Priestly Visions by Patrick Henry Reardon

As It Is Written . . .

Priestly Visions

by Patrick Henry Reardon

Were it not for the contrary evidence, we might not suspect how important Israel's priests and the whole tribe of Levi became during their exile in Babylon. The idea is surprising at first. Because of the reforms of Hezekiah in the eighth century and of Josiah in the seventh, the ritual service of the priests and Levites had been restricted to the temple in Jerusalem; they could not offer sacrifice anywhere else. For that reason, we might have anticipated, after the temple's destruction in 587, a corresponding loss of importance for the tribe of Levi, and especially the house of Aaron. Without an altar, we would expect the priesthood to decline in importance.

Clearly, however, this was not the case. On the contrary, the priests and Levites became more important during that half-century of exile, particularly as scholars and teachers of the Torah. When the children of Israel returned to the Holy Land, beginning in 538, the priests and Levites among them enjoyed a level of authority notably higher than they enjoyed before the exile, because they had in the intervening years made themselves sopherim, "scribes," scholars of the Torah.

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Patrick Henry Reardon is pastor emeritus of All Saints Antiochian Orthodox Church in Chicago, Illinois, and the author of numerous books, including, most recently, Out of Step with God: Orthodox Christian Reflections on the Book of Numbers (Ancient Faith Publishing, 2019).

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