Priestly Divisions
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Priestly Divisions

The priestly divisions or sacerdotal courses (Hebrew: mishmar) are the groups into which Jewish priests were divided for the purposes of their service in the Temple in Jerusalem.

In the Bible

The Book of Chronicles refers to these priests as "descendants of Aaron."[1] In the biblical traditions upon which the Chronicler drew, Aaron had four sons: Nadab, Abihu, Eleazar and Ithamar.[2] However, Nadab and Abihu died before Aaron and only Eleazar and Ithamar had sons. In Chronicles, one priest, Zadok, from Eleazar's descendants and another priest, Ahimelech, from Ithamar's descendants, were designated by King David to help create the various priestly work groups.[3] Sixteen of Eleazar's descendants were selected to head priestly orders, while only eight of Ithamar's descendants were so chosen. The passage states that this was done because of the greater number of leaders among Eleazar's descendants. Lots were drawn to (korbanot in Hebrew)designate the order of ministering for the heads of the priestly orders when they entered the Temple.

Each order was responsible for ministering during a different week and Shabbat (This week is turn of Miyamin[refresh]), and were stationed as a watch at the Tabernacle. All of the orders were present during biblical festivals. Their duties involved offering the daily and holiday Temple sacrifices, and administering the Priestly Blessing to the people.

According to 1 Chronicles 24, the divisions were originally formed during the reign of King David. However, many modern scholars treat these priestly courses either as a reflection of practices after the Babylonian captivity, or as an idealized portrait of how the Chronicler (writing in c. 350-300 BCE) thought temple administration ought to occur, with the reference to David being a method for the Chronicler to legitimize his views about the priesthood.[4]

Division Name Scriptural Reference should start working
First Jehoiarib 1 Chronicles 24:7 8/12/2018 25/5/2019 9/11/2019 25/4/2020 10/10/2020 27/3/2021
Second Jedaiah 1 Chronicles 24:7 15/12/2018 1/6/2019 16/11/2019 2/5/2020 17/10/2020 3/4/2021
Third Harim 1 Chronicles 24:8 22/12/2018 8/6/2019 23/11/2019 9/5/2020 24/10/2020 10/4/2021
Fourth Seorim 1 Chronicles 24:8 29/12/2018 15/6/2019 30/11/2019 16/5/2020 31/10/2020 17/4/2021
Fifth Malchijah 1 Chronicles 24:9 5/1/2019 22/6/2019 7/12/2019 23/5/2020 7/11/2020 24/4/2021
Sixth Mijamin 1 Chronicles 24:9 12/1/2019 29/6/2019 14/12/2019 30/5/2020 14/11/2020 1/5/2021
Seventh Hakkoz 1 Chronicles 24:10 19/1/2019 6/7/2019 21/12/2019 6/6/2020 21/11/2020 8/5/2021
Eighth Abijah 1 Chronicles 24:10 26/1/2019 13/7/2019 28/12/2019 13/6/2020 28/11/2020 15/5/2021
Ninth Jeshua 1 Chronicles 24:11 2/2/2019 20/7/2019 4/1/2020 20/6/2020 5/12/2020 22/5/2021
Tenth Shecaniah 1 Chronicles 24:11 9/2/2019 27/7/2019 11/1/2020 27/6/2020 12/12/2020 29/5/2021
Eleventh Eliashib 1 Chronicles 24:12 16/2/2019 3/8/2019 18/1/2020 4/7/2020 19/12/2020 5/6/2021
Twelfth Jakim 1 Chronicles 24:12 23/2/2019 10/8/2019 25/1/2020 11/7/2020 26/12/2020 12/6/2021
Thirteenth Huppah 1 Chronicles 24:13 2/3/2019 17/8/2019 1/2/2020 18/7/2020 2/1/2021 19/6/2021
Fourteenth Jeshebeab 1 Chronicles 24:13 9/3/2019 24/8/2019 8/2/2020 25/7/2020 9/1/2021 26/6/2021
Fifteenth Bilgah 1 Chronicles 24:14 16/3/2019 31/8/2019 15/2/2020 1/8/2020 16/1/2021 3/7/2021
Sixteenth Immer 1 Chronicles 24:14 23/3/2019 7/9/2019 22/2/2020 8/8/2020 23/1/2021 10/7/2021
Seventeenth Hezir 1 Chronicles 24:15 30/3/2019 14/9/2019 29/2/2020 15/8/2020 30/1/2021 17/7/2021
Eighteenth Happizzez 1 Chronicles 24:15 6/4/2019 21/9/2019 7/3/2020 22/8/2020 6/2/2021 24/7/2021
Nineteenth Pethahiah 1 Chronicles 24:16 13/4/2019 28/9/2019 14/3/2020 29/8/2020 13/2/2021 31/7/2021
Twentieth Jehezkel 1 Chronicles 24:16 20/4/2019 5/10/2019 21/3/2020 5/9/2020 20/2/2021 7/8/2021
Twenty-first Jachin 1 Chronicles 24:17 27/4/2019 12/10/2019 28/3/2020 12/9/2020 27/2/2021 14/8/2021
Twenty-second Gamul 1 Chronicles 24:17 4/5/2019 19/10/2019 4/4/2020 19/9/2020 6/3/2021 21/8/2021
Twenty-third Delaiah 1 Chronicles 24:18 11/5/2019 26/10/2019 11/4/2020 26/9/2020 13/3/2021 28/8/2021
Twenty-fourth Maaziah 1 Chronicles 24:18 18/5/2019 2/11/2019 18/4/2020 3/10/2020 20/3/2021 4/9/2021

Following the Temple's destruction

Following the Temple's destruction at the end of the First Jewish Revolt and the displacement to the Galilee of the bulk of the remaining Jewish population in Judea at the end of the Bar Kochva Revolt, Jewish tradition in the Talmud and poems from the period record that the descendants of each priestly watch established a separate residential seat in towns and villages of the Galilee, and maintained this residential pattern for at least several centuries in anticipation of the reconstruction of the Temple and reinstitution of the cycle of priestly courses. Specifically, this Kohanic settlement region stretched from the Beit Netofa Valley, through the Nazareth region to Arbel and the vicinity of Tiberias. In subsequent years, there was a custom of publicly recalling every Sabbath in the synagogues the courses of the priests, a practice that reinforced the prestige of the priests' lineage.[5] Such mention evoked the hope of return to Jerusalem and reconstruction of the Temple.

