Private Priests

Source: Baruch Bokser, Origins of the Seder (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1986) 60, 129.

Bokser quotes Elisabeth Fiorenza as follows: “Cultic language is used in the literature of Qumran because the community is now, in the endtime when the cultic institutions of Israel are desecrated, the place where atonement, ritual purity and holy worship of God are possible. This theological interest leads to the transference of the notion of Temple and to the ethicizing of the concept of sacrifice, but not to the understanding that all members of the community are priests.”

Here’s something Bokser says in the footnote: “There is a biblical precedent even for extending the locus of purity outside of the temple. The biblical law of the menstrual woman applies not just in the temple. Since it was discussed by the Pharisees at a relatively early period, it may have provided a model for extending the realm of purity outside of the cult. Verses such as Ex. 19:6, Lev. 11:43-47, Deut. 7:6 and 26:19, which speak of the whole nation being priests or holy, would support this wider perspective.”

The rabbis treated individual Israelites as priests, and yet they did not. I doubt they believed that an average Israelite could go into the innermost sanctuary on the Day of Atonement, for that was reserved for the high priest. But they did apply purity rules to the table, as if it were a little temple. Plus, after the destruction of the Temple, Leviticus Rabbah spiritualized the sacrifices. Maybe they did view average Israelites as priests, in some way, shape, or form.

I wonder how the Qumran community addressed verses on the holiness of all Israel. But I can understand why it was reluctant to make every member of the community a priest, since a big reason for its formation was a desire to uphold the Zadokite priesthood, which was on the outs when the Hasmoneans ran the Temple.

What Fiorenza says about the Qumran community reminds me of something Samuele Bacchiocchi told Joe Tkach, Jr.: the Worldwide Church of God is becoming more New Covenant-oriented in terms of the law, yet it holds on to the same Old Covenant hierarchy in its leadership structure (or it claims it does–the Armstrongs were not legitimate priests).

The issue concerned how people could experience God. Was it through the temple? Could one experience him at a meal? What if Christ fulfilled the sacrifices?

How do we even know when we’re experiencing God? Is it a feeling we have? Or did the ancients believe they were experiencing him regardless of their feelings or lack thereof, since they were following their dogma on how to have a relationship with the divine?

About jamesbradfordpate

My name is James Pate. This blog is about my journey. I read books. I watch movies and TV shows. I go to church. I try to find meaning. And, when I can’t do that, I just talk about stuff that I find interesting. I have degrees in fields of religious studies. I have an M.Phil. in the History of Biblical Interpretation from Hebrew Union College in Cincinnati, Ohio. I also have an M.A. in Hebrew Bible from Jewish Theological Seminary, an M.Div. from Harvard Divinity School, and a B.A. from DePauw University.
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