Home » Ponderings of the Bible » High Priest of Israel: from Aaron to Eli – Who?

High Priest of Israel: from Aaron to Eli – Who?

I’ve not touched this page for too long, I’m pretty sure this is a mantra of mine on this blog, but I’ve decided to let out a few thoughts that I’ve been having on the High Priests

Recently I’ve been looking at the High Priest of peoples of God. I’ve tried my hardest to composed a listing of them, which honestly was harder than I thought. Most would turn to the genealogical accounts in 1 Chronicles, with perhaps a look at what Ezra-Nehemiah has to say. But in looking at that, we find suddenly, that several names do not appear, genealogies, actually not being always a literal father to son, but at times well known great grandfather to great grandson, or let’s make a poetic structure to this list, or something of the sort, it happens a lot more than I think the common bible reader realizes. Honestly, if one were to look at the beginning of Matthew it wouldn’t take all that long to realize that his genealogy is structured in purposeful way and with names left off.

Too often we look at these lists, okay, honestly most of us skim them in our desire to read the entirety of the Bible in  a year or outright skip them, but often when we reference the lists we think of them as something they never were. Now to be fair the list in 1 Chronicles 5 might not actually be a High Priest list, but merely a listing of Zadokite descendants, after all Eli and his line isn’t in there, but assuming that some of those of those names after Zadok are supposed to be the High Priests we still are lacking names found in the Historical books, found even in Chronicles.

Jehoiada High Priest who raised Jehoash, Azariah who served under King Uzziah, Uriah who served King Ahaz, and that’s still not mentioning Eli and his sons.

Some of those could be argued as not being the High Priest, but just an important priest, but honestly, it makes little sense for the kings to be influenced by just priests and not the chief. Jehoiada especially as he commands armies and levites to his cause to place Jehoash upon the throne against Athaliah.

The question might also be asked of who was King and High Priests when and we have some clue for some High Priests and none for others.

We could even split High Priests among the eras

In the wilderness journey the High Priests was for the most part Aaron, brother of Moses and one of the important leaders. But when he dies, prior to the promise land, his son Eleazar takes over. So that Eleazar has a little bit of the duty of High Priesthood in the wilderness journey and forward.

And Moses stripped Aaron of his garments and put them on Eleazar his son. And Aaron died there on the top of the mountain. Then Moses and Eleazar came down from the mountain. – Numbers 20.28

Eleazar remained High Priests until his death, after Joshua and Joshua’s sections of conquests of the land.

And Eleazar the son of Aaron died, and they buried him at Gibeah, the town of Phinehas his son, which had been given him in the hill country of Ephraim. – Joshua 24.33

After him and so during the Judges Era we have his son Phinehas who is well remembered for his spearing activity (see the the account in Numbers 25 and Psalm 106.30). We see him in the days of Judges and a rather brutal time at that, with the whole war of the 11 against lowly Benjamin.

and Phinehas the son of Eleazar, son of Aaron, ministered before it in those days), saying, “Shall we go out once more to battle against our brothers, the people of Benjamin, or shall we cease?” And the Lord said, “Go up, for tomorrow I will give them into your hand.” – Judges 20.28

And here’s another random quote of Phinehas as High/Chief Priest

And Phinehas the son of Eleazar was the chief officer over them in time past; the Lord was with him. 1 Chronicles 9.20

But that’s it, and we don’t see another High Priest until we find Eli with the tabernacle (actually 1 Samuel calls it a Temple, does that mean it was so stationary a building had been built, prior to David? That’s neither here nor there).

But there honestly should have been someone between the two and really, why is Eli High Priest any how? The suggestion is that Between Phinehas and Eli is


Outside of the listing of names we don’t have anything else. Just stuff like:

And Abishua begat Bukki, and Bukki begat Uzzi, – 1 Chronicles 6.5

Then in beginning of Samuel we are introduced to Eli who is descended not from Eleazar, but Aaron’s other son Ithamar. (So the question is are these men who became High Priests or just proof that Joshua(High Priest with Zerubbabel) came from Aaron? Moreover, what in the world happened to Uzzi or his kids that for a brief point the line of the High Priests when from Eleazar’s kin to Ithamar’s?

The best we can do is speculate because we simply don’t have a clue. Perhaps Zerahiah was born late in Uzzi’s life and he died before Zerahiah could assume the role, (i.e. Zerahiah was not 30) and Eli could and so Eli and his family remained the High Priest until Abiathar.

(An aside we think that Eli was from Ithamar based in part on 1 Chronicles 24.3, Ahimelech, who is one of Abiathar’s son is listed among the sons of Ithamar. Josephus in his Antiquities Book 5.361 also felt Eli came from Ithamar)

Anyways, Eli was 98 when died and it seemed he judged Israel 40 years (which most assume is also when he began with tenure as High Priest, so likely he was 49 when the Priesthood came to him).

Now Eli was ninety-eight years old and his eyes were set so that he could not see. – 1 Samuel 4.15

As soon as he mentioned the ark of God, Eli fell over backward from his seat by the side of the gate, and his neck was broken and he died, for the man was old and heavy. He had judged Israel forty years. 1 Samuel 4.18

The question which might be asked is who succeeded Eli and it appears to be his grandson, Ahitub, it might also be also be wondered did his son Phinehas do High Priestly duties? Since the High Priest isn’t supposed to retire? Yet Eli being blind would have had a hard time doing it?

Anyways, this gives us an idea, speculative albeit between Phinehas and Eli who were the High Priest of Israel during the time of the Judges. That is:

Phinehas ben Eleazar
Abishua ben Phinehas
Bukki ben Abishua
Uzzi ben Bukki
Eli ben Ithamar (as in the family of)

As I said, for Abishua, Bukki, and Uzzi we known nothing more than names and kids and so you can take that however you want. (Some have in fact tried to give Phinehas a rather long life and make him High Priest until Eli; I’m not convinced of that).

Anyhow those are some initial thoughts (hence lack citations). Later I hope to do from Ahitub to Azariah that is from Saul to David.


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