Papacy in Scripture V: Extra-Biblical Context

Scrolls 1I was not sure what to entitle this post, since it does not directly deal with texts from the canonical Scriptures, hence the subtitle: “Extra-Biblical Context.” At the same time, I wanted to highlight its continuity with the previous four posts on this topic, hence the misleading title: “Papacy in Scripture V.” I hope this post serves as a sort of transition into the NT material where we will dive into the Gospels. 

Why examine extra-biblical 2nd Temple Jewish literature if we don’t consider it inspired by God? For many reasons, chief among them such literature often provides insightful commentary to earlier OT texts and shows ways in which Jews living before, during and after Jesus interpreted the OT. What I hope to do in subsequent posts is show how the NT material shares some of the interpretive judgments found in the 2nd Temple texts below, and how this relates to the office of the papacy. 

To recap my previous posts: In the first post, by examining the Genesis narratives concerning Joseph’s position in Egypt, I highlighted the basic structure of the royal steward, he who is “over the house,” in ancient Near Eastern kingdoms. In the second post, I made parallels between the basic structure of the community of Israel at the Sinai covenant in Exodus 24 with the church in the Gospels. In the third post, I showed how ancient Israel organized its kingdom based on the overall more-or-less common framework of ancient Near Eastern kingdoms, which involved royal officers as well as a steward who was “over” the royal house. Finally, in the most recent post, I examined Isaiah 22, the Hebrew text of which describes the royal steward of the Davidic king Hezekiah. As an important aside, later Jewish literature made interesting interpretive moves, e.g. inserting glosses, in this Isaiah text which highlight the royal priestly nature of the office of royal steward. For example, in the Aramaic text of the famous Isaiah Targum (the same targum that inserts the Aramaic gloss, “the Messiah,” as the title of the suffering servant in Isaiah 52:13), we find the priestly role of the royal steward highlighted through the insertion of several Aramaic words. The most explicit and clear to see, even for non-specialists, are the additions to verses 22 and 23. In 22, the Targum emphasizes that the royal key is not simply to the house of David, but to the sanctuary. In 23, the Targum specifies that this officer will be a ministering one. This is clearly picking up on the royal-priestly imagery associated with the Davidic kingdom which is too vast a topic to cover in such a short post. 

A few excerpts (for which I am indebted to Dr. Brant Pitre for bringing to my attention) from the Dead Sea Scrolls (DSS) are useful here. In the War Scroll (1QM) we read the following:

They shall arrange the chiefs of the priests behind the High Priest and of his second (in rank), twelve chiefs to serve in perpetuity before God.

[translation from Florentino García Martínez and Eibert J.C. Tigchelaar, ed., The Dead Sea Scrolls Study Edition Volume 1: 1Q1-4Q273 (Leiden: Brill, 1997)]

From the Rule of the Community (1QS) we read the following:

In the Community council (there shall be) twelve men and three priests, perfect in everything that has been revealed from all the law to implement truth, justice, judgment, compassionate love and unassuming behaviour of one to another, to preserve faithfulness in the land with firm purpose and repentant spirit in order to atone for sin by doing justice and undergoing trials…

[trans. from García Martínez & Tigchelaar, ed., Dead Sea Scrolls 1]

From the Isaiah Pesherd (4QpIsad) we read the following: 

[Its interpretation:] they will found the council of the Community, [the] priests and the peo[ple…] the assembly of their elect….Its interpretation concerns the twelve [chiefs of the priests who] illuminate with judgment of the Urim and the Thummim […without] any from among them missing….Its interpretation concerns the chiefs of the tribes of Israel in the l[ast days]…

[trans. from García Martínez & Tigchelaar, ed., Dead Sea Scrolls 1]

In light of the second post in this series, on the “Old Sanhedrin, New Sanhedrin,” it is interesting to see this focus on the 12 figures (often explicitly priestly) of 1QM, 1QS and 4QpIsad (in light of the 12 pillars in Exodus 24), the 3 priests of 1QS (in light of Aaron, Nadab and Abihu in Exodus 24), the second in rank behind the High Priest of 1QM (similar to Aaron’s position to Moses in Exodus 24, even though Aaron was the High Priest). The significance of Exodus 24 (which gets really interesting in the Targumic literature, where Targums Onqelos and Pseudo-Jonathan explicitly link the elders with first-born sons, as pre-Levitical priests)—as well as other related texts like Numbers 11—is underscored in the rabbinic period, e.g. in the Mishnaic tractate Sanhedrin: 

Scrolls 2

The greater Sanhedrin was made up of one [the High Priest] and seventy and the lesser [Sanhedrin] of three and twenty. Whence do we learn that the greater Sanhedrin should be made up of one and seventy? It is written, ‘Gather unto me seventy men of the elders of Israel’ [Num 11:16].

