Home >> Encyclopedia Americana, Volume 17 >> Lemurs to Lied Von Der Glocke >> Levites


priests, tribe and position

LEVITES, levits, those of the tribe of Levi who were not priests. They were the min isters specially singled out for the service of the sanctuary, and, with the priests, formed the sacerdotal tribe. After the idolatry of the golden calf, the Levites were the first to rally round Moses, and then the idea of a special consecration of "an Israel within an Israel"' de veloped itself and the Levites thenceforth occu pied a distinct position. They became guardians of the tabernacle and no others approached it under penalty of death. They appear to have been in part only descendants of Levi, others being taken into the tribe at convenience. From the first the Kohathites, as nearest of kin to the priests, had the highest offices assigned them. They bore the vessels of the sanctuary and the ark itself. A permanent arrangement was made for their maintenance. They were to receive the tithes of the produce of the land, and in their turn to offer a tithe to the priests: When the tabernacle should have a permanent place, the whole tribe was to be assigned 48 cities, six of which were to be cities of refuge. The Le vites were moreover to preserve, transcribe and interpret the law and to read it every seventh year at the Feast of Tabernacles. They were

not included in the general census of the peo ple, but in a separate census (1 Chron. xxiii, 3) ; their number is given at 38,000. The vessels of the temple and sanctuaries were placed in their charge and they prepared animals for the sac rifices. Keeping watch and menial duties of cleaning the places of worship also fell to their share. They were the assistants and servants of the Aaronite priests, and at some periods seem to have closely approached the priests in dignity and position, and at others to be de graded and treated as menials. Their position was much changed by the revolt of the 10 tribes, and after the captivity, in the movement under Ezra, not more than 38 could be brought together. The purity of their blood was strin gently guarded both by Ezra and Nehemiah. After the destruction of the temple in the dis persion, they disappeared from history, being merged in the crowd of captives scattered over the Roman world. See LEVITICUS.