On the Question:
What the Rewards and Honors Are Which Belong to the Priests.
translated by C. D. Yonge
I. The law did not allot any share of the land to the priests, in order that they like others might derive revenues from the land, and so possess a sufficiency of necessary things; but admitting them to an excessive degree of honor, he said that God was their inheritance, having a reference to the things offered to God; for the sake of two objects, both that of doing them the highest honor, since they are thus made partners in those things which are offered up by pious men, out of gratitude to God; and also in order that they might have no business about which to trouble themselves except the offices of religion, as they would have had, if they were forced to take care of their inheritance.
And the following are the rewards and pre-eminent honors which he assigns to them; in the first place, that the necessary food for their support shall at all times be provided for them without any labor or toil of their own; for God commands those who are making bread, to take of all the fat and of all the dough, a loaf as first fruits for the use of the priests, making thus, by this legitimate instruction, a provision for those men who put aside these first fruits, proceeding in the way that leads to piety; for being accustomed at all times to offer first fruits of the necessary food, they will thus have an everlasting recollection of God, than which it is impossible to imagine a greater blessing; and it follows of necessity, that the first fruits offered by the most populous of nations must be very plentiful, so that even the very poorest of the priests, must, in respect of his abundance of all necessary food, appear to be very wealthy.
In the second place, he commands the nation also to give them the first
fruits of their other possessions; a portion of wine out of each winepress;
and of wheat and barley from each threshing floor.
And in like manner they were to have a share of oil from all the olive
trees, and of eatable fruit from all the fruit trees, in order that they
might not pass a squalid existence, having only barely enough of necessary
food to support life, but that they might have sufficient for a certain
degree of comfort and luxury, and so live cheerfully on abundant means,
with all becoming ornament and refinement.
The third honor allotted to them is an assignment of all the first-born
males, of all kinds of land animals which are born for the service and
use of mankind; for these are the things which God commands to be given
to the men consecrated to the priesthood; the offspring of oxen, and sheep,
and goats, namely calves, and lambs, and kids, inasmuch as they both are
and are considered clean, both for the purposes of eating and of sacrifice,
but he orders that money shall be given as a ransom for the young of other
animals, such as horses, and asses and camels, and similar beasts, without
disparaging their real value; and the supplies thus afforded them are very
great; for the people of this nation breed sheep, and cattle, and flocks
of all kinds above all other peoples, separating them with great care into
flocks of goats, and herds of oxen, and flocks of sheep, and a vast quantity
of other troops of animals of all kinds.
Moreover the law, going beyond all these enactments in their favor, commands
the people to bring them the first fruits, not only of all their possessions
of every description, but also of their own lives and bodies; for the children
are separable portions of their parents as one may say; but if one must
tell the plain truth, they are inseparable as being of kindred blood, [...]
and being bound to them by the allurements of united good will, and by
the indissoluble bonds of nature.
But nevertheless, he consecrates also their own first-born male children after the fashion of other first fruits, as a sort of thanks-offering for fertility, and a number of children both existing and hoped for, and wishing at the same time that their marriages should be not only free from all blame, but even very deserving of praise, the first fruit arising from which is consecrated to God; and keeping this in their minds, both husbands and wives ought to cling to modesty, and to attend to their household concerns, and to cherish unanimity, agreeing with one another, so that what is called a communion and partnership may be so in solid truth, not only in word, but likewise in deed.
And with reference to the dedication of the first-born male children, in order that the parents may not be separated from their children, nor the children from their parents, he values the first fruits of them himself at a fixed price in money, ordering everyone both poor and rich to contribute an equal sum, not having any reference to the ability of the contributors, nor to the vigor or beauty of the children who were born; but considering how much even a very poor man might be able to give; for since the birth of children happens equally to the most noble and to the most obscure persons of the race, he thought it just to enact that their contribution should also be equal, aiming, as I have already said, particularly to fix a sum which should be in the power of everyone to give.
