Great High Priest
Margaret Barker[i] has had the audacity to suggest that we do not need to look to Hellenistic borrowings to explain the beginnings of Christianity. In her latest book, Great High Priest (2003), Barker has emphasized the importance of the Melchizedek text. The first century BCE text, found among the Dead Sea Scrolls in Cave 11, was composed of 13 fragments and focused on the end time and the coming deliverance of Melchizedek. Barker finds that the Melchizedek text at Qumran is the missing link for understanding the Melchizedek chapter in the book of Hebrews. The Old Testament does not say much about Melchizedek. Yet, in Hebrews, Melchizedek is emphasized as a great high priest, and he is associated with Jesus. Barker argues that the Qumran text put Hebrews into its contemporary perspective and helps us to see more clearly that Melchizedek represents Jesus, because Melchizedek is the great high priest in Israelite tradition. What is the main job of the High Priest? His essential assignment is that once a year he goes into the temple, into the Holy of Holies, and takes in blood of the sacrificial animal, and he spreads the blood on the altar. In Leviticus 16:21, Aaron is commanded to lay his hand on the scapegoat and 'confess over it all the iniquities of the people of Israel.' This confession and transference of sin to the beast is special to this occasion. This goat is then sent out laden with this sin into the wilderness [Lev. 16:7-10]. The purpose of the sacrificial blood is clearly stated: "The life of the flesh is in the blood; and I have given it for you upon the altar to make atonement for your souls; for it is the blood that makes atonement, by reason of the life [Lev. 17:11]." Barker's argument reduced to three sentences is: That blood is supposed to be his blood, so the animal is a surrogate for him as the high priest. But he himself is a surrograte for that great high priest who will finally give his own life for the redemption of his people. As a surrogate, he is allowed to use the blood of another surrogate. After sprinkling the altar, he emerges from the sanctuary and announces that the sins of the people have been forgiven.Thus, according to Barker, the high priest represents the son of God. The Epistle to the Hebrews' identification of Jesus Christ with Melchizedek helps us understand that this ritual is symbolic of the sacrifice that the Son of God would make to redeem his sinful children. The focus is on the Temple as a place where we come to understand the atonement of Jesus Christ, its potential roles in the lives of believers, and the important relationship that the Temple has to the idea of redemption from sin.
Recognizing the possibility the High Priest believed that as high priest he was a son of God provides possible context and meaning to the dialogue, “Who can forgive sins but God alone?” And the reply of Jesus “that the son of God has power on earth to forgive sins.” It is also significant to the proper understanding of the role of the temple. Therefore it is significant that the Lucan Jesus did not condemn the animal sacrificial system. Only those who felt an attachment and connection to the animal sacrificial system could appreciate the identification of Jesus Christ with Melchizedek and the role of Jesus as the new High Priest.
[i] Margaret Barker has written a number of other books including The great angel: a study of Israel's second god; The lost prophet: the Book of Enoch and its influence on Christianity; The older testament: the survival of themes from the ancient royal cult in sectarian Judaism and early Christianity; On earth as it is in heaven: temple symbolism in the New Testament; and The Revelation of Jesus Christ.