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We read:

“And Yahweh spoke to Moses and Aaron, saying, “Separate yourselves from the midst of this community, that I can destroy them in a moment.”

And they fell on their faces, and they said, “God, God of the spirits of all flesh, will one man sin and you become angry toward the entire community?”

Yahweh spoke to Moses, saying, “Speak to the community, saying, ‘Move away from the dwelling of Korah, Dathan, and Abiram.’” So Moses stood up and went to Dathan and Abiram; the elders of Israel followed after him.

He said to the community, saying, “Please turn away from the tents of these wicked men, and do not touch anything that belongs to them, or you will be destroyed with all their sins.”

And so they moved away from around the dwellings of Korah, Dathan, and Abiram; and Dathan and Abiram came out standing at the doorway of their tents, with their wives, sons, and little children.

And Moses said, “In this you will know that Yahweh has sent me to do all these works; it is not from my heart. If they die a natural death or if a natural fate is visited upon them, Yahweh has not sent me.

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But if Yahweh creates something new, and the ground opens its mouth and swallows them up and all that belongs to them, and they go down alive to Sheol, and you will know that these men have despised Yahweh.”

And it happened, as soon as he finished speaking all these words, the ground that was under them split open.

The land opened its mouth and swallowed them up with their houses and every person that belonged to Korah and all the property.

They went down alive to Sheol, they and all that belonged to them, and the land covered over them, and they perished from the midst of the assembly.

All Israel who were around them fled at their cry, because they said, “Lest the land swallow us up!”

And fire went out from Yahweh, and it consumed the two hundred and fifty men presenting the incense. Numbers 16:20-35 LEB

Q: Can this be interpreted in more than one way?

Certainly it says they perished from the midst of the assembly, but it also says they went down alive to Sheol. God is also acknowledged as being the “God of the Spirits of all flesh”.

Furthermore, not only does Numbers 16 mention Korah’s camp(people & property) went down alive to Sheol; but the New Testament seems to link backwards to Numbers 16 with the concept of “under the earth”.

Numbers 16 shows the earth split open, and in Phillipians 2:10 seems to indicate that Korah’s company would still be there, amongst other humans:

“Therefore also God exalted him and graciously granted him the name above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of those in heaven and of those on earth and of those under the earth, Philippians 2:9-10

Q2: Can Numbers 16 prove the immortality of the soul & the afterlife being “under the earth”?

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Answer to your Q 1: Can this be interpreted in more than one way?

Of course there's more than one interpretation to this passage of scripture. You have mentioned one, and others will mention different interpretations. One person commented to you 3 hours after you posted your question a different view. And my answer will show some of the complexity involved, but please read on.

Answer to your Q 2: Can Numbers 16 prove the immortality of the soul & the afterlife being “under the earth”?

Not in and of itself. Immortality is not mentioned. Soul is not mentioned. Living under the earth is not mentioned. To substantiate these two very brief summary answers to your two questions, please consider Hebrew language explanations for words connected to Sheol.

The OT speaks of the place where dead bodies are put, and that is qe’ber. The OT speaks of the place where the spirits of those dead people go, and that is sheol. A Hebrew concept of sheol is that there are two compartments to this 'holding place' for departed spirits. One is a dreadful place for the wicked, which is separated by an uncrossable chasm or chaos from "the Bosom of Abraham" for believers, which is a place of bliss. Jesus agreed with that when he spoke to Jewish people in Luke chapter 16. He warned those ones (who loved money) of going to hell after physical death. Of course, as this was written in Greek, the Greek equivalent for sheol was used - hades.

Go to http://www.middletownbiblechurch.org/doctrine/hades.htm

Sheol is never used in the plural but 'graves' can be plural and singular. Qe'ber is used in the plural 29 times in the OT. Sheol is never used to say bodies go there - not even bones - but the body goes to qe'ber 37 times. Sheol is never said to be near the surface of the ground, as is a grave, but qe'ber is located on or near the face of the earth 32 times. Sheol is never used as in this made-up sentence "There is Joseph's grave." But that's just how qe'ber is used, 44 times. Sheol is never used about a dead person being put in, or laid in it. But a dead body is put in the qe'ber 33 times (1 Kings 13:30). Sheol is never described as being dug, as is a grave. But qe'ber is used that way 6 times (Gen. 50:5)

The ancient Hebraic schools of Shammai and Hillel both taught just what Jesus described in Luke 16:19-31.

Now, in Numbers 19:16 & 18 qe'ver is used, to speak of a grave, the tangible place into which corpses are laid, and which can be touched by living humans. It does not speak of the unseen state, sheol. Unfortunately, I cannot find out confirmation of Numbers 16:30 saying sheol, but that is how several translations render it - sheol, and not the grave.

Given that the Hebrew word used in Numbers 16:30 is sheol, and not qe'ver, then it indicates the spirits of those struck dead going to the unseen place for departed spirits. However, spirits are not confined to the earth, for the Psalmist says that when we die, our spirits fly away (Ps. 90:10). Also we're told that, at death, "the spirit returns to God who gave it" for judgment (Ecclesiastes 12:7). On the other hand, literal graves are (usually) under the earth, into which literal corpses (not spirits) are placed.

Summary: Because the English word 'hell' is frequently given to translate sheol, but sometimes that is inappropriate when it's the grave being spoken of, the matter is very complicated. I have merely demonstrated this difficulty. Another difficulty is nuancing the meanings of a departed spirit, and the soul. I will not even start that, but as you have mixed the two words up in your comments, I suggest you make a careful study of that matter. Living souls went down into the ground when it opened up wide under their feet. Their bodies died, that location becoming their qe'ver, but what happened to the spirits of those ones? It's complicated, hence various interpretations, and why that one passage alone cannot be used to prove the immortality of the soul and the afterlife being under the earth.

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  • Jesus agreed with that when he spoke to Jewish people in Luke chapter 16 - some would agree with this statement, others would beg to differ. There is an intense exchange of arguments over Luke 16 going on here.
    – user38524
    Feb 6, 2022 at 14:30
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    @Spirit Realm Investigator I've been aware of the intense exchange of arguments over Luke 16 for several decades! It's the fact that there are different interpretations about sheol / hell, soul / spirit etc that means the answer to the POs 1st Q is 'Yes, there's more than one way of interpreting it', and the answer to the POs 2nd Q is 'No, not in and of itself'.
    – Anne
    Feb 6, 2022 at 14:46
  • @Anne That article was particularly helpful, couldn’t finish reading all of it due to time. +1
    – Cork88
    Feb 6, 2022 at 17:43
  • @Anne Thank you for that fourth paragraph. So many people think that Sheol is synonymous with the grave; with the place of dead bodies. As you showed in your answer, that is not the case! +1 just for that. :)
    – Rajesh
    Feb 6, 2022 at 18:48
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    @Cork88 They went down alive into what instantly became their grave - they were entombed underground: "they all went down alive into the pit, and the earth closed upon them" vs.32. That 'pit' became their qe'ver, their grave. Not all translations say 'sheol'. The question is, where did their spirits go to? Further 'down there', or into the invisible realm which is not material? Pit, grave, sheol, qe'ver, hell, spirits, souls, bodies... it's complex. No proof-text will suffice. Everything has to be put together, slowly, and that often takes years.
    – Anne
    Feb 7, 2022 at 12:41

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