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Bible Encyclopedias

Cyclopedia of Biblical, Theological and Ecclesiastical Literature

Nethinim

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(Heb. Nethinim, נְתִינִים ) is the name given in the post-exilian books of the Hebrew Scriptures to the hereditary Temple servants who were assigned to the Levites to do the subordinate and menial work.

1. Name and its Signification. The name נְתַינַים which is the plural of נתין, passive adjective from נתן, to give, "to set apart, to denote," properly denotes given, "the devoted," i.e., to do the menial work of the sanctuary for the Levites, and, like other terms of office, has become the appellative of that class of men who were thus allotted as hereditary Temple servants to assist the Levites. Hence they are called ἱερόδουλοι by Josephus (Ant. 11:5, 6), while the Vulg. (Nathinzaei), the Chaldee (נתינין ), Luther (Nethiniam), the Zurich Bible, Coverdale, Matthew's Bible, the Geneva Version, the Bishops' Bible, and the A.V. uniformly retain the original in all the seventeen passages in which it occurs, except that the A.V., following the example of the preceding English versions, incorrectly adds the plural termination s ("Nethinims") to the Hebrew ים, which is already plural, as it does in "cherubims." The Sept., however, is ins consistent both in its spelling and rendering of it. Thus, in nine places out of the seventeen it has οἱ Ναθινίμ , Alex. Ναθινείμ l (Ezra 2:70; Ezra 7:7; Ezra 7:24; Ezra 8:20 [twice]; Nehemiah 3:26; Nehemiah 7:46; Nehemiah 7:73; Nehemiah 10:28); in three οἱ Ναθιναῖοι (Ezra 2:43 [Vat. Ναθινίμ ]; Nehemiah 11:3; Nehemiah 11:21); in two Ναθανείμ [Vat. Ναθανίμ] (Ezra 2:58; Nehemiah 7:60); in one Ἀθανείμ , (Ezra 8:17); in another it takes בית הנתינים for one word, and substitutes for it Βηθανναθινίμ (Nehemiah 3:31); and in another place again it translates נתינים by οἱ δεδομένοι (1 Chronicles 9:2). Theodoret's explanation of נתינים, δόσις Ι᾿αώ, τουτέστι, το ῾υ ὄντος θεοῦ (Quaest. in. i. Paralip.), which is also that of Bochart, "dedititios appellavit, quod se sponte deedissent" (Phaleg, lib. 2, cap. 1; Opp. 1:67, ed. Lugduni, 1692), is both contrary to the grammatical meaning of the word, which, as "Pail" participle, can only be those given, and not who voluntarily gave themselves, and at variance with facts.

2. Origin and Duties of the Nethinim. It is the unanimous voice both of Jewish tradition (comp. Jebasmoth,. 78 b; Midrash Jalkut on Joshua 9:27) and the best Jewish commentators (comp. Rashi and Aben-Ezra on Ezra 2:43; Kimchi on Joshua 9:20) that the Gibeonites whom Joshua consigned forever to be the hewers of wood and the drawers of water, i.e., the perpetual menial servants (לבית אלהי ) of the sanctuary (Joshua 9:21-27), are the original caste denominated Nethinim in the post-exilian period; and there is no valid reason for rejecting this ancient tradition. As these Gibeonites or sanctuary slaves were greatly diminished by the bloody persecutions of Saul, and in the massacre at' Nob (2 Samuel 22:1-19), and moreover, as the reorganization and extension of the sanctuary service effected by the royal Psalmist both rendered the work of the Levites very laborious and demanded an increase of the existing staff of menial. servants, "David and the princes [after him] gave (נתן ) the Nethinim (or these given ones, : הנתינים ) for the service of the Levites" (Ezra 8:20).

