The Priestly Suppression of Ancient Truths

King Josiah's Reforms
King Josiah’s Reforms

Before moving on to more evidence of the suppression of ancient truths, this time at the hands of postexilic priestly editors, I want to mention a couple more good commentaries on the Deuteronomistic reforms, mentioned in my last post.

First, I remembered another great article–a book review–by Kevin Christensen, featured in the FARMS Review 16/2 (2004). The article is called “The Deuteronomist De-Christianizing of the Old Testament” and can be found online here. It is one of the best LDS treatments of the topic that I am covering here that I know of. It gives many insights into why the Old Testament seems to be unclear, from our perspective, on topics such as Christ, the priesthood, and the temple. I highly encourage you to take a look at it.

Also, as I have been reviewing the next chapter in Barker’s Temple Themes (no, I have not abandoned my running commentary on the book), I have noticed that she continues to provide many more great insights on this topic. On page 144 of Temple Themes, Barker states the following under the subtitle “Veiling the Temple”:

The writings of the Deuteronomists have a distinct hostility towards temple, monarchy, and theophany, and many aspects of the temple were omitted or obscured in their writings. They denied that any form had been seen at Sinai (Deut. 4:12). In their history of the monarchy, Samual warned that a king would be a disaster (1 Sam 8:10-18), and most of the kings were shown to fall far short of the Deuteronomists’ ideal…The Deuteronomists also disapproved of the temple. It was designed by foreigners, and Solomon had to sell part of his kingdom to the king of Tyre to pay the debts (1 Kgs 9:10-11). Given that these texts–1 and 2 Samuel, 1 and 2 Kings [part of the Deuteronomistic History]–are the most frequently used source for reconstructing the history of the period, any attempt to describe the temple where the LORD appeared, and the royal high priest who probably represented the LORD, faces considerable difficulties.

Their description of the temple omitted certain details which are found elsewhere.  These are not random details, but significant for any attempt to recover the older temple. It is as though the Deuteronomists wantd to rewrite the past and remove whatever theophany had implied.

She then goes through and shows how so much of what the Holy of Holies contained and what the vision of God entailed was simply ignored/suppressed by the Deuteronomists.

History Repeats Itself: The Priestly Reforms

Not long after the King Josiah’s reforms, Judah was conquered by the Babylonians. Many of the royal and priestly classes were carried off into Babylon.  Scholars have noted that while in Babylon, the captives continued to reform the religion of the Jews. We learn from Barker that the Jews in exile had consolidated and developed the definition of the chosen people, and when they returned to Judah, those who had not been deported found themselves excluded from participation in the new religion established by them. Because of the changes made to the faith, those who had not been in exile in Babylon found themselves in exile in their own land. [1]

Gabriele Boccaccini gives us some additional background to this situation. It is apparent that many preexilic religious institutions continued in Jerusalem during the exile. 90-95 % of Judahites had not been deported. The Cult of YHWH continued during the exile, and sacrifices were offered to YHWH throughout the whole period (Jer 41:4-5). Religious institutions did not need to be rebuilt from scratch. There were still Levitical families that were loyal to the Davidic king. The Persians allowed Sheshbazzar, heir of the Davidic line, to return and govern in Jerusalem. The people were overjoyed at the king’s return. Although the Zadokites (the Aaronic priestly class) had begun to oppose the power of the king in exile, it appeared as if the king and levites would have their authority restored. Sheshbazzar began to rebuild the temple of Jerusalem. However, the Zadokites had much influence among the exiles and Sheshbazzar’s building project was never completed. Mysteriously, Sheshbazzar disappears from history.  Darius I later sent Zerubbabel as Davidic king, who ruled jointly with Joshua, the Zadokite priest. This was a new political development giving the priestly class more power than ever before. The Zadokites had a new authority, set up a new priesthood structure, and built the new temple (Zech 6:9-14). The general Levitical priesthood lost the support of the king, their only source of legitimacy. New laws of purity disqualified them from serving as priests. The local population was excluded from participating in the building and administration of Temple. [2]

Before long, the last Davidic king, Zerubbabel, also disappeared and the Zadokites took power. Only exiles were allowed to participate in the temple dedication. The religious functions associated with the Davidic kingship were absorbed by the priests; the Zadokites were left alone as the supreme and unchallenged religious authority in Jewish society. The diarchy with the house of David was gone, but its royal symbols, such as the hereditary succession and the anointing, which the house of Zadok had inherited by their brief association with the monarchy, remained and marked, also visually, the Zadokites’ supersession of kingship. “The old monarchical state had been transformed into a much-reduced theocracy with the high priest as the main native spokesman and leader.” The priestly historiography did its best to hide the role that the Davidic monarchy played during the Babylonian exile and the early Persian period. The Priestly writing transfers back to Sinai the royal status of the priesthood-that they were appointed by God, and not by kings. Ezra and Chronicles (which were histories likely authored by Zadokites) both declare that the Davidic monarchy ended with Zedekiah. [3]

