HIGH PRIEST (Hebrew: "kohen ha-gadol," II Kings xii. 11; Lev. xxi. 10; "kohen ha-mashiaḥ" = "the anointed priest," Lev. iv. 3; "kohen harosh," II Chron. xix. 11; once, simply "ha rosh," II Chron. xxiv. 6; Aramaic: "kahana rabba" [the ἀναραβάχης of Josephus, "Ant." iii. 7, § 1; see Well- hausen, "Gesch. Israels," p. 161]: LXX.: ἱερεὺς μέγος = "the chief of the priests" [except Lev. iv. 3. where ἀρχιεὺς, as in the N. T.]).

—Biblical Data:

Aaron, though he is but rarely called "the great priest," being generally simply designated "as ha- kohen" (the priest), was the first incumbent of the office, to which he was appointed by God (Ex. xxviii. 1, 2; xxix. 4, 5). The succession was to be through one of his sons, and was to remain in his own family (Lev. vi. 15; comp. Josephus, "Ant." xx. 10, § 1). Failing a son, the office devolved upon the brother next of age: such appears to have been the practise in the Maccabean period. In the time of ELI, however (I Sam. ii. 23), the office passed to the collateral branch of Ithamar (see Eleazar). But Solomon is reported to have deposed Abiathar, and to have appointed Zadok, a descendant of Eleazar, inhis stead (I Kings ii. 35; I Chron. xxiv. 2, 3). After the Exile, the succession seems to have been, at first, in a direct line from father to son; but later the civil authorities arrogated to themselves the right of appointment. Antiochus IV., Epiphanes, for instance, deposed Onias III. in favor of Jason, who was followed by Menelaus (Josephus, "Ant." xii. 5, § 1; II Macc. iii. 4, iv. 23).

Herod nominated no less than six high priests; Archelaus, two. The Roman legate Quirinius and his successors exercised the right of appointment, as did Agrippa I., Herod of Chalcis, and Agrippa II. Even the people occasionally elected candidates to the office. The high priests before the Exile were, it seems, appointed for life (comp. Num. xxxv. 25, 28); in fact, from Aaron to the Captivity the number of the high priests was not greater than during the sixty years preceding the fall of the Second Temple.

Age and Qualifications.

The age of eligibility for the office is not fixed in the Law; but according to rabbinical tradition it was twenty (II Chron. xxxi. 17; Maimonides, "Yad," Kele ha-Miḳdash, v. 15; Ḥul. 24b; 'Ar. 13b). Aristobulus, however, was only seventeen when appointed by Herod ("Ant." xv. 3, § 3); but the son of Onias III. was too young (νηπιος) to succeed his father (ib. xii. 5, § 1). Legitimacy of birth was essential; hence the care in the keeping of the genealogical records (Josephus, "Contra Ap." i., § 7) and the distrust of one whose mother had been captured in war ("Ant." xiii. 10, § 5; Jellinek, "B. H." i. 133-137; Ḳid. 66a; John see Hyrcanus). The high priest might marry only an Israelitish maiden (Lev. xxi. 13-14). In Ezek. xliv. 22 this restriction is extended to all priests, an exception being made in favor of the widow of a priest. He was not permitted to come in contact with the bodies of the dead, even of his parents; and he was not permitted, as a sign of mourning, to leave his hair disheveled, to expose it, or to rend his garments (Lev. xxi. 10 et seq.). According to Josephus ("Ant." xv. 3, § 1), birth on foreign soil was not a disqualification; but the disqualifications of Lev. xxi. 17 et seq. applied to the high priest as well as to other priests.

His Costume.

The ceremonial of consecration, extending through an entire week (Ex. xxviii.; Lev. viii.), included certain rites which all priests were required to undergo: purification; the sacrifices; the "filling" of the hands; the smearing with blood. But Aaron the high priest was anointed with sacred oil, hence the title of the "anointed priest"; other passages have it that all priests were anointed (Ex. xxviii. 41, xxx. 30; Lev. vii. 36, x. 7; Num. iii. 3). The high priest's vestments of office, which he wore, during his ministrations, above those prescribed for the common priests, were: the "me'il," a sleeveless, purple robe, the lower hem of which was fringed with small golden bells alternating with pomegranate tassels in violet, red, purple, and scarlet; the Ephod, with two onyx-stones on the shoulder-piece, on which were engraved the names of the tribes of Israel; the breastplate ("ḥoshen"), with twelve gems, each engraved with the name of one of the tribes; a pouch in which he probably carried the Urim and Thummim. His Head-Dress was the "miẓnefet," a tiara, or, perhaps, a peculiarly wound turban, with a peak, the front of which bore a gold plate with the inscription "Holy unto Yhwh." His girdle seems to have been of more precious material than that of the common priests.

