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Encyclopedia of The Bible – Korah, Korahites, Korhites
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Korah, Korahites, Korhites

KORAH, KORAHITES, KORHITES kôr’ ə (קֹ֑רַח, LXX Κορέ, meaning bald); kôr’ e hīts (הַקָּרְחִ֗ים, הַקָּרְחִ֖י, בְּנֵ֣י הַקָּרְחִ֑ים); kōr’ hīts. 1. The son of Esau by Oholibamah, the daughter of Anah, the son of Zibeon the Hivite (Gen 36:5, 14, 18; 1 Chron 1:35).

2. The son of Eliphaz, the son of Esau by Adah, the daughter of Elon the Hittite (Gen 36:16). This is thought to be a gloss by some scholars, since it does not occur either in Genesis 36:11 or 1 Chronicles 1:35.

3. The son of Izhar, the son of Kohath, the son of Levi (Exod 6:21, 24) who rose up against Moses and Aaron with 250 leaders of the congregation charging them with exalting themselves above the assembly of the Lord, “for all the congregation are holy, every one of them, and the Lord is among them” (Num 16:1-3). At the same time Dathan and Abiram of the tribe of Reuben, rebelled against Moses’ leadership charging him with failure to bring them into the promised land and making himself a prince over the people (Num 16:1, 12-14). Disconcerted by these indictments, Moses charged Korah and the Levites with seeking the priesthood as well as the ministry of service before the Lord (vv. 8-10). Therefore, he challenged the rebels to meet with him at the tent of meeting, each man taking a censer and offering incense before the Lord, that the Lord might show who was holy (vv. 4-9, 16-19). However, Dathan and Abiram refused to meet with Moses (vv. 12-14). Judgment fell against those who rebelled. The earth opened and swallowed up Korah, Dathan, Abiram and their families and fire from heaven consumed the 250 leaders offering their incense (vss. 23-35). In the brief account of Numbers 26:9-11, it is pointed out that “the sons of Korah did not die.” The bronze censers were then collected and made into “hammered plates as a covering for the altar” (16:36-38). Still the people murmured against Moses and Aaron so that God sent a plague upon them which was checked only by Aaron’s atonement for the people, but not before 14,700 people had died (vv. 41-49).

Some scholars regard this passage as a combination of several narratives. A. Kuenen and J. Wellhausen, working on the basis of the documentary hypothesis, indicate three narratives woven together. From the JE document, the earliest source, comes the story of Dathan and Abiram who are laymen revolting against the civil authority claimed by Moses (v. 13). Verses 1b, 2a, 12-15, 25, 26 and 27b-34 are assigned to this source. The remaining vv. derive from two different strata of P. The first concerns the revolt of Korah and the 250 leaders against the Levites as the only ones to discharge the religious offices. In this instance, Korah and the leaders are not regarded as Levites, but as laymen controverting Levitical pre-eminence: “all the congregation is holy” (v. 3). When Moses and Aaron met with their adversaries before the Lord, each man with censer in hand, fire from the Lord destroyed the 250 leaders, vindicating Moses and Aaron. Included in this first stratum of P are 1a, 1b-7a, 18-24, 27a, 32b and 35. The second stratum regards Korah as a Levite and indicates a struggle within the Levitical tribe against an Aaronide priesthood: “...a reminder to the people of Israel, so that no one who is not a priest, who is not of the descendants of Aaron, should draw near to burn incense before the Lord” (v. 40). According to the documentary theorists, this would relate to the period of the Second Commonwealth when these distinctions were first made. Included in this stratum are vv. 7b-11, 16, 17, 35 and 36-40. However, there is no satisfactory explanation for the fusion of the stories of Korah and of Dathan and Abiram.

J. Liver argues that Deuteronomy 11:6 and Psalm 106:16-18 mention only the revolt of Dathan and Abiram, indicative of its earlier existence. During the time of Solomon when the priestly service was organized and consolidated for the large Temple, tensions arose over positions in the service. The Korahite Levites, one of the leading families, opposed the Jerusalem priesthood. To establish their position by tradition, this story was produced for authoritative support. It could not, however, achieve independent status and was thus appended to the tradition of the revolt of Dathan and Abiram against the authority and leadership of Moses.

There is no insuperable difficulty in viewing the passage as a harmonious unit. The proposed solutions to the various inferred problems are not only hypothetical, but often are equally problematic.

With regard to the miraculous judgments against Korah, Dathan, Abiram and the 250 leaders, some have pointed to flash floods in the desert area accompanied by lightning, or to the mudflats in the region of the Arabah, which under certain circumstances could well have swallowed up whatever was upon them (cf. G. Hort). While it may not be necessary to demonstrate natural phenomena which appear to corroborate the miracles in the Bible, it is always possible that God used such phenomena for His purposes.

4. The son of Hebron, son of Mareshah, son of Caleb, son of Hezron, the son of Perez whom Tamar, the daughter-in-law, bore to Judah (1 Chron 2:43).

5. The grandson of Kohath, son of Levi (1 Chron 6:37). Psalms 42-49, 84, 85, 87, 88 are given the superscription as “belonging to the Sons of Korah.” It is probable that they originated among this guild of singers and were perhaps sung by them in the worship of the Temple. In 2 Chronicles 20:19 when Jehoshaphat came before God, “the Levites, the Kohathites and the Korahites, stood up to praise the Lord.”

Shallum, one of the gatekeepers appointed by David, was also a descendant of Korah. Together with his kinsmen, “the Korahites were in charge of the work of the service, keepers of the thresholds of the tent, as their fathers had been in charge of the camp of the Lord, keepers of the entrance” (1 Chron 9:19). Shallum’s son, Mattithiah, was in charge of baking the sacrificial cakes (1 Chron 9:31).

6. Five of the men from the tribe of Benjamin who joined David at Ziglag were called Korahites (1 Chron 12:6), which suggests the possibility of Korah also being a geographical name.

Bibliography G. Hort, “The Death of Qorah,” ABR, 7 (1959), 2-26; J. Liver, “Korah, Dathan and Abiram,” Scripta Hierosolymitana, VIII (1961), 189-217; R. K. Harrison, Introduction to the Old Testament (1969), 628-630.