What is the correct date the Israelites arrived at Sinai?
by Saber Truth Tiger
It depends on which translation is most accurate. Some translations claim it was the third month AFTER their departure from Egypt and others say it was the third month of their departure from Egypt.
Here are over fifty different translations of Exodus 19:1, found on the Bible Gateway website.
Some translations say the Israelites arrived in the wilderness of Sinai on the third month AFTER the departure from Egypt which would be the fourth month of Tammuz and not the third month of Sivan. Others indicate it was the third month of their departure from Egypt. This is crucial because rabbinical Judaism in the first century CE placed the giving of the Law at Sinai on the sixth day of the third month. This was not a biblical date, however. as the association of the giving of the Law with Sivan 6 was placed by the rabbis AFTER the destruction of the second Temple. Before the destruction of the Temple Shavuot was simply regarded as an agricultural feast. It was one of the three annual pilgrim festivals in the Hebrew Bible. But once Temple worship ceased there was no agricultural festival to celebrate on this date. Therefore, the Rabbis began to associate Shavuot with a historical event, the giving of the Law at Mt. Sinai. Because of this Jews who were scattered around the known world would have something to celebrate in the first week of Sivan.
Hence, it was of paramount importance to the Rabbis that the giving of the Law be associated with Sivan 6, exactly 50 days AFTER the first so-called annual Sabbath of Passover in the first month of the Exodus. So in Exodus 19:1 when some translations say the children of Israel entered the wilderness of Sinai on the first day of the third month the Rabbis claim that Exodus 19:10-11 occurred on the fourth day of the month, three days later. However, that is total guesswork, as the scriptures do not state that.
EXODUS 19:10 And Jehovah said unto Moses, Go unto the people, and sanctify them today and tomorrow, and let them wash their garments, 11 and be ready against the third day; for the third day Jehovah will come down in the sight of all the people upon mount Sinai. (NASB 1995 edition)
In this manner, the "be ready against the third day" would refer to Sivan 6, the third day from Sivan 4 (inclusive counting). In this manner, it is claimed the giving of the Law occurred on the festival day of Shavuot. It now becomes a retroactive festival day in honor of a historical event and not simply an agricultural feast day.
There is no evidence that Exodus 19:10-11 occurred on the fourth day of Sivan it is just assumed because if it wasn't on the fourth then the giving of the Law does NOT occur on Sivan 6. So to make it fit it HAS to be Sivan 4.
There is another problem with this. The seven annual feast days of the Jewish religion did not even exist at this time. They were first mentioned in Leviticus 23 and were not even to begin until the children of Israel entered the Promised Land. So this so-called first Shavuot ever was not Shavuot at all as it didn't even exist as a feast day until many years later. The rabbis of the first century CE declared this day of the giving of the Law Shavuot even though Shavuot didn't even exist at the time. Ever since then Jewish (rabbinical) tradition has observed Sivan 6 as a commemoration of the giving of the Law. Another thing to keep in mind is the Sabbath day was not even revealed until some time AFTER the departure from Egypt so there could be no seven Sabbath count from the day of the waving of the Omer to the feast of Shavuot the year Israel departed from Egypt. There was no waving of the Omer that year hence no seven Sabbath countdown to Shavuot.
There is no mention of three days between the first day of the month in Exodus 19:1 and the command of Jehovah for Moses to go up on the mount on the third day (Exodus 19:10-11).
However, internet historian and author Daniel Gregg has studied this in detail and he argues that Moses asked Pharaoh for permission for the Israelites to go on a three days journey into the wilderness to celebrate a feast to Yahweh. See Exodus 3:18, 5:1-3, and 8:27. The article is titled "Dealing with Karaite Interpretations" and can be found here:
Exodus 3:18 (Jehovah talking to Moses) And they shall hearken to thy voice: and thou shalt come, thou and the elders of Israel, unto the king of Egypt, and ye shall say unto him, The Lord God of the Hebrews hath met with us: and now let us go, we beseech thee, three days' journey into the wilderness, that we may sacrifice to the Lord our God.
Exodus 5:1 And afterward Moses and Aaron went in, and told Pharaoh, Thus saith the Lord God of Israel, Let my people go, that they may hold a feast unto me in the wilderness.
2 And Pharaoh said, Who is the Lord, that I should obey his voice to let Israel go? I know not the Lord, neither will I let Israel go.
3 And they said, The God of the Hebrews hath met with us: let us go, we pray thee, three days' journey into the desert, and sacrifice unto the Lord our God; lest he fall upon us with pestilence, or with the sword.
Exodus 8:27 (Moses to Pharaoh) We will go three days' journey into the wilderness, and sacrifice to the Lord our God, as he shall command us.
