Office of High Priest was Bought


This information is taken from an article Who were the Maccabees, and how did they influence Jewish history? (LDS Caucus)| Dec. 1998 | Gaye Strathearn


Our story begins with the history from the Maccabees.  This book was also removed from our Bible so we would not know the truth.  At the time before the Messiah, the office of the high priest was bought.

So great was the pressure from these Hellenists that in 175 B.C., the high priest’s own brother, Jason, deposed him by buying the office from the Greek king, Antiochus IV (see 2 Macc. 4:7–9).Three years after Jason bought the office (about 172 B .C.), one of his senior officials named Menelaus beat Jason at his own game. While representing him before the king, Menelaus outbid Jason by three hundred talents of silver and became the new high priest (see 2 Macc. 4:23–24). Although we have no record of money exchanges involving later high priests, down to and through the New Testament era, we do see the office being filled by political appointment (see 1 Macc. 7:8–9).

When Jason’s successor, Menelaus, stole some gold vessels from the temple and sold them to neighboring cities (presumably to finance his political bribes), Onias III denounced him publicly (see 2 Macc. 4:25–34). Angered by the opposition, Menelaus sent an assassin to Syria to kill the ex-high priest (see 2 Macc. 4:34). Jason and his two immediate successors, Menelaus and Alcimus, instituted Hellenistic reforms. The author of 2 Maccabees records that Jason “abolished the lawful way of life and introduced practices which were against the law” (2 Macc. 4:11). In particular, Jason established a Greek gymnasium in Jerusalem and actively encouraged the youth to participate in its activities (see 2 Macc. 4:9–12). The gymnasium apparently became so popular that the priests were no longer intent upon their service at the altar. Instead, they “despised the temple and neglected the sacrifices,” hurrying to take part in the unlawful proceedings in the wrestling arena “whenever the opening gong called them.” They were disdaining the values and traditions prized by their ancestors, caring “above everything for Hellenic honours” (2 Macc. 4:14–16).

Menelaus and Alcimus also embraced Hellenistic practices. Menelaus escorted the Greek king, Antiochus IV, into the temple sanctuary when the king desecrated it and confiscated its riches (see 2 Macc. 5:15–16). Alcimus executed a group of 60 Hassideans, a group who campaigned against the incursion of Hellenism (see 1 Macc. 7:15–16), and he actively condemned those involved in the Maccabean Revolt (see 2 Macc. 14:3–10).

Antiochus commanded the Jews to build pagan altars and temples and to sacrifice swine and other unclean animals (see 1 Macc. 1:44–50). In Jerusalem, the temple—the central symbol of the Jewish religion—was converted into a temple for Zeus (see 2 Macc. 5:15–20; 6:1–2).

But Antiochus underestimated just how deeply Jewish religious feeling undergirded the society.  For the most stalwart of Jews, martyrdom was preferable to betraying covenantal obligations. For example, 2 Maccabees records that the aged scribe Eleazar, as well as a mother and her seven sons, submitted to torture and execution rather than eat swine flesh (see 2 Macc. 6:18–31; 7:1–42; and for comparison, Lev. 11:7–8).

In Modin, a small town 17 miles northwest of Jerusalem, a priest named Mattathias, surnamed Hasmoneas, not only refused to offer a sacrifice on a pagan altar but responded to the imperial decree by killing the Jew who attempted to comply, along with the king’s representative (see 1 Macc. 2:15–26).

Mattathias then fled into the wilderness with his five sons and anyone else who supported his stand (see 1 Macc. 2:27–30). 4 The author of 1 Maccabees identifies Mattathias’sinitial supporters as the “Hasidaeans,” a group of “stalwarts of Israel, … every one of them a volunteer in the cause of the law” (1 Macc. 2:42).

These refugee warriors became the nucleus for small pockets of organized resistance against the Greeks and Greek sympathizers. Although Mattathias only lived one year after initiating the revolt, his ideals and leadership lived on in his sons. A son named Judas (nicknamed Maccabee, “the hammer”) stepped up the resistance efforts. Under his leadership “the war turned into a full-scale campaign.”  Judas and his warriors went from a local irritation to a major threat for the Seleucid government. The crowning achievement in Judas’s military conquests was his recapture of the Jerusalem temple (see 1 Macc. 4:36–41; 2 Macc. 10:1–9).

He oversaw its purification and dedicatory festivities and initiated an annual eight-day festival known as Hanukkah (see 1 Macc. 4:52–59; 2 Macc. 10:5–8).

When Judas eventually fell in battle (see 1 Macc. 9:11–22), his brother Jonathan assumed leadership. It was Jonathan’s finesse as a statesman rather than a military leader, however, that built upon Judas’ initial military successes and won a measure of self-rule for the Jewish freedom fighters.

Perhaps his most controversial achievement was to attain the appointment as high priest (see 1 Macc. 10:20; 11:27). Though Jonathan was from a priestly family (see 1 Macc. 2:1–5), he had no legal or religious claim to the high priest’s role. His appointment was just one more evidence of how the position had devolved from a religious office into a political appointment.

When Jonathan was killed in battle (about 143–142 B.C.), his brother Simon came to political and spiritual leadership (see 1 Macc. 13:36–42; 14:35–43). The highlight of Simon’s reign occurred when he defeated the Jerusalem citadel, “the last symbol of anti-Maccabean power in Jerusalem” (1 Macc. 13:49–52), and thus achieved the last success of the revolt.

