meaning of the atonement of Christ, but also an Israelite well-versed in the intricacies of the performance of high-priestly func­tions. His familiarity with the traditions about the priestly practices as well as the written legal records may indicate that he actually was a member of the priestly clan. More interesting than his heredity, though, is what he thought of himself. Here was a Christian living after the time of Christ who, in describing himself, invariably shifts into concepts that would have made him some kind of a spiritual equivalent to or successor of the Israelite high priest. He saw himself as having been “called of God as was Aaron.”

The issue of identifying the audience to whom he wrote is greatly clarified by the fact that he used the same high-priestly terms to describe them and their duties. Many passages in the book make little sense read in any other way. There thus appears to have been a group of men, “holy brethren,” who considered themselves to be Christian high priests. This concept of ongoing high-priestly followers of Christ makes it difficult to go along with the often-encountered interpretation that, by his sacrifice, Christ became the only priesthood holder other than a nebulous “universal priesthood of believers.”[114]

The idea that the rending of the veil in the temple at the time of the crucifixion was meant to ex­pose the Holy of Holies to everyone,[115] and thus make the high priest’s work unnecessary, is not suggested or developed in Hebrews. The gospel account of the rending of the veil was not meant to symbolize that the veil, and by implication the whole concept of a temple and of high-priestly functionar­ies, were no longer necessary. It was rather meant to show that the Jewish temple and Israelite priesthood authority were no longer the authorized holders of the tradition,[116] and that a new priesthood pattern was to be sought. Christian expressions of this pattern are found in the earliest Christian liturgies, which follow the language and pattern of the Israelite high-priestly model,[117] and among the esoteric teachings of the gnostic Christians.[118] Our interpretation of the meaning of the Epistle to the He­brews reinforces the idea that this new priesthood, rather than being an abrupt break with the old Law, was more a continuation of the Israelite roots of the Christian religion.


The Crown, the Throne, and Kingship

Kings and Priests
Those holding the fulness of the Melchizedek Priesthood are kings and priests of the Most High God, holding the keys of power and blessings. (Joseph Smith, in Discourses of the Prophet Joseph Smith, 50).

Crown and Throne: Joshua the High Priest
(The Lord tells Zechariah) “Take silver and gold, and make crowns, and set them upon the head of Joshua the son of Josedech, the high priest … He … shall sit and rule upon his throne; and he shall be a priest upon his throne” (Zech. 6:11,13; note in chapter 3 “Joshua the high priest STANDING before the angel of the Lord,” and the Lord saying “Hear now, O Joshua the high priest, thou, and thy fellows that SIT before thee …”)

Stand: High Priest Set Apart; Stand up to Pray Every Hour For Forgiveness for Israel
You set apart Israel from among seventy nations, and from amont Israel You set apart the tribe of Levi, and out of the tribe of Levi yYou set apart the High Priest who stands up to pray at each and every hour to procure forgiveness for all of Israel. (Tanna debe Eliyahu, 283).

Stand: Washing, Anointing, Clothing so Aaron Can Stand Before God
He sanctified him, anointed him, and adorned him with the garments of priesthood, with the diadem on the mitre, with the Urim and Thummim — all this for Aaron who stands before God and year after year makes expiation for Israel. (Tanna debe Eliyahu, 410-11).

May we be considered as he [the High Priest] as he stood at the [Temple] entrance to push off the serpent [Satan] with prayer. (Metsudah Machzor, p. 498).

Stand: High Priest Stood and Served
(Following a long panegyric on the glory of the High Priest) All this took place when the Temple was on its foundation, and the Holy Sanctuary was on its site, and the High Priest stood and served. (Metsudah Machzor, p. 565).

Stand: Them that Stand are Them Who are Among the Heavenly Angels
(When a man prays) He must stand like the heavenly angels (v. b.Baerachot 10b), who are also called “those who stand” … When a man arises at midnight to study the Torah a herald proclaims concerning him: “Behold, bless ye the Lord all ye servants of the Lord which stand in the house of the Lord by night” (Ps. 134:1), and now when he satnds in prayer the herald proclaims over him, “And I will give thee places to walk among them that stand” (Zech. 3:7).

Stand: King Sits, Priest Stands
(Of the KING) If he walks in my statutes and observes my commandments, and does what is right and good before me, then he shall not lack one of his sons to SIT on the THRONE of KINGSHIP of Israel for ever.
(of the PRIEST) I have chosen them from all yout tribes to STAND before me and to SERVE and bless in my name, he and all his sons, constantly. (Maier, Temple Scroll, 51-52; note that KIng’s promise is conditional, Priest’s is unconditional)

Stand: Only Kings of House of David to Sit in Temple
Surely we have learnt: Nobody may sit down in the Temple court except the kings of the house of David alone, as it is said: Then David the king went in and sat before the Lord (1Chron. 17:16). (b.Yoma 69b.)

Stand: High Priest Officiates While Standing; Disqualified if he Sits
Whence do we know it (i.e., the high priest is disqualified? Perhaps he is subject to death? – Look at the context carefully) of one who officiates while sitting? Raba said in R. Nahman’s name: The Writ saith, For the Lord thy God hath chosen him out of all thy tribes, to stand to minister; implying, I have chosen him for standing, but not for sitting. (b.Sanh. 84a)

Stand: Metatron Stands While the Holy One Sits
Per Shi’ur Qoma’ p. 202. Note that in b. Hagiga 15a R. Ishmael say Metatron seated and began to speculate whether there might not be two “authorities in heaven. The Talmud explains that Metatron sits because he functions as the divine scribe. Note that Metatron’s name probably has to do with the word “throne.” Note also traditions that angels could not sit, and thus did not even have knees that bend!

Stand: God Sits, Son Sits on Thrones
Lift up the eyes of your understanding; imagine the angelic choirs, and God the Lord of all sitting, and his Only-Begotten Son sitting with Him on His right hand, and the spirit with them present (NOTE: no mention of the spirit sitting), and thrones and dominions doing service (Cyril of Jerusalem, On the Sacraments, 50).

Stand: Aaron Seated Himself at Moses’ Right Hand
It had always been the custom … upon arriving within the Tabernacle, Aaron would seat himself as the very nearest at Moses’ right hand (Legends, 3:322)

Based on Ex. 29:5-6: And thou shalt put upon Aaron … the holy crown upon the mitre.

Crown: Things that Set Aaron Apart from Other Priests
Aaron wears the holy crown (29:6)

Crown: King’s consecration
(Among the Hittites) “No text describing the ceremonial of the king’s consecration has been found, but it is known that the sovereign was anointed with oil, clothed in special dress, and crowned; fi­nally, he received a royal name. The sovereign was also a high priest” (Eliade, A History of Reli­gious Ideas, 1:141)

Crown: God’s Crowns
in PRE ch. 4, we read that a crown (cat.arah) is on the divine head and that a crown (keter) of the ineffable name is on his forehead. (Shi’ur Qoma’ p. 211).

