Home » Ponderings of the Bible » The High Priests of the Persian Era – From Jeshua to Jaddua- Wait Who?

The High Priests of the Persian Era – From Jeshua to Jaddua- Wait Who?

Today we’ll look at who were, or who it seems were the High Priest of the Persian Period. We’ll move past the Biblical record and see a little of what Josephus and others have to say.

Persian Period 

Jeshua (Joshua)

High Priest after the return from the exile and the son of Jehozadak who had gone into the exile (1 Chr 6.14-15). Jeshua was related to Ezra the Scribe (Ezra 7.1). It appears that he was born in the Exile and raised in Babylon before returning with the Exiles. He was one of the leaders of the early returning exiles. He is connected with rebuilding the temple (Ezra 5.2; Sirach 49.12)

Jeshua received an oracle from both Haggai and Zechariah , Haggai who encouraged him to work at rebuilding ht temple (Hag. 1.12, 14) and Zechariah who made it clear that Joshua was one of two ordained leaders (Zech 6.11), the other being Zerubbabel. Likely the same person as the Jeshua of Ezra 10.18, which shows that some of his descendants had married foreign women.

It also seems likely that his tenure as High Priest lasted a long time, perhaps into beginning of the fifth century as VanderKam notes.

Joiakim (Joachim)

The high priest when Xerxes ruled and the son of Jeshua who served as High Priest in the 5th century. Easily lasting until 460-450 BC. Little is known of Joiakim. Josephus notes that he died during the feast of Tabernacles, his son, Eliashib served during Nehemiah’s time (Neh 12.10, 12, 16). (Josephus Ant 11.5.5)

It is very likely the Joakim mentioned in Judith was a reference to this High Priest.

Eliashib

High Priest certainly by the time of 445, and who may have be in office until around 433 BC. This was the High Priest during ht time of Nehemiah’s governorship, who helped in Nehemiah’s Wall rebuilding efforts (Neh 3.1). The house of Eliashib indicates the wealth and high social standing that he possessed and indicated the increasing importance of the High Priest (Neh 3.20-21).

He may be the same Eliashib of Nehemiah 13, but it seems odd that he would help in the refortifaction of the walls despite Sanballet, Tobiah, and others protest (Neh 4.1-3) and yet would show favoritism toward Tobiah (Neh. 13.4-5).  However, even though it seems likely the two are different, as High Priest he would have likely have known of Tobiah’s presence and we see that his grandson would intermarry into the family of Tobiah (Neh 13.28) so perhaps  the two families were closer than realize.

Joiada (Jehoiada)

The High Priest around 433 BC to 410 BC. Little is known of Joiada outside of his mention in genealogies (Neh 12.10-11, 22; 13.28) and that his son married the daughter of Sanballat the Horonite (13.28).

Johanan

The Likely High Priest from around 410 BC to at least 370 BC (or later), assuming that Johanan attained the High Priesthood at an early age. He followed Joiada, his father (it seems likely that Jonathan is a scribal error in Neh. 12.11). Johanan was High Priest around the time of Darius’ II reign (ca. 410), based on his name appearing in the Elephantine papyri and Nehemiah 12.22.

According to Josephus, Johanan murdered his brother Jeshua inside the temple  (Antiquities 11.7.1).

Jeshua appears to have been favored by the Governor Bagohi to be made the next High Priest, but his

Note that some propose this to be another High Priest, in the reign of Artaxerxes III and not Artaxerxes II, but I find it more likely that Josephus was referring to the Biblical Johanan and the governor Bagohi.

Jaddua

He was one of the Post-exilic High Priest, mentioned in Nehemiah (12.11, 22), likely his father was not Jonathan, but Johanan (an easy error to make when copying the text). His reign appears to have been a long one, 370 to 333 BC and it appears he was quite aged when Alexander defeated Darius III. Alexander evidently saw Jaddua has the Leader of Judah for he wrote to him according to Josephus (Ant. 11.317).

Josephus also relates another interesting story, which showed that intermarriage continued to be a problem for the Jewish Elite, for Jaddua’s brother Manasseh, married the daughter of Sanballet, Nikaso. (Ant. 11.7.1-8.7).

Josephus also mentions that he “shared” the office with Manasseh early during the reign of Alexander the great (Ant. 11.8.2), but it is uncertain what Josephus meant by this. It could simply mean that Manasseh was Jaddua’s assistant, his sāgān.

The people requested that Manasseh divorce his wife or lose his position, but Manasseh was offered a temple in Samaria by Sanballat and a High Priesthood if he did not divorce his daughter, Manasseh agreed and a number of priests and levites left with him according to Josephus.

His name being mentioned in Ezra-Nehemiah is a clue to the text final form, or may simply be the fact that his name was added into the text late. He is the last High Priest mentioned within the Protestant Old Testament.

Finally it s should be noted that according to Josephus, Jaddua received Alexander the Great (Ant. 11.8.4-6). The tale tells of the meeting of Jaddua and Alexander, after the former had refused to change his support from Darius III to Alexander, which did not please the conqueror. Alexander upon meeting with Jaddua explains seeing him in a dream and Jaddua showing Alexander the work of Daniel and proclaiming the prophet had foretold his coming.

“And, when the book of Daniel was shown to him, in which he had declared that one of the Greeks would destroy the empire of the Persians, he believed himself to be the one indicated; and in his joy he dismissed the multitude for the time being, but on the following day he summoned them again and told them to ask for any gifts which they might desire.” Josephus Antiquities 11.8.5

Alexander is well pleased by all of this and instead of destroying the Jews, promises them many benefits and marches onward to Egypt.

The tale is likely fictitious, and has no mention in any Greek Histories, but helps to show the likely importance of the High Priest in the Persian and Hellenistic era. That already by the time of Jaddua (and likely prior) the High Priest has morphed from just a spiritual leader to a political one as well.

So Far

  • Jeshua – High Priest who helped rebuild Temple
  • Joiakim – Little is known of him.
  • Eliashib – High Priest who helped rebuild Jerusalem’s walls
  • Joiada (Jehoiada) – Little is known to him, his son (Jeshua?) married Sanballet’s daughter
  • Johanan – Long tenure, according to Josephus, he killed brother in temple.
  • Jaddua – Last High Priest mentioned in Old Testament, brother Manasseh married Sanballet’s daughter, maybe met with Alexander the Great

I’m going to wait until a later post (likely the last posting on this) to do another propose listing of the High Priests, so refer to earlier posts for a listing from Eli to Jeshua.

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