Published by Worldview Publications
Context for the Christ Event: 2005.08


Israelite I

The confrontation between Moses and Aaron over the golden calf at Sinai led to the divide between the Zadokite priesthood of Aaron and the Levitical priesthood of Moses. This division became more apparent when the Aaronic priests, with the wilderness Tabernacle, accompanied Caleb the Kenezite (Midian) as they entered the Promised Land from the south and settled at Hebron in Judah (Judges 1:16-20). Meanwhile, the Levitical priests, with Moses’ tent, accompanied Joshua as they crossed the Jordan River, entered the Promised Land from the east, and settled the Ark of the Covenant in Shiloh (Joshua 18:1).1, 2

The separation between the Zadokite and Levitical priesthoods continued throughout the time of the judges and the kingship of Saul. It was only after David became king in Hebron and captured Jerusalem from the Jebusites that the northern and southern tribes were reunited, with a common place of worship. David then called Zadok, a descendant of Aaron, to come from Hebron to Jerusalem to serve as priest (2 Samuel 8:15, 17). David also asked Abiathar, a descendant of Levi, to come from Shiloh to serve as priest (1 Samuel 22:20-23). For the first time in centuries, the Zadokite and Levitical priesthoods were united. However, this union was not to last. When Abiathar opposed the appointment of Solomon as king, Solomon exiled Abiathar to Anathoth (1 Kings 2:26, 27). Solomon then felt free to introduce the worship of other gods, including Chemosh and Molech, since he — like his Zadokite priests — believed that the covenant made with Abraham was unconditional (1 Kings 11:7, 8).

With the inauguration of Solomon’s son, Rehoboam, as king, the northern ten tribes separated from Judah and instituted their own worship under Jeroboam. Calf shrines to YHWH as the divine son of El were established at Bethel and Dan (1 Kings 12:26-29). The shrines were presided over by a third priesthood entirely separate from the Zadokites and Levites. These three separate Israelite priesthoods continued until the Assyrians destroyed the northern kingdom. It was only then that Hezekiah, king of Judah, attempted to reunite the Zadokite and Levitical priesthoods (2 Chronicles 29:1-5). Tragically, Hezekiah’s son, Manasseh, abandoned these efforts. He limited the priestly ministry to the Zadokites and returned to polytheism. Finally, Josiah tried to reunite the priesthoods (2 Kings 23). However, upon his death and the apostasy of his successors, the priesthoods were again separated and eventually sent into Babylonian exile.

The underlying problem that led to this catastrophic outcome was an antithetical understanding of who YHWH was and what he intended to do:

1. For Aaron and his Zadokite successors, YHWH was one of the divine sons of the supreme God, El. Thus, El had other divine manifestations (Ba’els), represented by the air/sky, water, fire and earth. Furthermore, the Zadokite priests believed that when they entered the Most Holy Place (of the covenant), they themselves became divine.3 For the Zadokites, the covenant with El/YHWH was unconditional — not requiring the obedient and authentic witness of the people.

2. Like Moses, the Levitical priests recognized YHWH as the “I AM” — and therefore as El himself. There was no other authentic deity. Thus, the Levites believed that the offspring of YHWH were not divine but human.4 Neither were the forces of nature divine, nor were they manifestations (Ba’els) of divinity.5 They were simply created instruments that God could use for his own purposes. Furthermore, the Levitical priests understood their own role to be the prophetic and tutorial representatives of God to the people. For the Levites, the fulfillment of YHWH’s covenant was conditional — requiring the obedient and authentic witness of the people.

It was not until the appearance of Jesus Christ that these millennial-old antitheses were resolved. Jesus Christ was both El and YHWH. He was both divine and human. He was the human Son of Man and the divine Son of God. In his humanity Jesus Christ was the Levitical priest together with the Mosaic covenant and its inaugural fulfillment. In his divinity Jesus Christ was the Zadokite priest together with the Abrahamic covenant and its inaugural fulfillment. As the prophet, Jesus represented God to the people; and as the priest, he represented the people to God. Jesus Christ is indeed the “One God and Father of all, who is above all, and through all, and en [with] you all” (Ephesians 4:6).


  1. See John Crawford, “Caleb the Dog,” Bible Review 20, no. 2: 30-32, 47. (go back)
  2. “ . . . [P]erhaps he [Aaron] was Moses’ brother-in-law – other texts linking him to Moses’ father-in-law reinforce this conjecture” (John W. Miller, The Origins of the Bible: Rethinking Canon History [New York: Paulist Press, 1994], pp. 42, 45). (go back)
  3. See Margaret Barker, “Beyond the Veil of the Temple: The High Priestly Origin of the Apocalypses,” at (go back)
  4. See Margaret Barker, The Great Angel: A Study of Israel’s Second God (Louisville, KY: Westminster/John Knox Press, 1992), p. 10. (go back)
  5. “In early Israel the word baal, meaning ‘owner, master, lord,’ was often regarded more or less as a synonym of adon, ‘lord,’ . . . and so it could be used legitimately as a title of YHWH” (Encyclopaedia Judaica, CD-Rom ed. [1997], s.v. Louis F. Hartman, “God, Names of”). The term Baal (Ba’el) also may well be a conflation of the words ba and El, where El refers to the highest god, while ba is the Egyptian term for “visible manifestation.” (go back)

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