the Week of Proper 21 / Ordinary 26
The 1901 Jewish Encyclopedia
1. Son of Esau by Aholibamah; mentioned as a "duke" () of the land of Edom (Genesis 36:5,14,18; 1 Chronicles 1:35). 2. Son of Eliphaz, Esau's son by Adah; also mentioned as a "duke" of Edom (Genesis 36:16). 3. Son of Hebron of the tribe of Judah (1 Chronicles 2:43).
4. Biblical Data:
Son of Izhar, of the family of Kohath, and great-grandson of Levi (Exodus 6:22; in 1 Chronicles 6:7 he is mentioned as a son of Kohath, but verse 22, following, also mentions him as the son of Izhar the son of Kohath). During the journey of the Israelites in the wilderness, Korah, with Dathan and Abiram, sons of Eliab, On, son of Peleth, and two hundred and fifty other "men of renown," rebelled against the leadership of Moses and Aaron (Numbers 16:1-3). Moses ordered Korah and his company to appear in the Tabernacle on the following day, each bearing a censer filled with lighted incense, and the Lord would decide who were the rightful leaders of the people (16:4-17). Korah and his company obeyed, and went to the Tabernacle with their lighted censers, followed by the whole congregation. The congregation was commanded to separate itself from Korah and his band, and when this order was carried out "the earth opened her mouth," and the arch conspirators "and all that appertained to them went down alive into the pit, and the earth closed upon them," while a fire from the Lord consumed their two hundred and fifty attendants (16:18-35). Korah's children, however, did not die with their father (26:11). The censers of the conspirators were made into broad plates to cover the altar, as a warning to future conspirators (17:1-5, Hebr.). After Korah's destruction the people murmured against Moses for having caused it, and a plague was sent by the Lord to destroy them. This plague killed 14,700 men before its ravages were stopped by an atonement offered for the people by Aaron (17:6-15, Hebr.).
From Korah were descended the Korahites, or Korhites, first mentioned in Exodus 6:24, and reappearing as Levites in Numbers 26:58 and 1 Chronicles 9:31. Several Psalms (, -, , , , ) are headed "for the sons of Korah," and the Korahites appear again as singers before Jehoshaphat fought the Moabites and Ammonites (2 Chronicles 20:19). Several Korahite warriors joined David while he was at Ziklag (1 Chronicles 12:6). Korahites are mentioned also as porters at, and gate-keepers of, the Tabernacle (1 Chronicles 9:19, 26:1,19).
—In Rabbinical Literature:
The name "Korah" () is explained by the Rabbis as meaning "baldness." It was given to Korah on account of the gap or blank which he made in Israel by his revolt (Sanh. 109b). Korah is represented as the possessor of extraordinary wealth, he having discovered one of the treasures which Joseph had hidden in Egypt. The keys of Korah's treasuries alone formed a load for three hundred mules (Pes. 119a; Sanh. 110a). He and Haman were the two richest men in the world, and both perished on account of their rapacity, and because their riches were not the gift of Heaven (Num. R. 22:7; comp. Ex. R. 51:1). On the other hand, Korah is represented as a wise man, chief of his family and as one of the Kohathites who carried the Ark of the Covenant on their shoulders (Tan., ed. Buber, Ḳoraḥ, Supplement, 5; Num. R. 18:2).
Cause of Revolt.
The chief cause of Korah's revolt was, according to the Rabbis, the nomination of Elizaphan, son of Uzziel, as prince over the Kohathites (Numbers 3:30), Korah arguing thus: "Kohath had four sons [Exodus 6:18]. The two sons of Amram, Kohath's eldest son, took for themselves the kingdom and the priesthood. Now, as I am the son of Kohath's second son, I ought to be made prince over the Kohathites, whereas Moses gave that office to Elizaphan, the son of Kohath's youngest son" (Num. R. 18:1; Tan., Ḳoraḥ, 3). Korah plied Moses with the following questions: "Does a ṭallit made entirely of blue wool need fringes?" To Moses' affirmative answer Korah objected: "The blue color of the ṭallit does not make it ritually correct, yet according to thy statement four blue threads do so" (Numbers 15:38). "Does a house filled with the books of the Law need a mezuzah?" Moses replied that it did; whereupon Korah said: "The presence of the whole Torah, which contains 175 chapters, does not make a house fit for habitation, yet thou sayest that one chapter thereof does so. It is not from God that thou hast received these commandments; thou hast inventedthem thyself." He then assembled 250 men, chiefs of the Sanhedrin, and, having clad them in ṭallitot of blue wool, but without fringes, prepared for them a banquet. Aaron's sons came for the priestly share, but Korah and his people refused to give the prescribed portions to them, saying that it was not God but Moses who commanded those things. Moses, having been informed of these proceedings, went to the house of Korah to effect a reconciliation, but the latter and his 250 followers rose up against him (Num. R. 18:2; Tan. c.; comp. Targ. pseudo-Jonathan to Numbers 16:2).
