As a collection of diverse writings spanning roughly a thousand years, the Bible itself bears witness to the internecine priestly rivalries that plagued ancient Israel, and in one case even extended into the Christian era. And as is apparent from this entry’s title, each of these competing priestly guilds wrote a text whose purpose was to legitimate their guild’s right to be Yahweh’s sole anointed priests forever. In this rather lengthy post, we will survey how these competing texts interact with one another both historically and narratively, and the techniques these scribes used to legitimate their guild’s or sect’s perceived privilege to minister forever as Yahweh’s priest(s).
Reading the Pentateuch Narratively at Face-Value: Observing Contradictions and Discrepancies
Numbers 25:6-13 presents Yahweh declaring “a covenant of eternal priesthood” to Phinehas and his seed as a direct result of Phinehas’ zeal in safeguarding Yahweh’s sacred space by killing a male Israelite and a female Midianite who encroach upon this sacred space. According to the chronology of this narrative, this all happens in the latter half of 40th year of the wilderness period (see Num 20:27-29 & 33:38).
Yet in this same latter half of this 40th year and at the same geographical location (on the plains of Moab), Yahweh contradictorily selects all Levites as his priests, to minister the cult before him forever (Deut 18:1-5; cf. 17:9, 17:18, 24:8, 27:9, 33:8-10). Has Yahweh forgotten the eternal covenant he has just proclaimed to solely Phinehas and his seed merely weeks or months earlier? Has he also completely forgotten that for the past 38 years he has repeatedly proclaimed Aaron and his seed as his sole anointed priests and conversely assigned all non-Aaronid Levites as non-priestly attendants to the Aaronid priests (see #152, #220)?
This is just one of the problems associated with reading the Bible’s “supposed” homogeneous narrative and message at face-value. Against this centuries later imposed framework, the texts of the Bible reveal multiple narratives, messages, and even ideologies. Narratively speaking the mess starts at Sinai. Let’s take a look at the texts.
1) At Sinai, sometime in the last few months of the same year of the Exodus, Yahweh chooses Aaron and his seed among the tribe of Levi to minister as his sole officiating priests and declares that “they shall have the priesthood as an eternal law” (Ex 28:1-4, 41-43; 29:1-9). Only an Aaronid can be priest, atone for sins, enter Yahweh’s inner shrine, burn incense, etc. (see #220 & #254 for a summary of these Aaronid priestly privileges).
2) Yet in Exodus 32:33, during this same time period, Yahweh threatens “to wipe out” Aaron (“the one who has sinned against me”) for his role in fabricating the Golden Calf (for more see #157, #160-161); and moreover it is the Levites in general and not the Aaronids who are here portrayed as functioning as priests, that is expiating and atoning for Aaron’s sin, by killing the guilty party.
In other words, while Moses is on top of Sinai receiving from Yahweh the “eternal law” stipulating that only Aaron and his seed can be priests, on the bottom of Sinai Aaron is in the process of fabricating one of Israel’s greatest sins, the Golden Calf! Can’t Yahweh foresee this—or, nay just peer down the mountain slope and see what’s transpiring below? He declares Aaron as his sole messiah (anointed priest) and yet minutes/hours/days later vows to wipe him out! Fickle this deity. Or are these different textual traditions, with competing priestly agendas, that were stitched together into their current positions centuries after they were written? But before we go there, let us continue with our naive reading of the narrative at face-value.
3) Despite Aaron’s role in producing Israel’s “great sin” and Yahweh’s vow to wipe him out because of this sin, Yahweh nevertheless immediately (minutes/hours/days) changes his mind again and reaffirms on 1/1/2 (counting from the Exodus) Aaron and his seed’s sole right to be Yahweh’s anointed priests, “an eternal priesthood through their generations” (Ex 40:13-15; Lev 7:35-36).
4) A month later (2/1/2), Yahweh tells Moses that all non-Aaronid Levites shall be given to Aaron and his seed “to attend to him,” “to do the work of the Tabernacle.” At this time Yahweh also reaffirms that Aaron and his sons alone “shall keep the priesthood. . . any outsider shall be put to death!” (Num 3:5-10; cf. 8:18-19).
