Oil, Crowns and Thrones: Prophet, Priest and King in Zechariah 1: 7-6: 15 1

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Oil, Crowns and Thrones:
Prophet, Priest and King in Zechariah 1:7-6:15

Mark J. Boda

Canadian Theological Seminary, Regina, Canada
1. Introduction

  1. Throughout the monarchial history of Israel and Judah, three functionaries come to the fore consistently in the sociological structure of the society: king, priest, and prophet.2 The scope of and relationship between these three types, however, is not constant, but fluctuates between personalities and generations throughout the history of Israel.3 In some circumstances prophets and priests are closely tied to the royal court (2 Sam 6-7) and prophets join priests in the temple courts (Lam 2:20).4 At other times the relationships are strained as prophets function removed from the palace and temple criticizing the royal and priestly offices (Hos 5:1) and priests act in defiance of royal authority (2 Kgs 11).

  2. In the closing moments of the state of Judah, biblical texts reveal the endurance of these three types in the Judean community. Lists throughout Jeremiah regularly place kings, priests and prophets together.5 The narrative in Jeremiah 37 reports that the king Zedekiah sent the priest Zephaniah to enquire of the prophet Jeremiah (37:3). This narrative reveals the strained character of the relationship between these three functionaries in the closing moments of the state of Judah.6

  3. There is little evidence of the status of these various types during the post-587 exilic crisis. The attempt by the Babylonians to foster some form of Judean leadership under Gedaliah centred at Mizpah, met with disaster (Jeremiah 40-41). The Mesopotamian context was no more favourable for the expression of political royal leadership (without a kingdom) and temple priestly leadership (without a temple), although it appears that the prophetic function could be exercised in a limited way, as evidenced in the book of Ezekiel.7

  4. The Persian Cyrus, however, introduced new conditions for identity for the various peoples. The opportunity to return to the land and restore the religious infrastructure was for many Jews an occasion for renewing communal identity and intertwined with such renewal was the restoration of a leadership core. The book of Haggai bears witness to this renewal by emphasizing the triumvirate of prophet, governor and priest: Haggai, Zerubbabel, and Joshua (Hag 1:1, 12-14; 2:1-2, 4, 21, 23),8 which appears to be an echo of the preexilic prophet, king and priest.9

  5. Such renewal of leadership in the era of Darius, however, would not have been without its challenges. The return of successive waves of Jews to the land to join many who had remained or already returned would have been an occasion for defining the various leadership roles. Even if the roles corresponded to preexilic archetypes, the particular definition of these roles certainly would have been under negotiation on a sociological level.

  6. Zechariah 1:7-6:15 is testimony to sociological upheaval and reconfiguration in early Persian period Yehud. While Haggai focuses particular attention on various leaders in the Jewish community, such focus is not immediately apparent in the night visions and oracles of Zechariah.10 In contrast, the majority of visions treat the broader concerns of the community without reference to leadership figures (1:7-17; 2:1-4; 2:5-17; 5:1-4; 5:5-11; 6:1-8).

  7. On three occasions, however, such reference can be discerned. Zech 3:1-10; 4:1-14 and 6:9-15 mention individuals connected to the leadership class as the prophet offers direction for the definition of the various functionaries in the Persian period. Not surprisingly, these three texts have attracted the attention of many seeking to delineate the sociological structure of the early Persian period community and to explain the development of that structure in the following centuries. Hanson's review of Israelite religion in the early Persian period represents a consistent trend in the interpretation of these texts. After commenting on Zechariah 3 and 4 and before considering 6:9-15, Hanson states:

Zechariah thus bears witness to a stream of tradition in the early postexilic period that synthesized royal and priestly elements in a well-defined program of restoration and, for reasons no longer transparent to us, expanded the authority of the Zadokite priests so as to encompass areas earlier controlled by prophets and kings. The history of the growth and transmission of the book of Zechariah thus gives us a glimpse of the development of the Jewish community from a diarchy under a Davidic prince and a Zadokite priest to a hierocracy under a Zadokite functioning as high priest.11

  1. Although differing on many details, this viewpoint is a consistent feature in other works on Zechariah 1:7-6:15. Carol and Eric Meyers note: “The sixth century saw developments that anticipated the fifth-century events. Prophets and Davidides were still visible and vocal, but they were already moving toward the sidelines--especially the latter, since there was no longer a kingdom.”12 So also Anti Laato concludes that the “High Priest during the Persian period was regarded as representative of the Davidic dynasty,”13 while Rex Mason suggests that “there are priestly, royal and prophetic overtones about Joshua and presumably, the postexilic line of which he is (re)founder, forerunner and representative.”14

