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Hebrew Text:

וַיְהִי־נַעַר מִבֵּית לֶחֶם יְהוּדָה מִמִּשְׁפַּחַת יְהוּדָה וְהוּא לֵוִי וְהוּא גָר־שָׁם

English Translation:

And there was a young man of Beit-Lechem of Yehuda, of the family of Yehuda, and he was a Levite, and he sojourned there.

How can this man be called "a Levite" yet be of the family (mishpocha) of Yehuda?

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3 Answers 3

up vote 3 down vote accepted

This answer quotes Rashi, who provides two explanations. The first argument seems textually thin - there are no other examples of calling someone by a tribe name based on their mother's side (see the single exception explained by the Radak, which doesn't actually attribute the tribe but describes their lineage). If anything, a simpler textual explanation is that he was a Levite paternally, and Judean from his mother's side. This explains the text's emphasis on his living not in his own tribe. This is the explanation given in the beginning of the talmudic discussion Gone Quiet quotes, as well as in the Yalkut Shimoni.

The second argument seems thin simply because according to the talmud, Samuel wrote the book of Judges and he significantly predates Manasseh. This in addition to it not having a textual basis.

An alternate explanation comes from the Metzudot and the Ralbag. Both he and the Radak explain that there are two cities called Bethlehem - one belonging to Zebulun and the other Judah (see Joshua 19:15). The text then emphasizes that the city under discussion is the Judean Bethlehem. As such, he explains that the words ממשפחת יהודה aren't actually referring to the person in question, but rather the city. So there is no question at all - he was a Levite living in the north, no contradiction to begin with.

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Rashi offers two explanations:

of the family of Judah: And he was a Levite from his mother’s side. However, our Sages said (B.B. 109b) that since he committed deeds like those of Menasseh (i.e., he committed idolatry) who came from Judah he is called “Of the family of Judah,” but he was really a Levite the son of Gershom the son of our teacher Moses, as is stated below, (18:30) “And Jonathan the son of Gershom…”

The first explanation is that the man's tribal status, as usual, comes from his father, from the house of Judah, and "Levite" refers to his mother's family. The man wouldn't be counted as a Levite for any real purposes (temple duties, land allocation, etc), but it's something in his background that the text points out.

Alternatively, he's not actually of the family of Judah but is being associated with them because of their practices, as has been done in other cases in the text (according to the talmud). This is explained in the Babylonian talmud, Bava Batra 109b, arising from a discussion of tribal association and inheritance law. The following translation and notes are from the Soncino edition:1

[But] is not the mother's family regarded [as the proper] family? Surely it is written, And there was a young man out of Bethlehem in Judah — of the family of Judah — who was a Levite, and he sojourned there; [now], this is self-contradictory, [for] it is said, ‘who was a Levite’, which clearly indicates that he descended from Levi, [and it is also said], ‘of the family of Judah,’ which clearly shows that he descended from Judah; must it not then be concluded that his father [was of the tribe] of Levi and his mother [of that] of Judah, and [yet the text] speaks [of him as] ‘of the family of Judah’!

Raba, son of R. Hanan, replied: No;22 [he may have been] a man whose name was Levi.23 If so, [is] this [the reason] why Micah said , ‘Now know I that the Lord will do me good, seeing I have a Levite as my priest’?24 — Yes; [he was glad] that he happened to obtain a man whose name was Levi. But was Levi his name? Surely his name was Jonathan, for it is said, And Jonathan the son of Gershom, the son of Manasseh, he and his sons were priests to the tribe of the Danites?25 — He said unto him: But [even] according to your argument, [it may be objected], ‘Was he the son of Manasseh? Surely he was the son of Moses, for it is written, the son of Moses: Gershom, and Eliezer’; but [you must say that] because he acted [wickedly] as Manasseh,27 the Scriptural text ascribed his descent to Manasseh, [so] also here29 [it may be said that], because he acted [wickedly] as Manasseh who descended from Judah, the Scriptural text ascribed his descent to Judah.30 R. Johanan said in the name of R. Simeon b. Yohai: From here [one may infer] that corruption is ascribed to the corrupt.31 R. Jose b. Hanina said: [This may be inferred] from the following: [It is written,] And he (Adonijah) was also a very goodly man, and he was born after Absalom; was not Adonijah the son of Haggith, and Absalom the son of Maacah? But because he acted in the same manner as Absalom who rebelled against the king, the Scriptural text associated him with Absalom.

