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The Gershonites were one of the four main divisions among the Levites in Biblical times. The Bible claims that the Gershonites were all descended from the eponymous Gershon, a son of Levi,[1] although biblical scholars regard this as a postdictional metaphor providing an aetiology of the connectedness of the clan to others in the Israelite confederation;[2][3] according to biblical scholars, Levite was originally just a job title, deriving from the Minaean word lawi'u meaning priest, rather than having been the name of a tribe[4]

The Bible ascribes a specific religious function to the Gershonites, namely care of the curtains, hangings, and ropes, of the sanctuary.[5] This differentiation of religious activity between the Gershonites and other Levites, in particular the Aaronids, is found only in the Priestly Code, and not in passages that textual scholars attribute to other authors.[6][7]

According to the Book of Joshua, rather than possessing a continuous territory, the Gershonites possessed several cities scattered throughout the geographic regions of Galilee and Bashan:[8]

The narrative in Joshua argues that the territory was taken by the Levites right after Joshua's conquest of Canaan, but this cannot be correct,[3] as it is contradicted not only by archaeological evidence, but also by narratives in the Book of Judges, Books of Samuel, and Books of Kings;[9][10] Kedesh, for example, appears to have actually remained as a shrine to deities other than Yahweh.[3] The conclusion of most biblical scholars is thus that the whole system of Levite cities, in the Torah and deuteronomic history, is an attempt to explain the fact that important early sanctuaries existed at these locations, and thus were places where members of the priesthood naturally came to reside in large numbers;[3] scholars believe that the priesthood was originally open to any tribe, but gradually became seen as a distinct tribe to themselves - the Levites.[3][11]

See also

Notes and citations

  1. Numbers 3:21
  2. Peake's commentary on the Bible
  3. 3.0 3.1 3.2 3.3 3.4 Jewish Encyclopedia
  4. This article incorporates text from the 1901–1906 Jewish Encyclopedia, a publication now in the public domain.
  5. Numbers 3:25-26
  6. Peake's commentary on the Bible
  7. Cheyne and Black, Encyclopedia Biblica
  8. Joshua 21:27-33
  9. ibid
  10. Israel Finkelstein, The Bible Unearthed
  11. Peake's commentary on the bible

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