One of the twenty-four divisions of the priests who officiated in the Temple. According to I Chron. xxiv. 14, Bilgah is the fifteenth in order, and is immediately preceded by that of Jeshebeab. Among the Babylonian exiles who returned, there was also a priest, Bilgai (Neh. x. 9 [A. V. 10]) or Bilgah (ib. xii. 5) by name, whose descendant, Shammua, became the head of a priestly house (ib. xii. 18). In the Septuagint the names read Βελγά, Βελγαί, and Βαλγάς; and Josephus mentions a certain Meïrus as a son of Belgas ("B. J." vi. 5, § 1). The traditional meaning given the name is "rejuvenation." Modern lexicographers explain it as "cheerfulness."—In Rabbinical Literature:
According to a Talmudic tradition preserved in "Halakot Gedolot" (ed. Hildesheimer, p. 631), Bilgah was assigned to the group which officiated on the second and sixth days of the Feast of Tabernacles. The priests, when entering upon their duties, received their share in the northern part of the Tabernacle, because this was near the seat of their activity. The section assigned to each division of the priesthood was furnished with an iron ring fastened to the floor, for the purpose of securing the animal designed for slaughter, and there were accordingly twenty-four openings in the wall where the knives used for slaughtering were kept. Bilgah alone received his share in the south, his ring being nailed down, and his wall-closet tightly sealed, as a punishment for the apostasy of a woman of that house by the name of Miriam, who, during the Greek dominion under Antiochus Epiphanes, had denied her faith and married a hipparch (Tos., Suk. iv. 28; Suk. 56b; Yer. Suk., end; "Rev. Et. Juives," xxxix. 54). It is further related that when the Greeks forced their way into the Temple, this woman beat her sandals upon the altar, crying: "Wolf, wolf [Λύκος, λύκος], thou hast swallowed the substance of Israel, but hast deserted us in the day of our need!"
According to another opinion, the priests of Bilgah delayed too long in entering upon the performance of their functions; so that those of the division Jeshebeab were compelled to act in their place, and consequently received the prerogatives of Bilgah (Tos., l.c.; Yer. Suk., end); to which the Jerusalem Talmud adds that in this instance the division Bilgah was neither abolished nor amalgamated with the other twenty-three divisions, because this would have interfered with the ancient institution. The opinion of Buxtorf, that Miriam, daughter of Bilgah, was a member of a sacred order of virgins, deserves mention only as a curiosity. Kalir's dirge, , which, on the basis of the Midrash, mentions the divisions of the priesthood, contains no reference to Bilgah; see art. Benjamin.
- Hastings, Dict. Bibl. S.V.;
- Cheyne and Black, Encyc. Bibl. s.v.;
- Buxtorf, Lexicon, p. 306;
- Kohut, Aruch Completum, ii. 94;
- Krauss, in Rev. Et. Juives, xxxix. 54;
- Rahmer, Die. Hebräischen Traditionen in den Werken des Hieronymus, p. 58;
- Grätz, Gesch. der Juden, ii. 434, note 1.