Paul said Mt. Sinai was in Saudi Arabia: Gal 4:25

The teaching of Paul is so clear, that we could locate Mt. Sinai by saying: Mount Sinai is located in the land where Ishmael lived: Midian
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Arabia in the Bible is Modern Saudi Arabia:

  1. Arabia in the Bible is always, without exception, the land of Midian. (Modern Saudi Arabia).
  2. Arabia is associated with Kedar. Kedar is called "men of the east" Jer 49:28.
  3. Kedar was the son of Ishmael, who intermarried with the Midianites and lived south east of the Dead Sea. "These are their genealogies: the firstborn of Ishmael was Nebaioth, then Kedar" 1 Chronicles 1:29
  4. Ishmael settled in Shur and the wilderness of Paran: Gen 16:12; 21:21; 25:18
  5. Ezek 27:21 clearly shows that Arabia meant Saudi Arabia: "Arabia and all the princes of Kedar". Kedar was
  6. Isaiah describes Arabia as including Kedar (Ishmael's son): "The oracle about Arabia. In the thickets of Arabia you must spend the night, O caravans of Dedanites. ... all the splendor of Kedar will terminate" Isaiah 21:13, 16
  7. In describing the swath of land from Babylon (Hazor) to Saudi Arabia (Kedar) Jeremiah 49:28 tells Hazor (Babylon) to invade Kedar (Saudi Arabia) calling them "men of the east". "Concerning Kedar and the kingdoms of Hazor, which Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon defeated. Thus says the Lord, "Arise, go up to Kedar And devastate the men of the east. " Jeremiah 49:28
  8. Therefore Arabia = Ishmaelites, Midianites, Kedarites, Wildernesses of Shur and Paran, Midian
  9. The Ishmaelites, Midianites, Kedarites never lived west of the Arabah valley in the Negev.

 Commentaries on Gal 4:25: Mt. Sinai in Arabia

  1. Commentary on Galatians, Joseph Agar Beet, 1885 AD, Gal 4:25, p135
  2. Galatians, A Continental Commentary, Luhrmann, Dieter, 1992 AD, Gal 4:25
  3. Galatians, Matera, Frank J., 1992 AD, Gal 4:25
  4. The People's New Testament, B.W. Johnson, 1891 AD, Gal 4:25
  5. Galatians, Mike Willis,1994 AD, Gal 4:25
  6. The Jerome Biblical commentary, Brown, R. E., Fitzmyer, J. A., & Murphy, R. E. 1968 AD, Gal 4:25
  7. New American Commentary, George, T., 1994 AD, Gal 4:25
  8. The IVP Bible background commentary, Keener, C. S., 1993 AD, Gal 4:25