II. After this he also appointed another source of revenue of no insignificant
importance for the priests, bidding them to take the first fruits of every
one of the revenues of the nation namely, the first fruits of the corn,
and wine, and oil, and even of the produce of all the cattle, of the flocks
of sheep, and herds of oxen, and flocks of goats, and of all other animals
of all kinds; and how great an abundance of these animals there must be,
any one may conjecture from the vast populousness of the nation; from all
which circumstances it is plain that the law invests the priests with the
dignity and honor that belongs to kings; since he commands contributions
from every description of possession to be given to them as to rulers;
and they are accordingly given to them in a manner quite contrary to that
in which cities usually furnish them to their rulers; for cities usually
furnish them under compulsion, and with great unwillingness and lamentation,
looking upon the collectors of the taxes as common enemies and destroyers,
and making all kinds of different excuses at different times, and neglecting
all laws and ordinances, and with all this jumbling and evasion do they
contribute the taxes and payments which are levied on them.
But the men of this nation contribute their payments to the priests with
joy and cheerfulness, anticipating the collectors, and cutting short the
time allowed for making the contributions, and thinking that they are themselves
receiving rather than giving; and so with words of blessing and thankfulness,
they all, both men and women, bring their offerings at each of the seasons
of the year, with a spontaneous cheerfulness, and readiness, and zeal,
beyond all description.
III. And these things are assigned to the priests from the possessions of each individual, but there are also often especial revenues set apart for them exceedingly suitable for the priests, which are derived from the sacrifices which are offered up; for it is commanded that two portions from two limbs of every victim shall be given to the priests, the arm from the limb on the right side, and the fat from the chest; for the one is a symbol of strength and manly vigor, and of every lawful action in giving, and taking, and acting: and the other is an emblem of human gentleness as far as the angry passions are concerned; for it is said that these passions have their abode in the chest, since nature has assigned them the breast for their home as the most suitable place; around which as around a garrison she has thrown, in order more effectually to secure them from being taken, a very strong fence which is called the chest, which she has made of many continuous and very strong bones, binding it firmly with nerves which cannot be broken.
But from the victims which are sacrificed away from the altar, in order to be eaten, it is commanded that three portions should be given to the priest, an arm, and a jaw-bone, and that which is called the paunch; the arm for the reason which has been mentioned a short time ago; the jaw-bone as a first fruit of that most important of all the members of the body, namely the head, and also of uttered speech, for the stream of speech could not flow out without the motion of these jaws; for they being agitated ['seio'] (and it is very likely from this, that they have derived their name ['siagon']), when they are struck by the tongue, all the organization of the voice
sounds simultaneously; and the paunch is a kind of excrescence of the belly.
And the belly is a kind of stable of that irrational animal the appetite,
which, being irrigated by much wine-bibbing and gluttony, is continually
washed with incessant provision of meat and drink, and like a swine is
delighted while wallowing in the mire; in reference to which fact, a very
suitable place indeed has been assigned to that intemperate and most unseemly
beast, namely, the place to which all the superfluities are conveyed. And
the opposite to desire is temperance, which one must endeavor, and labor,
and take pains by every contrivance imaginable to acquire, as the very
greatest blessing and most perfect benefit both to an individual and to
Appetite therefore, being a profane, and impure, and unholy thing, is driven
beyond the territories of virtue, and is banished as it ought to be; but
temperance, being a pure and unblemished virtue, neglecting everything
which relates to eating and drinking, and boasting itself as superior to
the pleasures of the belly, may be allowed to approach the sacred altars,
bringing forward as it does the excrescence of the body, as a memorial
that it may be reminded to despise all insatiability and gluttony, and
all those things which excite the appetites to this pitch.
