And they traveled from Rephidim and camped in the wilderness of Sinai. (Num 33:15 = Ex 19:2)
The Priestly traditions or Redactional inserts preserved in Exodus–Numbers inform us that the Israelites arrived in the wilderness of Sinai, opposite the mountain, “on/in the 3rd month after the Exodus” (Ex 19:1)—let’s call it 3/1/01, counting from the Exodus. See also my Introduction to Numbers 33.
The itinerary of Numbers 33 then continues:
And they traveled from the wilderness of Sinai and camped at Kibroth Hattaavah. (Num 33:16 ≠ Num 11:3)
Although the traditions in Exodus–Numbers have the Israelites moving from Sinai to Taberah, the itinerary of Numbers 33 has them moving directly from Sinai to Kibroth Hattaavah! That these were indeed conceived of as two separate places, see Deuteronomy 9:22 which mentions Taberah and Kibroth Hattaavah as two independent stops in the itinerary, near Horeb.
What is more interesting, however, is that the move to and from Sinai in Numbers 33:15-16, which only takes up two verses, takes up a total of 59 chapters in the Exodus–Numbers composite narrative. And chronologically speaking these 59 chapters whose setting is Sinai or in front of Sinai merely take up approximately 11½ months (see Num 10:11) of the alleged 40 year wilderness period! See also my Introduction to Numbers 33.
So how much of this 59-chapter Sinai tradition was known when verses 15-16 of Numbers 33 were penned, since our scribe just nonchalantly passes through it with no mention of this climatic event?
It is instructing to note that “Sinai” only appears 4 times outside of the Pentateuch! And 3 of these 4 occurrences (Judg 5:5; Ps 68:9 & 18) never mention any law or revelation given at Sinai, but merely speak of it as Yahweh’s abode (cf. Deut 33:2). Only 1 verse outside of the Torah literature speaks of Sinai as the mountain of revelation, and that comes from a later 4th century BCE text, Nehemiah 9:13! For having been such a formidable event, the biblical literature outside of the Torah knows next to nothing about any Sinai revelation! We have 1 verse (Neh 9:13) that refers to it; that’s it!
But this is not all. The book of Deuteronomy also knows nothing of a Sinai tradition and the laws and covenants given at Sinai. I am not here simply speaking about the difference between names—D’s use of “Horeb” and P’s use of “Sinai” (see #86). Rather when we get to noting the contradictions in Deuteronomy, we will see, most uncomfortably, that Deuteronomy’s Moses knows none of the laws, covenants, and commandments given by Yahweh at Sinai! In fact we will see a Moses who presents new and different laws, covenants, and commandments (Deut 12-26) that completely neglect and/or contradict the laws, covenants, and commandments given by Yahweh at Sinai. Or, to put this in source-critical terms: when the author of Deuteronomy sits down to write his text, none of the Priestly source—that is, Exodus 25–31 & 35–40, all of the book of Leviticus, and Numbers 1–10:28) had yet been written! Thus his Moses can’t possibly know the contents of these yet to be written texts!
In other words, when the 7th-century BCE Deuteronomist sat down to write his story, the Horeb/Sinai event was only a 9-chapter event! None of the Priestly material (which employs the word “Sinai” rather than the older “Horeb”) had yet been written—that’s no Exodus 25–31, no Exodus 35–40, no book of Leviticus, and no Numbers 1-10:28! As we shall see when we get to the book of Deuteronomy, its Moses knows none of the laws, commandments, and convents pronounced and given by Yahweh in these sections of text!
So it would seem that the Sinai revelation—unknown to the 7th century Deuteronomist and unknown outside the Torah until its mention in a 4th century text—was a literary creation of the 6th and 5th centuries! See also contradiction #30 & #137-138.
Thus, it’s not surprising that we see no acknowledgement of the Sinai revelation outside the Torah until its mention in a text from the 4th century BCE! Yet the reigning hypothesis is that the scribe who penned Numbers 33 was part of the same priestly guild that created the Sinai tradition. So why didn’t he highlight it a bit? Like, for example:
And they traveled from Rephidim and camped in the wilderness of Sinai, where Moses received the laws and commandments.
Who knows? Numbers 33 is usually considered part of the Priestly guild’s later redactional layer; yet it might be that this itinerary reflects a much earlier stage in the development of the Priestly tradition(s) on Sinai.