Commentaries on Gal 4:25: Mt. Sinai in Arabia

  1. "For Sinai is a mountain in Arabia. It calls attention to the geographical position of Sinai, giving definiteness to our conception of the great mountain and silently reminding us that it was the home of Hagar's children. ... For, that Mount Sinai is in the land of Hagar's children, whether or not the mountain bore her name, reveals in clear light the appropriateness of Paul's allegory." (Commentary on Galatians, Joseph Agar Beet, 1885 AD, Gal 4:25, p135)
  2. "What is actually new in Paul's argument lies in the first clause. The manuscript tradition of the text shows the problems that early copyists and translators had with this argument. Paul's intention here is to equate Hagar with Mount Sinai in Arabia. How does he arrive at this? The reader is first reminded that Paul himself was in Arabia (cf. 1:17) and will therefore credit him with a certain local familiarity. Arabia is indicated both by the name Hagar as well as by the location of Mount Sinai. Hagar is, to be sure, an Egyptian according to Gen. 16:1, but the region that is later accorded to her son Ishmael and his offspring is to be found in Arabia (cf. Gen. 25:6, 18). There one can also find Hagar as the name of a locality (cf. 1 Chron. 5:10, 19-20; Ps. 83:6), and this name may be preserved today in the place named Chegra. In the vicinity of this modern city of Chegra, however, to which the Hagar/Ishmael traditions seem to be related, is also the possible location (according to the geographic concepts of the Old Testament) of Mount Sinai, on which Moses received the law. Not until around the fourth century C.E. was it located on the peninsula that is known to us as Sinai. The writers of "the five books of Moses" seem to identify the "reed sea" with the Gulf of Aqaba, not with the Red Sea, and to have imagined Mount Sinai in the mountains that one can find in today's atlases south of the city of Tabuk in extreme northwest Saudi Arabia, where the city of Chegra also lies. The only question is whether the mountains actually bore the name Hagar from that city. That, however, is what Paul seems to assert here, for that is where the logic of his argument seems to rest. Paul is apparently referring to information that he acquired during his stay in Arabia (cf. 1:17). After the rationale for equating Hagar with Mount Sinai, the allegorical explanation now goes further, saying that Hagar therefore corresponds to the present Jerusalem because-and here Paul harks back again to 4:1-7-the present Jerusalem is in slavery just as Hagar and her children were." (Galatians, A Continental Commentary, Luhrmann, Dieter, 1992 AD, Gal 4:25)
  3. "for Hagar is a mountain in Arabia (it); for Mount Sinai is in Arabia (S, C, G). C. K. Barrett ("The Allegory of Abraham, Sarah, and Hagar," 163-64) notes that "a decisive consideration in favor of the long text is that the omission of Hagar leaves a bare piece of geographical information of little interest to the readers or relevance to the context." In the Greek text, Hagar is governed by the neuter article to (literally, "the Hagar") which is not translated in English. The article indicates that it is not Hagar the person that Paul has in mind but the word "Hagar" which is in the text; for this reason Hagar is placed in quotation marks. Paul may have associated Hagar with Mount Sinai because Sinai is located in Arabia, the land of Hagar's descendants through Ishmael. See Ps 83:6 which speaks of the "Hagrites." It is less likely that Paul is dependent upon the linguistic similarity between the Arabic word hajar ("rock" or "cliff") and certain place names of the Sinai peninsula. (Galatians, Matera, Frank J., 1992 AD, Gal 4:25)
  4. "For Agar is Mount Sinai. Represents Sinai. This Mount Sinai is in Arabia, the very home of Ishmael and his race. Some also add that one name of the mountain is Hagar, but this is not certain." (The People's New Testament, B.W. Johnson, 1891 AD, Gal 4:25)
  5. For this Agar is mount Sinai in Arabia. The condition of the text at this point is rather uncertain. Some manuscripts have (a) de Hagar Sina, (b) some gar Hagar Sina, (c) some de Sina, and (d) others gar Sina. The points at issue are (a) whether the word Hagar should be included or omitted and (b) whether the clause should be introduced by gar or de. The major uncial texts are divided between the first and third readings and the oldest papyrus text has the second reading. Hence, there is a good bit of uncertainty regarding exactly how this should read. The problem is caused by the meaning of the phrase being dubious; the scribes probably emended the text to make the sense of the passage clearer. Another suggestion is that this phrase is a gloss transferred from the margin of the text, a not very likely possibility because of the uncertainty of its meaning. Two explanations of this verse are worthy of our attention. These two positions are summarized for us as follows: So far as can be determined from the rather uncertain text, the equating of Hagar with Sinai is suggested either by the location of Sinai in Arabia, the land of Ishmael and his progeny, or by the linguistic similarity of an Arabian word hajar (rock or cliff), with which certain place names on the Sinaitic peninsula seem to be related (Theological Dictionary New