Torah, Talmud and Qur’an, all refer to Korakh and his rebellion against Prophets Moses and Aaron (Numbers 16:1-35). Studying all three perspectives can help Christians, Jews and Muslims understand their own religion’s particular insight and perspective.
The Torah focuses on the religious aspects of Korakh’s challenge to Prophet Moses and Prophet Aaron’s God given right to rule. “Korah son of Izhar, son of Kohath, son of Levi, and certain Reubenites—Dathan and Abiram, sons of Eliab, and On son of Peleth—became insolent and rose up against Moses with 250 well-known Jewish community leaders, who had been appointed members of the council.
They came as a group to oppose Moses and Aaron and said to them:“You have gone too far! The whole community is holy, every one of them, and the Lord is with them. Why then do you set yourselves above the Lord’s assembly?” (Numbers 16: 1-3)
Korakh’s challenge seems to be based on democratic values. We are all members of the People of Israel, and we all entered the covenant with God at Mount Sinai. So why should just Moses be the political leader; and why should his brother Aaron be the High Priest, when I am also from the tribe of Levi just like the two of you?
The Talmudic view claims that the envy of Korakh was based on his former wealth and high status in Egypt, where the family of Moses like all other Jews, was poor. “Rabbi Hama son of Rabbi Hanina said: Three treasures Joseph hid in Egypt: one was revealed to Korakh; one to Antoninus the son of Severus (or Asviros), and the third is stored up for the righteous in the (Messianic Age) future time.” (Talmud, Pesachim 119a and Sanhedrin 110a)
Rabbi Hama claims Korakh somehow found and used a part of Prophets Joseph’s wealth to become a Jewish Leader; and now felt he deserved to be the leader of the Jewish People in the desert, as he had been before Moses and Aaron started opposing Pharaoh.
The Qur’an supports this view, and tells us much more about Korakh’s previous character faults that were the real reason that he deserved to be swallowed up by the earth, by stating; “Korach (transliterated Qarun) was surely of the people of Moses, but he (Korakh) oppressed them, and We (God) gave him treasures, so much so that his hoards of wealth would weight down a body of strong men. Then his people said to him: Exult not; surely Allah loves not the exultant. (Qur’an 28:76)
Thus, even though God helped Korakh to find a part of Joseph’s great wealth; Korakh used the wealth and the power he had acquired to oppress the Jewish People. So they had already rejected Korakh for exulting himself over them. When God’s earth swallows Korakh and his ‘250 well-known Jewish community leaders’ supporters; it only reflects the Jewish people’s prior rejection of Korakh’s oppression.
The Qur’an also states: “And certainly We (God) sent Musa with Our words and clear authority, to the Pharaoh, Haman and Qarun, but they (the advisors) said: (Moses is a) lying magician. (Qur’an 40:23-24)
Qarun (Korakh) was a Jewish advisor to Pharaoh. Perhaps that is how he found Joseph’s treasure, or Qarun used his new found wealth to get the job as a Jewish advisor to the Pharaoh. In any case he used his position to help Pharaoh oppress the People of Israel.
The Quran also states that Korakh had joined with Pharaoh in spite of being an Israelite and become one of his favorites; so much so that one of the two ring leaders of opposition to Prophet Moses with Pharaoh was this same Korakh: “We sent Moses to Pharaoh, Haman and Korah with Our signs and a clear authority of appointment, but they said: He is a sorcerer, a liar.” (23:24).
From this it follows that Korakh had rebelled against his own people and become a supporter of the hostile forces which were bent on wiping out the Israelites. On account of this rebellion against his own people, Korakh had attained a high place with Pharaoh.
The two persons, besides Pharaoh, to whom the Prophet Moses had been sent were Pharaoh’s minister Haman, and this Israelite capitalist, Korakh. All the other (250) chiefs and couriers were of inferior status, and were not worth mentioning. The same position of Korakh has been alluded to in (29:39).
The importance of all this, is that both the Rabbinic material and the Qur’an, can help Jews, Christians and Muslims understand their own sacred texts better than just the study of any one scripture in isolation. We do not have to believe in another religions sacred scripture in order to benefit from learning insights from it.
