Le'vi (Heb. Levi', לֵוי, wreathed [see below], being the same Heb. word also signifying "Levite;" Sept. and N.T. Λευϊv or Λευεί), the name of several men.
1. The third son of Jacob by his wife Leah. This, like most other names in the patriarchal history, was connected with the thoughts and feelings that gathered round the child's birth. As derived from לָוָה, to twine, and hence to adhere, it gave utterance to the hope of the mother that the affections of her husband, which had hitherto rested on the favored Rachel, would at last be drawn to her. "This time will my husband be joined (יַלָּוֶה) unto me, because I have borne him three sons" (Ge 29:34). B.C. 1917. The new-born child was to be a κοινωνίας βεβαιωτής (Josephus, Ant. 1:19, 8), a new link binding the parents to each other more closely than before.
The same etymology is recognized, though with a higher significance, in Nu 18:2 (יַלָּווּ). One fact only is recorded in which he appears prominent. The sons of Jacob had come from Padan-Aram to Canaan with their father, and were with him "at Shalem, a city of Shechem." Their sister Dinah went out "to see the daughters of the land" (Ge 34:1), i.e. as the words probably indicate, and as Josephus distinctly states (Ant. 1:21), to be present at one of their great annual gatherings for some festival of nature-worship, analogous to that which we meet with afterwards among the Midianites (Nu 25:2). The license of the time or the absence of her natural guardians exposed her, though yet in earliest, youth, to lust and outrage. A stain was left, not only on her, but on the honor of her kindred, which, according to the rough justice of the time, nothing but blood could wash out. The duty of extorting that revenge fell, as in the case of Amnon and Tamar (2Sa 13:22), and in most other states of society in which polygamy has prevailed (compare, for the customs of modern Arabs, J. D. Michaelis, quoted by Kurtz, Hist. of Old Covenant i, § 82, p. 340), on the brothers rather than the father, just as, in the case of Rebekah, it belonged to the brother to conduct the negotiations for the marriage. We are left to conjecture why Reuben, as the first-born, was not foremost in the work, but the sin of which he was afterwards guilty makes it possible that his zeal for his sister's purity was not so sensitive as theirs. The same explanation may perhaps apply to the non-appearance of Judah in the history. Simeon and Levi, as the next in succession to the first-born, take the task upon themselves. Though not named in the Hebrew text of the O.T. till 34:25, there can be little doubt that they were "the sons of Jacob" who heard from their father the wrong over which he had brooded in silence, and who a planned their revenge accordingly. The Sept. does introduce their names in ver. 14. The history that follows is that of a cowardly and repulsive crime. The two brothers exhibit, in its broadest contrasts, that union of the noble and the base, of characteristics above and below the level of the heathen tribes around them, which marks much of the history of Israel. They have learned to loathe and scorn the impurity in the midst of which they lived, to regard themselves as a peculiar people, to glory in the sign of the covenant. They have learned only too well from Jacob and from Labant the lessons of treachery and falsehood. They lie to the men of Sheclem as the Druses and the Maronites lie to each other in the prosecution of their blood-feuds. For the offense of one man they destroy and plunder a whole city. They cover their murderous schemes with fair words and professions of friendship. They make the very token of their religion the instrument of their perfidy and revenge. (Josephus [Ant . 1. c.] characteristically glosses over all that connects the attack with the circumcision of the Shechemites, and represents it as made in a time of feasting and rejoicing.) Their father, timid and anxious as ever, utters a feeble lamentation (Blunt, Script. Coincidences, pt. 1, § 8), "Ye have made me a stench among the inhabitants of the land . . . I being few in number, they shall gather themselves against me." With a zeal that, though mixed with baser elements, foreshadows the zeal of Phinehas, they glory in their deed, and meet all remonstrance with the question, "Should he deal with our sister as with a harlot?" Of other facts in the life of Levi, there are none in which he takes, as in this, a prominent and distinct part. He shares in the hatred which his brothers bear to Joseph, and joins in the plots against him (Ge 37:4). Reuben and Judah interfere severally to prevent the consummation of the crime (Ge 37:21,26). Simon appears, as being made afterwards the subject of a sharper discipline than the others, to have been foremost — as his position among the sons of Leah made it likely that he. would be — in this attack on the favored son of Rachel; and it is at least probable that in this, as in their former guilt, Simeon and Levi were brethren. The rivalry of the mothers was perpetuated in the jealousies of their children; and the two who had shown themselves so keenly sensitive when their sister had been wronged, make themselves the instruments and accomplices of the hatred which originated, we are told, with the baser-born sons of the concubines (Ge 37:2). Then comes for him, as for the others, the discipline of suffering and danger, the special education by which the brother whom they had wronged leads them back to faithfulness and natural affection. The detention of Simeon in Egypt may have been designed at once to be the punishment for the large share which he lead taken in the common crime, and to separate the two brothers who had hitherto been such close companions in evil. The discipline did its work. Those who had been relentless to Joseph became self-sacrificing for Benjamin.
