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Mount Sinai, Sina-i

mount si'-ni (a bush; enmity, thorny, mood god of sin, to shine)
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Exodus, God, Law, Moses, Ten Commandments
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Easton's Bible Dictionary

of Sin (the moon god), called also Horeb, The name of the mountain district which was reached by the Hebrews in the third month after the Exodus. Here they remained encamped for about a whole year. Their journey from the Red Sea to this encampment, including all the windings of the route, was about 150 miles. The last twenty-two chapters of Exodus, together with the whole of Leviticus and Numbers ch. 1 - 11, contain a record of all the transactions which occurred while they were here. From Rephidim ( Exodus 17:8 - 13 ) the Israelites journeyed forward through the Wady Solaf and Wady esh-Sheikh into the plain of er-Rahah, "the desert of Sinai," about 2 miles long and half a mile broad, and encamped there "before the mountain." The part of the mountain range, a protruding lower bluff, known as the Ras Sasafeh (Sufsafeh), rises almost perpendicularly from this plain, and is in all probability the Sinai of history.

Dean Stanley thus describes the scene:, "The plain itself is not broken and uneven and narrowly shut in, like almost all others in the range, but presents a long retiring sweep, within which the people could remove and stand afar off. The cliff, rising like a huge altar in front of the whole congregation, and visible against the sky in lonely grandeur from end to end of the whole plain, is the very image of the 'mount that might be touched,' and from which the voice of God might be heard far and wide over the plain below."

This was the scene of the giving of the law. From the Ras Sufsafeh the law was proclaimed to the people encamped below in the plain of er-Rahah. During the lengthened period of their encampment here the Israelites passed through a very memorable experience. An immense change passed over them. They are now an organized nation, bound by covenant engagement to serve the Lord their God, their ever-present divine Leader and Protector. At length, in the second month of the second year of the Exodus, they move their camp and march forward according to a prescribed order. After three days they reach the "wilderness of Paran," the "et-Tih", i.e., "the desert", and here they make their first encampment. At this time a spirit of discontent broke out amongst them, and the Lord manifested his displeasure by a fire which fell on the encampment and inflicted injury on them. Moses called the place Taberah (q.v.), Numbers 11:1 - 3 . The journey between Sinai and the southern boundary of the Promised Land (about 150 miles) at Kadesh was accomplished in about a year. (See MAP facing page 204.)


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Hitchcock's Dictionary of Bible Names

a bush; enmity

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Smith's Bible Dictionary

(thorny). Nearly in the centre of the peninsula which stretches between the horns of the Red Sea lies a wedge of granite, grunstein and porphyry rocks rising to between 8000 and 9000 feet above the sea. Its shape resembles st scalene triangle. These mountains may be divided into two great masses-that of Jebel Serbal (8759 feet high), in the northwest above Wady Feiran , and the central group, roughly denoted by the general name of Sinai. This group rises abruptly from the Wady es-Sheikh at its north foot, first to the cliffs of the Ras Sufsafeh , behind which towers the pinnacle of Jebel Musa (the Mount of Moses), and farther back to the right of it the summit of Jebel Katerin (Mount St. Catherine, 8705 feet) all being backed up and. overtopped by Um Shamer (the mother of fennel , 9300 feet), which is the highest point of the whole peninsula.

Names . --

These mountains are called Horeb, and sometimes Sinai. Some think that Horeb is the name of the whole range, and Sinai the name of a particular mountain; others, that Sinai is the range and Horeb the particular mountain; while Stanley suggests that the distinction is one of usage, and that both names are applied to the same place.

The mountain from which the law was given . --

Modern investigators have generally come to the conclusion that of the claimants Jebel Serba, Jebel Musa and Ras Sufsafeh, the last the modern Horeb of the monks --viz. the northwest and lower face of the Jebel Musa, crowned with a range of magnificent cliffs, the highest point called Ras Sufsafeh, as overlooking the plain er Rahah --is the scene of the giving of the law, and that peak the mountain into which Moses ascended. (But Jebel Musa and Ras Sufsafeh are really peaks of the Same mountain, and Moses may have received the law on Jebel Musa, but it must have been proclaimed from Ras Sufsafeh. Jebel Musa is the traditional mount where Moses received the law from God. It is a mountain mass two miles long and one mile broad, The southern peak is 7363 feet high; the northern peak, Ras Sufsafeh is 6830 feet high. It is in full view of the plain er Rahah, where the children of Israel were encamped. This plain is a smooth camping-ground, surrounded by mountains. It is about two miles long by half a mile broad, embracing 400 acres of available standing round made into a natural amphitheatre by a low semicircular mount about 300 yards from the foot of the mountain. By actual measurement it contains over 2,000,000 square yards, and with its branches over 4,000,000 square yards, so that the whole people of Israel, two million in number, would find ample accommodations for seeing and hearing. In addition to this, the air is wonderfully clear, both for seeing and hearing. Dean Stanley says that "from the highest point of Ras Sufsafeh to its lower peak, a distance of about 60 feet, the page of a book distinctly but not loudly read was perfectly audible." It was the belief of the Arabs who conducted Niebuhr that they could make themselves heard across the Gulf of Akabah, --a belief fostered by the great distance to which the voice can actually be carried. There is no other place known among all these mountains so well adapted for the purpose of giving and receiving the law as this rocky pulpit of Ras Sufsafeh and the natural amphitheatre of er Rahah.

