Monday, April 4, 2011

What is a Priest?

Alice C. Linsley

The priesthood is verifiably the oldest known religious institution and appears to have originated in the Nile region. It is quite distinct from the other ancient religious office, that of the shaman. Underlying shamanism is the belief that spirits cause imbalance and disharmony in the world. The shaman’s role is to determine which spirits are at work in a given situation and to find ways to appease the spirits. This may or may not involve animal sacrifice. Underlying the priesthood is belief in a single supreme Spirit to whom humans must give an accounting, especially for the shedding of blood. In this view, one Great Spirit (God) holds the world in balance and it is human actions that cause disharmony. The vast assortment of ancient laws governing priestly ceremonies, sacrifices, and cleansing rituals clarifies the role of the priest as one who offers animal sacrifice according to sacred law. The priest was forbidden to consult the spirits of the ancestors as shamans do in trance states.

Priests are intermediaries between the Creator and the community, not between the spirits and the community. Both offices are intermediary, but their worldviews are quite different. When sickness, sudden death, or a great calamity such as flooding or plague affects the community, the shaman investigates the cause and seeks to balance benevolent and malevolent energies. When the community served by the priest experiences hardship, deprivation and loss, the priest calls the people to repentance and seeks to restore the community to the peace of God. In ancient times, this sometimes meant seeking out the offenders by using the binary system of divination represented by the Urim and Thummim. These represent numerous binary sets. The urim would have a number of associations which would be assigned the opposite meaning with the thummim. Using these tools involved more than yes-no questions. It involved deriving meaning from the directional poles, gender, numbers and reversals. The morehs or ancient prophets apparently used the same approach when rendering counsel such as that given to Abraham by the moreh at the Oak of Mamre (Gen. 12:6).

Despite what feminists and politically-correct academics might say, the priestly role was from the beginning the work of a select group of men (a caste, actually) whose devotion to the worship of the Creator involved, by today's standards, extreme asceticism. Contrary to the position of the Roman Church, these men were married and enjoyed sexual relations with their wives.  However they abstained from sex, shaved their bodies, fasted and entered periods of intense prayer in preparation for their time of service at the temple or shrine. They were known for their purity of life.

A survey of the world's religions helps us to understand the uniqueness of the priesthood.  Shinto "priests" are really shamans, not priests.  Priestesses of ancient Greek were really mediums or seers, not priests.  Anthropologically, the priesthood is defined by the caste of ruler-priests known as Horites.  These were Abraham's people and their idea of the priest was closely aligned to their understanding of blood as both potentially contaminating and potentially purifying.

The unique nature of the priesthood is inextricably linked to the nature of God.  God is the first priest (Gen. 3:21) and the priesthood, like God, is eternal. This is what stands behind the biblical references to Melchizedek. He was kin to Abraham and minister to Abraham after a time of battle. From their bloodlines came Son of God, Jesus Christ. He is our great High Priest who promises to make intercession on our behalf. He is the true Form which is reflected dimly in priests today since they have not sought purity and holiness.

The Horite Ruler-priests are Jesus Christ's Ancestors

Jesus Christ is the direct descendant of the Horite and Sethite Hebrew ruler-priests. Some of their ancestors are listed in Genesis 4 and 5. The early Hebrew had a unique marriage and ascendancy pattern which involved marriage between the ruling lines (endogamy). 

The highest ranking rulers had two wives and two firstborn sons. Their wives lived in separate settlements on a north-south axis.  So Sarah resided in Hebron and Keturah to the south in Beersheba. The first wife was a half-sister and her firstborn son ascended to the throne of his biological father. The second wife was a patrilineal cousin or niece and her firstborn son ruled in the territory of his maternal grandfather, after whom he was named. This is why certain names or titles reappear in different generations. We have Esau the Elder and Esau the Younger; Sheba the Elder and Sheba the Younger; Joktan (Yaqtan) the Elder and Joktan the Younger.

