Friday, June 03, 2011

Kuzari: Three Sinai Stories

Pregnant triplets. There's a connection with what we're talking about here. I just can't remember what it is.

I tend to be most productive when I have many tasks on my to-do list.

This post will be short on commentary, but nevertheless interesting and provocative (I hope). My Kuzari posts have all centered on the Sinai revelation; that is, on that story. I want to present the story now.'s actually three stories, at least according to biblical criticism.

In what follows, I will present the theophany at Sinai from the J source, the E source, and the P source. In what we know today as the Book of Exodus, these three sources are woven together. When we take them apart, as it were, the narratives yield distinct impressions--not impressions of the event itself so much but of its significance.

With thanks to Richard Elliott Friedman's The Bible with Sources Revealed, here is the J source:
Ch. 19:10. And the Lord said to Moses, "Go to the people and prepare them today and tomorrow, and they shall wash their garments.

11. And they shall be prepared for the third day, for on the third day, the Lord will descend before the eyes of all the people upon Mount Sinai.

12. And you shall set boundaries for the people around, saying, Beware of ascending the mountain or touching its edge; whoever touches the mountain shall surely be put to death.'

13. No hand shall touch it, for he shall be stoned or cast down; whether man or beast, he shall not live. When the ram's horn sounds a long, drawn out blast, they may ascend the mountain."

14. So Moses descended from the mountain to the people, and he prepared the people, and they washed their garments.

15. He said to the people, "Be ready for three days; do not go near a woman."

16a. It came to pass on the third day when it was morning,

* * *

18. And the entire Mount Sinai smoked because the Lord had descended upon it in fire, and its smoke ascended like the smoke of the kiln, and the entire mountain quaked violently.

* * *

20. The Lord descended upon Mount Sinai, to the peak of the mountain, and the Lord summoned Moses to the peak of the mountain, and Moses ascended.

21. The Lord said to Moses, "Go down, warn the people lest they break [their formation to go nearer] to the Lord, and many of them will fall.

22. And also, the priests who go near to the Lord shall prepare themselves, lest the Lord wreak destruction upon them."

23. And Moses said to the Lord, "The people cannot ascend to Mount Sinai, for You warned us saying, Set boundaries for the mountain and sanctify it.' "

24. But the Lord said to him, "Go, descend, and [then] you shall ascend, and Aaron with you, but the priests and the populace shall not break [their formation] to ascend to the Lord, lest He wreak destruction upon them."

25. So Moses went down to the people and said [this] to them.
Now, here is E:
Ch. 19:2b. and Israel encamped there opposite the mountain.

3. Moses ascended to God, and the Lord called to him from the mountain, saying, "So shall you say to the house of Jacob and tell the sons of Israel,

4. You have seen what I did to the Egyptians, and [how] I bore you on eagles' wings, and I brought you to Me.

5. And now, if you obey Me and keep My covenant, you shall be to Me a treasure out of all peoples, for Mine is the entire earth.

6. And you shall be to Me a kingdom of princes and a holy nation.' These are the words that you shall speak to the children of Israel."

7. Moses came and summoned the elders of Israel and placed before them all these words that the Lord had commanded him.

8. And all the people replied in unison and said, "All that the Lord has spoken we shall do!" and Moses took the words of the people back to the Lord.

9. And the Lord said to Moses, "Behold, I am coming to you in the thickness of the cloud, in order that the people hear when I speak to you, and they will also believe in you forever." And Moses relayed the words of the people to the Lord.

* * *

16b. there were thunder claps and lightning flashes, and a thick cloud was upon the mountain, and a very powerful blast of a shofar, and the entire nation that was in the camp shuddered.

17. Moses brought the people out toward God from the camp, and they stood at the bottom of the mountain.

* * *

19. The sound of the shofar grew increasingly stronger; Moses would speak and God would answer him with a voice.

* * *

Ch. 20:18. The people remained far off, but Moses drew near to the opaque darkness, where God was.

19. The Lord said to Moses, "So shall you say to the children of Israel, You have seen that from the heavens I have spoken with you.

20. You shall not make [images of anything that is] with Me. Gods of silver or gods of gold you shall not make for yourselves.

21. An altar of earth you shall make for Me, and you shall slaughter beside it your burnt offerings and your peace offerings, your sheep and your cattle. Wherever I allow My name to be mentioned, I will come to you and bless you.
And finally, here is P:
19:1. In the third month of the children of Israel's departure from Egypt, on this day they arrived in the desert of Sinai.

* * *

Ch. 24:15b. and the cloud covered the mountain.

16. And the glory of the Lord rested on Mount Sinai, and the cloud covered it for six days, and He called to Moses on the seventh day from within the cloud.

17. And the appearance of the glory of the Lord was like a consuming fire atop the mountain, before the eyes of the children of Israel.

18a. And Moses came within the cloud.
There is so much more to say about what we have here: the reasoning, the context, the cautions. Please forgive me for not providing all that apparatus now. Nevertheless, I think it's fair to say that the three narratives are striking next to one another.


  1. Interesting article however you should delete. Umberto Cassuto's excellent book The Documentary Hypothesis completely debunks the Documentary Hypothesis and his book was published in 2006. The book you mentioned in your article was published in 2005 and has even been refuted by some of the reviewers from

    With that said we only have 1 version of the Mount Sinai event.

  2. Johnny,

    Cassuto died in 1951 and destroyed nothing about the DH. Sorry.

    If one accepts the DH fully, partially, or not at all, the take-away is this: the human origins and inspiration of the Bible are perfectly plausible and understandable. There's no reason whatsoever to offer divine-based theories.


Feel free to comment if you have something substantial and substantiated to say.