Le'vite (בֶןאּלֵוַי, son of Levi, or simply לֵוי, Levi, for לֵוַיַּי, De 12:18; Jg 17:9,11; Jg 18:3; usually in the plur. and with the art. הִלוַיַּים; Sept. Λευῖται), a patronymic title which, besides denoting all the descendants of the tribe of Levi (Ex 6:25; Le 25:32, etc.; Nu 35:2; Jos 21:3,41), is the distinctive title of that portion of it which was set apart for the subordinate offices of the sanctuary, to assist the other and smaller portion of their own tribe, invested with the superior functions of the hierarchy (1Ki 8:4; Ezr 2:70. Joh 1:19, etc.), and this is the meaning which has perpetuated itself. Sometimes, again, it is added as an epithet of the smaller portion of the tribe, and we read of "the priests the Levites" (Jos 3:3; Eze 44:15). SEE PRIEST. In describing the institution and development of the Levitical order, we shall treat of it in chronological order, availing ourselves of the best systematizations hitherto produced.
I. From the Exode till the Monarchy. — This is the most interesting and important period in the history of the Levitical order, and in describing it we must first of all trace the cause which called it into existence.
1. Origin and Institution of the Levitical Order. The absence of all reference to the consecrated character of the Levites in the book of Genesis is noticeable enough. The prophecy ascribed to Jacob (Ge 49:5-7) was indeed fulfilled with singular precision, but the terms of the prophecy are hardly such as would have been framed by a later writer, after the tribe had gained its subsequent pre-eminence. The only occasion on which the patriarch of the tribe appears the massacre of the Shechemites — may indeed have contributed to influence the history of his descendants, by fostering in them the same fierce, wild zeal against all that threatened to violate the purity of their race, but generally what strikes us is the absence of all recognition of the later character. In the genealogy of Ge 46:11, in like manner, the list does not go lower down than the three sons of Levi, and they are given in the order of their birth, not in that which would have corresponded to the official superiority of the Kohathites. There are no signs, again, that the tribe of Levi had any special pre- eminence over the others during the Egyptian bondage. As tracing its descent from Leah, it would take its place among the six chief tribes sprung from the wives of Jacob, and share with them a recognized superiority over those that bore the names of the sons of Bilhah and Zilpah. Within the tribe itself there are some slight tokens that the Kohathites were gaining the first place. The classification of Ex 6:16-25 gives to that section of the tribe four clans or houses, while those of Gershon and Merari have but two each. To it belonged the house of Amram, and "Aaron the Levite" (Ex 4:14) is spoken of as one to whom the people would be sure to listen. He married the daughter of the chief of the tribe of Judah (Ex 6:23). The work accomplished by him, an by his yet greater brother, would naturally tend to give prominence to the family and the tribe to which they belonged, but as yet there are no traces of a caste-character, no signs of any intention to establish a hereditary priesthood. Up to this time the Israelites had worshipped the God of their fathers after their fathers' manner. The first-born of the people were the priests of the people. The eldest son of each house inherited the priestly office. His youth made him, in his father's lifetime, the representative of the purity which was connected from the beginning with the thought of worship (Ewald, Alterthüm. p. 273. and comp. PRIEST). It was apparently with this as their ancestral worship that the Israelites came up out of Egypt. The "young men" of the sons of Israel offer sacrifices (Ex 24:5). They, we may infer, are the priests who remain with the people while Moses ascends the heights of Sinai (Ex 19:22-24). They represented the truth that the whole people were "a kingdom of priests" (Ex 19:6). Neither they, nor the "officers and judges" appointed to assist Moses in administering justice (Ex 18:25), are connected in any special manner with the tribe of Levi. The first step towards a change was made in the institution of a hereditary priesthood in the family of Aaron during the first withdrawal of Moses to the solitude of Sinai (Ex 28:1). This, however, was one thing; it was quite another to set apart a whole tribe of Israel as a priestly caste. The directions given for the construction of the tabernacle imply no pre-eminence of the Levites. The chief workers in it are from the tribes of Judah and Dan (Ex 31:2-6). The next extension of the idea of the priesthood grew out of the terrible crisis of Exodus 32. If the Levites had been sharers in the sin of the golden calf, they were, at ally rate, the foremost to rally round their leader when he called on them to help him in stemming the progress of the evil. Then came that terrible consecration of themselves, when every man was against his son and against his brother, and the offering with which they filled their hands (מַלאוּ יֶדכֶם, Ex 32:29; comp. Ex 28:41) was the blood of their nearest of kin. 'The tribe stood forth separate and apart, recognizing even in this stern work the spiritual as higher than the natural, and therefore counted worthy to be the representative of the ideal life of the people, "an Israel within an Israel" (Ewald, Alterthüm. p. 279), chosen in its higher representatives to offer incense and burnt-sacrifice before the Lord (De 33:9-10), not without a share in the glory of the Urim and Thummim that were worn by the prince and chieftain of the tribe. From this time, accordingly, they occupied a distinct position. Experience had shown how easily the people might fall back into idolatry — how necessary it was that there should be a body of men, an order, numerically large, and, when the people were in their promised home, equally diffused throughout the country, as attestators and guardians of the truth. Without this the individualism of the older worship would have been fruitful in an ever-multiplying idolatry. The tribe of Levi was therefore to take the place of that earlier priesthood of the first-born as representatives of the holiness of the people.
The tabernacle, with its extensive and regular sacrificial service, which required a special priestly order regularly to perform the higher functions of the sanctuary, was the special occasion which also called into being the Levitical staff to aid the priests in their arduous task, inasmuch as the primitive and patriarchal mode of worship which obtained till the erection of the tabernacle, and according to which the first-born of all Israelites performed the priestly offices (comp. Ex 24:5 with 19:24, and see FIRST-BORN), could not be perpetuated under the newly-organized congregational service without interfering with the domestic relations of the people. It was for this reason, as well as to secure greater efficiency in the sacred offices, that the religious primogeniture was conferred upon the tribe of Levi, which were henceforth to give their undivided attention to the requirements of the sanctuary (Nu 3:11-13). The tribe of Levi were selected because they had manifested a very extraordinary zeal for the glory of God (Ex 32:26, etc.), had already obtained a part of this religious primogeniture by the institution of the hereditary priesthood in the family of Aaron (Ex 28:1), and because, as the tribe to which Moses and Aaron belonged, they would most, naturally support and promote the institutions of the lawgiver. To effect this transfer of office, the first-born males of all the other tribes and all the Levites were ordered to be numbered, from the age of one month and upwards; and when it was found that the former were 22,273, and the latter 22,000 (see below), it was arranged that 22,000 of the first-born should be replaced by the 22,000 Levites, that the 273 first-born who were in excess of the Levites should be redeemed at the rate of five shekels each, being the legal sum for the redemption of the first-born child (Nu 18:16), and that the 1365 shekels be given to Aaron and his sons as a compensation for the odd persons who, as first-born, belonged to Jehovah. As to the difficulty how to decide which of the first-born should be redeemed by paying this money, and which should be exchanged for the Levites, since it was natural for every one to wish to escape this expense, the Midrash (On Numbers 3:17) and the Talmud relate that "Moses wrote on 22,000 tickets Levite (בן לוי), and on 273 Five Shekels (המש שקלים), mixed them all up, put them into a vessel, and then bid every Israelite to draw one. He who took out one with Levite on it was redeemed by a Levite, and he who drew one with Five Shekels on it had to be redeemed by payment of this sum" (Sanhedrin, 17, a). There is no reason to doubt this ancient tradition. It was further ordained that the cattle which the Levites then happened to possess should be considered as equivalent to all the first-born cattle which all the Israelites had, without their being numbered and exchanged one for one, as in the case of the human beings (Nu 3:41-51), so that the firstlings should not now be given to the priest, or be redeemed, which the Israelites were hereafter required to do (Nu 18:15). In this way the Levites obtained a sacrificial as well as a priestly character. They for the first-born of men, and their cattle for the firstlings of beasts, fulfilled the idea that had been asserted at the time of the destruction of the first-born of Egypt (Ex 13:12-13).
