High priest

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High priest (rarely high priest ) or female high priestess denotes the highest priestly office in some religious communities .


In the German translations of the Bible, as is usually the case in specialist literature, the term is written together, but declined in the word components like a separately written word (nominative with definite article: the high priest ; without or with an indefinite article: Hohe r priester ; genitive: des Hohe n priesters , dative and accusative: the high n priester ). According to the New German Spelling of 1996, only the substantive word component is declined when spelling together (genitive: des high priest ; dative and accusative: dem / den high priest ). The orthographically correct hyphenation of the word (genitive: des Hohen Priest ; dative & accusative: the high priest ) is not used in this context.

High priest of the ancient Egyptian religion

In ancient Egypt , the high priests of the ancient Egyptian religion played an important political role nationwide. In the New Kingdom and in the third interim period , the office was mostly occupied by the sons of the king. Even in Ptolemaic times they were politically important and often linked to the royal family through marriage.

See also: High Priest of Amun , High Priest of Heliopolis , Amenemope (High Priest of Courage) , High Priest of Ptah , Petosiris (High Priest of Thoth) , Turo (High Priest of Month)

High priest of the Sumerian and Babylonian religions

See also: Entu priestess (high priestess)

In the Sumerian and Babylonian religions this office was exercised by a male or female priest. The background was the mythological idea of ​​the Holy Wedding , in which both priesthoods represented the main male and female god. No female high priests have been recorded since the end of the New Babylonian Empire.

Designation in Judaism

In Judaism , the term high priest is considered a religious title during the time of the Jerusalem Temple ( Hebrew : Kohen Gadol כהן גדול, literally "great priest").

See also: List of Jewish high priests in Herodian times

Designation in the Bible

Depiction of a high priest with an official shield and two Levites at the Jerusalem Temple at the time of the Kingdom of Judah

Old testament

The high priest is mentioned frequently in the Bible . As such, the King is already receiving Melchizedek the later patriarch Abraham to tithe as a voluntary contribution ( 1st Moses 14,18ff EU ). According to Old Testament tradition, Aaron , the brother of Moses, is also considered a high priest . He is chosen by YHWH himself to be the highest priest (cf. Exodus 28 EU ).

From other historical sources, the high priest can be traced back to 520 BC. Chr. To prove. In the Old Testament, several biblical passages and prophecies refer to the Messiah as the priest-king and true high priest - for example in Genesis 14.18  EU and Exodus 28.1  EU (see also Hebrews 4.7 EU ) or in Psalm 110 EU .

New Testament

Historically: The Jewish Office

Even the New Testament takes several times to the high priest ( ancient Greek ἀρχιερεύς Archiereus ) reference. According to the Gospels , the high priest Caiaphas presides over the interrogation of Jesus ; then Jesus is handed over to Pontius Pilate .

In the New Testament the term is sometimes used in an expanded sense and spoken by high priests in plural (e.g. in Lk 23.4  EU ); The former high priests (e.g. Annas ) and high members of the five noble priestly families or Levites , from which they originally came, are also referred to as high priests (cf. Acts of the Apostles, chap. 4, 6 EU ; in chap no more).

Theological interpretation: Jesus as high priest

According to the Letter to the Hebrews from Chapter 2 EU , the Levitical priesthood expires in the New Covenant and Jesus is considered the new "apostle and high priest" ( Heb 3,1  EU ) "according to the order of Melchizedek" ( Heb 5,6  EU ):

“The earlier commandment is canceled because it was weak and useless - for the law did not lead to perfection - and a better hope is introduced through which we can draw near to God. This does not happen without an oath; those others became priests without an oath, but this one through an oath of him who said to him: 'The Lord has sworn and he will never repent: You are a priest for ever.' (Quote from Ps 110.4  EU ). 'In this way Jesus also became the guarantor of a better covenant. "( Heb 7,18-22  EU )

This - for the first time sinless ( 1 Jn 3,5  EU ; Heb 7,26-27  EU ) - and therefore "holy", "innocent" and "separated from sinners" high priesthood of Jesus ( Heb 7,26  EU ) is through being human ( 1 Tim 2,5  EU ) and the temptations of Jesus are nevertheless shaped by the ability to empathize with human weaknesses: “Since we now have an exalted high priest who has crossed the heavens: Jesus, the Son of God […] not one High priest who could not sympathize with our weakness, but one who has been tempted in everything like us, but has not sinned ”( Heb 4 : 14-16  EU ).

In contrast to the Levitical priesthood of the old covenant, whose high priest “death [...] prevented them from remaining”, the new high priesthood of Jesus is also “immortal” with reference to Ps 110.4  EU ( Heb 7 : 23-24  EU ) in his service “before God” ( Heb 2,17  EU ). Since he is the just “advocate” of the believers (Greek parákletos, 1 Jn 2.1  EU ) “always [live] to intercede for them”, he could “forever save those who appear before God through him” ( Heb 7.25  EU ).

