I Chronicles 24 is about the twenty-four courses of priests who would officiate in the Temple. They were descended either from Aaron’s son Eleazar or Aaron’s son Ithamar. These twenty-four courses would rotate their service, with each officiating at specific times in the year.
The twenty-four courses figure prominently in later literature. In the Gospel of Luke, John the Baptist’s father Zacharias belonged to the eighth course (Luke 1:5). This detail features in many Christian attempts to discover the date of Jesus Christ’s birth: they try to determine when Zacharias was ministering in the Temple, since that was the time when the angel announced that Zacharias’ wife would have a son. Then, they would take into consideration the factor that Jesus was born six months after John the Baptist.
The Maccabees were descended from Jehoiarib, who belonged to the first course (I Maccabees 2:1). The Jewish historian Josephus also claimed to belong to the first course (Life 1.2).
All of this raises questions in my mind. How could Josephus, a priest, be a leader in battle, with all the purity regulations to which priests were subjected (Leviticus 21)? Priests were subjected to very stringent laws against coming into contact with a corpse; would not battles be a place of rampant corpse contamination, however? Actually, I wonder this about more than one priest, such as Aaron’s grandson Phinehas, who went into battle (Numbers 31; Judges 20:28).
(UPDATE: Within rabbinic tradition, there is a priest anointed for war, and he cannot officiate in the Temple service once he is so anointed; rather, a deputy high priest takes his place. See here, especially Babylonian Talmud Nazir 47b.)
How could Josephus, a priest, go around exploring different sects, as Josephus says he did? How would John the Baptist, a son of a priest, be out in the wilderness preaching? Or, if you don’t believe that John the Baptist really was of a priestly line, why would Luke have no problem depicting John the Baptist as a son of a priest who is out in the wilderness? Could not priests be exposed to contamination that way? Would they not be safer from that in the Temple? Leviticus 21:12 says that a high priest cannot leave the sanctuary, for anointing oil is upon him. Does that refer to a specific situation, not all times? Or were the twenty-four courses technically not high priests, even if they were descendants from Aaron, and thus they could venture outside the sanctuary?
Another issue in my study that interested me was how some of the priestly families were questioned or missing, only to be accepted back, eventually. Only four courses came back from exile (Ezra 2:36-39; Nehemiah 7:39-42; 12:1-21). Hakkoz’s descendants were not allowed into the priesthood because their record in their genealogies could not be found (Ezra 2:61). Yet, Hakkoz is included in the list in I Chronicles 24:10. The note in the HarperCollins Study Bible says that the list in I Chronicles 24:10 must be later and the family of Hakkoz “had made gains in having its claims acknowledged.”
Very interesting James 🙂