From the ancient practice of consigning aliens and captives of war to do both the menial work of the people at large and of the priests and Levites (Numbers 31:25-47; Deuteronomy 29:10), which also obtained among the Syrians, Phoenicians, the Greeks, and other nations of antiquity, and which still obtains among the Arabs, who devote slaves to the service of the Kaaba at Mecca and to the sepulchre of the Prophet at Medina (Burckhardt, Travels in Arabia, 1:288, etc.; 2:166, etc., 174, 181), there can be little doubt that the thinned ranks were recruited by David and the other princes from the captives taken in battle. Indeed, their foreign names given in the catalogue of those who returned from Babylon (Ezra 2:43-58) fully confirm this view. As this newly increased and reorganized staff, founded upon the remnant of the aboriginal Gibeonites, was now formally and exclusively given by David to the Levites (Ezra 8:20), just as the Levites themselves, by the command of God, were given to the priests (Numbers 8:19; Numbers 18:2-6), their primitive name was no more applicable to them, because the new accession, constituting the majority, were no Gibeonites, and because they were no more the servants of the sanctuary at large, but were a gift to the Levites. It was for this reason that they were henceforth called Nethinim (נתינים ), the given ones, i.e., to the Levites, the very expression used with regard to the Levites when they in their turn were given to the priests. (See LEVITE).

Being thus given to them, the Nethinim had to relieve the Levites of every menial and laborious work connected with the sanctuary. They had to draw and carry the water, hew and fetch the wood, and attend to everything which the Levites ordered them to do; and because they were so entirely at the disposal of the Levites, therefore the Bible prescribes no special duties for the Nethinim.

3. Number of the Nethinim, their Locality, Revenues, and Social Position. We must not forget that the Levites were given to Aaron and his sons, i.e., to the priests as an order, and were accordingly the first Nethinim (נְתוּנַם, Numbers 3:9; Numbers 8:19). At first they were the only attendants, and their work must have been laborious enough. The first conquests, however, brought them their share of the captive slaves of the Midianites, and 320 were given to them as having charge of the Tabernacle (Numbers 31:47), while 32 only were assigned specially to the priests. This disposition to devolve the more laborious offices of their ritual upon slaves of another race showed itself again in the treatment of the Gibeonites. They, too, were given (A.V. "made") to be "hewers of wood and drawers of water" for the house of God (Joshua 9:27), and the addition of so large a number (the population of five cities) must have relieved the Levites from much that had before been burdensome. We know little or nothing as to their treatment. It was a matter of necessity that they should be circumcised (Exodus 12:48) and conform to the religion of their conquerors, and this might at first seem hard enough. On the other hand, it must be remembered that they presented themselves as recognising the supremacy of Jehovah (Joshua 9:9), and that for many generations the remembrance of the solemn covenant entered into with them made men look with horror on the shedding of Gibeonitish blood (2 Samuel 21:9), and protected them from much outrage. No addition to the number thus employed appears to have been made during the period of the Judges, and they continued to be known by their old name as the Gibeonites. The want of a further supply was, however, felt when the reorganization of worship commenced under David. Either the massacre at Nob had involved the Gibeonites as well as the priests (1 Samuel 22:19), or else they had fallen victims to some other outburst of Saul's fury, any though there were survivors (2 Samuel 21:2), the number was likely to be quite inadequate for the greater stateliness of the new worship at Jerusalem. It is to this period accordingly that the origin of the class bearing this name may be traced.