There is a discrepancy between the total number of the Levites, which is given in Nu 3:39 as 22,000, and the separate number of the three divisions which is given in verses 22, 28, and 34, as follows: Gershonites, 7500 + Kohathites, 8600 + Mierarites, 6200 22,300. Compare also verse 46, where it is said that the 22,273 first-born exceeded the total number of Levites by 273. The Talmud (Bechoroth, 5, a) and the Jewish commentators, who are followed by most Christian expositors, submit that the 300 surplus Levites were the first-born of this tribe, who, as such, could not be substituted for the first-born of the other tribes, and therefore were omitted from the total. To this, however, it is objected that if such an exemption of first-born had been intended, the text would have contained some intimation of it, whereas there is nothing whatever in the context to indicate it. Houbigant therefore suggests that a ל has dropped out of the word שלש in verse 28, making it שש, and that by retaining the former word we obtain 8300 instead of 8600, which removes all the difficulty.
Philippson, Keil, and others adopt this explanation. The number of the first-born appears disproportionately small as compared with the population. It must be remembered, however, that the conditions to be fulfilled were that they should be at once (1) the first child of the father, (2) the first child of the mother, and (3) males. (Compare on this question, and on that of the difference of numbers, Kurtz, History of the Old Covenant, 3:201.)
2. Division of the Tribe of Levi. — As different functions were assigned to the separate houses of the Levitical branch of the tribe, to which frequent references are made, we subjoin the following table from Ex 6:305, italicizing the Aaronic or priestly branch in order to facilitate these references.
N.B. — Those mentioned in the above list are by no means the only descendants of Levi in their respective generations, as is evident from the fact that, though no sons of Libni, Shimei, Hebron, etc., are here given, yet mention is made in Nu 3:21, of the fanily of the Libuites and the family of the Shimeites;" in Numbers 26:28, of "the family of the Libnites;" and in Nu 3:27; Nu 26:58, of "the family of the Hebronites;" whilst in 1 Chronicles 23, several sons of these men are mentioned by name. Again, no sons of Mahali and Mushi are given, and yet they appear in Numbers 3 as fathers of families of the Levites. The design of the genealogy in question is simply to give the pedigrees of Moses and Aaron, and some other principal heads of the family of Levi, as is expressly stated in Ex 6:25: "These are the heads of the fathers of the Levites according to their families." In these heads all the other members of their families were included, according to the principle laid down in 1Ch 23:11: "Therefore they were in one reckoning, according to their father's house." Some names are also mentioned for a special purpose, e.g. the sons of Izhar, on account of Korah, who was the leader of the rebellion against Moses. These observations afford an answer to a considerable extent to the conclusions of bishop Colenso upon the number of the Levites (The Pentateuch and the Book of Joshua critically examined) 1:107-112).
It will thus be seen that the Levitical order comprises the whole of the descendants of Gershon and Merari, and those of Kohath through Izhar and Uzziel, as well as through Amram's second son, Moses; whilst Aaron, Amram's first son, and his issue, constitute the priestly order. It must here be remarked that, though Kohath is the second in point of age and order, yet his family will be found to occupy the first position, because they are the nearest of kin to the priests.
3. Age and Qualifications for Levitical Service. — The only qualification for active service specified in the Mosaic law is mature age, which in Nu 4:3,23,30,39,43,47 is said to be from thirty to fifty, whilst in Nu 8:24-25 it is said to commence at twenty-five. Various attempts have been made to reconcile these two apparently contradictory injunctions. The Talmud (Chol. 24, a), Rashi (Comment. ad loc.), and Maimonides (Jod Ha-Chezakel, 3:7, 3), who are followed by some Christian commentators, affirm that from twenty-five to thirty the Levites attended in order to be instructed in their duties, but did not enter upon actual duties until they were full thirty years of age. But this explanation, as Abrabanel rightly remarks, "is at variance with the plain declaration of the text, that the Levites were called at twenty-five years of age to wait upon the service of the tabernacle, which clearly denotes not instruction for their ministry, but the ministry itself" (Commentar. on Nu 8:24). Besides, the text itself does not give the slightest intimation that any period of the Levitical life was devoted to instruction. Hence Rashbam, AbenEzra, and Abrabanel. who are followed by most modern expositors, submit that the twenty-five years of age refers to the Levites' entering upon the lighter part of their service, such as keeping watch and performing the lighter duties in the tabernacle, whilst the thirty years of age refers to their entering upon the more onerous duties, such as carrying heavy weights, when the tabernacle was moved about from place to place, which required the full strength of a man, maintaining that this distinction is indicated in the text by the words ולמשא לעבור, for labor and burdens, when the thirty years' work is spoken of (Nu 4:30-31), and by the omission of the word משא , burden, when the twenty-five years' work is spoken of (Nu 8:24, etc.). But it may fairly be questioned whether man is more fitted for arduous work from thirty to thirty-five than from twenty- five to thirty. Besides, the Gershonites and the Merarites, who had the charge of the heavier burdens, did not carry them at all (comp. Nu 7:3-9, and sec. 4 below). According to another ancient Jewish interpretation adopted by Bahr (Symbol. 2:41) and others, Numbers 4 treats of the necessary age of the Levites for the immediate requirements in the wilderness, whilst Numbers 8 gives their age for the promised land,
when they shall be divided among the tribes and a larger number shall be wanted (Siphri on Numbers 8). Somewhat similar is Philippson's explanation, who affirms that at the first election of the Levitical order the required age for service was from thirty to fifty, but that all future Levites had to commence service at twenty-five. The Sept. solves the difficulty by uniformly reading twenty-five instead of thirty.
4. Duties and Classification of the Levites. — The commencement of the march from Sinai gave a prominence to their new character. As the tabernacle was the sign of the presence among the people of their unseen King, so the Levites were, among the other tribes of Israel, as the royal guard that waited exclusively on him. The warlike title of "host" is specially applied to them (comp. use of צָבָא, in Nu 3:30; and of מחֲנֶה, in 1Ch 1:19). As such they were not included in the number of the armies of Israel (Nu 1:47; Nu 2:33; Nu 26:62), but were reckoned separately by themselves. When the people were at rest they encamped as guardians around the sacred tent; no one else might come near it under pain of death (Nu 1:51; Nu 18:22). The different families pitched their tents around it, in the following manner: the Gershonites behind it on the west (Nu 3:23), the Kohathites on the south (Nu 3:29), the Merarites on the north (Nu 3:35), and the priests on the east (Nu 3:38). SEE CAMP. They were to occupy a middle position in that ascending scale of consecration which, starting from the idea of the wshole nation as a priestly people, reached its culminating point in the high-priest, who alone of all the people might enter "within the veil." The Levites might come nearer than the other tribes, but they might not sacrifice, nor burn incense, nor see the "holy things" of the sanctuary till they were covered (Nu 4:15). When on the march no hands but theirs might strike the tent at the commencement of the day's journey, or carry the parts of its structure during it, or pitch the tent again when they halted (Nu 1:51). It was obviously essential for such a work that there should be a fixed assignment of duties, and now, accordingly, we meet with the first outlines of the organization which afterwards became permanent. The division of the tribe into the three sections that traced their descent from the sons of Levi formed the groundwork of it. The Levites were given as a gift (נתינים, Nethinim) to Aaron and his sons, the priests, to wait upon them, and to do the subordinate work for them at the service of the sanctuary (Nu 8:19; Nu 17:2-6). They had also to guard the tabernacle and take charge of certain vessels, whilst the priests had to watch the altars and the interior of the sanctuary (1:50-53; 8:19; 18:1-7). To carry this out effectually, the charge of certain vessels ande portions of the tabernacle, as well as the guarding of its several sides, was assigned to each of the three sections into which the tribe was divided by their respective descent from the three sons of Levi. i.e. Gershon, Kohath, and Merari, as follows:
(1.) The Kohathites, who out of 8600 persons yielded 2750 qualified for active service according to the prescribed age, and who were under the leadership of Elizaphan, had to occupy the south side of the tabernacle, and, as the family to whom Aaron the high-priest and his sons belonged, had to take charge of the holy things (משמרת הקדש), viz., the ark, the table of shew-bread, the candlestick, the two altars of incense and burnt- offering, as well as of the sacred vessels used at the service of these holy things, and the curtains of the holy of holies. All these things they had to carry on their own shoulders when the camp was broken up (Nu 3:27-32; Nu 4:5-15; Nu 7:9; De 31:25), after the priests had covered them with the dark blue cloth which was to hide them from all profane gaze; and thus they became also the guardians of all the sacred treasures which the people had so freely offered. Eleazar, the head of the priests, who belonged to the Kohathites, and was the chief commander of the three Levitical divisions, had the charge of the oil for the candlestick, the incense, the daily meat-offering, and the anointing oil (Nu 3:32; Nu 4:16).