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International Standard Bible Encyclopedia

si'-ni, si'-na-i (cinay; Codex Alexandrinus Sina, Codex Vaticanus Seina):

1. The Name:

The name comes probably from a root meaning "to shine," which occurs in Syriac, and which in Babylonian is found in the name sinu for "the moon." The old explanation, "clayey," is inappropriate to any place in the Sinaitic desert, though it might apply to Sin (Ezekiel 30:15,16) or Pelusium; even there, however, the applicability is doubtful. The desert of Sin (Exodus 16:1 ; 17:1 ; Numbers 33:11) lay between Sinai and the Gulf of Suez, and may have been named from the "glare" of its white chalk. But at Sinai "the glory of Yahweh was like devouring fire on the top of the mount in the eyes of the children of Israel" (Exodus 24:17); and, indeed, the glory of the Lord still dyes the crags of Jebel Musa (the "mountain of Moses") with fiery red, reflected from its red granite and pink gneiss rocks, long after the shadows have fallen on the plain beneath. Sinai is mentioned, as a desert and a mountain, in 35 passages of the Old Testament. In 17 passages the same desert and mountain are called "Horeb," or "the waste." This term is chiefly used in Deuteronomy, though Sinai also occurs (Deuteronomy 33:2). In the other books of the Pentateuch, Sinai is the usual name, though Horeb also occurs (Exodus 3:1 ; 17:6 ; 33:6), applying both to the "Mount of God" and to the desert of Rephidim, some 20 miles to the Northwest.

2. Traditional Site:

The indications of position, in various passages of the Pentateuch, favor the identification with the traditional site, which has become generally accepted by all those explorers who have carefully considered the subject, though two other theories may need notice. Moses fled to the land of Midian (or "empty land"), which lay East of the Sinaitic peninsula (Numbers 22:4 , 7 ; 25 ; 31), and when he wandered with his flocks to Horeb (Exodus 3:1) he is said to have reached the west side of the desert. In another note (Deuteronomy 1:2) we read that the distance was "eleven days' journey from Horeb by the way of Mount Seir unto Kadesh-barnea" or Petra (see WANDERINGS OF ISRAEL), the distance being about 145 miles, or 14 miles of daily march, though Israel--with its flocks, women and children--made 16 marches between these points. Sinai again is described as being distant from Egypt "three days' journey into the wilderness" (Exodus 5:3), the actual route being 117 miles, which Israel accomplished in 10 journeys. But, for Arabs not encumbered with families and herds, this distance could still be covered by an average march of 39 miles daily, on riding camels, or even, if necessary, on foot.

3. Identification with Jebel Musa:

These distances will not, however, allow of our placing Sinai farther East than Jebel Musa. Lofty mountains, in all parts of the world, have always been sacred and regarded as the mysterious abode of God; and Josephus says that Sinai is "the highest of all the mountains thereabout," and again is "the highest of all the mountains that are in that country, and is not only very difficult to be ascended by men, on account of its vast. altitude but because of the sharpness of its precipices: nay, indeed, it cannot be looked at without pain of the eyes, and besides this it was terrible and inaccessible, on account of the rumor that passed about, that God dwelt there" (Ant., II, xii, 1; III, v, 1). Evidently in his time Sinai was supposed to be one of the peaks of the great granitic block called et Tur--a term applying to any lofty mountain. This block has its highest peak in Jebel Katarin (so named from a legend of Catherine of Egypt), rising 8,550 ft. above the sea. Northeast of this is Jebel Musa (7,370 ft.), which, though less high, is more conspicuous because of the open plain called er Rachah ("the wide") to its Northwest. This plain is about 4 miles long and has a width of over a mile, so that it forms, as Dr. E. Robinson (Biblical Researches, 1838, I, 89) seems to have been the first to note, a natural camp at the foot of the mountain, large enough for the probable numbers (see EXODUS, 3) of Israel.

