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Meaning and etymology of the name Levi

Levi Levi

There is only one Levi in the Old Testament, namely the third son of Jacob with Leah (Genesis 29:34), who gave rise to the priestly caste of the Levites. Levi's older brothers are Reuben and Simeon. His younger brothers are Judah, Issachar and Zebulun. Their only sister's name is Dinah. The revenge of her rape by Shechem the Hivite (Genesis 34), results in Levi and the Levites remaining landless (Genesis 49:5-7). Levi's half-brothers are Dan and Naphtali, the sons of Bilhah; Gad and Asher, sons of Zilpah, and Joseph and Benjamin, sons of Rachel. Together they form the twelve tribes of Israel.

In the New Testament the name Levi occurs three times: two ancestors of Christ (Luke 3:24 and 29), and the apostle a.k.a Matthew (Compare Matthew 9:9 with Luke 5:27).

There is some controversy about the etymology of the name Levi. BDB Theological Dictionary suggests that the name Levi was derived from the word Levite, in stead of vice versa, and that the word Levite has to do with a Minaean word for priest. Another suggestion is that the name Levi (Levi) is derived from the name Leah (Leah) and means Weary, rather than something else. HAW Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament disagrees with this kind of 'strong disclaimers' and (as does NOBS Study Bible Name List) derives the name Levi from the verb lawa (lawa) meaning join, be joined. This is the verb that Leah uses when she names Levi, "Now this time my husband will be joined to me, because I have borne to him three sons." (Genesis 29:34)

Scholars divide the word lawa into three separate roots, although these roots are obviously related in meaning:
The verb lawa (lawa) means join or be joined, and 'refers to the joining of an item or person to someone or something else' (HAW Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament ) (Numbers 18:2; Isaiah 14:1, Jeremiah 50:5).
The verb lawa (lawa) means borrow or lend. HAW Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament volunteers that this verb 'may be a specialized usage' of the previous lawa. This verb is used only once to indicate simply a profitable transaction (Nehemiah 5:4). All other occurrences 'reflect theological and moral perspectives in the OT' (see Exodus 22:25). The relationship with the previous lawa becomes clear in Proverbs 22:7, "...the borrower becomes the lender's slave."
The assumed and untranslated root lawa (lwh) gives rise to the words liwya (liwya a1) and loya (loya a2), both meaning wreath. Although the wreath is an item that is typically coiled or twisted, its both ends are also joined to make a circle. Another derivation of this same root is the word Leviathan (liwyatan), which in English is pronounced as Leviathan. The various usages of the name Leviathan obviously depict different animals, and thus the word liwyatan denotes a category of fierce, coiling creatures (crocodiles, hippos, snakes). Because of the relation with the first lawa (be joined) some suggest that even the mythological snake Ouroboros, who bites his own tail, may be grouped under the Leviathanic head.

In an absolute sense, the name Levi means Joined or Lender or Coiler, but judging from the context that also produced his name, the meaning of Joined is preferred.

For a meaning of the name Levi, NOBS Study Bible Name List reads Joined. Jones' Dictionary of Old Testament Proper Names offers the eloquent Adhesion.



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