(2.) The Gershonites, who out of 7500 men yielded 2630 for active service, and who were under the leadership of Eliasaph, had to occupy the west side of the tabernacle, and to take charge of the tapestry of the tabernacle, all its curtains, hangings, and coverings, the pillars of the tapestry hangings, the implements used in connection therewith, and to perform all the work connected with the taking down and putting up of the articles over which they had the charge (Nu 3:21-26; Nu 4:22-28).
(3.) The Merarites, who out of 6200 yielded 3200 active men. and who were under the leadership of Zuriel, had to occupy the north side of the tabernacle, and take charge of the boards, bars, pillars, sockets, tent-pins, etc. (Nu 3:33-37; Nu 4:39-40). The two latter companies, however, were allowed to use the six covered wagons and the twelve oxen which were offered as an oblation to Jehovah; the Gershonites, having the less heavy portion, got two of the wagons and four of the oxen; whilst the Merarites, who had the heavier portions, got four of the wagons and eight of the oxen (Nu 7:3-9).
Thus the total number of active men which the three divisions of the Levites yielded was 8580. When encamped around the tabernacle, they formed, as it were, a partition between the people and the sanctuary; they had so to guard it that the children of Israel should not come near it, since those who ventured to do so incurred the penalty of death (Nu 1:51; Nu 3:38; Nu 18:22); nor were they themselves allowed to come near the vessels of the sanctuary and the altar, lest they die, as well as the priests (Nu 18:3-6). Israelites of any other tribe were strictly forbidden to perform the Levitical office, in order "that there might be no plague when the children of Israel approach the sanctuary" (Nu 3:10; Nu 8:19; Nu 18:5); and, according to the ancient Hebrew canons, even a priest was not allowed to do the work assigned to the Levites, nor was one Levite permitted to perform the duties which were incumbent upon his fellow Levite under penalty of death (Maimonides, Hilchoth Kele Ha- Mikdash, 3:10).
The book of Deuteronomy is interesting as indicating more clearly than had been done before the other functions, over and above their ministrations in the tabernacle, which were to be allotted to the tribe of Levi. Through the whole land they were to take the place of the old household priests (subject, of course, to the special rights of the Aaronic priesthood), sharing in all festivals and rejoicings (De 12:19; De 14:26-27; De 26:11). Every third year they were to have an additional share in the produce of the land (De 14:28; De 26:12). The people were charged never to forsake them. To "the priests the Levites" was to belong the office of preserving, transcribing, and interpreting the law (De 17:9-12; De 31:26). They were solemnly to read it every seventh year at the Feast of Tabernacles (De 31:9-13). They were to pronounce the curses from Mount Ebal (De 27:14).
Such, if one may so speak, was the ideal of the religious organization which was present to the mind of the lawgiver. Details were left to be developed as the altered circumstances of the people might require. The great principle was, that the warrior-caste who had guarded the tent of the captain of the hosts of Israel should be throughout the land as witnesses that the people still owed allegiance to him. It deserves notice that, as yet, with the exception of the few passages that refer to the priests, no traces appear of their character as a learned caste, and of the work which afterwards belonged to them as hymn-writers and musicians. The hymns of this period were probably occasional, not recurring (comp. Ex 15; Nu 21:17; De 32). Women bore a large share in singing them (Ex 15:20; Ps 68:25). It is not unlikely that the wives sand daughters of the Levites, who must have been with them in all their encampments, as afterwards in their cities, took the foremost part among the "damsels playing with their timbrels," or among the "wise- hearted," who wove hangings for the decoration of the tabernacle. There are, at any rate, signs of their presence there in the mention of the "women that assembled" at its door (Ex 38:8, and comp. Ewald, Alterthüm. p. 297).
5. Consecrations of the Levites. — The first act in the consecration of the Levites was to sprinkle them with the water of purifying (מי חטאת), which, according to tradition, was the same used for the purification of persons who became defiled by dead bodies, and in which were mingled cedar-wood, hyssop, scarlet, and ashes of the red heifer (Nu 19:6,9,13), and was designed to cleanse them from the same defilement (comp. Rasli, On Numb. 8:7). They had, in the next place, as an emblem of further purification, to shave off all the hair from their body, "to teach thereby," as Ralbag says, "that they must renounce, as much as was in their power, all worldly things, and devote themselves to the service of the most high God," and then wash their garments. After this triple form of purification, they were brought before the door of the tabernacle, along with two bullocks and fine flour mingled with oil, when the whole congregation, through the elders who represented them, laid their hands upon the heads of the Levites, and set them apart for the service of the sanctuary, to occupy the place of the first-born of the whole congregation; whereupon the priests waved them before the Lord (Nu 8:5-14), which in all probability was done, as Abrabanel says, by leading them forward and backward, up and down, as if saying, Behold, these are henceforth the servants of the Lord. instead of the firstborn of the children of Israel. The part which the whole congregation tool in this consecration is a very important feature in the Hebrew constitution, inasmuch as it most distinctly shows that the Levitical order proceeded from the midst of the people (Ex 28:1), was to be regarded as essentially identical with it, and not as a sacred caste standing in proud eminence above the rest of the nation. This principle of equality, which, according to the Mosaic law, was not to be infringed by the introduction of a priesthood or monarchy (De 17:14-20), was recognized throughout the existence of the Hebrew commonwealth, as is evident from the fact that the representatives of the people took part in the coronation of kings and the installment of highpriests (1Ki 2:35; with 1Ch 29:30), and even in the days of the Maccabees we see that it is the people who installed Simon as high-priest (1 Maccab. 14:35).
6. Revenues of the Levites. — Thus consecrated to the service of the Lord, it was necessary that the tribe of Levi should be relieved from the temporal pursuits of the rest of the people, to enable them to give themselves wholly to their spiritual functions, and to the cultivation of the arts and sciences, as well as to preserve them from contracting a desire to amass earthly possessions. For this reason they were to have no territorial possessions, but Jehovah was to be their inheritance (Nu 18:20; Nu 26:62; De 10:9; De 18:1-2; Jos 18:7). To reward their labor, which they had henceforth to perform instead of the first-born of the whole people, as well as to compensate the loss of their share in the material wealth of the nation, it was ordained that they should receive from the other tribes the tithes of the produce of the land, from which the non- priestly portion of the Levites in their turn had to offer a tithe to the priests as a recognition of their higher consecration (Nu 18:21-24,26-32; Ne 10:37). If they had had, like other tribes, a distinct territory assigned to them, their influence over the people at large would be diminished, and they themselves would be likely to forget, in labors common to them with others, their own peculiar calling (Ne 10:37). As if to provide for the contingency of failing crops or the like, and the consequent inadequacy of the tithes thus assigned to them, the Levite, not less than the widow and the orphan, was commended to the special kindness of the people (De 12:19; De 14:27,29).
