Catholic Encyclopedia – Heli the judge and high priest


Heli (Hebrew ELI, Greek HELI) was both judge and high-priest, whose history is related in 1 Samuel 1-4. He lived at Silo, where the ark of the Lord was kept at that time. Samuel’s early history is connected with that of the last days of the aged Heli, whom he succeeded in the office of judge, just before the appointment of Saul as king (1 Samuel 7:15; 8:22). Heli must have been held in the highest esteem, and yet the Bible represents him to us in his old age as weak and indulgent to his sons, Ophni and Phinees, whose crimes brought ruin on their country and on their father’s house. The high-priesthood had been promised to Phinees, son of Eleasar and grandson of Aaron, for his zeal (Numbers 25:13); and how Heli, who was a descendant of Aaron through Ithamar (Leviticus 10:12; 1 Chronicles 24:2; 1 Kings 2:27), became high-priest is not known; but his title to the office had the Divine sanction (1 Samuel 2:30). The Lord spoke to Heli through the boy Samuel, and the word of the Lord was fulfilled. The Philistines were victorious in battle, Ophini and Phinees being among the slain, and the ark was carried away as a part of the spoils. The death of the high-priest is thus described: “Now Heli was ninety and eight years old. . .he fell from his stool backwards by the door, and broke his neck, and died” (1 Samuel 4:15-18). According to the Heb. Text, with which Josephus agrees (Ant., V, xi, 3), Heli judged Israel forty years, so that the twenty of the Gr. Text is generally considered an error. Heli spoke when he should have been silent (1 Samuel 1:14), and he was silent when he should have spoken and corrected his children. The words “And thou shalt see thy rival in the temple” (1 Samuel 2:32) refer to the taking of the high-priesthood from his family; but as this was done in the days of Solomon, more than a hundred years later, for he “cast out Abiathar, from being the priest of the Lord” (1 Kings 2:27; Josephus, “Ant.”, VIII, i, 3), they were addressed, not to Heli as an individual, but rather to his house. The passage however is obscure.

MLA Citation

  • John Tierney. “Heli”. Catholic Encyclopedia, 1910. CatholicSaints.Info. 3 November 2018. Web. 19 April 2021. <>