Page:EB1911 - Volume 22.djvu/333

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319
PRIEST


But the best established hierarchy is not so powerful as a caste, and the monarchs had one strong hold on the clergy by retaining the patronage of great ecclesiastical places, and another in the fact that the Semitic provinces on the Tigris, where the capital lay, were mainly inhabited by men of other faith! The duties of the priests were not restricted to the services of the temple, but they also took part in the household cults. The ritual had a mechanical character and was by no means attractive. It is impossible to enter into the manifold details of the fire cultus which forms the main part of the worship in the Avesta. They belong to an earlier period than the Zoroastrian, nor was this fire cultus restricted to the temples. Portable fire altars were carried about and the worship could be celebrated in any spot. It may be noted that in all the ceremonies in the religion of the Avesta, incantations, prayers and confessions play a very large part. The prevailing element in the incantations consists in the exorcism of devils. In fact, the Persian religion throughout all its multitude of puriications, observances and expiation's was a constant warfare against impurity, death and the devil. Amid all the ceremonial ism of its priesthood there were also high ideals set forth in Zoroastrian religion of what a priest should be. Thus we read in Vendidad xviii., “ Many there be, noble Zarathustra, who bear the mouth bandage, who have yet not girded their loins with the law. If such a one says 'I am an Athravan ' he lies, call him not Athravan, noble Zarathustra, said Ahura Mazda, but thou shouldst call him priest, noble Zarathustra, who sits awake the whole night through and yearns for holy wisdom that enables man to stand on death's bridge fearless and with happy heart, the wisdom whereby he attains the holy and glorious world of paradise.”

In this rapid glance at some of the chief priesthoods of antiquity we have hitherto passed over the pure Semites, whose priesthoods call for closer examination because of the profound influence which one of them-that of the Jews-has exercised on Christianity, and so on the whole history of the modern world. But before we proceed to this it may be well to note one or two things that come out by comparison of the systems already before us. Priestly acts-that is, acts done by one and accepted by the gods on behalf of many-are common to all antique religions, and cannot be lacking where the primary subject of religion is not the individual but the natural community. But the origin of a separate priestly class, distinct from the natural heads of the community, cannot be explained by any such broad general principle; in some cases, as in Greece, it is little more than a matter of convenience that part of the religious duties of the state should be confided to special ministers charged with the care of particular temples, while in others the intervention of a special priesthood is indispensable to the validity of every religious act, so that the priest ultimately becomes a mediator and the vehicle of all divine grace. This position, we see, can be reached by various paths: the priest may become indispensable through the growth of ritual observances and precautions too complicated for a layman to master, or he may lay claim to special nearness to the gods on the ground, it may be, of his race, or, it may be, of habitual practices of purity and asceticism which cannot be combined with the duties of ordinary life, as, for example, celibacy was required of priestesses of Vesta at Rome. But the highest developments of priestly influence are hardly separable from something of magical superstition, the opus operalum of the priest has the power of a sorcerer's spell. The strength of the priesthood in Chaldaea and in Egypt stands plainly in the closest connexion with the survival of a magical element in the state religion, and Rome, in like manner, is more priestly than Greece, because it is more superstitious. In most cases, however, where an ancient civilization shows us a strong priestly system we are unable to make out in any detail the steps by which that system was elaborated; the clearest case perhaps is the priesthood of the Jews, which is not less interesting from its origin and growth icf. especially Noldeke's Tabari, p. 45<> seq.