Function of the high priest

Up until the time of Roman rule , the high priest (archiereus) held his office until the end of his life; the office itself was hereditary. The Romans interrupted this line by naming and removing the high priest.

In the field of religion , the high priest had the central function. In all questions of religion, priesthood and worship, he had the highest supervision and direction. He had to maintain a special cultic purity and was the only one who was allowed to enter the Holy of Holies of the temple once a year on Yom Kippur (Day of Atonement) . There he received God's forgiveness on behalf of the people. In the course of the year he made the most important sacrifices .

From the time of the Maccabees , the high priest was also the supreme political leader . He was chairman of the High Council or Sanhedrin (Synedrion). This council was the highest Jewish court of justice and the most important political institution that enjoyed considerable autonomy even under Roman rule. The high priest was the central point of contact for the occupying power .

In one of the last books of the Old Testament, the First Book of the Maccabees , it says ( 1 Makk 14.41-44  EU ):

“That is why the Jews and their priests decided that Simeon should be their leader and high priest forever until a true prophet appears.
He should also be their commander and take care of the sanctuary ; through him the officials were to be appointed for the work on the temple, for the land, the army and the fortresses.
[He should take care of the sanctuary.] Everyone had to obey him. Every document in the country must be issued in his name. He was also allowed to dress in gold and purple .
No one from the people or from the priesthood is allowed to override any of these provisions, to violate his orders, without his permission to convene a meeting in the country, to wear purple or to put on a gold clasp. "

After the destruction of the temple (70 AD)

After the great Jewish uprising , the Romans destroyed the Jerusalem temple in 70 and thus the ritual center of Judaism . The temple cult and the cultic role of the high priest did not last beyond the temple's destruction. But even before that, Rome sought to limit the influence of the high priests. An analysis of the arrest of Paul writes: “That is why he was only allowed to wear the high priestly costume on certain high holidays. Furthermore, a high priest was never left at his post for very long, but changed more often so that a high priest could not gain too great a reputation. "

The old cultic forms were not carried on, the presidency of the Sanhedrin was taken over by a patriarch . In the further development of Judaism, the leading role was passed on to the scribes and the Pharisees . The current position of chief rabbi , however, has little in common with that of a previous high priest.

The self-designation Summus pontifex used by the popes is linked to the term high priest, at the same time the reference to Roman legal categories ( Pontifex Maximus ) means a clear distance from the Israelite concept of priest. As vicarius Christi, the Pope, and with him the entire priesthood, refers to Jesus Christ as the only priest (mediator between God and man) of the New Covenant.



  • Karl Georg Brandis : Ἀρχιερεύς . In: Paulys Realencyclopadie der classischen Antiquity Science (RE). Volume II, 1, Stuttgart 1895, Col. 471-483.
  • Klaus-Dietrich Schunck: high priest and politician? The position of the high priests from Jaddua to Jonathan on the Jewish community and the Hellenistic state . In: Vetus Testamentum 44 (1994), pp. 498-512.
  • Urban C. von Wahlde: The Relationships between Pharisees and Chief Priests. Some Observations on the Texts in Matthew , John and Josephus . In: New Testament Studies 42 (1996), pp. 506-522.
  • AI Baumgarten: The Zadokite Priests at Qumran . A reconsideration. In: Dead Sea Discoveries. 4.2 (1997), pp. 137-156.
  • Benjamin E. Scolnic: Chronology and Papponymy. A List of the Judean High Priests of the Persian Period . South Florida Studies in the History of Judaism 206. Scholars Press, Atlanta 1999 ISBN 0-7885-0578-5 .
  • Deborah W. Rooke: Zadok's Heirs. The Role and Development of the High Priesthood in Ancient Israel . Oxford Theological Monographs. Oxford Univ. Press, Oxford et al. a. 2000 ISBN 0-19-826998-6 .
  • James C. VanderKam : Jewish High Priests of the Persian Period: Is the List Complete? (1990) In: Ders .: From Revelation to Canon. Studies in the Hebrew Bible and Second Temple Literature. Supplements to the Journal for the study of Judaism 62. Brill, Leiden et al. a. 2000, pp. 177-200.
  • James C. VanderKam: People and High Priesthood in Early Maccabean Times. 1991. In: Ders .: From Revelation to Canon. Studies in the Hebrew Bible and Second Temple Literature. Supplements to the Journal for the study of Judaism 62. Brill, Leiden et al. a. 2000, pp. 201-223.
  • Eckart Otto: Were there “historical” and “fictional” Aaronids in the Old Testament? In: Journal for ancient oriental and biblical legal history. 7 (2001), pp. 403-414.
  • Gary N. Knoppers: The Relationship of the Priestly Genealogies to the History of the High Priesthood in Jerusalem . In: Oded Lipschits, Joseph Blenkinsopp (Ed.): Judah and the Judeans in the Neo-Babylonian Period . Eisenbrauns, Winona Lake 2003, pp. 109-133.
  • Lester L. Grabbe: Were the Pre-Maccabean High Priests 'Zadokites'? In: Cheryl Exum, Hugh Godfrey Maturin Williamson (Eds.): Reading from Right to Left. Essays on the Hebrew Bible in Honor of David JA Clines. JSOTSup 373. Academic Press, Sheffield 2003, pp. 205-215.
  • Reinhard Gregor Kratz: governor, high priest and scribe in Judah during the Persian period . In: Ders .: Judaism in the Age of the Second Temple . Research on the Old Testament 42. Mohr Siebeck, Tübingen 2004, pp. 93–119.

