Third son of Jacob by Leah and one of the twelve Patriarchs of the tribes of Israel; born at Padan-aram (Gen. xxix. 34, xxxv. 23; I Chron. ii. 1). The name is derived from (= "to be joined"; "Now this time will my husband be joined unto me," Gen. xxix. 34). Levi joined Simeon in the destruction of the Shechemites to avenge the honor of their sister Dinah, for which both were severely censured by their father (Gen. xxxiv. 25-30). When Jacob called his sons together to bless them, Levi and Simeon, notwithstanding their plea that they had acted in defense of their sister, were again condemned (Gen. xxxiv. 31, xlix. 5-7). Levi had one daughter, Jochebed, the mother of Moses, and three sons; he emigrated with them to Egypt with his father and brothers, and died there at the age of 137 years (Gen. xlvi. 8, 11 et seq.; Ex. i. 1-2; ii. 1. vi. 16, 20).
Levi, as ancestor of the priestly tribe chosen to guard the Sanctuary and the Law, appears prominently in both apocryphal and rabbinical literature. At variance with Gen. xxix. 34 and Num. xviii. 2, 4, the name "Levi" is interpreted as "the one who joins the sons to their Father in heaven" (Gen. R. lxxi. 5; see another interpretation in Ex. R. i. 4). He was "separated" by his father, Jacob, in accordance with the latter's vow (Gen. xxviii. 22), as the tenth son, either by counting from the youngest upward or by some more complicated process, and so consecrated to the priesthood (Book of Jubilees, xxii. 3-10; Targ. Yer. to Gen. xxxii. 25; Gen. R. lxx. 7; comp. Epstein, "Mi-Ḳadmoniyyot ha-Yehudim," p. 97; comp. Pirḳe R. El. xxxvii., according to which he was consecrated by the archangel Michael). In the Testaments of the Twelve Patriarchs (Levi, 1-9) are described two visions Levi had—before and after he had avenged the crimes perpetrated by Hamor, the son of Shechem. In the first vision he saw the seven heavens with all their mysterious contents, and after the secrets of the Messianic time and the Judgment Day had been disclosed to him he received a sword and a shield with which to make war against the Amorites. In the vision following the extermination of the Shechemites he beheld seven angels bringing him the seven insignia of the priesthood, of prophecy, and of the judgment, and after they had anointed him and initiated him into the priesthood they disclosed to him the threefold glory of his house: the prophecy of Moses, the faithful servant of the Lord; the priesthood of Aaron, the high priest, and his descendants; and the possession of the royal scepter and the priesthood together (in the Maccabean dynasty) after the pattern of Melchizedek: high priests, judges, and scribes. His grandfather Isaac instructed him in the law of God and in the statutes of priesthood. In Jubilees, xxxi. 12-17, also, Levi is told by Isaac, with reference to John Hyrcanus, of the future greatness and threefold glory of his house (see Charles, "Book of Jubilees," p. 187; comp. Targ. Yer. to Deut. xxxiii. 11).
The twofold rôle in which Levi is represented in Deut. xxxiii. 8-11 (verse 11 originally followed verse 7, Judah's blessing) appealed with special force to the age of John Hyrcanus, who was both high priest and warrior-king, victorious over the Gentiles. Accordingly, in the war of the sons of Jacob against the Amorites, which forms a parallel to the war of the Maccabees against the surrounding tribes, Levi also took part (see Midr. Wayissa'u in Jellinek, "B. H." iii. 1-5; "Chronicles of Jerahmeel," p. 83, Gaster's transl. 1899; Jubilees, xxxiv. 1-9; Test. Patr., Judah, 3-5). In the Prayer of Asenath Levi is described as a prophet and saint who forecasts the future while reading the heavenly writings and who admonishes the people to be God-fearing and forgiving. He was entrusted with the secret writings of the ancients by his father, Jacob, in order to keep them in his family for all generations to come (Jubilees, xlv. 16).The Tribe.
The epithet "thy pious [A. V. "holy"] one" given to Levi, and the whole passage of Deut. xxxiii. 8-10, furnish the haggadic support for the characterization of Levi, as well as of the tribe of Levi, as superior to the rest in piety. Accordingly it is said (Sifre, Deut. 349-351; Sifre, Num. 67; Tan., Beha'aloteka, ed. Buber, p. 13; Midr. Teh. to Ps. i. 14; Ex. R. xv. 1; Num. R. iii., vii. 2, xv. 9) that in Egypt and in the wilderness the Levites observed the Abrahamitic rite and the whole Law; in the Holy Land they even abstained from work in order to devote themselves to contemplation (θεωρία) and to prayer (Tan., Wayera, ed. Buber, p. 4; Num. R. v. 1). In other words, they were the ancient Ḥasidim, the elect ones (Num. R. iii. 2, 4, 8, 11; xv. 9). Levi, the father of the tribe, accordingly displayed thisspirit of piety in his own household; he married Milkah, of the daughters of Aram, of the (holy) seed of the Terahites (Jubilees, xxxiv. 20; Test. Patr., Levi, 11). The names he gave to his sons—Gershon, Kehat, and Merari—are interpreted in the sight of their future destiny (ib. Levi, 11; Num. R. iii. 12). When his daughter Jochebed ("God giveth glory") was born to him he was already "the glorified of God" among his brethren (Test. Patr., Levi, 11).