5) Sometime during the wilderness period the Kohathites, from the tribe of Levi, try to make a stand for the priesthood (or some of its functions) and Yahweh brutally repels them and reasserts that “one who is not from Aaron’s seed cannot come forward to burn incense in front of Yahweh” (that is, be in the Tent of Meeting). Any non-Aaronid “who approaches Yahweh’s Tabernacle will die” (Num 17-18). Yahweh also reaffirms the Levites subordination as ministers to the Aaronid priests (Num 18:2). See #246-250, #254.
6) After Aaron’s death on the 5th month of the 40th year from the Exodus (Num 20:27-29), Yahweh grants Phinehas, Aaron’s grandson, “the covenant of eternal priesthood” for presumably preventing a non-Aaronid male and foreign woman from approaching Yahweh’s sacred space, as stipulated in previous laws found in Num 3-4 and 18. Thus Yahweh upholds his “eternal covenant” with the Aaronid priesthood through the seed of Phinehas (Num 25:6-13).
7) Yet roughly in the same month or months, Yahweh, now forgetting everything that he has just announced as “eternal law” during the past 40 years—so apparently both long and short-term memory has failed him—contradictorily declares that all Levites, “all the tribe of Levi,” can minister as his priests “for all time,” offer burnt-offerings, atone for sins, eat of the sacred meals, and even burn incense in Yahweh’s presence (Deut 18:1-5; 17:9, 18; 24:8; 27:9; 33:8-10), all of which were unique privileges assigned solely to Aaron and his seed by Yahweh as “eternal laws” and an “eternal covenant.” In fact, Deuteronomy rather assumes that the whole tribe of Levites are eligible for the priesthood and all of its functions, while at the same time mentions nothing about the Aaronid priesthood nor their “eternal covenant” and selection by Yahweh as his sole anointed priests, nor the fact that Yahweh himself punished by death, and will punish by death, all non-Aaronid Levites who perform the priestly roles uniquely assigned to the Aaronids! Has Moses consciously suppressed and omitted from history Yahweh’s “eternal laws” with reference to Aaron and his seed, his granting of “a covenant of eternal priesthood” to the seed of Phinehas, and his commandment that all non-Aaronid Levites cannot approach Yahweh, burn incense before him, or administer to the cult? Or, is this a different textual tradition written by a different priestly guild?
But before we go there, we can proceed with this naive narrative reading beyond the books of the Pentateuch. So . . .
8) Despite Yahweh’s insistence for 40 years that only Aaronids can minister as his priests, and that all non-Aaronid Levites are to be subordinated to the Aaronids as their attendants, we not only see Yahweh contradictorily change his mind at the end of the wilderness period (#7 above), but more so throughout the period of Judges, Samuel, and even the monarchy in Kings, Yahweh declares the Levites in general as priests! Additionally, we hear of an assortment of prophets and kings performing priestly roles that were uniquely assigned by Yahweh to the Aaronids alone on penalty of death! Conversely, we hear absolutely nothing about Aaronid priests, nor the eternal covenant established by Yahweh with the Aaronids alone, or his “eternal laws” stipulating that only Aaronids can stand before Yahweh and minister to him! In fact, we hear nothing of the Aaronid law codes found in Leviticus and Numbers throughout this time period! Indeed, on 2 separate occasions Yahweh reminds certain individuals of the everlasting covenant he contradictorily made with . . . not the Aaronids, but the Levites in general!?
- Yahweh declares to the house of Eli at the birth of Samuel (1 Sam 2:27-30), that he has decided to revoke his covenant that he had made with the Levites in general in Egypt (?), and to instead reestablish it eternally with a yet unnamed Zadok and his seed (see 1 Kgs 2:35). There is no mention of the Aaronid eternal covenant.
- Yahweh declares to Jeremiah (33:17-22) that despite the destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple wrought by Babylon (actually by Yahweh himself according to Jeremiah’s theology) at the end of the 6th century, Yahweh will nevertheless reestablish his covenant with the Levitical priests (!). So Yahweh again seems to have forgotten his covenant with Aaron and Phinehas, and contradictorily claims that he had made a covenant with the tribe of Levi in general, which was operable during the monarchy and which he promises to restore. Has Yahweh’s memory failed him again? Or . . . is this a variant textual tradition?