Testament, 1:56). The two positions then are as follows: (1) Paul is arguing that the word Hagar sounds like an Arabian term used to refer to a mountain in the Sinai peninsula; (2) Paul is arguing that Sinai is located in the land possessed by the descendants of Ishmael. In arguing against the first interpretation, Lightfoot seems correct in charging that it is not likely that Paul would have expected the Greek-speaking Galatians to have understood his meaning if he were arguing that the word Hagar sounds like hagar in Arabian speech. Secondly, the proof that hagar was ever used to refer to Mt. Sinai is rather uncertain. The evidences that have been cited are Chrysostom in the fourth century and a Bohemian traveler of the year 1598 (Lightfoot 195). Neither is evidence of what was current in Paul's day. The weakness of these two arguments is sufficient reason for rejecting this explanation. The other interpretation simply has Paul further identifying who Hagar represents in the allegory. To Hagar (this Hagar) identifies Hagar, not as the woman, but as the Hagar of the allegory. His argument is that Mt. Sinai is located in Arabia, the land inherited by the descendants of Ishmael and outside the limits of Canaan, the land of promise. This ties Mt. Sinai and the giving of the Law to the side of Ishmael rather than to Isaac. And answereth to Jerusalem which now is. The word answereth means "to stand or march in the same row with ... hence to stand over against, be parallel with." The word was used to refer to a file of soldiers. It shows that Mt. Sinai stands on the side of Ishmael and not on the side of Isaac. (Galatians, Mike Willis,1994 AD, Gal 4:25)
  6. ""one [covenant coming] from Mount Sinai..., that is Hagar; but Mount Sinai lies in Arabia, yet it corresponds to the present Jerusalem": This is the reading of the oldest Pauline manuscript. (P46) and it is supported by several others. Another well attested reading is: "Now Hagar means Mt. Sinai in Arabia." In either case, wishing to emphasize that the slavery the Law introduced was the condition of the rejected son of Abraham, Paul identifies Hagar with the Sinai pact and the "present Jerusalem." Verse 25a is a geographical detail explaining how Hagar, although connected with a holy place outside of the Promised Land, is yet equated with the "present Jerusalem." Geographically, Hagar represents a place in Arabia, but even so she stands for enslavement and so corresponds to Jerusalem. But why does Paul mention Arabia at all? possibly because Mt. Sinai is in Arabia, which is Ishmaelite territory: he thus associates the Sinai pact with the eponymous patriarch of Arabian tribes (see Gn 25:12-18; Ps 82:7). He thus suggests that the Law itself stems from a situation extrinsic to the promised Land and to the real descendants of Abraham. Paul's Jewish colleagues would not have been happy with this allegory. (The Jerome Biblical commentary, Brown, R. E., Fitzmyer, J. A., & Murphy, R. E. 1968 AD, Gal 4:25)
  7. "In this case the actual meaning of Paul's typology is more evident than the historical referent that lies behind it. On what basis could Paul equate Hagar with Mount Sinai, and why did he make the seemingly gratuitous allusion to Arabia? After all, Paul was not giving a geography lesson or writing a travel guide for visitors to the Holy Land. Some have pointed to the similarity in sound between the name Hagar and a similar Semitic word meaning "rock" or "crag." It is more likely, however, that Paul was here reflecting a certain geographical orientation acquired during his earlier sojourn in Arabia (cf. 1:17). According to Gen 25 (vv. 6, 18), Hagar and Ishmael were expelled to "the land of the East," that is, to the region later known as Arabia. The name Hagar also appears in other Old Testament texts (cf. 1 Cron 5:10, 19-20; Ps 83:6) to describe the geographical locality south of the Dead Sea and north of the Arabian peninsula. The word "Hagar" itself is still preserved in the name of the modern city of Chegra, located in what is today the extreme northwestern section of Saudi Arabia. According to certain ancient traditions, the mountain range near this vicinity was believed to be the site of Mount Sinai, where Moses received the law. Assuming that Paul had a certain local familiarity with this region and was cognizant of the popular traditions linking both the expulsion of Hagar and the giving of the law to this particular region, it is not surprising that he would have found a certain typological congruence in the identification of Hagar and Mount Sinai. By emphasizing that Mount Sinai is in Arabia, the land of the Ishmaelites, Paul was preparing his readers for the dramatic reversal he was about to make in the received interpretation of the Sarah-Hagar analogy." (New American Commentary, George, T., 1994 AD, Gal 4:25)
  8. For this Agar is mount Sinai in Arabia (mount Sinai was then called Agar by the Arabians) (Matthew Henry, Gal 4:25)
  9. "Arabia" included Mount Sinai, south of Judea, as well as the northward area mentioned in 1:17. The Nabataean Arabs were viewed as Ishmaelites, descendants of Hagar, in Paul's day, thus making the connection clearer to ancient readers familiar with eastern Mediterranean geography. (The IVP Bible background commentary, Keener, C. S., 1993 AD, Gal 4:25)
 

