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.
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.
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
- 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.
OriginsIsraelites 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.
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 the wilderness.