Numbers 16 describes the Levites revolting against Moses and Aaron. In proving the Lord sent him to do all those things, Moses said

"But if the Lord brings about something totally new, and the earth opens its mouth and swallows them...you will know that these men have treated the Lord with contempt. As soon as he finished saying all this, the ground under them split apart and the earth opened its mouth and swallowed them...the earth closed over them, and they perished and were gone from the community." Numbers 16:30-33

It sounds like "something totally new" was an earthquake causing the ground to split. Is there any evidence for or against this?

  • 4
    That doesn't sound like what is generally referred to as an earthquake; an earthquake is not that local; but... what sort of "evidence" are you looking for here? Scriptural presence/not of earlier Biblical tectonic activity? Or geological evidence? or...? Mar 1, 2012 at 15:31
  • @MarcGravell While earthquakes are felt over very large areas, it is very possible to only have a small area split. As for evidence, I'm looking for any type that helps show one way or the other, whether scriptural or scientific
    – Cameron
    Mar 1, 2012 at 15:51
  • maybe, but that doesn't mean that any description involving ground opening is an earthquake. Frankly it doesn't seem a good fit IMO Mar 1, 2012 at 17:56

3 Answers 3


Maybe, maybe not. Consider Job 9:6.

Job 9:6 (DRA)
6 Who shaketh the earth out of her place, and the pillars thereof tremble.

Job is supposed to have lived around the time of Abraham, quite a while before the events that took place in numbers. Even if you consider Job to be a tall tale, its origin in oral tradition might suggest that Earthquakes are not new.

Earthquakes as a means of disposing with traitors to the faith, well that's different than flooding the Earth, and something new in God's revelation.

But alas, there is nothing new under the sun.

  • Good reference, that does push toward a "no" answer
    – Cameron
    Mar 1, 2012 at 15:56

It is not that earthquakes themselves were new, but rather that an earthquake would have been directly caused by God to punish Korah in front of everyone that would have been new.

Numbers 16:28 - 29 sets this up:

Then Moses said, “This is how you will know that the LORD has sent me to do all these things and that it was not my idea: If these men die a natural death and suffer the fate of all mankind, then the LORD has not sent me.

The sons of Korah (this is often called "Korah's rebellion") wanted new leadership, rather than simply relying on Moses' word. Moses was willing to put their claims to the test. Moses was even willing to give them the benefit of the doubt - if nothing bad happens when Korah tries to do its thing, then I'm not talking to the Lord.

But if the LORD brings about something totally new

i.e. if something bad happens, then yes, in fact the Lord is supporting me (Moses).

and the earth opens its mouth and swallows them.

In other words, if something new happens in the lives of the sons of Korah, then this is God talking. In a way, its no different than Gideon's fleece, only for the whole of Israel. Moses is stacking the situation so that God must show himself strong on account of Moses, or else God isn't talking to Moses.

...you will know that these men have treated the Lord with contempt.

In any event, earthquakes themselves had most likely happened before this.

  • Genesis 7 talks about the fountains of the deep opening up - which could be an earthquake, and
  • in Exodus 19:18, Mount Sinai itself was said to have "trembled greatly" when the Lord descended.

Again, what's new is the Lord making an event occur that is out of the ordinary, just as Korah speaks. This is also the first time in Scripture that the earth "swallows" someone up.

Incidently, according to this scientific study the Sinai has a long history of earthquakes, and they have been going on a long time.


There is evidence that the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah in Genesis 19 was due to seismic activity. (I am remembering [hopefully correctly] things I read 20 years ago) The Jordan River once flowed all the way to the Red Sea, but the seismic shift caused it to stop at the Dead Sea, and a once well-watered and desirable land (Gen. 13:10) became desert. So God not only destroyed the cities, but the entire region. I agree with the others, that the "new thing" was the people being swallowed up alive into the earth.

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