Crown: Levi’s Investiture as a Priest
The sixth placed a wreath on my head. (Test. Levi)

Crown: Aaron Crowned on Sinai by God Himself
(On R. Ishmael’s entry toward the throne of glory, he is described as follows:) He is of the nation of Israel … He is of the tribe of Levi, which presents the offering to his name. He is of the family of Aaron, whom the Holy One, blessed be he, chose to minister in his presence and on whose head he himself placed the priestly crown on Sinai. (3 Enoch, in OTP 1:257)

Crown: High Priest Stands Between Heavenly and Earthly Beings
On this day (i.e., Day of Atonement) the priest (i.e., High Priest) is crowned with superior crowns and stands between heavenly and earthly beings and makes atonement for himself and his house and the priests and the sanctuary and all Israel (Zohar vol.5 p.131)

As a crown set upon a king’s forehead, was the appearance of the High Priest (upon leaving the Holy of Holies) (Metsudah Machzor, p. 563)

The priestly diadem (sis, “rosette,” called nezer, “crown” in Lev. 8:9) and anointing are genuine points of contact between the priesthood and the monarchy. Y. Kaufmann, The Religion of Israel (trans. M. Greenberg) (New York: Schocken, 1972), 186.

Crown: High Priest on Emerging Safely from the Holy Place
How glorious was the High Priest when he emerged safely from the Holy Place, for the radiance of the Shekhinah was as a halo around his head until he reached his home. (Abraham of Granada, in JMT 94). (Note on p. 97: The reference to the “halo” is peculiar, although the Shekhinah is called the Atarah, the Crown (the word used here for “halo”) in the Kabbalah.)

Atonement: High Priest makes atonement for Himself, house of Aaron, Israel (Lev. 8?)

Atonement: See passage in Kaufman.

Atonement: Father of Young Priest Asks that He be an Atonement
b.Yoma 23a.

Who were HIgh Priests: Was Aaron a Melchizedek High Priest?
Some of the functions Aaron and his successors as high priest performed would be better symbols if he were a Melchizedek High Priest, or else if during the Day of Atonement he became such tem­porarily. Most important is the fact that, symbolically, he marched into the presence of God – a function restricted to Melchizedek Priesthood holders.
McConkie (Mormon Doctrine, s.v. Aaron) says that, according to John Taylor in Items on Priest­hood, Aaron did indeed hold the Melchizedek priesthood. This should be correlated with Jewish traditions that Moses served as Priest before Aaron, and the Aaron held the same type of authority as Moses.

Who were High Priests: At Passover the Whole People were High Priests
At the Passover … the whole people together is honored with the priesthood, for all of them act for themselves in the performance of the sacrifice. For what reason? Becaause … it was the beginning of this kind of sacrifice, the Levites not yet having been elected to the priesthood nor a temple set up. And in the second place, because the Savior and Liberator who alone leads out all men to freedom, deemed them all equally worthy of sharing in the priesthood and in freedom as well, since all who were of the same nation had given evidence of equal piety. And because, I think, He judged all the Egyptians to be equally impious, unworthy and unclean … And also that the nation might be an archetypal example to the temple-wardens and priests and those who exercise the high-priesthood in carrying out the sacred rites. (Philo, Questions on Exodus, p.19)

Who were High Priests: Bloodless Sacrifice by Elders, Bloody Sacrifice by Young Men
Because the elder generations were a kind of first-fruits and new offerings, as if performing a bloodless sacrifice sacrifice, which is more appropriate to elders of advanced age. but as for those who as young men in the flower of their youth were sent to offer sacrifice, because there was much blood in them … it was profitable for them to offer every offering of sacrifice with blood. (Phile, Questions on Exodus, p.71) Blood is a symbol of family kinship (ibid., p. 77).

Who were High Priests: Moses and Aaron Represent the Better and Lesser Part
Now Moses, who is called by another name, mind, has obtained the better part, namely God, whereas the word, which is called Aaron, has obtained the lesser part, namely that of man. (must be in Philo, Ques. Exod., between p. 77 & p. 98)

Atonement: Eleazar, of Priestly Stock, Volunteers to Atone for Israelite People with his Blood
You know, O God, that though I could have saved myself I am dying in these fiery torments for the sake of the Law. Be merciful to your people and let our punishment be a satisfaction on their behalf. Make my blood their purification and take my life as a ransom for theirs.” (4 Maccabees, in OTP 2:552)

Who were High Priests: Melchizedek a Prototype of Future Priests
“Melchizedek will be the priest to all holy priests, and I will establish him so that he will be the head of the priests of the future.” (2 En. 71:29ff) (Illustrates the idea that the Jews had traditions that there would be priests (plural) in the future after the order of Melchizedek).

Who were High Priests: Enoch the High Priest of the Heavenly Sanctuary
One of Metatron’s most distinctive titles is Na’ar. Originally this was used in the sense of “servant”, at it referred to Metatron’s role as the high priest of the heavenly sanctuary; its equivalent in one Aramaic text is sammasa rehima’, the beloved servant. (Introduction to 3 Enoch, in OTP 1:227) (Note that some sources say that Michael is the High Priest in heaven).

Who were High Priests: Moses Served as High Priest; Before Aaron’s Consecration Moses had Aaron’s Office
“Moses and Aaron among His Priests … ” (Ps. 99:6) … During all the forty years that Israel were in the wilderness, Moses did not hesitate to perform the functions of the High Priest, for Scripture says, (etc.). That Moses served as High Priest (is) inferred from the verse “The sons of Amram: Aaron and Moses; and Aaron was separated, that he should be sanctified as most holy (I Chron. 23:13). And what does Scripture tell us next? [That up to the time Aaron was set apart to become High Priest, the High Priest was] Moses the man of God… [There is no need to seek out the infer­ence from scripture]. We have a traditon (Note: So rendered in Lev. Rabbah M., p. 227)Moses, wearing a priestly white linen garment, served as High Priest in the wilderness. (PRK p. 76).

Levi’s Investiture as a Priest
And I saw seven men in white clothing, who were saying to me, ‘Arise, put on the vestments of the priesthood, the corwn of righteousness, the oracle of understanding, the robve of truth, the breat­plate of faith, the miter for the head, and the apron for prophetic power.’ Each carried one of these and put them on me, and said, ‘From now on be a priest, you and all your posterity.’ The first anointed me with holy oil and gave me a staff. The second washed me with pure water, fed me by hand with breat and holy wine, and put on me a holy and glorious vestment. The third put on me something made of linen, like an ephod. The fourth placed … around me a girdle which was like purple. The fifth gave me a branch of rich olive wood. The sixth placed a wreath on my head. The seventh placed the priestly diadem on me and filled my hands with incense, in order that I might serve as priest for the Lord God. And they said to me, ‘Levi, your posterity shall be divided into three offices as a sign of the glory of the Lord who is coming. The first lot shall be great; no other shall be greater than it. The second shall be in the priestly role. But the third shall be granted a new name, because from Judah a king will arise and shall found a new priesthood in accord with the gentile model and for all nations. His presence is beloved, as a prophet of the Most High, a descen­dant of Abraham, our father. (Note: clearly the present form of the text is confused) (My note: Whatever the confusion, clearly there are envisioned three groups (offices), not individuals; the third is called a “new priesthood”, and would be out of character applied to a single person as a fulfiller) (Test.Levi, in OTP 1:791).

