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  • THE TEMPLE - CH. 4 - C

    The Dress of the High-priest

    The high-priests 'by investiture' had not any more the real Urim and Thummim (their meaning even being unknown), though a breast-plate, with twelve stones, was made and worn, in order to complete the eight sacred vestments. This was just double the number of those worn by an ordinary priest, viz. the linen breeches, the coat, the girdle, and the bonnet. To these the high- priest added other four distinctive articles of dress, called 'golden vestments,' because, unlike the robes of the ordinary priests, gold, the symbol of splendor, appeard in them. They were the Meil, or robe of the ephod, wholly of 'woven work,' of dark blue color, descending to the knees, and adorned at the hem by alternate blossoms of the pomegranate in blue, purple, and scarlet, and golden bells, the latter, according to tradition, seventy-two in number; the Ephod with the breast-plate, the former of the four colors of the sanctuary (white, blue, purple, and scarlet), and inwrought with threads of gold; the Mitre; and, lastly, the Ziz, or golden frontlet. If either a priest or the high-priest officiated without wearing the full number of his vestments, his service would be invalid, as also if anything, however trifling (such, for instance, as a plaster), had intervened between the body and the dress of the priest. The material of which the four vestments of the ordinary priest were made was 'linen,' or, more accurately, 'byssus,' the white shining cotton-stuff of Egypt. These two qualities of the byssus are specially marked as characteristic (Rev 15:6, 'clothed in pure and shining linen.'), and on them part of the symbolic meaning depended. Hence we read in Revelation 19:8, 'And to her'--the wife of the Lamb made ready--'was granted that she should be arrayed in byssus vestments, shining and pure; for the byssus vestment is the righteousness of the saints.'

    Allusions to the Dress in the New Testament

    We add some further particulars, chiefly in illustration of allusions in the New Testament. The priest's 'coat' was woven of one piece, like the seamless robe of the Savior (John 19:23). As it was close-fitting, the girdle could not, strictly speaking, have been necessary. Besides, although the account of the Rabbis, that the priest's girdle was three fingers broad and sixteen yards long (!), is exaggerated, no doubt it really reached beyond the feet, and required to be thrown over the shoulder during ministration. Hence its object must chiefly have been symbolical. In point of fact, it may be regarded as the most distinctive priestly vestment, since it was only put on during actual ministration, and put off immediately afterwards. Accordingly, when in Revelation 1:13, the Savior is seen 'in the midst of the candlesticks,' 'girt about the paps with a golden girdle,' we are to understand by it that our heavenly High-Priest is there engaged in actual ministry for us. Similarly, the girdle is described as 'about the paps,' or (as in Rev 15:6) about the 'breasts,' as both the girdle of the ordinary priest and that on the ephod which the high-priest wore were girded there, and not round the loins (compare Eze 44:18). Lastly, the expression 'golden girdle' may bear reference to the circumstance that the dress peculiar of the high-priest was called his 'golden vestments,' in contradistinction to the 'linen vestments,' which he wore on the Day of Atonement.

    The Breast-plate/Mitre/Phylacteries/The Ziz

    Of the four distinctive articles in the high-priest's dress, the breast-plate, alike from its square form and the twelve jewels on it, bearing the names of the tribes, suggest 'the city four-square,' whose 'foundations' are twelve precious stones (Rev 21:16,19,20). The 'mitre' of the high-priest differed from the head-gear of the ordinary priest, which was shaped like the inverted calyx of a flower, in size and probably also somewhat in shape. According to the Rabbis, it was eight yards high (!!). Fastened to it by two (according to the Rabbis, by three) ribbons of 'blue lace' was the symbol of royalty--the 'golden plate' (or Ziz), on which, 'Holiness unto Jehovah' was graven. This plate was only two fingers wide, and reached from temple to temple. Between this plate and the mitre the high-priest is by some supposed to have worn his phylacteries. But this cannot be regarded as by any means a settled point. According to the distinct ceremony of the Talmud, neither priests, Levites, nor the 'stationary men' wore phylacteries during their actual service in the Temple. This is a strong point urged by the modern Karaite Jews against the traditions of the Rabbis. Can it be, that the wearing of phylacteries at the time of Christ was not a universally acknowledged obligation, but rather the badge of a party? This would give additional force to the words in which Christ inveighed against those who made broad their phylacteries. According to Josephus, the original Ziz of Aaron still existed in his time, and was carried with other spoils to Rome. There R. Eliezer saw it in the reign of Hadrian. Thence we can trace it, with considerable probability, through many vicissitudes, to the time of Belisarius, and to Byzantium. From there it was taken by order of the emperor to Jerusalem. What became of it afterwards is unknown; possibly it may still be in existence. *

    * When Josephus speaks of a triple crown worn by the high-priest, this may have been introduced by the Asmoneans when they united the temporal monarchy with the priesthood. Compare Smith's Dictionary of the Bible, i. 807a.

    It only requires to be added that the priests' garments, when soiled, were not washed, but used as wicks for the lamps in the Temple; those of the high-priest were 'hid away.' The high-priest wore 'a fresh suit of linen vestments' each time on the Day of Atonement.

    The Fourteen Officers

    The priesthood ministering in the Temple were arranged into 'ordinary' priests and various officials. Of the latter there were, besides the high-priest, * the 'Sagan,' or suffragan priest; two 'Katholikin,' or chief treasurers and overseers; seven 'Ammarcalin,' who were subordinate to the Katholikin, and had chief charge of all the gates; and three 'Gizbarin,' or under- treasurers.

