Variant textual traditions now preserved side-by-side in the Bible reference two different places or place-names where Yahweh revealed himself and his commandments to Moses—neither of which has been archeologically identified.1
Both the Elohist and the later Deuteronomist consistently refer to the place of revelation as Horeb or “the mountain of the god.” Contrary to the Elohist however, the Deuteronomist does not present the giving of the laws as happening at Horeb, as we will see when we get to the book of Deuteronomy. (Some of my favorite contradictions here!)
Conversely, the Yahwist and the Priestly sources consistently refer to it as Sinai. However, there is no revelation of the divine name in the Yahwist tradition. The name Yahweh, the Yahwist claims, was known right from the earliest generations of man (contradiction #11 is a nice review as we move toward P’s revelation scene in Exodus 6:2-8). What the Yahwist tradition does preserve, however, is a different version of the Ten Commandments (see forthcoming #123).
The Sinai tradition might in fact be later than the Horeb tradition. One of the reasons for this assessment is the scarcity, even absence, of references to the Sinai tradition in biblical texts that date from before the exile. There are only two passages outside of the Pentateuch where Sinai is mentioned (Judg 5:5; Ps 68) and surprisingly there is no mention of Moses nor the giving of the law in these passages! Additionally, the mention of Sinai is absent in passages that summarize the story of Israel’s origins and its conquest of Canaan, such as in Judges 11:14-18.
Furthermore, commentators have often noticed the close linguistic connection between E’s burning bush, whose Hebrew word is seneh, and Sinai with its fiery theophany, as if the tradition of Sinai was grafted onto the earlier tradition of the burning seneh. All this leads one to conclude that the Sinai tradition, or more specifically its association with Moses and the giving of the law, was a later exilic creation, and reflects the significance this tradition had on its exilic community. This is no coincidence since it is in the exilic period that “the torah of Moses which Yahweh had commanded to Israel” (Neh 8:1) was established.
At any rate, the Bible itself bears witness to two competing traditions.
I often do not have occasion to talk about the convergences within the sources themselves, which as far as I’m concerned are some of the strongest arguments in support of the Documentary Hypothesis. So, in our present example, everywhere the text mentions the mountain of revelation as Horeb, it also uses Jethro, and the neuter Hebrew elohim for God, etc.—all features of E. And conversely whenever the text speaks of Sinai, it also speaks of Jethro, and unfailingly uses Yahweh, etc.—features of J. This study is not designed to bring these out unfortunately.
If interested, Richard Friedman in his The Bible with Sources Revealed (pp. 7-31) outlines 7 main arguments that support seeing these sources as independent and coherent compositions: 1) linguistic data; 2) terminology; 3) consistent content within each source; 4) continuity of the narrative when the source is reconstructed (e.g., #14-18, #24-25, #46-47, #72-73); 5) inter-biblical connections; 6) relationship to historical context; and 7) points of repeated convergences within each source. All together they make a convincing demonstration.
- See Finkelstein and Silberman, The Bible Unearthed, 326-328.↵