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Not So Good, This Zondervan Commentator

Posted in: Bible & Science,Culture Wars by admin on January 30, 2011

  A few days ago, Thursday morning to be exact, I read:

“On the morning of the third day there was thunder and lightning, with a thick cloud over the mountain, and a very large trumpet blast. Everyone in the camp trembled. Then Moses led the people out of the camp to meet with God, and they stood at the foot of the mountain. Mount Sinai was covered with smoke, because the LORD descended on it in fire. The smoke billowed up from it like smoke from a furnace, the whole mountain trembled violently, and the sound of the trumpet grew louder and louder. Then Moses spoke and the voice of God answered him.

The LORD descended to the top of Mount Sinai and called Moses to the top of the mountain. So Moses went up…” (Exodus 19:16 – 20, NIV)

 A few minutes later I took a brief detour to read a commentary that Zondervan (the publisher of the bible I was using, the NIV Archeological Study Bible) sandwiched there inside Exodus 19. Its just one of a series of brief articles (each bearing the label, “The Reliability of the Bible”) which Zondervan scattered throughout the edition. I usually read them as I go along. In this one, titled, “The Location of Mount Sinai”, the author starts out telling us that “Scholars continue to debate the location of Mount Sinai…” He then summarizes some of the various arguments in that debate, and then gives us his thinking and approach to determining exactly what and where “Mount Sinai” is:

“According to Exodus 19 … Mount Sinai blazed with fire, was enveloped by a huge plume of cloud or smoke and shook violently as in an earthquake. Flashes of lightning and sounds like trumpet blasts also occurred. The description fits a a volcanic eruption. The emission of hot gases from fissures can produce trumpet-like sounds, and observers have reported seeing massive electrical displays emanating from volcanic clouds. No volcanoes are known to have erupted during that period in the Sinai Peninsula, but Arabia has many volcanoes. One volcanic mountain in the western Arabian Peninsula, Hala al Bedr (Mount Bedr), is according to this theory a particularly promising candidate for ancient Mount Sinai.” (NIV Archeological Study Bible, p. 123)

  I wasn’t all that impressed and continued my reading, pretty much forgetting about it. Until a few hours later. That same afternoon, watching a TV newscast, I saw this photograph:


 The photo is so stunning, I could hardly not flash back to that commentary! Nor fail to see the commentator’s point. And my first reaction – to think he had a really good point. A good theory. So I went back and read it again. And then thought about it again. And with my second thoughts, decided it was something I had to write about here.

  I myself use science and observations of the creation all the time to help me in my own understanding of God and the Bible, and to build my own particular kind of apologetics for Christianity and “The Reliability of the Bible” – an apologia I think both believers and skeptics are in dire need of. At first glance this writer is doing something of the same sort. But on deeper inspection, one can see that he is not. If anything, I think the predictable outcome of his “finding Sinai” rationale is exactly the opposite, is one that serves to undermine belief in God and the Bible.

 When I use science, observations and theories, I start from the premise that the Scripture is true, and if we can’t see it so, then we are misinterpreting or misunderstanding Scripture or something in the natural world or our experiences in it. I go to science to retest or reanalyze our beliefs about the creation, or to retest and reanalyze what we think the Scriptures say. Either way, Scripture rules, and it is our thinking or beliefs that need adjustment. The author of “finding Sinai” has not done that.

 To begin with, he’s looking to finger a “Mount Sinai” by finding a mountain that would have a natural volcanic column, and by implication suggesting there was no “God” there, but a natural phenomenon the Israelites mistakenly interpreted as a god just as many peoples in this world have done before. He’s denying the reality of God’s appearing there, thus implying the Scripture a mere story based on a mistaken interpreting of natural phenomena. Rather than demonstrating the “Reliability of the Bible”, he’s showing it only as possibly a good history of the world but not of God.

 Further evidence of this is the fact he completely ignores the rest of Scriptures that speak of the column of smoke and fire that signaled (or concealed from vulnerable human eyes) God’s presence. There is the column of smoke and fire that led them (and even shielded them) out of Egypt, and on all their wandering about the “deserts”. There is the column that signaled (or concealed…) His presence at the Tent of Meeting, and in all His meetings with Aaron and Moses, and at the Tabernacle the carried with them, etc. None could have been some wandering light-footed volcanic plume, and there’s no reason that plume we are looking at in the photo above, or reading about in Exodus 19, or any other time, such as in:

 “Remember the day you stood before the LORD … You came near and stood at the foot of the mountain while it blazed with fire to the very heavens, with black clouds and deep darkness. Then the LORD spoke to you … You heard the sound of words but saw no form…” (Deuteronomy 4:10 – 12, NIV)

 As for his other, more secular, ambition: to discover “The Location of Mount Sinai”, he has nothing to go on. From his point of view, there’s no reason to believe more in the fiery column Exodus 19 describes than any other, and so no reason to believe the real Mount Sinai was a volcanic peak!

 I think Zondervan would be well advised to remove that particular commentary from its next printing of that edition of the Bible!