Korah consulted his wife also, who encouraged him in the revolt, saying: "See what Moses has done. He has proclaimed himself king; he has made his brother high priest, and his brother's sons priests; still more, he has made thee shave all thy hair [comp. Numbers 8:7] in order to disfigure thee." Korah answered: "But he has done the same to his own sons." His wife replied: "Moses hated thee so much that he was ready to do evil to his own children provided the same evil would overtake thee" (Midr. Agadah to Numbers 16:8; Yalḳ., Num. 750; comp. Num. R. c.; Tan. c.; Sanh. 110a).
Korah incited all the people against Moses, arguing that it was impossible to endure the laws instituted by the latter. He told them the following parable: "A widow, the mother of two young daughters, had a field. When she came to plow it, Moses told her not to plow it with an ox and an ass together (Deuteronomy 22:10); when she came to sow it, Moses told her not to sow it with mingled seeds (Leviticus 19:19). At the time of harvest she had to leave unreaped the parts of the field prescribed by the Law, while from the harvested grain she had to give the priest the share due to him. The woman sold the field and with the proceeds bought two sheep. But the first-born of these she was obliged to give to Aaron the priest; and at the time of shearing he required the first of the fleece also (Deuteronomy 18:4). The widow said: 'I can not bear this man's demands any longer. It will be better for me to slaughter the sheep and eat them.' But Aaron came for the shoulder, the two cheeks, and the maw (ib. verse 3). The widow then vehemently cried out: 'If thou persistest in thy demand, I declare them devoted to the Lord.' Aaron replied: 'In that case the whole belongs to me' (Numbers 18:14), whereupon he took away the meat, leaving the widow and her two daughters wholly unprovided for" (Num. R. 18:2-3; Tan., Ḳoraḥ, 4-6).
The question how it was possible for a wise man like Korah to be so imprudent as to rebel is explained by the fact that he was deceived through his own prophetical capacity. He had foreseen that the prophet Samuel would be his descendant, and therefore concluded that he himself would escape punishment. But he was mistaken; for, while his sons escaped, he perished (Num. R. 18:7; Tan., Ḳoraḥ, 12).
Destruction of Korah.
At the time of Korah's engulfment, the earth became like a funnel, and everything that belonged to him, even linen that was at the launderer's and needles that had been borrowed by persons living at a distance from Korah, rolled till it fell into the chasm (Yer. Sanh. 10:1; Num. R. c.). According to the Rabbis, Korah himself underwent the double punishment of being burned and buried alive (Num. R. c. 14; Tan., Ḳoraḥ, 23). He and his followers continued to sink till Hannah prayed for them (Gen. R. 98:3); and through her prayer, the Rabbis declare, Korah will ascend to paradise (Ab. R. N.; Num. R. 18:11; comp. Sanh. 109b). Rabbah bar bar Ḥana narrates that while he was traveling in the desert, an Arab showed him the place of Korah's engulfment. There was at the spot a slit in the ground into which he introduced some wool soaked in water. The wool became parched. On placing his ear to the slit, he heard voices cry: "Moses and his Torah are true; and we are liars" (B. B. 74a; comp. Tan., ed. Buber, Ḳoraḥ, Supplement).
Korah in the chief narrative concerning him (Numbers 16) is associated with Dathan and Abiram in leading a revolt against Moses and Aaron. A close examination of the chapter shows that two independent narratives—one in which Dathan and Abiram figure and one in which Korah alone appears—have been woven together. In verses 12-15, 27b-32 Moses speaks with Dathan and Abiram, while in the rest of the passage he speaks with Korah alone. Then, as the narrative now stands, Korah and his followers are killed twice, once in 16:32b-33 and again in verse 35. The Deuteronomist (Deuteronomy 11:6) knew only the story as related of Dathan and Abiram. This form of the tale comes from JE.
The story of Korah thus separated originally related a contest between a band of Israelites and Moses and Aaron over the right of the Levites to exercise the priestly office. This narrative belongs to P. A still later writer, by inserting "the son of Izhar, the son of Kohath, the son of Levi" in verse 1, and by adding verses 8-11, made the contest appear as one between a band of Levites and the house of Aaron over the priesthood.
Wellhausen ("Composition des Hexateuchs," p. 108) points out that Korah in 1 Chronicles 2:43 is a Judahite clan, and Bacon ("Triple Tradition of the Exodus," pp. 194 et seq.) has argued strongly for the view that the original P narrative is based on a Judahite story of J.
- Kuenen, Hexateuch, pp. 95 et seq., 334;
- Bacon, Triple Tradition of the Exodus, pp. 191 et seq.;
- J. Estlin Carpenter and G. Harford Battersby, Hexateuch, 2:212 et seq.
These files are public domain.
Singer, Isidore, Ph.D, Projector and Managing Editor. Entry for 'Korah'. 1901 The Jewish Encyclopedia. https://www.studylight.org/​encyclopedias/​eng/​tje/​k/korah.html. 1901.