The priestly divisions or sacerdotal courses (Hebrew: מִשְׁמָר mishmar) are the groups into which Jewish priests were divided for the purposes of their service in the Temple in Jerusalem.

The 24 priestly divisions are first listed in the Biblical Book of Chronicles 24.

Role in the Temple

The Book of Chronicles refers to these priests as "descendants of Aaron."[1] According to the Bible, Aaron had four sons: Nadab, Abihu, Eleazar and Ithamar. However, Nadab and Abihu died before Aaron, and only Eleazar and Ithamar had sons.[2] In Chronicles, one priest (Zadok) from Eleazar's descendants, and another priest (Ahimelech) from Ithamar's descendants, were designated by King David to help create the various priestly work groups.[3] Sixteen of Eleazar's descendants were selected to head priestly orders, while only eight of Ithamar's descendants were so chosen; this imbalance was done because of the greater number of leaders among Eleazar's descendants.[4]

According to the Talmud, the 24-family division was an expansion of a previous division, by Moses, into 8 (or 16) divisions.[5] According to Maimonides, the separation of priests into divisions was already commanded in the time of Moses (Deuteronomy 18:8).[6]

Lots were drawn to designate the order of Temple service for the different priestly orders.[7] Each order was responsible for ministering during a different week and Shabbat and were stationed at the Temple in Jerusalem. All of the orders were present during biblical festivals. Their duties involved offering the daily and holiday Temple sacrifices, and administering the Priestly Blessing to the people. The change between shifts took place on Shabbat at midday, with the outgoing shift performing the morning sacrifice, and the incoming shift the afternoon sacrifice.[8]

According to the Jerusalem Talmud (Ta‘anith 4:2 / 20a): "Four wards came up out of exile: Yedaiah, Harim, Pašḥūr and Immer. The prophets among them had made a stipulation with them, namely, that even if Jehoiariv should come up out of exile, the officiating ward that serves in the Temple at that time should not be rejected on his account, but rather, he is to become secondary unto them."

According to 1 Chronicles 24, the divisions were originally formed during the reign of King David. However, many modern scholars treat these priestly courses either as a reflection of practices after the Babylonian captivity, or as an idealized portrait of how the Chronicler (writing in c. 350–300 BCE) thought temple administration ought to occur, with the reference to David being a method for the Chronicler to legitimize his views about the priesthood.[9] At the end of the Second Temple period, it is clear that the divisions worked in the order specified.[10]

Following the Temple's destruction

Following the Temple's destruction at the end of the First Jewish Revolt and the displacement to the Galilee of the bulk of the remaining Jewish population in Judea at the end of the Bar Kochva Revolt, Jewish tradition in the Talmud and poems from the period record that the descendants of each priestly watch established a separate residential seat in towns and villages of the Galilee, and maintained this residential pattern for at least several centuries in anticipation of the reconstruction of the Temple and reinstitution of the cycle of priestly courses. Specifically, this Kohanic settlement region stretched from the Beit Netofa Valley, through the Nazareth region to Arbel and the vicinity of Tiberias.