Consecration: Aaron Chosen, Washed, Anointed, Clothed,
The Holy One stood and created all the lands, every one of them; out of all the peoples He selected Israel as a heave offering; out of Israel He selected the tribe of Levi; and out of the tribe of Levi He selected Aaron to be His priest. He sanctified him, anointed him, and adorned him with the gar­ments of priesthood, with the diadem on the mitre, with the Urim and Thummim — all this for Aaron who stands before God and year after year makes expiation for Israel. (Tanna debe Eliyahu, 410-11).

Jewish Prayer for Restoring of the Service
One of the “eighteen benedictions” (really nineteen), and thus included in the daily prayers and given a place of prominence in the Holy Day services was the prayer to “restore the service (‘avodah) to the Holy of Holies in Your abode” (Metsudah Machzor, p. 14).

Who is High Priest: Jews wish to be Considered as High Priest; He Stands and Pushes Off Satan
May we be considered as he [the High Priest] as he stood at the [Temple] entrance to push off the serpent [Satan] with prayer. (Metsudah Machzor, p. 498).

Things that Set Aaron Apart from Other Priests
Exodus chapters 28 and 29 point out things that apply to “Aaron and his sons” (i.e., to all priests), and those that apply to “Aaron” only (i.e., the high priest). Those that are only for the high priest are: (1) the (eight) holy garments (28:2-4; the sons were to be clothed in the four linen garments); (2) Aaron “bears the names” on the shoulders of the Ephod (28:12)l; (3) Aaron “bears the names” on the breastplate (28:29); (4) Aaron wears the Urim and Thummim (28:30); (5) Aaron wears the golden bells and pomegranates (28:35); (6) Aaron wears the Mitre with the gold plade engraved “Holy to the Lord” (28:36-37); (7) Aaron wears the holy crown (29:6); (8) Aaron has the anointing oil poured upon his head (29:7; later he and his sons, plus their garments, are all sprinkled with blood and the anointing oil: 29:21); (9) The breast of the ram of consecration is for Aaron (29:26); (look closely for any more: Ex. 28-29).

Aaron Anointed With Oil; Other Priests Sprinkled with Blood and Anointing Oil
Aaron is the only one who has anointing oil poured upon his head (Ex. 29:7); later (29:21), blood and anointing oil is sprinkled on Aaron and his garments, and his sons and their garments.

Who is High Priest: The Lord is the Priest Comparable to the Earthly Priest
(The Rabbi’s seemed to disagree on whether the priest in certain passages is the Lord or an earthly priest. The Zohar interprets a passage) “If there be a plague of leprosy in a man, he shall be brought unto the priest”, the “priest” referring to the Holy One, blessed by He, since on Him depends all pu­rification and holiness. R. Isaac said: We have learnt as follows … “He shall be brought unto the Priest”: this is the earthly priest. (Zohar Vol.5 p. 17)

Who is High Priest: Aaron Perfected after Supernal Pattern and was Called “High Priest”
All Aaron’s discourse was for the purpose of bringing harmony between the King and the Queen (referring to the Lord and the Shekinah) … and for this he was perfected after the supernal model and was called “high priest.” (Zohar, Vol.5 p.28).

High Priests Should Present a Bright, Shining, Joyful Face
The High Priest should always present a fiace bright and shining and more joyful that others, seeing that he symbolizes the higher grade (Zohar Vol.5 p.109).

Who is High Priest: Priest is Counterpart on Earth of the Supernal Holiness
Zohar mentions “the priest who is the counterpart on earth of the supernal holiness” (Zohar vol.5 p.109).

Who is High Priest: High Priest Stands Between Heavenly and Earthly Beings
On this day (i.e., Day of Atonement) the priest (i.e., High Priest) is crowned with superior crowns and stands between heavenly and earthly beings and makes atonement for himself and his house and the priests and the sanctuary and all Israel (Zohar vol.5 p.131)

Aaron Received Priesthood by Lord Telling Moses; Christ Consecrated Disciples as Moses Conse­crated Aaron
Moses, the consecrator in the hierarchy of the Law, did not confer a clerical consecration on Aaron who was his brother, whom he knew to be a friend of God and worthy of the priesthood, until God himself commanded him to do so, thereby permitting him to bestow, in the name of God who is the source of all consecration, the fullness of a clerical consecration. And yet our own first and divine consecrator — for Jesus in his endless love for us took on this task — “did not exalt himself” as scripture declares. Rather, the consecrator was the one “who said to him … ‘Thou art a priest for­ever after the order of Melchizedek.'” Furthermore, when he bestowed sacred consecration on his own disciples, even though as God he was the source of every consecration, still in hierarchic fash­ion he referred this act of consecration to his most holy Father and to the Divine Spirit … he told his disciples “not to depart from Jerusalem but to wait for the promise of the Father which ‘you heard from me …'” (Pseudo-Dionysis, p.241)

Consecration: Anointing for Perfection and Removing Blemishes
This holy thing (i.e., the charism) is a spiritual preservative of the body … Having been anointed, therefore, with this holy ointment, keep it unspotted and unblemished in you (St. Cyril of Jerusalem, On the Sacraments, p. 66-67)

Harmless: Aaron’s Sons Made Offerings in the Prohibited Holy of Holies
They made their offering … in the Holy of Holies, to which admittance had been prohibited (Legends, 3:189).

Harmless: High Priests Not All Worthy; Urim & Thummim Did Not Work for Unworthy
Not every high priest succeeded in obtaining them (i.e., answers from the U & T). Only a high priest who was permeated with the Holy spirit … might obtain an answer … But if the high priest was worthy, he received an answer to every inquiry (Legends, 3:173-74)

Aaron’s Offering to Close the Mouth of Satan
My brother Aaron … through thy offering must thou close the mouth of Satan, that he may not hate thee when thou enterest the sanctuary. (Legends, 3:182) Even Satan had to flee whenever he beheld the High Priest, and did not dare to accuse Israel before God (Legends, 3:216).

Aaron Offers Blessings with Lifted Hands
(this is actually at the consecration, not the day of Atonement) After Aaron had offered up the pre­scribed sacrifices, he bestowed his blessing upon the people with lifted hands (Legends, 3:184)


Harmless: Prayer of Simon the High Priest: Holding out his hands – Asks for Peace
(When Ptolemy was about to violate the Holy of Holies by entering) “The high priest, Simon, knelt in homage in front of the sanctuary and, holding out his hands with due reverence, he prayed…In our calamity this arrogant and corrupt man sets out to violate the holy place which is dedicated on earth to the name of your glory … Let your mercies speedily overtake us … and grant us PEACE.” (3 Maccabees, in OTP 2:519).