IV. And beyond all these things he also orders that the priests who minister
the offering of the sacrifices, shall receive the skins of the whole burnt
offerings (and they amount to an unspeakable number, this being no slight
gift, but one of the most exceeding value and importance), from which circumstances
it is plain, that although he has not given to the priesthood a portion
of land as its inheritance, in the same manner that he has to others, he
has yet assigned to them a more honorable and more untroubled share than
any other tribe, granting them the first fruits of every description of
sacrifice and offering. And to prevent anyone of those who give the offerings,
from reproaching those who receive them, he commands that the first fruits
should first of all be carried into the temple, and then orders that the
priests shall take them out of the temple; for it was suitable to the nature
of God, that those who had received kindness in all the circumstances of
life, should bring the first fruits as a thank-offering, and then that
he, as a being who was in want of nothing, should with all dignity and
honor bestow them on the servants and ministers who attend on the service
of the temple; for to appear to receive these things not from men, but
from the great Benefactor of all men, appears to be receiving a gift which
has in it no alloy of sadness.
V. Since, then, these honors are put forth for them, if any of the priests
are in any difficulty while living virtuously and irreproachably, they
are at once accusers of us as disregarding the law, even though they may
not utter a word. For if we were to obey the commands which we have received,
and if we were to take care to give the first fruits as we are commanded,
they would not only have abundance of all necessary things, but would also
be filled with all kinds of supplies calculated for enabling them to live
in refinement and luxury. And if ever at any subsequent time the tribe
of the priests is found to be blessed with a great abundance of all the
necessaries and luxuries of life, this will be a great proof of their common
holiness, and of their accurate observance of the laws and ordinances in
But the neglect of some persons (for it is not safe to blame every one) is the cause of poverty to those who have been dedicated to God, and, if one must tell the truth, to the men themselves also. For to violate the law is injurious to those who offend, even though it may be an attractive course for a short time; but to obey the ordinances of nature is most beneficial, even if at the time it may wear a painful appearance and may show no pleasant character.
VI. Having given all these supplies and revenues to the priests, he did not neglect those either who were in the second rank of the priesthood; and these are the keepers of the temple, of whom some are placed at the doors, at the very entrance of the temple, as door-keepers; and others are within, in the vestibule of the temple, in order that no one who ought not to do so might enter it, either deliberately or by accident. Others, again, stand all around, having had the times of their watches assigned to them by lot, so as to watch by turns night and day, some being day watchmen and others night watchmen. Others, again, had charge of the porticoes and of the courts in the open air, and carried out all the rubbish, taking care of the cleanliness of the temple, and the tenths were assigned as the wages of all these men; for these tenths are the share of the keepers of the temple.
At all events the law did not permit those who received them to make use
of them, until they had again offered up as first fruits other tenths as
if from their own private property, and before they had given these to
the priests of the superior rank, for then it permitted them to enjoy them,
but before that time it would not allow it.
Moreover, the law allotted to them forty-eight cities, and in every city,
suburbs, extending two hundred cubits all round, for the pasture of their
cattle, and for the other necessary purposes of which cities have need.
But of these cities, six were set apart, some on the near side, and some
on the further side of Jordan, three on each side, as cities of refuge
for those who had committed unintentional murder. For as it was not consistent
with holiness for one who had by any means whatever become the cause of
death to any human being to come within the sacred precincts, using the
temple as a place of refuge and as an asylum, Moses gave a sort of inferior
sanctity to the cities above mentioned, allowing them to give great security,
by reason of the privileges and honors conferred upon the inhabitants,
who were to be justified in protecting their suppliants if any superior
power endeavored to bring force against them, not by warlike preparations,
but by rank, and dignity, and honor, which they had from the laws by reason
of the venerable character of the priesthood.
But the fugitive, when he has once got within the borders of the city to
which he has fled for refuge, must be kept close within it, because of
the avengers waiting for him on the outside, being the relations by blood
of the man who has been slain, and who, out of regret for their kinsman,
even if he has been slain by one who did not intend to do so, are still
eager for the blood of him who slew him, their individual and private grief
overpowering their accurate notions of what is right. And should he go
forth from the city, let him know that he is going forth to undoubted destruction;
for he will not escape the notice of any one of the slain man's relations,
by whom he will at once be taken in nets and toils, and so he will perish.
And the limit of his banishment shall be the life of the high priest; and
when he is dead, he shall be pardoned and return to his own city.
Moses, having promulgated these and similar laws about the priests, proceeds to enact others concerning animals, as to what beasts are suitable for sacrifice.