Recent study of the priesthood in Second Temple life and thought invites a reconsideration of Jesus’ self-understanding. The appeal to Psalm 110 and Daniel 7.13 indicates that Jesus thought that, although not of priestly lineage, nevertheless he would ultimately be the nation's king and priest after the order of Melchizedek. Mark 1–6 contains a programmatic statement of Jesus’ claim to a high priestly identity as the ‘holy one of God’ (1.24), with a high priestly contagious holiness (1.40-45; 5.25-34; 5.35-43), freedom to forgive sins (2.1-12) and the embodiment of divine presence in a Galilean cornfield (2.23-28). As true high priest he makes divine presence ‘draw near’ to God's people (1.15), where before they had to ‘draw near’ to the Jerusalem temple. The hypothesis that Jesus thought he was Israel's long-awaited eschatological high priest resolves otherwise intractable problems in historical Jesus scholarship. This is Part 1 of a two-part essay.
Although some argue that traditions of a priestly messiah had little to do with either Jesus' or the early church's messianic hopes (e.g. Dunn, Jesus Remembered), other have maintained that there is likely to be some point of contact. Hebrews is evidently one example, but do we find priestly-messiah traditions earlier than that in the primitive Jesus movement.
My contribution to the debate was (I think I'll give it up now) to outline incidents and episodes in Jesus' life where Jesus appears to exercise priestly perogatives. For example:
• Cleaning lepers (e.g. Mk. 1.40-44)
• Statements about the temple tax (Mt. 17.24-6)
• Statements about what is clean/unclean (e.g. Mk. 7.1-15)
• Giving to temple (Mk. 7.9-13; 12.41-44)
• Dispensing Forgiveness (Mt. 6.8-10; Lk. 7.47)
• Binding/Loosing (Mt. 18.18)
Other interesting background features are:
- The Christology of Hebrews as a Christian expression of priestly-messianic traditions.
- Obviously the idea of two messiahs in the DSS, one Davidic and one Aaronic.
- The interpretation of Zech 6.12 in the LXX, MT, DSS and Tgs.
- Priestly-Messianic traditions outside the Qumran scrolls, e.g. Tg.Sam. 5.35 ‘I will raise up before Me a trustworthy priest, who will minister according to my word, my will, and I will establish for him an enduring kingdom and he will my Messiah all the days’.
Other written works of relevance include:
Horbury, William. "The Aaronic Priesthood in the Epistle to the Hebrews." In Messianism among Jews and Christians: Tweleve Biblical and Historical Studies. Edinburgh: T&T Clark, 2003. 227-254.
VanderKam,James C. "Jubilees and the priestly messiah of Qumran." Revue-de-Qumran 13 (1988): 353-365
Higgins, Angus John Brockhurst. "Priestly Messiah." New-Testament-Studies 13 (1967): 211-239
Donaldson, Terry L. "Levitical messianology in late Judaism: origins, development and decline." Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society 24 (1981): 193-207
Well done to Crispin for not only beating me to the punch but for pursuing this interesting subject; and probably doing it a lot better than anything I would have said anyway. This article is worth reading.