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Levites (lēˈvĪts) [key], a religious caste among the ancient Hebrews, descended from Jacob's son Levi and figuring prominently in the Bible. There were three divisions of Levites—Kohathites, Merarites, and Gershonites. Loyal to Moses during the Golden Calf incident, they were rewarded with special religious privileges. The Levites replaced the firstborn, who devoutly served God for having been saved at the Passover. They alone of the tribes received no allotment of land; instead they received revenues from certain cities, and each city had its quota of Levites to support. With the unification of worship at Jerusalem, the Levites became temple servants with hereditary assignments, and later were teachers of the Law. The Book of Leviticus is named for them.

The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.

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