(Lewi; Leuei): The third of Leah's sons born to Jacob in Paddan-aram (Ge 29:34). In this passage the name is connected with the verb lawah, "to adhere," or "be joined to," Leah expressing assurance that with the birth of this third son, her husband might be drawn closer to her in the bonds of conjugal affection. There is a play upon the name in Nu 18:2,4, where direction is given that the tribe of Levi be "joined unto" Aaron in the ministries of the sanctuary. The etymology here suggested is simple and reasonable. The grounds on which some modern scholars reject it are purely conjectural. It is asserted, e.g., that the name is adjectival, not nominal, describing one who attaches himself; and this is used to support theory that the Levites were those who joined the Semitic people when they left Egypt to return to Palestine, who therefore were probably Egyptians. Others think it may be a gentilic form le'ah, "wild cow" (Wellhausen, Prolegomena, 146; Stade, Stade, Geschichte des Volkes Israel, 152); and this is held to be the more probable, as pointing to early totem worship!
Levi shared with Simeon the infamy incurred at Shechem by the treacherous slaughter of the Shechemites (Ge 34:1-31). Jacob's displeasure was expressed at the time (Ge 34:3), and the memory was still bitter to him in his last days (Ge 49:5 f). The fate predicted for the descendants of Simeon and Levi (Ge 49:7), in the case of the latter on account of the tribe's stedfast loyalty in a period of stern testing, was changed to a blessing (Ex 32:26). In later literature the action condemned by Jacob is mentioned with approval (Judith 9:2 ff). Levi was involved in his brothers' guilt with regard to Joseph (Ge 37:1-36), and shared their experiences in Egypt before Joseph made himself known (Ge 42:1-38 through Ge 45:1-28). Three sons, Gershon, Kohath, and Merari, were born to him in Canaan, and went down with the caravan to Egypt (Ge 46:11). Nothing further is known of the personal history of this patriarch. He died and found sepulture in Egypt. For the tribal history and possessions, see PRIESTS AND LEVITES.