The first consecration was performed by Moses; the Bible does not state who consecrated subsequent high priests. Lev. xxi. 10 states emphatically that every new high priest shall be anointed; and Ex. xxix. 29 et seq. commands that the official garments worn by his predecessor shall be worn by the new incumbent while he is anointed and during the seven days of his consecration (comp. Num. xx. 28; Ps. cxxxiii. 2).

Sanctity and Functions.

The distinguished rank of the high priest is apparent from the fact that his sins are regarded as belonging also to the people (Lev. iv. 3, 22). He was entrusted with the stewardship of the Urim and Thummim (Num. xxvii. 20 et seq.). On the Day of Atonement he alone entered the Holy of Holies, to make atonement for his house and for the people (Lev. xvi.); on that occasion he wore white linen garments instead of his ordinary and more costly vestments. He alone could offer the sacrifices for the sins of the priests, or of the people, or of himself (Lev. iv.); and only he could officiate at the sacrifices following his own or another priest's consecration (Lev. ix.). He also offered a meal- offering every morning and evening for himself and the whole body of the priesthood (Lev. vi. 14-15, though the wording of the law is not altogether definite). Other information concerning his functions is not given. He was privileged, probably, to take part at his own pleasure in any of the priestly rites. Josephus ("B. J." v. 5, § 7) contends that the high priest almost invariably participated in the ceremonies on the Sabbath, the New Moon, and the festivals. This may also be inferred from the glowing description given in Ecclus. (Sirach) i. of the high priest's appearance at the altar.

—In Rabbinical Literature:

The high priest is the chief of all the priests; he should be anointed and invested with the pontifical garments; but if the sacred oil is not obtainable (see Hor. 13a; "Semag," 173, end), investiture with the additional garments (see Biblical Data) is regarded as sufficient (Maimonides, "Yad," Kele ha-Miḳdash, iv. 12). A high priest so invested is known as "merubbeh begadim." This investiture consists of arraying him in the eight pieces of dress and in removing them again on eight successive days, though (the anointing and) the investiture on the first day suffices to qualify him for the functions of the office (ib. iv. 13). The only distinction between the "anointed" and the "invested" high priest is that the former offers the bull for an unintentional transgression (Hor. 11b).

His Powers.

The Great Sanhedrin alone had the right to appoint, or confirm the appointment of, the high priest. His consecration might take place only in the day-time. Two high priests must not be appointed together. Every high priest had a "mishneh" (a second) called the Segan, or "memunneh," to stand at his right; another assistant was the "catholicos"("Yad," l.c. 16-17). The right of succession was in the direct, or, the direct failing, the collateral, line, provided the conditions concerning physical fitness were fulfilled (ib. 20; Ket. 103b; Sifra, Ḳedoshim). For offenses which entailed flagellation the high priest could be sentenced by a court of three; after submitting to the penalty he could resume his office ("Yad," l.c. 22). The high priest was expected to be superior to all other priests in physique, in wisdom, in dignity, and in material wealth; if he was poor his brother priests contributed to make him rich (Yoma 18a; "Yad," l.c. v. 1); but none of these conditions was indispensable. The high priest was required to be mindful of his honor. He might not mingle with the common people, nor permit himself to be seen disrobed, or in a public bath, etc.; but he might invite others to bathe with him (Tosef., Sanh. iv.; "Yad," l.c. v. 3). He might not participate in a public banquet, but he might pay a visit of consolation to mourners, though even then his dignity was guarded by prescribed etiquette (Sanh. 18-19; "Yad," l.c. v. 4).