Gregg claims this three-day journey into the wilderness was from the wilderness of Sinai, not the wilderness of Shur. However, Moses and the Israelites were in Egypt at the time of the request and the nearest wilderness was the wilderness of Shur, not the wilderness of Sinai. Sinai was more than forty days away. Gregg believes when Moses was asking of Pharoah to go three days into the wilderness to hold a feast to God Moses was referring to a supposed three-day journey from the wilderness of Sinai to the Sinai Mount and not a three-day journey FROM Egypt. There is no proof of this, however. After the departure from Egypt, the children of Israel traveled south and then crossed the Red Sea into the wilderness of Shur. It wasn't until several weeks later that the children of Israel entered the wilderness of Sinai. This is hardly a three-day journey into the wilderness, which is what Moses asked Pharaoh for. Gregg claims there was a feast on the day that the Law was given but that is nowhere taught in the Bible. The so-called feast is supposed to be in Exodus 19 and in that chapter there is no mention of a feast.
Gregg goes on to cite Numbers 10:33 which it states they (Israel) departed from the mount of the LORD three days journey.
Numbers 10:33 And they departed from the mount of the Lord three days' journey: and the ark of the covenant of the Lord went before them in the three days' journey, to search out a resting place for them.
Gregg asserts that if it requires three days to leave the Mount of Sinai and its wilderness then it would require three days to travel to the Mount of the LORD from the border of the wilderness. This however isn't true. If I told you I jumped into my car and departed from Atlanta a three-hour journey that doesn't mean it takes three hours to depart greater Atlanta. Atlanta would be a distant memory in the rearview mirror after three hours.
Gregg argues that since the Hebrew words for "three days journey" in Numbers 10:33 are the same Hebrew words as those found in Exodus then those refer to the same three days journey that Moses requested from Pharaoh. A three-day journey TO Mount Sinai from Egypt would be the same as a three-day journey FROM Mt. Sinai. So when Exodus 19:1 states the children of Israel entered the wilderness of Sinai on the first day of the third month Gregg claims they traveled three more days before reaching the mount itself. Hence, Moses was asked by God on Sivan 4 to come back to the mount on the third day which would be Sivan 6.
The above descriptions are according to how the rabbis reckoned the day of Shavuot. Under rabbinical reckoning, Shavuot could fall on any day of the week while according to Sadducee and Karaite reckoning Shavuot falls only on Sunday. That is because the rabbis counted the 50 days from the day after the so-called annual Sabbath (Nisan 15) and the Sadducees and Karaites count from the day after the first weekly Sabbath during Passover. Under Sadducee and Karaite usage, Shavuot would always fall on a Sunday, and under Rabbinical usage Shavuot could fall on any day of the week.
In the Exodus 19 account, there is no day of the week mentioned but it is generally assumed it happened on a Sabbath. As mentioned above Shavuot did not exist at the time the Law was given so either side can claim what they want. If Sivan 6 was a weekly Sabbath and Nisan had 30 days and Iyyar had 29 days, then Iyyar 28 would have been a Sabbath too. Counting backward we see that Nisan 16 would have been a weekly Sabbath as well. But the Sabbath wasn't revealed until some time after the departure from Egypt.
Here are some links to websites that claim that the giving of the Law was associated with Shavuot only in the first century CE.
And this one about rabbinical tradition:
There are some that claim that Shavuot was associated with the giving of the Law as early as the second century BCE in the book of Jubilees. This is not accurate. Here is a link to the chapter from the book of Jubilees regarding the giving of the Law:
As you can see there is no evidence the giving of the Law occurred on Shavuot. Jubilees state it was on the sixteenth of the month and not the sixth. It is possible those in the Qumran community celebrated Shavuot on the sixteenth of the month and not the sixth but as you can read there is no association with Shavuot and the giving of the Law.
So, to sum up, the children of Israel arrived at Mt. Sinai sometime during the first week of Sivan, the third month. The exact day is unknown. Jewish tradition dating back to the first century CE places it on Sivan 4 and the giving of the Law on Sivan 6.
EDIT: It should be noted that at the time of the writing of the Hebrew Scriptures the beginning of the month was determined by the sighting of the thin crescent moon in the western sky as the sun set so it is not an absolute guarantee that Nisan had 30 days and the second month Iyar had 29 as it is in today's fixed Jewish calendar.
Most Jewish scholars today believe that Nisan did have 30 days and Iyar had 29 that year so Sivan 6 would be exactly 50 days from Nisan 16, the day after the so-called annual Sabbath (Nisan 15). Remember the Sadducees reckoned the beginning of the fifty-day count from the day after the first weekly Sabbath that fell during Passover week. Shavuot would therefore always fall on a Sunday. The Pharisees and rabbinical tradition wave the Omer on the day after the "annual" Sabbath and begin the count on Nisan 16. However, there is no scriptural basis for calling Nisan 15 a Sabbath. See my analysis here:
can Nisan 15 be referred to as "the sabbath"?
According to the Sadducee/Karaite reckoning, if Sivan 6 were indeed a weekly Sabbath then of course Nisan 16 would have been a weekly Sabbath too had the observance of the Sabbath actually been in force at the time. That means Shavuot that year would have fallen on Sunday, Sivan 7, had it actually existed that year. However, according to rabbinical reckoning, Shavuot could have fallen on any day of the week and therefore it falls on a weekly Sabbath that would have presented no problem.