I am reading on in Jacob Milgrom’s Leviticus from the Continental Commentary series.
He takes the instructions in Leviticus 8-10 about the consecration and anointing of Aaron and his sons as reflecting the way Israel’s priests were ordained. He draws on anthropological studies of how tribal cultures do initiation rites. He also draws on texts about initiation rites in the Ancient Near East, especially in Babylonia.
Leviticus 8:33 shows that those being initiated into the priesthood stayed quarantined in the tent of meeting for seven days. This kind of seclusion is a mark of initiation rites for young men in many cultures. Verse 35 says that during this time they are to keep charge day and night. Milgrom interprets this as sleep deprivation. This also was part of tribal initiation rites. For Israel’s priests it may also have nixed the possibility of nocturnal emissions (wet dreams) which rendered men ceremonially unclean.
Also he makes something of the silence of priests during the ceremony. This is inferred from the fact that only Moses speaks in these chapters. In 10:3 the text says, “Aaron was silent.” Silence while the elders speak and even insult and harangue the initiates is part of tribal rites. Remember also that Milgrom holds the theory of the sanctuary of silence. The priests performed their duties in silence.
The priests were anointed. The meaning of anointing in Israel is of interest because it is the primary meaning of Messiah or Christ–the Anointed One. Kings and priests were anointed in religious ceremonies. Also anointing was part of the rite for purifying a leper. Milgrom says that in other ancient Near Eastern cultures anointing was part of civil and legal procedures. But in Israel it was only a religious and priestly rite.
The anointing of kings was for the receiving of YHWH’s spirit. For priests it was to sanctify them or set them apart as special functionaries. In the initiation the anointing of the priest removes him from realm of ordinary life and gives him power to operate in the realm of the sacred, which is the temple.
Aaron’s anointing differs from his son’s anointing. He has oil poured on his head (8:12). They have oil mixed with sacrificial blood sprinkled on themselves and their garments (8:30). The significance of this for Milgrom is that Aaron’s anointing carries on throughout all generations and makes all his male descendants qualified for priesthood.
On my first reading of this I thought Milgrom was saying that Leviticus 8-10 is not so much about Aaron and his sons as about the ongoing ordination of priests. But, as I now understand it, Milgrom does not think Aaron’s male descendants needed ordination. They were priests by birth. Aaron’s ordination sufficed for them. The only continuing rite of ordination took place when the high priest was elevated from an ordinary priest.
This seems to me reading too much into Exodus 29:9 and 40:15, verses that speak of a priesthood continuing forever. It seems to me there could still have been a ceremony when men actually assumed the duties of priesthood. I really thought that is what Milgrom was saying with his anthropological parallels. Now I am a little confused.