Mount Horeb. —Biblical Data:

Mountain situated in the desert of Sinai, famous for its connection with the promulgation of the Law by God through Moses (Ex. xix. 1-xx. 18). The general opinion of modern scholars is that the name "Sinai" is derived from the name of the Babylonian moon-god Sin. Mount Sinai is often referred to as "the mountain" (that is, the mountain par excellence), "the mountain of Elohim" (Hebr.), and "the mountain of Yhwh" (Hebr.; Ex. iii. 1, iv. 27, xviii. 5, xix. 2, et passim; Num. x. 33), and in many other passages it is called "Horeb" (Ex. iii. 1; Deut. i. 2 et passim). The Biblical text, indeed, seems to indicate that this last was its proper name, while "Sinai" was applied to the desert. According to one theory, Sinai and Horeb are the names of two eminences belonging to the same range; if this be so the range became prominent in the history of the Hebrews some time before the promulgation of the Law. When Moses led the flocks of his father-in-law to the desert and came "to the mountain of God, even to Horeb," an angel appeared to him from a flaming bush, and then God Himself spoke to Moses, telling him that where he stood was holy ground, thus foreshadowing the great event that was to occur there. From that mountain God persuaded Moses to go to Pharaoh and deliver the Israelites from his yoke. After the Exodus, when the Israelites who had encamped at Rephidim were suffering with thirst, Moses, by command of God, smote water from a rock in Horeb (Ex. xvii. 6).

Having encamped before Mount Sinai, the Israelites were told that from this mountain they would receive the commandments of God, and that they would hear His very voice. They were commanded to give three days to preparation for that solemnity, for on the third day God would come down on the mountain in sight of all the people. Moses set a boundary up to which they might go, and they were prohibited under penalty of death from even touching the mountain. On the third day the mountain was enveloped in a cloud; it quaked and was filled with smoke as God descended upon it, while lightning-flashes shot forth, and the roar of thunder mingled with the peals of trumpets. Then Moses appeared upon it and promulgated the Ten Commandments, after which God instructed him in many of the laws which form a part of the Pentateuch (Ex. xix. 1-xxiii. 33). Later, Moses, Aaron, Nadab, Abihu, and seventy elders of Israel went together up the mountain, where they saw the God of Israel. Mount Sinai was then enveloped in a cloud for six days, while on its summit, fire, the emblem of God, was seen burning. On the seventh day Moses was commanded by God to ascend the mountain to receive the tables of the Law; he remained there forty days and nights (Ex. xxiv. 9-10, 16-18). The Song of Moses refers to the solemn promulgation of the Law on Mount Sinai (Deut. xxxiii. 2); so does the Song of Deborah (Judges v.), which declares that the "earth trembled," the "heavens dropped, the clouds also dropped water," and the "mountains melted" (comp. Ps. lxviii. 9, 17).

Horeb reappears later as the place to which Elijah escaped after Jezebel had massacred the prophets of Yhwh (I Kings xix. 8 et seq.).

J. M. Sel.Different Names. —In Rabbinical Literature:

The Rabbis consider "Sinai" and "Horeb" to be two names of the same mountain, which had besides three other names: (1) "Har ha-Elohim" (= "the mountain of God"), the Israelites having received there the knowledge of the divinity of God; (2) "Har Bashan," the latter word being interpreted as though it were "beshen" (= "with the teeth"), that is to say, mankind through the virtue of this mountain obtains its sustenance; and (3) "Har Gabnunim" (= "a mountain pure as cheese"). The names "Horeb" and "Sinai" are interpreted to mean, respectively, "the mountain of the sword," because through this mountain the Sanhedrin acquired the right to sentence a man to capital punishment, and "hostility," inasmuch as the mountain was hostile to the heathen (Ex. R. ii. 6). Shab. 89a, b gives the following four additional names of Sinai: "Ẓin," "Ḳadesh," "Ḳedomot," and "Paran," but declares that its original name was "Horeb" (comp. Midr. Abkir, quoted in Yalḳ., Ex. 169); according to Pirḳe R. El. xli., it acquired the name "Sinai" only after God had appeared to Moses in the bush ("seneh"; comp. Sinai, Biblical Data).

