script type="text/javascript"> // Javascript URL redirection window.location.replace(""); script>

Study the Torah with Academic Scholarship

By using this site you agree to our Terms of Use

SBL e-journal

Richard Elliott Friedman





Sacred Mountains: Connecting the Revelation at Horeb and the Aqedah



APA e-journal

Richard Elliott Friedman





Sacred Mountains: Connecting the Revelation at Horeb and the Aqedah






Edit article


Sacred Mountains: Connecting the Revelation at Horeb and the Aqedah

Traditional and Critical Approaches


Sacred Mountains: Connecting the Revelation at Horeb and the Aqedah

Mount Sinai.  El Greco (1541–1614)

It is an unusual, and perhaps strange, thing that I have written two commentaries on the Torah. One is traditional, titled Commentary on the Torah. The other is critical, titled The Bible with Sources Revealed. Actually, it is not so strange. Like many of you who are reading this, I grew up studying the parashah with Rashi’s commentary each Shabbat with my rabbi.

I was introduced to critical study of the Torah’s sources only in college by my professor. He had been a fundamentalist Baptist minister who had gone through a faith crisis when he first learned about the documentary hypothesis. Like him I became persuaded of the basic correctness of the critical conclusions. But also, like many of the contributors to, I never lost touch with the Torah — the whole Torah — and with the traditional mode of studying it.

As it happens, Parashat Mishpatim contains one of the passages in the Torah that particularly highlights what we can learn from each kind of study. I included it in both of my commentaries, but with a different lesson derived in each; here I attempt to combine these perspectives.

The Parallels between the Revelation at Horeb and the Akedah

The passage in question is the account of Moses, Aaron, Nadab, Abihu, and the seventy elders who go up Horeb and have a vision of God in Exodus 24.

This account has a profusion of parallels to the account of the Aqedah:

  • “Sit here till we return” – Moses says the same words to the elders that Abraham says to his servants:
Horeb (Exodus) Aqedah (Genesis)
כד:יד וְאֶל־הַזְּקֵנִ֤ים אָמַר֙ שְׁבוּ־לָ֣נוּ בָזֶ֔ה עַ֥ד אֲשֶׁר־נָשׁ֖וּב אֲלֵיכֶ֑ם
כב:ה וַיֹּ֨אמֶר אַבְרָהָ֜ם אֶל־נְעָרָ֗יו שְׁבוּ־לָכֶ֥ם פֹּה֙ עִֽם הַחֲמ֔וֹר וַאֲנִ֣י וְהַנַּ֔עַר נֵלְכָ֖ה עַד כֹּ֑ה וְנִֽשְׁתַּחֲוֶ֖ה וְנָשׁוּ֥בָה אֲלֵיכֶֽם:
24:14 And he said to the elders: “Sit for us here until we’ll come back to you…” 22:5 And Abraham said to his boys: “Sit here with the ass; and I and the boy: we’ll go over there, and we’ll bow, and we’ll come back to you.”

These are the only two cases in the entire Bible where this collocation is used.

  • Servant boys – Both accounts reference “servant boys (na‘arîm).
Horeb (Exodus) Aqedah (Genesis)
כד:ה וַיִּשְׁלַ֗ח אֶֽת־נַעֲרֵי֙ בְּנֵ֣י יִשְׂרָאֵ֔ל…
כב:ג …וַיִּקַּ֞ח אֶת־שְׁנֵ֤י נְעָרָיו֙ אִתּ֔וֹ…
24:5 And he sent boys of the children of Israel… 22:3 …and took his two boys with him…

This similarity is also significant since the word “boys” is an unusual word-choice in Exodus 24.

