According to the Law of Moses, priesthood holders had to be from the Tribe of Levi. Lehi was from the Tribe of Joseph, so that’s a problem. Nephi built a temple on the model of Solomon’s Temple. So how did the Nephites get priesthood? Historian Don Bradley says the answer might be in the lost pages, and speculates how Nephite priesthood functioned.
Don: That model of priesthood, where you have a king, who is a priest, has biblical precedent. The precedent is not ancient Israel’s Levitical priesthood. The precedent goes back earlier to the time of Abraham, when you have Melchizedek who is portrayed as a king and a priest. So the idea of people being ordained kings and priests, the gendered equivalent of which might be queens and priestesses, might be familiar to some people associated with Mormonism. I don’t know, maybe, the model for that, and one that Joseph Smith explicitly invokes in Nauvoo, talking about people being made kings and priests, queens and priestesses is Melchizedek.
So the model of priesthood among the Nephites is not Levitical. They replace a Levitical model priesthood with a Melchizedek model of priesthood. Those terms, Levitical or Aaronic, among others, are so familiar to Latter-day Saints. But they’re kind of familiar to us mostly in a different context that would give a different twist on what they mean. The model of priesthood here is Melchizedek in the biblical sense of Melchizedek being both King and high priest. So that’s the Nephite model of Priesthood.
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