🔼The name Levi: Summary
- Joined, Joiner
- From the verb לוה (lawa), to join or connect.
🔼The name Levi in the Bible
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 (which in singular form is spelled in Hebrew the same as the name Levi: לוי and in plural as a proper masculine plural: לוים, l'viyim. In the Greek New Testament, Levite is spelled Λευιτης, Leuites; Luke 10:32, John 1:19).
Levi's older full 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). This is in one way fortunate because when the Assyrians deported and effectively destroyed the Israeli tribes save for Judah, the tribes of Levi and Simeon perpetuated by means of their Judah-residing members. The post-exilic kohanim (and the surname Cohen, for that matter) demonstrates this.
In the New Testament there are three men named Levi (spelled Λευι, Leui, or Λευις Leuis):
- Two ancestors of Christ (Luke 3:24 and 3:29).
- The apostle also known as Matthew (compare Matthew 9:9 with Luke 5:27), who was a son of Alphaeus, which in turn might mean that he was a brother of James the Less and Joses.
The name Levi occurs 12 times in the New Testament; see full New Testament concordance.
🔼Etymology of the name Levi
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, instead of vice versa, and that the word Levite has to do with a Minaean word for priest. Another suggestion is that the name Levi (לוי) is derived from the name Leah (לאה) and means Weary, rather than something else.
HAW Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament disagrees with this kind of 'strong disclaimers' and (as does NOBSE Study Bible Name List) derives the name Levi from the verb לוה (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):
The verb לוה (lawa) means to join or to connect things; it's a verb of building and it's also the verb that lies at the heart of intelligence, cognition and logical deduction.
A specialized usage of this verb speaks of the joining of two ends via a circular motion of sorts. Nouns לויה (liwya) and ליה (loya) describe a wreath; a circular, coiled or twisted band of leaves or twigs. A third specialized usage of our verb speaks of borrowing and lending.
In an absolute sense, the name Levi means Joined 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, NOBSE Study Bible Name List reads Joined. Jones' Dictionary of Old Testament Proper Names offers the eloquent Adhesion.
In the theocratic structure of Israel the Levites were the people who promoted social cohesion. They had no land of their own but were dispersed among the tribes, infusing all of them equally with the same education and thus forging a unified national identity across the clans. A similar function was assigned to the Celtic druids and the medieval European monks.
Note that our word democracy contains the Greek verb δημος (demos), meaning people, which comes from the verb δεω (deo), meaning to bind. In the Greek world, a people would be considered a cluster of humans that were "bound" together, possibly by rules and laws but also by identity and philosophies. It's quite likely that the much older name Levi expresses that same idea.
Also note that Jesus' human genes came from his mother, who was a close relative of Elizabeth (Luke 1:36), who was a Levite (Luke 1:5) rather than a Jew. The profession of Jesus was described by the noun τεκτων (tekton), meaning joiner, from the verb τικτω (tikto), to weave or join.