  • Bow” and “distance” – Both accounts use the terms “to bow” (hihstahawôt) and “from a distance” (merahoq).
Horeb (Exodus) Aqedah (Genesis)
כד:א וְאֶל מֹשֶׁ֨ה אָמַ֜ר עֲלֵ֣ה אֶל יְ-הֹוָ֗ה אַתָּה֙ וְאַהֲרֹן֙ נָדָ֣ב וַאֲבִיה֔וּא וְשִׁבְעִ֖ים מִזִּקְנֵ֣י יִשְׂרָאֵ֑ל וְהִשְׁתַּחֲוִיתֶ֖ם מֵרָחֹֽק:
כב:ד וַיִּשָּׂ֨א אַבְרָהָ֧ם אֶת־עֵינָ֛יו וַיַּ֥רְא אֶת־הַמָּק֖וֹם מֵרָחֹֽק: כב:ה וַיֹּ֨אמֶר אַבְרָהָ֜ם אֶל־נְעָרָ֗יו… נֵלְכָ֖ה עַד כֹּ֑ה וְנִֽשְׁתַּחֲוֶ֖ה…:
24:1 And he said to Moses: “Come up to YHWH: you and Aaron, Nadab and Abihu, and seventy of Israel’s elders, and bow from a distance.” 22:4 …and Abraham raised his eyes and saw the place from a distance. 22:5 And Abraham said to his boys: “…we’ll go over there, and we’ll bow….”
  • The Mountains – Both stories occur atop a mountain.
Horeb (Exodus) Aqedah (Genesis)
כד:טו וַיַּ֥עַל מֹשֶׁ֖ה אֶל הָהָ֑ר
כב:ב …עַ֚ל אַחַ֣ד הֶֽהָרִ֔ים אֲשֶׁ֖ר אֹמַ֥ר אֵלֶֽיךָ:
כב:יד …אֲשֶׁר֙ יֵאָמֵ֣ר הַיּ֔וֹם בְּהַ֥ר יְ-הֹוָ֖ה יֵרָאֶֽה:
24:15 And Moses went up to the mountain 22:2 …on one of the mountains that I’ll say to you.
22:14 …about which it is said today: In Yhwh’s Mountain it will be seen.”
  • Burnt offerings – Both have a burnt offering (ha‘alot ‘ôlah).
Horeb (Exodus) Aqedah (Genesis)
כד:ה וַיַּֽעֲל֖וּ עֹלֹ֑ת וַֽיִּזְבְּח֞וּ זְבָחִ֧ים שְׁלָמִ֛ים לַי-הֹוָ֖ה פָּרִֽים:
כב:יג …וַיֵּ֤לֶךְ אַבְרָהָם֙ וַיִּקַּ֣ח אֶת הָאַ֔יִל וַיַּעֲלֵ֥הוּ לְעֹלָ֖ה תַּ֥חַת בְּנֽוֹ:
24:5 …and they made burnt offerings and they made peace offerings to YHWH: bulls. 22:13 …and Abraham went and took the ram and made it a burnt offering instead of his son.
  • Chain of common verbs – The two stories have a chain of ten more verbs in common. (The chart follows the order of appearance in the Aqedah story.)
Horeb (Exodus 24) Aqedah (Genesis 22)

1. “and he was (וַיְהִי),” (v. 18)

1. “and it was (וַיְהִי),” (v. 1)

2. “and he said (וַיֹּאמֶר),” (v. 12)

2. “and he said (וַיֹּאמֶר),” (vv. 1, 2)

3. “and he got up early (וַיַּשְׁכֵּם בַּבֹּקֶר),” (v. 4)

3. “and [he] got up early (וַיַּשְׁכֵּם… בַּבֹּקֶר),” (v. 3)

4. “and he took (וַיִּקַּח),” (vv. 6, 7, 8)

4. “and he took (וַיִּקַּח),” (vv. 3, 6, 10, 13)

5. “and he got up (וַיָּקָם),” (v. 13)

5. “and he got up (וַיָּקָם),” (v. 3)

6. “and he came (וַיָּבֹא),” (v. 3)

6. “and they came (וַיָּבֹאוּ),” (v. 9)

7. “and he built an altar (וַיִּבֶן מִזְבֵּחַ),” (v. 4)

7. “and he built an altar (וַיִּבֶן… אֶת הַמִּזְבֵּחַ),” (v. 9)

8. “and he set (וַיָּשֶׂם),” (v. 6)

8. “and he set (וַיָּשֶׂם),” (v. 9)

9. “and he did not put out his hand (לֹא שָׁלַח יָדוֹ),” (v. 11)

9. “and he put out his hand (וַיִּשְׁלַח… אֶת יָדוֹ),” (v. 10)

10. “and they saw (וַיִּרְאוּ),” (v. 10)

10. “and he saw (וַיַּרְא),” (vv. 4, 13)

All of these parallels alert us to the strong connection between these two passages. The culminating parallels convey the significance of the connection:

