Phinehas, son of Eleazar

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Phinehas or Pinhas (Template:Hebrew Name) was the grandson of Aaron, and son of Eleazar the high priest (Exodus 6:25), who distinguished himself as a youth at Shittim by his zeal against the Heresy of Peor: the immorality with which the Moabites and Midianites had successfully tempted the people (Num. 25:1-9) to worship Baal-peor. He is commemorated as a saint in the Eastern Orthodox Church on September 2.

The account appears immediately after the story of Balaam, who had had been hired by the Moabite chieftain, Balak, to curse the Jews. Balaam failed to do so, as God had literally put words in his mouth of blessing for Israel instead (the first prayer said by Jews as part of their daily prayer service comes from this exact text). Having failed to curse them, Balaam left for his own country. The Torah makes no direct connection between Balaam and the events at Peor, but Flavius Josephus, writing in the first century, does so. The Christian book of Revelation mirrors this sentiment (cf. Rev. 2:14). Revelation describes Jesus as speaking to one of the newly founded Messianic (Christian) churches, saying: "Nevertheless, I have a few things against you: You have people there who hold to the teaching of Balaam, who taught Balak to entice the Israelites to sin by eating food sacrificed to idols and by committing sexual immorality."

Similarly, Josephus asserts that Balaam sent for Balak and the princes of Midian and told them that, if they wished to bring evil upon Israel, they would have to make the Israelites sin. Balaam advised that they send the most beautiful women to seduce the Israelites to idolatry. This strategy succeeded, and soon many of the Israelites had been seduced (see Flavius Josephus's Antiquities of the Jews, Book IV, Chapter VI, Paragraphs 6-12). According to Josephus, Moses gave orders to kill all the idolaters, yet Zimri, the son of the Israelite prince Salu from the Tribe of Simeon, openly defied Moses and publicly showed his opinion to those standing at the Tabernacle entrance with Moses by going in to Cozbi, the daughter of the Midianite prince Sur. In a moment of great strength born of holy zeal, Phinehas went after them and ran them through with a spear simultaneously while they were apparently in coitus. He thus "stayed the plague" that had broken out among the people, and by which twenty-four thousand of them had already perished (Num. 25). God declared that Phinehas was to receive divine recognition, and he was appointed to lead a hereditary priesthood.

The Biblical account is far less detailed, giving no information about the families of Cozbi and Zimri.

Phinehas also led the Israelite army against the Midianites to avenge this occasion. Among those slain in the expedition were five Midianite kings and Balaam, son of Beor. According to the Israelite roll-calls, the Israelites did not lose a man in the expedition. (Num. 31)

Phinehas son of Eleazar appears again in the book of Joshua. When the tribes of Reuben and Gad, together with the half-tribe of Manasseh, depart to take possession of their lands beyond the Jordan, they build a great altar on the other side; the remainder of the Israelites mistake this for a separatist move to set up a new religious centre, and send Phinehas to investigate (Joshua 22:9-34).

In addition to these episodes, Phinehas appears as the chief adviser in the war with the Benjamites. He is commemorated in Psalm 106:28-31.

According to 1 Chronicles 6:4-8, his relation to Zadok is the following: Phinehas begat Abishua, Abishua begat Bukki, Bukki begat Uzzi, Uzzi begat Zerahiah, Zerahiah begat Meraioth, Meraioth begat Amariah, Amariah begat Ahitub, and Ahitub begat Zadok.

Pinchas is the name of the 41st weekly parshah or portion in the annual Jewish cycle of Torah reading and the eighth in the book of Numbers. The beginning of this parshah tells the judgement of Phinehas son of Eleazar; the end of the previous parshah tells of his zealous act.

The Hebrew expression "One who acts like Zimry and asks for a reward as he were Phinehas" (עושה מעשה זמרי ומבקש שכר כפנחס ) refers to hypocrites who ask for undeserved rewards and honours. It derives from the Babylonian Talmud (Sotah, Ch.22, page 2), where it is attributed to the Hasmonean King Alexander Jannaeus (see Hebrew Wikipedia [1]).

Racist interpretation

At various times, Phinehas and his acts were cited by the promoters of anti-miscegenation laws in various states of the US (see Miscegenation#United States). The story is also used by some Christian Identity groups, naming themselves Phineas Priesthood after Phinehas. They also claim that it is a Biblical injunction against interracial couples, transforming a conflict about temptation to idolatry into one about race.

However, according to the Torah, the Midianites were not racially distinct from the Israelites. They were descendants of Abraham from his third wife Keturah. Moses' own wife was also a Midianite; Moses fled to Midian after slaying the Egyptian taskmaster and took Jethro's daughter, Ziporah, as a wife before returning to Egypt to free the Jews.

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