The exact meaning of these features is not clear, but if it be remembered (a) that the Levites of post-exilic literature represent only the result of a long and intricate development, (b) that the name "Levite," in the later stages at least, was extended to include all priestly servants, and (c) that the priesthoods, in tending to become hereditary, included priests who were Levites by adoption and not by descent, it will be recognized that the examination of the evidence for the earlier stages cannot confine itself to those narratives where the specific term alone occurs.
The priesthoods of Shiloh and Dan could boast of an illustrious origin (I Sam.
As certain sanctuaries, Shiloh, Shechem, Bethel, &c., grew in importance, the priesthoods that officiated at them would acquire special prestige.
Priesthoods, whose traditions connect them with the south, are subordinated; the ecclesiastical records are re-shaped or re-adjusted; and a picture is presented of hierarchical jealousies and rivalries which (it was thought) were settled once and for all in the days of the exodus from Egypt.
Nabonidus, in fact, had excited a strong feeling against himself by attempting to centralize the religion of Babylonia in the temple of Merodach (Marduk) at Babylon, and while he had thus alienated the local priesthoods the military party despised him on account of his antiquarian tastes.
The reason of this will appear more clearly in the sequel; it is enough to observe at present that, before our English word was formed, the original idea of a presbyter had been overlaid with others derived from pre-Christian priesthoods, so that it is from these and not from the etymological force of the word that we must start in considering historically what a priest is.
These powerfully-organized priesthoods, as well as the elaborate nature of their ritual and apparatus of worship, must have deeply and permanently impressed the exiled Jewish community.
In this rapid glance at some of the chief priesthoods of antiquity we have hitherto passed over the pure Semites, whose priesthoods call for closer examination because of the profound influence which one of them - that of the Jews - has exercised on Christianity, and so on the whole history of the modern world.
The fundamental type of the Arabic sanctuary can be traced through all the Semitic lands, and so appears to be older than the Semitic dispersion; even the technical terms are mainly the same, so that we may justly assume that the more developed ritual and priesthoods of the settled Semites sprang from a state of things not very remote from what we find among the heathen Arabs.
How deeply the orgiastic character was stamped on the priesthoods of north Semitic nature-worship is clear from Greek and Roman accounts, such as that of Appuleius (Metam.
Istilsam) the two nations should have chosen the same one independently to mean a priest is, in view of the great difference in character between old Hebrew and Canaanite priesthoods, inconceivable.
Further details respecting priestly offices and hereditary priesthoods and the relation of Aaronids to Zadokids will be found briefly discussed in Ency.
In later times the theory of Ennead became very popular and was adopted by most of local priesthoods, who substituted their own favorite god Re, sometimes retaining and sometimes changing the names he other eight deities.
The less important priesthoods were glad to enhance the reputation of the deity they served by identifying him with some more important god.
As a matter of fact the priesthoods were much more independent than was allowed to appear.
Akhenatons reform had not reached deep amongst the masses of the population; they probably retained all their old religious customs and superstitions, while the priesthoods throughout the country must have been fiercely opposed to the heretics work, even if silenced during his lifetime by force and bribes.
As the ancestors of the Greeks, with the Aryans of India, the Egyptians, and others advanced in civilization, their religious thought was shocked and surprised by myths (originally dating from the period of savagery, and natural in that period) which were preserved down to the time of Pausanias by local priesthoods, or which were stereotyped in the ancient poems of Hesiod and Homer, or in the Brahmanas and Vedas of India, or were retained in the popular religion of Egypt.
At the same time he wisely strove to gain the goodwill of the powerful priesthoods of the great sanctuaries of Delphi and Olympia.
And from the social side the development of law, the influence of city life, the formation of priesthoods, the connexion of particular deities with the fortunes of dynasties or the vicissitudes of nations, the processes of migration, of conquest and political fusion, the deportations of vanquished peoples, even the sale of slaves to distant lands and the growth of trade and travel, all contribute to the processes which expand and modify different pantheons, and determine the importance of particular deities.
The formation of clans and tribes, the transitions from the hunting to the pastoral life, and from the pastoral to the agricultural - the struggle with forest and swamp, the clearings for settlement, the protection of the dwelling-place, the safety of flocks and herds, the production of corn, - the migration of peoples, the founding of colonies, the processes of conquest, fusion, and political union - have all reacted on the elaboration of the higher polytheisms, before bards and poets, priesthoods and theological speculators, began to systematize and regulate the relations of the gods.