#219. What is the minimum age of service for Levites: 25 OR 30? (Num 8:24 vs Num 4:3, 4:23, 4:30)


The book of Numbers apparently preserves divergent traditions regarding the minimum age of service for Levites.

And Yahweh spoke to Moses saying: “This is what applies to the Levites: everyone 25 years and older must serve in the work forces, performing the tasks of the Tent of Meeting.” (Num 8:23-24)

And Yahweh spoke to Moses and Aaron saying:

  • “Take a head count of the Kohathites, who are part of the Levites, by their clans and patriarchal houses, of those 30 years of age until 50 years of age, all who are eligible for performing assigned tasks in the work force pertaining to the Tent of Meeting” (Num 4:3)
  • “Take a head count of the Gershonite clans as well, by their clans and patriarchal houses. You shall tally all of them 30 years of age and older to 50 years of age, all who are eligible to perform the tasks of the work force relevant to the Tent of Meeting” (Num 4:23)
  • “Take a head count of the Merarites, 30 years of age and older…” (Num 4:30)

There are several other factors that make it clear that Numbers 8 comes from a different Priestly tradition. In fact, Numbers 7-9 appear to be from a different tradition, and were most likely inserted here by the redactor because of its thematic similarity to Numbers 1-6. But the time frame assigned to the events enumerated in these chapters is out of sequence with Numbers 1-6. For we are told that the alleged events of Num 1-6 happened 2/1/2; while the events reported in Numbers 7-9 occur on 1/1/2—that is before the whole book of Leviticus and equivalent to the time period represented in Exodus 40: “And it was on the day that Moses finished setting up the Tabernacle” (Num 7:1). I’ve already treated this chronological contradiction at #170.

The particular task of the Levites in their service of the Tent of Meeting will be the focus of tomorrow’s  contradiction since the Aaronid priesthood that wrote Numbers grossly disagree with the Levite written books of Samuel about the role and function of the Levites, and specifically concerning what they can and cannot touch or see.

5 thoughts on “#219. What is the minimum age of service for Levites: 25 OR 30? (Num 8:24 vs Num 4:3, 4:23, 4:30)

  1. Every kohath is a levite, but not every levite is a kohath. (Decedent of Aaron, Moses brother called by god in exodus “the levite”)

    The tent of meeting was not Solomons temple.
    It was a movable tent that the levites guarded and put up, and down. This was used up until
    The time of Samuel and David, when God told David to make his son Solomon build a stone temple. (Which the levites (not the kohath levites) constructed (both) times.) And guarded the stone temple the same as the tent meeting. But the Kohath, the sons of Aaron (Moses brother who were both of the tribe of levi), we’re the ones who were the hight priests. The top levites. The ones who actually made offerings directly in front of the ark of the covanant. The regular levites were the ones who moved the ark where it needed to go. Only the regular levites could move the ark. Anyone else, including the kohath levites, who touched (except the high priest (top kohath levite) on the day of atonmemt, the ark would be instantly killed by the wrath of god.
    the listing of gershonites (regular levites who were the decedent’s of Gershon, moses’s son) was still during the time they had the tent of meeting which was set up and put down often. So the tallying is just that, tallying, numbering the only ones who are allowed to do specific tasks. If I wasn’t a levite myself I wouldn’t have cared enough to read the hebrew and truly see what was going on because this IS a very confusing topic.

    e.g. Solomon was called a kohelet (priest in hebrew) but was not a son of Aaron. Levi in hebrew means “to join, joined”
    letter lamed is the tallest hebrew letter and is said to be connected to god. Just as the levites are connected to god. “The levites shall be mine I am yhvh” also the number associated with lamed is 30.
    Malacai said that the Messiah will purify the sons of levi and would restablish “the covanant of levi”
    Jesus in Luke’s genealogy has two decedent’s named levi and he started his ministry at thirty (as was supposed)

  2. One thing you greatly make mistakes in is not knowing Hebrew. The words translated as “performing task” are two different Hebrew words abodah vs melekah.
    Rashi? He is an eleventh century commentator. Think about it like this Rashi commenting on Moses is like some guy born in year 4200 ad telling those people what George Washington was thinking and we believe it in year 5200 ad.

  3. Additional evidence that the LXX’s “translation” is a harmonization attempt: the Dead Sea Scrolls manuscript of Numbers 4 reads as follows, from Abegg, Flint, and Ulrich’s version:

    4:3 “…from thirty [yea]rs old and on up to f[if]ty years old…” (vv. 17-39 are missing).

    1. This is a nice find. I was unaware of the Chronicles passage; I’ll have to add that. I wonder just how much of a conscious effort was being made to “harmonize” divergent details in the Hebrew text when it was translated into Greek—maybe just places that dealt with numerical discrepancies?

      Imagine if we added to this list of contradictions in the MT text only, the variant texts of the Samaritan Pentateuch, the texts of the Dead Sea Scrolls, the LXX, later rewritings such as Jubilees on Genesis, etc… The public ought to be aware of the fact that there were ‘divergent’ versions of the Torah that existed in antiquity. Personally I wish I had time to explore the Samaritan Pentateuch. Speaking of textual sources, I know that in a couple of places the editors of the Samaritan Pentateuch assembled the sources—J, E, D, P—together differently from how they appear in the MT.

  4. The harmonization attempts are interesting. The LXX “solves” the problem by “translating” the minimum age in Numbers 4 as “25” instead of the MT’s “30.” The rabbinic commentator Rashi and some Christian apologists posit an unstated “apprenticeship” period of five years (the Levites must have been slow learners). More likely is what you state–that there are different traditions present–and this is bolstered by the fact that the passage which gives the lower starting age, Numbers 8, also states that even though Levites retire at age 50, they can still “assist their brothers in the tent of meeting in carrying out their duties” (v:26). The minimum age was again changed in the time of David to 20 (1 Chronicles 23; see also Ezra 3:8).

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