Tribe of Levi: History, Symbol & Descendants

An error occurred trying to load this video.

Try refreshing the page, or contact customer support.

Coming up next: Tribe of Judah: History & Descendants

You're on a roll. Keep up the good work!

Take Quiz Watch Next Lesson
Your next lesson will play in 10 seconds
  • 0:04 History of the Levites
  • 1:32 Levite Symbols
  • 2:29 Levite Descendents
  • 3:08 Lesson Summary
Save Save Save

Want to watch this again later?

Log in or sign up to add this lesson to a Custom Course.

Log in or Sign up

Speed Speed

Recommended Lessons and Courses for You

Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Tommi Waters

TK Waters has a bachelor's degree in literature and religious studies and a master's degree in religious studies and teaches Hebrew Bible at Western Kentucky University.

The tribe of Levi is one of the most important tribes of Israel, being the tribe from which the religious authorities came. Learn more in this lesson about the tribe of Levi's history, symbols, and descendants.

History of the Levites

The Levites were one of the most important tribes of Israel because they were the tribe responsible for the religious leadership of the Jews. But where did this tribe come from? According to Jewish tradition, Jacob, whose name was later changed to Israel, was one of the patriarchs of the Israelites. Jacob had 12 sons and, on his deathbed, left certain responsibilities to his sons. Despite the later importance of the Levites, Jacob didn't speak kindly to Levi when on his deathbed, because Levi and his brother Simeon had earlier murdered an entire town's males to avenge Dinah, their sister who was defiled by and then married to Shechem.

It was not until later, when Moses and Aaron became prominent leaders of Israel, that the Levites rose to importance. Both brothers were from the tribe of Levi, and both guided the Israelites. While Moses acted as the main leader of the Israelites, Aaron took over the religious responsibilities. This prepared the way for the priesthood later, who were the Jews exclusively responsible for religious rituals. To be a legitimate priest, according to most Jews, the person had to be from the tribe of Levi.

As a heavily religious group, the priesthood for the Israelites was incredibly important. The priests would engage in rituals in the Jerusalem Temple, the building that was thought to contain the presence of God in the Ark of the Covenant. The priests would make animal sacrifices in the temple to appease God. On the Day of Atonement, better known as Yom Kippur today, the high priest, a Levite superior to the other priests, would offer an animal sacrifice in the innermost and holiest room of the temple to atone for the sins of the people.

Levite Symbols

While the Levites don't have one specific symbol that represents their tribe like other tribes do, they have a few symbols that are important to the history and purpose of the tribe. One of these is the pitcher. The pitcher is often used as a symbol for the Levites because it signifies the ritual of cleansing, like the Levitical priests would do before entering the temple or performing sacrifices.

The high priest wore a piece of clothing called the breastplate of judgment, according to Exodus 28. This breastplate later became a symbol of importance for the Levites. While the gold and linen used to make the piece were luxurious, the importance of the piece was the rows of stones or jewels. The breastplate had three rows of four squares on the front, one square for each of the 12 tribes of Israel. Each tribe had a specific stone or jewel and its name inscribed on it, showing the importance of the priesthood as all tribes were symbolically contained in it. The jewel for the tribe of Levi was agate, a type of beautiful, colorful stone with a ringed pattern, like a tree trunk.

To unlock this lesson you must be a Member.
Create your account

Register to view this lesson

Are you a student or a teacher?

Unlock Your Education

See for yourself why 30 million people use

Become a member and start learning now.
Become a Member  Back
What teachers are saying about
Try it risk-free for 30 days

Earning College Credit

Did you know… We have over 200 college courses that prepare you to earn credit by exam that is accepted by over 1,500 colleges and universities. You can test out of the first two years of college and save thousands off your degree. Anyone can earn credit-by-exam regardless of age or education level.

To learn more, visit our Earning Credit Page

Transferring credit to the school of your choice

Not sure what college you want to attend yet? has thousands of articles about every imaginable degree, area of study and career path that can help you find the school that's right for you.

Create an account to start this course today
Try it risk-free for 30 days!
Create an account