An Interview with Frank Moore Cross, Israelite Origins, Bible Review, Aug 1992

HS: Where is Midian?

FMC: Midian proper bordered Edom on the south and probably occupied part of the area that became southern Edom in what is now southern Transjordan. It also included the northwestern corner of the Hejaz; it is a land of formidable mountains as well as desert.

HS: In Saudi Arabia?

FMC: Yes. It is in the northwestern border area of what is now Saudi Arabia. I prefer to refer to it by the biblical term "Midian." Incidentally the Saudis will not permit excavation in this area despite efforts that Peter Parr and I conducted some years ago on behalf of the American Schools of Oriental Research and the British School of Archaeology.

HS: Isn't Midian traditionally placed in Sinai?

FMC: I should say rather that Sinai is placed in Midian.

HS: Are you saying that all scholars agree that Midian is south of the Jordanian-Saudi border?

FMC: I cannot say categorically all, but the consensus is that ancient Midian was south of Eilat on the Saudi side. Note too that tradition holds that the Midianites controlled routes north through Edom and Moab very much like the later Nabateans, and that Midian in Israel's earliest poetry is associated with Edom, Mt. Seir and Teman.

The notion that the "mountain of God" called Sinai and Horeb was located in what we now call the Sinai Peninsula has no older tradition supporting it than Byzantine times. It is one of the many holy places created for pilgrims in the Byzantine period.

HS: In the fourth century?

FMC: Yes.

HS: So you would place Sinai in what is today Saudi Arabia?

FMC: You haven't forgotten your skills in cross- (or Cross-) examination. Yes, in the northwestern corner of Saudi Arabia, ancient Midian. There is new evidence favoring this identification. In the late 1960s and 1970s when Israel controlled the Sinai Peninsula, especially in the period shortly before it was returned to Egypt, the peninsula was explored systematically and intensely by archaeologists. What they found for the 13th to 12th centuries B.C.E.,b the era of Moses and Israel's entry into Canaan, was an archaeological blank save for Egyptian mining sites at Serabit el-Khadem and Timna (see photos of artifacts from Serabit el-Khadem and Timna) near Eilat. There was no evidence of settled occupation to be found. This proved true even at the site generally identified with Kadesh-Barnea ('Ein Qudeirat). It was not occupied until the tenth century B.C.E at the earliest, and its fortress was constructed only in the ninth century.c

On the other hand, recent surveys of Midian have produced surprising discoveries of a developed civilization in precisely the period in question, the end of the Late Bronze Age and the beginning of the Iron Age, the 13th to 12th centuries.3 At Qurayyah archaeologists discovered a major fortified citadel, a walled village and extensive irrigation works (see photo of citadel at Qurayyah). Characteristic pottery called Midianite ware—usually called Hejaz ware in Saudi journals—radiates out from the northern Hejaz into southern Transjordan and sites near Eilat, notably Timna. Extraordinarily enough, it is absent from the Sinai. In short we have a blank Sinai and a thriving culture in Midian in this era.

...

HS: Do you have any guess as to what mountain might be Mt. Sinai?

