Jewish priests and the social history of post-70 Palestine Public Deposited

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  • October 19, 2021
  • Grey, Matthew J.
    • Affiliation: College of Arts and Sciences, Department of Religious Studies
  • For over a century, most scholars have claimed that the presence, activity, and influence of the Jewish priesthood sharply declined with the destruction of the Jerusalem temple in 70 C.E. According to the traditional narrative, priestly authority in the Jewish community was replaced by the leadership of rabbinic sages, whose legal expertise superseded the third-party mediation of the divine presence previously provided by hereditary priests. Priests may have retained an honorary status in post-70 Jewish society, but functional leadership belonged to the rabbis. As a result of this model, most literary and archaeological material relating to Judaism after 70 has been viewed through the lens of rabbinic literature, rulings, and interests. In this dissertation I challenge the traditional narrative by arguing that priests did not disappear from Jewish society or abrogate their claims to national leadership with the loss of the Jerusalem temple. Literary, epigraphic, and archaeological evidence indicates that many priestly circles survived the First Revolt, continued to identify themselves as priests, retained much of their status, and contributed to Jewish social, religious, and political dynamics in Palestine for several centuries after 70. While some priests associated with the emerging rabbinic movement, others pursued independent interests and promoted a priest-centered vision of Jewish society. Examples of post-70 priestly dynamics include Josephus' endorsement of priestly leadership after the First Revolt, the priestly ideology behind the Bar Kokhba revolt in the second century, the continued presence of priestly aristocrats in Galilee, the leadership of priestly sages in the Tiberian academy during the late third and early fourth centuries, expressions of priestly nationalism in the Byzantine period, and the involvement of priests in synagogue worship. The extant sources do not allow for a complete reconstruction of post-70 priestly activity. However, there is sufficient evidence to establish a modest historical framework of Jewish priests and their activities in post-70 Palestine. This framework will help us appreciate the ways in which priestly circles contributed to Jewish dynamics after 70, and provide an alternative lens through which Jewish literature and material culture from this period can be viewed and interpreted.
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  • In Copyright
  • "... in partial fulfillment of requirements for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy in the Department of Religious Studies."
  • Magness, Jodi
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  • Chapel Hill, NC
  • Open access

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