Tuesday, April 19, 2005

The High Priestly Garments

James VanderKam writes: “During the period when the Romans assumed control of Judea, the governor took over [the high priestly garments] and permitted the high priest to have them only during festivals” (An Introduction to Early Judaism, 180). After Herod died, the garments were in the custody of Tiberius (14-37CE). Then, as a favor, Vitellius (governor of Syria) gave the people back the garments. They remained in Jewish control until the death of Agrippa 1 in 44CE. When Rome tried to reclaim the garments, the Jewish people sent a delegation to Rome and were apparently granted custody.

VanderKam concludes, “The garment was thought to convey such a powerful impression that the authorities worried about the political and social effect it might have” (181). Sirach 45.6-13 and chapter 50 indicate that the garments bestowed great splendor upon the high priest, Simon at the time (cf. 50.11). Philo suggests that the garments had cosmic symbolism (Life of Moses, 2.109-126, esp. 2.117ff.). Josephus also gives an elaborate description of the garments (War, 5.231-36).

If it is true that these garments bestowed such glory and (political) power upon the high priest, Theophilus, high priest of 37-41CE, would have been the first in some time to have enjoyed such recognition. These garments would have given legitimacy to the priesthood, a legitimacy not known previously. With Theophilus the Jewish high priesthood gained some level glory and social respect once again.

Might this lend support to the notion that the temple establishment was seen as corrupt by several social groups of the early first century, such as the Qumran sect or John the Baptist’s followers, or even of Jesus’ followers? This might even explain further Jesus' cleansing of the temple, among his other temple-related actions and speeches.

copyrighted 2005

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