In his youth, the ruler-designate married his half-sister, as did Abraham with Sarah. Before ascending to the throne, he married his second wife, a patrilineal cousin or niece, as did Abraham with Keturah. The cousin wife named her first-born son after her father, a pattern which begins in Genesis 4 and can be traced to the priestly lines of Joachim (Mary's father) and Mattai, the patriarch of Joseph's line. The pattern of ruler-priests having two wives disappeared among Jews with the destruction of the temple in 70 A.D.

The origins of the faith of Christ, the Son of God, came to Abraham, not as special revelation, but as a tradition received from his forefathers. The distinctive traits of this tradition align remarkable well with the key features of catholic faith and practice:

  • Male ruler-priests who were mediators between God and the community
  • A binary (versus dualistic) worldview
  • Blood sacrifice at altars (sometimes falcon-shaped) for propitiation and atonement
  • Expectation of the appearing of the Son of God in the flesh
  • God's will on earth as in heaven - interpreted by morehs (prophets)
  • Belief in an eternal and undivided Kingdom delivered by the Father to the Son.
Because of God's promise in Eden, Abraham and his ancestors lived in expectation of the Son of God and taught their children to do so. Their priestly lines intermarried exclusively in expectation that the Seed of the Woman would come of their priestly lines. The Edenic Promise was a central belief of the Horite family-tribal tradition. They believed that the son would be born of the chosen Woman (not called Eve in Gen. 3:15). They believed that he would be killed by his own brother and that he would live again.

The Virgin Birth is one of many signs that the One born to Mary is the Son of God. This is not about the birth of the Sun at the winter solstice. This is not a reworking of the Egyptian tale of Horus. The Horus archetype provides the pattern whereby Abraham's descendants would recognize Messiah. It points us to the Virgin who gave birth to the Son of God under humble circumstances. In the Horus myth, Hat-Hor gives birth in a cave. In Orthodoxy, icons of the Nativity show the Theotokos with the newly born Christ in a cave.

Christianity is an organic religion that emerges out of a belief that God made a promise in Eden and that He has been busy fulfilling that promise in Jesus Christ, the Son of God. The core of Christianity can be traced to the beliefs of Abraham and his ancestors. It predates all the great world religions. Christianity isn't original, but what it lacks in originality it makes up for in great antiquity, and herein rests its authority.

The Christian Priest

The Christian priest stands at altar as the person of Christ at the Last Supper.  He also represents the Father, by whose faith his spiritual children are offered up through the Spirit. The Christian priesthood is thoroughly Trinitarian.

I'd like to challenge the prevalent idea that the Last Supper must be understood as a Passover meal. We, with Isaac, should ask "But where is the lamb?" (Gen. 22:7)

It may be that the best context for understanding the Last Supper is neither the passover meal nor the chaburah meal, but the events that unfolded on Mount Moriah. There was no lamb, only the Father and the Son. After the offering up of the Son, a ram appears. The ram is the lamb come to full strength and maturity. Among Abraham's ancestors the lamb-ram sequence was associated with the rising and setting of the Sun, the symbol of the Creator. The temporal sacred center was noon, a time of no shadows. (James says He is the Father of Lights in whom there is no shadow.) The spatial sacred center was the mountain top, between heaven and earth. Perhaps the Last Supper is the sacred center where we meet God about to cross over to redoubled strength, destroying death by His death.

In relation to the sun, Horus was said to rise in the morning as a lamb or calf and to set in the evening as a ram or bull. When Abraham bound his Issac, believing perhaps that he was the Lamb of God, a ram was provided in Issac's place. To Abraham the Horite this would have meant that his offering was accepted. It would also have meant that Isaac was not the fulfillment of the promise made to Abraham's ancestors in Genesis 3:15. Isaac was not the "Seed" of the Woman who would make the curse of death void, crush the serpent's head, and restore Paradise. That promise was to be fulfilled in the future, just as the ram was associated with the western horizon, the direction of the future.
On the third day Father Abraham lifted up his eyes and saw the place afar off (Gen. 22:4) and again he lifted up his eyes and he saw a ram (Gen. 22:13).

