Levi was the third son of Jacob and Lea, born in Mesopotamia 1750 BC. (Genesis 29:34).
When Dinah, a daughter of Leah, went to visit neighbor girls while they were attending a festival of nature worship like described in Numbers 25:2, Sechem, the son of King Hamor, saw her and raped her; afterwards he fell in love with her. He then went to his father and asked him to get Dinah for him so he could marry her. Hamor took his son’s plea to Jacob saying his son was very much in love with Dinah, and pleaded to Jacob to let the marriage to take place; the king also said if it happened their people could live together, intermarry, and prosper. Shechem backed up his father’s promised that he would do whatever they required in order to gain Dinah as his wife; whatever the dowry or gift was, he would pay it.
Diah’s brothers then began to act dishonorably and lied because of what Sechem had done to their sister; they said they would not live among the other people for they were uncircumcised, and it would be a dishonor for their sister to marry such a man. But the brothers gave a counter proposal: That if all neighboring men were circumcised the communities could be united and the marriage could occur. Sechem and his father readily agreed to this, and all men were circumcised. Within three days the men were so sore and sensitive that they could barely move, it was then that Levi and his brother Simeon took swords and killed every man in the neighboring community, including Sechem and Hamor; then all of Jacob’s sons plundered everything in the city, including the women and children to revenge the rape of Dinah. (Genesis 34) This is an early incident of a blood feud which was common in the East.
Levi plotted with others against Joseph. He went into Egypt with his three sons Gerrshon, Kohath, and Merari, as one of the eldest, and was presented to the Pharaoh. Levi’s descendants, among who were Moses and Aaron, were made ministers of the religion and representatives of the national faith: Jacob prophesized the Levi should be scattered among his brothers, the Levites, which was fulfilled in the distribution of the tribe among the forty-eight Levitical cities that were located throughout the country. The tribe displaced the early priesthood of the first-born as representatives of the holiness of the people. A.G.H.
Smith’s Bible Dictionary, Philadelphia, A. J. Holman, Co., Revised Ed., p. 181
Bowker, John, The Oxford Dictionary of World Religions, New York, Oxford University Press, 1997, pp. 574-575