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  • Dr. David Neiman

History of the Sadducees Part 11

But while the Hellenistic priests who had been ousted from their positions of leadership in the Temple by the Maccabees no longer exercised their priestly duties, they never yielded their claim to primacy in the priesthood by virtue of what they considered to be the Divine Will as expressed in the Torah and in the Prophets. Their claim to legitimacy was grounded in the words of the Torah as recorded in Deuteronomy. There, they claimed, the Divine Will was expressed in the words spoken by Moses to the People of Israel.

In the Book of Deuteronomy. chapter 17 it is clearly stated that the Kohanim of the Tribe of Levi, shall be the leaders and the judges of the People of Israel. They shall render decisions on the law of the Torah and their decisions shall be final. In fact, it is stated, "It there be a man who willfully refuses to accept the decision of the Kohen who stands to serve the Lord your God, that man shall be put to death." So absolute was the power of the Kohanim as defined in the laws of the Book of Deuteronomy.

It is further emphasized in Deuteronomy 17:14-20, in the laws concerning a king of Israel, which clearly indicate that the power of the monarch shall be limited. There, after listing the elements of a king's privileges which should be curtailed, it states that after his coronation, he must write a copy of the Torah in the presence of the Kohanim, so that he shall not feel superior to his people.

There are more laws indicating the superior power of the Kohanim in the community of the People of Israel. Chapter 21 states that all decisions affecting the People of Israel shall be made by the Kohanim, "For the Lord your God has chosen them to serve Him." Chapter 24 reiterates that we must be on guard to adhere strictly to obey everything that the Kohanim shall tell us. And in chapter 31 of Deuteronomy we read that Moses wrote "this Torah and handed it to the Kohanim, the sons of Levi. . .in the presence of all the Elders of Israel."

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