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I was reading Exodus 3:1:

Now Moses was shepherding the flock of his father-in-law Jethro, the priest of Midian, and he led the flock to the far side of the desert and came to the mountain of God, to Horeb. [NET Bible]

From a theological point of view it makes sense for him to be there. The mountain is called the "mountain of God" and later he is, as the shepherd for the people, leading them there to receive the law.

But from a practical point of view it does not makes sense. I was looking at the place with the help of Google Earth (and a kml file I found). It seems to be really hostile from looking at satellite images:

Mount Horeb from Google Earth Could there be any practical reason that would be beneficial for him or the sheep to be there? Or was he actively going there to meet God?

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While Paul says Sinai is in Arabia, there were three different "Arabias" during the time of the Roman Empire. Arabia Petraea, Arabia Deserta, and Arabia Felix. –  H3br3wHamm3r81 Jun 26 '13 at 16:53
By the way, I think turning to Google Maps is a clever and novel way to try to answer this question. –  Gone Quiet Jun 27 '13 at 0:26

2 Answers 2

up vote 10 down vote accepted

Location: The location of Mount Horeb, which most understand to be the same as Mount Sinai (see Deut 4:10, 4:15, etc), is unclear. There are many traditions about the location of Mount Sinai, some of which are probably more hospitable than others. The location offered by Open Bible is but one of many.

Sheep: None of the candidate locations appears to be especially fertile, but sheep can graze in arid land -- just not as densely or as effectively as on good land with ample vegetataion. Sheep spend hours per day grazing, so if they have to walk a bit to do that, that's fine.

Addendum: I mentioned this question to my husband, who has been to the Sinai wilderness (many years ago). He told me that while the mountaintops are arid, the places between them collect what water there is and so do better. His tour guide (whose agricultural credentials are unknown) told him that sheep do fine there. Of course, this is today, not then.

Going to meet God: Exodus 3:1 says:

וּמֹשֶׁה, הָיָה רֹעֶה אֶת-צֹאן יִתְרוֹ חֹתְנוֹ--כֹּהֵן מִדְיָן; וַיִּנְהַג אֶת-הַצֹּאן אַחַר הַמִּדְבָּר, וַיָּבֹא אֶל-הַר הָאֱלֹהִים חֹרֵבָה.

Now Moses was keeping the flock of Jethro his father-in-law, the priest of Midian; and he led the flock to the farthest end of the wilderness, and came to the mountain of God, unto Horeb.

The text says he "came to", not a stronger word like halak (went to, walked to). This is consistent with an understanding that Moshe was just minding the sheep, an inherently migratory activity, and happened to come to this place.

If Moshe had been seeking God, we would have to ask how he knew to look there in particular. Further, Moshe seems a little disconcerted by the encounter, hiding his face and initially declining the divine charter; that could still happen if he were seeking God (maybe God was way more overwhelming than Moshe imagined), but I think the simplest interpretation is most plausible: God called out to Moshe and, prior to that, Moshe wasn't seeking a particular place.

Imagery: Finally, Google Maps is remarkably short of visual data from 3300 years ago, so it is also possible that even if this is the right location, conditions have changed.

Please note: This answer was written for a neutral, academic audience and is not intended to be interpreted in the context of any religious belief or doctrine.

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Sheep101, That's a corner of the Internet I never found before! :-) Minor clarification: The coordinates for mount Horeb/Sinai was not provided by Google, but from openbible.info/geo –  Niclas Nilsson Jun 27 '13 at 5:55
@NiclasNilsson, I meant imagery, not coordinates. Even if the coordinates are correct, I suspect that even Google's vast data stores don't include satellite imagery from Moshe's time. :-) –  Gone Quiet Jun 27 '13 at 13:06
Are you sure? Always thought that's what the airplane in Ez 1 was all about! (roadsideamerica.com/story/11610) :-p –  Niclas Nilsson Jun 27 '13 at 15:44
Sure, Ezekiel had aircraft, but did he have cameras? :-) –  Gone Quiet Jun 27 '13 at 15:46
in line with @gone's comment about "came to" the midrash says that there was a single sheep that strayed from the flock and led moses to that spot. –  tryingToGetProgrammingStraight Dec 13 '13 at 5:03

Possible scenario 1

While Moshe walked to the Middia from Egypt, he noted the places full of grass. Since he was a shepherd, he went to the places he saw because the nearest fields were occupied already.

Possible scenario 2

Moshe had a good Egyptian education (including religious), and in the Middia he was in the fellowship of the priest. So it's no surprise that he seeks the privacy and solitude of the wilderness like many other notable religious heroes (Mohammad, Zarathustra, Rabbi Shimon bar Yohai / Rashbi, etc.)!

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Interesting +1 I guess your first option is just speculation (which is okey if you make it clear) Or are there any verses that backs this up? –  Niclas Nilsson Dec 13 '13 at 19:46
We can't say for sute, because we wasn't there. So we just guess why he would go so far from his new home. We read in the Bible that Canaan was a land "flowing with milk and honey". As we also know from the Bible, the land for israelites was given in the land of Goshen, because it was good for the flocks. And it was not so far from the Horeb mountain. –  Ulrikhe Lukoie Dec 13 '13 at 20:29

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