I Chronicles 27:5-6 states (in the KJV): “The third captain of the host for the third month was Benaiah the son of Jehoiada, a chief priest: and in his course were twenty and four thousand. This is that Benaiah, who was mighty among the thirty, and above the thirty: and in his course was Ammizabad his son.”
Benaiah is present in many places in II Samuel, I Kings, and I Chronicles, specifically within the context of the reign of King David or of King Solomon. II Samuel 23:20-21 and I Chronicles 11:22-23 list some of his great feats: killing lionlike Moabite men, killing a lion in a pit, and killing a large Egyptian warrior with the warrior’s own heavy spear.
But only in I Chronicles 27:5 is Benaiah said to be the son of a priest. What is more, Benaiah’s father Jehoida is called a chief priest. That does not mean that Jehoida was a high priest, for the Hebrew uses a different phrase for that (ha-cohen ha-gadol, whereas in I Chronicles 27:5 Jehoida is called ha-cohen rosh), plus, during the time of David, Zadok and Abiathar were the high priests. But I Chronicles 27:5 may be implying that Jehoida was a descendant of Aaron, for Aaronides in Chronicles are usually the ones who are priests.
Because Benaiah is said to be a son of a priest only in I Chronicles 27:5, one may inquire if the Chronicler made that up. Good question. Yet, I wonder if hints of Benaiah’s priestly heritage may be evident in a story in I Kings 2. Joab is clinging to the horns of the altar, and King Solomon commands Benaiah to go in and kill Joab, which Benaiah is reluctant to do. More than one person has speculated that this would defile the sanctuary, since there are laws that try to keep death away from the realm of the holy. I write about that here. Still, I am curious: Did Solomon assign this task specifically to Benaiah because Benaiah was the son of a priest and thus had a right to enter the sanctuary?
Speaking of the holy and death, an issue that I have wondered about more than once on this blog concerns the priests who fought in battles. Benaiah may be one example of this. Phinehas, the grandson of Aaron, accompanies the Israelites to battles or potential battles. The Maccabees were another example. Josephus was a general, and he brags about being descended from one of the twenty-four courses of priests. My problem has been this: Would this violate the purity rules of Leviticus 21, which try to keep priests away from human corpses?
I recently read an article that may shed light on this issue. It is by Christophe Batsch, and it is entitled “Priests in Warfare in Second Temple Judaism: 1QM, or the Anti-Phinehas”. It appeared in the 2010 book Qumran Cave 1 Revisited, and you can read the article (minus a few pages) here. The article highlights the diversity of views in Second Temple Judaism about whether priests should participate in war. Some said yes, and some said no. One view was that they could, as long as they killed people with a long spear so as to avoid direct contact with the corpse of their enemy. I wonder if Benaiah grabbing the spear of the large Egyptian and killing him with it would accord with such a requirement.
Another issue concerns Benaiah’s city. Benaiah is repeatedly said to be from Kabzeel, and Kabzeel was not a Levitical city. Consequently, some question whether he was a priest. But could Benaiah have moved to Kabzeel from a Levitical city?