    * The Rabbis speak of a high-priest ordained 'for war,' who accompanied the people to battle, but no historical trace of a distinct office of this kind can be discovered.

    These fourteen officers, ranking in the order mentioned, formed the standing 'council of the Temple,' which regulated everything connected with the affairs and services of the sanctuary. Its members were also called 'the elders of the priests,' or 'the counsellors.' This judicatory, which ordinarily did not busy itself with criminal questions, apparently took a leading part in the condemnation of Jesus. But, on the other hand, it is well to remember that they were not all of one mind, since Joseph of Arimathea belonged to their number--the title by which he is designated in Mark 15:43 being exactly the same word as that applied in the Talmud to the members of this priestly council.

    Their Duties

    It is difficult to specify the exact duties of each of these classes of officials. The 'Sagan' (or 'Segen,' or 'Segan') would officiate for the high-priest, when from any cause he was incapacitated; he would act generally as his assistance, and take the oversight of all the priests, whence he is called in Scripture 'second priest' (2 Kings 25:18; Jer 52:24), and in Talmudical writings 'the Sagan of the priests.' A 'Chananjah' is mentioned in the Talmud as a Sagan, but whether or not he was the 'Annas' of the New Testament must be left undecided. The two Katholikin were to the Sagan what he was to the high-priest, though their chief duty seems to have been about the treasures of the Temple. Similarly, the seven Ammarcalin were assistants of the Katholikin, though they had special charge of the gates, the holy vessels, and the holy vestments; and again the three (or else seven), 'Gizbarin' assistants of the Ammarcalin. The title 'Gizbar' occurs so early as Ezra 1:8; but its exact meaning seems to have been already unknown when the LXX translated that book. They appear to have had charge of all dedicated and consecrated things, of the Temple tribute, of the redemption money, etc., and to have decided all questions connected with such matters.

    Lower Officials

    Next in rank to these officials were the 'heads of each course' on duty for a week, and then the 'heads of families' of every course. After them followed fifteen overseers, viz. 'the overseer concerning the times,' who summoned priests and people to their respective duties; the overseer for shutting the doors (under the direction, of course, of the Ammarcalin); the overseer of the guards, or captain of the Temple; the overseer of the singers and of those who blew the trumpets; the overseer of the cymbals; the overseer of the lots, which were drawn every morning; the overseer of the birds, who had to provide the turtledoves and pigeons for those who brought such offerings; the overseer of the seals, who dispensed the four counterfoils for the various meat- offerings suited for different sacrifices; the overseer of the drink- offerings, for a similar purpose to the above; the overseer of the sick, or the Temple physician; the overseer of the water, who had charge of the water-supply and the drainage; the overseer for making the shewbread; for preparing the incense; for making the veils; and for providing the priestly garments. All these officers had, of course, subordinates, whom they chose and employed, either for the day or permanently; and it was their duty to see to all the arrangements connected with their respective departments. Thus, not to speak of instructors, examiners of sacrifices, and a great variety of artificers, there must have been sufficient employment in the Temple for a very large number of persons.

    Sources of Support for the Priests

    We must not close without enumerating the twenty-four sources whence, according to the Talmud, the priests derived their support. Of these ten were only available while in the Temple itself, four in Jerusalem, and the remaining ten throughout the Holy Land. Those which might only be used in the Temple itself were the priest's part of the sin-offering; that of the trespass- offering for a known, and for a doubtful trespass; public peace- offerings; the leper's log of oil; the two Pentecostal loaves; the shewbread; what was left of meat-offerings, and the omer at the Passover. The four which might be used only in Jerusalem were the firstlings of beasts, the Biccurim, * the portion from the thank- offering (Lev 7:12; 22:29,30), and from the Nazarite's goat, and the skins of the holy sacrifices.

    * To prevent mistakes, we may state that the term 'Therumoth' is, in a general way, used to designate the prepared produce, such as oil, flour, wine; and 'Biccurim,' the natural product of the soil, such as corn, fruits, etc.

    Of the ten which might be used throughout the land, five could be given at will to any priest, viz. the tithe of the tithe, the heave- offering of the dough (Num 15:20; Rom 11:16), the first of the fleece and the priest's due of meat (Deut 18:3). The other five, it was thought, should be given to the priests of the special course on duty for the week, viz. the redemption-money for a first-born son, that for an ass, the 'sanctified field of possession' (Lev 27:16), what had been 'devoted,' and such possession of 'a stranger' or proselyte as, having been stolen, was restored to the priests after the death of the person robbed, with a fifth part additional. Finally, to an unlettered priest it was only lawful to give the following from among the various dues: things 'devoted,' the first- born of cattle, the redemption of a son, that of an ass, the priest's due (Deut 18:3), the first of the wool, the 'oil of burning' (a term meaning 'defiled Therumoth.'), the ten things which were to be used in the Temple itself, and the Biccurim. On the other hand, the high-priest had the right to take what portion of the offerings he chose, and one half of the shewbread every Sabbath also belonged to him.

    Thus elaborate in every particular was the system which regulated the admission, the services, and the privileges of the officiating priesthood. Yet it has all vanished, not leaving behind it in the synagogue even a single trace of its complicated and perfect arrangements. These 'old things are passed away,' because they were only 'a shadow of good things to come.' But 'the substance is of Christ,' and 'He abideth an High-Priest for ever.'


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