Nehemiah 7

63 And of the priests: the children of Hobaiah, the children of Koz, the children of Barzillai, who took a wife of the daughters of Barzillai the Gileadite and was called after their name.
64 These sought their genealogical register, but it was not found; therefore were they, as polluted, removed from the priesthood.
65 And the Tirshatha said to them that they should not eat of the most holy things, till there stood up the priest with Urim and Thummim. Darby Bible Translation

What did the governor mean by his statement? Did that priest 'stand up' to reinstate the outcasts from priesthood?

1 Answer 1


The governor, the Tirshata, is apparently Nehemiah himself as in Nehemiah 10:1 (KJV):

Now those that sealed were, Nehemiah, the Tirshatha, the son of Hachaliah, and Zidkijah

The words "therefore were they, as polluted" do not appear in the MT. These words are an incorrect interpolation by the translator. There is no concept of "pollution" regarding family lineage in the OT.

The MT uses the word ויגאלו meaning that they were "exiled" from the (active) priesthood, not that they were "removed".

The translation "stand up" is too short and too literal to be be comprehensible in English. The meaning is "until we will have a high priest and the Urim and Thumim, and the high priest can stand in the Temple and ask God through the Urim and the Thumim if these families are really of Aaronic descent".

The problem is this. Families claiming to be of priestly descent return from the Babylonian exile, but they can't find proof of their Aaronic lineage. Apparently their claim is nonetheless strong, probably backed up by witnesses.

Nehemiah has to decide whether these people will be allowed to serve as priests at all, serve in some limited capacity, or be accepted completely. He takes this responsibility most seriously.

He decides that he cannot allow these families to eat from the קודשי קדשים, the holiest of the sacrifices, but in verse 65 he implicitly leaves open the possibility that they can eat from the regular sacrifices. He leaves open the possibility of a full return to priesthood when the Temple is re-established and the Urim and Thumim are recovered.

We do not know if these families were ever fully re-instated. They probably were not, as the Urim and Thumim were never recovered and (according to most views) were missing in the Second Temple and later generations of religious authorities were less inclined to take lenient views on these matters.

  • thanks for your thoughts. But Nehemiah and Ezra had Joshua as the highpriest, how can that be reconciled by his statement, and since God was fairly in touch with these remnants, including affirming Joshua as the high priest in Zechariah 3:7-9? That's why the statement sticks out of the context. Also doesn't Lev 22:10 exlude even common Israelites from eating of the holy things?
    – Ted O
    Mar 17, 2017 at 16:49
  • @TedO There were plenty of high priests from Nehemiah until the end of the Second Temple, but there was no Urim and Thumim. Nehemiah partially accepts claimants position and allows them to eat from the קדשים קלים, the "light holy" sacrifices, but excludes them from the "most holy" sacrifices. So he is neither fully accepting nor completely denying the claimants assertion that they are of priestly descent. Leviticus 22:10 is about people who are definitely not of priestly descent. That verse is not relevant to this passage in Nehemiah.
    – user17080
    Mar 18, 2017 at 16:51
  • O yes, the verse is relevent to what you maintain as being an implicit 'lifeline' to cling onto their right as priests. Leviticus 22 allows them to such sacrifices as all commoners are able to partake of, since priesthood is a title/office, and they are priests because of their birth right to the sacred or the holy, and in losing which there is no middle ground that helps their claims in not being regarded as commoners. The governor as, I see it, was simply pointing out their sealed fate as 'commoners' and which could only be undone in such times as Isaiah 66:21 promises.
    – Ted O
    Mar 18, 2017 at 17:45

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