Harmless: Onias the High Priest not HARMED
“A certain Simon set himself up as a political opponent of Onias, a man of the highest integrity, who was then high priest and held the office for life; but … in spite of spreading all sorts of slander, he failed to HARM him in the eyes of the people (4 Maccabees, in OTP 2:548).

Harmless: Garments with Bells are Protection for Aaron Going In, Coming Out, That He Die Not
(Speaking of the robe with the bells on the fringes) And it shall be upon Aaron to minister; and its sound shall be heard when he goeth in unto the holy place before the Lord, and when he cometh out, that he die not. (Exod. 28:35) (Rashi’s commentary says the “If he has them (the garments) he will not be punishable (with) death, but if he should enter (the Sanctuary) lacking (even) one of these garments, he is punishable (with) death at the hands of Heaven”; ref. to Sanh. 83) (Rashi, 2:356).

Harmless: No Common Man Not the Seed of Aaron is to Draw Near to Burn Incense
Aaron said: Had not Korah risen up against me, would the Lord have covenanted with me that only my seed mayu burn incense before the Lord? For it is said, “A reminder unto the children of Israel to the end that no comman man, that is not the seed of Aaron, draw near to burn incense before the Lord (Num.17:5) (Tanna debe Eliyahu, 296).

Harmless: R. Ishmael Goes in Peace into the presence of God
At once the Holy One, blessed be he, summoned to my aid his servant, the angel Metatron, Prince of the Divine Presence. He flew out to meet me with great alacrity, to save me from their power. He grasped me with his hand before their eyes and said to me, “Come in peace into the presence of the high and exalted King. (3 Enoch, in OTP 1:256).

Sonship: Priesthood Related
“Seeing that thou hast forgotten the law of thy God, I also will forget thy children” (Hos. 4:6) is applied by R. Abbahu to priesthood: “because thou hast rejected knowledge, I will also reject thee, that thou shalt be no priest to me” (ibid) (Yoma 38b).

Sonship: High Priest Above is the Son
“In the same way as the inferior high priest (i.e., the earthly high priest) ministereth in the high priesthood, so also, if it be permitted to say so, doth the High Priest above (note: the great High Priest is the SON, Microprosopus) minister in His high priesthood.” (Zohar, in Mathers, Kabbalah Unveiled, 146) (This passage from Jewish mysticism illustrates the existence among Jewish thinkers of the concept of high priests on earth and in heaven).

Without Father – The Soul With No Mother
Why is … Moses called above on the seventh day? (Ex. Ex. 24:16) The calling above of the prophet is a second birth better than the first … (it) is an unmixed and simple soul of the sovereign … which has no mother but only a father, who is the Father of all. Wherefore the calling above, or as we have said, the divine birth. (Philo, Questions on Exodus, pp. 91-92).

Without Father – Melchizedek Without Father
Upon the birth of Melchizedek by his wife, without his participation, Nir the brother of Noah says) Blessed be the Lord, the God of my fathers, who has not condemned my priesthood and the priest­hood of my fathers, because by his word he has created a great priest, in the womb of Safonim, my wife. For I have no descendants. So let this child take the place of my descendants and become as my own son, and you will count him in the number of your servants (2 Enoch, in OTP 1:209) (The introductions states that) The Melchizedek legend constitutes a special problem. The fantastic details about this priest conflict both with Christian belief in Jesus as God’s sole legitimate priest in heaven and with the Jewish idea that the descendants of Aaron (Or Zadok) are God’s sole legitimate priests on earth. (OTP 1:96-7).

Aaron the Peacemaker
Cf. Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called the sons of God — i.e., the priests.

Note that in Gen. 14 Melchizedek is called the king of Salem, and the JST adds that “Melchizedek was a priest of this order, therefore he obtained peace in Salem, and was called the prince of peace.”

Peace: Aaron Made Peace, So His Sons shall Make Atonement
The Holy One … said to Aaron: You continually sought to make peace between Israel and My great name. Therefore, I will bring sons out of you, sons who will make atonement for the children of Is­rael each and every year and will invoke peace for them each and every day. (Tanna debe Eliyahu, 382).

Peace: Aaron Associated With Peace
Aaron’s ongoing association with peace may be because the old sources referred to him the passage in Malachi that says “He walked with me in peace and uprightness, and did turn many away from iniquity” (Mal. 2:6) (an example of this attribution is in Siph. Deut. piska 305, on page 296).

Peace: Aaron Pursued peace
(Legends, 3:191) (also) He did not consider his task restricted to establishing peace between God and man, but strove to establish peace between the learned and the ignorant Israelites, among the scholars themselves, among the ignorant, and between man and wife (Legends, 3:323)

Peace: Rabbi Aqiba Goes Out in Peace
In the rabbinic story of the four who entered paradise, which compares with Merkavah mysticism and would appear to describe an entry into the heavenly sanctuary in the same way that the high priest entered into the earthly holy of holies, three of those who entered suffered drastic conse­quences of the journey (death, madness, apostacy) and only “Rabbi Aqqiba went out in peace” (b.Hag 14b). Note 23: The ending of the story in the Yerusalmi Talmud, the Tosepta, and Song R. is clear on this point: R. Aqiba entered in peace and went out in peace.” The vienna MS of the Tosepta has an interesting variant: “R. Aqiba ascended in peace and descended in peace.” (OTP 1:230).

Peace: Aaron the Peacemaker
“Behold, how good and how pleasant is he who seeks to have brethren to dwell together in unity!” (Ps.133:1) applies to Moses’ brother, Aaron, who set out to bring peace between Israel and their Father in heaven, between one Israelite and another Israelite, between a commoner and a sage, be­tween a man and his fellow man, and between a husband and his wife. (Tanna debe Eliyahu, p. 192).

Peace: The Ram of Consecration
Of the “ram of consecration” (milu’im) (fill, as in “fill the hand”) (Lev. 8:22) Rashi says that it is “the ram of peace-offering (shelamim), for milu’im has the same force as shelamim; that is, they fulfil and perfect the priests in their priesthood.” (Rashi 3:71.)


