2 Questions from Exodus

1. How did or which way did Moses flee from Egypt to Midian for the 1st time when he was accused of killing an Egyptian?

2. Why didn't Moses used the same route to reach Mt. Sinai along with his people as he did earlier?

Asked By: 
Vinod Karwe
Problematic questions of history . . .

From Dr. Julie Faith Parker - Visiting Assistant Professor of Hebrew Bible at Andover Newton Theological School:

1. How did or which way did Moses flee from Egypt to Midian for the 1st time when he was accused of killing an Egyptian?

 Questions of historicity are always laced with debate.  However, we can make narrative judgments based on the text.

The text gives no information regarding a specific route for Moses after killing the Egyptian (see Exodus 2:15).  Midian is on the Arabian Peninsula on the eastern side of the Gulf of Aquaba.  We can infer that Moses would have gone due east along the northern Sinai Peninsula then south in the valley just north of the Gulf, since this would have been the easiest and most direct route. 

2. Why didn't Moses used the same route to reach Mt. Sinai along with his people as he did earlier?

I’m not sure what “he did earlier” refers to.  The location of Mount Sinai is uncertain.  Scholars place it either toward the south or the north of the Sinai Peninsula.  The same mountain is also called Horeb, this mountain is clouded with uncertainty.

Here is information from the Anchor Bible Dictionary


article on the location of Sinai:

From early in the 4th century a.d. (Eusebius of Caesarea) Christian tradition has located Mount Sinai in the S massif of what is now known as the Sinai peninsula. The specific identification with Jebel Musa is clearly attested in the Peregrinatio Egeriae (381–384 a.d.), and already in her time a monastery existed at the foot of the mountain, which Justinian later rebuilt (Davies 1979b: 30–48). Possible evidence of this location exists in a 2d-century a.d. Jewish source (ibid., 23–26), but other early evidence is imprecise or points to a location closer to Palestine. There is, however, no foundation for the view that Paul knew a tradition which located Sinai in Saudi Arabia (see Davies 1972:152–63). In modern times at least a dozen different sites have been proposed, including mountains in the N and W of the Sinai peninsula, in S Palestine, in Transjordan, and in Saudi Arabia. Some have thought that Sinai and Horeb were the names of different mountains, either close together or far apart. Recently archaeological and textual evidence have been claimed to support the identification of Sinai with Har Karkom, between Kadesh-barnea and Eilat (Anati 1984; see Davies fc.). The reason for the uncertainty lies partly in the conflicting indications in the biblical evidence and partly in the vagueness of much of it. The association with Midian and allegedly volcanic features in the theophany descriptions have suggested an easterly or southeasterly location, but their link with Sinai appears to be secondary. Poetic passages such as Deut 33:2 and Judg 5:4–5 are probably too vague to be of great use. The wilderness itinerary (Num 33:1–49, etc.) has seemed to some to point to a mountain in Saudi Arabia, but this view is less likely than that which relates it to routes in the Sinai peninsula. See WILDERNESS WANDERINGS. The most precise indication in the Bible is Deut 1:2, “It is eleven days’ journey from Horeb by way of Mount Seir to Kadesh-barnea,” and this tends to favor a location in the S of the Sinai peninsula (see Davies 1979a; and, for a more general review of the arguments for the different theories, Davies 1979b: 63–69).



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Exodus is not a simple historical report . . .

Old Testament scholars nowadays ask a lot of questions about the Exodus narratives, and it is widely thought among them that these narratives are (1) much later than previously assumed, and certainly centuries later than the time of the events that they purport to relate, and (2) are likely, therefore, heavily stylizied and not simple "historical" reports of events, but shaped very much by the perceptions of the authors/editors about the needs of the intended readers.  So, scholars tend to discourage using the Exodus narratives to reconstruct the supposed route of Israelites out of Egypt.  Instead, the narratives are likely intended to be read for what they say about God and God's relationship to Israel (and, thus, God's relationship with the people of God in subsequent centuries).

Author: Larry W. Hurtado
Led by a Storm

(1) First, if Moses went alone the first time, and the second time leading a large and slow-moving group of people through a small northern branch of the Reed Sea (Yam-Sûf)--as Napoleon allegedly also led his soldiers--he can most likely have chosen two different routes.  Anyway, biblical-archaeological and other scholarly literature on "Midian" (or more precisely "Madyán") might give a pretty good idea of the exact geographical layout of that region. 


(2) A second point is this: If I recall correctly, the text tells us that, as Moses and his people approached their goal, they were led onward by a cloud of smoke by day and a fire by night.  To many scholars, that seems to indicate a volcano.  But there are no volcanos or remains of volcanos in Sinai or the surrounding areas.  What then?  My best guess is (a) that it was an electrical storm--with thunder and lightning--on top of a mountain; but (b) that the Israelites as slaves in Egypt had never before seen an electrical storm on a mountain; (c) that like the German tourists or immigrants who had never before seen anything like the Grand Canyon, and so, when they first saw it, absolutely did not know what to make of it, so likewise the Israelites, never having seen an electrical storm on a mountain, absolutely did not know what to make of it; and so (d) that Moses and the Israelites concluded that what they saw on the mountain could be no other than God Almighty Himself.  For does not "El-Shaddai" mean something like "God of the Mountains"? 

Specific Exodus Routes Unknown

To be honest, we do not know the actual route that the story is assuming that Moses took from Egypt either time.  According to Exodus, he travels east without a particular destination the first time.  He encounters Midianite shepherds and stays with them. The place of that encounter is not named. The Midianites were a nomadic people who moved around with their herds.

 From the Bible, we only know the route that the Israelites did not take following the exodus from Egypt.  They did not take the shortest route which would have been along the sea coast (“the way of the land of the Philistines,” Exod. 13:17) probably, in order to avoid Egyptian garrisons that would have been stationed there.  Whatever route Moses may have taken the first time, it is unlikely that he would have taken it a second time with the Israelites because there are more considerations when travelling with a group of people.  You have to think about where there is enough water and provisions for a large group as opposed to a single individual.  You have to think about an area where a group can spread their tents and camp. The Bible lists some of the places where the group stayed but we do not know where most of those places are, including the location of Sinai.  You will find Mt. Sinai on maps but its location is a guess. 

Author: Wilma Bailey




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