We know there were gentile priests prior to the establishment of the Kohens. Melchizedek is an example.

In Shemot 19, there are two verses that refer to "priests" prior to the giving of the Torah.

Verse 22 – "And also, the priests who go near to the Lord shall prepare themselves, lest the Lord wreak destruction upon them."

Verse 24 – "But the Lord said to him, 'Go, descend, and [then] you shall ascend, and Aaron with you, but the priests and the populace shall not break [their formation] to ascend to the Lord, lest He wreak destruction upon them.'"

Who are these "priests" being referred to? Aaron was the first Kohen but wasn't installed as Kohen Gadol until later on after Mattan Torah. These priests could not be Kohens so were they gentile priests? Is this a translation issue with the English word priest?


1 Answer 1


Rashi on that verse (citing the Talmud, Zevachim 115b), as well as Rashbam and Ibn Ezra, say that it refers to the (Jewish) firstborn, who were the ones originally designated to perform priestly duties (they lost this privilege after the sin of the Golden Calf).

Chizkuni there also says that they were firstborns, but with the twist that they were a special subset of them - the 70 Elders.

  • Was it the first-born of the Levites? The commentary you cited doesn't specify.
    – Ephraim77
    Sep 27, 2019 at 23:14
  • @Ephraim77 None of them say anything about these being specifically Levite firstborn.
    – Meir
    Sep 29, 2019 at 2:07

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