My astute readers have most likely started putting the pieces together. Both of the textual traditions above refer to “the alleged” priestly covenant Yahweh made with the Levites in general. That is these texts reference the same ideology as we saw in Deuteronomy 18:1-5 & 33:8-10. And conversely they make no mention of, nor even remotely acknowledge, the “eternal covenant” and “eternal law” Yahweh made with the Aaronid priesthood and more specifically Phinehas and his seed. But we have not yet finished our naive surfacing reading of the Bible’s supposed homogeneous and unified narrative.
9) Contrary to Jeremiah’s Yahweh who professes that prior to the destruction of the Temple, the Levites in general were priests during the monarchal period, Ezekiel’s Yahweh claims that it was on account of the Levites’ corruption in the cult that Jerusalem was destroyed in the first place. And contrariwise Yahweh will reestablish only the Zadokite line as his priests, not the entire tribe of Levi as the Yahweh of Jeremiah professes, and furthermore contradictory to Jeremiah’s Yahweh, all non-Zadokite Levites will be demoted to servants of the Zadokite priests! In other words, they will not be restored as priests (Ez 44:9-24). Furthermore, Yahweh declares that this is in accord, contrary to the above, with his Torah and Laws!
10) Once again in contradictory fashion to #7 and #8 above (less so #9), the Yahweh of the 4th century post-exilic books of Chronicles claims that Aaronids did indeed function as Yahweh’s sole priests during most of the monarchy and in fact still are his sole priests, per Torah instructions (1 Chr 6:34, 23:13; 2 Chr 13:10, 31:4). Likewise, Yahweh declares as well that all non-Aaronid Levites are to be ministers to the Aaronid priests per Yahweh’s Torah instructions. This all sounds familiar and correlates with #1, and #3-6 above.
11) The Yahweh of Malachi, however, now claims again that he had made a covenant “with Levi” (2:4) in general concerning the priesthood. This text continues by claiming that the current levitical (?) priesthood has been corrupted and that Yahweh will send an anointed priest to rectify this cultic corruption. As a side note, the word “messiah” is only used of the Aaronid priests throughout the entire Bible (that is in P uniquely), save Daniel 9:26 which speaks of Onias III as an anointed priest, and Zechariah 4:14 which, like Malachi, expresses the hope that Yahweh will restore an anointed priest (and king) in Jerusalem.
12) And lastly we have a late 1st century secular writer claiming, with appeals to divine authority, that God (= Yahweh?) never declared an eternal covenant of priesthood with Aaron, never declared an eternal covenant with Levi, never declared an eternal covenant with Phinehas, and never declared an eternal covenant with Zadok and his seed, but relying on a spurious interpretation of a single verse which seems to recognize David’s role as priest claims that Yahweh made a priest of Jesus Christ forever in the manner of Melchizedek!
Even from this quick survey of a surface reading of the Bible’s texts mentioning its various and contradictory priesthoods we can conclude:
- These competing views and claims concerning which group or person Yahweh selected as his priests reflect competing priestly guilds or sects that each wrote texts legitimating their claims.
- The scribes who wrote these texts used Yahweh as a mouthpiece for their own beliefs, ideologies, and self-legitimation. Said differently, the Yahweh of these texts are no more than the literary creations of the authors who penned these texts in order to divinely legitimate the claims they were making about their priestly guilds. We visibly see, in other words, that the Yahweh of each one of these texts, not surprisingly, believes exactly what each one of these different authors—with their competing and contradictory beliefs—believed and was advocating! Indeed, this is what ancient literature was and did! But again, we have jumped ahead of ourselves.
A Historical Reading of the Texts
All of the textual discrepancies, contradictions, and even Yahweh’s wavering laws and views concerning the priesthood enumerated above can be explained when one listens to the textual data and realizes that these contradictory views stem from once independent textual traditions—all of which were later stitched together and as a result created the very discrepancies and contradictions enumerated above. So now let us do an historical reading of these texts, that is what the study of these texts themselves have revealed.
The Post-Exilic Aaronid Priesthood and the Texts They Wrote
First, it is not a coincidence that the only bodies of literature that mention the eternal covenant of the Aaronid priesthood, and the fact that all other non-Aaronid Levites are to be subordinated to the Aaronids are the texts encompassing the last chapters of Exodus (Ex 25-31 & 35-40), the book of Leviticus, and 70% of Numbers on the one hand, and the books of Chronicles on the other hand—that is, what scholars have identified as the Priestly scroll on the one hand and the 4th century text of Chronicles on the other hand.