But, though they were to have no territorial possessions, still they required a place of abode. To secure this, and at the same time to enable the Levites to disseminate a knowledge of the law and exercise a refined and intellectual influence among the people at large, upon whose conscientious payment of the tithes they were dependent for subsistence, forty-eight cities were assigned to them, six of which were to be cities of refuge for those who had inadvertently killed any one (Nu 35:1-8). From these forty-eight cities, which they obtained immediately after the conquest of Canaan, and which were made up by taking four cities from the district of every tribe, thirteen were allotted to the priestly portion of the Levitical tribe. Which cities belonged to the priestly portion of the tribe, and which to the non-priestly portion, and how they were distributed among the other tribes, as recorded in Joshua 21, will be seen from the following table:
Each of these cities was required to have an outlying suburb (מַגרָשׁ, προάστεια) of meadow land for the pasture of the flocks and herds belonging to the Levites, the dimensions of which are thus described in Nu 35:4-5: "And the suburbs [or pasture-ground] of the cities which ye shall give unto the Levites are from the wall of the city to the outside a thousand cubits round about; and ye shall measure from without the city the east corner two thousand cubits, and the south corner two thousand cubits, and the west corner two thousand cubits, and the north corner two thousand cubits, and the city in the center." These dimensions have occasioned great difficulty, because of the apparent contradiction in the two verses, as specifying first 1000 cubits and then 2000. The Sept., Josephus (Ant. 4:4. 3), and Philo (De sacerd. honoribus) get over the difficulty by reading 2000 in both verses, as exhibited in diagram I, awhile ancient and modern commentators, who rightly adhere to the text, have endeavored to reconcile the two verses by advancing different theories, of which the following are the most noticeable:
1. According to the Talmud (Erubin, 51, a), the space "measured from the wall 1000 cubits round about" was used as a common or suburb, and the space measured "from without the city on the east side," etc., was a further tract of land of 2000 cubits, used for fields and vineyards, the former being "the suburbs" properly so called, and the latter "the fields of the suburbs," as represented in diagram I, b. Against this view, however, which is the most simple and rational, and which is adopted by Maimonides (Hilchoth Shemita Ve-Jobel, 13:2), bishop Patrick, and most English expositors, it is urged that it is not said that the 2000 cubits are to be measured in all directions, but only in the east, south, etc., direction, or, as the Hebrew has it, east, south, etc., corner (פאה).
2. It means that a circle of 1000 cubits radius was to be measured from the center of the city, and then a square circumscribed about that circle, each of whose sides was 2000 cubits long, as exhibited in diagram II. But the objection to this is that the 1000 cubits were to be measured "from the wall of the city," and not from the center.
3. The 1000 cubits were measured perpendicularly to the wall of the city, and then perpendicular to these distances, i.e. parallel to the walls of the city, the 2000 cubits were measured on the north, south, east, and west sides, as shown in diagram III. This, however, is obviously incorrect, because the sides would not be 2000 cubits long if the city were of finite dimensions, but plainly longer.
4. It is assumed that the city was built in a circular form, with a radius of 1500 cubits, that a circle was then described with a radius of 2500 cubits from the center of the city, i.e. at a distance of 1000 cubits from the walls of the city, and that the suburbs were enclosed between the circumferences of the two circles, and that the corner of the circumscribed square was 1000 cubits from the circumference of the outer circle. Compare diagram IV. But the objection to this is that by Euclid, 1:47, the square of the diagonal equals the sum of the square of the sides, whereas in this figure 1 35002 does not equal 25002 + 25002. The assigned length of the diagonal varies about 35 cubits from its actual value.
5. The city is supposed to be of a circular form; round it a circle is described at a distance of 1000 cubits from its walls; then from the walls 2000 cubits are measured to the north, south, east, and west corners the whole forming a starlike figure, as exhibited in diagram V. This view, which is somewhat fanciful, strictly meets the requirements of the Hebrew text.
6. The 1000 cubits are measured from the center in four directions at right angles to one another, and perpendicular to each of these a side of 2000 cubits long is drawn, the whole forming a square. But in this case the condition of "1000 cubits round about" is not fulfilled, the distance of the center from the corners of the square being plainly more than 1000 cubits.
7. The "1000 cubits round about" is equivalent to 1000 cubits square, or 305 English acres.
8. The city is supposed to be square, each side measuring 1000 or 500 cubits, and then, at a distance of 1000 cubits in all directions from the square, another square is described, as represented in diagrams VI, as, and VI, b. But this incurs the objection urged against 6, that the 1000 cubits cannot be said to be measured "round about," the distance from the corner of the city to the corner of the precincts being plainly more than 1000 cubits. Upon a review of all these theories, we incline to the ancient Jewish view, which is stated first, and against which nothing canl be said, if we take "on the south, east," etc., simply to mean, as it often does, in all directions, instead of four distinct points. It presupposes that the cities were built in a circular form, which was usual in the cities of antiquity, both because the circle of all figures comprises the largest area within the smallest periphery, and because the inhabitants could reach every part of the walls in the shortest time from all directions, if necessary, for purposes of defense.
These revenues have been thought exorbitant beyond all bounds; for. discarding the unjustifiable conclusion of bishop Colenso that "forty-four people [Levites], with the two priests, and their families, had forty-eight cities assigned to them" (The Pentateuch, etc., 1:112), and adhering to the scriptural numbers, we still have a tribe which, at the second census, numbered 23,000 males, with no more than 12,000 arrived at man's estate, receiving the tithes of 600,000 people; "consequently," it is thought "that each individual Levite, without having to deduct seed and the charges of husbandry, had as much as five Israelites reaped from their fields or gained on their cattle" (Michaelis, Laws of Moses, 1:252). Add to this that, though so small in number, the Levites received forty-eight cities, while other tribes which consisted of more than double the number of men received less cities, and some did not get more than twelve cities. But in all these calculations the following facts are ignored:
1. The tithes were not a regular tax, but a religious duty, which was greatly neglected by the people;
2. Even from these irregular tithes the Levites had to give a tithe to the priests;
3. The tithes never increased, whereas the Levites did increase.
4. Thirteen of the forty-eight cities were assigned to the priests, and six were cities of refuge; and,
5. Of the remaining twenty-nine cities, the Levites were by no means the sole occupants or proprietors; they were simply to have in them those houses which they required as dwellings, and the fields necessary for the pasture of their cattle.
This is evident from the fact that the Levites were allowed to sell their houses, and that a special clause bearing on this subject was inserted in the Jubilee law, SEE JUBILEE; inasmuch as Le 25:32-34, would have no meaning unless it is presumed that other Israelites lived together with the Levites.
These provisions for abode, of course, did not apply to the Levites in the time of Moses. While wandering in the wilderness, they were supported like the other Israelites, with but slight emoluments or perquisites, and at first with comparatively little honor, amid their considerable burdens in caring for the religious cultus. But how rapidly the feeling of reverence gained strength we may judge from the share assigned to them out of the flocks, and herds, and women of the conquered Midianites (Nu 31:27, etc.). The same victory led to the dedication of gold and silver vessels of great value, and thus increased the importance of the tribe as guardians of the national treasures (Nu 31:50-54).
7. Modifications under Joshua and the Judges. — The submission of the Gibeonites, after they had obtained a promise that their lives should be spared, enabled Joshua to relieve the tribe-divisions of Gershon and Merari of the most burdensome of their duties. The conquered Hivites became "hewers of wood and drawers of water" for the house of Jehovah and for the congregation (Jos 9:27). The Nethinim (Deo dati) of 1Ch 9:2; Ezr 2:43, were probably sprung from captives taken by David in later wars, who were assigned to the service oft the tabernacle, replacing possibly the Gibeonites who had been slain by Saul (2Sa 21:1). SEE NETHINIM.
The scanty memorials that are left us in the book of Judges are rather unfavorable to the inference that for any length of time the reality answered to the Mosaic idea of the Levitical institution. The ravages of invasion, and the pressure of an alien rule, marred the working of the organization which seemed so perfect. Levitical cities, such as Aijalon (Jos 21:24; Jg 1:35) and Gezer (Jos 21:21; 1Ch 6:67), fell into the hands of their enemies. Sometimes, as in the case of Nob, others apparently took their place. The wandering, unsettled habits of such Levites as are mentioned in the later chapters of Judges are probably to be traced to this loss of a fixed abode, and the consequent necessity of taking refuge in other cities, even though their tribe as such had no portion in them. The tendency of the people to fall into the idolatry of the neighboring nations showed either that the Levites failed to bear their witness to the truth or had no power to enforce it. Even in the lifetime of Phinehas, when the high-priest was still consulted as an oracle, the very reverence which the people felt for the tribe of Levi becomes the occasion of a rival worship (Judges 17). The old household priesthood revives (see Kalisch, On Genesis 49:7), and there is the risk of the national worship breaking up into individualism. Micah first consecrates one of his own sons, and then tempts a homeless Levite to dwell with him as "a father and a priest" for little more than his food and raiment. The Levite, though probably the grandson of Moses himself, repeats the sin of Korah. SEE JONATHAN. First in the house of Micah, and then for the emigrants of Dan, he exercises the office of a priest with "an ephod, and a teraphim, and a graven image." With this exception the whole tribe appears to have fallen into a condition analogous to that of the clergy in the darkest period and in the most outlying districts of the mediaeval Church, going through a ritual routine. but exercising no influence for good, at once corrupted and corrupting. The shameless license of the sons of Eli may be looked upon as the result of a long period of decay, affecting the whole order. When the priests were such as Hophni and Phinehas, we may fairly assume that the Levites were not doing much to sustain the moral life of the people.
