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Is the meaning of the Hebrew text closer to "go up on the mountain" (e.g. NRSV) or "come near the mountain" (e.g. NKJV)?

1 Answer 1

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The verb יַעֲל֥וּ is the Qal imperfect 3rd person masculine plural jussive of עלה. The meaning of the Qal is to assend, go up.

עלה qal ... —1. a) to ascend, go up ... —2. to make one’s way up ... Koehler, L., Baumgartner, W., Richardson, M. E. J., & Stamm, J. J. (1994–2000). In The Hebrew and Aramaic lexicon of the Old Testament (electronic ed., p. 828). E.J. Brill.

Some have trouble translating it this way because of the context. Thus, either:

  1. God is telling them they can come up the mountain after the trumpet blast but not before. (The most straight forward interpretation) (Deut. 5:4-5 seems to support this interpretation),

Or,

  1. They are to come up near the mountain after the trumpet blast (The interpretation that seems to fit the context better, but an awkward way of translating the Hebrew.)

The preposition ב doesn't help. In the mountain doesn't make sense. It is not ל to the mountain, or על on the mountain.

Commentary

Agrees with 1:

they may go up Sinai possesses no inherent or “natural” holiness, nor does it acquire such by virtue of the theophany. Its sanctity and hence untouchability do not outlast the limited duration of the event. See Comment to 3:5. -- Sarna, N. M. (1991). Exodus (p. 106). Jewish Publication Society.

  1. The idea of explicitly sacred (Heb. kadosh) space is encountered here for the first time. No such concept exists in Genesis, which features only sacred time—the Sabbath. The pagan mythological notion that certain areas are inherently holy does not exist in the Bible. It is solely the theophany that temporarily imparts sanctity to the site, rendering it inaccessible to man. -- Ibid., p. 15.

Use of בָהָֽר in the Tanak (Hebrew Old Testament)

"On the mountain/Mount" dominates for בָהָֽר although not exclusive. Not mentioned is בָהָֽר is often translated "in the hills/hill country" in Genesis although the Hebrew is singular.

Gen. 22:14 on the mountain

Exodus 4:27 at the mountain

Exodus 15:17 on ... mountain

Exodus 19:12 into the mountain ... the mountain

Exodus 19:13 to the mountain

Exodus 24:18 on the mountain

Exodus 25:40 on the mountain

Exodus 26:30 on the mountain

Exodus 27:8 on the mountain

Exodus 31:18 on Mount

Exodus 34:32 in Mount

Leviticus 7:38 on Mount

Leviticus 25:1 on Mount

Leviticus 26:46 on Mount

Leviticus 27:34 on Mount

Numbers 3:1 on Mount

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