The purpose of this brief history is to give the reader an idea of how the Aaronic Zadokite priests came to power, by suppressing the leadership of the Davidic line, and many important points of Jewish history as well. The Aaronic priesthood apparently did not originally have all the influence that they would later claim to have. While this deserves a separate post, and I have written an entire paper on it, there is significant evidence that the Aaronic priesthood was initially a subordinate priesthood governed by the royal high priesthood (Barker’s term) that the kings held.  This makes sense in view of this theory that they got rid of the kings and then rewrote the history books to make it appear that their priestly authority was never subordinate to them. As Boccaccini explains:

In Chronicles, Sheshbazzar and Zerubbabel are barely mentioned and deprived of any political role. In Ezra, where the do have a major political role, nothing is said about their royal ancestry. Without a critical analysis of ancient sources, one would never guess that the two illustrious “governors” were from the house of David…As soon as the Temple was built and fully put in order, the usefulness of the Davidic king expired, in the eyes of the postexilic priests. “The Davidic rule, having finished its cultic task, had given way to a new regime with God’s approval because of the dynasty’s unfaithfulness”…For the Zadokites, the divine mission of the Davidic kings-the only reason for their election-was to establish the Zadokite order. Any cultic function of the king was suppressed by priestly writing. Chronicles systematically omits the formula “for the sake of my servant David.” Equally lost is any reference that might suggest a special sacral relationship between God and the king. It erases any surviving reference to the priestly functions of the king, which would conflict with the exclusiveness of the Zadokite priesthood. The “sons of David” are “priests” in 2 Sam, but are transformed into “chief officials in the service of the king” in 1 Chr. In Chr, King Uzziah is criticized for offering sacrifice, which I Kgs allows. [4]


According to James VanderKam, it was Zerubbabel, the representative of the Davidic dynasty, who sets the first stone of rebuilt temple-he is the most eminent person of the restoration, not Joshua the High Priest. However, in the later writings of the period, Joshua alone is the protagonist and he does not share the stage with Zerubbabel. [5] It is the Zadokites who end up finishing the Second Temple and who govern its rites and doctrines.
Under the Zadokites, the rebuilt temple was not simply the restoration of the old sanctuary but a new one with new rules and a new priesthood. They created a distinction between “priests” and “levites,” a distinction unknown in preexilic Judaism (61). Further distinction was made between the sons of Zadok (now referred to as “high priests”), who were direct descendents of Aaron’s son Phinehas, and the other descendants of Aaron’s sons Eleazar and Ithamar (the “priests”), and between them and the rest of the descendants of Levi (the “levites”). Boccaccini even goes so far as to declare that “the creation of the Aaronite priesthood was a postexilic phenomenon” and that the Zadokites legitimized their power by tracing their priesthood back to Aaron in their own priestly version of Israel’s history (64-65). [6]

The Second Temple

The Second Temple

It is evident from non-Zadokite literature of the Second Temple period that there were many parties who did not accept the new religion of the Zadokites, nor their new temple. They recognized that many rituals and beliefs had been changed and that the priests of the Second Temple were very different from those of the First. Many of the levites and priests who had not gone into exile knew that the Second Temple and its priesthood were corrupt and polluted.  Many of these critics were excluded from participating in the new exiles-only Temple. Some scholars believe that many of these were then exiled from the community or voluntarily removed themselves to escape the corruption. The community at Qumran, the compilers of the Dead Sea Scrolls, may fit this description.


Qumran Site

Qumran Site

VanderKam informs us that the “inhabitants at Qumran may have been high-ranking priests that removed themselves from temple at Jerusalem” and that “the Teacher of Righteousness [at Qumran] wanted his group to return and attempt to restore an older order of the high priesthood.” [7]

According to Margaret Barker:

We are told that the Aaronic high priesthood line was uninterrupted and that the rituals between First and Second Temple were unchanged. Many voices (Enochians, 3rd Isaiah, Zechariah, Dead Sea Scrolls, etc.) condemn priesthood of Second Temple as corrupt and false. The Second Temple was an era of wrath, exemplified by wicked priests. They awaited the true temple. The second temple had had a significantly different “religion” from the first, and even though most of the source material has passed through “second temple” hands, it is clear that a return to the original temple was part of the religious and political agenda of, for example, the Qumran community. For them, the second temple was both the cause and the sign of divine wrath. [8] 

