The blessing of Moses in Deut. 33:2

The Lord came from Sinai and dawned over them from Seir; he shone forth from Mount Paran.

This verse is almost unanimously understood to describe the revelation at Mount Sinai. But what's troubling me here is that the verse lumps together Sinai with Seir which is in Edom. While there has been a lot of disagreement about the true location of Mount Sinai, some scholars placing it in the Sinai peninsula and some in the Arabian peninsula near Midian, none so far have suggested that it is in Edomite territory (besides, just from reading the biblical narrative it becomes clear that only after moving away from Sinai did the Israelites reach the border of Edom). So why is Seir mentioned here alongside Sinai?

In the song of Deborah too this motif comes up,

When you, Lord, went out from Seir, when you marched from the land of Edom, the earth shook, the heavens poured, the clouds poured down water. The mountains quaked before the Lord, the One of Sinai, before the Lord, the God of Israel. (Judges 5:4-6)

Were the biblical writers confused about the location of Sinai? Why is Seir mentioned alongside Mt. Sinai in Moses' blessing and the song of Deborah?

This question is also found here, but there are no definite and conclusive answers. I'm looking for good answers that will resolve this problem either geographically or hermeneutically (I suspect that the latter is the only way to resolve the matter).


Saadia Gaon does explain this verse geographically:

The Book of Beliefs and Opinions 3:8 (p. 164-165)

The first of these is the statement of the Torah, And he said: The Lord came from Sinai, and rose from Seir unto them; He shined forth from mount Paran, and He came from the myriads holy (Deut. 33:2). In reality, however, these three are all of them names applied to Mount Sinai. The reason for its having these different appellations is that whenever a mountain extends toward several countries, it's nomenclature is divided according to the names of these countries, each division bearing the name of the country lying opposite it. Just as one and the same sea acquires from the countries bordering it many names corresponding to that of each adjacent country, so is Mount Sinai a mountain opposite the lands of Sinai, Seir, and Paran, called by the names of all three because it stands on something resembling a straight line.

The proof that Sinai and Paran meet one another is the statement of Scripture: And the children of Israel set forward by their stages out of the wilderness of Sinai; and the cloud abode in the wilderness of Paran (Num. 10:12). The proof, again, that Paran and Seir are contiguous is the statement of Scripture: And the Horites in their mount Seir, unto El Paran, which is by the wilderness (Gen. 14:6). I have also found that in the other books of Holy Writ the name Seir is used in referring to Sinai. This is illustrated by the statement of Scripture: Lord, when Thou didst go forth out of Seir... that is, Sinai, at the presence of the Lord, the God of Israel (Judg. 5:4,5).

  • Very helpful +1.
    – Nigel J
    Jul 9 '18 at 9:26
  • Alex, Saadia's answer is interesting. Indeed the mountain range on which Sinai is situated does extend from Arabia into Edom and Seir (that's what is seems like from google maps). So while it is a bit far fetched, it is not inconceivable that the bible would mention them together, as they are all geographical markers of this long mountain range extending from Edom into Arabia where Mt. Sinai is located. In any case, I would like more evidence that this is the case.
    – Bach
    Jul 9 '18 at 13:58
  • A similar suggestion is put forth in the article I linked in my post, that the Seir road linked Seir with Mt. Sinai as it went in north-south direction, thus if one were to follow the Seir road from Edom eventually he would reach Sinai. But this too is far fetched and doesn't really solve the problem, though in this case I do prefer Saadia's solution over others, I still think there must be a better solution.
    – Bach
    Jul 9 '18 at 14:07

I'm not sure if this is quite the hermeneutical type of answer you are looking for, but the rabbinic interpreters used this verse as a source for the rabbinic legend that God first offered the Torah to the other nations before offering it to Israel (and each nation turned it down because of a specific commandment therein that they didn't like). They explain that each of the phrases in this verse represent God's offer to another nation.

The phrase "וְזָרַ֤ח מִשֵּׂעִיר֙ לָ֔מוֹ" which is what you asked about is taken to refer to God's offering of the Torah to the descendants of Esau who were the people of Edom/Seir. The phrase הוֹפִ֙יעַ֙ מֵהַ֣ר פָּארָ֔ן is taken as a reference to the descendants of Ishmael (in Genesis 21:21 Ishmael settled in Paran). The phrase מִסִּינַ֥י בָּא֙ is of course taken to refer to God giving the Torah to Israel at Sinai.

This interpretation is found in the Aramaic Targums Pseudo-Jonathan and Yerushalmi. A similar version in Sifrei adds in an offer to the descendants of Ammon and Moab as well.

This explanation is also adopted by the medieval commentator Solomon Ben Isaac.

  • This wildly speculative 'legend' seems without any foundation in logic or evidence and, as such, my own view is that this answer is off-topic.
    – Nigel J
    Jul 9 '18 at 4:47
  • @NigelJ A hermeneutical approach is off-topic because it is speculative?
    – Alex
    Jul 9 '18 at 4:50
  • As I said. That is my own view, personally. Yes - speculation is not scientific. True science proceeds on real evidence, right from the start.
    – Nigel J
    Jul 9 '18 at 8:52
  • 1
    "A hermeneutical approach is off-topic because it is speculative?" Not exactly. But this can hardly be considered a "hermeneutical approach". This is Jewish homiletics or Jewish legend, not hermeneutics by any standard!
    – Bach
    Jul 9 '18 at 13:51
  • 2
    +1 - I consider some Ancient Jewish Wisdom to be inspired/enlightening, rather than speculative. Amazing concept here - thanks for offering it, Alex.
    – tblue
    Jul 9 '18 at 18:47

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