A wonderful Islamic Hadith Narrative tells us: A disciple of Muhammad named Abu Huraira related, “The people of the Book used to read the Torah in Hebrew and then explain it in Arabic to the Muslims. Allah’s Apostle said (to the Muslims): “Do not believe the people of the Book, nor disbelieve them, but say, ‘We believe in Allah, and whatever is revealed to us, and whatever is revealed to you.'”
Following Muhammad’s teaching I neither believe nor disbelieve in the Qur’an. If I believed in the Qur’an I would be a member of the Muslim ummah (community).
But I cannot disbelieve in the Qur’an because I believe that Muhammad was indeed a world prophet to pagan polytheists; and I respect the Qur’an as a kindred revelation, first revealed to a kindred people, in a kindred language. In fact, the people, the language and the theology are closer to my own people, language and theology than that of any other on earth.
The Qur’an focuses not on the clash of religious values between Korakh and Moses but on Qarun’s character flaws of great wealth materialism, self-centered pride and nasty arrogance. “To be sure, Qarun (Korakh) was one of Moses’ people; then he transgressed against them.
We had bestowed on him such treasure that (just) the keys would have been carried with difficulty by a whole group of strong people. Once when his people said to him: “Do not exult, for Allah does not love those who exult (in their riches). 28:76-83”
There is a difference of opinion among those who write Tafsir-commentaries (I use Ibn Kathir, Maarif and Dawat in this article) about the nature of Qarun’s rebellion. Some people say that when the Jews were living in Egypt, the Pharaoh had made him (Qarun) the ruler (governor) of the Israelites and that he had oppressed them at that time.
Others say he (Qarum) was proud, keeping his dress about a foot higher than others (to show off his beauty); and that he was proud; showing arrogance because of his richness and wealth.
“And We had given him treasures, (just) the keys to which proved difficult even for a strong group to lift.” ‘Ali ibn Ibrahim said it is mentioned in the narrations that the keys of his treasures were being loaded on sixty asses and that no key was larger than a finger but as they were of iron they were very heavy, he got them made of wood. When that also proved very heavy, he made them of leather.
The Talmud agrees: “Rabbi Levi said: “The keys to Korah’s treasure house was a load for 300 white mules and the keys and locks were leather.” (Sanhedrin 110a)
Then his (Jewish) community told him, “Do not be haughty and do not show arrogance because of your wealth. Allah does not like those who are pleased solely with the worldly wealth and its beauty.”
Some say that Musa had said, “Behave benevolently with people and be kind to them, as Allah has been Kind to you. And do not try to create trouble and mischief in the world. Verily Allah does not befriend the mischief-makers. Qarun replied: no one has given me this wealth. I have earned it with the knowledge, which I possess.
‘Ali ibn Ibrahim says the meaning of what Qarun said was: “I have earned this wealth due to my knowledge of chemistry. It is said that Musa had taught him this Alchemy and according to some Quran’s thinking was that since I was superior to you in knowledge Allah gave me this wealth and status.
In the opinion of some he meant by saying Ilm (knowledge) was the knowledge of business, trade, agriculture and other occupations. Did he not understand that Allah had destroyed, centuries ago, those who were much wealthier and powerful? Criminals and deniers will not be questioned on Resurrection Day about their sins, because Allah already knows their deeds.
In this regard, one should bear in mind the fact that the Arab pagans of Makkah who feared that the Prophet Muhammad’s message would affect their overall national interests adversely were, in fact, the big money owners, money lenders, and capitalists of Makkah, who by virtue of their international trade and money lending business had become the Korakhs of their time.
These were the people who thought real truth was to earn and amass maximum wealth. Anything that seemed to vitiate this object was an untruth which could not be accepted in any case. And the common people looked with longing eyes at these magnates and earnestly desired that they should also attain the same heights as those people had attained.
In an atmosphere charged with the love of money, as it was, people considered it to be a weighty argument that if the invitation of the Prophet Muhammad towards Tauhid, the Hereafter and the moral code was accepted, it would spell ruin for the Quraish, not only commercially but economically too.