Kohath was the second son of Levi and grandfather of *Moses, *Aaron, and *Miriam (Num. 26:58–59). Few personal details about him are recorded. He is invariably listed between his brothers Gershon and Merari (Gen. 46:11; Ex. 6:16; Num. 3:17; I Chron. 5:27). He lived for 133 years and had four sons: Amram, Izhar, Hebron, and Uzziel (Ex. 6:18). The information about his descendants is more detailed, since the Kohathites were among the most important levitical clans. Their story is interwoven with four periods in biblical history – the Wilderness Wanderings, the Settlement, the Monarchy, and the Return to Zion. In the census taken in the wilderness the Kohathites numbered 8,600 males (LXX, 8,300) aged above one month, including 2,750 males between 30 and 50 years old (Num. 3:28; 4:1–3, 34–37). They were subject to service for work relating to the Tent of Meeting. They camped along the south side of the Tabernacle and were in charge of the most sacred objects, the Ark, the table, the lampstand, the altars, the sacred utensils, and the screen, all of which they carried on their shoulders. The sons of Kohath were granted a privilege greater than that awarded to the other clans of the Levites, the Gershonites and the Merarites, in that they bore their burden on staves, unlike others who carried them on ox wagons (Num. 3:29, 31; 4:2, 7:8–9). Another episode which relates to the wilderness period was the rebellion by *Koraḥ, grandson of Kohath, against the leadership of Moses and Aaron (Num. 16:1ff.). The details about the allotted settlements of the Kohathites are given in Joshua (21:4–5, 9–26) and I Chronicles (6:39–46). Those descended from Aaron received 13 towns within the tribal territories of Judah, Simon, and Benjamin. The remaining Kohathites received ten additional towns from the tribes of Ephraim, Dan, and half of Manasseh. Their allotted lands were thus mainly in the southern and central parts of the country. In the Chronicler's reconstruction of the period of the monarchy the Kohathites are mentioned in connection with the four kings – David, Hezekiah, Jehoshaphat, and Josiah, always in relation to service in the Tabernacle or the Temple. According to Chronicles, it was during David's reign, that the family of Heman the Kohathite was among the levites assigned to direct the singing in the Tabernacle (I Chron. 6:16–23; cf. Ps. 88:1). Led by Uriel "the Chief," 120 Kohathites participated in the installation of the Ark in Jerusalem (I Chron. 15:5), and the family is again listed in the census of levites and their organization in divisions is undertaken by David (I Chron. 23:1–6, 12). Another tradition in Chronicles reports that in the days of King Jehoshaphat, during the invasion of Judah by the Moabites and Ammonites, it was the Kohathites who led the congregation in praise of God at the service of intercession (II Chron. 20:19). They also participated in the cleansing of the Temple in the time of Hezekiah (II Chron. 29:12), and two of their men supervised the work of renovating the Temple undertaken by King Josiah (II Chron. 34:12). In the era of the return to Zion, the time of Ezra and Nehemiah, when functions were determined in the Temple, several of the sons of Kohath were put in charge of the changing of the showbread (I Chron. 9:32).

[Nili Shupak]

In the Aggadah

Kohath was one of the seven righteous men who helped bring the Shekhinah, the Divine Presence, back to earth, after it had ascended to heaven because of the sins of previous generations (PdRK, I, 22). Because of the superiority of the family of Kohath among the families of the tribe of Levi they were given the privilege of carrying the Ark in the wilderness. The diminution in numbers which this caused the family of Kohath (cf. Num. 4:18–19) was due to the fact that a fire emerged from the Ark, which occasionally destroyed those who carried it, and from the deaths which occurred as a result of the frantic desire of members of the family to be granted the privilege (Gen. R. 5:1). Their humility is praised. "Although the family of Kohath were aristocrats, when they came to carry the ark, they assumed the demeanor of ordinary slaves"; they carried the ark on their shoulders, while walking backward, as a sign of respect (ibid. 5:8).


Ginzberg, Legends, 2, 260; 3, 229–30, 287; 5, 396; I. Ḥasida, Ishei ha-Tanakh (1964), 37 (1964), 375. ADD. BIBLIOGRAPHY: S. Japhet, I & II Chronicles (1993), 143–62; B. Levine, Numbers 120 (AB; 1993), 171–75; W. Propp, ABD, 4:95–97.

Source: Encyclopaedia Judaica. © 2008 The Gale Group. All Rights Reserved.