In Joshua 21, the NIV translation of the Bible has "pasturelands", while the KJV translation has "suburbs" (Jos 21:3,8,27,41). I wonder which one is the right translation?

Jos 21:41 (NIV) The towns of the Levites in the territory held by the Israelites were forty-eight in all, together with their pasturelands.

Jos 21:41 (KJV) All the cities of the Levites within the possession of the children of Israel were forty and eight cities with their suburbs.

There seems to be two conflicting theories. One theory is that the Levites did not own any cattle and was fully depended on the tithe. This theory proposes that there were two tithes, of which the first one the Levites should share ten percent of with the priests. This is argued by the Wikipedia article First Tithe.

The second theory claims that the Levities indeed owned cattle, and that they earned their money in many different professional occupations. This theory also holds that there was just one tithe, and with this tithe they should minister to foreigners, orphans, and widows. This site holds this view.

I am trying to establish if the Levites to a certain extent were self-sufficient, or if they depended completely on the tithes?

  • Is the question whether they owned cattle, or the proper translation? Such that it supports one theory or the other?
    – Bob Jones
    Commented Jan 7, 2021 at 23:24
  • @Bob Jones. I don't know if I understand your problem here. Pasture-lands has to do with cattle. If the proper translation is "pasturelands", rather than "suburbs", then it is clear that the Levites had to have own cattle, otherwise it is possible, but not clear. My knowledge in Hebrew is non-existent so I can't even make a guess. It may be obvious for people who know a bit of Hebrew. Are you one of them? Today "pasture-lands" mean one thing and "suburbs" mean another, but maybe in ancient Israel it meant the same thing? Commented Jan 8, 2021 at 12:17
  • While others use the traditional dictionaries, I am using the formation of the word. The traditional dictionaries are not solving your question. The formation does not make a distinction between pastureland and suburb, The formation makes a distinction between walled or not. I attempted to explain that in my deleted answer below. Sorry for not making it clear enough to not get deleted immediately.
    – Bob Jones
    Commented Jan 9, 2021 at 16:58
  • It is a place for the displaced, the sojourner, the tenant..It can be either the suburb or the 'pastureland' unprotected by the wall. My 'problem' is in assuming you wanted a definition for the word. There are many other scriptures which address the ownership of cattle.
    – Bob Jones
    Commented Jan 9, 2021 at 16:59
  • @Bob Jones. Are you saying that the “CBD” and the suburbs/pasture lands were divided by a wall? And that the suburbs/pasturelands housed both travelers and cattle? If so, did the cattle belong to the travelers or the Levites, or both? In either case a definition of the word in question from a specialist dictionary would be helpful. Commented Jan 10, 2021 at 0:50

3 Answers 3


Numbers 3:41&44 makes mention of the Levites having cattle with regards to the ransom of the 273. So I would say yes. The had cattle and also depended on the tithes which Divinely mandated for them.

  • +1. Thx. Yes it sure looks like they had cattle. Thus, it is leaning towards that the more correct meaning of the word in question is "pasturelands". Moreover, the text you quoted indicates, I think, that they would have had as much cattle as any of the other tribes. This is a good start. Commented Feb 10, 2019 at 23:51
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    – user22655
    Commented Feb 12, 2019 at 4:43

The Property of the Priesthood included (but was not limited to) the following: 1) the added ⅕ of all tithes to the LORD; 2) the firstfruits, 3) the [terumah of the tithe of] dem'ai, 4) any additional dues charged for the maintanence of the Temple; 5) the first of the fleece offerings and 6) all of the dough offerings. Remember from the Gospel of Matthew that the priest Zechariah belonged to a course at the time, “on duty.” The Levite’s maintained a sort of hotel-like hostel underneath the the Temple, which was only ever used by the 24 courses of priests while their cohorts served in the Temple. So one might further say 7) room and board were included while working. The Babylonian Talmud and Talmud of Jerusalem are excellent references for such questions not easily listed in most Bible editions. The priests therefore could be wholly dependent on the LORD for at least 2-3 weeks per year, but would spend the majority of life farming or complimenting the Temple’s purpose outside Jerusalem in their varied suburbs. Many priests were doctors, teachers, bakers, tent-makers (Paul) and/or earned their living as managers of smaller synagogues.

  • 1
    +1. Thx for an informative answer that focused on the priestly situation 1500 years after Moses. I suppose that the priestly family had grown a bit since then. Originally it was just about 2 - 4 families, but at Zacharaiah's time it would have had to have been many more families involved. Israel had grown, and more priests were needed to serve the people, for that reason also. The temple ministry must have been a lot busier than what the tent ministry once was. Commented Feb 24, 2019 at 22:42

Did the Levites own cattle?

Did the Levites own cattle? "Yes"

Joshua 21:1-2 NASB

Forty-eight Cities of the Levites

21 Then the heads of fathers’ households of the Levites approached Eleazar the priest, Joshua the son of Nun, and the heads of fathers’ households of the tribes of the sons of Israel. 2 And they spoke to them at Shiloh in the land of Canaan, saying, “The Lord commanded [a]through Moses to give us cities to live in, with their pasture lands for our cattle.”

The Levites did the assigned work of their ministry and maintained their houses and the pasture grounds of the cities allotted to them. They would also care for other land that the Israelites might devote to sanctuary use. (Leviticus 27:21, 28)

The Levites were partially self-sufficient, we note that when the Israelites became negligent in paying their tithes, the priesthood suffered, along with nonpriestly Levites, who had to look for other work to provide for themselves and their families.

Nehemiah 13:10-13 NASB

Tithes Restored

10 I also [a]discovered that the portions of the Levites had not been given to them, so the Levites and the singers who performed the service had [b]gone away, each to his own field. 11 So I [c]reprimanded the officials and said, “Why has the house of God been neglected?” Then I gathered them together and stationed them at their posts. 12 All Judah then brought the tithe of the grain, wine, and oil into the storehouses. 13 To be in charge of the storehouses, I appointed Shelemiah the priest, Zadok the scribe, and Pedaiah from the Levites, and in addition to them was Hanan the son of Zaccur, the son of Mattaniah; for they were considered reliable, and it was [d]their task to distribute to their kinsmen.

  • This is an old question but +1 for reaching the same conclusion as I did, and for supplying new proof. Commented Jan 10, 2021 at 0:25

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