The Problem of P:1 Israelite society, Israel's Egalitarian Ethos, and the Raison D'etre of the Priestly History

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The Priestly writings are by far the largest component of the Pentateuch and have received a great deal of scholarly attention.2 But why did the Priestly writings evolve, develop, and were written down in the first place? And why, in addition, to legislation which is expected to be the bread and butter of a priestly group (below), does it include narrative material? While every group has its traditions and history, and some scholars have suggested that it was important for this priestly group(s) to give more credit to "its" ancestors at the expense of others, or to convince the audience of the importance of enabling Yhwh to dwell in their midst, in this paper I would like to suggest that these are only parts of the answer and that the mere existence of a priestly class (rather than local priests or even local priestly groups) was out of line with a wide-spread and dominant Israelite worldview. The prevailing Israelite ethos challenged the priests' mere legitimacy, and forced the priests, who aspired to a dominant position and viewed themselves as the only legitimate mediators with God, to constantly justify not only their claims for this position but the mere legitimacy of such a position. This resulted in elaborate writing, including narrative history, which attempted to negotiate their version of history against other, traditional and more egalitarian (oral or textual) versions; by disseminating a competing history, the priests attempted to rationalize not only their privileged position but the rigid and hierarchical world-view that stood behind it. As we will see, it is also likely that the increase in the importance of the Jerusalem temple toward the end of the Iron Age (and later) made it easier for the priests to weave their version ofhistory into the “national” one.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)3-36
Number of pages34
JournalBiblische Notizen
Issue number197
StatePublished - 2023
Externally publishedYes

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2023 Verlag Herder GmbH und Co. KG. All rights reserved.

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • History
  • Religious studies


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