[text taken from Pitre, “Jesus, the New Temple,” 81 n. 94, full citation below in bibliography]

In light of this parallel, which I discussed in my second post on this topic, and which I myself got from Dr. Pitre—-where Moses represents Jesus; the High Priest Aaron represents Peter the chief of the apostles; the three together Aaron, Nadab and Abihu represent Peter, James and John; the 12 pillars of the 12 tribes represent the 12 apostles; and the 70 priestly elders represent Jesus’ 70 which He sent out to minister——Dr. Pitre writes the following: 

these parallels go a long way toward providing a historical explanation for the opposition Jesus met with from one particular ruling body within Second Temple Judaism: the Great Sanhedrin. For while modern scholars often miss the significance of Jesus’ gathering and commissioning seventy disciples, the seventy members of the Jerusalem Sanhedrin would have certainly gotten the point. Jesus’ gathering of priestly followers was a direct challenge to their authority and their Temple and a threat to their existence….To my mind, this parallel alone demolishes the position that Jesus had no intentions of establishing some kind of priestly hierarchy….Any scholarly denial of Jesus’ priestly vision will have a hard time explaining why Jesus sent precisely the opposite message to his Jewish followers and audiences by organizing his disciples as he did

[Pitre, “Jesus, the New Temple,” 81-82 n. 94]

Much more needs to be said about this, but is well beyond the scope of this present post. The implicit connections here relate to the Eucharistic sacrifice (which will be a part of a future series of posts all its own) as well as the priesthood Jesus establishes (which will also be a part of a future series of posts all its own). For our purposes, the idea which we find in 2nd Temple Jewish reflections on the OT concerning the community of Israel based on 12 tribes is not simply past but future (for those living in the 2nd Temple period). The kingdom of David splintered after Solomon’s reign, and 10 of the 12 tribes were lost. These texts from the 2nd Temple period are part of an enormously large body of literature (already present throughout the OT) which looked for a future messianic reuniting of the 12 tribes (as well as ingathering of the Gentiles) [on this, see Pitre’s book below, Jesus, the Tribulation, which was his Ph.D. dissertation he completed at the University of Notre Dame). The high priestly figure is sometimes seen as messianic, and sometimes alternate figures in the pseudepigrapha (like Enoch) take on or participate in such a high priestly role. 

Scrolls 4Pseudepigraphal works are also important here, because we find parallels in them, especially in 1 Enoch, to what we see in the NT. In my mind, no one has done a better job of showing this than the great pseudepigraphal scholar George Nickelsburg. Nickeslsburg has shown how Enoch’s revelation in upper Galilee is the same general region where Peter receives his revelation about Jesus’ identity [incidentally, 1 Enoch mentions the location in reference to Mount Hermon, on whose slope Caesarea Philippi was located]. Moreover, when we take into account the Testament of Levi (which may possibly have been understood to take place near Mount Hermon as well), we find even more priestly associations with a Davidic royal figure. In light of the pseudepigraphal material in 1 Enoch and the Testament of Levi, as well as such OT passages as Isaiah 22 (which we have already discussed in a previous post) and Isaiah 28, in addition to NT material such as John 21, Matthew 26 and especially Matthew 16, Nickelsburg argues the following: 

…[Peter’s] commissioning was seen as a delegation to him of authority that belonged previously to the Jewish leaders, specifically the high priest….Peter is in some real sense Christ’s chief earthly agent plenipotentiary—the one who mediates to the new people of God the blessings formerly dispensed by the priesthood

[“Enoch, Levi, and Peter,” 453, full citation below]

We have much more to say on this topic, especially once we enter into the NT material itself, which provides the most important evidence to the roots of Catholic teaching on the papacy. For now, suffice it to say that before the time of Jesus, there was an expectation in some Jewish circles (which survived in later rabbinic Jewish traditions) based upon their readings of specific OT texts, that there would be a messianic kingdom which would be a continuation and transformation of the Davidic Kingdom (with all 12 tribes somehow united again), and at the same time there would be priestly involvement beyond the Messiah himself, who would have a royal steward in his kingdom. In subsequent posts, we’ll see how the NT fulfills this vision with Jesus’ establishment of the Church. 


Popular Texts: 

Pitre, Brant. Jesus and the Jewish Roots of the Eucharist (working title). New York: Doubleday, forthcoming. 

Scholarly Texts: 

Nickelsburg, George W.E. “Enoch, Levi, and Peter: Recipients of Revelation in Upper Galilee.” In George W.E. Nickelsburg in Perspective: An Ongoing Dialogue of Learning Volume 2, ed. Jacob Neusner and Alan J. Avery-Peck, 428-457. Leiden: Brill, 2003. 

Pitre, Brant. Jesus and the Last Supper: Judaism and the Origin of the Eucharist (working title). Grand Rapids, Michigan: Eerdmans, forthcoming. 

Pitre, Brant. “Jesus, the Messianic Banquet, and the Kingdom of God.” Letter & Spirit 5 (2009): 125-153. 

Pitre, Brant. “Jesus, the New Temple, and the New Priesthood.” Letter & Spirit 4 (2008): 47-83. 

Pitre, Brant. Jesus, the Tribulation, and the End of the Exile: Restoration Eschatology and the Origin of the Atonement. Tübingen/Grand Rapids, Michigan: Mohr Siebeck/Baker Academic, 2005. Available from Amazon:

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