Second, on the flip side, it is not a coincidence that the textual traditions, and the Yahweh of these textual traditions, in Deuteronomy, Joshua to Kings, and Jeremiah do not mention nor even acknowledge the existence of an Aaronid priesthood, the “eternal law” of priesthood granted to Aaron and his seed by Yahweh, and the subordination of all other non-Aaronid Levites. That is, while the 4th century work of Chronicles repeatedly mentions the eternal covenant of the Aaronid priesthood and the subordination of all non-Aaronid Levites, and to a lesser degree ditto for the 4th century books of Ezra and Nehemiah, the 9th-7th century books of Joshua through Kings, and even Jeremiah do not! Why? Because the Aaronid Priestly scroll (Gen 1:1-2:3, 5:1-31, 11:10-32, 17:1-27, 28:1-9, 48:3-7; Ex 6:2-30, 12:1-20, Ex 25-31 & 35-40, the book of Leviticus, and 70% of Numbers) had not yet been written!
In other words, two of the decisive reasons why the Priestly source of the Torah has been dated by scholars to the post-exilic period is:
- because of its parallels in language and Aaronic priestly ideology with other post-exilic texts, particularly the books of Chronicles, but also to a lesser degree Ezra, Nehemiah, and Ezekiel; and
- because no other texts of the Bible, particularly the history from Deuteronomy to Kings, and the text of Jeremiah display any knowledge of the cultic law code found in Leviticus, nor for that matter Yahweh’s decree that solely Aaronids are to minister before Yahweh in an eternal covenant throughout their generations.
Additionally, when the 4th century author of Chronicles renarrates the same monarchic period described in the earlier books of Kings, he does so by adding retrospectively into his retelling his own priestly ideology so that in his and only his retelling of this history the Aaronid priesthood did indeed function as priests through the monarchy, contrary to the books of Kings.
- The Chronicler creates an Aaronid pedigree for Zadok, and showing an awareness of the “covenant of eternal priesthood” given to Phinehas in Num 25:6-13, assigns Zadok’s Aaronid heritage to Phinehas’ genealogy (1 Chr 15:11). The exilic priest Ezekiel could have been pulling from the same tradition when he has Yahweh proclaim that only Zadokites (understood as Aaronids from the line of Zadok) are to be priests and all other non-Zadokites are to be demoted to non-priestly attendants.
- The Chronicler accredits David with following Priestly legislation by claiming that it was David who divided the Levites into Aaronid priests and all other non-Aaronid Levites, per Torah instruction (2 Chr 8:14), that is per the Priestly scroll (contra D and Jeremiah)!
- The Chronicler also accredits Hezekiah with reestablishing this Aaronid priests and all other Levites division, per, the Chronicler claims, “the Torah of Moses” (2 Chr 30:16, 31:2-4), but again this is contradictory to “the Torah of Moses” per Deuteronomy and the Yahweh of Deuteronomy!
Additionally, the authors of these 4th century texts—Chronicles, Nehemiah, and Ezra—who were most likely Aaronid priests themselves or sympathetic to Aaronids, constantly refer to the past (again contra Deuteronomy through Kings) and the present by speaking of the distinction between “the priests and the Levites” (1 Chr 13:2, 15:14, 23:2; 2 Chr 11:3, 24:5, 29:4, 29:25-35, 35:10; Ezra 1:5, 2:30, 3:8, 6:20, 7:7, 9:1; Neh 12:30).
Furthermore, there are several places where the 4th century author of Chronicles specifically references laws only found in the Priestly scroll, and again this evidence should be weighed against the fact that Deuteronomy through Kings do not reference this body of legislation, that is the Priestly source. For example,
And the Levites were appointed to all manner of the services of the Tabernacle of the house of God. But Aaron and his sons made offerings upon the altar of burnt-offering and upon the altar of incense [see Num 17-18], performing all the tasks of the most holy place, to make atonement for Israel, according to all that Moses the servant of God had commanded. (1 Chr 6:48-49; cf. 2 Chr 13:10)
The appointment of the Levites as ministers of the Tabernacle and conversely the Aaronids as sole priests “according to all that Moses commanded” is a direct reference to legislation found only in the Priestly scroll (Ex 28:1-4, 41-43; 29:1-9; 40:13-15; Lev 7:35-36; Num 3:5-10; 8:18-19; 18:2-7). And, conversely, a direct refusal to acknowledge the contradictory legislation in the Deuteronomic version of Moses’ commandments! This is because the author of Chronicles is referencing another text produced by this same Aaronid guild, and used to further legitimate their “divine” appointment.
