The Great High Priest:
The Temple Roots of Christian Liturgy
On 7 February 1999 I was present for the first time at an episcopal Liturgy of the Orthodox Church. It was a revelation.
For many years I had been trying to reconstruct the world of the Jerusalem temple, especially of the first temple, and as I was writing my first book, The Older Testament (1987), I began to realize that this was where the roots of Christianity lay. How the older faith had survived was not clear. In the Qumran community was one possibility: another was that it had never really disappeared, and that reconstructions of the second temple period had been inaccurate when they presented the Jerusalem ‘establishment’ as the norm for both Palestine and the Diaspora. The problem of locating both Philo and the Qumran texts within this picture had been a warning of changes to come. Scholars are now reconstructing a whole variety of ‘Judaisms’ to try to explain, for example, why 1 Enoch, found at Qumran, does not quote from the Hebrew Scriptures and has, in its earlier strata, no place for Moses.
It is no longer wise to consider one form of Judaism as ‘orthodoxy’ and all others as sectarian, it being recognized that there was a huge difference between Rabbinic Judaism and the varieties of the faith in the second temple period. The Sages had not been preserving the older ways but creating a substantially new system after the destruction of the temple in 70 CE. Part of their method was defining the canon, but the books excluded from that Hebrew canon were preserved by Christian scribes. We now know that even the text of the Hebrew Scriptures was different before the advent of Christianity. It is becoming increasingly clear that the Old Testament which should accompany the New Testament is not the one usually included in the Bible. An exploration of the ‘surface’ of the Old Testament is no longer enough, nor can ‘canonical’ texts continue to enjoy a privileged position.
I began to realize that all the major elements of Christianity had been part of the earlier temple tradition: incarnation, atonement, covenant, resurrection and the Messiah. Resurrection, for example, had been the apotheosis known to the ancient high priesthood, as I argued in The Risen LORD. The Jesus of History as the Christ of Faith (1996). The Trinitarian faith of the Church had grown from the older Hebrew belief in a pluriform deity, and so the earliest Christian exegetes had not been innovators when they understood the LORD of the Hebrew Scriptures as the Second God, the Son of El Elyon. The One whom they recognized in Jesus had been the LORD, and so they declared ‘Jesus is the LORD.’ This was the subject of my book The Great Angel. A Study of Israel’s Second God (1992). Monotheism, in the way that it is usually understood by biblical scholars, had been a consequence of changes made in the seventh century BCE, and was not part of the older faith.
Whilst writing The Revelation of Jesus Christ (2000) it became clear to me how little of Christian origins could be illuminated by some approaches that are currently fashionable in both Old and New Testament scholarship. Premises are unquestioned, accepted because they were proposed by an influential person, or because they seem to work in other disciplines. We shall never solve the problems by using the methods that created them. Until my experience of the Orthodox Liturgy, I had restricted my own researches to ancient texts. My own confessional background being Bible-based rather than Liturgy-based, it had never occurred to me that Liturgy could be relevant to my quest. My introduction to Liturgy opened up a whole new world, or rather, showed me a world that I already knew very well!
I was invited by the Centre of Advanced Religious and Theological Studies (CARTS) in Cambridge to devise a research project in this area. This I did, and ‘The Temple Roots of the Christian Liturgy’ was set up. After a few months, however, I withdrew, when I discovered that the extent of my contribution to the project was being misrepresented in favour of someone else. The previously unpublished material in this book is what I had prepared to seed this project: ‘The Angel Priesthood’, ‘The Holy of Holies’, ‘The Veil as the Boundary’, ‘Wisdom, the Queen of Heaven’, ‘Temple and Timaeus’ and ‘Text and Context’. This is all essentially work in progress, mapping possibilities; there is much more to do, which I had hoped would be the work of the CARTS project. The remainder of the book is articles relevant to Temple and High Priesthood previously published elsewhere, before I discovered the Liturgy. I should like to thank the editors of the Scottish Journal of Theology and The Journal of Higher Criticism for permission to reprint.
I should also like to thank those who help me: my husband, who understands computers, and all those who have sent me information, pictures, texts and references: Bishop Basil of Sergievo, Carole Bebawi, Kevin Christensen, Alexander Golitzin, Michael Gudgeon, Yuri Klitchenko, Bernhard Lang, Alexei Lidov, David Melling, Robert Murray, Jessica Rose, Eugene Seaich, Justin Taylor, Nicholas Wyatt and Mariamni Yenikeyeff. I should like to dedicate this book to someone whose openness to the Orthodox has done so much to strengthen the bonds between East and West.
St Thomas, 2002