  2. These various scholars are representative of a major strain of research on Zech 1:7-6:15 which uses Zech 3, 4, and 6 to argue for an expansion of priestly control into arenas of royal and prophetic influence.15 But is this justifiable in light of these texts? The focus of this paper is to examine afresh these three primary texts from the early Persian period in order to understand the perspective of the Zecharian tradent community on the socio-political structure of the nascent Persian province of Yehud.

2. Prophet, Priest and King in Zechariah 3

2.1 Orientation

  1. Many throughout the history of interpretation of Zech 1:7-6:15 have noted the unique character of the vision found in Zech 3.16 Although it contains some of the characteristics of the other visions, the introductory verse contrasts those found in the other visions. In addition, the scene involves a historical figure contemporary with Zechariah (Joshua), rather than enigmatic objects or characters and the interpreting angel, yb rbdh K)lmh = “the angel who talked with me”,17 a faithful and helpful guide in other scenes, is absent. Furthermore, the prophet enters the visionary action, demanding that Joshua be clothed with a turban.

  2. Zech 3 represents an amalgamation of several socio-ritual types evident elsewhere in Hebrew literature, plucked from the royal, priestly and prophetic worlds. First, the scene itself reflects the proceedings of a legal court scene in the heavenly royal council. Secondly, the consistent use of vocabulary from priestly rituals strongly suggests that the scene reflects the investiture and atonement rituals of the high priest. Thirdly, our consideration below will show that the entire scene functions as a prophetic sign act. Thus in terms of socio-ritual types alone, Zech 3 reflects a convergence of three key functionaries evident throughout the history of Israel: prophetic, priestly and royal.

2.2. Past Interpretation

  1. This observation of a convergence of types on the socio-ritual level raises the question of the relationship between these various functionaries in restoration Yehud. Several elements in Zech 3 have been used by those who argue for an expansion of the priestly role into prophetic and royal areas. First, the focus in the chapter is on the instatement of the Zadokite high priest affording great exposure to this office. Secondly, the prophet instructs the divine council to place a Pync (“turban”, 3:5) on Joshua's head, a term which some have suggested has royal overtones.18 Thirdly, the angel speaks of the figure Zemah in a speech directed to the priests, intimating that for Zechariah this figure is priestly (3:8).19 Fourthly, the angel of the Lord promises Joshua hl)h Mydm(h Nyb Myklhm a phrase often translated as “a way/right of access among those standing here”, that is, access to the heavenly council (3:7). For some this is seen as evidence of Joshua receiving “prophet-like authority.”20

  2. But does this evidence in Zechariah 3 sustain the weight of the argument? Is Zechariah a priestly promoter, advocating hierocratic intrusion into prophetic and royal arenas?

2.3. Evaluation

2.3.1. Prophet and Priest: Myklhm-- “a right of access”? (3:7)

  1. Zech 3:6 marks an important transition in this vision as the angel launches into a speech directed to Joshua. The initial section presents a series of four conditions, the first two of which are more general in nature and the second two specific to priestly duties.21 There is nothing surprising in this charge. Such a commission is expected in an investiture context. What is surprising is the promised consequence that appears at the end of 3:7. If such conditions are met the angel promises the high priest hl)h Mydm(h Nyb Myklhm (“a right of access among those standing here”).

  2. The identity of hl)h Mydm(h (“those standing here”) is certain since the participle dm( (“standing”) has been used six times in the vision in reference to members of the heavenly council (3:1, 3, 4, 5). Jeremiah asserts that “to stand” (dm() in the divine council is “to see and to hear his word” (23:18), that is, to participate in the deliberations of the heavenly court.