What we should note in all of this is that both the Priestly scroll and Chronicles-Ezra-Nehemiah are post-exilic compositions written in the Persian period when Israel had no king. The Aaronid priesthood functioned as both the political and religious leader during this temple-state, and they wrote the Priestly scroll circa the 6th century and set its narrative in the archaic past at Sinai in order to legitimate their “divinely-ordained” sole right to rule as Yahweh’s anointed priests, while conversely subordinating all other non-Aaronid Levites underneath them. These pro-Aaronid “eternal laws” and “covenant of eternal priesthood” were an attempt to single out with divine authority the Aaronids from among the tribe of Levi as Yahweh’s sole priests. Prior to these post-exilic creations, in other words, there was the Deuteronomic “Mosaic” legislation accrediting all the tribe of Levi with these priestly functions. In other words, this 7th century body of literature did not know of the 6th century Priestly scroll with its pro-Aaronid legislation and ideology because it had not yet been written!
The pre-exilic Deuteronomic School and the Levitical Priesthood
The literature so far suggests that the Aaronid priesthood did not come to power until the post-exilic era, wherein they wrote texts—the Priestly scroll—set in the archaic past to legitimate their “eternal covenant” as Yahweh’s anointed priests, and rewrote history—the books of Chronicles—to have history now accord with their ideology. On the other hand, the literature also suggests that it was common practice prior to the post-exilic era for the whole tribe of Levi to function as Yahweh’s priests. And these levitical scribes also wrote texts to legitimate their priesthood.
Scholars have long surmised that the absence of any Aaronid ideology, and conversely the presence of an agenda that for all intents and purposes may be labeled as pro-Levitical, in Deuteronomy, Joshua, Samuel, and Kings was due to the fact that the Priestly scroll had not yet been written! In other words, the Moses of Deuteronomy can claim as Yahweh’s commandments that all Levites may be priests, atone for sins, place burnt-offerings on the altar, and burn incense, etc. (Deut 18:1-5; 17:9, 18; 24:8; 27:9; 33:8-10) because the pro-Aaronid legislation that narratively precedes the book of Deuteronomy historically had not been written yet! Deuteronomy is the product of the 7th century; whereas the Priestly scroll (Leviticus and 70% of Numbers) was most likely penned in the 6th and 5th centuries. Even the 6th century book of Jeremiah doesn’t bear witness to the Priestly scroll, contradictorily claiming that Yahweh has and will select all Levites as his priests, and as we previously saw also contradictorily claiming against the Priestly source and its Yahweh, that Yahweh did not command sacrifices during the wilderness period, which the Aaronid written Priestly scroll is adamant in saying that he did (#155).
These differences, as well as hundreds of other textual differences and contradictions evidenced by this collection of ancient literature irrefutably bear witness to different and competing textual traditions which represented competing agendas, ideologies, and rivalry priesthoods.
The presentation of Aaron as responsible for fabricating one of Israel’s greatest sins is a prime example. Here, this author attempted to denigrate the line of Aaronid priests by attacking their forefather, Aaron—or at least showing him in a less than favorable light. Historically we know that the Golden Calf narrative is a polemic and parody of Jeroboam I’s calf altars in northern Israel (see 2 Kgs 17; #162), which were most likely officiated over by Aaronid priests. Thus the pro-levitical author of this narrative claims that Jeroboam and his Aaronid-led priests are committing apostasy by worshiping calves (see #157). Historically speaking then, “the one who has sinned” against Yahweh and whom Yahweh threatens to wipe out is in fact Jeroboam 1 and the northern kingdom, seen from the perspective of southern Judean scribes as Assyria’s destruction of Israel in 722 BCE.
