Alice Hunt, Missing Priests: The Zadokites in Tradition and History
(Library of Hebrew Bible/Old Testament Studies, 452; New York/London: T & T Clark, 2006). Pp. xiv + 218. Hardcover, US$120.00. ISBN 0-567-02852-6.
Reviewed by Adam L. Porter
Illinois College

Most histories of ancient Israel suggest that David appointed Zadok to be one of his priests in Jerusalem. When Solomon expelled Abiathar, Zadok became the sole (high) priest in Jerusalem and his family, the Zadokites, retained the office throughout the monarchy. After the exile, they regained control of the Jerusalem temple. They continued to administer the Temple and Judea until the Maccabean revolt, when the Hasmoneans established themselves as a new dynasty. In this revision of her 2003 dissertation, Alice Hunt argues that this model is incorrect. Rather, she suggests that there was no priestly dynasty before the Oniads, who were replaced by the Hasmoneans (p. 190).

Hunt’s argument against the existence of a Zadokite priestly dynasty is persuasive. She carefully examines the references to “Zadok” in the Hebrew Bible (HB) and concludes that they generally refer to David’s priest, Zadok. Zadok was succeeded by his son, but there is no suggestion that this family continued to officiate at the Jerusalem Temple in the Deuteronomistic history. “Zadok” appears in priestly genealogical lists in Ezra-Nehemiah and Chronicles, but Hunt argues their primary goal was to show descent from Aaron, not Zadok. Although her argument is largely one based on the silence of the sources, the silence is deafening: surely if the Zadokites controlled the priesthood from around 1000 to 586, there would be some evidence of them.

The only suggestion in the HB of a Zadokite dynasty are the references to the “sons of Zadok” in Ezekiel 40–48. Hunt notes, however, that there is no consensus about when these verses were written, their function, or their historical reliability. Perhaps they represent a future, idealized restored Israel or perhaps they are a midrash on other material in Ezekiel. In any case, Hunt concludes that it is difficult to postulate a Zadokite priestly dynasty from these few references, especially in light of the silence from older sources.

Outside the HB, references to “Zadok” also refer to David’s priest. Hunt suggests that the “sons of Zadok” mentioned in the Dead Sea Scrolls were members of the Qumran community, but concludes that they were a sub-group, not the founders or leaders of the community. This conclusion runs contrary to the scholarly consensus about Qumran, which suggests that Zadokites founded the Qumran community after the Hasmoneans displaced them. Since Hunt argues there was no Zadokite priestly dynasty, she concludes that this model is incorrect.

I found Hunt’s argument persuasive, to this point. She reviews significant prior scholarship, examines the biblical and extra-biblical sources closely, and draws cautious conclusions. The last chapter, presenting a reconstruction of the origins of the “sons of Zadok” group at Qumran, was less persuasive. Hunt applies Lenski’s social-scientific methodology to the Hasmonean state, but needs more careful documentation and argumentation. For example, she asserts that “Economic surplus created a situation where between five and ten percent of the population consumed up to two-thirds of the state’s income. . .” (p. 183). She suggests that the “governing class,” which comprised “less than 2 per cent of the population,” controlled “at least one-fourth of the national income” (p. 185). Hunt does not cite sources for these statistics, which is troubling since ancient demographic and economic statistics are difficult to establish. Similarly, she comments that “we understand . . . from Talmudic accounts and others, that many regarded [Hyrcanus] as unfit” to be high priest (p. 187). She offers no citations to support this, nor does she address the difficulty in using later Talmudic sources with complex redactional histories to shed light on contemporary attitudes towards Hyrcanus.

Later, she says that “most likely, by [the time of Hyrcanus]—a quarter century after the revolt—the Hasmoneans were . . . trying to shift from the rule of might to the rule of right” (p. 187). I would argue that Hasmonean attempts to legitimate their control of Judea began much earlier. Jonathan was the first Hasmonean to become High Priest (152 BCE). And activities like restoring the Temple (164 BCE) and sending envoys to Rome (around 161 BCE) could also be regarded as legitimizing activities by the Hasmoneans.

In short, Hunt seems on solid ground when arguing against the existence of a Zadokite priestly dynasty. But her explanations of where this language comes from is vague, perhaps necessarily so. She suggests that the “sons of Zadok” group inserted material into the Qumran documents. Someone added the “sons of Zadok” material to Ezekiel at an undetermined time. And someone, “perhaps a member of this group,” inserted materials about Zadok into Chronicles (and perhaps Ezra-Nehemiah) (p. 190). It seems unlikely that the “sons of Zadok” would have the ability to affect all these different documents, especially if they were a marginal group of outsiders. Hunt may be planning to explain this in a future work, since her final sentence is “who [the sons of Zadok] were before or after [the time of Jannaeus] remains to be seen” (p. 190).