Certain priests of idolatrous Judean shrines (distinguished by him as " Levites ") he deprives of priestly functions, degrading them to the rank of temple menials; and he takes from the civil ruler all authority over public religion, permitting him merely to furnish material for sacrifices.
LEVITES, or sons of Levi (son of Jacob by Leah), a sacred caste in ancient Israel, the guardians of the temple service at Jerusalem.'
All are "Levites" by descent, and are thus correlated in the genealogical and other lists, but the true priesthood is confined to the sons of Aaron, while the mass of the Levites are subordinate servants who are not entitled to approach the altar or to perform any strictly priestly function.
First (a), in the earlier biblical writings which describe the state of affairs under the Hebrew monarchy there is not this fundamental distinction among the Levites, and, although a list of Aaronite high-priests is preserved in a late source, internal details and the evidence of the historical books render its value extremely doubtful (1 Chron.
5); and the present book of Deuteronomy, in promulgating the reform, represents the Levites as poor scattered "sojourners" and recommends them to the charity of the people (Deut.
The Levites who had been idolatrous are punished by exclusion from the proper priestly work, and take the subordinate offices which the uncircumcised and polluted foreigners had formerly filled, while the sons of Zadok, who had remained faithful, are henceforth the legitimate priests, the only descendants of Levi who are allowed to minister unto Yahweh (Ezek.
In the last stage (c) the exclusion of the ordinary Levites from all share in the priesthood of the sons of Aaron is looked upon as a matter of course, dating from the institution of priestly worship by Moses.
6-10), and so far from any degradation being attached to the rank and file of the Levites, their position is naturally an honourable one compared with that of the mass of non-Levitical worshippers (see Num.
Baxter, Sanctuary and Sacrifice (2895)' it existed in the post-exilic age was really the work of Moses, it is inexplicable that all trace of it was so completely lost that the degradation of the non-Zadokites in Ezekiel was a new feature and a punishment, whereas in the Mosaic law the ordinary Levites, on the traditional view, was already forbidden priestly rights under penalty of death.
There is in fact no clear evidence of the existence of a distinction between priests and Levites in any Hebrew writing demonstrably earlier than the Deuteronomic stage, although, even as the Pentateuch contains ordinances which have been carried back by means of a "legal convention" to the days of Moses, writers have occasionally altered earlier records of the history to agree with later standpoints.'
Some of the latter were either not conquered by the Israelites until long after the invasion, or, if conquered, were not held by Levites; and names are wanting of places in which priests are actually known to have lived.
Further, instead of holding cities and pasture-grounds, the Levites are sometimes described as scattered and divided (Gen.
This fluctuation finds a parallel in the age at which the Levites were to serve; for neither has any reasonable explanation been found on the traditional view.
When, in accordance with the usual methods of Hebrew genealogical history, the Levites are defined as the descendants of Levi, the third son of Jacob by Leah (Gen.
3 4), a literal interpretation is unnecessary, and the only narrative wherein Levi appears as a person evidently delineates under the form of personification events in the history of the Levites (Gen.
The Septuagint translators did not read the clause which speaks of "priests and Levites," and 2 Chron.
15, too, brings in the Levites, but the verse breaks the connexion between 14 and 16.
The genealogies in their complete form pay little heed to Moses, although Aaron and Moses could typify the priesthood and other Levites generally (i Chron.
There are links, also, which unite Moses with Kenite, Rechabite, Calebite and Edomite families, and the Levitical names themselves are equally connected with the southern tribes - of Judah and Simeon and with the Edomites.4 It is to be inferred, therefore, that some relationship subsisted, or was thought to subsist, among (i) the Levites, (2) clans actually located in the south of Palestine, and (3) families whose names and traditions point to a southern origin.
The exact meaning of these features is not clear, but if it be remembered (a) that the Levites of post-exilic literature represent only the result of a long and intricate development, (b) that the name "Levite," in the later stages at least, was extended to include all priestly servants, and (c) that the priesthoods, in tending to become hereditary, included priests who were Levites by adoption and not by descent, it will be recognized that the examination of the evidence for the earlier stages cannot confine itself to those narratives where the specific term alone occurs.
