[Note: I added the material at the bottom about Rephidim. It relates to the “march from the South” and I forgot it the first time. – MSH]

Those of you who follow the Naked Bible Podcast know that recently we covered Exodus 3:1 in three episodes. That verse says: “Now Moses was keeping the flock of his father-in-law, Jethro, the priest of Midian, and he led his flock to the west side of the wilderness and came to Horeb, the mountain of God.” I don’t accept the traditional location for Mount Sinai (Jebel Musa) because of this verse and the verses below that have Yahweh coming to his land (Canaan) or temple from Teman, Paran, Edom, Seir. Some of the passages that describe this coming link those place names specifically with Sinai. These place names are all south of Canaan, have some adjacent relationship to Midian, and are linked to Sinai. Jebel Musa simply cannot accommodate these passages. I also do not believe Mount Sinai was Jebel al-Lawz in modern Saudi Arabia. I used to hold that view but have abandoned it, mainly because it cannot accommodate the “march from the South” passages either. I believe a Sinai location must account for these passages and still be consistent with Exod 3:1 (and other verses).

I realize that many listeners (and readers) will never have heard of the “march from the South” motif in the Hebrew Bible> But it’s there, plain as day. Here are the passages we noted in the podcast episode (note the boldfaced underlining):

Deut 33:1-2

1 This is the blessing with which Moses the man of God blessed the people of Israel before his death. 2 He said,

“The LORD came from Sinai
and dawned from Seir upon us;
he shone forth from Mount Paran;
he came from the ten thousands of holy ones,
with flaming fire at his right hand.

Hab 3:3-7

3  God came from Teman,
and the Holy One from Mount Paran. Selah
His splendor covered the heavens,
and the earth was full of his praise.
4  His brightness was like the light;
rays flashed from his hand;
and there he veiled his power.
5  Before him went pestilence,
and plague followed at his heels.
6  He stood and measured the earth;
he looked and shook the nations;
then the eternal mountains were scattered;
the everlasting hills sank low.
His were the everlasting ways.
7  I saw the tents of Cushan in affliction;
the curtains of the land of Midian did tremble.

Judg 5:4-5

4  “LORD, when you went out from Seir,
when you marched from the region of Edom,
the earth trembled
and the heavens dropped,
yes, the clouds dropped water.
5  The mountains quaked before the LORD,
even Sinai before the LORD, the God of Israel.

Having defended the Jebel el-Lawz some years back, I know that it is common to take these place names and have Moses and the Israelites going TO and FROM the various locations. That is not possible given that, in each case in the verses above, the same preposition (min) is before all the place names. The preposition min consistently means “FROM” or “OUT OF” and never “TO”. That is, it describes movement from a point of origin, not to a destination. One could also use min more abstractly to denote something emanating FROM a source, but not moving TOWARD a source. In other words, these verses cannot be read as the Israelites were in some instances traveling TO these places. They are all FROM (min). This realization led me to abandon the Jebel el-Lawz idea. The idea of a “to and from” wandering being described by these places names is directly falsifiable from the text and the semantics of min.

For those curious, I have created a syntactical search to prove this point using the Andersen-Forbes Phrase Marker Analysis (“Syntactical Database”) in Logos Bible Software. Here is what the search looks like:

 

The search asks for the database to locate all places in the Hebrew Bible where preposition min precedes a proper noun — specifically, a place name that includes cities, lands (countries), mountains, and rivers.

The next image is for any who have Logos Bible Software and would like to reproduce the search. The image shows the search dialogue with respect to the noun morphology and semantics I’ve asked for:

 

 

 

 

The results of the search yield 512 hits. I have put the results (showing Hebrew and English) into one PDF file. Here it is for anyone to peruse the results.

Syntax Search for MIN + proper noun place name

Obviously, we’re dealing with English translations in these hit results. If you go through all the results, you’ll find a handful of places where the translator uses the word “to” for min. But at such points you will find other translations that don’t. What you have to ask yourself to be thinking about the semantics is this: Is the noun min precedes a destination point? Is someone or something going toward the “min point” or proceeding FROM the “min point”? That will take care of any odd English choices.

Again, I post this for those further interested in why I abandoned the Jebel el-Lawz location. The “march from the South” passages are crucial and must be accounted for (in any view).

Addendum: The Problem of Rephidim

There are of course other problems for the Jebel al-Lawz (and the Jebel Musa) sites. Rephidim is an example. Let’s start with Exod 17:1-7:

1 All the congregation of the people of Israel moved on from the wilderness of Sin by stages, according to the commandment of the LORD, and camped at Rephidim, but there was no water for the people to drink. 2 Therefore the people quarreled with Moses and said, “Give us water to drink.” And Moses said to them, “Why do you quarrel with me? Why do you test the LORD?” 3 But the people thirsted there for water, and the people grumbled against Moses and said, “Why did you bring us up out of Egypt, to kill us and our children and our livestock with thirst?” 4 So Moses cried to the LORD, “What shall I do with this people? They are almost ready to stone me.” 5 And the LORD said to Moses, “Pass on before the people, taking with you some of the elders of Israel, and take in your hand the staff with which you struck the Nile, and go. 6 Behold, I will stand before you there on the rock at Horeb, and you shall strike the rock, and water shall come out of it, and the people will drink.” And Moses did so, in the sight of the elders of Israel. 7 And he called the name of the place Massah and Meribah, because of the quarreling of the people of Israel, and because they tested the LORD by saying, “Is the LORD among us or not?”