 

FMC: I really don't. There are several enormous mountains in what is now northwestern Saudi Arabia. Jebel el-Lawz is the highest of the mountains in Midian—8,465 feet—higher than any mountain in the Sinai Peninsula; but biblical Mt. Sinai need not be the highest of mountains. There is some reason to search for it in southern Edom, which was Midianite terrain before the expansion of the Edomites south. Archaic poetry in the Bible describes Yahweh as coming from Edom. For example, in Judges 5:1-31, the oldest of the biblical narrative songs (late 12th century B.C.E.), we read:

"When Thou Yahweh went forth from Seir, When Thou didst march forth from the highlands of Edom, Earth shook, mountains shuddered; Before Yahweh, Lord of Sinai, Before Yahweh God of Israel" (Judges 4-5).

And in the Blessing of Moses (Deuteronomy 33:2-29), which is also very old, we read:

"Yahweh from Sinai came, He beamed forth from Seir upon us, He shone from Mount Paran" (Deuteronomy 33:2).

The name "Seir" refers of course to a mountainous district of Edom. The following verses are found in Habakkuk 3:3-7 (one of the oldest and most primitive hymns in the Hebrew Bible):12

"Eloah (God) came from Teman,

The Holy One from Mount Paran.

His majesty covered heaven,

His praise filled the earth,

He shone like a destroying fire...

He stood and he shook earth,

He looked and startled nations.

Ancient mountains were shattered,

Eternal hills collapsed,

Eternal orbits were destroyed.

The tents of Kushan shook,

Tent curtains of the land of Midian."

I would argue that these archaic songs that locate Yahweh's movements in the southeast—in Edom/Seir/Teman/Midian/Cushan—are our most reliable evidence for locating Sinai/Horeb, the mountain of God. The search for origins, and reconstruction of history from material that arises in oral tradition, is always a precarious task. The singers of narrative poems—I speak of them as Epic sources—follow certain traditional patterns that include mythological elements. They do not contain what we would call history in the modern sense of that term. We are dealing with epic, which does not fit easily into either the genres of fiction or of history.

How can the historian ferret out valid historical memory in such traditional narrative? Perhaps he cannot. I am inclined to think, however, that when we can isolate old traditions that have no social function in later Israel, or actually flout later orthodoxy, that such traditions may preserve authentic historical memories, memories too fixed in archaic poetry to be revised out or suppressed.

(Israelite Origins, An Interview with Frank Moore Cross, Bible Review, Aug 1992)

 

"Although the heartland of the Arab nations was what is known today as Saudi Arabia, the Romans gave the name Arabia to a province of their empire which lay south and east of Palestine, in the corner of the Mediterranean world between Syria and Egypt. It comprehended the Negev, southern Syria, all of Jordan, and northwest Saudi Arabia." ... "when Augustus added to his realm the former kingdom of Judaea as a province under equestrian procurators, there remained in the circuit of imperial provinces along the desert's edge only the space extending across the Sinai, from Egypt into and encompassing the Negev, together with the entire territory of Transjordan, from the Syrian Hawran to the Gulf of 'Aqaba. It was this substantial tract that Trajan annexed in A. D. 106 under the name of the province of Arabia. This was Roman Arabia, as distinct from the land of incense and perfume in the south of the [Arabian] peninsula, which was known as the kingdom of Saba, or, to the Romans, Arabia Felix." (G. W. Bowersock, Roman Arabia, 1983, p 1-2)

Josephus in refuting Apion, actually hurts those who attempt to make Paul's statement of Mt. Sinai being in Arabia. (Gal 4:25) Notice that Apion did not believe that the modern Sinai Peninsula was part of Arabia: "Moses went up to a mountain that lay between Egypt and Arabia, which was called Sinai" (Josephus, Against Apion 2-3)

Four false arguments. Even if these false arguments were true, Midian, where Mt. Al-Lawz is located, has always been Arabia.

  1. "Arabia" in Paul's thinking included the "Sinai" peninsula.
  2. In 50 AD. the general Roman population understood that Arabia included "Sinai" peninsula.
  3. Writing to many churches in Roman Galatia, Paul used modern (50 AD) Roman definitions of Arabia, not Jewish.
  4. Moses never used the word Arabia, so Paul had no choice to but use modern Roman definitions of Arabia.

