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The Tribe of Levi in the Bible

Jack Woerner, Tommi Waters
  • Author
    Jack Woerner

    BA in Political Science with Emphasis on Social Studies Education at Brevard College, 6 years experience (2 years online) teaching Economics, Personal Finance, APUS Government and more. Certified Gifted/Talented Teacher.

  • Instructor
    Tommi Waters

    TK Waters has been an adjunct professor of religion at Western Kentucky University for six years. They have a master's degree in religious studies from Western Kentucky University and a bachelor's degree in English literature and religious studies from Western Kentucky University.

Explore the history of the Tribe of Levi. Learn about Levites in the Bible such as Aaron. Discover facts about the Levites and learn about their status today. Updated: 03/14/2022

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The Tribe of Levi in the Bible: Overview

The Tribe of Levi in the Bible is part of the 12 tribes of Israel who descended from the family line of Levi, son of Jacob, also known as Israel. In the Abrahamic religions, Jacob, who was the grandson of Abraham, is seen as the patriarchal figure for many Israelites. Abrahamic religions like Islam, Christianity, and Judaism view the descendants of Jacob as an important part of their respective religion's history. Most of the history of the Levites in the Bible is covered in the Old Testament of the Bible, also known as the Torah. According to the Bible, members of the Tribe of Levi mostly served Israel in religious matters but sometimes political matters as well. They were important to Israel because they mostly oversaw the administration of cities and the maintenance of holy sites like temples.

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  • 0:04 History of the Levites
  • 1:32 Levite Symbols
  • 2:29 Levite Descendents
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What Is a Levite?

Who were the Levites and why are the Levites special? A Levite is a direct descendant of Levi, but there were also certain requirements one had to meet to be classified as a Levite. The Old Testament of the Bible, also known as the Torah in Judaism, states that the original Levites were firstborn sons of the tribe. These boys grew up to be the higher-ranking priests in Israel called Kohanim. Levites wore an agate, a type of colorful stone, to signify what tribe they belonged to.

Kohanim

The Kohanim were an elite group from the tribe of Levi who made up the priest class. They were responsible for the leadership at the Jerusalem Temple, the Israelite building believed to contain the presence of God. The Kohanim oversaw the staff of the temple like cleaners, guards, maintenance crews, and construction workers who were lower-ranked Levites. Kohanims' other responsibilities and traits include:

  • Hosting religious ceremonies
  • Cannot drink an abundance of wine
  • Could not defile their bodies by touching dead bodies
  • Only marry certain women
  • Wear a strict uniform while in Temple
  • Bless the people of Israel during certain ceremonies
  • Not allowed to own land or farm

Others

Other people of the tribe who were not part of the priest class hold a variety of other roles:

  • Guarding the temple and guarding other religious locations or assets
  • Sing or be a part of the temple choir
  • Help relocate, transport, or move religious artifacts
  • Construct or maintain holy buildings

History and Facts About Levites in the Bible

There are many facts about Levites in the Bible and other ancient documents. The tribe is one of 12 tribes of Israel (Jacob) that were given the land known today as Israel in exchange for their faith in God. Before settling in Israel and before the tribes were organized, the Israelites experienced many trials and triumphs throughout their history.

Origins

Israelites had built a civilization in Canaan, modern-day Israel, during the Iron Age, but it collapsed after the more powerful Assyrian Empire wiped out the strongholds of Israel. Many Israelites, including the Levites, became servants or slaves to stronger empires and civilizations around the region. According to the Torah, many Israelites were sold into slavery to the Egyptians, while other Israelites were spread throughout the Assyrian Empire.

The Exodus

Moses, who is a legendary Levite, was called upon by God to rescue the Israelites from Egypt. The Biblical narrative then describes the timeline of how God assists Moses in rescuing Hebrew people from captivity. When the Egyptian Pharaoh refused to release the people of Israel, God inflicted damage on Egypt with natural disasters and disease. Moses eventually is able to lead the Hebrew people out of Egypt and into the Wilderness. This event is known as the Exodus and is recorded in the second book of the Bible. Moses and the Hebrew people wander in the Wilderness for some time before Moses is said to have recorded the Torah to explain everything that happened to the Israelites. Moses also writes out the 12 commandments in which the Jewish people most live in accordance.

Ancient Israel and the Temple

Once the Israelites returned to their ancestral home of Israel, the tribes were once again reorganized. The Levite Tribe became the leaders at the Temple in Jerusalem. The high priests wore the tribe of Levi symbol that was the breastplate of judgment.

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Frequently Asked Questions

Was Moses a Levite?

Moses was a Levite who was critical in leading the Hebrew people out of Egyptian captivity which is recorded in the Exodus. Moses's brother, Aaron, was also a Levite and both were leaders of the Hebrew people on their return to the Holy Land.

What does the Bible say about Levi?

The Bible explains that Levi was a descendent of Jacob who is known as Israel. Jacob was the grandson of Abraham who is the root patriarch of Islam, Judaism, and Christianity.

Why is the Tribe of Levi so important?

The Tribe of Levi, known as Levites, played an important role in the history and organization of Israel. Levites were mostly responsible for religious matters in Israel and served as priests.

What was the role of the Levites in the Bible?

Levites served as the priests for Israel and looked over the management of the temple or other holy sites. The Levites also assisted Israel in political and educational matters.

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