Friday, June 11, 2010

How the modern interpreters explain Korach's absence

Korach's big rebellion gets three biblical mentions. First, of course, it is in Numbers, where are the details are given, but there are two other mentions.

In Dueteronomy 11
It was not your children who saw what he did for you in the desert until you arrived at this place, and what he did to Dathan and Abiram, sons of Eliab the Reubenite, when the earth opened its mouth right in the middle of all Israel and swallowed them up with their households, their tents and every living thing that belonged to them.

and in Psalm 106

In the camp they grew envious of Moses and of Aaron, who was consecrated to the LORD.

The earth opened up and swallowed Dathan; it buried the company of Abiram.

Fire blazed among their followers; a flame consumed the wicked.

Notice, who's missing? Korach, of course!

Modern interpreters say this is evidence that Korach's rebellion was a later invention grafted on to the account of an older rebellion, one that involved the Rubenites alone. Other textual evidence for this grafting, or combining of sources, can be found here.

Some modern interpreters believe that the Rubenite story dates to early day when the tribes of Judah and Ephraim first started to gain power. Their ascendancy came at the expense of Rueben, the original top dogs among the tribes, who may very well have protested the new political reality with words like "כִּֽי־תִשְׂתָּרֵ֥ר עָלֵ֖ינוּ גַּם־הִשְׂתָּרֵֽר׃" (Are you going to lord over us?)

The tribe of Reuven's loss of prominence, the modern interpreters add, is also reflected in the stories of Reuben losing his firstborn status, stories written after the fact to explain why a once-mighty tribe had fallen. Indeed in the texts believed by the modern interpreters to be composed after Reuben decline, this tribe is not mentioned at all, or mentioned in a way that suggests its insignificance, for example, the Blessings of Moses.

As for Korach, the modern interpreters generally say his story was a salvo in the "Who is a priest" war. On the evidence of various texts and stories, the modern interpreters say that at some point in Jewish history any Levite could serve as a priest. Support for this contention is found all over Deuteronomy, where the phrase, "the priest, who are Levites" is used. Only at some later date, did the privilege become restricted to descendants of Aharon. See for example Leviticus, where the emphasis is "the priests, the sons of Aharon" The author of the Korach story, the modern interpreters deduce, supported the Aaronids, and wrote the story as a polemic against those who held the other view. Anyone who like Korach believes all Levites are holy enough to serve as priests can expect to be sallowed up by the earth.

Is there's an ancient interpretation for Korach's absence from the other materials I don't know it, and would be quite glad to have it.

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