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The Levitical towns - Summary

Overview

The purpose of these pages is to explore the allocations of towns made to the Levites by the remaining Israelite tribes. These allocations are listed twice, once in the later chapters of Joshua and once in chapter 6 of 1 Chronicles. The lists differ in certain ways, and the significance of this is investigated.

The method presented within the book of Joshua for apportioning land is discussed in more detail on the companion pages dealing with The Conquest. Briefly, however, the process is described as being made up of three phases:

  1. The transJordan area was requested and granted to the Reubenites, Gadites, and half the tribe of Manasseh, prior to the crossing of the Jordan (Josh. 13).
  2. The southern part of the land west of the Jordan was allotted to the tribes of Judah, Benjamin, Ephraim and the remainder of Manasseh at the end of the military campaigns (Josh. 15-18).
  3. The remaining tribes - Simeon, Zebulun, Issachar, Asher, Naphtali, and Dan - were slow at appropriating land, and after a considerable time and following a survey of the land cast lots for portions. Simeon received an allotment within the area given to Judah, Dan an area towards the coastal plain west of Benjamin, and the lots for the others were in the northern parts of the land.
  4. At the same time as (3) above, the Levites were granted towns scattered throughout the area for their support, provided by each tribe out of their individual allotments. In some cases this represented land already claimed and secured: in others it was land not yet claimed and so given in promise rather than actuality.
Hence, stages (3) and (4) were carried out with reference to land which in many cases was not actually in Israelite hands.

The declared purpose of the towns

According to Josh. 13:14 (and elsewhere), the Levites were not to have a coherent block of territory. Instead, they were to be granted the use of certain towns by the other tribes and effectively supported by them. Some of these towns were separated as "Cities of Refuge", to which a person wrongly accused of murder could flee to avoid the vengeance of relatives. This topic is looked at in some detail in a companion page entitled Cities of Refuge.

Since the main purpose of the Levites was to perform religious duties, their dispersal amongst the people at large was important. The map page in this collection shows how the distribution of Levitical towns roughly follows the overall population pattern, as expected.

One of the early actions of Jeroboam when he led Ephraim and the other tribes to form an independent kingdom was to replace the inherited priesthood descended from Levi, with an appointed priesthood. This is a possible explanation for the relative lack of information concerning the northerly towns (originally allotted to the Gershonite clan) in the monarchy period.

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