The high priest might not follow the bier of one in his own family who had died, nor leave the Temple or his house during the time of mourning. The people visited him to offer consolation; in receiving them, the Segan was at his right, the next in rank and the people at his left. The people said: "We are thy atonement." He answered: "Be ye blessed from heaven" ("Yad," l.c. v. 5; and Mishneh Kesef, ad loc.). During the offering of consolation he sat on a stool, the people on the floor; he rent his garments, not from above, but from below, near the feet, the penalty for rending them from above being flagellation (Semag, Lawin, 61-62). He could not permit his hair to be disheveled, nor could he cut it ("Yad," l.c. v. 6). He had one house attached to the Temple (Mid. 71b), and another in the city of Jerusalem. His honor required that he should spend most of his time in the Sanctuary ("Yad," l.c. v. 7). The high priest was subject to the jurisdiction of the courts, but if accused of a crime entailing capital punishment he was tried by the Great Sanhedrin; he could, however, refuse to give testimony (Sanh. 18).

The high priest must be married; to guard against contingencies it was proposed to hold a second wife in readiness immediately before the Day of Atonement (Yoma i. 1); but polygamy on his part was not encouraged ( = "one wife"; Yoma 13a; "Yad," l.c. v. 10). He could give the "ḥaliẓah," and it could be given to his widow, as she also was subject to the Levirate; his divorced wife could marry again (l.c.; Sanh. 18). When entering the Temple ("Hekal") he was supported to the curtain by three men (Tamid 67a; this may perhaps have reference to his entering the Holy of Holies; but see "Yad," l.c. v. 11, and the Mishneh Kesef ad loc.). He could take part in the service whenever he desired ("Yad," l.c. v. 12; Yoma i. 2; Tamid 67b; see Rashi ad loc.). On the Day of Atonement he wore white garments only, while on other occasions he wore his golden vestments (Yoma 60a; comp. 68b, ). The seven days preceding the Day of Atonement were devoted to preparing for his high function, precautions being taken to prevent any accident that might render him Levitically impure (Yoma i. 1 et seq.). The ceremonial for that day is described in detail in Mishnah Yoma (see also Haneberg, "Die Religiösen Alterthümer der Bibel," pp. 659-671, Munich, 1869). For other regulations concerning the high priest see "Yad," Biat ha-Miḳdash, ii. 1, 8; for details in regard to the vestments see "Yad," Kele ha-Miḳdash, viii. 2-4, 5 (in reference to soiled vestments: the white could be worn only once); l.c. vii. 1 ("ẓiẓ"), vii. 3 ("me'il"), vii. 6 ("ḥoshen"), vii. 9 (ephod), ix. 1 (order of investiture).

List of High Priests.
1. Aaron
2. Eleazar
3. Phinehas
4. Abishua
5. Bukki
6. Uzzi (I Chron. vi. 3-5)

With Eli the high-priesthood passes from the line of Eleazar to that of Ithamar:

