Is Chorev Sinai?

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Where did God give the Torah? The Torah uses two distinct terms to refer to the place where God revealed the Ten Commandments — Sinai and Chorev. Are they the same thing? Different answers are given by commentators.

  1. Synonyms
    Ibn Ezra (Ex. 3:1) states that the two names refer to the same place. He says the same in his commentary to Deut. (1:6). This also seems to be the opinion of midrashim that discuss the multiple names for that mountain.
  2. Region
    Ramban (Deut. 1:6) suggests that Chorev is a nearby region where the Jews stay and Sinai is the name of the mountain.
  3. Mountain and Parts
    R. JH Hertz (Commentary to Ex. 3:1) offers Ramban’s approach alongside a very different answer. Without citing a source, R. Hertz suggests that Chorev refers to the mountain and Sinai to the summit.
  4. Mountain Parts
    R. Hertz also suggests that both Chorev and Sinai refer to “two peaks of the same mountain range.” This seems to be Shadal’s view, who writes (ad loc.) that the two are either two mountains or two peaks of the same mountain. R. Aryeh Kaplan (The Living Torah, Ex. 3:1n) directs readers to Ibn Ezra (Deut. 1:6) but, as above, I don’t see him anything similar.

Biblical critics suggest that Chorev is the Deuteronomist name and Sinai that of earlier documents. However, they are then forced to deal with three times Chorev appears in Exodus (3:1, 17:6, 33:6) and the one time Sinai is used in Deuteronomy (33:2) by positing insertions into the text. Nahum Sarna (Exploring Exodus, p. 38) defends the view that they refer to the same thing and then adds other possibilities:

It is not uncommon for geographic sites to be referred to by more than one name. In Merneptah’s stele, Egypt is referred to under two names: Kemit and Tameri, and Memphis under five different names, while in the prologue to the law of Hammurabi, the city of is called Nippur-Duranki (the second element is the ancient Sumerian name for the city). Hence, Horeb and Sinai may be identical. Alternatively, Horeb may refer to the wilderness region and Sinai to the mountain itself, or vice versa, or Horeb may be a range and Sinai a particular peak within it.

James Hoffmeier (Ancient Israel in Sinai, pp. 114-115) prefers the Ramban’s approach. He writes:

[I]t is hardly the case that two different names are found in the Bible for the mountain of revelation. These references indicate that the sacred mountain is located within Horeb.

About Gil Student

Rabbi Gil Student is the Editor of TorahMusings.com, a leading website on Orthodox Jewish scholarly subjects, and the Book Editor of the Orthodox Union’s Jewish Action magazine. He writes a popular column on issues of Jewish law and thought featured in newspapers and magazines, including The Jewish Link, The Jewish Echo and The Vues. In the past, he has served as the President of the small Jewish publisher Yashar Books and as the Managing Editor of OU Press. Rabbi Student has served two terms on the Executive Committee of the Rabbinical Council of America and currently serves as the Director of the Halacha Commission of the Rabbinical Alliance of America. He serves on the Editorial Boards of Jewish Action magazine, the Journal of Halacha and Contemporary Society and the Achieve Journal of Behavioral Health, Religion & Community, as well as the Board of OU Press. He has published five English books, the most recent titled Search Engine volume 2: Finding Meaning in Jewish Texts -- Jewish Leadership, and served as the American editor for Morasha Kehillat Yaakov: Essays in Honour of Chief Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks.

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