than from the influence exerted by the system long after the priests were dispersed and their sanctuary laid in ruins. Among the nomadic Semites, to whom the Hebrews belonged before they settled in Canaan, there has never been any developed priesthood. The acts of religion partake of the general simplicity of desert life; apart from the private worship of household gods and the oblations and salutations offered at the graves of departed kinsmen, the ritual observances of the ancient Arabs were visits to the tribal sanctuary to salute the god with a gift of milk, firs't-fruits or the like, the sacrifice of first lings and vows (see NAZARITE and PASSOVER), and an occasional pilgrimage to discharge a vow at the annual feast and fair of one of the more distant holy places (see MECCA). These acts required no priestly aid; each man slew his own victim and divided the sacrifice in his own circle; the share of the god was the blood which was smeared upon or poured out beside stone (nosb, ghabghab) set up as an altar or perhaps as a symbol of the deity. It does not appear that any portion of the sacrifice was burned on the altar, or that any part of the victim was the due of the sanctuary. We find therefore no trace of a sacrificial priesthood, but each temple had one or more doorkeepers (sddin, héjib), whose office was usually hereditary in a certain family and who had the charge of the temple and its treasures. The sacrifices and offerings were acknowledgments of divine bounty and means used to insure its continuance; the Arab was the “slave” of his god and paid him tribute, as slaves used to do to their masters, or subjects to their lords; and the free Bedouin, trained in the solitude of the desert to habits of absolute self-reliance, knew no master except his god, and acknowledged no other will before which his own should bend. The voice of the god might be uttered in omens which the skilled could read, or conveyed in the inspired rhymes of soothsayers, but frequently it was sought in the oracle of the sanctuary, where the sacred lot was administered for a fee by the sridin. The sanctuary thus became a seat of judgment, and here, too, compacts were sealed by oaths and sacrificial ceremonies. These institutions, though known to us only from sources belonging to an age when the old faith was falling to pieces, are certainly very ancient. The fundamental type of the Arabic sanctuary can be traced through all the Semitic lands, and so appears to be older than the Semitic dispersion; even the technical terms are mainly the same, so that we may justly assume that the more developed ritual and priesthoods of the settled Semites sprang from a state of things not very remote from what we find among the heathen Arabs. Now among the Arabs, as we have seen, ritual service is the affair of the individual, or of a mass of individuals gathered in a great feast, but still doing worship each for himself and his own private circle; the only public aspect of religion is found in connexion with divination and the oracle to which the affairs of the community are submitted. In Greece and Rome the public sacrifices were the chief function of religion, and in them the priesthood represented the ancient kinigs. ut in the desert there is no king and no sovereignty save that o the divine oracle, and therefore it is from the soothsayers or ministers of the oracle that a public ministry of religion can most naturally spring. With the beginning of a settled state the sanctuaries must rise in importance and all the functions of revelation will gather round them. A sacrificial priesthood will arise as the worship becomes more complex (especially as sacrifice in antiquity is a common preliminary to the consultation of an oracle), but the public ritual will still remainclosingly associated with oracle or divination, and the priest will still be, above all things, a revealer. That this was what actually happened may be inferred from the fact that the Canaanite and Phoenician name for a priest (kohén) is identical with the Arabic kzihin, a “ soothsayer.” Soothsaying was no modern importation in Arabia; its characteristic form-a monotonous croon of short rhyming clauses—is the same as was practised by the Hebrew “wizards who peeped and muttered" in the days of Isaiah, and that this form was native in Arabia is clear from its having a technical name (saj'), which in Hebrew survives only in derivative words with modified sense? The kdhin, therefore, is not a degraded priest but such a soothsayer as is found in most primitive societies, and the Canaanite priests grew out of these early revelers. In point of fact some form of revelation or oracle appears to have existed in every great shrine of Canaan and Syria, ” and the importance of this element in the cultus may be measured from the fact that at Hierapolis it was the charge of the chief priest, just as in the Levitical -legislation But the use of “ kahin ' for “ priest " in the Canaanite area points to more than this: it is connected with the orgiastic character of Canaanite religion. The soothsayer differs from the priest of an oracle by giving his revelation under excitement and often in a frenzy allied to madness. In natural soothsaying this frenzy is the necessary physical accompaniment of an affiatus which, though it seems supernatural to a rude people, is really akin to poetic inspiration. 2

applied to prophets. (See HEBREW RELIGION.)

3 For examples, see PALMYRA and PHILISTINES; see further, Lucian, De dea syria, 36, for Hierapolis; Zosimus i. 58, for Aphaca; Pliny, H. N. xxxvii. 58 (compared with Lucian, ut supra, and Movers, Phaenizier, i. 655), for the temple of Melkart at Tyre.-Méshugga', 2 Kings ix. 11, Jer. xxix. 26-a term of contempt