Although 1 Maccabees ends with Simon, the Maccabean dynasty continued for another 70 years, until infighting between two of Simon’s great-grandsons, Hyrcanus II and Aristobulus II, resulted in Roman intervention (by Pompey, in 63 B.C.) and subsequent Roman political control of the Holy Land (see Antiquities of the Jews, 14.3.3–4, in Josephus: Complete Works, trans. William Whiston [1960]).

Simon’s grandson, Alexander Jannaeus (176–103 B.C.), first elevated to political power the family from which Herod the Great would come. Simon appointed Antipater I as governor of Idumea (see Ant. 14.1.3). Herod the Great, Antipater I’s grandson, ruled Judea under Roman authority when the New Testament opened at the time of Christ’s birth (see Matt. 2:1–18).

Herod continued his family’s ties with the Maccabean family.  While it was the Roman Senate that had appointed him king of the Jews, he was very much aware of the need for continued support from the Maccabean dynasty. In an effort to consolidate his political power, he married Mariamne, a great-granddaughter of Alexander Jannaeus and thus an heiress to the Maccabean legacy.

As one scholar notes, however, Herod “saw all the members of the [Maccabean] family as his natural enemies.”  He was not only responsible for his wife’s death (see Ant. 15.7.4), but he also ordered the deaths of the high priest.

Aristobulus III, Mariamne’s brother (see Ant. 15.3.3); Hyrcanus II (see Ant. 15.6.1–4); Mariamne’s mother (see Ant. 15.7.8); and his two sons by Mariamne, Alexander and Aristobulus (see Ant. 16.10.3–7; 11.2–7), all because their heritage and popularity with the people posed a threat to his power.  Is it any surprise, then, that this same Herod would order the slaying of “all the children that were in Bethlehem, and in all the coasts thereof, from two years old and under” (Matt. 2:16) when wise men came searching for Him “that is born King of the Jews”? (Matt. 2:2).

The books of 1 and 2 Maccabees also shed light on the development of Pharisaism. It is generally acknowledged that although their Mosaic-law views probably dated as early as the Babylonian exile, the Pharisees’ ”first appearance asa ‘sect’ … cannot be traced further back than the time of the Maccabean Revolt.” 11 It was then that we find them first mentioned by name (see Ant. 13.10.5). It has been suggested that the Hasideans, who initially joined with the Maccabees, were in fact the ideological seed-bed from which the Pharisees sprang. Certainly during the reign of Simon Hasmoneas’s son, John Hyrcanus, they appear “to have been allies and aids to Hyrcanus, probably as lower officials and functionaries in the newly organized Hasmonean rule” 13 (see Ant. 13.10.5).

Their close relationship with the Maccabees, however, was short lived. Josephus reports that after a disagreement, Hyrcanus switched allegiance from the Pharisees to the Sadducees and “abolish[ed] the decrees (i.e., the oral law) [which the Pharisees] had imposed on the people” (Ant. 13.10.6). It wasn’t until the reign of Hyrcanus’ daughter-in-law, Alexandra (wife of Alexander Jannaeus), that the Pharisees regained a measure of political favor and their oral laws became binding upon the people once again (see Ant. 13.16.2).

Unfortunately, there is no further mention of them until the time of Herod the Great, when their political activities drew Herod’s ire (see Ant. 17.2.4). In the New Testament, they play a prominent role. Their oral laws are a major point of contention with the Savior (see Matt. 15:1–9; Matt. 23:1–33), and prominent individuals such as Nicodemus (see John 3:1), Gamaliel (see Acts 5:34), and Paul (see Philip. 3:5) are identified among their members. During New Testament times we also see two major, related repercussions on the high priest’s office as a result of events in the Maccabean period.

The precedent that had been set during Maccabean times when the office of high priest became a political appointment led to the death of the last Maccabean who held that position. Herod, unable to control the influential office of the high priest because of his strained relationship with the Maccabean family, made a vacancy in the office when he had Aristobulus III put to death. Herod was then free to appoint his own high priest; in fact, during his tenure he appointed a total of seven! According to Josephus’s record, Herod’s successors appointed another 21 before the destruction of the temple in A.D. 70 (see Ant. 20.10.1).

The New Testament identifies two of these latter appointments; the Roman procurator Quirinius appointed Annas (see Luke 3:2) in A.D. 6. Nine years later, Annas was deposed by Quirinius’s successor, Valerius Gratus. The latter appointed four high priests, the last of which was Annas’s son-in-law, Joseph Caiaphas. 14

Matthew, Mark, and Luke record that after Jesus’ arrest in the Garden of Gethsemane, he was taken and tried before the high priest. Matthew identifies this priest as Caiaphas (see Matt. 26:57). John records, however, that before going to Caiaphas, the chief priests and elders took Jesus first to see Annas (see John 18:13–14). This event has puzzled some New Testament readers. Why take Jesus to Annas, who had not been the high priest for a number of years?

The answer is that apparently Annas—like Onias III, who had proved a thorn in the side of the Hellenists after they deposed him years earlier—still wielded significant influence even though he had fallen out of political favor. The office he had held, established by the Lord as a calling to be passed from father to son, had degenerated into a political prize with significant power, and it was no longer a position of spiritual authority recognized by God.

And as effective as the Maccabees had been in winning concessions for the Jews from foreigners who governed their land, their religious and priestly leadership did not possess the legitimate priesthood authority or the moral leadership of the high priest’s office that had been lost through unrighteousness.



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2 comments on “Office of High Priest was Bought

  1. I just came across your site and am reading with interest. I’d be curious to know your opinion regarding Caiaphas when confronting Yahshua–that he tore his priestly robe. I’ve heard from some that that act disqualified him as a priest according to the Levitical instruction around the garment being reinforced to never be torn, though it sounds like he was never qualified to begin with. Thanks.

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