[1] Tertullian attributed the Epistle to the Hebrews to Barnabas; Luther favored the authorship of Apollos who, because he was from Alexandria and a man of learning, was just the right type of person; Clement said that Paul was responsi­ble for the ideas, but not for the Greek text; the actual author is unknown. Spencer W. Kimball quoting from He­brews, said it was “written, I think, by Paul” (Spencer W. Kimball, “The Privilege of Holding the Priesthood” (Ensign, November 1975)).
[2] The Exodus accounts, in chapters 28 and 29, are the Lord’s instructions to Moses regarding the consecration of his brother Aaron; the descriptions in Leviticus chapters 8 and 9 are the account of the actual performance of the ceremony.
[3] Ch. 16.
[4] See the description of the entire service, including the consecration, in A. Kaplan, trans., MeAm Lo’ez (New York: Maznaim, 1982), 11:354ff.
[5] Jewish rabbinic thought continued interpreting the ritual of the Day of Atonement after the destruction of the temple, and their liturgy developed actual and allegorical descriptions of the high priest’s actions; Jewish mystics often used the Day of Atonement service as the basis for their mystical speculations and actions, in relevant passages in the Zohar, Abraham of Granada, etc. Early Christian thinkers such as Pseudo-Dionysius, Gregory of Nyssa, and Cyril of Jerusalem used the ancient high priest’s actions as background for their discussions of the ordinances, the hierarchy of the Christian clergy, etc. See relevant notes for some bibliographical details.
[6] It would not be unreasonable to construe from the evidence presented that many of the duties mentioned are priestly rather than high-priestly according to the Law of Moses; but the fact that, on the Day of Atonement, those duties were removed from the priests and given to the high priest alone, leads to the conclusion that the author of Hebrews saw them in that context.
[7] Moses’ performance of the action is recorded in Leviticus: “And Moses brought Aaron and his sons, and washed them with water” (Lev. 8:6).
[8] Babylonian Talmud (hereafter cited as b.) Tractate Yoma 30a, in I. Epstein, ed., Hebrew-English Edition of the Baby­lonian Talmud (London: Soncino Press, 1987), where we also learn that, to protect him from the view of the people, “a linen sheet was spread between him and the people.”
[9] Clement of Rome notes that “we must approach him in holiness of spirit, lifting up pure and undefiled hands to him” (M. Staniforth, trans., Early Christian Writings: The Apostolic Fathers (Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1968), 38). Malachi threatened unworthy priests by saying “I will … spread dung (a defiling substance) on your faces … and I will put you out of my presence” (Mal. 2:3).
[10] Moshe Chayim Luzzatto, The Path of the Just (Jerusalem: Feldheim, 1966), 109.
[11] “On Yom Kippur … no ablutions might be performed” (Joshua Trachtenberg, Jewish Magic and Superstition (New York: Atheneum, 1984), 32).
[12] Rabbi Avrohom Davis, tr., The Metsudah Machzor (New York: Noble Book Press, 1985), 539 (this is an interlin­ear translation of the traditional prayerbook for the high holy days).
[13] b.Yoma 31a.
[14] b.Yoma 31a.
[15] b.Yoma 31a, note b(1).
[16] The RSV reads “for it was fitting that we should have such a high priest … unstained.”
[17] All the priests were sprinkled with oil and blood (Exod. 29:21), but only upon the high priest was the oil poured, leading to his being called “the priest who is chief among his brethren, upon whom the anointing oil has been poured (Lev. 21:10).
[18] The Hebrew word tamim means “perfect, without blemish;” it is applied almost exclusively to animals used for sac­rifices; but the related word mum, “spot, blemish,” was what precluded the service of a priest; see Lev. 21:16-24. The Talmud describes the attempts to find unblemished priests: “[In] the Cell of Hewn Stone … the Sanhedrin of Israel was sitting and judging the priests and whosoever was found unfit would put on a black dress and wrap himself in black, go out and go his way, and one in whom no blemish was found would put on a white garment, wrap himself in white, enter the Sanctuary and officiate with his brethren” (b. Yoma 19a). Pseudo-Dionysius defined perfection in these words: “To speak of perfection is to proclaim that it cannot be increased or diminished” (Pseudo-Dionysius, “The Divine Names,” in Colm Luibheid, trans., Pseudo-Dionysius, The Complete Works (New York: Paulist Press, 1987), 128).
[19] On anointing for healing see James 5:14-15 and b. Yoma 77b, where on the day of Atonement “it is forbidden to anoint part of the body … if, however, one was sick or had scales on his head, he may anoint himself”. The Apoc­ryphon of John specifies that “he anointed it with his goodness until it became perfect, not lacking in any goodness, because he had anointed it with the goodness of the invisible Spirit” (The Apocryphon of John, 6 in The Nag Ham­madi Library, ed. J. Robinson (San Francisco: Harper and Row, 1977), 102). Anointing with oil was also a symbol of resurrection, the ultimate healing. The ritual of consecration itself also had to be perfect: “with the consecration service, the omission of any prescribed form would render the service invalid” (b. Yoma 3b, 4b).
[20] St. Cyril of Jerusalem, Lectures on the Christian Sacraments (Crestwood, N.Y.: Vladimir’s, 1986), 66; Cyril also suggests that, based on their purification by baptism and their anointing of the Holy Ghost, new members of the church are similarly designated: “Being therefore made partakers of Christ, ye are properly called Christs … now ye were made Christs by receiving the emblem of the Holy Ghost … after you had come up from the pool of sacred streams, (you were) given the unction, the emblem of that wherewith Christ was anointed, and this is the Holy Ghost” (ibid., 63-64).
[21] JST refers Heb. 5:8 to Melchizedek; whether the statement about “being made perfect” (Heb. 5:9) refers to Christ or Melchizedek is irrelevant; in either case, the context is the consecration and anointing of a representative high priest.
[22] i.e., the hands for the handling of the incense; part of the High Priest’s ritual called for him to lift up his hands and recite a blessing; see b. Yoma 68b.
[23] Lev. 8:30 also relates the clothing to holiness: “Moses took of the anointing oil … and sanctified Aaron, his gar­ments, and his sons, and the garments of his sons.”
[24] Examples of high priest’s special measure of holiness include particularly strict regulations for marriage, his inter­diction from defiling himself for dead family members, and his not leaving the sanctuary during the consecration (Lev. 21:10-15). Thus the Temple Scoll from Qumran calls him “the high priest who is to minister to YHWH, whoever has been ordained to put on the vestments in place of his father,” and adds that “he shall be holy all his days” (11QT, in G. Vermes, The Dead Sea Scrolls in English (New York: Penguin, 1988), 131-2).
[25] Davis, Metsudah Machzor, 538; the passage continues, “to wear the holy mitre, and the Urim and Thummim, and to dwell inside the Tabernacle for seven days.”
[26] Pseudo-Dionysius, “The Divine Names,” in Luibheid, Pseudo-Dionysius, The Complete Works, 126.
[27] G. Buchanan, The Anchor Bible: To the Hebrews (Garden City: Doubleday, 1972), 54.