Melchizedek, Jesus Christ, and the Author of Hebrews
As surveyed above, ancient priestly guilds wrote texts set in the archaic past that legitimated their guild’s beliefs and ideology by placing those beliefs on the lips of Yahweh in their textual compositions and having Yahweh select their guild’s forefather and his seed as sole right to function as his priests. In later Jewish and early Christian periods, scribes no longer wrote narratives set in the archaic past to legitimate their beliefs; rather since this collection of Jewish literature—the Laws and the Prophets—had earned themselves the status of “the word of God” by the 1st century BCE, New Testament authors merely had to re-interpret this text in support of their own beliefs, thus also legitimating with appeals to divine authority their own beliefs and ideology. This is exactly what the author of Hebrews does in his reinterpretation of Psalms 110:4, and indeed in his citation of just about every Old Testament text he uses.
Psalm 110:4 in its proper Jewish context already evidences interpretive problems. First, Hebraists alternate between a reading of the Hebrew malkî-zedek as referring to the mysterious character Melchizedek of Genesis 14 (see #3) and a more literal rendering as “the righteous king,” and thus a reference to David or the Davidic line. In either case, the Psalm most likely reflects the views of an era or author who saw David or the Davidic king embodying both functions of king and priest. The Psalm itself, despite its use and reinterpretation in the early Christian period, is addressed to a Lord, either envisioned as David himself or a later Davidic king. Or, this Psalm might function as a polemic against kingship (see verse 5) and instead of a kingly rule, it expresses the rule of a priest “forever after the manner of Melchizedek.” But in either case, this text was not intended by its author as a messianic prophecy of Jesus! These beliefs, obviously, reflect those of its 1st century CE readership and not the author of this text nor the historical circumstances he sought to address.
Psalm 110 is not the only visible place where this author imposes his own beliefs upon the texts of the Hebrew canon, squeezing from them an interpretation that not surprisingly accords and affirms this author’s own beliefs. For this same hermeneutic violence happens with almost every other passage he cites or alludes to in reference to his interpretation of Psalm 110.
- The author of Hebrews claims, against the textual evidence, that there was a change in the priesthood and that another Aaronid priesthood after the Torah did not arise (7:11-12). Additionally, he seems to accredit this as an “annulling of the former commandment” (7:18). Our author’s argument is that since Psalms 110 comes after the Torah, then it has annulled the law (Heb 7:18, 28). But this pre-biased interpretation not only favors this author’s personal theology, but it fails to address the texts of the Torah themselves as well as texts coming after the Torah, narratively speaking. For we have seen above that Yahweh selects the Levitical priesthood to rule forever (Jer 33:17-22), and the Zadokite Aaronid priesthood (Ezek 44 & Chronicles). So following this author’s loose rationale, we could continue this type of logic by noting that since the text of Ezekiel comes after Psalms, even if we were to read Psalm 110 as this author did, we would have to conclude that Yahweh makes an eternal covenant of priesthood with the Zadokite line, not the order of Melchizedek!
- The alleged “former commandment” that this author refers to with respect to the Torah laws about the Aaronid priesthood also denies what the text—and its Yahweh!—claim. The Aaronid priesthood is called “an eternal law” and expressed as an “eternal covenant” by Yahweh himself! This author also speaks of there being no “oath,” when indeed there is more than an oath being expressed in Leviticus, Ezekiel, Jeremiah, and Chronicles. What is spoken of are eternal covenants or priesthoods envisioned as remaining forever.
- This brings me to this author’s use of Jeremiah 31:31-34 (Heb 8:10-12), a staple passage in later Christian exegesis used to substantiate their reading of the “new covenant,” again at the expense of the message of our author here, Jeremiah, and his God! For this new covenant that Jeremiah speaks of, contrary to the author of Hebrews’ attempted exegesis, explicitly identifies the Levites as those whom Yahweh will re-establish this new covenant with, not Melchizedek (Jer 33:17-22)! So our 1st century CE author grossly and falsely re-presents these textual traditions.
Of course, this is all transparent to astute readers. The whole scriptural argument throughout Hebrews is designed for one purpose and one purpose only—to lend authority to his and his community’s beliefs about Jesus the Christ. But these beliefs come at the expense of the texts of the Hebrew Bible and the beliefs and messages of these authors.
Finally, similar to the manner in which this author fails to truthfully re-present the beliefs of the various authors of the Hebrew canon he cites, modern Christians also fail to truthfully re-produce, let alone understand, this author’s unique set of beliefs.
