#331. From Sinai do the Israelites travel to Taberah OR to Kibroth Hattaavah? (Num 11:1-3 vs Num 33:16)

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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.

7 thoughts on “#331. From Sinai do the Israelites travel to Taberah OR to Kibroth Hattaavah? (Num 11:1-3 vs Num 33:16)

  1. I guess I’m not being very clear in asking my question.

    You say above, “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!” Are you referring specifically to the laws, covenants, and commandments presented in the P material? Because this Moses does know of the Decalogue, and if the author had access to E as is likely he certainly knew of the tradition of the Covenant Code being given by Yahweh at the Holy Mountain. So I guess I am asking what you mean by “Sinai tradition”.

    The references to Sinai in Psalm 68 and Judges 5 are interesting. Not only do they not reference giving of laws, they don’t appear to reference the Exodus either. Also interesting is that J talks about Sinai as a place where Yahweh is revealed but unless the Ritual Decalogue is from J there aren’t any laws revealed in that source, either.

    1. Yes, I’m strictly referring to the P material, i.e., Exodus 25–31, Exodus 35–40, the book of Leviticus, and Numbers 1-10:28. Both the Moses of Deuteronomy and the Deuteronomist know nothing of this Sinaitic revelation. . . because it had not been written yet.

      Second, yes, you’re correct, the Deuteronomist knows of both the Ten Commandment tradition of Ex 20 and the “covenant code” of Exodus 21-23. But his Moses only knows, that is claims, that only the Ten Commandments were given at Horeb, thus my “Deuteronomy’s Moses knows none of the laws, covenants, and commandments given by Yahweh at Sinai!” The Deuteronomist has his Moses claim in his renarration of the Horeb event that Yahweh only gave the Ten Commandments. Of course, our author knows otherwise. Bernard Levinson discusses this hermeneutic technique in his book Deuteronomy and the Hermeneutics of Legal Innovation. He sums up the Deuteronomist’s hermeneutic technique in these words:

      retelling ‘history’ then becomes a process of setting forth a new, contemporary and innovative reading of the past for religious and/or political agendas contemporaneous with the author, but indeed this is presented and packaged as not authoring a new story but retelling the authoritative tradition. Thus innovation is clothed with the subversiveness of denying innovation, authorship, and originality.

      So while his Moses seems to be innocuously renarrating authoritative tradition (E’s Horeb revelation), he is actually interjecting new legislation (Deut 12-26) while claiming that it is not new legislation but the time-honored tradition represented by the Elohist account. So to some extent his Moses is claiming that the Elohist tradition only spoke of Yahweh giving the Ten Commandments to the people.

      The meager references to “Sinai” and thus any Sinai tradition, I’ve also noted above, and the only conclusion I can draw is that it was a late creation, 6th or 5th century. And yes, the Ritual Decalogue (Ex 34) is usually assigned to J. See #134-135: Two Ten Commandment Traditions.

  2. I’m just not sure how what I described doesn’t count as a Sinai tradition, except that the mountain is called Horeb. Or is the contention that Horeb and Sinai were separate traditions, and Sinai was not thought of as a place where Israel received the law until the two mountains became conflated?

    1. Robert,

      That’s what I also did in the post above. I spoke of the whole 59 chapters as the Sinai tradition, thus including the Horeb revelation. But I suppose if we were to be more precise and use Sinai tradition to speak only of those texts that use “Sinai,” then as you point out, that’s a later creation—at least the textual evidence suggests this. As to whether these traditions are merely using two different names or whether they’re conceptualizing two different locals that were then later conflated, I’m not sure. I’d have to research that out myself.

  3. Doesn’t the Deuteronomist portray the Ten Commandments as having been given at Horeb? And doesn’t Moses receive the law there, even if he doesn’t present it to the people until they reach Moab? Also, the Elohist portrays the Covenant Code as being given at Horeb, although I suppose that could be a result of a later redaction that placed the Covenant Code in its current location.

    1. Robert, exactly! Nice close reading of the text. This is perhaps one of my favorite contradictions because it readily displays a later writer (D) consciously altering an earlier tradition (E) while innocuously presenting his Moses as doing nothing more than renarrating that earlier tradition! I have not yet posted this contradiction and will get to it when I get to the book of Deuteronomy, where we will examine all of D’s alterations of the Elohist tradition. Hopefully some time in the near future now. And just to clarify for other readers: while the Elohist tradition explicitly portrays Yahweh giving both the Ten Commandments AND the “Covenant code” (Ex 21-23), and the people acknowledging and accepting both, when the author of Deuteronomy has Moses renarrate this event, Moses claims that only the Ten Commandments were given to the people, and that Yahweh gave Moses “alone” commandments which Moses was to disclose now on the plains of Moab, that is the Deuteronomistic law code of Deut 12-26, much of which contradicts the laws of Ex 21-23. So when we do get to this contradiction, I will not only put forward the textual evidence backing this, but we will also address why the Deuteronomist had his Moses alter this earlier tradition.

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