Tribe of Levi

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The Tribe of Levi was one of the tribes of Israel, traditionally descended from Levi, son of Jacob, the patriarch of the Israelites. Moses and his brother, Aaron, were both descendants of the Tribe of Levi. When Joshua led the Israelites into the land of Canaan (Joshua 13:33), the Sons of Levi were the only Israelite tribe that received cities but were not allowed to be landowners "because the Lord the God of Israel Himself is their inheritance" (Deuteronomy 18:2).[1][2] The Tribe of Levi served particular religious duties for the Israelites and had political responsibilities as well. In return, the landed tribes were expected to give tithe to the Cohanim, particularly the tithe known as the Maaser Rishon. The Cohanim were the priests. They performed the work in the Temple. The Levites who were not Cohanim played music in the Temple or served as guards.

Notable descendants of the Levite dynasty according to the Bible include Miriam, Samuel, Ezekiel, Ezra, and Malachi. The descendants of Aaron, who was the first kohen gadol, high priest, of Israel, were designated as the priestly class, the Kohanim. As such, Kohanim and Levites comprise family dynasties within the tribe of Levi to this day, integrated in Jewish and Samaritan societies.

In the Bible[edit]

The tribe is named after Levi, one of the twelve sons of Jacob (also called Israel). Levi had three sons: Gershon, Kohath, and Merari (Genesis 46:11).


 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
Levi
 
 
 
Melcha
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
Gershon
 
Kohath
 
Merari
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
Jochebed
 
 
 
Amram
 
Izhar
 
Hebron
 
Uzziel
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
Miriam
 
Aaron
 
Moses
 
 
 

Kohath's son Amram was the father of Miriam, Aaron and Moses. The descendants of Aaron: the Kohanim ("Priests"), had the special role as priests in the Tabernacle in the wilderness and also in the Temple in Jerusalem. The remaining Levites (Levi'yim in Hebrew), divided into three groups (the descendants of Gershon, or Gershonites, the descendants of Kohath, or Kohathites, and the descendants of Merari, or Merarites) each filled different roles in the Tabernacle and later in the Temple services.

Levites' principal roles in the Temple included singing Psalms during Temple services, performing construction and maintenance for the Temple, serving as guards, and performing other services. Levites also served as teachers and judges, maintaining cities of refuge in Biblical times. The Book of Ezra reports that the Levites were responsible for the construction of the Second Temple and also translated and explained the Torah when it was publicly read.

In Egypt the Levites were the only tribe that remained committed to God. During the Exodus the Levite tribe were particularly zealous in protecting the Mosaic law in the face of those worshipping the Golden Calf, which may have been a reason for their priestly status.[3]

In the Torah[edit]

In the Book of Numbers the Levites were charged with ministering to the Kohanim (priests) and keeping watch over the Tabernacle:

2 And with you bring your brother also, the tribe of Levi, the tribe of your father, that they may join you and minister to you while you and your sons with you are before the tent of the testimony.3 They shall keep guard over you and over the whole tent, but shall not come near to the vessels of the sanctuary or to the altar lest they, and you, die.4 They shall join you and keep guard over the tent of meeting for all the service of the tent, and no outsider shall come near you.5 And you shall keep guard over the sanctuary and over the altar, that there may never again be wrath on the people of Israel.6 And behold, I have taken your brothers the Levites from among the people of Israel. They are a gift to you, given to the Lord, to do the service of the tent of meeting. Numbers 18:2-6 (ESV)

In the Prophets[edit]

The Book of Jeremiah speaks of a covenant with the Kohanim (priests) and Levites, connecting it with the covenant with the seed of King David:

As the host of heaven cannot be numbered, neither the sand of the sea measured; so will I multiply the seed of David My servant, and the Levites that minister unto Me.
And the word of the LORD came to Jeremiah, saying:
'Considerest thou not what this people have spoken, saying: The two families which the LORD did choose, He hath cast them off? Jeremiah 33:22-24

The prophet Malachi also spoke of a covenant with Levi:

Know then that I have sent this commandment unto you, that My covenant might be with Levi, saith the LORD of hosts.
My covenant was with him of life and peace, and I gave them to him, and of fear, and he feared Me, and was afraid of My name.
The law of truth was in his mouth, and unrighteousness was not found in his lips; he walked with Me in peace and uprightness, and did turn many away from iniquity. Malachi 2:4-6

Malachi connected a purification of the "sons of Levi" with the coming of God's messenger:

Behold, I send My messenger, and he shall clear the way before Me; and the Lord, whom ye seek, will suddenly come to His temple, and the messenger of the covenant, whom ye delight in, behold, he cometh, saith the LORD of hosts.
But who may abide the day of his coming? And who shall stand when he appeareth? For he is like a refiner's fire, and like fullers' soap;
And he shall sit as a refiner and purifier of silver; and he shall purify the sons of Levi, and purge them as gold and silver; and there shall be they that shall offer unto the LORD offerings in righteousness. Malachi 3:1-3

In Biblical criticism[edit]

The parts of the Torah attributed by advocates of the Documentary Hypothesis to the Elohist, seem to treat Levite as a descriptive attribute for someone particularly suited to the priesthood, rather than as the designator of a tribe and feel that Moses and Aaron are being portrayed as part of the Joseph group rather than being part of a tribe called Levi.[4] The Levites are not mentioned by the Song of Deborah considered one of the oldest passages of the Bible. Jahwist passages have more ambiguous language; traditionally interpreted as referring to a person named Levi they could also be interpreted as just referring to a social position titled levi.[5] In the Blessing of Jacob (later than the Song of Deborah), Levi is treated as a tribe, cursing them to become scattered; critics regard this as an aetiological postdiction to explain how a tribe could be so scattered, the simpler solution being that the priesthood was originally open to any tribe, but gradually became seen as a distinct tribe to themselves.[5][6] In the Priestly Source and Blessing of Moses, which critical scholars view as originating centuries later, the Levites are firmly established as a tribe, and the only tribe with the right to be priests.

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ Joshua 13:33, cited in Wikisource-logo.svg "Levites". Catholic Encyclopedia. New York: Robert Appleton Company. 1913. 
  2. ^ Deuteronomy 18:2
  3. ^ From Wikisource-logo.svg "Levites". Catholic Encyclopedia. New York: Robert Appleton Company. 1913.  quoting Exodus 32:25-32:29
  4. ^  This article incorporates text from a publication now in the public domainJewish Encyclopedia. 1901–1906. 
  5. ^ a b Jewish Encyclopedia
  6. ^ Peake's commentary on the Bible