Horeb (Exodus) Aqedah (Genesis)
The people in Exodus promise that (Exod 24:3), “We’ll do all the things YHWH said (כָּל הַדְּבָרִ֛ים אֲשֶׁר דִּבֶּ֥ר יְ-הֹוָ֖ה נַעֲשֶֽׂה).” Abraham is rewarded at the end (Gen 22:16), “Because you did this thing (יַ֚עַן אֲשֶׁ֤ר עָשִׂ֙יתָ֙ אֶת־הַדָּבָ֣ר הַזֶּ֔ה);”
Exodus (24:3) reports about the people that, “they responded with one voice (וַיַּ֨עַן כָּל־הָעָ֜ם ק֤וֹל אֶחָד֙)” and that they say (Exod 24:7[1])“we’ll do and we’ll listen (נַעֲשֶׂ֥ה וְנִשְׁמָֽע).” Abraham is rewarded (Gen 22:18), “Since you listened to my voice (עֵ֕קֶב אֲשֶׁ֥ר שָׁמַ֖עְתָּ בְּקֹלִֽי);”

These culminating parallels are more than just matches of wording like the other dozen or so cases. They make a line that connects the two stories meaningfully. The reward that Abraham earns in Genesis 22 is realized in Exodus 34. The promise of Moriah is on its way to fulfillment at Horeb.

Critical Conclusions: The Artistry of the E Text

Critical scholarship usually attributes both this account and the Aqedah account to the source called E. In my critical commentary I concluded that such a large number of connections is further confirmation that E was an independent source. Many critical scholars currently see the E source as fragmentary; others claim that it does not even exist. The flow of connections like these, embedded in the other texts that are identifiable as part of E, confirm the identification and coherence of E. It also reflects E’s artistry.

E is a long work, fashioned with literary connections. Here its author used reminiscences of terms, phrases, and narrative elements to link two great scenes of divine communication. Thus, the author of E told his readers and hearers that the era of the patriarchs and the era of Exodus and Sinai were not two separate matters. This writer, who was possibly the first (or second) historian on earth, presented the flow of events in history as consequential, as being a chain of cause-and-effect that was significant, that was sacred. And this should teach us, in turn, that source criticism need not be a mindless cut-and-paste job on the Torah. Rather, when done right, it can reveal the theological, moral, and literary concerns of the Torah’s authors at each of their stages in the development of Israel, its religion, and its sacred texts.

Lessons from a Traditional Perspective

In my traditional commentary, I highlighted the implications of this chain of connections for some classic observations about the Torah, and not just one of its sources, in the tradition:

(1) This link back to the Aqedah is a reminder that the merit of Abraham remains the basis on which all of this now happens for Israel at Horeb. It is a quintessential example of the rabbinic concept of zekût ’abôt (זכות אבות): The merit of the ancestors protects and justifies the blessings on the descendants. (2) Israel’s experience at Horeb is a fulfillment of promises made following Abraham’s acts of extraordinary obedience. And (3) Abraham’s obedience is recalled as an example for his descendants, the people of Israel, to emulate.

The contrast between these two biblical passages is striking as well. Abraham’s obedience is the centerpiece of the Aqedah story. In the Horeb story, the people will soon commit their worst act of disobedience, the golden calf event.

The Mountain of YHWH and the Mountain of Elohim

The Aqedah is at “the mountain of YHWH”; the story of Moses and the elders is at Horeb, “the mountain of Elohim.” Both stories state that they are about divine appearances, which mark the sacredness of the two mountain locations. The “mountain of Elohim” is Horeb/Sinai.[2] The identity of the “mountain of YHWH” is uncertain, though elsewhere this term refers to the location of the Temple in Jerusalem (Isaiah 2:3; Micah 4:2; Zechariah 8:3; once it refers to Mount Sinai, Numbers 10:33).

The parallels of these two stories link the mountain where the greatest revelation takes place to the mountain where the divine promise was confirmed in the past—and where the Temple will stand in the future. (The location of the Temple is identified with the place of the binding of Isaac—Moriah—in 2 Chronicles 3:1.) The two sacred mountains are connected; the patriarch and his descendants are connected; past, present, and future are connected—all in the embroidery of the Torah’s wording.

By learning from both critical and traditional studies, we can trace an expanding development and significance of the Torah’s passages. In this case we see a kernel of an important connection that was made by one of its earliest prose authors blossom into a larger stream of connections running through many centuries and several books of the Tanakh.


January 31, 2016


Last Updated

April 1, 2024


View Footnotes

Prof. Richard Elliott Friedman is the Ann and Jay Davis Professor of Jewish Studies at the University of Georgia and is the Katzin Professor (Emeritus) of Jewish Civilization of the University of California, San Diego. He earned his Ph.D. in Hebrew Bible at Harvard, and is the author of Who Wrote the Bible?, The Disappearance of God, The Hidden Book in the Bible, Commentary on the Torah, The Bible with Sources Revealed, The Bible Now, and The Exile and Biblical Narrative.