Curious Christian

Biblical Contradiction: Mt. Sinai or Mt. Horeb?

Dr. Carmen Imes answers the common accusation that the two different names for the mountain are a contradiction. This snippet comes from her upcoming class on Exodus, which will be released on BiblicalTraining by the end of this month.

So I noted in 3:1 that Moses comes to Horeb, the Mountain of God. Now later the Israelites are going to come back here with Moses and then it's called Mount Sinai. So some have said this is the evidence of the joining of two different narrative traditions by two different authors and that's why we have two different titles. I'm actually persuaded that there are other reasons that are better explanations for why we have two words for this mountain, and so I'll share what I've learned.

So it's possible that Horeb is the name of the wider area and that Sinai is the particular mountain.

It could be that Horeb is the name of the mountain but the name changes because of Moses' encounter with Yahweh at this mountain. In verse three we saw that Moses saw that although the bush was on fire, it did not burn up. Yahweh appeared to him in the flames of fire from within a bush and the word for bush here is a rare word for bush in Hebrew. The word is SENEH. So you can see the relationship between the SENEH bush and Sinai the mountain. It's just different vowels with the same consonants. So it could be that because of Moses' encounter with the SENEH on this mountain that they begin to call it Mount Sinai. So the mountain is named after the bush of that encounter.

It's also possible that Sinai is the name of the wider area and Horeb is the mountain, so it could go either way and it could be that the narrator is choosing whichever word is most appropriate for that particular context.

So there is a later place here in chapter 3 where Horeb might be the region but later there's one place where it's called Mount Horeb, that's in chapter 33:6 and there it's possible that he's choosing the word Horeb to describe the mountain because of a word play with CHEREB, which is the word for sword. There's a bloody scene there where they pull out swords and people die and it could be that he's calling the mountain by the name that sounds like sword to create a kind of word play. So either possibility could explain could be an alternate explanation for why we have these two names that are interchangeable rather than supposing that there's two separate traditions that got combined later in time.

Exodus 3:12 coordinates these two locations. It says, "and this will be the sign to you that it is I who have sent you. When you have brought the people out of Egypt, you will worship God on this mountain. So as Moses is encountering Yahweh for the first time at Horeb, God says you're going to come back to this mountain with the people. So that's why we we need to see them as the same mountain because  historically, literarily, theologically, the two coordinate.

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