Home » Ponderings of the Bible » High Priest of Israel Part Two: From Eli to Zadok – Who?

High Priest of Israel Part Two: From Eli to Zadok – Who?


A while back, although the last thing I posted, I looked at the listing of the High Priest from Aaron to Eli. I want to return to looking at this time looking at who could have been the High Priest from Eli to Zadok. Remember that some of this is speculative. There is only so much we can glean from the biblical record, since some of the listing comes from genealogical records in the bible, (those found in 1 Chronicles 5, for example) and not from historical accounts. That is to say some High Priests mention we can only definitely say they were related to a High Priest, for the bible never actually calls them one.

The High Priest listing that I gave in the previous post from the Time of Moses to the time of Samuel were as followed:

  • Aaron – The First High Priest, of the tribe of Levi of course, High Priest during the Wilderness Journey, died shortly before its ends.
  • Eleazar – Aaron’s eldest sons, Nadab and Abihu were killed for using strange fire, thus the High Preisthood came to him. Aaron’s fourth son is Ithamar. Eleazar is High Priest during the Joshua Conquest, dies after Joshua (Josh. 24.33).
  • Phinehas – Noted for his loyalty and zeal during the Peor Incident (Numbers 31), served at Bethel (Judges 20.28) during the time of the war with Benjamin.
  • Abishua – Mentioned only in Genealogies – 1 Chronicles 6.5 and Ezra 7.5
  • Bukki – Mentioned only in Genealogies – 1 Chronicles 6.5 and Ezra 7.4. 2 Esdras 1.2 he is called Borith and 1 Esdras 8.2 Boccas. Note that Samartians split the High Priesthood here, Shesha is said to have succeeded instead, Shesha being a different son of Abishua.
  • Uzzi – Mentioned only in Genealogies – 1 Chronicles 6.5 and Ezra 7.4
  • Eli – No longer from the descendents of Eleazar, but instead from Aaron’s fourth son, Ithamar, High Priest for forty years during the waning years of the Judges who served at Shiloh. His sons misdeeds caused the High Priesthood to be removed from Ithamar in time to the specific descendants of Eleazar the Zadokites.

So who are the High Priests that followed Eli?

During Eli’s tenure the functions of the priesthood appear to have happened at Shiloh. He is described as Juding for forty years (1 Sam 4.18) and many scholars equate his years of Judging with High Priesthood, because of the sins of his sons and his failure to condemned them, the Line of Ithamar would lose the High Priesthood. (1 Sam 2.27-36; 3.11-18).

This would be fulfilled in parts, firstly with this sons deaths, the deaths of the priest at Nob, and finally with Abiathar’s removal from the High Priesthood. Eli himself we are told, died when he heard the report of the deaths of his sons and the loss of the Ark.

 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

At the time of his death, he was 98 years old, basically blind (1 Sam. 3.2; 4.15), and extremely over weight (4.18;cf.  2.29). Because of this, some ponder if, one of Eli’s sons ever served as High Priest? For both certainly served as lesser priests.

Phinehas is said to have according to Josephus in his Antiquities V.11.2

Phinehas was already acting as high priest, his father having made way for him by reason of old age.

Rabbinic Litearture also felt the same, since if Eli was blind, he would have been disqualified from the office.

If this is the case, would Phinehas have been seen as High Priest? Or only in all by title? In either case, Phinehas, along with his brother are killed at the battle of Aphek and the title falls to his eldest son Ahitub.

Phinehas other known son, Ichabod, was born the day of his death, although not the High Priest some scholars speculate if he was prominent due to his brother being referred as the brother of Ichabod.

Ahitub is the brother of Ichabod. He is mentioned briefly in 1 Samuel 14.3 as being the father of Ahijah and in 1 Samuel 22 as being the father of Ahimelech. Other than this we don’t know much. Likely became the High Priest after Eli, but perhaps his father Phinehas had held the role.

He should not be confused with the father of Zadok in 2 Samuel 8.15-17, nor with the Ahitub of 1 Chronicles 6.11-12 or Nehemiah 11.11.

