Wednesday, July 12, 2006

Jesus' Priesthood in the Gospels

From the treasure troves of the Saint Paul Center's on-line article collection, here's an essay by Crispin Fletcher-Louis. Fletcher-Louis argues that there was a priestly consciousness in Jesus' self-understanding. In particular he highlights the cultic background of the "Son of Man" tradition--something scholars have often overlooked.

In fact, because of Protestant bias, Fletcher argues that priesthood has been altogether neglected. He writes,

"Jesus' priestly character has been ignored, first and foremost, because the priesthood has itself been ignored in modern biblical studies. In the Old Testament the priesthood--its ordination, clothing, sacrificial and other responsibilities--is described with considerable detail; in the Pentateuch (Exodus-Numbers), in the works of the Chronicler and various other tets (e.g., Ezekiel, Zechariah 3-6, Malachi, Joel). But Old Testament scholarship has traditionally marginalized these portions of the canon. They have been judged a lamentable decline in Israelite religion from the pure faith of the prophets and the Deuteronomist into a post-exilic obsession with cultic order and institutional religiousity. J. Wellhausen's brazen derision of the Priestly material in the Pentateuch is now well-known as a parade example of the commitments and values of the (liberal) Protestantism that has dominated biblical scholarship for the majority of the modern period. Disinterest in, for example, the description of Aaron's garments in Exodus 28 and the minutiae of Tabernacle measurements and upholstery in Exodus (25-31, 35-40), reflects for this scholarly 'tradition' a deeply felt antipathy to anything that smacks of a high church spirituality. And that antipathy has, until the post-modern resurgence of interest in metaphor, story, drama and sacrament, been validated by the modern secular opposition to mystery, symbol, allegory and ritual (a.k.a. 'magic')."

Going on, Fletcher-Louis mentions Jesus' use of Psalm 110, which, in the second Temple period, was understood as describing a royal-priestly messianic figure. However, the most insightful part of the article is his analysis of Jesus' self-description as the "Son of Man." Among other things, he demonstrates how the eschatological "Son of Man"--in particular the "Son of Man" in Daniel 7--was linked to priestly traditions. For example, Daniel 7 describes the Son of Man coming in the clouds. He links this to Leviticus 16, where the priest enters the holy of holies "in a cloud" of incense (cf. 16:13).

Furthermore, Fletcher-Louis relates the way the high priest had the dual role of both representing God to the people, and the people to God. Here we have a corollary to what we find in Daniel's Son of Man figure as well, who was likewise understood as bearing the image of the divine and representing God's people (e.g., receiving the kingdom of God).

In order to support his priestly reading of Daniel 7, he turns to other Jewish texts such as the book of Enoch, which clearly describes the "Son of Man" in priestly terms. Moreover, he mentions that Revelation 1 seems to make the natural connection between Jesus' identity as the Son of Man and his priesthood (e.g., Jesus wears priestly garments).

Another key insight found in this article pertains to the account of the healing of the woman with a flow of blood (Luke 8:43-48). There we read about Jesus' "contagious holiness." The woman reaches out and touches Jesus' garment--but instead of making Jesus unclean, power flows from Jesus and cures her. Fletcher-Louis shows that there is no precedent for this--i.e., no example of someone being cured by touching the garment of a healer. He argues that this story is best understood in connection with the "contagious holiness" of the priest. In the Old Testament, it is the priest's garments which are capable of communicating holiness. He looks at passages such as Ezekiel 44:19,
"And when [the priests] go out into the outer court to the people, they shall put off the garments in which they have been ministering, and lay them in the holy chambers; and they shall put on other garments lest they communicate holiness to the people with their garments."
The article is truly amazing. Be sure to read the whole thing.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Thanks for this link Michael, and thanks for your blog in general. I'm a protty but not being a scholar I am not that biased (and if Jesus didn't have a priestly role we wouldn't be able to pray)