In this post, I will talk a little about Jacob Milgrom’s discussion regarding Numbers 16 and the Documentary Hypothesis, in his excursus on Korah’s rebellion in the Jewish Publication Society commentary on the Book of Numbers.
Milgrom focuses on P’s contribution to Numbers 16:1-35. He believes that there were two stages of P: P1 and P2/H, which was later. What follows is the King James Version of Numbers 16. P1 is in boldface, whereas P2/H is in italics.
1Now Korah, the son of Izhar, the son of Kohath, the son of Levi, and Dathan and Abiram, the sons of Eliab, and On, the son of Peleth, sons of Reuben, took men:
2And they rose up before Moses, with certain of the children of Israel, two hundred and fifty princes of the assembly, famous in the congregation, men of renown:
3And they gathered themselves together against Moses and against Aaron, and said unto them, Ye take too much upon you, seeing all the congregation are holy, every one of them, and the LORD is among them: wherefore then lift ye up yourselves above the congregation of the LORD?
4And when Moses heard it, he fell upon his face:
5And he spake unto Korah and unto all his company, saying, Even to morrow the LORD will shew who are his, and who is holy; and will cause him to come near unto him: even him whom he hath chosen will he cause to come near unto him.
6This do; Take you censers, Korah, and all his company;
7And put fire therein, and put incense in them before the LORD to morrow: and it shall be that the man whom the LORD doth choose, he shall be holy: ye take too much upon you, ye sons of Levi.
8And Moses said unto Korah, Hear, I pray you, ye sons of Levi:
9Seemeth it but a small thing unto you, that the God of Israel hath separated you from the congregation of Israel, to bring you near to himself to do the service of the tabernacle of the LORD, and to stand before the congregation to minister unto them?
10And he hath brought thee near to him, and all thy brethren the sons of Levi with thee: and seek ye the priesthood also?
11For which cause both thou and all thy company are gathered together against the LORD: and what is Aaron, that ye murmur against him?
12And Moses sent to call Dathan and Abiram, the sons of Eliab: which said, We will not come up:
13Is it a small thing that thou hast brought us up out of a land that floweth with milk and honey, to kill us in the wilderness, except thou make thyself altogether a prince over us?
14Moreover thou hast not brought us into a land that floweth with milk and honey, or given us inheritance of fields and vineyards: wilt thou put out the eyes of these men? we will not come up.
15And Moses was very wroth, and said unto the LORD, Respect not thou their offering: I have not taken one ass from them, neither have I hurt one of them.
16And Moses said unto Korah, Be thou and all thy company before the LORD, thou, and they, and Aaron, to morrow:
17And take every man his censer, and put incense in them, and bring ye before the LORD every man his censer, two hundred and fifty censers; thou also, and Aaron, each of you his censer.
18And they took every man his censer, and put fire in them, and laid incense thereon, and stood in the door of the tabernacle of the congregation with Moses and Aaron.
19And Korah gathered all the congregation against them unto the door of the tabernacle of the congregation: and the glory of the LORD appeared unto all the congregation.
20And the LORD spake unto Moses and unto Aaron, saying,
21Separate yourselves from among this congregation, that I may consume them in a moment.
22And they fell upon their faces, and said, O God, the God of the spirits of all flesh, shall one man sin, and wilt thou be wroth with all the congregation?
23And the LORD spake unto Moses, saying,
24Speak unto the congregation, saying, Get you up from about the tabernacle of Korah, Dathan, and Abiram.
25And Moses rose up and went unto Dathan and Abiram; and the elders of Israel followed him.
26And he spake unto the congregation, saying, Depart, I pray you, from the tents of these wicked men, and touch nothing of their’s, lest ye be consumed in all their sins.
27So they gat up from the tabernacle of Korah, Dathan, and Abiram, on every side: and Dathan and Abiram came out, and stood in the door of their tents, and their wives, and their sons, and their little children.
28And Moses said, Hereby ye shall know that the LORD hath sent me to do all these works; for I have not done them of mine own mind.
29If these men die the common death of all men, or if they be visited after the visitation of all men; then the LORD hath not sent me.
30But if the LORD make a new thing, and the earth open her mouth, and swallow them up, with all that appertain unto them, and they go down quick into the pit; then ye shall understand that these men have provoked the LORD.
31And it came to pass, as he had made an end of speaking all these words, that the ground clave asunder that was under them:
32And the earth opened her mouth, and swallowed them up, and their houses, and all the men that appertained unto Korah, and all their goods.
33They, and all that appertained to them, went down alive into the pit, and the earth closed upon them: and they perished from among the congregation.
34And all Israel that were round about them fled at the cry of them: for they said, Lest the earth swallow us up also.
35And there came out a fire from the LORD, and consumed the two hundred and fifty men that offered incense.
The above doesn’t look all that neat, but it may not represent the sum total of Milgrom’s source division. But I think I see some development. First, there is the story of Dathan and Abiram rising against Moses, in which Dathan, Abram, and their families are swallowed by the earth. Then, in P1’s addition, Korah is leading 250 chieftains against Moses and Aaron, with the claim that the entire congregation is holy. The 250 men burn incense in censers, and so does Aaron, showing that there is a competition for the priesthood between Aaron and the 250 chieftains. God then consumes the 250 chieftains with fire. Then, in P2/H, Korah and the Levites are the ones who are rising against Moses and Aaron, seeking the priesthood. Milgrom does not exactly believe in a “P-source”, per se, as in a P document. Rather, he views the P strata as recensions, which seems to mean that he thinks that P added to earlier accounts: P1 added to the earlier story about Dathan and Abiram, and P2/H added his contribution to that.
I’ll admit that Milgrom’s division looks problematic (if I am understanding it correctly). Vv 5-11—which Milgrom says is P2/H (Milgrom doesn’t say that explicitly, but he does state that vv 5-11 are the last accretion to Numbers 16 and are from P, and P2/H does appear to be the latest addition, in Milgrom’s scenario), the last addition to Numbers 16—is where Moses commands Korah and his company to take censers so that people would learn whom the LORD has chosen to come near him. Without vv 5-7, we’re in the dark as to why the 250 chieftains in vv 16-18 are standing around holding censers, along with Aaron. I have a hard time believing that vv 16-18 was in the text before vv 5-7 were added. But I am sympathetic to Milgrom’s concern that there appears to be two rebellions led by Korah in Numbers 16: a rebellion by the 250 chieftains, and a rebellion by the Levites. I’d tweak Milgrom’s scenario by attributing vv 5-7 to P1, while leaving vv 8-11 under the designation of P2/H.