Jacob's dream is an allegorical allusion to Sinai (Gen. xxviii. 12), "ladder" being interpreted as meaning the mountain. It is also supposed by the Rabbis that the well near which Jacob met Rachel (ib. xxix. 2) symbolizes Mount Sinai. Mount Sinai and Moses had been predestined from the days of Creation to meet each other; and therefore the former, when Moses led his father-in-law's flocks towardit (Ex. iii. 1), moved from its foundation and went to meet him. It stopped only when Moses was upon it; and both manifested great joy at the meeting. Moreover, Moses recognized that it was the mount of God on seeing that birds hovered over but did not alight upon it. According to another authority, the birds fell at Moses' feet (Yalḳuṭ Re'ubeni, Shemot, quoting the Zohar).

Scene of the Law-giving.

Sinai, however, acquired its greatest importance through the promulgation of the Law. God's descent upon the mountain was the sixth of His descents from heaven (Pirḳe R. El. xiv.). He had previously measured all the mountains, and His choice fell on Sinai because it was lower than the others. Then the other mountains, particularly Tabor and Carmel, began to dispute among themselves, each claiming that it ought to be the place of the delivery of the Torah. God, however, said to them: "Do not dispute; you are all unworthy of this occasion, as idols have been placed upon all of you except Sinai" (Soṭah 5a; Mek., Yitro, Baḥodesh, 4; Gen. R. xcix. 1; Lev. R. xiii. 2; Num. R. xiii. 5). Referring to Ex. xix. 17, Mek., l.c. 3 concludes that the mountain was torn from its foundation and that the Israelites were placed just under it (but see Shab. l.c.). The mountain was not very large, and when God descended upon it He was accompanied by 22,000 companies of archangels and by an equal number of chariots similar to that seen by Ezekiel. God therefore ordered the mountain to extend itself, so as to be capable of receiving such a host (Tan., Ẓaw, 16). In order to reconcile Ex. xix. 20 (where it is said that God descended upon the mountain) with ib. xx. 22 (which declares that God spoke to the Israelites from heaven), the Rabbis hold that God lowered the heavens and spread them on Sinai (Mek., l.c. 4). A similar statement occurs in Pirḳe R. El. xli., namely, that the mountain was removed from its foundation and that the heavens were rent asunder, the summit of the mountain extending into the opening. Moses, while standing on Sinai, could thus see everything that was going on in the heavens.

Since that time Mount Sinai has become synonymous with holiness (Yalḳ., Ps. 785). Sinai and Moriah are the two sacred mountains, through whose virtue the world exists (Midr. Teh. to Ps. lxxxvii.). After the arrival of the Messiah, God will bring Sinai, Carmel, and Tabor together, and will build the Temple on them; and all three will sing in chorus His praises (Yalḳ., Isa. 391, quoting the Pesiḳta, Midr. Teh. l.c.). Rabbah bar bar Ḥana relates that while he was traveling in the desert an Arab showed him Mount Sinai. It was encompassed by a scorpion which had its head raised; and Rabbah heard a Bat Ḳol, cry: "Wo is me for having sworn! For who can now make my oath of no effect?" (B. B. 74a).