  3. Challenging, however, is the meaning of the first word in the Hebrew text, Myklhm (“right of access”). Most have traced this plural word to the singular form Klhm (“passage/walk/journey”) that is used in three other texts to refer to a passageway or journey (Ezek 42:4; Jonah 3:3-4; Neh 2:6), by positing the gloss: “access”. However, not only is this gloss unattested, but the vowels in the Hebrew text are not the ones expected for the plural of this word and even if they were it is difficult to explain why this would be rendered in the plural. Taking the lead from the ancient versions which attest participial forms, it appears that this Hebrew form is the plural participle of the piel of Klh and with the verbal clause Ntn + l (“give you”, Zech 3:7) refers to the angel providing “those who move between those who stand.”22

  4. Rather than giving Joshua “access”, the angel is providing for Joshua individuals who already enjoy such access. Considering the only individuals who have access to the heavenly council in the Hebrew Bible are the prophets, this would suggest that God will restore temple prophecy, a conclusion which would explain the presence of “prophets” with “the priests of the house of the Lord Almighty” in Zech 7:3.23 Therefore, Zechariah is not granting the Zadokites prophetic authority or function, but rather securing an enduring role for the prophet in the future operation of the temple cult.

2.3.2. Priest and King Pync -- Royal Turban? (3:5)

In 3:5, Zechariah surprises the reader by participating in the scene, commanding the attendants to set a clean turban on Joshua’s head.24 The term used (Pync, “turban”) is not the normal term in the Torah for the headgear of the high priest (tpncm, “turban”; cf. Ex 29:6; Lev 8:9; Num 20:26-28) but is one used only three other times in the Hebrew Bible, none of them in reference to a priest (Job 29:14; Isa 3:23; 62:3).25 However, although the word Pync does appear with the terms hkwlm (“royal”) and hr+( (“crown”) in Isa 62:3, words often used in connection with royalty, the occurrences in Job 29:14 and Isa 3:23 lack such royal vocabulary.26 On the other hand, tpncm (“turban” of the high priest in the Torah), is not limited to the High Priest for in Ezek 21:31 it is used with a prince. One cannot confine either of these words to royal or priestly contexts. Pync (“turban”, Zech 3:7) has no more royal overtones than the term tpncm (“turban”, Ex 29:6). tpwm y#n) -- Men of Signs (3:8)

With the clothing ceremony completed in 3:5, the angel delivers two speeches. The reference to tpwm y#n) (“an omen of things to come”) in the second of these speeches, links this entire scene to the prophetic sign act form (Ezek 12:6, 11; 24:24, 27; cf. Isa 20:3), with the investiture ceremony serving as the prophetic action and the angelic speeches as the interpretive components.27

Such sign acts are intended to teach a lesson or symbolise a coming event and both intentions can be discerned in the interpretive comments of the angel. First, he commissions Joshua for his role as high priest in 3:6-7. Secondly, he expands his address to the entire Zadokite priesthood in 3:8-10 with his reference to Kynpl Myb#yh Ky(r (“your associates sitting before you”), a phrase which most likely does not refer to additional priests in the visionary scene but rather to priests who assist Joshua in his duties.28 This is most likely an allusion to the instatement of the Zadokite priesthood in the priestly service as promised by Ezekiel 44. 3:8-10 moves the discussion beyond teaching a lesson to symbolizing a coming event.

This future event, to which the instatement of the Zadokite priesthood points, is the arrival of someone whose is called xmc ydb( (“my servant, the Branch”, hereafter “my servant, Zemah”).29 Zech 3:8, by preceding it with ydb( (“my servant”), clearly identifies xmc (Zemah) as a person. Jer 23:5-6 and 33:15-16 are the only passages outside of Zech 1-8 which use this image to refer to a person and in these cases he is clearly a descendant from David, one who was regularly called by God, ydb( (“my servant”; Jer 33:21; cf. 2 Sam 3:18; 7:5; 1 Kgs 11:13, 32, 34, 36, 38; 14:8; 2 Kgs 19:34; 20:6).30 A closer look at one of these two Jeremianic prophecies about xmc (Zemah), Jer 33:15-16, will help clarify the relationship between these priests and xmc (Zemah).

