The Garments of the High Priest: Anthropomorphism in the Worship of God

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MrMacSon
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The Garments of the High Priest: Anthropomorphism in the Worship of God

Post by MrMacSon » Wed Mar 10, 2021 11:17 pm


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The elaborate garments worn by the priests figure prominently in the Torah portion Tetzaveh, filling the entirety of Exodus 28. They are described again in detail in Pekudei (Exodus 39:1–31), where they conclude the account of the actual manufacture of the components of the miškān (“Tabernacle”) that is said to have accompanied the Israelites through the wilderness.

Four of these garments are worn exclusively by the High Priest. They alone are called בִּגְדֵי הַקֹּדֶשׁ, the holy garments. Moses first places them upon Aaron at the consecration of the priests (Leviticus 8:7–9). Aaron wears them until his death, transferring them to his son and successor Eleazar immediately before he dies (Numbers 20:25–28). All successive High Priests are commanded to wear them as well (Exodus 29:30; see Leviticus 21:10).

Together with the entire account of the miškān, all of the references to the priests’ garments belong to the narrative contained in the Priestly document, or P. They are not mentioned in the other Torah sources, although one feature, the enigmatic Urim and Thummim, is mentioned in Moses’ blessing of the tribe of Levi (Deut 33:8) – probably a part of the J source ...

The four garments peculiar to the High Priest are unlike any normal articles of clothing. Their shape and design show that they are not intended to provide protection from the elements or to fulfill the requirements of modesty. In addition to fabrics, they contain gold and precious stones. On three of them, words are inscribed. Their weight and the manner in which they are placed on the High Priest’s body render them neither practical nor comfortable. The High Priest is said to “wear” them only when he enters the sanctuary interior, which he is commanded to do twice daily, morning and evening. Most important, each one of the High Priest’s “garments” is said to function in a specific way whenever the High Priest enters the sanctuary “wearing” it.

The Functions of the High Priest’s Garments
Ephod

The ephod’s precious stones, inscribed with the names of the twelve tribes, are said to serve as אַבְנֵי זִכָּרוֹן “stones of reminder” to remind God of Israel, and the same is true of the twelve stones on the breastplate. Thus by his very person, which we might call the “body politic,” the High Priest personifies the whole of the Israelite people 'לִפְנֵי ה “before YHWH,” i.e. when standing in God’s presence (Exodus 28:12, 29; 39:7).

Breastplate

The Urim and Thummim, connected with the breastplate, enable Aaron, each time he enters the sanctuary, to inquire of God for judgment (Exodus 28:30), which probably means in order to ascertain the correct decision in legal proceedings.

Robe

The robe is “worn” for its bells, their sound alerting the divine presence to Aaron’s approach as he enters the sanctuary “so that he not die” (Exodus 28:35) – which might happen if he were to disturb the divine repose too abruptly.

Diadem

Finally the diadem on Aaron’s head is said to remove from God’s abode any wrongdoing connected with Israel’s offerings and to ensure, by means of the inscription proclaiming that Israel’s worship is 'קֹדֶשׁ לַה “Holy to Yhwh,” that God graciously accept (that is the meaning of רָצוֹן in P) their sacrifices (Exodus 28:38).

When one considers the daily ritual acts involving these “garments,” it becomes clear that in P they are not viewed as apparel at all. ... They transform the High Priest who “wears” them into a walking embodiment of the whole nation of Israel, and they play indispensable roles in the regular (note the repeated use of the word “tāmîd”) pageant of worship that he enacts on Israel’s behalf.

Maintaining God’s Terrestrial Abode
. . . .< . . omitted . . >

The High Priest’s role in the daily worship of God as ordained by P, then, consists of the royal treatment of, and appeal to, the divine King in His earthly palace. The High Priest is the palace servant, and the garments that he wears are intended not merely to clothe him in “dignity and adornment” (Exodus 28:2) but to accomplish one of the essential aims of worship: to call the King’s attention to His subjects and their needs.

Anthropomorphism in Worship: Then and Now

These ritually efficacious garments of the High Priest are just one aspect of P’s unique anthropomorphism, its depiction of God’s essence and behavior in strikingly human terms. Some readers of P, embarrassed by this frank and explicit “humanization” of God and viewing it as somehow pagan, have maintained that Israelite religion merely took over some of the conventional forms of worship practiced in the ancient world, and only as fossilized vestiges of a belief system that it no longer accepted. Others have pointed out that P has toned down anthropomorphism in many ways, by denying that the royal resident actually partook of the sacrifices and by insisting that it was God’s kābôd, but not God Himself, that was thought to reside in the Tabernacle.

Nevertheless, I think that the priestly author intended all of this all quite seriously, not figuratively or symbolically. He may even have believed that the visible Presence of God really swooped down from Mt. Sinai and entered the miškān (Exodus 24:16–18a; Exodus 40:34­–38); after all, miraculous appearances of God in clear view of human onlookers seem not to have troubled biblical authors as long as they are said to have occurred in the distant past. Even if he did not, he certainly recognized that the only way to worship a transcendent, supernatural deity is to “reduce” Him to earthly proportions and provide Him with recognizable human contours; otherwise no meaningful acts of worship can be devised ...

https://www.thetorah.com/article/garmen ... hip-of-god
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rgprice
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Re: The Garments of the High Priest: Anthropomorphism in the Worship of God

Post by rgprice » Thu Mar 11, 2021 3:18 am

A lot of this is well explained in Margaret Barker's The Great Angel, which I highly recommend.

Certainly prior to the Persian period, Israelite/Canaanite religion was polytheistic and deified the kings. The gods were thought to literally inhabit the temples (note more than one). In addition, the gods were thought to actually inhabit the bodies of the priests.

You see in the Jewish scriptures a lot of references to "putting on" the Spirit or being "clothed" in the Spirit or in the "presence". These things seem to refer back to traditions in which garments with the names of gods on them were literally put on in order to become the god and speak the words of the god, much like Greek oracles were said to be possessed by Apollo, etc. So Israelite priests would put on a garment with the name of a god, such as Baal or Yahweh or Asherah or whatever, and become the god. This is were were get the term of having power "vested" in you. This refers to the literal wearing of priestly vestments that gave an individual the power of God.

And speaking of anthropomorphizing God, something that Barker suggests is that references to the "angel of YHWH" in the Jewish scriptures were originally references to Yahweh himself. One of the first aspects of de-anthropomorphizing God was to attribute many of the actions of the gods to angels and "the presence", etc., so that it was no longer God coming down to earth and interacting people, but rather his presence or his angel.

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MrMacSon
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Re: The Garments of the High Priest: Anthropomorphism in the Worship of God

Post by MrMacSon » Wed Mar 17, 2021 12:52 am

rgprice wrote:
Thu Mar 11, 2021 3:18 am
One of the first aspects of de-anthropomorphizing God was to attribute many of the actions of the gods to angels and "the presence", etc., so that it was no longer God coming down to earth and interacting people, but rather his presence or his angel.
A lot of angels in the first half of the first few chapters of the book of Zechariah are one verse the/an angel, then in another a/the 'Lord', then a/the 'man' in a third, sometimes talking on behalf of the LORD

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