The work of Samuel was the starting-point of a better time. Himself a Levite, and, though not a priest, belonging to that section of the Levites which was nearest to the priesthood (1Ch 6:28), adopted, as it were, by a special dedication into the priestly line and trained for its offices (1Sa 2:18), he appears as infusing a fresh life, the author of a new organization. There is no reason to think, indeed, that the companies or schools of the sons of the prophets which appear in his time (1Sa 10:5), and are traditionally said to have been founded by him, consisted exclusively of Levites; but there are many signs that the members of that tribe formed a large element in the new order, and received new strength from it. It exhibited, indeed, the ideal of the Levitical life as one of praise, devotion, teaching; standing in the same relation to the priests and Levites generally as the monastic institutions of the 5th century, or the mendicant orders of the 13th did to the secular clergy of Western Europe. The fact that the Levites were thus brought under the influence of a system which addressed itself to the mind and heart in a greater degree than the sacrificial functions of the priesthood, may possibly have led them on to apprehend the higher truths as to the nature of worship which begin to be asserted from this period, and which are nowhere proclaimed more clearly than in the great hymn that bears the name of Asaph (Ps 1; Ps 7-15). The man who raises the name of prophet to a new significance is himself a Levite (1Sa 9:9). It is among the prophets that we find the first signs of the musical skill which is afterwards so conspicuous in the Levites (1Sa 10:5). The order in which the Temple services were arranged is ascribed to two of the prophets, Nathan and G(ad (2Ch 29:25), who must have grown up under Samuel's superintendence, and in part to Samuel himself (1Ch 9:22). Asaph and Heman, the psalmists, bear the same title as Samuel the Seer (1Ch 25:5; 2Ch 29:30). The very word "prophesying" is applied not only to sudden bursts of song, but to the organized psalmody of the Temple (1Ch 25:2-3). Even of those who bore the name of a prophet in a higher sense a large number are traceably of this tribe.
The capture of the ark by the Philistines did not entirely interrupt the worship of the Israelites, and the ministrations of the Levites went on, first at Shiloh (1Sa 14:3), then for a time at Nob (1Sa 22:11), afterwards at Gibeon (1Ki 3:2; 1Ch 16:39). The history of the return of the ark to Beth-shemesh after its capture by the Philistines, and its subsequent removal to Kirjath-jearim, points apparently to some strange complications rising out of the anomalies of this period, and affecting, in some measure, the position of the tribe of Levi. Beth-shemesh was, by the original assignment of the conquered country, one of the cities of the priests (Jos 21:16). They, however, do not appear in the narrative, unless we assume, against all probability, that the men of Beth- shemesh who were guilty of the act of profanation were themselves of the priestly order. Levites, indeed, are mentioned as doing their appointed work (1Sa 6:15), but the sacrifices and burnt-offerings are offered by the men of the city, as though the special function of the priesthood had been usurped by others, and on this supposition it is easier to understand how those who had set aside the law of Moses by one offense should defy it also by another. The singular reading of the Sept. in 1Sa 6:19 (καὶ οὐκ ἠσμένισαν οἱ υἱοὶ Ι᾿εχονίου ἐν τοῖς ἄνδρασι Βαιθσαμὺς ὅτι ειδον κιβωτὸν Κυρίου) indicates, if we assume that it rests upon some corresponding Hebrew text, a struggle between two opposed parties, one guilty of the profanation, the other — possibly the Levites who had been before mentioned — zealous in their remonstrances against it. Then comes, either as the result of this collision, or by direct supernatural infliction, the great slaughter of the Beth-shemites, and they shrink from retaining the ark any longer among them. The great Eben (stone) becomes, by a slight paronomastic change in its form, the "great Abel" (lamentation), and the name remains as a memorial of the sin and of its punishment. SEE BETH-SHEMESH. We are left entirely in the dark as to the reasons which led them, after this, to send the ark of Jehovah, not to Hebron or some other priestly city, but to Kirjath-jearim, round which, so far as we know, there gathered legitimatcly no sacred associations. It has been comrmonly assumed, indeed, that Abinadab, under whose guanrdianship it remained for twenty years, must necessarily have been of the tribe of Levi. SEE ABINADAB. Of this, however, there is not the slightest direct evidence, and against it there is the language of David in 1Ch 15:2, "None ought to carry the ark of God but the Levites, for them hath Jehovah chosen," which would lose half its force if it were not meant as a protest against a recent innovation, and the ground of a return to the more ancient order. So far as one can see one's way through these perplexities of a dark period. the most probable explanation — already suggested under KIRJATH-JEARIM — seems to be the following: The old names of Baaleh (Jos 15:9) and Kirjath-baal (Jos 15:60) suggest there had been of old some special strictly attached to the place as the center of a Canaanitish local worship. The fact that the ark was taken to the house of Abinadab in the hill (1Sa 7:1), the Gibcah of 2Sa 6:3, connects itself with that old Canaanitish reverence for high places which, through the whole history of the Israelites, continued to have such strong attractions for them. These may have seemed to the panic-stricken inhabitants of that district, mingling old things and new, the worship of Jehovah with the lingering superstitions of the conquered people, sufficient grounds to determine their choice of a locality. The consecration (the word used is the special sacerdotal term) of Eleazar as the guardian of the ark is, on this hypothesis, analogous in its way to the other irregular assumptions which characterize this period, though here the offense was less flagrant, and did not involve, apparently, the performance of any sacrificial acts. While, however, this aspect of the religious condition of the people brings the Levitical and priestly orders before us as having lost the position they had previously occupied, there were other influences at work tending to reinstate them.
II. During the Monarchy. — The deplorably disorganized condition of the Levitical order was not much improved in the reign of the first Hebrew monarch. The rule of Samuel and his sons, and the prophetical character now connected with the tribe, tended to give them the position of a ruling caste. In the strong desire of the people for a king we may perhaps trace a protest against the assumption by the Levites of a higher position than that originally assigned them. The reign of Saul, in its later period, was at any rate the assertion of a self-willed power against the priestly order. The assumption of the sacrificial office, the massacre of the priests at Nob, the slaughter of the Gibeonites who were attached to their service, were parts of the same policy, and the narrative of the condemnation of Saul for the two former sins, no less than of the expiation required for the latter (2 Samuel 21), shows by what strong measures the truth, of which that policy was a subversion, had to be impressed on the minds of the Israelites. The reign of David, however, brought the change from persecution to honor. The Levites were ready to welcome a king who, though not of their tribe, had been brought up under their training, was skilled in their arts, prepared to share even in some of their ministrations, and to array himself in their apparel (2Sa 6:14); and 4600 of their number, with 3700 priests, waited upon David at Hebron — itself; it should be remembered, one of the priestly cities — to tender their allegiance (1Ch 12:26). When his kingdom was established, there came a fuller organization of the whole tribe. Its position in relation to the priesthood was once again definitely recognized. When the ark was carried up to its new resting-place in Jerusalem, their claim to be the bearers of it was publicly acknowledged (1Ch 15:2). When the sill of Uzza stopped the procession, it was placed for a time under the care of Obed-edom of Gath — probably Gath-rimmon — as one of the chiefs of the Kohathites (1Ch 13:13; Jos 21:24; 1Ch 15:18). In the procession which attended the ultimate conveyance of the ark to its new resting-place the Levites were conspicuous, wearing their linen ephods, and appearing in their new character as minstrels (1Ch 27:28). The Levites engaged in conveying the ark to Jerusalem were divided into six father's houses, headed by six chiefs, four belonging to Kohath, one to Gershon, and one to Merari (1Ch 15:5, etc.). The most remarkable feature in the Levitical duties of this period is their being employed for the first time in choral service (1Ch 15:16-24; 1Ch 16:4-36); others, again, were appointed as door-keepers (15:23, 24). Still the thorough reorganization of the whole tribe was effected by the shepherd-king in the last days of his eventful life, that the Levites might be able at the erection of the Temple "to wait on the sons of Aaron for the service of the house of Jehovah, in the courts and the chambers, and the purifying of all holy things, and the work of the service of the house of God" (1Ch 23:28). This reorganization may be described as follows:
1. Number of Levites and Age for Service. — The Levites from thirty years of age and upwards were first of all numbered, when it was found that they were 38,000 (1Ch 23:2-3); this being about 29,500 more than at the first Mosaic census. It will be seen that, according to this statement, the Levites were to commence service at thirty years of age, in harmony with the Mosaic institution (Nu 4:3,23,30); while in ver. 27 of the same chapter (i.e. 1Ch 23:27) it is said that they were to take their share of duty at twenty years of age. Kimchi. who is followed by bishop Patrick, Michaelis, and others, tries to reconcile this apparent contradiction by submitting that the former refers to a census which David made at an earlier period, which was according to the Mosaic law (Nu 4:3), while the latter speaks of a second census which he made at the close of his life, when he found that the duties of the fixed sanctuary were much lighter and more numerous, and could easily be performed at the age of twenty, but at the same time required a larger staff of men. Against this, however, Bertheau rightly urges that,
1. The 38,000 Levites of thirty years of age given in the census of ver. 3 are the only persons appointed for the different Levitical offices, and that it is nowhere stated that this number was insufficient, or that the arrangements based thereupon, as recorded in vers. 4 and 5, were not carried out; and,
2. The chronicler plainly indicates, in ver. 25, etc., that he is about to impart a different statement from that communicated in ver. 3; for he mentions therein the reason which induced David not to abide by the Mosaic institution, which prescribes the age of service to commence at thirty, and in ver. 27 expressly points out the source from which he derived this deviating account. The two accounts are, therefore, entirely different; the one records that the Levites, in David's time, were numbered from their thirtieth year; while the other, which appears to the chronicler more trustworthy, states that David introduced the practice which afterwards obtained (2Ch 31:17; Ezr 3:8) of appointing Levites to office at the age of twenty.