Jer 33:15-16 is a piece of prophetic poetry set within a larger prose piece focussed on the restoration of Judah and Israel from captivity (33:7).31 The larger prophecy promises not only a return to and resettlement of the land, but a cleansing of the people’s sin (Nw(, “sin/sins”; 33:8 twice) and a restoration of the fame of Jerusalem (33:9). These points of connection can also be traced in the vision of Zech 3:1-5 where Nw( (3:4, 9; “guilt”) connected with the exile is removed and Jerusalem is chosen once again. After describing the resettlement of the land, the prose prophecy cites the poetic piece about the Davidic descendant. At the close of this piece, however, we find a fascinating development: the promise to David is intimately linked with the promise to “the levitical priests” (33:17-18). Jeremiah 33 does not collapse the Davidic house into the Priestly, but rather links their fate together: both enjoy perpetual covenants. By playing off this earlier prophetic message, the vision in Zecharich 3 reveals that the instatement of the Zadokite priesthood foreshadows the ultimate arrival of a Davidic king and the era he will inaugurate.32
2.4. Summary

Although the greater focus of the vision in Zech 3 is on the renewal of the priestly house in restoration Yehud, through it the prophet clarifies the relationship between royal, priestly and prophetic personnel in this new era. Rather than promoting priestly extension or usurpation of prophetic and royal prerogatives, this vision-sign act advocates a balance of influence, sustaining preexilic patterns.

3. Prophet, Priest and King in Zechariah 4
3.1 Orientation

Zechariah 4 consistently appears in discussions of the role of governor and priest in the early Persian period. In this passage the prophet is granted a vision of a lampstand fueled by oil flowing directly from two olive trees. Although there are many enigmatic features to this vision, greatest attention has been focussed on the meaning of 4:14, the explanation of the two olive trees. The angel reveals:

Cr)h-lk Nwd)-l( Mydm(h rhcyh-ynb yn# hl) (“these are the two anointed ones who stand by the Lord of the whole earth”). Clearly this shows that the olive tree imagery symbolizes two individuals (rhcyh-ynb; “the two anointed ones”) intimately linked to the “Lord of all the earth,” (Cr)h-lk Nwd)).
3.2 Past Interpretation

Past interpretations consistently have identified these two individuals as Zerubbabel, the governor, and Joshua, the high priest.33 This has been based on the imagery of anointing with olive oil, a ritual practice setting apart royal and priestly figures in Hebrew tradition (e.g., 1 Sam 16:13; Ex 29:7), and on the strong tradition of Zerubbabel and Joshua as inheritors of the royal and priestly lines in the Persian period (Ezra 2-6; Hag 1-2). However, a closer look at this Hebrew text casts doubt over this interpretive strain.

Evaluation__3.3.1._rhcyh-ynb:_Anointed_Ones_(4:14)'>3.3 Evaluation

3.3.1. rhcyh-ynb: Anointed Ones? (4:14)

  1. First of all, one needs to revisit the phrase rhcyh-ynb (“the two anointed ones”). The term for oil here (rhcy, “anointed”) is never used elsewhere for anointing, a role reserved for the Hebrew word Nm#.34 The term here is one reserved for unmanufactured oil from the olive tree, appropriate because it flows directly from tree to lampstand. Thus even if the oil here was used for “anointing,” it is not received by the two figures, but rather flowing from the two figures.

  2. Secondly, the position of these two individuals in the vision needs to be noted carefully. They “stand by the Lord of all the earth”. This combination of the verb dm( (“stand”) with the preposition l( (“by”) followed by a reference to deity, is found elsewhere only in 1 Kgs 22:19 (//2 Chr 18:18).35 In this instance the prophet Micaiah observes God deliberating with the host of heaven, the divine council of angelic spirits who are “standing” (dm() “by” (l() God.36 It is instructive that Micaiah has access to this scene and the calls of other prophets reveal that the prophet was the one human allowed into this privileged position (Isa 6; Ezek 1-3; Jer 23:16-22; Am 3:7; cf. Ps 89:6-7; Job 15:8).37

  3. This evidence brings into question the traditional connection between Zech 4:14 and Zerubbabel and Joshua. If these two individuals are human beings in this passage they are most likely prophetic figures.38 The prominence of Haggai and Zechariah in the traditions of the early Persian period community and their crucial role in the rebuilding of the temple may explain the presence of two prophetic figures in this vision (Hag 1-2; Zech 8:9-13; Ezra 5:1-2; 6:14).

  4. The vision of the lampstand and olive trees, thus, emphasizes the role of the prophet in the restoration of the early Persian period. The lampstand, signifying the position of the temple as the location from which God’s presence and sovereignty emanates throughout the earth, is fueled by oil supplied by the prophets. Therefore, at the center of the vision complex lies a strong reminder of the importance of the prophetic office and word within the restoration community.39

3.3.2. yxwrb -- By my spirit (4:6)

This approach sheds new light on the reason for the insertion into the centre of this vision of two oracles addressed to Zerubbabel (4:6b-10a). The power of the Spirit, well associated with the prophetic office in the Hebrew Bible and linked to the empowerment of the royal office, is promised to Zerubbabel who undertakes the temple building project in the first oracle. The promise of the prophet confronts the skepticism against Zerubbabel in the second oracle. Surely the empowering “oil” of prophecy fueled the building project, bringing the presence of God on earth.