[28] Louis Ginzburg notes that “Aaron, with the exception of three cases in which God revealed Himself to him, never received His commands except through the communications of Moses” (L. Ginzburg, Legends of the Jews (Philadelphia: JPS, 1968), 3:211).
[29] Ginzburg, Legends, 3:190.
[30] Pesikta de-Rab Kahana comments that on that occasion “God in the pillar of cloud conversed with him” (Pesikta de-Rab Kahana (hereafter cited as PRK) Piska 4, in Braude and Kapstein, tr., Pesikta de-Rab Kahana (Philadelphia: JPS, 1975), 77).
[31] b. Horayoth 12a. Even in traditions about the choosing of Aaron where Moses is the one who hears the voice of God, the calling is still obviously directly from God and to Aaron: “God said to Moses … Call Aaron, and announce to him that he has been appointed high priest, and at the same time call the elders and in their presence announce his elevation to this dignity, that none may say Aaron himself assumed this dignity” (Ginzburg, Legends, 3:182).
[32] According to Josephus, Aaron was similarly chosen by God himself at the time of the rebellion of Korah, by being left alive by the appearance of a heavenly fire: “And thus Aaron was now no longer esteemed to have the priesthood by the favor of Moses, but by the public judgment of God” (Josephus, Antiquities of the Jews, Book 4 3:4, in W. Whis­ton, trans., Josephus: Complete Works (Grand Rapids: Kregel, 1973), 87.
[33] Heb. qol means “voice,” “call,” or “sound;” the voice of God, or heavenly voice, was the bat qol, or “daughter of the voice.”
[34] An early Christian example comes from Pseudo-Dionysius, describing the installation of a priesthood holder: “When a mind has been made sacred by its type of clerical activity, by its call from God, by its sanctification conferred upon it, when it comes to the rite of clerical consecration, it deserves the love of its peers” (Pseudo-Dionysius, “The Ecclesiastical Hierarchy,” in Luibheid, Pseudo-Dionysius, The Complete Works, 242.
[35] A. Burton, comp., Discourses of Joseph Smith (Salt Lake City: Deseret, 1977), 56; Joseph at this time was not making the careful distinction between God the Father and Christ/Jehovah that Mormon thought does now.
[36] Other examples include D&C 84:32: “The sons of Moses and of Aaron … whom I have called;” and the confirma­tion of the sonship of Christ in D&C 93:15: “And there came a voice out of heaven saying: This is my beloved son.”
[37] Testament of Levi 18, in J. H. Charlesworth, Ed., Old Testament Pseudepigrapha (Garden City: Doubleday, 1985), 1:795; Jean Danielou translates “from the sanctuary of glory sanctification will descend upon him along with the pa­ternal voice” (J. Danielou, The Dead Sea Scrolls and Primitive Christianity (New York: Mentor, 1962), 116. The pas­sage goes on to hint that he will have fellow priests: “He shall give the majesty of the Lord to those who are his sons in truth forever” (Charlesworth, Old Testament Pseudepigrapha, 1:795).
[38] Speaking of the Melchizedek Priesthood, this passage announces that “without this no man can see the face of God, even the Father, and live.” Orson Pratt suggested that Joseph was able to see God by virtue of his fore-ordination to the Melchizedek Priesthood in the pre-existence (NOTE: find reference).
[39] Heb. qara’.
[40] Jasher 1:6, in Book of Jasher (Salt Lake City: J. H. Parry, 1887), 99
[41] D&C 93:1 expands to say “every soul that … calleth on my name, and obeyeth my voice” (voice is the same word as call); Adam named the living things — including his wife — and had dominion over them (Gen. 1:26-30; 2:19-23); Mosiah 5:8 counsels the people to “take upon you the name of Christ … that ye should be obedient.”
[42] This is an ongoing and permeating theme of the epistle; see for example, Heb. 5:8-9; 11:8; 13:7.
[43] For example, see Exod. 28:41; Num. 3:3; Judg. 17:5, 12 et al.
[44] RSV: ram of ordination.
[45] Rashi’s Commentary (hereafter cited as Rashi) on Leviticus 8, in A. Ben Isaiah and B. Sharfman, trans., The Penta­teuch and Rashi’s Commentary (Brooklyn: S.S.&R., 1977), 3:71.
[46] Ex. 23:15 LXX; the Hebrew text reads “and not shall be seen my face empty.”
[47] Philo, “Questions and Answers on Exodus,” in Ralph Marcus, trans., Philo, Loeb Classical Library (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1979), Suppl. Vol. 2:43.
[48] Heb. yad.
[49] Heb. kaf; Maier translates the verse in Leviticus this way: “And he placed all these on the palms of Aaron, and on the palms of his sons, and designated them as an elevation-offering” (J. Maier, The Temple Scroll (Sheffield: JSOT, 1985), 78).
[50] b. Yoma 47a.
[51] b. Yoma 47ab.
[52] Testament of Levi 8:9, in J. H. Charlesworth, ed., Old Testament Pseudepigrapha (Garden City: Doubleday, 1985), 1:791.
[53] Yose ben Yose, “Avodah,” in T. Carmi, trans., The Penguin Book of Hebrew Verse (New York: Penguin, 1982), 213-214.
[54] McConkie says the man clothed in linen was the Lord; Jewish tradition would suggest that it was Gabriel.
[55] b. Nazir 3b.
[56] Quoted from Isa. 35:3.
[57] Davis, Metsudah Machzor, 538-540.
[58] “Money was being paid for the purpose of obtaining the position of high priest” (b. Yoma 8b).
[59] Mishna at b. Yoma 18a.
[60] b.Yoma 10b.
[61] b.Yoma 21a.
[62] This theory does not attempt to explain how a high priest with holes in his hands, feet, and sides was able to meet the “unblemished” criterion necessary to officiate; it also leaves unanswered the question of why his seclusion would have been for less than the prescribed seven days.
[63] Exod. 28:3 (Interlinear translation in Isaiah and Sharfman, The Pentateuch and Rashi’s Commentary, 3:338).
[64] Isaiah and Sharfman, The Pentateuch and Rashi’s Commentary, 2:338.
[65] Isaiah and Sharfman, The Pentateuch and Rashi’s Commentary, 2:371.
[66] The rabbis stated that “on other days one priest would slaughter, and another receive the blood. Both functions were to be performed by the high priest on the Day of Atonement” (note to b.Yoma 31b).
[67] An unusual and certainly unsupported view in the Talmud says that “whenever Israel came up to the Festival, the curtain would be removed for them and the Cherubim were shown to them” (b.Yoma 54a.).
[68] Marcus, Philo, Suppl. Vol. 2:98. An Egyptian temple practice proceeded in a similar way: “Once the ritual purifi­cation was accomplished, the officiant approached the naos, broke the clay seal, and opened the door. He prostrated himself before the statue, declaring that he had entered heaven (the naos) to contemplate the god … Finally, the offi­ciant shut the door again, sealed the bolt, and withdrew, walking backward” (M. Eliade, A History of Religious Ideas (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1978), 1:94).
[69] “The Zohar understands the high priest’s entry into the Holy of Holies as an ascent of his soul into the realm of the sefirot” (L. Jacobs, Jewish Mystical Testimonies (New York: Schocken, 1978), 85). Cyril of Jerusalem, describing the sacrament of baptism and its successive functions in his day, notes that “these things were done in the outer cham­ber. But … when … we have entered into the Holy of Holies, we shall then know the symbolical meaning of what is there accomplished” (Cyril, On the Sacraments, 58). This recalls Eliade’s characterization of the purpose of the initia­tions into the ancient mystery religions: “Though abstaining from revealing the secrets of the various Hellenistic mysteries, many philosophers and theosophists propounded allegorical interpretations of the initiatory rites. The ma­jority of these interpretations referred the rites of the mysteries to the successive stages through which the human soul must pass in its ascent to God” (M. Eliade, Rites and Symbols of Initiation (New York: Harper, 1975), 114).
