[b-hebrew] 2 Samuel 8:18 “khmym”

Yigal Levin Yigal.Levin at biu.ac.il
Fri Sep 16 09:34:28 EDT 2011

While it is true that according to the Priestly lay in the Pentateuch only Levites descended from Aaron can be priests, this does not seem to have been the historical reality of the pre-exilic period. Nowhere is there a genealogy that ties Eli to Aaron, and Zadok, who becomes priest in Jerusalem in David's day and is favored over Abiathar by Solomon, is only listed as a Levitical Aaronide in the post-exilic books of Ezra and Chronicles (and implicitly by Ezekiel as well). And of course, there is 2 Samuel 8:18, but even more so Ex. 19:22, in which "the priests who approach the Lord" are told to sanctify themselves in preparation for the Mount Sinai revelation, whereas Aaron and his sons are only told that they are going to be appointed as priests in chapter 28. So what priests? 

There are several possible approaches, not all mutually exclusive. One is to assume that "Kohen" has a wider semantic range than "priest", and can also be used for "official", "elder" or "leader". This is certainly true in modern Hebrew, in which while a Jewish "Kohen" is always a descendent of Aaron, non-Jewish clergy are often referred to by the same term (although there are specific terms for specific religions as well), but the term "Kehunah" and the verb "lekhahen" mean "to hold office", for secular officials as well. 

Another approach is to assume that while Mosaic Law proscribes that only Aaronide Levites can be priests, many non-Aronides "usurped" the position. For example, since Jeroboam I expelled the Levites from his kingdom, all northern priest must have been non-Aaronides. Eli and Zadok "must have been" Aaronides, even if the text does not mention the fact. Of course then one would ask why the book of Samuel has no negative comment about David making his sons priests. And a third approach is that the Mosaic Law was actually written in the post-exilic period, when all Jewish priests were considered to be Aaronides. This, of course, depends on one's general approach to critical scholarship, which we will not discuss here. 

I'm not sure exactly what "David's sons were priests" means. The preceding 3 verses list David's chief officials, and the list is very specific and personal: Joab was over the army, Jehoshaphat was the recorder, Zadok and Ahimelech were Priests, Seraiah was the scribe, Benaiah was over the Cheretites and Peletites. And then, "David's sons were priests". Which sons? All of them? Permanently? Once? There's a lot the text does not tell us.

As has been pointed out, in the 2 Chron. 18:17 parallel version, David's sons were "first at the hand of the king". The post-exilic Chronicler simply could not imagine that David's sons were actually priests, so he "reinterpreted" the text. 

Yigal Levin

-----Original Message-----
From: b-hebrew-bounces at lists.ibiblio.org [mailto:b-hebrew-bounces at lists.ibiblio.org] On Behalf Of K Randolph
Sent: Thursday, September 15, 2011 9:32 PM
To: B-Hebrew
Subject: [b-hebrew] 2 Samuel 8:18 “khmym”

B-Hebrew haburim:

This phrase, ובני דוד כהנים היו has always puzzled me. At first blush, it
looks as if it is saying that David’s sons became priests. The problem is
that in Israel’s religion, only the descendants of Aaron may become priests,
so on the surface that seems to be an unlikely reading.

Possible resolutions:

כהנים had a broader meaning than just priest as we understand it, the
position taken by the LXX which translated it as αυλαρχαι or palace

Another possibility is copyist error.

Any other ideas?

What do you all think?

Karl W. Randolph.
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