4. Description of Jebel Musu:

Jebel Musa has two main tops, that to the Southeast being crowned by a chapel. The other, divided by gorges into three precipitous crags, has the Convent to its North, and is called Ras-es-Cafcafeh, or "the willow top." North of the Convent is the lower top of Jebel edition Deir ("mountain of the monastery"). These heights were accurately determined by Royal Engineer surveyors in 1868 (Sir C. Wilson, Ordnance Survey of Sinai); and, though it is impossible to say which of the peaks Moses ascended, yet they are all much higher than any mountains in the Sinaitic desert, or in Midian. The highest tops in the Tih desert to the North are not much over 4,000 ft. Those in Midian, East of Elath, rise only to 4,200 ft. Even Jebel Serbal, 20 miles West of Sinai--a ridge with many crags, running 3 miles in length--is at its highest only 6,730 ft. above the sea. Horeb is not recorded to have been visited by any of the Hebrews after Moses, except by Elijah (1 Kings 19:8) in a time of storm. In favor of the traditional site it may also be observed that clouds suddenly formed, or lasting for days (Exodus 24:15), are apt to cap very lofty mountains. The Hebrews reached Sinai about the end of May (Exodus 19:1) and, on the 3rd day, "there were thunders and lightnings, and a thick cloud upon the mount" (Exodus 19:16). Such storms occur as a rule in the Sinaitic desert only in December and January, but thunderstorms are not unknown in Palestine even in May.

5. Patristic Evidence:

A constant tradition fixing the site is traceable back to the 4th century AD. Eusebius and Jerome (Onomasticon, under the word "Choreb") place Horeb near Paran, which in their time was placed (Onomasticon, under the word "Raphidim") in Wady Feiran. Anchorites lived at Paran, and at Sinai at least as early as 365 AD, and are noticed in 373 AD, and often later (Robinson, Biblical Res., 1838, I, 122-28); the monastery was first built for them by Justinian in 527 AD and his chapel still exists. Cosmas (Topogr. Christ.), in the same reign, says that Rephidim was then called Pharan, and (distinguishing Horeb from Sinai, as Eusebius also does) he places it "about 6 miles from Pharan," and "near Sinai." These various considerations may suffice to show that the tradition as to Horeb is at least as old as the time of Josephus, and that it agrees with all the indications given in the Old Testament.

6. Lepsius' Theory:

Lepsius, it is true (Letters from Egypt, 1842-44), denying the existence of any unbroken tradition, and relying on his understanding of Cosmas, supposed Sinai to be the Jebel Serbal above mentioned, which lies immediately South of Wady Feiran. His main argument was that, visiting Sinai in March, he considered that the vicinity did not present sufficient water for Israel (Appendix B, 303-18). But, on this point, it is sufficient to give the opinion of the late F. W. Holland, based on the experience of four visits, in 1861, 1865, 1867-68.

He says (Recovery of Jerusalem, 524): "With regard to water-supply there is no other spot in the whole Peninsula which is nearly so well supplied as the neighborhood of Jebel Musa. Four streams of running water are found there: one in Wady Leja; a second in Wady et Tl'ah which waters a succession of gardens extending more than 3 miles in length, and forms pools in which I have often had a swim; a third stream rises to the North of the watershed of the plain of er Rachah and runs West into Wady et Tl'ah; and a fourth, is formed by the drainage from the mountains of Umm Alawy, to the East of Wady Sebaiyeh and finds its way into that valley by a narrow ravine opposite Jebel edition Deir. In addition to these streams there are numerous wells and springs, affording excellent water throughout the whole of the granitie district. I have seldom found it necessary to carry water when making a mountain excursion, and the intermediate neighborhood of Jebel Masa would, I think, bear comparison with many mountain districts in Scotland with regard to its supply of water. There is also no other district in the Peninsula which affords such excellent pasturage."

This is important, as Israel encamped near Sinai from the end of May till April of the next year. There is also a well on the lower slope of Jebel Musa itself, where the ascent begins.


7. Greene's Theory:

Another theory, put forward by Mr. Baker Greene (The Hebrew Migration from Egypt), though accepted by Dr. Sayce (Higher Cricitism, 1894, 268), appears likewise to be entirely untenable. Mr. Greene supposed Elim (Exodus 15:27) to be Elath (Deuteronomy 2:8), now `Ailah at the head of the Gulf of `Akabah; and that Sinai therefore was some unknown mountain in Midian. But in this case Israel would in 4 days (see Exodus 15:22 , 23 , 27) have traveled a distance of 200 miles to reach Elim, which cannot but be regarded as quite impossible for the Hebrews when accompanied by women, children, flocks and herds.



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bible commentary, bible history, bible reference, bible study, define, God, horeb, jebel musa, law, mount sinai, mountain, moses, sina-i, ten commandments

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