Thus all we can say is that after Eli (and maybe Phinehas see above), Ahitub was High Priest and he had two sons that we know of Ahijah and Ahimelek. (Although some argue that Ahijah/Ahiah may have been one in the same, I rather see them as two brothers, sons of Ahitub). His tenure would have been during the early days of Samuel judgeship.

Ahijah (also known as Ahiah) he appears to have been the High Priest during the early part of Saul’s reign. Like Eli he ministered at Shiloh and wore an ephod.

1 Samuel 14.3 relates that among Saul’s troops at Gibeah included

“Ahijah the son of Ahitub, Icahbod’s brother, son of Phinehas, son of Eli, the priest of the LORD in Shiloh wearing an ephod.”

The Priest of the Lord in Shiloh refers to Eli, not Ahijah and so a question could be if the worship center had moved to Nob yet or not. Of Ahijah what we see that Saul ask him to consult the Ark/Ephod about whether he would win or not, but before Ahijah could answer, King Saul sees the confusion in the camp. (The MT has Ark, while the LXX has Ephod, and there is debate on which is meant especially in light of the Ark’s return during David’s time).

At some point, Ahijah appears to have died and is replaced by his brother, Ahimelech. (Some scholars see the two as one and the same, but I prefer the view that they’re brothers).  During Ahimelech’s tenure, the priest had moved from Shiloh to Nob, a location north of Jerusalem and close to Gibeah, Saul’s capital.

The major story of Ahimelech concerns when David visited him on the run from Saul, unknowingly helping David, Ahimelech provided him with food (the Showbread) and the sword of Goliath. Doeg the Ediomite, would run to Saul to tell the king of what had happened and in the end Ahimlech along with 84 other priests are killed and the whol town of Nob, only Abiathar would escape.

This act would deny Saul any benefit of priestly counsel and would be one of the last nails in the coffin of Ithamar’s power, fulfilling 1 Samuel 2.31ff

However, 1 Samuel 22.16 relates Saul saying

“You shall surely die, Ahimelech, you and all your father’s house.”

Later it tells us that

“But one of the sons of Ahimelech the son of Ahitub, named Abiathar, escaped and fled after David.” (1 Samuel 22.20)

Abiathar escaped the fate of the other priests of Nob and his father’s house, he flees and stays with David during the wilderness (1 Sam 22.20-23). Abiathar evidently escaped with the ephod, in David’s wilderness adventures the future king makes use of this (1 Sam 23.6, 9-10; 30.7,8). However it appears that Abiathar would eventually share the High Priesthood with Zadok (2 Samuel 8.17) and throughout the account in Samuel we see the two working together. Near the beginning of Solomon’s reign, however, Abiathar miss stepped and sided with Adonijah for the throne, “He conferred with Joab the son of Zeruiah and with Abiathar the priest. And they followed Adonijah and helped him.” (1 King 1.7)

In response, Solomon expelled Abiathar from the priesthood giving it to Zadok (1 King 2.26,27, 35).

The king put Benaiah the son of Jehoiada over the army in place of Joab, and the king put Zadok the priest in the place of Abiathar. – 1 Kings 2.35

And exiled him to Anathoth

And to Abiathar the priest the king said, “Go to Anathoth, to your estate, for you deserve death. But I will not at this time put you to death, because you carried the ark of the Lord God before David my father, and because you shared in all my father’s affliction.” – 1 Kings 2.26

Abiathar’s son Jonathan appears at several points in the historic accounts (2 Sam. 15.36; 1 Kgs 1.42) where he acted as a messenger for David with Zadok’s son Ahimaaz, he would also bring news to Adonijah that Solomon had been anointed king (1 Kgs 1.41-48) and likely along with Abiathar was banished to Anathoth.

Abiathar’s other son Ahimelech (II), likely preformed some High Priestly duties, although he was likely never a High Priest himself. Several biblical passages pair him with Zadok. In 1 Chronicles he helped to organize the priests in two 24 class (1 Chronicles 24.3, 6). His mention in 2 Samuel 8.17 and 1 Chronicles 18.16 is often taken as a scribal error, but these could be explained as his taking over certain duties of his father who was an advance age.

Abiathar it should be noted he was already seventy at the time of Abasolom’s  rebellion and so it’s likely that Ahimelech took over some of his father’s duties. However, when Abiathar sided with Adonjiah, instead of Solomon, he ended Ithamar’s participation in the High Priesthood, and Ahimelech, nor Jonathan had a chance to be a High Priest officially.