Boccaccini believes (as discussed in a previous post) that the community of Qumran were a part of the so-called Enochic Judaism movement.  According to this theory, the “Enochians” claimed to represent a competing (and more ancient) priestly line than that of the ruling Zadokite priesthood, and did not recognize the legitimacy of the second temple and maintained that Israel was still living in exile. [9] The Enochic literature testifies to the existence, during the Zadokite period, of a nonconformist priestly tradition.  Enochic Judaism directly challenged the legitimacy of the second Temple and its priesthood. Attribution to Enoch (and all Patriarchs from Adam) of priestly characteristics suggests the existence of a pure prediluvian, and pre-fall, priesthood and disrupts the foundations of the Zadokite priesthood, which claimed its origin in Aaron at the time of the exodus. However, because the Zadokites had changed the priestly genealogies and virtually extinguished the High Priesthood of the ancient order, some who could previously prove their right to the priesthood were now excluded and had to prove it through their own literature. [10] This literature would include the Enoch writings, the book of Jubilees, and the Aramaic Levi document–all found at Qumran.


Robert Kugler lends support to this conclusion, telling us that: The [Qumran] Community’s roots can be traced to priests dispossessed of their role in the temple by an apostate and usurping high priesthood. It is understandable that among them would be found literature exalting priesthood classes that had been dispossessed. [11]

While I have not gone into detail here regarding what, doctrinally, the Zadokites reformed, my purpose has been to present some brief evidence that they did make major reforms that some other parties saw as corrupt.  They elevated their position to a place of supreme religious/political authority, when they had previously been subordinate to the kings. The rebuilt temple was considerably different from the First Temple in terms of its rituals and beliefs. I have discussed this topic briefly before. Unfortunately, much of what we know of the Old Testament temple actually comes from memories of the Second Temple. I believe that this is one of the main reasons that the descriptions we have of what the ancient temple was like seem so different from what we know as the Temple today. While there is not space in this post to expound on this, I think the ancient Temple was not simply a place for the offering of sacrifices, but was a place for the performance of many other ceremonies–including reenactments of the creation, other ritual dramas (where the king or high priest represents Yahweh), washings and anointings, and even marriages. However, the Second Temple did not preserve these rites. The new high priests were the leaders of a radical reform movement that changed the face of “Judaism” and suppressed ancient truths.


1] Margaret Barker. Temple Themes in Christian Worship. London: T&T Clark (2007), pp. 53-55.

2] Gabriele Boccaccini. Roots of Rabbinic Judaism. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans (2002), pp. 49-55.

3] Ibid., pp. 55-57.

4] Ibid., pp. 57-60

5] James C. VanderKam, From Revelation to Canon: Studies in the Hebrew Bible and Second Temple Literature. Supplements to the Journal for the Study of Judaism. Boston: Brill (2000), p. 171.

6] Boccaccini, Roots, 61-65.

7] VanderKam, pp. 205, 220.

8] Barker, Temple Themes, pp. 54-55, 111.

9] Boccaccini. Beyond the Essene Hypothesis. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans (1998), p. 185.

10] Ibid., pp. 72-74.

11] Robert Kugler. “The Priesthood at Qumran: The Evidence of References to Levi and the Levites,” in The Provo International Conference on the Dead Sea Scrolls: Technological Innovations, New Texts, and Reformulated Issues. Donald W. Parry and Eugene Ulrich, eds. Boston: Brill (1999), pp. 478-479.

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  1. […] you like Barkeresque restatements of Old Testament history, read “The Priestly Suppression of Ancient Truths.” It revolves around that burning question: Whatever happened to Zerubbabel? The standard […]

  2. […] you like Barkeresque restatements of Old Testament history, read “The Priestly Suppression of Ancient Truths.” It revolves around that burning question: Whatever happened to Zerubbabel? The standard […]

  3. Very impressive site. My compliments. The topics are exciting, and I’m pleased to see up and coming LDS students doing more work in light of these ideas. I’ll be very interested to see where your ongoing exploration takes you.

    One point of correction. The excellent site you mention in your discussion of Josiah’s reform is not mine (notwithstanding the links to my Barker essays), but is run by Howard Hopkins.


    Kevin Christensen
    Pittsburgh, PA

  4. Kevin,
    Thanks for visiting the site and for your encouraging comments. I really appreciate the work you have done in analyzing M. Barker’s works and presenting them to the LDS community so eloquently. Your writings are one of the main reasons I became interested in Barker in the first place, so I thank you very much!