That these places (in the district of Kadesh) were traditionally associated with the origin of the Levites is suggested by various Levitical stories, although it is in a narrative now in a context pointing to Horeb or Sinai that the Levites are Israelites who for some cause (now lost) severed themselves from their people and took up a stand on behalf of Yahweh (Exod.
Similarly the story of the original selection of the Levites in the wilderness mentions an uncompromising massacre of idolaters.
It is from a similar standpoint that Aaron is condemned for the manufacture of the golden calf, and a compiler (not the original writer) finds its sequel in the election of the faithful Levites.'
Again, in the composite story of Korah's revolt, one version reflects a contest between Aaronites and the other Levites who claimed the priesthood (Num.
8-1r, 36-40), while another shows the supremacy of the Levites as a caste either over the rest of the people (?
3 But the history of the Levites in the early post-exilic stage and onwards is a separate problem, and the work of criticism has not advanced sufficiently for a proper estimate of the various vicissitudes.
The view that the Levites came from the south may be combined with the conviction that there Yahweh had his seat (cf.
There are vicissitudes and varying standpoints which point to a complicated literary history and require some historical background, and, apart from actual changes in the history of the Levites, some allowance must be made for the real character of the circles where the diverse records originated or through which they passed.
4 Even the tithes enjoyed by the Levites (Num.
For some suggestive remarks on the relation between nomadism and the Levites, and their influence upon Israelite religion and literary tradition, see E.
Smith's article "Levites" in the 9th edition of the Ency.
For the history of the Levites in the post-exilic and later ages, see the commentaries on Numbers (by G.
Levites, existed, to whom a higher professional prestige belonged.
As it was impossible to find a place for the officiating priests of the high places, non-levitical as well as levitical, in the single sanctuary, it became necessary to restrict the functions of sacrifice to the Levites only as well as to the existing official priesthood of the Jerusalem temple (see Priest).
The Levites, who formerly ministered in the high places, now discharge the subordinate offices of gate-keepers and slaughterers of the sacrificial victims.
Levites, Prophet, Sac Rifice).
If nomadism may be recognized as one of the factors in the growth of Yahwism, there is something to be said for the hypothesis which associates it with the clans connected with the Levites (see E.
4), like the remarkable vicissitudes in the traditions of Moses, Aaron and the Levites (qq.v.), represents changing situations of real significance, whose true place in the history can with difficulty be recovered.
The true inwardness of this movement, its extent and its history, can hardly be recovered at present, but it is noteworthy that the evidence generally involves the Levites, an ecclesiastical body which underwent an extremely intricate development.
Moreover, the maintenance of the Temple servants called for supervision; the customary allowances had not been paid to the Levites who had come to Jerusalem after the smaller shrines had been put down, and they had now forsaken the city.
For this he was driven out, and, taking refuge with the Samaritans, founded a rival temple and priesthood upon Mt Gerizim, to which repaired other priests and Levites who had been guilty of mixed marriages.
It is related that Ezra, the scribe and priest, returned to Jerusalem with priests and Levites, lay exiles, and a store of vessels for the Temple.
With his priests and Levites, and with the chiefs and nobles of the Jewish families, the high priest directs this small state, and his death marks an epoch as truly as did that of the monarchs in the past.
Meanwhile Agrippa gave the Levites the right to wear the linen robe of the priests and sanctioned the use of the temple treasure to provide work - the paving of the city with white stones - for the workmen who had finished the Temple (64) and now stood idle.
(See Levites.) The difficulty of the historical problems increases when the narratives of David are more closely studied: (a) 2 Sam.
Jeremiah promised them as a reward of their obedience that they should never lack a man to represent them (as a priest) before Yahweh, whence perhaps the later Jewish tradition that the Rechabites intermarried with the Levites and so entered the temple service.
The ark was borne by the Levites (Deut.
(See Levites.) An interesting passage relating the commencement of an Israelite journey vividly illustrates the power of the sacred object.
29 sqq.) - that is, with the south Palestinian clans with which the term "Levites" appears to be closely connected.