Having Looked at the Ithamar High Priest what of the line of Eleazer?

During this time, the descents of Eleazar are as follows

  • Zerahiah (Arna 2 Esdras 1.1-3)
  • Meriaiath
  • Amariah
  • Ahitub
  • Zadok

Ahitub the father of Zadok is mentioned in 1 Chronicles and 2 Samuel. This man is a different Ahitub who was the High Priest and from the line of Ithamar. This Ahitub was the son of Amariah and from the line of Eleazar and was the son of the important High Priest Zadock. Of him the Bible mentions little, outside of his being the father to Zadok

and Zadok the son of Ahitub and Ahimelech the son of Abiathar were priests, and Seraiah was secretary, – 1 Samuel 8.17

Ahitub fathered Zadok, Zadok fathered Ahimaaz, – 1 Chronicles 6.8

Zadok was the other person of the pair of High Priest under King David and who seems to have one of his many faithful officials. If Zadok is to the same person mentioned in 1 Chronicles 12.28 than he joined David at Hebron, but this is uncertain. It was the view of Josephus however:

“among them were the high priest Zadok and twenty-two kinsmen as leaders.” Josephus Antiquities 7.2.2

He would remain loyal to David when Absalom revolted and in time he would side with Benaiah and Nathan the Prophet in seeing Solomon and not Abijah as the next king of Isreal. Even anointing Solomon with the prophet

And let Zadok the priest and Nathan the prophet there anoint him king over Israel. Then blow the trumpet and say, ‘Long live King Solomon!’ – 1 Kings 1.34

Zadok appears to have minister at the Tabernacle in Gibean, while Abiathar would minister before the Ark when it was in Jerusalem.

 And he left Zadok the priest and his brothers the priests before the tabernacle of the Lord in the high place that was at Gibeon.” 1 Chr 16.39


One final priestly figure to look at in this stage is the father of David’s Mighty Man Benaiah, Jehoiada. Jehoiada appears to have been a rather prominent Levite during David’s reign. His son, Benaiah  was a prominent military official in both David and his son’s Solomon’s reign and has a set of rather incredible deeds given to him.

Jehoiada himself appears to have been an important official for the Aaronic House, being called the “Leader of the House of Aaron,” and “the priest, as chief,” but his roles seemed more militaristic than cultic. Moreover, Abiathar and Zadok are both seen as High Priest during this period and certainly if there was a third High Priest one of the historians would have noted it.

Of the Levites 4,600. 27 The prince Jehoiada, of the house of Aaron, and with him 3,700. 28 Zadok, a young man mighty in valor, and twenty-two commanders from his own fathers’ house. – 1 Chronicles 12.26-28

The third commander, for the third month, was Benaiah, the son of Jehoiada the chief priest; in his division were 24,000. – 1 Chronicles 27.5

Some do wonder if Jehoida can be equated with Ahitub ben Amariah (Zadok’s father) due to the Zadok appear right after him in 1 Chronicles 12.28. If so, Benaiah and Zadok would be brothers and might explain why both, together, chose to side with Solomon.

One other final thing to note is the various centers of worship which have moved from Phinehas to Zadok

  • Phinehas ministered at Bethel (Judges 20.26-28)
  • Eli at Shiloh (1 Samuel 1.24)
  • Ahimelech (and perhaps also Ahijah) at Nob (1 Samuel 21.1)
  • Zadok at Gibeon (1 Chronicles 16.39)
  • Abiathar in Jerusalem and in time so too Zadok

As a side note Bethel would regain prominence under Jeroboam I who would make it one of his religious centers (1 Kings 12.29)

The High Priest from Aaron to during the Judges

  • Aaron
  • Eleazar
  • Phinehas
  • Bukki
  • Uzzi

The listing between Judges and Solomon

  • Eli
  • Phinehas – Some High Priestly Duties of Abiathar, never officially High Priest
  • Ahitub
  • Ahijah
  • Ahimelech
  • Abiathar and Zadok – Joint High Priesthood
  • Ahimelech (II) – Some High Priestly Duties of Abiathar, never officially High Priest

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