Old Testament.Josephus.
8.Ahitub (I Chron. ix. 11)Ahitub
9.Ahiah (I Sam. xiv. 3)Ahiah
10.Ahimelech (I Sam. xxi. 1)Ahimelech
11.Abiathar (I Sam. xxxiii. 6)Abiathar ("Ant." v. 11., § 5)
From Solomon to the Captivity. (With Zadok the line of Eleazar reappears.)
Old Testament.Josephus.Seder 'Olam Zuṭa.
12.Zadok (I Kings ii. 35)ZadokZadok
13.Ahimaaz (II Sam. xv. 36)AhimaazAhimaaz
14.Azariah (I Kings iv. 2)AzariahAzariah
16.Jehoiarib (I Chron. ix. 10)JesusJoarib
18.Jehoiada (II Kings xi. 4)............Joiada
21.Azariah II. (II Chron. xxvi. 17)JoelJoel
23.Urijah (II Kings xvi. 10)UriahUriah
24.Azariah III. (II Chron. xxxi. 10)NeriahNeriah
26.Shallum (I Chron. vi. 12)ShallumShallum
27.Hilkiah (II Kings xxii. 4)HilkiahHilkiah
28.Azariah IV. (I Chron. vi. 13)"Azariah
29.Seraiah (II Kings xxv. 18)SareasZeraiah
30.Jehozadak (I Chron. vi. 14)JosedekJehozadak
From the Captivity to Herod.
Old Testament.Josephus.
31.Jeshua (Hag. i. 1)Jesus ("Ant." xi. 3, § 10)
32.Joiakim (Neh. xii. 10)Joiakim ("B. J." xi. 5, § 1)
33.Eliashib (Neh. iii. 1)Eliashib ("B. J." xi. 5, § 5)
34.Joiada (Neh. xii. 10, 22)Judas ("Ant." xi. 7, § 1)
35.Johanan (Neh. xii. 22)Joannes ("Ant." xi. 7., § 1)
36.Jaddua (Neh. xii. 22)Jaddus ("Ant." xi. 7, § 2)
37.............................Onias I. ("Ant." xii. 2, § 5)
Apocrypha.Josephus ("Antiquities").
38.Simon I. (Ecclus. [Sirach] 4, 1)Simon the Just (xii. 2, § 5)
39.............................Eleazar (xii. 2, § 5)
40.............................Manasseh (xii. 4, § 1)
41.............................Onias II. (xii. 4, § 1)
42.............................Simon II. (xii. 4, § 10)
43.Onias (I Macc. xii. 7)Onias III. (xii. 4, § 10)
44.Jason (II Macc. iv. 7)Jesus (xii. 5, § 1)
45.Menelaus (II Macc. iv. 27)Onias, called Menelaus (xii. 5, § 1)
46.Alcimus (I Macc. vii. 5)Alcimus (xii. 9, § 7)
47.Jonathan (I Macc. ix. 28)Jonathan (xiii. 2, § 2)
48.Simon (the Prince) (I Macc. xiv. 46)Simon (xiii. 6, § 7)
49.John (I Macc. xvi. 23)John Hyrcanus (xiii. 8, § 1)
50.............................Aristobulus I. (xiii. 9, § 1)
51.............................Alexander Jannæus (xiii. 12, § 1)
52.............................Hyrcanus II. (xiii. 16, § 2)
53.............................Aristobulus II. (xv. 1, § 2)
54.............................Hyrcanus II. (restored) (xiv. 4, 4)
55.............................Antigone (xiv. 14, § 3)
56.............................Hananeel (xv. 2, § 4)
From Herod to the Destruction of the Temple.
Josephus ("Antiquities").
(Under Herod.)
57.Aristobulus III. (xv. 3, §§ 1, 3)
(Hananeel reappointed; xv. 3, § 3)
58.Jesus, son of Phabet (xv. 9, § 3)
59.Simon, son of Bœthus (perhaps Bœthus himself; xv. 9, § 3; xvii. 4, § 2)
60.Mattathias, son of Theophilus (xvii. 6, § 4)
Joseph, son of Ellem (one day; xvii. 6, § 4; see Grätz in "Monatsschrift," 1881, pp. 51 et seq.)
61.Joazar, son of Bœthus (xvii. 6, § 4)
(Under Archeiaus.)
62.Eleazar, son of Bœthus (xvii. 13, § 1)
63.Jesus, son of Sie (Σιε; xvii. 13, § 1)
(Joazar reappointed; xviii. 1. § 1; 2, § 1)
(Under Quirinius.)
64.Ananus, son of Seth (xviii. 2, § 2; Luke iii. 2)
(Under Valorius Gratus.)
65.Ismael, son of Phabi (xviii. 2, § 2)
66.Eleazar, son of Ananus (xviii. 2, § 2)
67.Simon, son of Camithus (xviii. 2, § 2)
68.Joseph (called "Caiaphas" (xviii. 2, § 2; 4, § 3; Matt. xxvi. 3, 57)
(Under Vitellius.)
69.Jonathan, son of Ananus (xviii. 4, § 3; "B. J." ii. 12, §§ 5-6; 13, § 3)
70.Theophilus, son of Ananus (xviii. 5, § 3)
(Under Agrippa.)
71.Simon, or Cantheras, son of Bœthus (xix. 6, § 2; see Grätz., "Gesch." 4th ed., iii. 739-746)
72.Mattathias, son of Ananus (xix. 6, § 4)
73.Elioneus, son of Cantheras (xix. 8, § 1; Parah iii. 5)
(Under Herod of Chalcis.)
74.Joseph, son of Cainus (xx. 1, § 3)
[Perhaps Ishmael (iii. 15, § 13) should be placed here.]
75.Ananias, son of Nebedeus (xx. 5, § 2; Derenbourg, "Hist." p. 233)
(Jonathan restored; xx. 8, § 5)
(Under Agrippa II.)
76.Ishmael, son of Fabi (xx. 8, §§ 8, 11; Parah iii. 5; Sotah ix. 5; Derenbourg, "Hist." pp. 232-235)
77.Joseph Cabi, son of Simon (xx. 8, § 11)
78.Ananus, son of Ananus (xx. 9, § 1)
79.Jesus, son of Damneus (xx. 9, § 1; "B. J." vi. 2, § 2)
80.Jesus, son of Gamaliel (xx. 9, §§ 4, 7; Yeb. vi. 4; an instance in which a priest betrothed to a widow before his elevation was permitted to marry her afterward; Derenbourg, "Hist." p. 248)
81.Mattathias, son of Theophilus (xx. 9, § 7; "B. J." vi. 2, § 2; Grätz, in "Monatsschrift," 1881, pp. 62-64; idem, "Gesch." 4th ed., iii. 750 et seq.)
82.Phinehas, son of Samuel, appointed by the people during the war (xx. 10, § 1; "B. J." iv. 3, § 8; see Derenbourg, "Hist." p. 269)
[A man altogether unworthy.]