St. Paul says, "For the promise to Abraham and his offspring that He would be heir of the world did not come through the law but through the righteousness of faith." (Rom. 4:13)

None of the Apostles were Priests

As far as we know none of the original 12 apostles were priests who served at the temple. That does not mean that they did not have Horite blood, however. Most Jews have Horite blood, as do some Arabs. This raises a question about the priestly charisms being passed by the laying on of hands through apostolic succession. If this is true, the source is Jesus, the Priest-King, not the apostles, seeing that none of the 12 were priests themselves. Clearly, the priesthood is of the essence of Christ as the sole mediator of salvation. This is an historically accurate statement, not only a theological statement. Historical, because Jesus Christ is the fulfillment of the Horite expectation first expressed in Genesis 3:15. He is the Seed that falls to the ground and dies in order to crush the serpent's head and give life to the world.

That said, there were priests among Jesus' followers. Nicodemus and Joseph of Arimathea (of the Horite line of Matthew) are named in the New Testament. As members of the Sanhedrin they had to be in the ruler-priest caste. Joseph traveled to Cornwall as a mining expert and he would have been qualified as a member of the Sanhedrin to ordain Christian priests there. This would mean that the Anglican priesthood is easily as old as that of Rome and Constantinople.

The legend concerning Joseph of Ar-Mathea's connection to Britain has support from the sciences. Genetic studies have confirmed that the Horite Ainu dispersed widely across the ancient world. Some migrated to Hokkiado and Okinawa. Others came to the British Isles and Scandinavia. From there, some migrated to Greenland, Labrador, and Eastern Canada where they came to be called "Miqmac" by the French. The Ainu have a Nilotic origin and are described as having a red skin tone.

An early population living in the region of Cornwall were Dam-oni which means red people. Dam-oni is likely a reference to the red skin Ainu, some of whom are called "Edomites" in the Bible. They were the builders of the great shrine city of Heliopolis, Biblical On. The Horite rulers of Edom are listed in Genesis 36. Edom was called Idumea by the Greeks, which means "land of red people."

Related reading:  What is the Priesthood?; Is a Presbyter a Priest?; Growing Consensus that Women Priests Must be Addressed; Why Women Were Never PriestsJesus: From Lamb to Ram; Who Were the Horites?Did Abraham Believe Isaac to be Messiah?; Priests and Shamans: Two Models of Leadership; Gender Reversal and Sacred Mystery; C.S. Lewis on Priestesses in the Church


Eric said...

Where do the brahmanas (the priestly caste of the Vedic traditions) fit in?

Ron said...

The origins of the faith of Christ, the Son of God, came to Abraham, not as special revelation, but as a tradition received from his forefathers.

Please elaborate on this point (faith via tradition, not revelation) in light of the tradition that God is unknowable in His essence but is knowable by participation in His grace/energies, which, by any reckoning, is divine revelation, however modest.

Alice C. Linsley said...

Ron, What can be known of God is what God has chosen to reveal. This revelation is not necessarily supernatural. The Apostle Paul recognized that God's divine nature and eternal power are evident in the fixed order of creation (Romans 1:20). Abraham's people apparently believed this. Paul received this idea. He didn't invent it. I'm using the term "special revelation" in contrast to the received tradition to which St. Paul refers.

You may find this article helpful:

Alice C. Linsley said...

Eric, They were influenced by the Horite priests who migrated across the Levant and as far as Cambodia and Nepal. This is evidenced by their building falcon-shaped fire altars. Vedic tradition teaches that "he who desires heaven is to construct a fire-altar in the form of a falcon."

