#95. Is Aaron Moses’ brother Levite OR brother? (Ex 4:14 vs Ex 6:20, 7:1, 7:7; Num 26:59)

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Exodus 4:14, usually identified as belonging to the Elohist source, labels Aaron as Moses’ Levite brother, that is, a fellow Levite.

However, at Exodus 6:20, 7:1, and 7:7 Aaron is presented as Moses’ flesh and blood brother. In fact, Exodus 7:7 identifies Aaron as the older brother by 3 years! These passages fall in with other Priestly indicators and have been identified as part of the Priestly source. As we saw in contradictions #91 and #93, here too the Priestly writer changes the tradition he inherited, transforming Aaron’s pedigree from a fellow Levite to Moses’ older brother. This is merely one literary technique that P employs to raise Aaron’s status on the one hand and denigrate Moses’ on the other hand.

While the JE narrative had a very limited role and importance for Aaron, in the Priestly writer’s rewriting Aaron is not only elevated to the status of Moses’ brother, but even higher. Aaron is the central most important figure in the Priestly source, indeed the forefather of the Aaronid guild that was responsible for producing the text scholars label the Priestly source. Aaron appears 261 times in the Priestly literature. This is remarkable when we note that outside of P, Aaron is mentioned 35 times in E and only twice in D!

The Priestly literature’s focus on Aaron, the Aaronid priesthood, and the sacrificial cult is even more pronounced when we compare the Priestly writer’s vocabulary with the other Pentateuchal sources. For instance, the term for sacrifice appears 82 times throughout P, while only 20 times in E, and merely a dozen times in D. The tabernacle, the central sacrificial institution, is mentioned in P over 100 times, while nothing is said of the tabernacle in D. The word “priest,” which not surprisingly gives this source its title, appears 275 times in P, while making a meager 7 appearances in D! This is not just a difference in terminology, but in the whole concept and purpose of religion as imagined by these two authors, D and P. The Aaronid priests of the Priestly source define religion in terms of the sacrificial cult. The Deuteronomist, on the other hand, defines religion in vastly different terms. We will get to this in due course.

Finally, the new sibling status of Aaron and Moses is also problematized when P is added to JE. Since Aaron is Moses’ older brother by 3 years in P (Ex 7:7), when the JE narrative of Moses’ childhood is added to P, we must also assume that Aaron too was miraculously born against Pharaoh’s decree to kill all the first-born (#83).

7 thoughts on “#95. Is Aaron Moses’ brother Levite OR brother? (Ex 4:14 vs Ex 6:20, 7:1, 7:7; Num 26:59)

  1. Regarding Exodus 4:14, is there something in the original Hebrew to suggest that “fellow Levite” is meant? I’ve looked in a few different versions and they all seem to imply that Aaron was a Levite *and* his brother…

  2. Hi Paul. Good question. The author of Exodus 4:11 seems to purposely stress that Aaron is Moses’ “brother Levite.” The rationale used by scholars has been: why would this author stress “Levite” if indeed he saw Moses and Aaron as full-blooded siblings? The use of “Levite” seems to have been a conscience choice, and therefore, to denote tribal kinship rather than biological brothers. I realize that that response my not satisfy. The other argument used by scholars is that elsewhere in the Elohist source, Ex 15:20, the author states that Miriam is Aaron’s sister, implying a sibling relationship between Aaron and Miriam, but says nothing about Moses. In contrast, another P passage speaks of Aaron, Moses, and Miriam as siblings from the same parents (Num 26:59).

  3. He is in fact Both Moses’ older brother and a Levite. In fact Moses is also a Levite; Moses and Aaron were both the sons of Amram who was a I believe a 2nd or 3rd generation Levite. Born directly from the sons of Levi.

    Contradictory cleared, turns out there was no contradiction just a misinterpretation.

  4. PaulR, Dr. DiMattei, there’s also some grammatical support for this. The Hebrew in Ex 4:14 says “halo ‘aharon ‘achika hallewi”*, which can either mean ‘Isn’t [Aaron] [your brother Levite]?’ or ‘Isn’t [your brother Aaron] [the Levite]?’ (i.e. ‘The Levite, you know the one I’m talking about — isn’t that your brother Aaron?’, clearly nonsensical here), but not ‘Isn’t [Aaron the Levite] [your brother]?’, which would have to be something like “halo ‘aharon hallewi achika”.

    *How do I italicize this? *Like this, maybe*?

  5. Have you not read Exodus 2:1? “Now a man from the house of Levi went and took as his wife a Levite woman.” Both Moses and his brother Aaron are Levites.

  6. A man of the house of Levi went and took a daughter of Levi as his wife. 2 The woman conceived and bore a son. When she saw that he was a fine child, she hid him three months. 3 When she could no longer hide him, she took a papyrus basket for him, and coated it with tar and with pitch. She put the child in it, and laid it in the reeds by the river’s bank. 4 His sister stood far off, to see what would be done to him. 5 Pharaoh’s daughter came down to bathe at the river. Her maidens walked along by the riverside. She saw the basket among the reeds, and sent her servant to get it. 6 She opened it, and saw the child, and behold, the baby cried. She had compassion on him, and said, “This is one of the Hebrews’ children.” Exodus 2, puts any doubts that Moses is a Lewi/Levite

  7. I didn’t and don’t understand how anyone that has actually read the Bible could think that there was a contradiction here. You have to try really hard to see fault with the Bible here and then purposely ignore the obvious.

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