List

Division[11] Name Mishnaic residence[12] should start working
First Jehoiarib Meron 27/1/2024 13/7/2024 28/12/2024 14/6/2025 29/11/2025 16/5/2026
Second Jedaiah Tzippori 3/2/2024 20/7/2024 4/1/2025 21/6/2025 6/12/2025 23/5/2026
Third Harim Fassuta 10/2/2024 27/7/2024 11/1/2025 28/6/2025 13/12/2025 30/5/2026
Fourth Seorim Ayta ash Shab or Ilut 17/2/2024 3/8/2024 18/1/2025 5/7/2025 20/12/2025 6/6/2026
Fifth Malchijah Bethlehem of Galilee 24/2/2024 10/8/2024 25/1/2025 12/7/2025 27/12/2025 13/6/2026
Sixth Mijamin Yodfat 2/3/2024 17/8/2024 1/2/2025 19/7/2025 3/1/2026 20/6/2026
Seventh Hakkoz Eilabun 9/3/2024 24/8/2024 8/2/2025 26/7/2025 10/1/2026 27/6/2026
Eighth Abijah Kfar Uziel 16/3/2024 31/8/2024 15/2/2025 2/8/2025 17/1/2026 4/7/2026
Ninth Jeshua Arbel 23/3/2024 7/9/2024 22/2/2025 9/8/2025 24/1/2026 11/7/2026
Tenth Shecaniah Kabul 30/3/2024 14/9/2024 1/3/2025 16/8/2025 31/1/2026 18/7/2026
Eleventh Eliashib Kafr Kana 6/4/2024 21/9/2024 8/3/2025 23/8/2025 7/2/2026 25/7/2026
Twelfth Jakim Safed 13/4/2024 28/9/2024 15/3/2025 30/8/2025 14/2/2026 1/8/2026
Thirteenth Huppah Beit Maon 20/4/2024 5/10/2024 22/3/2025 6/9/2025 21/2/2026 8/8/2026
Fourteenth Jeshebeab Shikhin 27/4/2024 12/10/2024 29/3/2025 13/9/2025 28/2/2026 15/8/2026
Fifteenth Bilgah Maghar 4/5/2024 19/10/2024 5/4/2025 20/9/2025 7/3/2026 22/8/2026
Sixteenth Immer Yavnit 11/5/2024 26/10/2024 12/4/2025 27/9/2025 14/3/2026 29/8/2026
Seventeenth Hezir Kfar Mimlah 18/5/2024 2/11/2024 19/4/2025 4/10/2025 21/3/2026 5/9/2026
Eighteenth Happizzez Nazareth (or Daburiyya) 25/5/2024 9/11/2024 26/4/2025 11/10/2025 28/3/2026 12/9/2026
Nineteenth Pethahiah Arraba 1/6/2024 16/11/2024 3/5/2025 18/10/2025 4/4/2026 19/9/2026
Twentieth Jehezkel Magdala 8/6/2024 23/11/2024 10/5/2025 25/10/2025 11/4/2026 26/9/2026
Twenty-first Jachin Deir Hanna (or Kafr 'Inan) 15/6/2024 30/11/2024 17/5/2025 1/11/2025 18/4/2026 3/10/2026
Twenty-second Gamul Kawkab al-Hawa 22/6/2024 7/12/2024 24/5/2025 8/11/2025 25/4/2026 10/10/2026
Twenty-third Delaiah Tzalmon 29/6/2024 14/12/2024 31/5/2025 15/11/2025 2/5/2026 17/10/2026
Twenty-fourth Maaziah Hammat Tiberias 6/7/2024 21/12/2024 7/6/2025 22/11/2025 9/5/2026 24/10/2026

Commemoration

After the destruction, there was a custom of publicly recalling every Sabbath in the synagogues the courses of the priests, a practice that reinforced the prestige of the priests' lineage.[13] Such mention evoked the hope of return to Jerusalem and reconstruction of the Temple.

A manuscript discovered in the Cairo Geniza, dated 1034 CE, records a customary formula recited weekly in the synagogues, during the Sabbath day: "Today is the holy Sabbath, the holy Sabbath unto the Lord; this day, which is the course? [Appropriate name] is the course. May the Merciful One return the course to its place soon, in our days. Amen."[14] After which, they would recount the number of years that have passed since the destruction of Jerusalem, and conclude with the words: "May the Merciful One build his house and sanctuary, and let them say Amen."

Eleazar ben Kalir (7th century) wrote a liturgical poem detailing the 24-priestly wards and their places of residence.[15] Historian and geographer, Samuel Klein (1886–1940), thinks that Killir's poem proves the prevalence of this custom of commemorating the courses in the synagogues of the Land of Israel.[16] A number of such piyyutim have been composed, and to this day some are recited by Jews as part of the Tisha Beav kinnot.

Three stone inscriptions have been discovered bearing partial lists of the priestly wards, their order and the name of the locality to which they had moved after the destruction of the Second Temple: In 1920, a stone inscription was found in Ashkelon showing a partial list of the priestly wards; in 1962 three small fragments of one Hebrew stone inscription bearing the partial names of places associated with the priestly courses (the rest of which had been reconstructed) were found in Caesarea Maritima, dated to the third-fourth centuries;[17][18] in 1970 a stone inscription was found on a partially buried column in a mosque, in the Yemeni village of Bayt al-Ḥaḍir, showing ten names of the priestly wards and their respective towns and villages. The Yemeni inscription is the longest roster of names of this sort to be discovered.

Yemenite inscription

Professor Yosef Tobi, describing this inscription, writes: "As for the probable strong spiritual attachment held by the Jews of Ḥimyar for the Land of Israel, this is also attested to by an inscription bearing the names of the miśmarōṯ (priestly wards), which was initially discovered in September 1970 by W. Müller and then, independently, by P. Grjaznevitch within a mosque in Bayt al-Ḥāḍir, a village situated near Tan‘im, east of Ṣanʻā’. This inscription has been published by several European scholars, but the seminal study was carried out by E.E. Urbach (1973), one of the most important scholars of rabbinic literature in the previous generation.[19] The priestly wards were seen as one of the most distinctive elements in the collective memory of the Jewish people as a nation during the period of Roman and Byzantine rule in the Land of Israel following the destruction of the Second Temple, insofar as they came to symbolize Jewish worship within the Land."[20]

It is now uncertain when this stone inscription was first engraved but it dates back to a time near the Second Temple’s destruction. The complete list of sacerdotal names would normally have included twenty-four priestly wards. However, today, the stone inscription contains only a partial list of their names, with their former places of residence – beginning from the fourth ward, and ending with the fourteenth ward. This was because the stone had been partially broken away, as also part of which was hidden underground. Several reconstructions of the stone inscription have since been made.[21]