[70] H. Sperling and M. Simon, trans., The Zohar (London: Soncino Press, 1984), 5:233-35.
[71] Literal translation of the Heb. Massoretic text; note the quite different meaning in the RSV: “Go down, and come up bringing Aaron with you; but do not let the priests … break through to come up to the Lord.”
[72] Isaiah and Sharfman, The Pentateuch and Rashi’s Commentary, 2:211-12. We are reminded of the ancient disciples of Pythagorus, who “became esoterics, and within the veil both heard and saw Pathygorus … prior to this they partici­pated in his words through the hearing alone, without seeing him who remained within the veil” (K. Guthrie, comp., The Pythagorean Sourcebook and Library (Grand Rapids: Phanes, 1987), 74.
[73] 1 Enoch 14:24-15:1, in Charlesworth, Old Testament Pseudepigrapha, 1:21; This of course also recalls the ascent of the soul in Gnostic and Mandean lore.
[74] Te’ezaza Sanbat, in W. Leslau,trans., Falasha Anthology (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1979), 18.
[75] G. Vermes, The Dead Sea Scrolls in English (3rd Edition) (London: Penguin, 1988), 222.
[76] Vermes, The Dead Sea Scrolls, 223.
[77] “The founder and early leader of the sect was a high priest known in the scrolls as the Teacher of Righteousness” (G. Nickelsburg, Jewish Literature between the Bible and the Mishnah (Philadelphia: Fortress, 1981), 123).
[78] “Thou hast cleansed a perverse spirit of great sin that it may stand with the host of the Holy Ones, and that it may enter into community with the congregation of the Sons of Heaven” (1QH 5, in Vermes, The Dead Sea Scrolls, 173).
[79] Ginzburg, Legends, 3:190.
[80] Based on the scriptural warning “And he (Aaron) shall take a censer full of coals of fire from off the altar before the Lord, and his hands full of sweet incense beaten small, and bring it within the veil. And he shall put the incense upoon the fire before the Lord, that the cloud of the incense may cover the ark-cover that is upon the testimony, that he die not” (Lev. 16:12-13); Rashi, quoting Siphra, adds: But if he did not do it properly, he is punishable with death” (Isaiah and Sharfman, The Pentateuch and Rashi’s Commentary, 3:160).
[81] Zohar 5:132.
[82] Quoted from the Zohar, in Jacobs, Jewish Mystical Testimonies, 93.
[83] Zohar 5:132; see also b.Yoma 39a.
[84] NOTE: Find Reference.
[85] Zohar 5:132.
[86] Quoted from the Zohar, in Jacobs, Jewish Mystical Testimonies, 83.
[87] b.Yoma 70a.
[88] Yose Ben Yose, “Avodah,” in T. Carmi, trans., The Penguin Book of Hebrew Verse (New York: Penguin, 1982), 214.
[89] Jewish Encyclopedia, s.v. “Avodah”.
[90] P. Birnbaum, High Holy Day Prayerbook (New York: Hebrew Publishing, 1951), 826.
[91] For an example that builds a whole section of liturgy around the phrase, see the Day of Atonement liturgy: “And a celebration was made by the high priest for all his loved ones, after entering the Holy of Holies in peace, and leaving peacefully , unharmed And this was the prayer of the High Priest on Yom Kippur as he left the Holy of Holies in peace, unharmed … How truly glorious was the high priest as he left the Holy of Holies, peacefully, unharmed” (Davis, Metsudah Machzor, 560-62).
[92] Examples include the two disciples on the road to Emmaus (Luke 24:30), the disciples in the upper room (Luke 24:42-43), the fishing disciples by the Sea of Galilee (John 21:13).
[93] Numerous sources indicate that in the earliest times normal practice was that only the firstborn exercised the priest­hood. “In the days before the tabernacle was erected the high places were permitted, and the sacrificial service was per­formed by firstborn” (Numbers Rabbah 63:13, in H. Freedman, ed., Midrash Rabbah (London: Soncino Press, 1939)). In answer to the question of why Shem was able to serve as a priest, the reason given was “because he was firstborn” (Pirke de Rabbi Eliezer ch. 8, in G. Friedlander, trans., Pirke de Rabbi Eliezer (New York: Sepher Hermon Press, 1981)). The biblical passages reflect this same pattern. Prior to the Law of Moses, the Lord commanded the people to “sanctify unto me all the firstborn” (Exod. 13:2); see also Num. 8:17: “All the firstborn among the children of Israel are mine;” see also Mekilta de Rabbi Ishmael (hereafter cited as Mekilta), tractate Pisha, ch.1: “Before Aaron had been especially chosen, all Israelites were qualified for the priesthood; after Aaron had been chosen, all other Israelites were eliminated” (J. Lauterbach, trans., Mekilta de Rabbi Ishmael (Philadelphia: JPS, 1976)). The rule to be followed under the law was that “I have taken the Levites from among the children of Israel instead of all the firstborn… therefore the Levites shall be mine” (Num. 3:12). Jerome, in his commentary on Gen. 27:16, repeats the tradition of the priestly garments worn before the time of Aaron by the firstborn who performed the priesthood duties; see L. Ginzburg, Le­gends of the Jews (Philadelphia: JPS, 1968), 5:283. Another commentary points out that “The first-born said ‘Woe,’ because the priesthood was taken from them” (W. G. Braude, Trans., Pesikta Rabbati (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1968), 109.
[94] See the agreement of Haran: “Aaron and the firstborn of his descendants are set apart and given the high priesthood” (Haran, Temples and Temple Service in Ancient Israel, 59). A passage in the Zohar says that, at the death of Aaron’s two older sons, Phinehas “took the place of Nadab and Abihu to become high priest, and therefore it is written ‘Phinehas son of Eleazar Son of Aaron'” (Zohar 5:325); this looks like the beginning of an ongoing tracking of a line of priesthood authority.
[95] Literal translation of Exod. 29:29-30, in Isaiah and Sharfman, The Pentateuch and Rashi’s Commentary, 2:370-71.
[96] Isaiah and Sharfman, The Pentateuch and Rashi’s Commentary, 2:370-71.
[97] Isaiah and Sharfman, The Pentateuch and Rashi’s Commentary, 2:371.
[98] Abraham of Granada, in Jacobs, Jewish Mystical Testimonies, 94.
[99] Eliade portrays a similar concept in the passing on of initiation rites in primitive peoples of Australia: “From that time, say the Kurnai, the knowledge of the Jereail and its mysteries has been handed down from father to son, together with the penalty for unlawfully revealing them” (M. Eliade, Man and the Sacred (New York: Harper and Row, 1974), 138).
[100] Zohar 5:325. The mention of their death in Lev. 16:1, which specifies “After the death of the two sons … and they died,” to which another Zohar passage comments “why this double mention of their death? One referring to their actual death, the other to their having no children, for he who has no children is counted as dead” (Zohar 5:37). Num. 3:4 also appears to equate their death and their having no children: And Nadab and Abihu died … and they had no children,” etc.