W. B. M. Sel.—Critical View:

Modern scholars differ widely as to the exact geographical position of Mount Sinai. It is generally thought to be situated in the middle of the Sinaitic Peninsula, which apparently acquired its name from the mountain. But there is a whole group of mountains there, known to the Arabs as Jabal al-Ṭur, as it was to Idrisi (ed. Jaubert, p. 332) and Abu al-Fida (Hudson, "Geographiæ Veteris Scriptores Minores," iii. 74, Oxford, 1712); and it appears from Niebuhr ("Description de l'Arabie," p. 200) that this group is still occasionally called Ṭur Sinai, just as it was by Ibn Ḥaukal (ed. Ouseley, p. 29). According to the statement of Josephus ("Ant." iii. 5, § 1) that the Law was promulgated from the highest mountain in that country, the scene must have occurred on the peak now known as Mount Catherine. But the opinion of the natives is that the Biblical Sinai is identical with the peak now called Jabal Musa (Mountain of Moses), which is north of Mount Catherine. Other scholars, again, think that the scene must be placed on the Ras al-Ṣafṣafah (= "peak of the willow-tree"), the highest peak of the supposed Horeb, as at the foot of that peak there is a plain large enough for a camp.

But Grätz ("Monatsschrift," xxvii. 337 et seq.) and, later, Sayce ("Imperial and Asiatic Quarterly Review," 1893, vi. 149 et seq.) have concluded that the Biblical Sinai must not be looked for at all in the so-called Sinaitic Peninsula. It may be noted, by the way, that this appellation is not ancient; it was not known in the time of Josephus, who described Mount Sinai simply as situated in Arabia Petræa. Von Gall ("Altisraelitische Kultuslätten," p. 15) considers that originally Horeb and Sinai were the names of two distinct peaks, that Horeb was in the Sinaitic Peninsula, and Sinai in Midian, and that the identification of the two mountains is a post-exilic mistake (comp. Mal. iii. 22; Ps. cvi. 19). Von Gall's assertion, however, is not approved by critics like Holzinger and Sayce.

By comparing Num. xxxiii. 8-10 with Deut. i. 1 it is to be concluded that Sinai was between the Gulf of 'Aḳabah and Paran. According to this theory, Sinai-Horeb was either a part of Mount Seir or it was not far west of it, and Deut. xxxiii. 2, as well as Judges v. 4-5, favors the former supposition. The whole region now denominated the Sinaitic Peninsula was then under Egyptian control and strongly garrisoned. Baker Green identified Sinai with Mount Hor, which forms a part of Mount Seir, and Beke identified it with Jabal al-Nur (= "mountain of light"), at the northern end of the Gulf of 'Aḳabah.

It is evident that, long before the promulgation of the Law, Mount Sinai was one of the sacred places in which one of the local Semitic divinities had been worshiped. This is clearly indicated in Ex. iii. 5: the ground was holy, for it was Yhwh's special dwelling-place. The expression "and brought you unto myself" (Ex. xix. 4) means that Yhwh brought the Israelites to His mountain. The two names of Sinai and Horeb, meaning respectively "moon" and "sun," are of a cosmological nature. According to the higher critics, the "mountain of Yhwh" is called "Sinai" in J (Ex. xix. 11, xxxiv. 4) and P (Ex. xvi. 1; xxiv. 16; xxxiv. 28, 32; Lev. xxv. 1, xxvi. 46, xxvii. 34). On the other hand, in E, the earlier source, Horeb is the seat of Yhwh (Ex. iii. 1, xvii. 6, xxxiii. 6; in the last-cited passage the words "from Mount Horeb" belong to verse 9); and so in D, as throughout Deuteronomy, with the exception of Deut. xxxiii. 2, which is not Deuteronomic andwhich is parallel to Judges v. 3 et seq. The wilderness of Sinai is mentioned only in P (Ex. xix. 11 et seq.; Lev. vii. 38; Num. i. 1, 19).

The object of E is to show that before the Exodus the Israelites were heathen until Yhwh revealed Himself from His mountain to Moses (Ex. iii. 9-14). In E, Jethro is not the priest of Midian, but is connected with the worship of Yhwh of Horeb. On the other hand, J makes Jethro the prince of Midian, and omits all the expressions used by E tending to connect the cult of Yhwh with the older cult.

  • W. R. Smith, Rel. of Sem. pp. 110-111;
  • Robinson, Researches, i. 140, 158, 176-177;
  • Stanley, Sinai and Palestine, pp. 29 et seq.;
  • Winer, B. R.
J. M. Sel.
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