Aghkor Wat in Cambodia was originally a Horite temple. It is a symbolic representation of Mount Meru in East Africa. Angkor Wat faces west toward the Nile. Angkor Wat and the Egyptian royal tombs correspond in form to the number 72. The number 72 represents represents the numerical sequence linked to the earth’s axial precession, which causes the apparent alteration in the position of the constellations one degree every 72 years. It has been noted that Angkor Wat is located 72 degrees of longitude east of the Pyramids of Giza. The name Angkor correlates with the ancient Egyptian Anhk-Hor, meaning "May Horus Live." This is evidence that the ruler-priests of Abraham's Horite people were missionaries.

Vedic Brahmanic practices incorporate many layers of Aryan religion also, such as the fertility ritual involving the king's best stallion. This is quite contrary to the binary distinctions that characterize the Nilotic worldview. This is called syncretism.

Anonymous said...

"Contrary to the position of the Roman Church, these men were married and enjoyed sexual relations with their wives. However they abstained from sex, shaved their bodies, fasted and entered periods of intense prayer in preparation for their time of service at the temple or shrine. They were known for their purity of life."

Just to clarify a misunderstanding. The RC church does not think that priests were never married. We acknowledge that there were Apostles who were married before they were called, but they did not get married after this.

Celibacy is a discipline not a doctrine. The Orthodox churches have celibate Bishops.

Priests did abstain from sex when they served in the temple. Our priests serve in the temple everyday, offering the sacrifice of the Mass.

Our Eastern churches, however do have married priests.

Just to let you know.


Alice C. Linsley said...

Thanks for the clarification, Savvy.

Orthodox priests and their wives abstain from sexual relations at least 24 hours before the Divine Liturgy.

Margaret said...

As a historical note, Orthodox bishops were married at one time, however; it became a problem when their widows claimed Church agricultural property which fed the poor. The Church decided that to safe guard the resources that fed the poor bishops would be chosen who were unmarried.

The present Greek Orthodox bishop of Atlanta was a married priest. After his wife died, he was selected as Bishop of the Southeastern Diocese.

All married priests may only marry once, if they are widowed or divorced they are, with rare exceptions, not able to remarry as a requirement of the office.

Nicholas said...

"In the Horus myth, Hat-Hor gives birth in a cave."

Where did you come across this information, if I might ask? A lot of information about Horus was forged in the 1800's, so I'm a bit skeptical when I see comparisons like this.

Alice C. Linsley said...

The association of Hathor with mountain caves is very old. She was the Guardian of mines and miners among Abraham's metalworking kin. A shrine to Hathor was found at metal workshops in and around Beersheba where Abraham spent the last years of his life. Also at Timna, where Tamar lived and conceived by Judah.

The Serabit El Khadim temple in Sinai has a cave chapel dedicated to Hathor. The oldest part of the shrine dates to the 12th Dynasty, 1991 to 1786 BC, so this is not a modern invention.

Canon Tallis said...

It was Justinian who ordered the celibacy of bishops in the Eastern Church. He did so because the bishops themselves were turning church property over to their sons. Given what St Paul wrote in Ist Timothy, this is more than a bad thing. The same is equally true of the Roman Church whose attempt to enforce clerical celibacy in the West included the promotion of homosexuality especially among the upper clergy. It is in both cases according to St Paul "the doctrine of devils."

I think that it is especially revealing that in the case of the Church of England at the Reformation, the decision was made to use the words "priest" and "Priesthood" where the Latin pontificals used 'presbyter and presbyterate. Cranmer and his suffragans wanted to rule out the continental attack upon the nature of the Christian ministry and did so in this manner.

I would appreciate your permission to repost this and your other posting on the priesthood on my blog because of those of the Reformed Episcopal and Free Church of England persuasion who believe that the ministerial priest is only a priest in the St. Peter's sense of the priesthood of all believers.

Alice C. Linsley said...

Greetings, Canon Tallis! It is good to read your comment. Cranmer remains for me a brilliant figure in Church History. He understood the Priesthood because he understood the Sacraments. These can never be disconnected. When this happens, you have a Protestant pastor in vestments.

You are welcome to reprint these and I hope your readers will find them helpful.

God's blessings on you this Holy Week.