In the Book of Deuteronomy. chapter 17 it is clearly stated that the Kohanim of the Tribe of Levi, shall be the leaders and the judges of the People of Israel. They shall render decisions on the law of the Torah and their decisions shall be final. In fact, it is stated, “It there be a man who willfully refuses to accept the decision of the Kohen who stands to serve the Lord your God, that man shall be put to death.” So absolute was the power of the Kohanim as defined in the laws of the Book of Deuteronomy.
It is further emphasized in Deuteronomy 17:14-20, in the laws concerning a king of Israel, which clearly indicate that the power of the monarch shall be limited. There, after listing the elements of a king’s privileges which should be curtailed, it states that after his coronation, he must write a copy of the Torah in the presence of the Kohanim, so that he shall not feel superior to his people.
There are more laws indicating the superior power of the Kohanim in the community of the People of Israel. Chapter 21 states that all decisions affecting the People of Israel shall be made by the Kohanim, “For the Lord your God has chosen them to serve Him.” Chapter 24 reiterates that we must be on guard to adhere strictly to obey everything that the Kohanim shall tell us. And in chapter 31 of Deuteronomy we read that Moses wrote “this Torah and handed it to the Kohanim, the sons of Levi. . .in the presence of all the Elders of Israel.”
But there is no more powerful assertion of the divinely ordained authority of the Tzadukian priesthood than that stated in the Book of the Prophet Ezekiel. Ezekiel, who lived in Babylonia after the destruction of the First Temple by the Babylonians, has many fascinating visions which induce passionate, inspiring prophetic utterances. Several of his statements speak of the restoration of Jerusalem and the rebuilding of the Temple, in some of which he gives detailed specifications. In chapters 43:19 and 44:15-31 of his book he states that the Kohanim, the Levitic priests shall lead the People of Israel and shall make the authoritative decisions affecting the nation. There, concerning the altar in the Temple precincts, he states the following:
“You should give to the Levitic Priests who are
of the descendants of Tzadok,who are close to Me,
to serve Me, says the Lord God, a bullock as a sin offering.”
But it is in chapter 44:15-31, that we have the most powerful statement concerning the legitimacy of the Tzadokite Priesthood. There we read the following:
“The Levitic Priests who are the descendants of Tzadok, who guarded well My Sanctuary when the People of Israel strayed away from Me, they shall come close to Me to serve Me. They shall stand in My presence to offer up the fat and the blood [of sacrifices] says the Lord your God.
“They shall enter My Sacred Place and they shall approach My Table to serve Me and they shall guard My charge.”
After describing the garments that the priests should wear in their service and other details that pertain to the priests alone, he goes on to state their authority over the people.
44:23. “They shall teach My people to distinguish between the sacred and the profane and the clean and the unclean.”
44:24. “They shall sit in judgment over any disputes and shall judge according to My laws. And My teachings and My law, and all of My appointed times they shall keep and they shall sanctify My Sabbath days.”
It is clear and unequivocal that these declarations in the Torah and in the words of the Prophet Ezekiel establish the supremacy of the Priesthood of the descendants of Tzadok. These are powerful scriptural foundations for the rights of the Tzadokite priesthood to retain their position as the High Priests of Israel.
In addition to these divinely inspired statements by Moses and Ezekiel, there is one more element in the Zadokite claim, and that is the precedent of their having retained the priesthood for more than three hundred and fifty years.
Despite the fact that they had been ousted by the Hasmoneans, they still felt that they were, in truth, the only legitimate priests of the House of Israel. They no doubt regretted their betrayal of Judaism during the period when they submitted to the dictates of Antiochus IV Epiphanes, but time had passed and they felt that they were, in some manner, cleansed of their sin by the passage of time and their return to the traditions of the Torah as they understood them.