AARONIDES , members of the *priesthood in Israel. The traditional view is that throughout its history the legitimate priesthood comprised only those members of the tribe of *Levi descended directly from *Aaron, the first *high priest. The notion is anticipated in the Pentateuch by the use of such phrases as "for all time" and "throughout the ages" in connection with legislation of concern to "Aaron and his sons" (Ex. 27:21; 28:43; 30:8, 10, 19–21; Lev. 6:11, 15; 7:34 ff.; 10:15 et al.). It
is made explicit in the sharp distinction between the Aaronides and the other Levites who are made subordinate to them (Num. 3:10; 17:5; 18:1–7), and it is implicit in the designation of the priesthood in general by such terms as "the son(s) of Aaron" (Josh. 21:4, 10, 13, 19; Neh. 10:39; 12:47; i Chron. 6:39, 42; 12:27; 15:4; 23:28, 32; 24:1; cf. i Chron. 13:9; 26:28; 29:21; 31:19; 35:14), "the House of Aaron" (Ps. 115:10, 12; 118:3; 135:19), and, occasionally, simply "Aaron" (ii Chron. 12:27; 27:17; cf. Ps. 133:2). This same situation is assumed by the chronicler in the classification of the priestly clans according to the lines of Eleazar and Ithamar, sons of Aaron (i Chron. 24:1–4). It is also reflected in the various genealogical lists of the high priests (Ezra 7:1–5; i Chron. 5:28–41; 6:35–38).
The Critical View
This picture of the history of the priesthood is regarded as an oversimplification of a very complex situation that can no longer be reconstructed with any degree of confidence. It is possible, however, to isolate the complexities. In the first place, the construction "sons of Aaron," in itself, like the terms "sons of Korah" and "sons of Asaph," may just as well refer to a professional class or guild as to blood kinship. That there were non-Aaronide priests, who were most likely incorporated into the Aaronide guild, may be inferred from the mention of priests prior to the Sinaitic revelation (Ex. 19:22, 24). Further, in the lifetime of Eleazar, son of Aaron, Joshua is said to have allotted 13 Canaanite cities with their pasture lands to the "sons of Aaron, the priests" (Josh. 21:19; cf. 21:4, 10, 13), an impossible situation unless the description "sons of Aaron" is not to be understood literally. Secondly, the exclusive priestly legitimacy of the Aaronides is characteristic of the p document, and is found elsewhere only in the book of Joshua and in the post-Exilic Nehemiah and Chronicles. It is not to be found in d, which seems to confer priestly status and privileges upon the entire tribe of Levi (Deut. 10:8–9, 18:6–7) and to postdate the selection of that tribe to the death of Aaron. Nor are the "sons of Aaron" mentioned in Judges, Samuel, Kings, or the prophets. Ezekiel never refers to them, only to the "levitical priests, the sons of Zadok" (Ezek. 40:46; 43:19; 44:15; cf. 48:11), without ever mentioning their Aaronic ancestry.
As to the clear differentiation between Aaronides and Levites, this may well argue against the historicity of the claim to an original levitical ancestry. One of the strands in the narrative of the revolt of Korah seems to reflect an Aaronide-Levite struggle for priestly prerogatives and to derive from a period before the levitical or Aaronic genealogizing of priests was effected (Num. 16; esp. 1 and 7–10). The same tension between the tribe of Levi and the Aaronides is apparent in the golden calf episode (Ex. 32:26–29). In this connection, it is regarded as significant that Aaron's son Eleazar was buried at Gibeah, a town in the hill country of Ephraim belonging to his son, the high priest Phinehas (Josh. 24:33). It was precisely the bull-cult, with which the name of Aaron was associated, that was a characteristic of the religion of northern Israel (i Kings 12:28–29). This suggests to some the possibility that the Aaronides were close to the Ephraimites and accounted for at least some of the priests of Beth-El (cf. ibid. 31; Judg. 20:26 ff.). In this case, the description of Moses' brother as "Aaron the Levite" (Ex. 4:14) would be a later insertion into the text, it being in fact superfluous in its present context.
The post-Exilic genealogical lists of the Aaronide high priesthood present numerous problems. Missing entirely are the high priests Amariah (ii Chron. 19:11), Jehoiada (ii Kings 11:4; 12:10; ii Chron. 23:1; 24:20), and Urijah (ii Kings 16:10–11, 15). The registers of i Chronicles (5:29–41 and 6:35–38) both list Ahimaaz, but not Azariah, while that of Ezra (7:1–6) records the latter, but omits the former. All three lists, however, have 12 generations between Aaron and the building of Solomon's temple, which suggests schematization to accommodate the 480 years (or 12 40-year generations) supposed to have elapsed between the Exodus and the construction of the sanctuary (i Kings 6:1). Further, i Chronicles (5:36–41) presupposes exactly another 12 generations between Solomon and the first high priest after the Restoration, but the repetition of Amariah, Ahitub, and Zadok (ibid. 33–34, 37–38) is suspicious. The genealogy of Ezra from Aaron lists only four high priests between Zadok of Solomon's time and Ezra (Ezra 7:2). The fragmentary lists of i Chronicles (9:10–11) and Nehemiah (11:11) differ slightly from each other, and both vary from the other lists. Completely ignored in these genealogical tables is the line of Ithamar to which the Eli priesthood belonged. It is quite possible that the lists are interested only in the Zadokite high priests. At any rate, they cannot be used uncritically as source material for the history of the Aaronides.
Some scholars believe that the Aaronides constituted a priestly clan that had its origins in Egypt in pre-Mosaic times and very early embraced the new faith of Moses, anticipating in this respect the tribe of Levi. It used its prestige and influence among the people to gain support for Moses. This is regarded as being the real situation behind Exodus 4:14 ff., 27–31. Further corroboration of this theory is seen in the fact that in contrast to the justification for the selection of the clan of Phinehas (Num. 25:10–13) and the tribe of Levi (Ex. 32:26–29; Num. 3:12–13, 41, 45; 8:13–17), no reason is given for the choice of Aaron. The priesthood seems to come naturally to him. Another link in the chain of evidence is found in i Sam. 2:27–28, which tells of the selection of the house of Eli, undoubtedly considered Aaronide (i Sam. 22:20; i Chron. 24:3), already in Egypt where it was the recipient of a divine revelation. No mention is made of any wilderness events or of the Levites. It is noted further that Egyptian names figure prominently in the Aaronide priesthood, viz., Hophni (i Sam. 1:3), Phinehas (Ex. 6:25; i Sam. 1:3), Putiel (Ex. 6:25), Pashhur (Jer. 20:1; 21:1; Ezra 2:38), and Hanamel (Jer. 32:7). At some period, and in circumstances that can no longer be determined, the Aaronide priesthood amalgamated with the Levites and became the dominant priestly family. Its great antiquity and prestige ultimately generated the pattern of Aaronic genealogizing.
Katzenstein, in: jbl, 81 (1962), 377–84; for further bibliography see *Aaron.
[Nahum M. Sarna]