A manuscript discovered in the Cairo Geniza, dated 1034 CE, records a customary formula recited weekly in the synagogues, during the Sabbath day: "Today is the holy Sabbath, the holy Sabbath unto the Lord; this day, which is the course? [Appropriate name] is the course. May the Merciful One return the course to its place soon, in our days. Amen."[6] After which, they would recount the number of years that have passed since the destruction of Jerusalem, and conclude with the words: "May the Merciful One build his house and sanctuary, and let them say Amen."

Three stone inscriptions were discovered bearing the names of the priestly wards, their order and the name of the locality to which they had moved after the destruction of the Second Temple: In 1920, a stone inscription was found in Ashkelon showing a partial list of the priestly wards; in 1962 three small fragments of one Hebrew stone inscription bearing the partial names of places associated with the priestly courses (the rest of which had been reconstructed) were found in Caesarea Maritima, dated to the third-fourth centuries;[7][8] in 1970 a stone inscription was found on a partially buried column in a mosque, in the Yemeni village of Bayt al-?a?ir, showing ten names of the priestly wards and their respective towns and villages. The Yemeni inscription is the longest roster of names of this sort ever discovered, unto this day, although the seventh-century poet, Eleazar ben Killir, also wrote a liturgical poem detailing the 24-priestly wards and their places of residence.[9] Historian and geographer, Samuel Klein (1886-1940), thinks that Killir's poem proves the prevalence of this custom of commemorating the courses in the synagogues of Ere? Israel.[10] The purpose of composing these lists was to keep in living memory the identities and traditions of each priestly family, in hopes that the Temple would be quickly rebuilt.[11]

The names legible on the stone column discovered by Walter W. Müller in 1970, in a mosque in Yemen, read as follows:[12]

English Translation Original Hebrew
[Se'orim 'Ay?oh-lo], fourth ward ? ?
[Malkiah, Be?]-Lehem, the fif[th] ward ?
Miyamin, Yudfa? (Jotapata), the sixth ward ? ?
[Haqo]?, 'Ailebu, the seventh ward ? ?
Aviah 'Iddo, Kefar 'Uzziel, the (eighth) ward ?
the eighth (ward). Yea', Ni?daf-arbel
the ninth ward ?
?ekhaniyahu, 'Avurah Cab?l, the t[enth] ward ? ? ?
Eliav, Cohen Qanah, the elev[enth] ward ?
Yaq?m Par, ?efa? (Safed), the twelf[th] ward ? ? ?
[]ppah, Be?-Ma'on, the (thirteenth) ward ? ? ? ?
the thirteenth (ward). Ye?av'av, ?u?pi? ?un ?
the fourteenth wa[rd] ? ?


  1. ^ 1 Chronicles 24:1
  2. ^ Leviticus 10, Numbers 3, 1 Chronicles 24
  3. ^ 1 Chronicles 24:3
  4. ^ Steven Schweitzer (1 March 2009). Reading Utopia in Chronicles. A&C Black. pp. 29-30. ISBN 978-0-567-36317-6.
  5. ^ Robert Bonfil, Jews in Byzantium: Dialectics of Minority and Majority Cultures, Brill: Leiden 2012, p. 42 ISBN 978-9-004-20355-6
  6. ^ Bodleian Library, Oxford Ms. Heb. 2738/6, fol. 899 in Vardaman, E. Jerry and Garrett, J.L., The Teacher's Yoke, Waco TX 1964
  7. ^ Avi-Yonah, Michael (1962). "A List of Priestly Courses from Caesarea". Israel Exploration Journal. 12 (2): 137-139. JSTOR 27924896.
  8. ^ Avi-Yonah, Michael (1964). "The Caesarea Inscription of the Twenty-Four Priestly Courses". Eretz-Israel: Archaeological, Historical and Geographical Studies. L.A. Mayer Memorial Volume (1895-1959): 24-28. JSTOR 23614642. (Hebrew)
  9. ^ Poem entitled, Lamentation for the 9th of Ab, composed in twenty-four stanzas, and the last line of each stanza contains the name of the village where each priestly family lived.
  10. ^ Samuel Klein, Barajta der vierundzwanzig Priester Abteilungen (Baraitta of the Twenty-Four Priestly Divisions), in: Beiträge zur Geographie und Geschichte Galiläas, Leipzig 1909; Enrico Tuccinardi, Nazareth, the Caesarea Inscription, and the hand of God, (translated from the French by René Salm), Academia, pp. 6-7
  11. ^ Enrico Tuccinardi, Nazareth, the Caesarea Inscription, and the hand of God, (translated from the French by René Salm), Academia, p. 7
  12. ^ Ephraim E. Urbach, Mishmarot u-ma?amadot, Tarbiz (A Quarterly for Jewish Studies) 42, Jerusalem 1973, pp. 304 - 327 (Hebrew); Rainer Degen, An Inscription of the Twenty-Four Priestly Courses from the Yemen, pub. in: Tarbi? - A Quarterly for Jewish Studies, Jerusalem 1973, pp. 302–303

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