(22) His father was not of the tribe of Levi, but of that of Judah.
‎(23) לוי may be rendered as both ‘Levite’ and ‘Levi’.
(24) If the young man were not of the tribe of Levi, would Micah have been so glad in having secured a mere layman as his priest?
(25) Judg. XVIII, 30. The Danites appropriated Micah's graven and molten images, his ephod and teraphim, and took also with them the young man who was his priest.
27) Manasseh the son of Hezekiah was one of the most wicked kings of Judah. Cf. II kings XXI, 1-17. [In the M.T the נ of מנשה is a litera suspensa.]
(29) To harmonise Judg. XVII, 7, with the statement that the family of the mother is not regarded as the proper family.
(30) But, in reality, he may have belonged to the tribe of Levi. Hence, in either ease, Judg. XVII, 7, cannot be adduced as proof that the mother's family is regarded as the proper family.
(31) Micah's priest who ministered to idolatry is described as a descendant of the corrupt king Manasseh.

1 I've included only the notes that bear on the present question.

Please note: This answer was written for a neutral, academic audience and is not intended to be interpreted in the context of a religious belief or doctrine.

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You know Yonatan was the grandson of Moshe (and the son of Gershom), right? For the sake of Moshe's honor, the Masoretes did not want to relate Yonatan to Moshe. So, they inserted a nun between the mem and shin in Moshe's name, thus making it Menashe. That is why the nun in the name Menashe in that verse (Judges 18:30) is higher than the other letters ("litera suspensa" as the footnotes calls it). See here: aleppocodex.org/newsite/index.html Go to section for Judges 18:20-19:10, look at middle column, twelfth line from top, second word from (right) margin. –  H3br3wHamm3r81 Sep 1 '13 at 18:31
So, I upvote the answer, but I do not accept the rabbis' reasoning which is based on textual alteration. –  H3br3wHamm3r81 Sep 1 '13 at 18:33
@H3br3wHamm3r81 well, there's always Rashi's first explanation. As for the second, I'm aware of that text alteration (and I think we have a question about it, which I should link if I can find it), but the talmud seems to be agreeing with you (and anyway predates the Masoretic text), so I'm a little confused by your comment. –  Gone Quiet Sep 1 '13 at 18:57

The Levites had no tribal allotment, but were allotted several cities in each tribal territory.

Josh 21:4 And the sons of Aaron the priest, who were of the Levites, received thirteen cities by lot from the tribe of Judah and from the tribe of the Simeonites and from the tribe of Benjamin.

The man in question was a descendant of Levi who lived in and identified with the tribe of Judah.

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Your explanation would definitely explain the significance of the phrase "...of Beit-Lechem of Yehuda..." It means he lived in Beit-Lechem, a city of Yehuda. However, it fails to explain the significance of the phrase "...of the family of Yehuda..." This implies descent from the tribe of Yehuda, and tribal descent is only derived paternally. Same as being a Levite. So, how could this man be a Levite (from his father) and also of the family of Yehuda (likewise from his father)? That's the question. Now, if you can provide a scripture that proves mishpocha is also used of land, that helps. –  H3br3wHamm3r81 Oct 23 '13 at 2:41
The word "family" (mishpocha) does not always refer to biological/genealogical families. In Jer 15:3, the word refers to four types of destruction. Several people who did not descend from Israel, were numbered with the "family of Israel", e.g. Rahab and Ruth. The same applies to the "tribe of Judah" in Is 48:1. I believe that this is the sense in which it is used in Jdg 17:7 - a man who is not related to Judah by blood, is closely associated with his tribe. This is certainly how the author/redactor, who put these apparent contradictions within the same verse, intended it to be understood. –  Niobius Oct 23 '13 at 11:59
"This is certainly how the author/redactor, who put these apparent contradictions within the same verse, intended it to be understood." I believe that's the question at hand and is not so certain. –  H3br3wHamm3r81 Oct 23 '13 at 16:49

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