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Levi LACMA M.88.91.296b.jpg
Levi, from the Twelve sons of Jacob, Holland c. 1590
Died Age 137 Exodus 6:16

Levi (or Levy) (/ˈlv/, Hebrew: לֵּוִי‎; Standard Levi Tiberian Lēwî) was, according to the Book of Genesis, the third son of Jacob and Leah, and the founder of the Israelite Tribe of Levi (the Levites). Certain religious and political functions were reserved for the Levites.


The Torah suggests that the name of Levi refers to Leah's hope for Jacob to join with her, implying a derivation from yillaweh, meaning he will join, but some Biblical scholars have proposed quite different origins of the name. These scholars suspect that it may simply mean priest, either as a loan word from the Minaean lawi'u, meaning priest, or by referring to those people who were joined to the ark of the covenant. Another possibility is that the Levites originated as migrants, and that the name Levites indicates their joining with either the Israelites in general, or the earlier Israelite priesthood in particular.[1] In the Book of Jubilees 28:14-15; it says that Levi was born "in the new moon of the first month" which means that he was born on 1 Nissan.[2]

Simeon and Levi slay Hamor and Shechem

Levi and the "Blessing of Jacob"[edit]

In the Book of Genesis, Levi and his brother, Simeon, exterminate the city of Shechem in revenge for the rape of Dinah, seizing the wealth of the city and killing the men.[3] The brothers had earlier misled the inhabitants of Shechem by consenting to Dinah's rapist marrying her, and when Jacob hears about their destruction of Shechem, he castigates them for it.[4] In the Blessing of Jacob, Jacob is described as imposing a curse on the Levites, by which they would be scattered, in punishment for Levi's actions in Shechem.[5] Some textual scholars date the Blessing of Jacob to a period between just one and two centuries prior to the Babylonian captivity, and some Biblical scholars regard this curse, and Dinah herself as an aetiological postdiction to explain the fates of the tribe of Simeon and the Levites, with one possible explanation of the Levites' scattered nature being that the priesthood was originally open to any tribe, but gradually became seen as a distinct tribe itself (the Levites).[1] Nevertheless, Isaac, Levi's grandfather, give a special blessing about the lineage of priests of God.[6]

The family of Levi[edit]

In the Book of Genesis, Levi is described as having fathered three sons—Gershon, Kohath, and Merari.[7] A similar genealogy is given in the Book of Exodus, where it is added that among Kohath's sons was one—Amram—who married a woman named Jochebed, who was closely related to his father, and they were the biological parents of Moses, Aaron, and Miriam;[8] though some Greek and Latin manuscripts of the Torah state that Jochebed was Amram's father's cousin, the Masoretic Text states that she was his father's sister,[9] and the Septuagint mentions that she was one of his father's sisters. The Masoretic Text's version of Levi's genealogy thus implies (and in Numbers 26:59, explicitly states) that Levi also had a daughter (Jochebed), and the Septuagint implies further daughters. The names of Levi's sons, and possible daughter, are interpreted in classical rabbinical literature as being reflections on their future destiny.[10] In some apocryphal texts such as the Testament of Levi, and the Book of Jubilees, Levi's wife, his children's mother, is named as Milkah, a daughter of Aram.[11][12]

Some scholars attribute the genealogy to a hypothetical Book of Generations, a document originating from a similar religiopolitical group and date to the priestly source.[13] According to some Biblical scholars, the Torah's genealogy for Levi's descendants, is actually an aetiological myth reflecting the fact that there were four different groups among the Levites – the Gershonites, Kohathites, Merarites, and Aaronids.[14] Aaron—the eponymous ancestor of the Aaronids—couldn't be portrayed as a brother to Gershon, Kohath, and Merari, as[further explanation needed] the narrative about the birth of Moses (brother of Aaron), which textual scholars attribute to the earlier Elohist source, mentions only that both his parents were Levites (without identifying their names).[15] Some Biblical scholars suspect that the Elohist account offers both matrilinial and patrilinial descent from Levites in order to magnify the religious credentials of Moses.[14]

Family tree[edit]

Sarah[16] Abraham Hagar Haran
Ishmael Milcah Lot Iscah
Ishmaelites 7 sons[17] Bethuel 1st daughter 2nd daughter
Isaac Rebecca Laban Moabites Ammonites
Esau Jacob Rachel
Edomites Zilpah
1. Reuben
2. Simeon
3. Levi
4. Judah
9. Issachar
10. Zebulun
Dinah (daughter)
7. Gad
8. Asher
5. Dan
6. Naphtali
11. Joseph
12. Benjamin

