[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):
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.
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.
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. Moses struck the rock (Exod 17:6) and God gave the water. 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? Put simply (but the significance isn’t obvious), Rephidim is overtly associated with Meribah / Massah, both of which are overly associated with Kadesh. As the Anchor-Yale Bible Dictionary entry on Rephidim 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).”
Here’s Numbers 20:1-13
1 And the people of Israel, the whole congregation, came into the wilderness of Zin in the first month, and the people stayed in Kadesh. And Miriam died there and was buried there. 2 Now there was no water for the congregation. And they assembled themselves together against Moses and against Aaron. 3 And the people quarreled with Moses and said, “Would that we had perished when our brothers perished before the LORD! 4 Why have you brought the assembly of the LORD into this wilderness, that we should die here, both we and our cattle? 5 And why have you made us come up out of Egypt to bring us to this evil place? It is no place for grain or figs or vines or pomegranates, and there is no water to drink.” 6 Then Moses and Aaron went from the presence of the assembly to the entrance of the tent of meeting and fell on their faces. And the glory of the LORD appeared to them, 7 and the LORD spoke to Moses, saying, 8 “Take the staff, and assemble the congregation, you and Aaron your brother, and tell the rock before their eyes to yield its water. So you shall bring water out of the rock for them and give drink to the congregation and their cattle.” 9 And Moses took the staff from before the LORD, as he commanded him. 10 Then Moses and Aaron gathered the assembly together before the rock, and he said to them, “Hear now, you rebels: shall we bring water for you out of this rock?” 11 And Moses lifted up his hand and struck the rock with his staff twice, and water came out abundantly, and the congregation drank, and their livestock. 12 And the LORD said to Moses and Aaron, “Because you did not believe in me, to uphold me as holy in the eyes of the people of Israel, therefore you shall not bring this assembly into the land that I have given them.” 13 These are the waters of Meribah, where the people of Israel quarreled with the LORD, and through them he showed himself holy.
The issues to take note of are:
(1) There are a number of similarities (really, identical points) between the Exodus 17 and Numbers 20 accounts.
(2) One account takes place at Rephidim (Exod 17), the other at Kadesh (Num 20).
(3) Numbers 20:14 explicitly says “these are the waters of Meribah” — a term used in Exod 17 :7 for its “water incident” story.
This last item is the sticking point. If these passages describes the same incident (i.e., they are to be harmonized), then Rephidim and Kadesh are in the same region. As Anchor-Yale Bible Dictionary notes, “is mentioned as part of the S border of Judah (Josh 15:1–3).” This would place Kadesh in the same region as the other place names in the “march from the South” tradition. So the question that arises is this: “Is Rephidim in the vicinity of Kadesh?” It is typical of the “Sinai = Jebel al-Lawz” position defenders (remember, I once held that position) either not to realize that this is a relevant question or to argue that there was more than one incident where the people demanded water (i.e., the Rephidim incident and Kadesh incident were separate incidents).
Scholars have various answers to the questions of whether these two incidents are the same (most scholars, especially of the JEDP variety, say they are separate source traditions that the editor of the Torah got confused). They also have various answers to the question, “Is Rephidim in the vicinity of Kadesh?” On this second item, the identification of Rephidim, basically all scholars agree that the answer depends on where one locates Sinai. A “yes” answer to whether Rephidim and Kadesh should be identified with each other allows Exod 17 and Num 20 to be referencing the same incident (i.e., it suggests they are to be harmonized). It also therefore allows alignment of Rephidim with all the “march from the South” passages and their place names (that is, this answer creates the opportunity for “vicinity agreement,” and results in the Israelites wandering around in circles more than the alternative). A negative answer to the question about identifying Rephidim with Kadesh would obviously separate the two. For Jebel al-Lawz defenders, that answer also requires that Rephidim be east of the Gulf of Suez near Sinai in Midian. It also requires an answer as to WHY the passages are so similar and (most importantly for this post), how a location east of the Gulf of Aqaba for Sinai (Jebel al-Lawz) and Rephidim can be accommodated by the “march from the South” traditions in the Hebrew Bible that associate places known to be located in the north Sinai peninsula region (which isn’t east of the Gulf of Aqaba) with Mount Sinai.
These items — the “march from the South” traditions of the Hebrew Bible and the “Rephidim problem” are why I abandoned the Jebel al-Lawz viewpoint. I see no way to align that location with these items.