the name given to the hereditary temple servants in all the post-Exilian books of Scripture. The word means given, i.e., "those set apart", viz., to the menial work of the sanctuary for the Levites. The name occurs seventeen times, and in each case in the Authorized Version incorrectly terminates in "s", "Nethinims;" in the Revised Version, correctly without the "s" ( Ezra 2:70 ; Ezra 7:7 Ezra 7:24 ; 8:20 , etc.). The tradition is that the Gibeonites ( Joshua 9:27 ) were the original caste, afterwards called Nethinim. Their numbers were added to afterwards from captives taken in battle; and they were formally given by David to the Levites ( Ezra 8:20 ), and so were called Nethinim, i.e., the given ones, given to the Levites to be their servants. Only 612Nethinim returned from Babylon ( Ezra 2:58 ; 8:20 ). They were under the control of a chief from among themselves ( 2:43 ; Nehemiah 7:46 ). No reference to them appears in the New Testament, because it is probable that they became merged in the general body of the Jewish people.
(given, dedicated ), As applied specifically to a distinct body of men connected with the services of the temple, this name first meets us in the later books of the Old Testament-- in 1 Chronicles, Ezra and Nehemiah, The word and the ideas embodied in it may, however, be traced to a much earlier period. As derived from the verb nathan , i.e. give, set apart, dedicate, it was applied to those who were pointed to the liturgical offices of the tabernacle. 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. ( Numbers 3:9 ; 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. No addition to the number thus employed pears to have been mad ring the period of the judges, and they continued to be known by their own name as the Gibeonites. 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 Sauls fury; and 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 ) At this time the Nethinim probably lived within the precincts of the temple, doing its rougher work and so enabling the Levites to take a higher position as the religious representatives and instructors of the people. The example set by David was followed by his successor.
neth'-i-nim (nethinim, "given"; Natheineim; the King James Version Nethinims):
A group of temple-servants (1 Chronicles 9:2 and 16 times in Ezra and Nehemiah). The word has always the article, and does not occur in the singular. The Septuagint translators usually transliterate, but in one passage (1 Chronicles 9:2) they render, "the given ones" (hoi dedomenoi). The Syriac (Peshitta) also, in Ezra, Nehemiah, transliterates the word, but in 1 Chronicles 9:2 renders it by a word meaning "sojourners." The meaning "given" is suggestive of a state of servitude, and Josephus seems to confirm the suggestion by calling the Nethinim "temple-slaves" (hierodouloi) (Ant., XI, v, 1). It should, however, be noted that another form of this word is employed in the directions regarding the Levites:
"Thou shalt give the Levites unto Aaron and to his sons: they are wholly given unto him on behalf of the children of Israel" (Numbers 3:9; compare also Numbers 8:16,19).
Of the history of the Nethinim in earlier times there are but few and uncertain traces. When Joshua discovered that he had been beguiled by the Gibeonites into a covenant to let them live, he reduced their tribe to servitude, and declared, "Now therefore ye are cursed, and there shall never fail to be of you bondsmen, both hewers of wood and drawers of water for the house of my God" (Joshua 9:23,27). It is no doubt tempting to see in the Gibeonites the earliest Nethinim, but another tradition traces their origin to a gift of David and the princes for the service of the Levites (Ezra 8:20). Their names, too, indicate diversity of origin; for besides being mostly un-Hebrew in aspect, some of them are found elsewhere in the Old Testament as names of non-Israelitish tribes. The Meunim, for example (Ezra 2:50 equals Nehemiah 7:52), are in all likelihood descended from the Meonites or Maonites who are mentioned as harassing Israel (Judges 10:12), as in conflict with the Simeonites (1 Chronicles 4:41), and as finally overcome by Uzziah (2 Chronicles 26:7). The next name in the lists is that of the children of Nephisim. These may be traced to the Hagrite clan of Naphish (Genesis 25:15; 1 Chronicles 5:19). In both Ezra and Nehemiah, the list is immediately followed by that of the servants of Solomon, whose duties were similar to, it may be even humbler than, those of the Nethinim. These servants of Solomon appear to be descendants of the Canaanites whom Solomon employed in the building of his temple (1 Kings 5:15). All these indications are perhaps slight; but they point in the same direction, and warrant the assumption that the Nethinim were originally foreign slaves, mostly prisoners of war, who had from time to time been given to the temple by the kings and princes of the nation, and that to them were assigned the lower menial duties of the house of God.
3. Post-exilic History:
At the time of the return from the exile the Nethinim had come to be regarded as important. Their number was considerable:
392 accompanied Zerubbabel at the first Return in 538 BC (Ezra 2:58 equals Nehemiah 7:60). When Ezra, some 80 years later, organized the second Return, he secured a contingent of Nethinim numbering 220 (Ezra 8:20). In Jerusalem they enjoyed the same privileges and immunities as the other religious orders, being included by Artaxerxes' letter to Ezra among those who should be exempt from toll, custom and tribute (Ezra 7:24). A part of the city in Ophel, opposite the Water-gate, was assigned them as an official residence (Nehemiah 3:26,31), and the situation is certainly appropriate if their duties at all resembled those of the Gibeonites (see Ryle, "Ezra and Nehemiah," in Cambridge Bible, Intro, 57). They were also organized into a kind of guild under their own leaders or presidents (Nehemiah 11:21).
The Nethinim are not again mentioned in Scripture. It is probable that they, with the singers and porters, became gradually incorporated in the general body of Levites; their name passed ere long into a tradition, and became at a later time a butt for the scorn and bitterness of the Talmudic writers against everything that they regarded as un-Jewish.
John A. Lees
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