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The Origin of the Violent Levites in Exodus 32:26–29

  • Korean Journal of Old Testament Studies
  • Abbr : KJOTS
  • 2021, 27(3), pp.10-39
  • DOI : 10.24333/jkots.2021.27.3.10
  • Publisher : Korean Society of Old Testament Studies
  • Research Area : Humanities > Christian Theology
  • Received : May 31, 2021
  • Accepted : August 2, 2021

Jaeyoung Jeon 1

1로잔대학교

Accredited

ABSTRACT

This work aims to prove the problematic literary block of Exodus 32:26–29, which describes the Levites’ punishment of the people and consecration, is a late insertion by a Levite scribe or scribal circle. Several features of the present passage support this thesis. In terms of a pentateuchal stratigraphy, the present passage can be dated later than the late Priestly redaction about the Levites in Numbers, namely, almost at the last stage of the formation of the Pentateuch in the mid-/late-Persian period. The passage’s origin and socio-historical context should thus be thought of in that period. The present passage describes the Levites violent executers of Yhwh’s punishment who kill three thousand Israelites without having mercy. Such a violent image of the Levites has probably been originated from the roles of the Levite temple guards (1 Chr 9; 26) in the Second Temple of Jerusalem and their expanded function as religion police in the city (Neh 13:22). Those Levites are described as an armed organization recognized by the Persian authority, which used their force against their own people to protect the moral and ritual purity of the temple and city. Our passage also provides an alternative etiology of the consecrated Levites as a polemical response, especially to the scribal works from priestly circles, such as Numbers 3–4, 16–18 and Ezekiel 44:10–14, that diminish the status of the non-priestly Levites. In our passage, the Levites remove the sin of idolatry caused by Aaron and gain moral superiority over the latter. Some peculiar lexical features of our passage such as “the gate (שער) of the camp” (Exod 32:26–27) and a non-priestly “consecration (מלא יד)” is shared by another pro-Levitical text Chronicles (1 Chr 29:5; 2 Chr 29:31). The strong pro-Levitical stance and conceptual and linguistic affinities to Chronicles indicate a Levitical redaction of the present text.

Citation status

* References for papers published after 2022 are currently being built.

This paper was written with support from the National Research Foundation of Korea.