Arabia in the Old Testament was well defined to include Midian and east of the Arabah Valley where Edom lived. It clearly excluded the Sinai Peninsula: 1 Chron 1:29-31 tells us that Kedar and Tema were sons of Ishmael who lived in Midian (Arabia) and that Dedan, was associated with Arabia, Edom, Kedar, Tema in Jeremiah 25:23-24; 49:7-8. So from a strictly Bible definition Arabia specifically excluded the Sinai Peninsula:

  1. "besides that from the traders and the wares of the merchants and all the kings of the Arabs and the governors of the country. " 1 Kings 10:15
  2. "besides that which the traders and merchants brought; and all the kings of Arabia and the governors of the country brought gold and silver to Solomon." 2 Chronicles 9:14
  3. "The oracle about Arabia. In the thickets of Arabia you must spend the night, O caravans of Dedanites. " Isaiah 21:13
  4. "Dedan, Tema, Buz and all who cut the corners of their hair, and all the kings of Arabia and all the kings of the foreign people who dwell in the desert" Jeremiah 25:23-24
  5. "Dedan traded with you in saddlecloths for riding. Arabia and all the princes of Kedar, they were your customers for lambs, rams and goats; for these they were your customers. " Ezekiel 27:21
  6. "Then the Lord stirred up against Jehoram the spirit of the Philistines and the Arabs who bordered the Ethiopians; " 2 Chronicles 21:16

The New Testament uses Arabia only twice by Paul in the same book of Galatians! If we let the Bible define Arabia, from the specific information provided, Mt. Sinai cannot be in the Sinai Peninsula.

The Allegory in fact uses three words Moses never heard of:

  1. Jerusalem: first used in 1406 BC in Josh 10:1
  2. Jew: First used in 532 BC in 2 Kings 25:25
  3. Arabia, Arab: First used in 1000 BC in 2 Chronicles 9:14; 1 Kings 10:15

Paul used Hebrew not Roman references because the entire book is written to prove that Jews must give up the law of Moses given at Mt. Sinai. He makes a very strong appeal to Hebrew tradition in the opening chapter: Gal 1:13-18. Remember, the Hebrew Old Testament clearly defines Arabia as excluding the Sinai Peninsula and the New Testament uses Arabia only twice by Paul in the same book of Galatians! First he says he spent three years in Arabia immediately after his conversion, then says Mt. Sinai is in Arabia. The inference, of course, is that just like Moses and Elijah, Paul spent personal time with God on Mt. Sinai. If we let the Bible define Arabia, from the specific information provided, Mt. Sinai cannot be in the Sinai Peninsula.

Saudi Arabia (Midian)

Sinai Peninsula

Arabia had many kings:
2 Chron. 9:14; Jer. 25:24

Yes

No

Paid Tax to Solomon:
2 Chronicles 9:14

Yes

No

Silver and gold mines:
2 Chron. 9:14-15

Yes

No (copper, turquoise)

Arabia is where Hagar and Ishmael lived:
Genesis 16:12; 21:21; 25:18

Yes

No

Arabia is where Kedar, Tema and Dedan lived:
Isa 21:13; Jer 25:23-24; Ezek 27:21

Yes

No

Arabs bordered the Ethiopians:
2 Chronicles 21:16

Yes

No

 

 Hagri (1), Hagrite (1), Hagrites (4)

1 Chron 5:10

...of Saul they made war with the

Hagrites , who fell by their hand, so that ...

1 Chron 5:19

They made war against the

Hagrites , Jetur, Naphish and Nodab.

1 Chron 5:20

...They were helped against them, and the

Hagrites and all who were with them were ...

1 Chron 11:38

...the brother of Nathan, Mibhar the son of

Hagri ,

1 Chron 27:31

Jaziz the

Hagrite had charge of the flocks. All these ...

Ps 83:6

...the Ishmaelites, Moab and the

Hagrites ;

 

 

 

By Steve Rudd: Contact the author for comments, input or corrections.

 

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