Jacob Leah
Gershon Kohath Merari
Libni Shimei Izhar Hebron Uzziel Mahli Mushi
Jochebed Amram Mishael Elzaphan Zithri
Miriam Aaron Moses Zipporah
Gershom Eliezer

In post-Torah tradition[edit]

Levi, Russian icon

In accordance with his role as founder of the Levites, Levi is referred to as being particularly pious. The Blessing of Moses, which some textual scholars attribute to a period just before the deuteronomist, speaks about Levi via an allegorical comparison to Moses himself,[18] which hagaddah take to support the characterisation of Levi (and his progeny) as being by far the greatest of his brothers in respect to piety. The apocryphal Prayer of Asenath, which textual scholars believe dates from some time after the first century AD (scholarship in regards to the dating is currently quite contentious, with dates ranging from near the first century, to the fourth or fifth centuries),[1] describes Levi as a prophet and saint, able to forecast the future, understand heavenly writings (astrology? weather trends?), and someone who admonishes the people to be forgiving, as well as in awe of God. The Book of Malachi argues that the Levites were chosen by Yahweh to be the priests, because Levi as minister of God,[19] was specified only the true religious regulations, was reverent, revered Yahweh, was in awe of the God's name, upheld peace, was a model of good morality, and turned many people from sin.[20]

In the Testament of Levi, Levi is described as having had two visions. The first vision covered eschatological issues, portraying the seven heavens, the Jewish Messiah, and Judgement Day. The second vision portrays seven angels bringing Levi seven insignia signifying priesthood, prophecy, and judgement; in the vision, after the angels anoint Levi, and initiate him as a priest, they tell him of the future of his descendants, mentioning Moses, the Aaronid priesthood, and a time when there would be priest-kings; this latter point was of particular interest to the Maccabean period of John Hyrcanus, who was both a high priest, and warrior-king. According to some textual scholars this is to be expected, since the Testament of Levi is believed to have been written during Maccabean rule, between 153BC and 107BC, and closer to the latter date.[21] The Book of Jubilees similarly has Isaac telling Levi of the future of his descendants, again predicting priesthood, prophets, and political power,[22] and additionally describes Jacob as entrusting Levi with the secrets of the ancients, so that they would be known only to the Levites;[23] however, like the Testament of Levi, the Book of Jubilees is regarded as a Maccabean-era document by some scholars.[1]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c d "Levi, Tribe of", in the 1906 Jewish Encyclopedia
  2. ^ "Jubilees 28". www.pseudepigrapha.com. Retrieved 2016-12-16. 
  3. ^ Genesis 34
  4. ^ Genesis 34:30–31
  5. ^ Genesis 49:–7
  6. ^ Ginzberg, Louis (1909). The Legends of the Jews Vol I : Isaac blesses Levi and Judah (Translated by Henrietta Szold) Philadelphia: Jewish Publication Society.
  7. ^ Genesis 46:11
  8. ^ Exodus 6:16–20
  9. ^ New American Bible, footnote to Exodus 6:20
  10. ^ Numbers Rabbah 3:12
  11. ^ Jubilees 34:20
  12. ^ Testament of Levi 11
  13. ^ On the similarities between the outlooks of P and the Book of Generations, see Friedman, Richard Elliot Who Wrote The Bible? (1987), pp. 218-19,
  14. ^ a b Peake's commentary on the Bible
  15. ^ Exodus 2:1–2
  16. ^ Genesis 20:12: Sarah was the half–sister of Abraham.
  17. ^ Genesis 22:21-22: Uz, Buz, Kemuel, Chesed, Hazo, Pildash, and Jidlaph
  18. ^ Deuteronomy 33:8–10
  19. ^ Ginzberg, Louis (1909). The Legends of the Jews Vol II : Ascension of Levi (Translated by Henrietta Szold) Philadelphia: Jewish Publication Society.
  20. ^ Malachi 2:4-6
  21. ^ Public Domain This article incorporates text from a publication now in the public domainChisholm, Hugh, ed. (1911). "article name needed". Encyclopædia Britannica (11th ed.). Cambridge University Press. 
  22. ^ Jubilees 31:12–17
  23. ^ Jubilees 45:16

External links[edit]