[101] b. Berachot 7a; “Akathriel Jah” means literally “the crown of Jahweh.”
[102] Quoted from the Zohar, in Jacobs, Jewish Mystical Testimonies, 93. An interesting example from among the Levites portrays the seven sons of Korah, who had not joined with him in his plot against the priesthood leadership of Aaron; they preserved their lives, and their ability to serve in the priesthood, by renouncing their sonship to Korah and claiming sonship to the Lord: “Our father has not begotten us, but the Most Powerful has formed us. And now if we walk in his ways, we will be his sons” (Pseudo-Philo, in Charlesworth, Old Testament Pseudepigrapha, 2:324).
[103] Marcus, Philo, Suppl. Vol. 2:70.
[104] The Epistle to the Hebrews was not alone as an early source that emphasizes the sonship of Jesus Christ the high priest; see the following from an early Christian interpolation to a hellenistic synagogal prayer: “In our days you laid hold of us through your great high priest, Jesus Christ your child” (Charlesworth, Old Testament Pseudepigrapha, 2:685).
[105] The Oxford Annotated Bible With the Apocrypha, Revised Standard Version (New York: Oxford University Press, 1965), 1458 note 3. 2nd Enoch recounts Melchizedek’s birth without the benefit of a natural father; see Nickelsburg, Jewish Literature between the Bible and the Mishnah, 188.
[106] Lev. 21:1-2; the list reads “except for his nearest of kin, his mother, his father, his son, his daughter, his brother, or his virgin sister.”
[107] Whether this was permanent or applied only to the seven days of his consecration is a moot point, since in either case it applied only to the high priest and required him to give up father and mother. See b.Yoma 13b for rabbinic commentary.
[108] b.Yoma 2b.
[109] Haran comments that “the continuation of Levi’s blessing, namely that he made himself a stranger to his father and mother, ‘he disowned his brothers, and ignored his children’ because of an abundant zeal for his Lord, is a somewhat exaggerated poetic rendering of the events described in the passage that the Levites passed through the camp and killed ‘every man his brother, and every man his companion, and every man his neighbor’ (Haran, Temples and Temple Ser­vice, 67). Siphre Deut. Piska 350, p. 363 also comments on these verses. Note also that in Deut. 14:29 the Levites and the fatherless are grouped together among those to whom the Israelites should take special care, because they have no inheritance in Israel.
[110] Colson, trans., Philo, Loeb Classical Library (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1979), 2:187.
[111] The Gospel of Thomas modifies the saying: “Whoever does not hate his father and his mother in my way …”, and then follows with “whoever does not love his father and his mother in my way will not be able to be a disciple to me.” A later passage in the same work states graphically: “Whoever knows father and mother shall be called the son of a harlot” (Guillaumont, Puech,, The Gospel According to Thomas (Leiden: E.J.Brill, 1959), 51-53) — a condition that would certainly have ruled out high priesthood. According to the First Book of Jeu, the Apostles said to the risen Lord, “We have followed thee with our whole hearts. We have left behind father and mother, we have left behind vineyards and fields, we have left behind goods and the greatness of rulers, and we have followed thee, so that thou shouldst teach us the life of thy Father who has sent thee” (V. MacDermot, trans., The Books of Jeu and the Untitled Text in the Bruce Codex (Leiden: Brille, 1978), 17; see also ch. 43, p. 131. They were also expected to avoid sharing the secret of these mysteries with family members: “Do not give them to father, or mother, or brother, or sister, or relative” (MacDermot, The Books of Jeu, 129).
[112] T. H. Gaster, The Dead Sea Scriptures (Garden City: Anchor, 1976), 390.
[113] Even as sympathetic an interpreter as Richard B. Hays, who sees in most of the New Testament a great respect for and and recognition of continuity with the Old, still sees the Epistle to the Hebrews as “relentlessly supersessionist” (R. Hays, Echos of Scripture in the Letters of Paul (New Haven: Yale, 1989), 98). If the premise of this study is ac­cepted, his judgment may be too harsh.
[114] It is difficult to consider the New Testament passage “but you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation” (1 Pet. 2:9) to be a factor in a supposed Christian expansion of the priesthood to all believers, since the passage is a direct quotation from Exod. 19:6: “you shall be to me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation,” where it is spoken specifically “to the children of Israel.” See also Isa. 61:6. Paul describes his duties in specifically priestly terms which also distinguish him from other believers: “I have written to you very boldly by way of reminder, because of the grace given me by God to be a minister of Christ Jesus to the Gentiles in the priestly service of the gospel of God, so that the offerings of the gentiles may be acceptable, sancitified by the Holy Spirit” (Rom. 14:15-16).
[115] In actual fact, even the high priest did not see anything in the holy of holies; his act of burning the incense caused a cloud of smoke that hid the interior of the Holy of Holies, and the ark of the covenant (Lev. 17:12-13); see com­ments in Haran, Temples and Temple Service, 178, 244.
[116] Jewish tradition, of course, has no recollection of the rending of the veil around 30 AD. But there is a tradition that, starting at almost precisely that time and continuing until the destruction of the temple in 70 AD, things no longer functioned as they should on the Jewish Day of Atonement: “During the last forty years before the destruction of the temple, the lot ‘for the Lord’ did not come up in the right hand; nor did the crimson-coloured strap become white; nor did the westernmost light shine; and the doors of the Hekal would open by themselves” (b.Yoma 39b). Each of these occurrences was considered a very poor omen, that should have happened only rarely. Thus there are indications that the Jews did notice something missing from their temple service once the real meaning of the Day of Atonement had been fulfilled.
[117] The Liturgy of St. James, considered the oldest Christian liturgy, follows the Day of Atonement pattern in nu­merous ways; it includes a single priest who offers offerings “for the remission of our (the priests’) sins and for the propitiation of all thy people,” and on his approach by himself through the veil to the altar he says “God Almighty … who hast given to us an entrance into the Holy of Holies, through the sojourning among men of thy only-begotten Son … we supplicate and invoke thy goodness, since we are fearful and trembling when about to stand at thy holy al­tar; send forth upon us, O God, thy good grace, and sanctify our souls, and bodies, and spirits” (F. Church & T. Mulry, The MacMillan Book of Earliest Christian Prayers (New York: MacMillan, 1988), 123-156). The entire ritual deserves study in this context.
[118] For example, one gnostic Christian work states that “if some belong to the order of the priesthood, they will be able to go within the veil with the high priest” (Gospel of Philip 83:3).

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