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International Standard Bible Encyclopedia
ko'-ra, (~qorach], "baldness," possibly; Kore):
(1) One of the 3 sons of Oholibamah, Esau's Hivite wife. The account says that the 3 were born in Canaan before Esau withdrew to the Seir mountain country. They are mentioned 3 times in the brief account from 3 points of view (Gen 36:5,14,18;, 1 Ch 1:35), the 3rd mention being in the list of "chiefs."
(2) One of the sons of Eliphaz, the son of Adah, Esau's Hittite wife (Gen 36:16). He is mentioned as one of the Edomite "chiefs."
If one has the habit, finding a statement anywhere, of thinking that the statement ought to be changed into something else, he will be interested in the attempts to identify these Edomite Korahs with Korah (3).
(3) A son of Hebron (1 Ch 2:43), the son of Mareshah, mentioned in the Caleb group of families in Judah.
(4) The son of Izhar the son of Kohath the son of Levi (Ex 6:16 ff; Nu 16:1; 1 Ch 6:18,31-38), a younger contemporary of Moses. There may have been generations, omitted in the record, between Izhar and Korah; that is a natural way of accounting for Amminadab (1 Ch 6:22-30).
1. The Catastrophe in the Wilderness:
This Korah is best known as the man whom the opening earth is said to have swallowed up along with his associates when they were challenging the authority of Moses and Aaron in the wilderness (Nu 16; 17). Korah is presented as the principal in the affair. The company is spoken of as his company, and those who were swallowed up as being "all the men that appertained unto Korah." (Nu 16:11,32). It is under his name that the affair is referred to (Nu 26:9; 27:3). But Dathan and Abiram of the tribe of Reuben are not much less prominent than Korah. In Nu 16 and 26 they are mentioned with Korah, and are mentioned without him in Dt 11:6 and Ps 106:17. Another Reubenite, On, the son of Peleth, was in the conspiracy. It has been inferred that he withdrew, but there is no reason either for or against the inference. Equally baseless is the inference that Zelophehad of Manassel joined it, but withdrew (Nu 27:3). The account implies that there were other Levites in it besides Korah (Nu 16:7-10), and it particularly mentions 250 "men of renown," princes, such men as would be summoned if there were a public assembly (Nu 16:2,17,35). These men, apparently, were of different tribes.
The position taken by the malcontents was that "all the congregation are holy, every one of them," and that it was therefore a usurpation for Moses and Aaron to confine the functions of an incense-burning priest to Aaron alone. Logically, their objection lay equally against the separation of Aaron and his sons from the rest of the Levites, and against the separation of the Levites from the rest of the people. On the basis of this, Moses made expostulation with the Levites. He arranged that Korah and the 250, along with Aaron, should take their places at the doorway of the tent of meeting, with their censers and fire and incense, so that Yahweh might indicate His will in the matter. Dathan and Abiram insolently refused his proposals.
The record says that Korah's "whole congregation," including himself and the 250 with their censers, met Moses and Aaron and "all the congregation" of Israel at the doorway of the tent of meeting. For the purposes of the transaction in hand the tent was now "the mishkan of Korah, Dathan and Abiram," and their followers. Yahweh directed Moses to warn all other persons to leave the vicinity. Dathan and Abiram, however, were not at the mishkan. The account says that Moses, followed by the eiders of Israel, went to them to their tents; that he warned all persons to leave that vicinity also; that Dathan and Abiram and the households stood near the tents; that the earth opened and swallowed them and their property and all the adherents of Korah who were on the spot; that fire from Yahweh devoured the 250 who offered incense. The narrative does not say whether the deaths by fire and by the opening of the earth were simultaneous. It does not say whether Korah's sons participated in the rebellion, or what became of Korah himself. In the allusion in Nu 26 we are told, apparently, that Korah was swallowed up, and that "the sons of Korah died not." The deaths of the principal offenders, by fire and by being swallowed up, were followed by plague in which 14,700 perished (Nu 16:49 (Hebrew 17:14)).
2. Critical Treatments of This Story:
Any appreciative reader sees at once that we have here either a history of certain miraculous facts, or a wonder-story devised for teaching religious lessons. As a story it is artistically admirable--sufficiently complicated to be interesting, but clear and graphic and to the point. In the Hebrew there are 2 or 3 instances of incomplete grammatical construction, such as abound in the early literary products of any language, when these have been fortunate enough to escape editorial polishing. In such a case it is possibly not unwise just to take a story as it stands. Nothing will be added to either its religious or its literary value by subjecting it to doubtful alleged critical processes.
If, however, one has committed himself to certain critical traditions concerning the Hexateuch, that brings him under obligation to lead this story into conformity with the rest of his theory. Attempts of this kind have been numerous. Some hold that the Korah of this narrative is the Edomite Korah, and that Peleth means Philistine, and that our story originally grew out of some claim made by Edomites and Philistines. It is held that the story of Korah was originally one story, and that of Dathan and Abiram another, and that someone manipulated the two and put them together. See the treatments of the Book of Numbers in Driver, Introduction; Addis, Documents of the Hexateuch; Carpenter and Battersby, Hexateuch; Bacon, Exodus; Paterson on Numbers, in the Polychrome Bible. These and other like works give source-analyses of our story. Some of the points they make are plausible. In such a case no one claims any adequate basis of fact for his work; each theory is simply a congeries of ingenious guesses, and no two of the guessers guess alike.
As in many other Biblical instances, one of the results of the alleged critical study is the resolving of a particularly fine story into two or more supposed earlier stories each of which is absolutely bald and crude and uninteresting, the earlier stories and the combining of these into their present form being alike regarded as processes of legendary accretion. The necessary inference is that the fine story we now have was not the product of some gifted mind, guided by facts and by literary and religious inspiration, but is an accidental result of mere patchwork. Such a theory does not commend itself to persons of literary appreciation.
Willis J. Beecher
Orr, James, M.A., D.D. General Editor. "Definition for 'korah'". "International Standard Bible Encyclopedia". bible-history.com - ISBE
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