LEVITES, or sons of Levi (son of Jacob by Leah), a sacred caste in ancient Israel, the guardians of the temple service at Jerusalem.'
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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).
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.
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.
29 sqq.) - that is, with the south Palestinian clans with which the term "Levites" appears to be closely connected.
1 The singers or Asaphites are at this time still distinguished from the Levites; the oldest attempt to incorporate them with that tribe appears in Exod.
But when singers and Levites were fused the Asaphites ceased to be the only singers, and ultimately, as we see in Chronicles, they were distinguished from the Korahites and reckoned to Gershom (i Chron.
5) and other Jewish traditions, these psalms were sung by the Levites at the Feast of Tabernacles on the fifteen steps or degrees that led from the women's to the men's court.
But when we look at the psalms themselves we see that they must originally have been a hymn-book, not for the Levites, but for the laity who carne up to Jerusalem at the great pilgrimage feasts, and who themselves remembered, or their fathers had told them, the days when, as we see in Ps.
A good deal is said about the musical services of the Levites in Chronicles, both in the account given of David's ordinances and in the descriptions of particular festival occasions.
It was allotted to the Levites, but its original inhabitants were not driven out until the time of Solomon, when "Pharaoh, king of Egypt" took the city and gave it as a dowry to his daughter, Solomon's wife (1 Kings ix.
Nevertheless 3000 of them fell at the hands of the Levites who, in answer to the summons of Moses, declared themselves on the side of Yahweh.
Malachi indeed assumes that the " whole tithe " - the Deuteronomic phrase for the tithe in which the Levites shared - is not stored in each township, but brought into the treasury at the Temple.
The same linguistic criteria recur, and the interest in lists and genealogies, in priests and Levites, and in the temple service point unmistakably to the presence of the same hand (the so-called "chronicler") in ChroniclesEzra-Nehemiah.
I-4), 2 and of various priests and Levites, an account is given of the dedication of the walls (xii.
On this occasion he vindicated the sanctity of the temple by expelling Tobiah, reorganized the supplies for the Levites, took measures to uphold the observance of the Sabbath, and protested energetically against the foreign marriages.
The Levites, who were exempted from military duties, were separately enumerated from the age of thirty upwards, and a similar process was ordained subsequently by Solomon, in order to distribute amongst them the functions assigned to the priestly body in connexion with the temple.