This is Part 3 of my series on Jacob Milgrom’s excursus on Korah’s rebellion in Numbers 16. This excursus is in Milgrom’s Jewish Publication Society commentary on the Book of Numbers.
In this post, I will talk some about Milgrom’s discussion on the dates of the traditions in Numbers 16.
Milgrom thinks that the rebellion of Dathan and Abiram occurred “within the context of the wilderness wanderings and the early settlement” (page 419). This is because Dathan and Abiram are Reubenites, and “their contention with Moses operates against the background of Reuben the first-born, that is, the erstwhile leader of the tribes, who is subsequently demoted, as reflected in the early patriarchal stories and poems (Gen. 35:22; 49:3-4; cf. I Chron. 5:1-2), and who is superseded by Joseph and later by Judah (cf. Gen. 37:18-30 with 42:34-43:15), probably in King David’s time” (page 419). For Milgrom, the rebellion of Dathan and Abiram reflects a time when Reuben was prominent, which was before Joseph and Judah became powerful. Because Joseph and Judah were powerful during the time of David, Milgrom maintains that the story of Dathan and Abiram predates that.
Regarding the Levite rebellion that Korah led, Milgrom thinks this could have occurred at the “beginning of the First Temple period”, when “The Temple hierarchy was still in the process of formation, and the Korahites could have been a major contender for the priesthood” (page 420). In that case, for Milgrom, the latest date for the redaction would be the “early monarchy”: the Aaronides won, and they added a tale about their victory to the text. Milgrom thinks that the post-exilic period is too late for the revolt because the Korahites at that time were mere singers and doorkeepers—and thus weren’t major contenders for the priesthood. He also thinks that the genealogy of Reuben (Numbers 26:9-10) and the inheritance law (Numbers 27:3) are old—and, because they mention Korah’s rebellion, then the story of Korah’s rebellion must be old.
Numbers 16 also uses the priestly term edah. According to Milgrom, this is a pre-monarchic term, for it was “an ad hoc emergency body called together by the tribal chieftains whenever a national or transtribal issue arises” (page 420). Milgrom states that the term “disappears with the consolidation of the monarchy, a fact that is supported by its absence from any text that can be dated after the ninth century” (page 420). Of course, the edah played a role in making Solomon (I Kings 8:5) and Jeroboam (I Kings 12:20) king, but Milgrom’s point is probably that its influence faded as the monarchy gained strength.