2. Division of the Levites according to the three great Families. — Having ascertained their number, David, following the example of the Mosaic institution, divided the Levitical fathers' houses, according to their descent from the three sons of Levi, when it was ascertained that these three sons, Gershon, Kohath, and Merari, were represented by twenty-four heads of fathers' houses (1Ch 23:6-23; 1Ch 24:20-31), as follows:
3. Classification and Duties of the Levites. — These twenty-four fathers' houses, numbering 38,000 men qualified for active service, were then divided into four classes, to each of which different duties were assigned.
(1.) The first class consisted of 24,000 Levites. These were appointed to assist the priests in the work of the sanctuary (λειτουργοῦντες). They had the custody of the official garments and sacred vessels, had to deliver them when wanted. and collect and lock them up again after they had been used; to replenish the sacrificial storehouse with cattle, flour, wine, oil, incense, and other articles used as sacrifices, and mete out each time the required quantity; to provide the different spices from which the priests compounded the incense (1Ch 9:30); to prepare the shewbread the the other baked things used at sacrifices; to assist the priests in slaughtering the victims, and to attend to the cleaning of the Temple, etc. (1Ch 23:28-32; 1Ch 9:29). They had most probably, also, the charge of the sacred treasury (1Ch 26:20-28). Like the priests, they were subdivided into twenty-four courses or companies, according to the above-named twenty-four Levitical fathers' houses, and were headed respectively by one of the twenty-four representatives of these houses.
Each of these courses was a week on duty, and was relieved on the Sabbath (2 Kings 11) by the company those turn it was to serve next, so that there were always a thousand men of this class on duty, and each man had to serve two weeks during the year. The menial work was done by the Nethinim, who were appointed to assist the Levites in these matters. SEE NETHINIM.
(2.) The second class consisted of 4000, who were the musicians (משוררים, ὑμνῳδοί). They too were subdivided into twenty-four courses or choirs, each headed by a chief (1 Chronicles 25), and are to be traced back to the three great families of Levi, inasmuch as four of the chiefs were sons. of Asaph, a descendant of Gershon (1Ch 6:24-28); six were sons of Jeduthun, also called Ethan (1Ch 15:17), a descendant of Merari (1Ch 6:28); and fourteen were sons of Haman, a descendant of Kohath (1Ch 6:18). Each of these chiefs had eleven assistant masters from his own sons and brothers, thus making together 288 (1Ch 25:7). Hence, when these are deducted from the 4000, there remain for each band consisting of twelve chief musicians, 154 or 155 subordinate musicians. As twelve musicians were required to be present at the daily morning and evening service, thus demanding 168 to be on duty every week, the twenty-four courses which relieved each other in hebdomadal rotation must have consisted of 4032, and 4000 given by the chronicler is simply to be regarded as a round number. Of this class, therefore, as of the former, each individual had to serve two weeks during the year.
(3.) The third class also consisted of 4000. They were the gate-keepers (שוערים, πυλωροί, 1Ch 26:32), and, as such, bore arms (9:19; 2Ch 31:2). They had to open and shut the gates, to keep strangers and excommunicated or unclean persons from entering the courts, and to guard the storehouse, the Temple, and its courts at night. They, too, were subdivided into twenty-four courses, and were headed by twenty-four chiefs from the three great families of Levi: seven were sons of Meshelmiah, a descendant of Kohath; thirteen were from Obed-edom, a descendant of Gershon; and four were sons of Hosah, a descendant of Merari. These three families, including the twenty-four chiefs, consisted of ninety-three members, who, together with the three heads of the families, viz. Meshelmiah, Obed-edom, and Hosah, made ninety-six, thus yielding four chiefs for each course. We thus obtain a watch-course every week of 162 or 163 persons, under the command of four superior watches, one of whom was the commander-in-chief. As 24 sentinel posts are assigned to these guards, thus making 168 a week, it appears that each person only served one day in the week (1 Chronicles 26).
(4.) The fourth class consisted of 6000, who were appointed for outward affairs (המלאכה החיצונה), as scribes and judges (1Ch 26:29-32), in contradistinction to the work connected with the service of the sanctuary. It appears that this class was subdivided into three branches: Chenaniah and his sons were for the outward business of Israel (1Ch 26:29); Hashabiah of Hebron and his brethren, numbering 1700, were officers west of Jordan, "in all the business of the Lord and in the service of the king" (ver. 30); whilst Jerijah, also of Hebron, and his brethren, numbering 2700 active men, were rulers east of Jordan "for every matter pertaining to God and affairs of the king" (vers. 31, 32). It will thus be seen that this class consisted of Kohathites, being descendants of Izhar and Hebron.
The Levites lived for the greater part of the year in their own cities, and came up at fixed periods to take their turn of work (1Ch 25; 1Ch 26). The predominance of the number twelve as the basis of classification might seem to indicate monthly periods, and the festivals of the new moon would naturally suggest such an arrangement. The analogous order in the civil and military administration (1Ch 27:1) would tend to the same conclusion. It appears, indeed, that there was a change of some kind every week (1Ch 9:25; 2Ch 23:4,8); but this is, of course, compatible with a system of rotation, which would give to each a longer period of residence, or with the permanent residence of the leader of each division within the precincts of the sanctuary. Whatever may have been the system, we must bear in mind that the duties now imposed upon the Levites were such as to require almost continuous practice. They would need, when their turn came, to be able to bear their parts in the great choral hymns of the Temple, and to take each his appointed share in the complex structure of a sacrificial liturgy, and for this a special study would be required. The education which the Levites received for their peculiar duties, no less than their connection, more or less intimate, with the schools of the prophets (see above), would tend to make them, so far as there was any education at all, the teachers of the others (there is, however, a curious Jewish tradition that the schoolmasters of Israel were of the tribe of Simeon [Solom. Jarchi on Ge 49:7, in Godwyn's
Moses and Aaron], the transcribers and interpreters of the law, the chroniclers of the times in which they lived. We have some striking instances of their appearance in this new character. One of them, Ethan the Ezrahite, takes his place among the old Hebrew sages who were worthy to be compared with Solomon, and (Psalm 89, title) his name appears as the writer of the 39th Psalm (1Ki 4:31; 1Ch 15:17). One of the first to bear the title of "scribe" is a Levite (1Ch 24:6), and this is mentioned as one of their special offices under Josiah (2Ch 34:13). They are described as "officers and judges" under David (1Ch 26:29), and, as such, are employed "in all the business of Jehovah, and in the service of the king." They are the agents of Jehoshaphat and Hezekiah in their work of reformation, and are sent forth to proclaim and enforce the law (2Ch 17:8; 2Ch 30:22). Under Josiah the function has passed into a title, and they are "the Levites that taught all Israel" (2Ch 35:3). The two books of Chronicles bear unmistakable marks of having been written by men whose interests were all gathered round the services of the Temple, and who were familiar with its records. The materials from which they compiled their narratives, and to which they refer as the works of seers and prophets, were written by men who were probably Levites themselves, or, if not, were associated with them.
