Dignas, Beate, and Kai Trampedach, eds. 2008. Practitioners of the Divine: Greek Priests and Religious Figures from Homer to Heliodorus. Hellenic Studies Series 30. Washington, DC: Center for Hellenic Studies. http://nrs.harvard.edu/urn-3:hul.ebook:CHS_DignasB_and_TrampedachK_eds.Practitioners_of_the_Divine.2008.
4. Greek Priests of Sarapis?
This man carefully taught his son Demetrius how to carry out his priestly duties (lines 12ff.), and his grandson finally wrote down the history of the cult “according to the command of the god.” When the god appeared to the author in a dream and ordered him to buy a piece of land on which to build a proper sanctuary, the priest encountered hostility and was involved in a public law suit, which—with the help of the god’s miraculous powers—he won.  Hence the inscribed column, a grateful testimony to his victory, accompanied by a votive tablet dedicated to Nike by the priest and a group of worshippers that call themselves hoi sumbalomenoi tōn therapeutōn (CE 3 = IG XI 4, 1290 = RICIS 202/0121).
The inscription, above all its addressee, has been much discussed, and the discussion itself illustrates how difficult it is to label the cult as public or private and to identify those in charge of its administration.  Whether public priests or priests of a private association, what was their role in the dispute? Had the priests complained that sacred funds were diverted by civic magistrates? Did the king have the priests in mind when he prohibited the opening of the thesauroi without the presence of an epistatēs and the dikastai (lines 21–24)? However we answer these questions, once more the private versus public scheme does not work.
In structure and content, the decree is strikingly reminiscent of documents concerning the sale of official priesthoods in Asia Minor (or even the priesthood of Sarapis in Magnesia), and it looks as if these groups used civic documents as templates for describing their own offices and titles (SIRIS 265 = RICIS 201/0101).  The buyer receives gera from the association, he wears a headband at banquets, and he is crowned at every official gathering. During his lifetime, the buildings of the Sarapiastai will be named after him, and he gets to vote together with the priest and the secretary on certain occasions, as prescribed by the law. The installments paid by the buyer are used to pay for inscribing the decree, which is to be set up in the most conspicuous place. We can view the parallel as evidence either discrediting the position of office holders in private groups of worshippers or emphasizing the need for caution when it comes to the role of priests as defined in official decrees. Or, it may be the case that private associations took the imitation of the structure of the democratic city so far as to limit their priests’ authority along the lines of what they observed in the public sphere. In all these scenarios a dichotomy of private versus public would be unhelpful.
The civic authorities responded to the priests’ appeal by asking for payment for the statues themselves rather than for obtaining the space. Scholars have proposed various interpretations of the text, all of which focus on the status of the cult as private or public. Given the city’s say in matters regarding the sanctuary, Dunand labels the cult semiofficial but with good relations to the city.  Fraser suggests there was “a stage in the transformation of a private into a state-cult, or it may be that a state-cult already existed.”  Sosin’s reconstruction of the scenario envisages an entirely private sanctuary, which was protected and managed by the polis.  The range of possibilities illustrates that the character of the priesthood—here clearly being a lifelong if not hereditary position, and including rights of ownership to the temenos and a very distinct role vis à vis the community—is not dependent on a private or public status (or vice versa).