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In Shmuel II 8:18 it says David's sons were "kohanim".

The Chabad translation describes them as "chief officers", but even the Rashi to it says the text literally says "priests".

How can this be?

Is there anywhere else in Tanach where "kohanim" does NOT mean priests? I was originally thinking that "kohanim" might have several meanings in the Text, like "elokim" can indicate a Divine name, or a judge, or some other human authority, but I couldn't find it used otherwise anywhere.

The author of Divrei HaYamim/Chronicles, writing later in time, "toned it down" a bit in I 18:17, saying the sons were "first at David's hand", a much more clear description of chief officers. This made me think the word used in the earlier text bothered him/her, also.

Are there any explanations/clarifications in the ancient or later literature that explain why the earlier, most likely more accurate author would use the term "kohanim" there?

  • 1
    shem/malchitzedek was listed as a kohen in Ber 14:18 and Yitro in shmot 3:1 – rosends Oct 22 '15 at 0:47
  • @Danno, as are the priests of the Canaanite religions, however, none of them were priests in the Mishkan/Beit haMikdash. – Noach MiFrankfurt Oct 22 '15 at 2:11
  • @NoachmiFrankfurt chabad.org/kabbalah/article_cdo/aid/1410091/jewish/… this site discusses how Onkelos translates "kohen" and mentions "mamlechet kohanim" which can't be literal priests. – rosends Oct 22 '15 at 2:17
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Is there anywhere else in Tanach where "kohanim" does NOT mean priests?

1. Shoftim Ch. 17 - 18:

In the end of Shoftim the ben-Levi who served in Micha's place of worship is referred to as a Cohen multiple times.

E.g.: שופטים פרק-יח

ל: וַיָּקִימוּ לָהֶם בְּנֵי דָן אֶת הַפָּסֶל וִיהוֹנָתָן בֶּן גֵּרְשֹׁם בֶּן מְנָשֶה הוּא וּבָנָיו הָיוּ כֹהֲנִים לְשֵׁבֶט הַדָּנִי עַד יוֹם גְּלוֹת הָאָרֶץ: ‏

2. דברי הימים ב פרק-לד

Priests, but not Jewish and not Cohanim.

ה: וְעַצְמוֹת כֹּהֲנִים שָׂרַף עַל (מזבחותים) מִזְבְּחוֹתָם וַיְטַהֵר אֶת יְהוּדָה וְאֶת יְרוּשָׁלִָם: ‏

מצודת דוד: כהנים. כהני עבודת כוכבים שכבר מתו: ‏

3. איוב פרק-יב

As in your case, Cohanim mean important people or officers.

יט: מוֹלִיךְ כֹּהֲנִים שׁוֹלָל וְאֵתָנִים יְסַלֵּף: ‏

רש"י כהנים. שרים כמו כהן מדין (שמות ג) כהן און (בראשית מא : )‏

4 & 5: As per this Rashi:

Which gives us another 2 non-priests, as Rashi just said that both פּוֹטִי פֶרַע כֹּהֵן אֹן and יִתְרוֹ חֹתְנוֹ כֹּהֵן מִדְיָן were important people and not priests.

Are there any explanations/clarifications in the ancient or later literature that explain why the earlier, most likely more accurate author would use the term "kohanim" there?

The Gemara in Nedorim 62a learns from that verse that a Talmid Chacham (like David's children) are allowed to ask to jump the queue at a Din Torah, since we see they are called Cohanim. Cohanim are always given preferential treatment (as the Gemara goes on to prove.)

אמר רבא שרי ליה לצורבא מרבנן למימר צורבא מרבנן אנא שרו לי תיגראי ברישא דכתיב {שמואל ב ח-יח} ובני דוד כהנים היו מה כהן נוטל בראש אף תלמיד חכם נוטל בראש ‏

Rashi: שרו לי תגראי. הקדימו דיני לשל אחרים בשביל כבוד תורתי

  • Yitro and Potiphera are both referred to as Kohanim too. – CashCow Oct 22 '15 at 11:10
  • @CashCow - Correct. See my #4 and #5 – Danny Schoemann Oct 22 '15 at 11:37
  • Danny - Thank you! Well...It seems there's a difference between the old well-worn JPS translation I usually read and the Chabad online. Chabad at least has the "chief" usage for Poti-Phera and Yitro and Iyob - my JPS has "priest" everywhere...I guess they weren't following Rashi at those places. Your example #1 puzzled me - Chabad and the context still indicate "priest" for all the "kohen"s in Chapters 17/18. Like #2, not a Kosher priest, but a priest nonetheless. Thank you for the Gemara example, also, btw- that was more of what I was looking for in way of the usage explanation. Good stuff! – Gary Oct 23 '15 at 1:16
  • @Gary - my pleasure. Regarding #1, I debated whether to include it. They were not really "Cohanim" as in descendants from Aaron. But they did play the role of The Priest for the tribe of Dan. – Danny Schoemann Oct 25 '15 at 8:43

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