Besides his scriptural argument to present Christ and his alleged priesthood in the order of Melchizedek as a higher and “perfect” priesthood, his aim was also to claim analogously that Christ’s sacrifice on the cross, his blood, was more efficacious than the blood thrown on the altar of Yahweh by the Aaronid priesthood. His point? That contrary to the sacrificial slaughtering of goats and sheep and the annual “necessity” to atone for new sins, Christ’s sacrificial blood atoned for sins once and for all (7:27, 9:12, 10:2-3, 10:10). Thus this author’s personal theological conviction that Christ’s blood atoned for sins once and for all rests on an imperceptible premise that often goes unnoticed by Christin readers—namely, that once a Christian has been purified through Christ’s sacrifice, he cannot sin again! Indeed to do so denigrates, insults, and renders common Christ’s sacrificial blood atonement to the level of those earthly sacrifices performed by the Aarond priesthood, a point which our author has vehemently argued against. Here are the passages where this theology is most clearly expressed.
For it is impossible for those who were once enlightened, and have tasted the heavenly gift, and have become partakers of the holy spirit, and have tasted the good word of God and the powers of the age to come, if they have fallen away, to renew them again to repentance since they would crucify again for themselves the son of God and put him to an open shame. (6:4-6)
Not that he should offer himself often as the high priest enters the most holy place every year with blood of another; for he then would have had to suffer often since the foundation of the world. But now, once at the end of the ages, he has appeared to put away sin by the sacrifice of himself. And as it is appointed for men to die once, but after this the judgment, so Christ was offered once to bear the sins of many. (9:25-28)
For the worshipers, once purified, would have had no more consciousness of sins. But in those [i.e., the Aaronids’] sacrifices there is a reminder of sins every year. For it is not possible that the blood of bulls and goats could take away sins. (10:2-3)
And every priest stands ministering daily and offering repeatedly the same sacrifices which can never take away sins. But this man, after he had offered one sacrifice for sins forever, sat down at the right hand of God from that time waiting till his enemies are made his footstool. For by one offering he has perfected forever those who are being sanctified. (10:11-14)
For if we sin willfully after we have received the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins, but a certain fearful expectation of judgment and fiery indignation which will devour the adversaries. Anyone who has rejected Moses’ law dies without mercy on the testimony of two or three witnesses. Of how much worse punishment do you suppose will he be thought worthy who has trampled the son of God underfoot, counting the blood of the covenant by which he was sanctified a common thing and insulted the spirit of grace? (10:26-29)
All these verses express a similar idea—that having been atoned forever for one’s sins via the one-off sacrifice of Christ’s blood, that individual can never sin again. Indeed there is no more sin; for if there was Christ’s sacrifice of atoning for sin forever would be reduced to the common Aaronid sacrifice! Anyone sinning again, according to this author: 1) demotes Christ’s sacrifice to the earthly plane similar to the common sacrifices of the Aaronid priestly cult, where we are then forced to “crucify Christ again”; and 2) places the offender on the same plane as someone who will now be judged!
In conclusion, we see that in the same way that the Aaronid guild who wrote Leviticus & Numbers legitimated their sole right to be Yahweh’s priests by writing a text that presented Yahweh granting them the priesthood eternally, and like the Levites who also wrote a text where they presented Yahweh selecting them, and ditto for Ezekiel and the Zadokites who write a text that presented Yahweh legitimating the Zadokites as priests, so too the author of Hebrews presented a scriptural interpretation from “divine authority” that basically did the same vis-a-vis Christ. All of these texts represent the beliefs of their authors—beliefs which were then legitimated through the mouthpiece of that particular community’s god.
Finally, modern Christians continue in this same practice. While holding to modern beliefs that are completely contradictory to those expressed in Hebrews for example, modern Christians will nevertheless claim through a process of re-interpretation (or violent re-appropriation) that this text, now seen as divinely inspired, legitimates their, the reader’s, beliefs. What this hermeneutic process reveals is that reader’s beliefs have trumped and triumphed over those of the writers of these texts. For my part, I have attempted to be honest to each one of these author’s beliefs on their terms, to re-produce those beliefs, and to understand them as products of their own historical climates and literary worlds. What each one of these authors believed is now a relic of the past. Modern readers replace these author’s beliefs with their own, and legitimate them, like the authors of these texts did, with appeals to divine authority.