|Nubian priest of the Nilotic Ainu. Abraham's father was also Tera, meaning priest|
Alice C. Linsley
The Levites have a bloody heritage. According to Exodus 32, they are rewarded with priestly rights for killing thousands of their kinsmen and according to Genesis 49, they are accursed and punished for their treacherous attack on Shechem. They were adept at killing and probably were trained warriors.
Levi's descendants intermarried with other Ha'biru clans and were dispersed throughout the ancient shrine cities where they offered sacrifices. After the 7th century B.C. they are closely associated with the royal court of Jerusalem and the centralization of sacrifice at the Temple. Clearly, the Levites are portrayed quite differently depending on the period and the social context of the writer.
Source critics attribute the diverse portrayals to different sources D (Deuteronomist), J (Jahwist) and P (Priestly). Here are the reasons given by each source for the priestly prerogative being assigned to the Levites:
D = investiture as priests is commanded by YHWY
J = priestly duties are assigned as a result of Levites killing their own people (Ex. 32:26-29)
P = Installation of Levites as priests part of the instructions given at Sinai and they are set apart as redemption for the first born (Lev. 3: 11-13)
The Levites and the Ha'biru
Traditionally, the term "Levite" refers to a descendant of Levi, the third son of Jacob and Leah, and to the "tribe"of Levi. These were in the service of the sanctuary, in various orders. According to Leviticus and Numbers the house of Aaron alone constituted the priesthood, and the remainder of the Levites performed the more menial duties. However, Aaron's father was a priest as was Aaron's half-brother Korah. They were heirs to an ancient received priestly tradition among the Ha'biru (Hebrew).
This is the general conception of the Levites, but it does take into consideration the question of their antecedents. Practices associated with the Levites - priestly ritual, circumcision, animal sacrifice, and the Holy Name YHWY - existed among Abraham's Horim or Horite ancestors.
The "book of the Levites" (Leviticus) comes from the Greek Leuitikon biblion. Because the Greek Septuagint was available before the Hebrew Old Testament (Masoretic Text) we do well to investigate the word Leuitikon. Note that the Greek word has as its root "leu" as in Leummim (Gen. 25:3). It appears that Leummim is a variant of Levites. Leu is likely a Nilotic word. Abraham's ancestors were Nilo-Saharans and Saharo-Nubians.
Before the time of Moses, some of Abraham's descendants were priests associated with the Afro-Arabian Dedanites. Genesis 10:7 tell us that Dedan the Elder was a grandson of Kush by his son Ramah. Ramah was Nimrod's brother. Ramah is Samuel's home, and his father Elkanah was a Horite. Ramah settled in the region to the southeast of Dedan while Nimrod built a kingdom in the Tigris-Euphrates River Valley.
During the time of the Judges there is virtually no mention of the Levites. According to accounts in Samuel and Kings, they served as priests under David and Solomon, yet so did David's sons (II Sam. 8:18). According to accounts in Samuel and Kings the Levites were not the only men to exercise the priestly functions. The prophet Samuel, whose father was a Horite priest, offer sacrifices (I Sam. 9:13).
David's sons offered sacrifices. They are called "priests" in II Samuel. David town of Bethlehem was a Horite shrine where the ark once rested. It is specifically associated with the Horites in I Chronicles 4:4 which names Hur (Hor) as the "father of Bethlehem."
In my view, the assertion by later writers that God appointed the Levites exclusively to exercise priestly function represents an attempt to distance Israel's history from the history of their Ha'biru (Hebrew) ancestors who were a caste of royal priests.
Related reading: Samuel's Horite Family; The Afro-Arabian Dedanites; Moses' Wives and Brothers; The Nubian Context of YHWY; The Nile-Japan Ainu Connection; Etymology of the Word Horite; The Royal Priest Lines of Matthew; Destruction of the Temple: Rabbinic Interpretations; Why Women Were Never Priests