Josephus enumerates only fifty-two pontificates under the Second Temple, omitting the second appointments of Hyrcanus II., Hananeel, and Joazar.

—Critical View:

Only Known to Priestly Code. The foregoing regulations concerning the office, title, and prerogatives of the high priest are given in P (Priestly Code) and the "Holiness Code" combined with it; the other Pentateuchal sources do not mention a dignitary of this order. The only seeming exception is the reference to Eleazar as the successor of Aaron "the priest" (Josh. xxiv. 33; comp. Deut. x. 6). Deuteronomy (xvii. 8 et seq.) speaks of "the" priest () as entrusted with judgment, and as possessing it rank equal to that of the judge. This has been taken to indicate that the office was known to exist and was sanctioned in the days of the composition of Deuteronomy (but see Steuernagel ad loc.). Yet this very juxtaposition of judge and priest suggests quite a different conception of the office than that prevailing in P and detailed above. Furthermore, in Ezekiel's ideal reconstitution (Ezek. xl.-xlviii.), though much attention is given to the status of the priests, the high priest is consistently ignored. Perhaps ("the" priest), referring to the person entrusted with the purification of the Sanctuary on the two days annually set apart for this purpose (Ezek. xlv. 19 et seq.), designates the high priest; but it is significant that the special title is omitted and that no further particulars are given.

The historical and prophetical books lend probability to the theory, based on the facts above, that in pre-exilic days the office had not the prominence P ascribed to it. Jehoiada (II Kings xi. 10), Urijah (ib. xvi. 10), and Hilkiah (ib. xxii. 14) are each referred to by "ha-kohen," though "ha-kohen ha-gadol" is also used, while "kohen ha-rosh" occurs in connection with Seraiah. Many have contended that this enlarged title is to be considered a later amplification of the simple , a view largely resting on II Sam. xv. 27 ("Ẓadoḳ ha-kohen"). The title ("the second priest"; Jer. lii. 24; II Kings xxv. 18), however, proves the recognition of a chief priest. Yet this chief priest in pre-exilic times must have been regarded in quite a different light from that presupposed in P. Under David and Solomon there were two priests, Abiathar and Zadok, who simultaneously bore the title "ha- kohen" (II Sam. viii. 17, xix. 12; I Kings i. 7, iv. 4). Zadok is represented as officiating both at Gibeon (I Chron. xvi. 39) and at Jerusalem (II Sam. xv. 24 et seq.). The fact that Solomon deposed Abiathar and put Zadok in his place has been invoked to remove these difficulties; but the fact that a king could control the office is proof that it was of a character other than that assumed in P. If the conclusion is warranted that every shrine had its own chief priest (Eli at Shiloh; Ahimelech in Nob) before the complete centralization of the cult at Jerusalem, the restriction of the number of high priests to one is out of the question (see High Place).

Post-Exilic Conditions.