    I’m sorry for the error regarding the website. I guess I just assumed it was yours. I have made the correction to the link.

    Please feel free to visit and comment here as often as you would like. Your knowledge in these areas is highly valued and will be very welcome.


  5. David:

    Great post. I have read it several times. This really fills in some gaps.



  6. David:

    Would you say the Second Temple was built under an authority of the lower priesthood, thus the building was “authorized?” My understanding is some people, like the son’s of Aaron hold the priesthood by linage. Or is this splitting hairs?

    Jesus seemed to reverence the building, or at least the spot of real estate, but not the going ons. This seems to be a point that needs to be reconciled.



  7. Dave,
    Thanks for the comments and questions. You raise some good ones. It’s tough to know what story to believe. The priests certainly wanted to make it look like they had the proper authority to govern the temple. However, it is quite apparent that the kings had had that responsibility in more ancient times. In fact, the Second Temple was started by Zerubbabel, who, according to Boccaccini, was of the Davidic line. Perhaps the temple, as a building, was legitimate by virtue of Zerubbabel, and not the Aaronic priests. However (and this is related to your other question), even if the priests were corrupt and changed the religion/temple, that doesn’t mean that they had no authority–the theories I presented in this post simply suggest that they usurped higher authority than was theirs.
    Jesus did reverence the temple–after he had cleansed it. Again, there perhaps wasn’t anything wrong with the building itself–just what went on in it, as you suggest. However, part of the messianic expectation (at least at Qumran) was that the Messiah would destroy the corrupt temple and restore the true temple. Although speaking of the resurrection, Jesus did say that the temple would be destroyed and then rebuilt. Also, the temple was literally destroyed not long after.
    I’m rambling, but I hope I answered your question–as far as there is an answer.

  8. David,

    You are most welcome. I think Kerry Shirts also thought the site was mine. Howard keeps a low profile there, so the assumption is understandable. I just think he deserves credit for his excellent efforts.

    It’s been exciting to be a part of spreading the news about Barker’s approach, and exploring LDS territory from that perspective. And a little baffling, wondering why me and why someone else hadn’t done what I did before. A half dozen LDS scholars had quoted a couple of passages before me to establish a doctrinal point or two. But I thought the important thing was the big picture, the overall “paradigms regained.” It has been almost 9 years now since I first stumbled across The Great Angel in a Dallas Half Price Books. Reading that book jolted me as few things have. Before I was halfway done, I knew I was onto something. I called my brother and had him go back to the store and buy up every copy they had. I found a number of top LDS scholars offered the same one word review. (WOW!) A lot has happened, and I think a lot more could and should happen. I’ve learned quite a bit since my first effort, as I expect you noticed. It looks to me like you are well placed to do so, to take the journey further than I can. I’ll expect great things.

    Wasn’t that you on Kerry’s blog, talking about seeing Margaret talking to Andrei Orlov at SBL in San Diego? That would have been fun.


    Kevin Christensen
    Pittsburgh, PA

  9. Kevin,

    Yeah, that was me on Kerry’s blog. Lynne Wilson (a former LDS PhD student here at Marquette) and I introduced Dr. Orlov to Margaret. He was very happy to meet her as he is quite a fan of her work and finds it very inspirational. Of course, I was also very happy to meet her–we talked a bit about her research on Melchizedek, as I was writing a paper on the Melchizedek Priesthood. We had a lot of fun in San Diego!

  10. David,
    Thank you for your website. I consider myself a novice kicking hard to stay afloat amongst such great minds. My formal training lies completely outside of biblical studies, so whatever I can learn is self taught. I appreciate your efforts to make Barker’s work more accessible to guys like me.

    I have been wondering for a while what Barker’s views are on 2nd Isaiah. Does she believe he has any connection to the Deuteronomists? What role does 2nd Isaiah play in the story being revealed by Barker? I know Kevin C. has done some research that shows that Jeremiah was a sort of challenger to the Deuteronomists, and to my knowledge 1st Isaiah contains 1st temple motifs such as his theophany in ch. 6. But what about 2nd Isaiah?

    Thanks for any assistance you can render.


  11. Thanks for your comment, James. All I can say is that for a novice, you make some very insightful questions! You are obviously well-informed on these topics. I’ll do my best to answer your questions.