Theological interpretations

  • Crispin HT Fletcher-Louis: The High Priest as Divine Mediator in the Hebrew Bible. Dan 7:13 as a test case . In: Society of Biblical Literature 1997 Seminar Papers . SBL Seminar Paper Series 36. Scholars Press, Atlanta 1997, pp. 161-193.
  • Armin Schmitt: A poem of praise to Simeon, the high priest (Sir 50: 1-24) . In: Markus Witte (ed.): God and man in dialogue. Festschrift for Otto Kaiser on his 80th birthday . Vol. 2. Supplements to the journal for Old Testament science 345. de Gruyter, Berlin 2004, pp. 873–896.
  • Margaret Barker: The Great High Priest. The Temple Roots of Christian Liturgy . Clark, London et al. a. Reprint 2006.
  • Michael Keenan Jones: Toward a Christology of Christ the High Priest . Tesi Gregoriana, series Teologia 135. Editrice Pontificia Università Gregoriana, Rome 2006.


  • George J. Brooke: 4Q Testament of Levi d (?) And the Messianic Servant High Priest . In: Martinus C. De Boer (Ed.): From Jesus to John. Essays on Jesus and New Testament Christology in Honor of Marinus de Jonge . JSNTSup 84. JSOT Press, Sheffield 1993, pp. 83-100.
  • Martin G. Abegg Jr .: 1QSb and the Elusive High Priest . In: Shalom M. Paul, Robert A. Kraft, Lawrence H. Schiffman, and Weston W. Fields (Eds.): Emanuel. Studies in Hebrew Bible, Septuagint and Dead Sea Scrolls in Honor of Emanuel Tov . Supplements to Vetus Testamentum 94. Brill, Leiden / Boston 2003, pp. 3-16.


  • Michael Mees: The high priest theology of the Hebrews compared with the first letter of Clement . In: Biblische Zeitschrift 22 (1978), pp. 115-124.
  • Keijo Nissilä: The high priest motif in Hebrews. An exegetical investigation . Writings of the Finnish Exegetical Society 33. Helsinki 1979, ISBN 951-95184-8-7 .
  • William RG Loader: Son and High Priest. A study of the history of tradition on the Christology of the Epistle to the Hebrews . WMANT 53. Neukirchen-Vluyn: Neukirchener Verl. 1981, ISBN 3-7887-0646-5 .
  • Jürgen Roloff : "The compassionate high priest. On the question of the significance of the earthly Jesus for the Christology of the Epistle to the Hebrews". In: Martin Karrer (ed.): Exegetical responsibility in the church. Essays . Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, Göttingen 1990, pp. 144-167.
  • Franz Laub : crisis of faith and confession to be interpreted anew. To the intention of the high priests christology of the Hebrews . In: Josef Hainz (Ed.): Theology in Becoming. Studies on the theological conceptions in the New Testament . Paderborn / Vienna: Schöningh 1992, pp. 377-396.
  • David R. Anderson: The King-Priest of Psalm 110 in Hebrews . Studies in Biblical Literature 21. Lang, New York a. a. 2001, ISBN 0-8204-4574-6 .
  • Patrick Gray: Brotherly Love and the High Priest Christology of Hebrews . In: Journal of Biblical Literature 122 (2003), pp. 335-351.
  • Claus-Peter März: "We have a high priest ...". Notes on the cult theological argumentation of the Letter to the Hebrews (2003). In: Ders .: Studies on the Letter to the Hebrews . Stuttgart biblical essays 39. Stuttgart: Verl. Kath. Bibelwerk 2005, pp. 47–64.

Web links

Wiktionary: High Priest  - explanations of meanings, word origins, synonyms, translations

Individual evidence

  1. In the older spelling, an inflection within the word was also permitted (internal inflection ), in the dative: "the high priest". According to the Duden , this is only permitted in the separately written form: "the high priest". Duden online: high priest. Accessed January 1, 2020.
  2. ^ Heinrich Quiring : The precious stones in the official shield of the Jewish high priest and the origin of their names. In: Sudhoffs Archiv 38, 1954, pp. 193-213.
  3. ^ A. Christlieb: An abuse of authority. Acts 23: 2. ( Memento June 5, 2015 in the Internet Archive )