The names legible on the Yemenite column read as follows:[19][22]

English Translation Original Hebrew
[Se‘orim ‘Ayṯoh-lo], fourth ward שְׂעוֹרִים עיתהלו משמר הרביעי
[Malkiah, Beṯ]-Lehem, the fif[th] ward מַלְכִּיָּה בית לחם משמר החמשי
Miyamin, Yudfaṯ (Jotapata), the sixth ward מִיָמִין יודפת משמר הששי
[Haqo]ṣ, ‘Ailebu, the seventh ward הַקּוֹץ עילבו משמר השביעי
Aviah ‘Iddo, Kefar ‘Uzziel, the (eighth) ward אֲבִיָּה עדו כפר עוזיאל משמר
the eighth (ward). Yešūa‘, Nišdaf-arbel השמיני יֵשׁוּעַ נשדפארבל
the ninth ward משמר התשיעי
Šekhaniyahu, ‘Avurah Cabūl, the t[enth] ward שְׁכַנְיָה עבורה כבול משמר העשירי
Eliašīv, Cohen Qanah, the elev[enth] ward אֶלְיָשִׁיב כהן קנה משמר אחד עשר
Yaqīm Pašḥūr, Ṣefaṯ (Safed), the twelf[th] ward יָקִים פַּשְׁחוּר צפת משמר שנים עשר
[Ḥū]ppah, Beṯ-Ma‘on, the (thirteenth) ward חוּפָּה בית מעון משמר שלשה
the thirteenth (ward). Yešav’av, Ḥuṣpiṯ Šuḥīn עשר יֶשֶׁבְאָב חוצפית שוחין
the fourteenth wa[rd] משמר ארבע עשר

See also

References

  1. ^ 1 Chronicles 24:1
  2. ^ Leviticus 10, Numbers 3, 1 Chronicles 24
  3. ^ 1 Chronicles 24:3
  4. ^ 1 Chronicles 24:4
  5. ^ Taanit 27a
  6. ^ Sefer Hamitzvot, positive commandment 36
  7. ^ 1 Chronicles 24:5; see commentators for the purpose of these lots
  8. ^ Sukkah 56b
  9. ^ Steven Schweitzer (1 March 2009). Reading Utopia in Chronicles. A&C Black. pp. 29–30. ISBN 978-0-567-36317-6.
  10. ^ See Qumran calendrical texts#Mishmarot, Luke 1:5-11; 23, and the end of the Sukkah (Talmud)
  11. ^ 1 Chronicles 24:7–19
  12. ^ ברייתא על משמרות הכהנים; some identifications are uncertain
  13. ^ Robert Bonfil, Jews in Byzantium: Dialectics of Minority and Majority Cultures, Brill: Leiden 2012, p. 42 ISBN 978-9-004-20355-6
  14. ^ Bodleian Library, Oxford Ms. Heb. 2738/6, fol. 899 in Vardaman, E. Jerry and Garrett, J.L., The Teacher's Yoke, Waco TX 1964
  15. ^ Poem entitled, Lamentation for the 9th of Ab, composed in twenty-four stanzas, and the last line of each stanza contains the name of the village where each priestly family lived.
  16. ^ Samuel Klein, Barajta der vierundzwanzig Priester Abteilungen (Baraitta of the Twenty-Four Priestly Divisions), in: Beiträge zur Geographie und Geschichte Galiläas, Leipzig 1909
  17. ^ Avi-Yonah, Michael (1962). "A List of Priestly Courses from Caesarea". Israel Exploration Journal. 12 (2): 137–139. JSTOR 27924896.
  18. ^ Avi-Yonah, Michael (1964). "The Caesarea Inscription of the Twenty-Four Priestly Courses". Eretz-Israel: Archaeological, Historical and Geographical Studies. L.A. Mayer Memorial Volume (1895-1959): 24–28. JSTOR 23614642. (Hebrew)
  19. ^ a b Ephraim E. Urbach, Mishmarot u-maʻamadot, Tarbiẕ 42, Jerusalem 1973, pp. 304 – 327 (Hebrew)
  20. ^ "Proceedings of the Seminar for Arabian Studies," 43 (2013): British Museum, London; Article, "The Jews of Yemen in light of the excavation of the Jewish synagogue in Qanī’," p. 351, by Yosef Tobi.
  21. ^ Compare also the reconstruction as was published by Shalom Medina in the journal, "Afikim," 92, Tel-Aviv, 1988/9, pp. 28–30.
  22. ^ Rainer Degen, "An Inscription of the Twenty-Four Priestly Courses from the Yemen", Tarbiz, Jerusalem 1973, pp. 302–303