Reflection for Today ▶️ ⏩ ⏹️
Illustration of the consecration of Aaron and his three sons, from the 1890 Holman Bible. (Wikimedia Commons)
And Moses brought Aaron and his sons, and washed them with water. And he put upon him the coat, and girded him with the girdle, and clothed him with the robe, and put the ephod upon him, and he girded him with the curious girdle of the ephod, and bound it unto him therewith. / And Moses took the anointing oil, and anointed the tabernacle and all that was therein, and sanctified them. / And he poured of the anointing oil upon Aaron's head, and anointed him, to sanctify him.
— Leviticus 8:6-7/10/12
Aaron is ordained into the priesthood, with all the ritual required for such an office, described here and over the next two chapters. Leviticus, we are told, was completed in its present form some 800-900 years after the events it records, during or shortly after the Babylonian exile. The temple has been destroyed and the spirit of the people was low. It was vital to the Levites to both (re)establish themselves as the priesthood, and to codify their traditions and rituals, entrenching them in the written word that they may guide future generations. As indeed they have, for better or for worse.
A priest is a mediatory agent between man and God. Priesthood seems somehow to be a necessary ideal, or at least one so engrained in our psyches that we cannot see beyond it. It is in fact an essential aspect of the patriarchy, and like all such hierarchical structures of power its purpose is to control and oppress the masses. Priesthood has survived as a concept for thousands of years and it isn't by any means restricted to religion. Today we have high priests of Science, Medicine and Capitalism, commanding belief and seeking to punish, and to marginalise those who stray from "the truth". Except we are kept away from the truth, held at bay by the experts, drip-fed only that which the priests think we can handle, the rest being kept opaque, too complex for the common man to understand. Now as then, our belief isn't in God, or the ultimate truth, it is in the intermediaries—those we call our leaders. We believe them and we trust them. We have lost the ability to think for ourselves. That's priesthood for you.
The laws and rituals described in Leviticus are designed, supposedly, to create a closer bond between man and God. What they actually do, like all priestly rules, is to create separation, a them-and-us relationship. Leviticus reminds us that traditional religion is built on a patriarchy. We can see why later generations rejected these laws, and sought a more direct relationship with a father-God. Of course, that new way quickly became its own religion, and when Rome got hold of it all the patriarchal structures were back in place. It seems we can't escape priesthood. The best we can do is be aware of it, notice how it operates, and consider ways to undermine or bypass it towards a kinder, simpler existence.