After the Exile, Joshua appears vested with such prominence as P ascribes to the high priest (Zech. iii.; Hag. vi. 13). In Ezra and Nehemiah, again, but little consideration is shown for the high priest. The post-exilic high priests traced their pedigree back to Zadok, appointed as chief priest at Jerusalem by Solomon (I Kings ii. 35), and Zadok was held to be a descendant of Eleazar, the son of Aaron (II Chron. v. 34). Immediately after the return from the Captivity, as is clearly to be inferred from Zechariah and Haggai, political authority was not vested in the high priest. Political (Messianic) sovereignty was represented by, or attributed to, a member of the royal house, while religious affairs were reserved to the high-priesthood, represented in the Book of Zechariah by Joshua. But in the course of time, as the Messianic hope, or even the hope of autonomy under foreign (Persian, Greek, Egyptian,or Syrian) suzerainty, became weaker, the high priest grew to be more and more also the political chief of the congregation, as much, perhaps, through the consideration shown him by the suzerain powers and their viceroys as through the effect of the increasingly thorough acceptance of the Levitical code by pious Judeans. In this connection the report (I Macc. vii. 14) that the rigorists received Alcimus, the high priest, with confidence because he was "a priest of the seed of Aaron" is significant. The author of the Book of Daniel regards the period from 536 to 171 B.C. (Joshua to Jason) as inaugurated by the first, and closed by the last, "anointed"; that is, Jason, deposed in 171, was for the writer in Daniel the last of the line of legitimate high priests.

Political Aspects.

Ecclus. (Sirach) l. is another evidence of the great reverence in which the high priest was held. The assumption of the princely authority by the Maccabean high priests (the Hasmoneans) was merely the final link in this development, which, beginning with the death of Zerubbabel, was to combine the two ideals, the politico-Messianic and the religio- Levitical, in one office. But after the brief heyday of national independence had come to an inglorious close, the high-priesthood changed again in character, in so far as it ceased to be a hereditary and a life office. High priests were appointed and removed with great frequency (see above). This may account for the otherwise strange use of the title in the plural (ἀρχιερεῖς) in the New Testament and in Josephus ("Vita," § 38; "B. J." ii. 12, § 6; iv. 3, §§ 7, 9; iv. 4, § 3). The deposed high priests seem to have retained the title, and to have continued to exercise certain functions; the ministration on the Day of Atonement, however, may have been reserved for the actual incumbent. This, however, is not clear; Hor. iii. 1-4 mentions as distinctive the exclusive sacrifice of a bull by the high priest on the Day of Atonement and the tenth of the ephah (that is, the twelve "ḥallot"; comp. Meg. i. 9; Macc. ii. 6). But even in the latest periods the office was restricted to a few families of great distinction (probably the bene kohanim gedolim; Ket. xiii. 1-2; Oh. xvii. 5; comp. Josephus, "B. J." vi. 2, § 2; see Schürer, "Gesch." 3d ed., ii. 222).

Connection with Sanhedrin.

The high priest was the presiding officer of the Sanhedrin. This view conflicts with the later Jewish tradition according to which the Pharisaic tannaim (the Zuggim) at the head of the academies presided over the great Sanhedrin also (Ḥag. ii. 2). However, a careful reading of the sources ("Ant." xx. 10; "Contra Ap." ii., § 23; comp. "Ant." iv. 8, § 14; xiv. 9, §§ 3-5 [Hyrcanus II. as president]; xx. 9, § 1 [Ananus]), as well as the fact that in the post-Maccabean period the high priest was looked upon as exercising in all things, political, legal, and sacerdotal, the supreme authority, shows it to be almost certain that the presidency of the Sanhedrin was vested in the high priest (see Isidore Loeb in "R. E. J." 1889, xix. 188-201; Jelski, "Die Innere Einrichtung des Grossen Synhedrions," pp. 22-28, according to whom the "nasi" was the high priest, while the "ab bet din" was a Pharisaic tanna).

  • Grätz, Gesch. 4th ed., vol. iii.;
  • Derenbourg, Hist. Paris, 1868;
  • Schürer, Gesch, 3d ed., Leipsic, 1898;
  • H. Lesètre, in Vigouroux, Dict. de la Bible, Paris, 1903;
  • Buhl, in Herzog-Hauck, Real-Encyc.;
  • Baudissin, Gesch. des A. T. Priestertums, 1889.
E. G. H.