After this we trace Levi as joining in the migration of the tribe that owned Jacob as its patriarch. He, with his three sons, Gershon, Kohath, Merari, went down into Egypt (Ge 46:11). As one of the four eldest sons we may think of him as among the five (Ge 47:2) that were specially presented before Pharaoh. (The Jewish tradition [Targ. Pseudojon.] states the five to have been Zebulun, Dan, Naphtali, Gad, and Asher.) Then comes the last scene in which his name appears. When his father's death draws near, and the sons are gathered round him, he hears the old crime brought up again to receive its sentence from the lips that are no longer feeble and hesitating. They, no less than the incestuous first- born, had forfeited the privileges of their birthright. "In their anger they slew men, and in their wantonness they maimed oxen" (marg. reading of the A. V.; Sept. ἐνευροκόπησαν ταῦρον). Therefore the sentence on those who had been united for evil was, that they were to be "divided in Jacob and scattered in Israel." How that condemnation was at once fulfilled and turned into a benediction, how the zeal of the patriarch reappeared purified and strengthened in his descendants, how the very name came to have a new significance, will be found elsewhere. SEE LEVITE.
The history of Levi has been dealt with here in what seems the only true and natural way of treating it, as a history of an individual person. Of the theory that sees in the sons of Jacob the mythical Eponymi of the tribes that claimed descent from them — which finds in the crimes and chances of their lives the outlines of a national or tribal chronicle — which refuses to recognize that Jacob had twelve sons, and insists that the history of Dinah records an attempt on the part of the Canaanites to enslave and degrade a Hebrew tribe (Ewald, Geschichte, 1:466-496) — of this one may be content to say, as the author says of other hypotheses hardly more extravagant, "Die Wissenschaft verscheucht alle solche Gespenster" (ibid. 1:466). The book of Genesis tells us of the lives of men and women, not of ethnological phantoms. A yet wilder conjecture has been hazarded by another German critic. P. Redslob (Die alttestamentl. Namen, Hamb. 1846, p. 24,25), recognizing the meaning of the name of Levi as given above, finds in it evidence of the existence of a confederacy or synod of the priests that had been connected with the several local worships of Canaan, and who, in the time of Samuel and David, were gathered together, joined, "round the Central Pantheon in Jerusalem." Here, also, we may borrow the terms of our judgment from the language of the writer himself. If there are "abgeschmackten etymologischen Mahrchen" (Redslob, p. 82) connected with the name of Levi, they are hardly those we meet with in the narrative of Genesis. SEE JACOB.
2. The father of Matthat and son of Simeon (Maaseiah), of the ancestors of Christ. in the private maternal line between David and Zerubbabel (Lu 3:29). B.C. post 876. Lord Hervey thinks that the name of Levi reappears in his descendant Lebbseus (Geneal. of Christ, p. 132). SEE GENEALOGY OF JESUS CHRIST.
3. Father of another Matthat and son of Melchi, third preceding Mary, among Christ's ancestors (Lu 3:24). B.C. considerably ante 22.
4. (Λευϊvς.) One of the apostles, the son of Alphaeus (Mr 2:14; Lu 5:27,29), elsewhere called MATTHEW SEE MATTHEW (Mt 9:9).