This reorganization effected by David, we are told, was adopted by his son Solomon when the Temple was completed (2Ch 8:14, etc.). The revolt of the ten tribes, and the policy pursued by Jeroboam, led to a great change in the position of the Levites. They were the witnesses of an appointed order and of a central worship. Jeroboam wished to make the priests the creatures and instruments of the king, and to establish a provincial and divided worship. The natural result was that they left the cities assigned to them in the territory of Israel and gathered round the metropolis of Judah (2Ch 11:13-14). Their influence over the people at large was thus diminished, and the design of the Mosaic polity so far frustrated; but their power as a religious order was probably increased by this concentration within narrower limits. In the kingdom of Judah they were from this time forward a powerful body, politically as well as ecclesiastically. They brought with them the prophetic element of influence. in the wider as well as in the higher meaning of the word. We accordingly find them prominent in the war of Abijah against Jeroboam (2Ch 13:10-12). They are, as before noticed, sent out by Jehoshaphat to instruct and judge the people (2Ch 19:8-10). Prophets of their order encourage the king in his war against Moab and Ammon, and go before his army with their loud hallelujahs (2Ch 20:21), and join afterwards in the triumph of his return. The apostasy that followed on the marriage of Jehoram and Athaliah exposed them for a time to the dominance of a hostile system; but the services of the Temple appear to have gone on, and the Levites were again conspicuous in the counter- revolution effected by Jehoiada (2 Chronicles 23), and in restoring the Temple to its former stateliness under Jehoash (2Ch 24:5). They shared in the disasters of the reign of Amaziah (2Ch 25:24) and in the prosperity of Uzziah, and were ready, we may believe, to support the priests, who, as representing their order, opposed the sacrilegious usurpation of the latter king (2Ch 26:17). The closing of the Temple under Ahaz involved the cessation at once of their work and of the privileges (2Ch 28:24). Under Hezekiah they again became prominent, as consecrating themselves to the special work of cleansing and repairing the Temple (2Ch 29:12-15); and the hymns of David and of Asaph were again renewed. In this instance it was thought worthy of special record that those who were simply Levites were more "upright in heart" and zealous than the priests themselves (2Ch 29:34); and thus, in that great Passover, they took the place of the unwilling or unprepared members of the priesthood. Their old privileges were restored, they were put forward as teachers (2Ch 30:22), and the payment of tithes, which had probably been discontinued under Ahaz, was renewed (2Ch 31:4). The genealogies of the tribe were revised (ver. 17), and the old classification kept its ground. The reign of Manasseh was for them, during the greater part of it, a period of depression. That of Josiah witnessed a fresh revival and reorganization (2Ch 34:8-13). In the great Passover of his eighteenth year they took their place as teachers of the people, as well as leaders of their worship (2Ch 35:3,15). Then came the Eyptian and Chaldaean invasions, and the rule of cowardly and apostate kings. The sacred tribe likewise showed itself unfaithful. The repeated protests of the priest Ezekiel indicate that they had shared in the idolatry of the people. The prominence into which they had been brought in the reigns of the two reforming kings had apparently tempted them to think that they might encroach permanently on the special functions of the priesthood, and the sin of Korah was renewed (Eze 44:10-14; Eze 48:11). They had, as the penalty of their sin, to witness the destruction of the Temple and to taste the bitterness of exile.
III. After the Captivity. — The position taken by the Levites in the first movements of the return from Babylon indicates that they had cherished the traditions and maintained the practices of their tribe. They, we may believe, were those who were specially called on to sing to their conquerors one of the songs of Zion (De Wette on Psalm 137). It is noticeable, however, that in the first body of returning exiles they were present in a disproportionately small number (Ezr 2:36-42). Those who did come took their old parts at the foundation and dedication of the second Temple (Ezr 3:10; Ezr 6:18). In the next movement under Ezra their reluctance (whatever may have been its origin) was even more strongly marked. None of them presented themselves at the first great gathering (Ezr 8:15). The special efforts of Ezra did not succeed in bringing together more than 38, and their place had to be filled by 220 of the Nethinim (ib. 20). There is a Jewish tradition (Surenhusius, Mishna, Sota, 9:10) to the effect that, as a punishment for this backwardness, Ezra deprived them of their tithes, and transferred the right to the priests. Those who returned with him resumed their functions at the Feast of Tabernacles as teachers and interpreters (Ne 8:7), and those who were most active in that work were foremost also in chanting the hymn-like prayer which appears in Nehemiah 9 as the last great effort of Jewish psalmody. They were recognized in the great national covenant, and the offerings and tithes which were their due were once more solemnly secured to them (Ne 10:37-39). They took their old places in the Temple and in the villages near Jerusalem (Ne 12:29), and are present in full array at the great feast of the Dedication of the Wall. The two prophets who were active at the time of the return, Haggai and Zechariah, if they did not belong to the tribe, helped it forward in the work of restoration. The strongest measures were adopted by Nehemiah, as before by Ezra, to guard the purity of their blood from the contamination of mixed marriages (Ezr 10:23), and they were made the special guardians of the holiness of the Sabbath (Ne 13:22). The last prophet of the O.T. sees, as part of his vision of the latter days, the time when the Lord "shall purify the sons of Levi" (Mal 3:3).
The guidance of the O.T. fails us at this point, and the history of the Levites in relation to the national life becomes consequently a matter of inference and conjecture. The synagogue worship, then originated, or receiving a new development, was organized irrespectively of them [see SYNAGOGUE], and thus throughout the whole of Palestine there were means of instruction in the law with which they were not connected. This would tend materially to diminish their peculiar claim on the reverence of the people; but where priests or Levites were present in the synagogue they were still entitled to some kind of precedence, and special sections in the lessons for the day were assigned to them (Lightfoot, Hor. Heb. on Mt 4:23). During the period that followed the captivity they contributed to the formation of the so-called Great Synagogue. The Levites, with the priests, theoretically constituted and practically formed the majority of the permanent Sanhedrim (Maimonides in Lightfoot, Hor. Heb. on Mt 26:3), and as such had a large share in the administration of justice even in capital cases. In the characteristic feature of this period, as an age of scribes succeeding to an age of prophets, they, too, were likely to be sharers. The training and previous history of the tribe would predispose them to attach themselves to the new system as they had done to the old. They accordingly may have been among the scribes and elders who accumulated traditions. They may have attached themselves to the sects of Pharisees and Sadducees. But in proportion as they thus acquired fame and reputation individually, their functions as Levites became subordinate, and they were known simply as the inferior ministers of the Temple. They take no prominent part in the Maccabaean struggles, though they must have been present at the great purification of the Temple.