    For some of Barker’s views on 1st and 2nd Isaiah, her first book, “The Older Testament,” is helpful. Her chapter on 1st Isaiah (Isaiah of Jerusalem) makes some great connections between Isaiah and 1 Enoch, attempting to show how both follow First Temple traditions (as you suggested). In the next chapter, on Deuteronomy, she shows how the Deuteronomists tried to obscure these ancient traditions, to the point of trying to make some aspects of it look peripheral or even apostate. The next chapter is on the Second Isaiah (Isa 40-55), which Barker sees as being written during or towards the end of the Babylonian Exile. In that case, 2nd Isaiah would have been written a good while after the Deut writings. 2 Isa represents a weaving together of traditions, but under the influence of the now mainstream (thanks to the Deuteronomists) idea that the old temple mythology was a thing of the past. While not necessarily connected, both Deut and 2 Isa represent ways in which the ancient religion of Israel was transformed.

    From what I have read, Barker makes a bigger deal of the Deuteronomists’ impact on Israelite religion than 2 Isaiah’s. She doesn’t address 2 Isa too often in her other books and sometimes uses passages from that section to support her theories concerning the First Temple. One of the main things she notes, that I have seen, is the change in terminology–2 Isa doesn’t use the same terms for God, etc., that 1 Isa does. If you want to read more on Barker’s ideas concerning 2 Isa, check out Kevin C.’s “Paradigms Regained” (FARMS Occasional Papers). He really goes into her ideas on the matter and what they mean for our understanding of the Book of Mormon, which doesn’t acknowledge directly a 2 Isa, but seems to avoid some of what Barker would see as the most obvious exilic or postexilic passages.
    I don’t know if I fully answered your question, but I hope that is helpful.


  12. Thanks David, it is helpful.

    I want to report that today I read something by Barker in which she comments on Isaiah:

    “Isaiah, it would seem, favoured the older ways. He spoke of the great tree which had been felled but preserved the holy seed in its stump (Isaiah 6.13), [15] and he compared the Servant of the Lord to a branch of the menorah, damaged but still able to give light (Isaiah 42.3).”

    I hope to discover more on this. 2nd Isaiah seems a bit radical in his monotheistic bent and so it makes me wonder how he could have preferred the older ways which sanctioned the divine council, Asherah, etc.

  13. James,
    I think Barker is thinking more of 1st Isaiah than 2nd here. The original Isaiah certainly did favor the old ways. He is one of the best sources for First Temple ideas. You are right that much of what is seen as 2nd Isaiah is very monotheistic with a rather Deuteronomic flavor. But, as you probably noticed, your Barker quote approvingly cites Isa 42, which, theoretically, is 2nd Isaiah. My opinion is that the division between 1st and 2nd Isaiah is not that clear cut (chptr 39 being the end of 1st Isa). I think 1st Isaiah’s writings extend into what most scholars consider 2nd Isa.

  14. Thanks David. I hadn’t considered the possibility that the dividing line between 1st and 2nd Isaiah may not be that clear.
    If I recall correctly, Kerry Shirts argues in a youtube video that 2nd Isaiah is in fact a disciple of 1st Isaiah, expanding on his teacher’s principles while trying to remain true to them.

    If only the answers were more clear-cut!

  15. Yes, it would be nice if things were more clear-cut–but then research wouldn’t be so much of an adventure!

  16. In the interest of being thorough, I recently read in Barker’s “Temple Theology” on page 7 the following:

    “It was the prophet of the exile who declared that Yahweh was El, and that there was no other God (Isa 43.12-13; 45.22). In the more ancient names for the deities, however, we glimpse the Father, the Son, and the Mother.”

  17. Great quote, James. Yes, by the time of the exile we definitely have not only a centralization of the religion around Jerusalem, but also around the person of Yahweh–and 2nd Isaiah reflects that in opposition to the theology of 1st Isaiah.

  18. […] transcribers, or designing and corrupt priests [David’s note: see my post on corrupt priests here] have committed many errors (HC, Vol. 6, Ch. 3, p. […]

  19. Regarding Barker and Second Isaiah, you should also consider her essay on “The Original Background of the Fourth Servant Song” on her website, published elsewhere as “Hezekiah’s Boil.” She makes the case that the Fourth Servant Song (Isaiah 53) was written about Hezekiah having a bout with the same plague that devastated the besieging Assyrians. Implicit in her case is that the the chapter was written by Isaiah of Jerusalem, rather than the Second Isaiah. And this, serendipitously makes the chapter available to Abinadi via the Brass Plates. I hadn’t read the essay when I did my section on Isaiah in Paradigms Regained. She makes a powerful case that makes a difference for us.
    It doesn’t resolve all the issues, of course, but it does change the balance significantly.

    Kevin Christensen
    Pittsburgh, PA

  20. […] more on the background for these politics of the priesthood, see my post here.) Subscribe To Site: Full Post Feed | Summary Feed | Comments […]

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