3.4 Summary

Therefore, rather than affirming a diarchy in the political structure of early Persian Yehud, Zech 4 highlights the key role that prophecy will play within the Jewish community both in the royal task of rebuilding the temple structure (Zerubbabel, 4:6b-10a) as well as in the priestly responsibility for the enduring temple cult (Lampstand, 4:1-6a, 10b-14).

4. Prophet, Priest and King in Zech 6:9-15

4.1. Orientation

The third pericope in Zech 1:7-6:15 that alludes to the leadership of Persian Period Yehud is 6:9-15. This passage appears to be linked to the night visions/oracles by the final editors of Zech 1-8 because of its position prior to the superscription of 7:1. In addition, Zechariah 6:9-15 shares several points of similarity with 3:1-10 and 4:1-14.40 The same cast of characters from ch. 3 appears: prophet, Joshua, xmc (“the Branch”, Zemah), and priestly associates while Zerubbabel is noticeably absent. Furthermore, one can discern here allusions to socio-ritual types drawn from royal, priestly and prophetic contexts: a royal investiture ceremony, a priestly temple memorial rite, and a prophetic sign act. So also it will be demonstrated that the prophetic empowerment of the royal building program highlighted in chapter 4 is accentuated in 6:9-15. This array of characters, rituals and themes provides another opportunity to consider the relationship between the various functionaries in restoration Yehud.

4.2. Past interpretation

  1. Past approaches have exploited 6:9-15 for evidence of tension between royal and priestly groups in the Persian period. In this pericope the prophet describes a sign act involving three recent priestly exilic returnees (Heldai, Tobijah, Jedaiah)41 whose precious cargo is to be made into crowns. At least one crown is to be placed on the head of Joshua.42 The speech to Joshua which follows this sign act speaks of the figure of xmc (Zemah) who will build the temple and to whom is attributed words often associated with royalty: “bear majesty…sit and rule on his throne” (w)sk-l( l#mw b#yw dwh )#y-)whw). Then in the fourth poetic couplet of this speech the prophet declares “he will be a priest on his throne”
    (w)sk-l( Nhk hyhw).43

  2. These features have led some to conclude that this sign act is extending priestly control over royal prerogatives. It is argued that an oracle which originally affirmed either a diarchy between priest and prince or possibly the ascendancy of the prince over priest, has been transformed into one which heightens the profile of the high priest either to undermine the royalist cause or to explain the absence of the royal line.44 Is such a negative view of the present Hebrew text (MT) defensible? Does this pericope really betray the deep rifts in the Persian period community that have been suggested? Another look at this pericope will chart a new course.

    1. Evaluation

      1. Two figures or one?

Two lexical features of the prophetic speech, one at the beginning and the other at the end, help clarify the number of individuals referred to in the speech. At the end of the prophetic speech directed to Joshua Zechariah tells the priest:
Mhyn# Nyb hyht Mwl# tc(w (“with peaceful understanding between the two of them”), a clear reference to two distinct people.45 At the beginning of the speech in 6:12, Zechariah is instructed to speak wyl) (“to him”), referring to Joshua the high priest who has just been introduced in the preceding phrase (6:11b). The speech which is then directed to Joshua begins with the words: #y)-hnh (“Here is a man”). When this phrase appears in direct speech elsewhere in thee Hebrew Bible, it does not refer to the one addressed, but rather to a third party who may be approaching from a distance (2 Sam 18:26), may be present in the scene (1 Sam 9:17), may be absent but accessible (1 Sam 9:6), or may have been encountered at an earlier point (1 Kgs 20:39).46 Thus, xmc (Zemah) cannot be Joshua to whom the speech is addressed. It is possible that xmc (Zemah) could be someone in the scene (one of the four men mentioned or Zerubbabel who is not mentioned), but it is more likely that xmc (Zemah) is not present at all because in the one instance where the individual is in the scene the article accompanies the noun (#y)-hnh, “Here is the man”, 1 Sam 9:17), unlike Zech 6:12.47

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