How strictly during this post-exilian period the Levitical duties were enforced, and how severely any neglect in performing them was punished, may be gathered from the following description in the Mishna: "The Levites had to guard twenty-four places: five were stationed at the five gates of the Mountain of the House (שערי הר הבית), four at the four corners inside, five at the five gates of the outer court, four at its four corners inside, one at the sacrificial storehouse, one at the curtain depository, and one behind the holy of holies. The inspector of the Mountain of the House went round through all the guards [every night] with burning torches before him. If the guard did not immediately stand up, the inspector of the Mountain of the House called out to him, 'Peace be with thee!' and if he perceived that he was asleep, he struck him with his stick, and even had the liberty of setting his garments on fire, and when it was asked, 'What is that noise in the court?' they were told, 'It is the noise of a Levite who is beaten, or whose clothes have been burnt, because he slept when on duty' "(Middoth, 1:1, 2). It is thought that allusion is made to the fact in the Apocalypse when it is said "Blessed is he that watcheth and keepeth his garments" (Re 16:15). As for the Levites who were the singers, they were summoned by the blast of the trumpet after the incense was kindled upon the altar, when they assembled from all parts of the spacious Temple at the orchestra which was joined to the fifteen steps at the entrance from the women's outer court to the men's outer court. They sung psalms in antiphonies, accompanied by three musical instruments — the harp, the cithern, and cymbals — while the priests were pouring out oni the altar the libation of wine. On Sunday they sung Psalm 24, on Monday Psalm 48, on Tuesday Psalm 82, on Wednesday Psalm 94, on Thursday Psalm 81, on Friday Psalm 93, and on the Sabbath Psalm 92. Each of these psalms was sung in nine sections, with eight pauses (פרקים), and at each pause the priests blew trombones, when the whole congregation fell down every time worshipping on their faces (Tamid, 7:3, 4).
The Levites had no prescribed canonical dress like the priests, as may be seen from the fact which Josephus narrates, that the singers requested Agrippa "to assemble the Sanhedrim in order to obtain leave for them to wear linen garments like the priests... contrary to the laws" (Ant. 20:9, 6). But, though they wore no official garments at the service, yet the Talmud says that they ordinarily wore a linen outer-garment with sleeves, and a head-dress; and on journeys were provided with a staff, a pocket, and a copy of the Pentateuch (Joma, 122, a). Some modifications were at this period introduced in what was considered the necessary qualification for service. The Mosaic law, it will be remembered, regarded age as the only qualification, and freed the Levite from his duties when he was fifty years old; now that singing constituted so essential a part of the Levitical duties, any Levite who had not a good voice was regarded as disqualified, and if it continued good and melodious, he was retained in service all his lifetime, irrespective of age, but if it failed he was removed from that class which constituted the choristers to the gate-keepers (Maimonides, Hilchoth Kele Ha-Kodesh, 3:8). During the period of mourning a Levite was exempt from his duties in the Temple.
The Levites appear but seldom in the history of the N.T. Where we meet with their names it is as the type of a formal, heartless worship, without sympathy and without love (Lu 10:32). The same parable indicates Jericho as having become — what it had not been originally (see Joshua 21:1 Chronicles 6) — one of the great stations at which they and the priests resided (Lightfoot, Cent. Chorograph. 100:47). In Joh 1:19 they appear as delegates of the Jews — that is, of the Sanhedrim coming to inquire into the credentials of the Baptist, and giving utterance to their own Messianic expectations. The mention of a Levite of Cyprus in Ac 4:36, shows that the changes of the previous century had carried that tribe also into "the dispersed among the Gentiles." The conversion of Barnabas and Mark was probably no solitary instance of the reception by them of the new faith, which was the fulfillment of the old. If "a great company of the priests were obedient to the faith" (Ac 6:7), it is not too bold to believe that their influence may have led Levites to follow their example; and thus the old psalms, and possibly also the old chants of the Temple service, might be transmitted through the agency of those who had been specially trained in them to be the inheritance of the Christian Church. Later on in the history of the first century, when the Temple had received its final completion under the younger Agrippa, we find one section of the tribe engaged in a new movement. With that strange unconsciousness of a coming doom which so often marks the last stage of a decaying system, the singers of the Temple thought it a fitting time to apply for the right of wearing the same linen garment as the priests, and persuaded the king that the concession of this privilege would be the glory of his reign (Joseph. Ant. 20:8, 6). The other Levites at the same time as for and obtained the privilege of joining in the Temple choruses, from which hitherto they had been excluded. The destruction of the Temple so soon after they had attained the object of their desires came as with a grim irony to sweep away their occupation, and so to deprive them of every vestige of that which had distinguished them from other Israelites. They were merged in the crowd of captives that were scattered over the Roman world, and disappear from the stage of history. The rabbinic schools, that rose out of the ruins of the Jewish polity, fostered a studied and habitual depreciation of the Levitical order as compared with their own teachers (M'Caul, Old Paths, page 435). Individual families, it may be, cherished the tradition that their fathers, as priests or Levites. had taken part in the services of the Temple. If their claims were recognized, they received the old marks of reverence in the worship of the synagogue (comp. the Regulations of the Great Synagogue of London, in Margoliouth's Hist. of the Jews in Great Britain, 3:270), took precedence in reading the lessons of the day (Lightfoot, Ior. Heb. on Mt 4:23), and pronounced the blessing at the close (Basnage, Hist. des Juifs, 6:790). Their existence was acknowledged in some of the laws of the Christian emperors (Basnage, 1.c.). The tenacity with which the exiled race clung to these recollections is shown in the prevalence of the names (Cohen, and Levita or Levy) which imply that those who bear them are of the sons of Aaron or the tribe of Levi, and in the custom which exempts the first-born of priestly or Levitical families from the payments which are still offered, in the case of others, as the redemption of the first-born (Leo of Modena, in Picart's Cerenonies Religieuses, 1:26; Allen's Modern Judaism, page 297). In the mean time, the old name had acquired a new signification. The early writers of the Christian Church applied to the later hierarchy the language of the earlier, and gave to the bishops and presbyters the title (ἱερεῖς) that had belonged to the sons of Aaron, while the deacons were habitually spoken of as Levites (Suicer, Thes. s.v. Λευίτης).
Though the destruction of the Temple and the dispersion of the Jews have necessarily done away with the Levitical duties which were strictly local, yet the Levites, like the priests, still exist, have to this day certain functions to perform, and continue to enjoy certain privileges and immunities. On those festivals whereon the priests pronounce the benediction on the congregation of Israel during the morning service, as prescribed in Nu 6:22-27. the Levites have "to wait on the priests," and wash their hands prior to the giving of the said blessing. At the reading of the law in the synagogue, the Levite is called to the second section, the first being assigned to the priest. SEE HAPHTARAH. Moreover, like the priests, the Levites are exempt from redeeming their first-born, and this exemption even extends to women of the tribe of Levi who marry Israelites, i.e. Jews of any other tribe.
IV. Literature. — Mishna, Erachin, 2:3-6; Tamid, 7:3,4; Succa, 5:4; Bikkurim, 3:4; Maimonides, Jod Ha-Chezaka, Hilchoth Kele Ha-Mikash, 3:1-11; Michaelis, Commentaries on the Laws of Moses, sec. 52 (English translation, 1:252 sq.); Bahr, Symbolik des Mosaischen Cultus, 2:3, 39, 165, 342, 428; Herzfeld, Geschichte des Volkes Israel mon der Zerstorung des ersten Tempels, pages 126, 204, 387-424 (Bruns. 1847); the same, Geschichte des Volkes Israel von der Vollendung es zweiten Tempels, 1:55-58, 63-66, 141 (Nordhausen, 1855); Saalschtitz, Das Mosaische Recht, 1:89-106 (Berl. 1853); the same, Archaologie der Hebraer, volume 2, chapter 78, page 342 (Konigsb. 1856); Keil, Handbuch der biblischen Archiologie, 1:160 (Frankfort-on-the-Main, 1858); Kalisch, Historical and Critical Commentary on Genesis, pages 735-744 (Lond. 1848); Brown,
Antiquities, 1:301-347; Godwyn, Moses and Aaron, 1:5; Witsius, Dissert. II. de Theocrat. Israelitar.; Jennings, Antiquities, pages 184-206; Carpzov, Apparat. Crit. (see Index); Saubert, Comm. de Sacerdot. et sacris Hebr. personis, in Opp. page 283 sq.; Gramberg, Krit. Geschichte d. Religionsideen des Alten Test. volume 1, 100:3; Reland, Antiq. Sacr. 2:6; Ugolino, Sacerdot. Hebr. chapter 12, in his Thesaur. volume 13; Schacht, Animadvers. ad ken. page 525 sq.; Bauer, Gottesd. Verfassung. 2:377 sq.; Otho, Lex. Rab. page 368 sq.; Willisch, Defiliis Levitarum (Lips. 1708).