The Nethinim were those "whom David and the princes appointed (Heb. gave) for the service of the Levites" (Ezra 8:20). Though their number is nowhere given up to the time of the Babylonian captivity, yet the fact that the aboriginal Hieroduli, i.e., the Gibeonites, consisted of thee population of five cities when the service of the sanctuary was not so imposing makes it pretty certain that the Nethinim with whom David and the other princes replenished the thinned ranks at the time when the Temple worship required a large staff of menial servants must have counted their thousands. As a matter of convenience, they most probably lived within the precincts and in the immediate neighborhood of the Temple, and must have been supported by the contributions of the people. We have more decided information about them in the post-exilian records. Only 612 Nethinim returned from Babylon 392 with Zerubbabel (Ezra 2:58; Nehemiah 7:60), and 220 with Ezra (Ezra 8:20) under the leadership of Ziha and Gispa (Nehemiah 11:21), who, as their foreign names indicate, were of their own body. But even this small number had to be coaxed in order to get them to return from exile, as is evident from Ezra 8:17, where they are addressed as brethren of Iddo, a chief of the Levites. It is evident from the whole context (Ezra 8:15-19), which speaks of securing Iddo's interests to procure Levites as well as Nethinim, that he was not a Nathin, but a distinguished Levite who had great influence both among his own Levitical brethren and the Nethinim who were under his control. Some of them lived in Ophel, which they helped to rebuild (Nehemiah 3:26; Nehemiah 11:26), because of its proximity to the Temple; while others, as in the preexilian period, dwelt with the Levites in their own cities (Ezra 2:70). They were under the control of a chief of their own body (Ezra 2:43; Nehemiah 7:46). Belonging to the Temple, they, like the other sacred ministers, were exempted from taxation by the Persian satraps (Ezra 7:24), and were maintained from the Temple treasury and (מעשר שנם ) the second tithes (Jebamnoth, 86 b; Jerusalem Maaser Sheni, 5:15; Jerusalem Sota, 9:11; comp. Herzfeld, Geschichte des Volkes Israel, 1:138-140).

Though they conformed to the Jewish religion (Exodus 12:48; Deuteronomy 29:11; Joshua 9:9; Nehemiah 10:28), they occupied a very low position, and were even ranged below the Mamzer ( ממזר ), or illegal offspring, as may be seen from the following order of precedence given in the Mishna: "A priest is before a Levi, a Levi before an Israelite, an Israelite before a Manzer, a Mamzer before a Nathin, a Neathin before a proselyte, and a proselyte before a manunitted slave" (Horajoth, 3:8). The Nethinim were restricted to intermarriage among themselves, and if a Jew or Jewess married one of them, though all the valid ceremonies were performed, the issue shared in all the degrading disqualifications of the Nethinim (Mishna, Kiddushin, 3:12; 4:1; Jebamoth, 2:4); and they were even excluded from the privileges of being exempt from military service, allotted to newly-married people and to those who were faint-hearted (Deuteronomy 20:7-8, with Mishna, Sota, 8:3-6). If a woman was suspected of being deflowered by any one, or if she had an illegitimate child, it was ascribed to a Nathin, and the offspring took the degraded position of the Nathin, notwithstanding the assertion of the mother that the father of the child was a priest, unless she could adduce proof to support her assertion (Mishna, Kethuboth, 1:8, 9). If a court of justice (בית דין ) gave a decision, and one of the members of the court was found to be a Nathin, the judgment was invalid, inasmuch as he was not regarded as a legal number of the congregation (עדה ) specified in Leviticus 4:13; Numbers 35:24 (Mishna, Elorajoth, 3:1). Eventually they seem to have been merged in the mass of the Jewish population, as no allusion to them occurs in the Apocrypha or New Testament. Their number, at all events, was then insufficient for the service of the Temple; whence, as Josephus tells us ( War, 2:17, 6), a festival, called Ξυλοφορία (Xylophoria), was established, in which the people, to supply the deficiency, were obliged to bring a certain quantity of wood to the Temple for the use of the altar of burnt offering. See Schroder, De Netthinceis (Marb. 1719; Will, De Nethinceis Levitarmur famulis (Altdorf, 1745); Lampe, in Miscell. Groning. 1:463 sq., 539 sq.; Pfeffinger, in Ugolin. Thesaur. volume 13. (See GIBEONITE); (See TEMPLE).

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Bibliography Information
McClintock, John. Strong, James. Entry for 'Nethinim'. Cyclopedia of Biblical, Theological and Ecclesiastical Literature. https://www.studylight.org/encyclopedias/eng/tce/n/nethinim.html. Harper & Brothers. New York. 1870.

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