Obviously, Rephidim is the place where Moses drew water from the rock. According to Isaiah 48:21, Moses “split the rock and the water gushed out.” A common popular theory is that there is a rock at Jebel al-Lawz with a vertical split in it, and so this is assumed to be “the” rock Moses struck. So what’s the problem? Two items:

(1) Rephidim = Meribah / Massah. As Anchor-Yale Bible Dictionary notes, “Meribah also refers to an incident near Kadesh-barnea involving a challenge to Moses to provide water (Num 20:13, 24; 27:14; Deut 32:51; Ps 81:7).” Kadesh-barnea is nowhere near Jebel al-Lawz, where proponents of that view of the site of Sinai situate the rock of Rephidim. It is a site that is in the North Sinai — or the area south of Canaan where Paran, Teman, Seir, and Edom are also clustered.

(2) Rephidim (Kadesh-barnea) “was the last station of the Israelites before entering the wilderness of Sinai” (Exod 19:2). 1 In other words, Rephidim was not at Sinai. It was some distance away – specifically, it was at Kadesh-barnea.

So the question is this: Is Kadesh-barnea in Midian (on the other side of the Gulf of Aqaba in Saudi Arabia where Jebel al-Lawz is)? No. It is not even close.

Quoting Anchor-Yale Bible Dictionary again:

Kadesh-barnea: Var. “KADESH; KEDESH; MERIBATH-KADESH. A site in N Sinai where the Israelites camped before their entrance into Canaan. It was also known simply as Kadesh (Num 13:26; cf. Deut 1:19) or Kedesh (Josh 15:23). . . . It was also the setting where Moses disobeyed Yahweh’s command when he struck the rock to provide water rather than speaking to it (Num 20:2–13); this disobedience was the basis for Moses’ exclusion from entry into the promised land. After Israel’s entrance into Canaan, the site is mentioned as part of the S border of Judah (Josh 15:1–3).

It is typical of al-Lawz defenders (remember, I was one) to either not realize any importance with the connection to Kadesh-barnea or to argue that there was more than one incident where the people demanded (i.e., the Rephidim incident wasn’t at Kadesh-barnea). That is untenable.

Here are the elements from Exod 17:1-7

  • the people of Israel moved on from the wilderness of Sin by stages,
  • according to the commandment of the LORD,
  • and camped at Rephidim,
  • but there was no water for the people to drink
  • And he called the name of the place Massah and Meribah

Now look at Num 27:12-14 –

12 The LORD said to Moses, “Go up into this mountain of Abarim and see the land that I have given to the people of Israel. 13 When you have seen it, you also shall be gathered to your people, as your brother Aaron was, 14 because you rebelled against my word in the wilderness of Zin when the congregation quarreled, failing to uphold me as holy at the waters before their eyes.” (These are the waters of Meribah of Kadesh in the wilderness of Zin.)

It’s very clear that this is the same incident. Moses was not allowed to enter the Promised Land because he struck the rock at Rephidim (and made it seem that the power was his own). The incident at Rephidim is the incident that cost him the privilege of entering the land. And this incident was at “Meribah at Kadesh.”  The Archaeological Encyclopedia of the Holy Land describes Kadesh-barnea:

An oasis in the Wilderness of Zin, north of the Wilderness of Paran, in the northern part of the Sinai Desert. It was at an important crossroads on the main route leading from Edom and the Arabah to Egypt, called the Way of Shur, and the road leading from Elath and the central Negev onwards to Arad and Hebron (Num. 13:26). One of the most important stations on the route of the Exodus, with abundant water, where the Children of Israel halted for a considerable period (Deut. 1:46). From here the spies set out for the Land of Canaan, and here the people complained to Moses and Aaron (Exod. 14) and Miriam died (Num. 20:1). Here also the people begged Moses and Aaron for water (Num. 20:2), so that it became known as the Water of Meribah (Num. 20:13), called by Ezekiel the waters of strife of Kadesh (Ezek. 47:19). Kadesh-Barnea is identified with Ain el-Qudeirat. On the small tell, near the spring, the remains of an Israelite fortress from the period of the kingdom of Judah have been uncovered, consisting of a casemate wall fortified with towers. Remains of Roman and Byzantine settlements were discovered nearby.

Kadesh / Kadesh-barnea is nowhere near the location of Jebel al-Lawz, and so the “split rock” in the vicinity of Jebel al-Lawz is no evidence that it is Mount Sinai.

  1. Nahum M. Sarna, Exodus, The JPS Torah Commentary; Philadelphia: Jewish Publication Society, 1991, 14.