Antiquities of the Jews     by Flavius Josephus
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Book III, Chapter 5

How Moses Ascended Up To Mount Sinai, And Received Laws From God, And Delivered Them To The Hebrews

1. Now Moses called the multitude together, and told them that he was going from them unto mount Sinai to converse with God; to receive from him, and to bring back with him, a certain oracle; but he enjoined them to pitch their tents near the mountain, and prefer the habitation that was nearest to God, before one more remote. When he had said this, he ascended up to Mount Sinai, which is the highest of all the mountains that are in that country (9) and is not only very difficult to be ascended by men, on account of its vast altitude, but because of the sharpness of its precipices also; nay, indeed, it cannot be looked at without pain of the eyes: and besides this, it was terrible and inaccessible, on account of the rumor that passed about, that God dwelt there. But the Hebrews removed their tents as Moses had bidden them, and took possession of the lowest parts of the mountain; and were elevated in their minds, in expectation that Moses would return from God with promises of the good things he had proposed to them. So they feasted and waited for their conductor, and kept themselves pure as in other respects, and not accompanying with their wives for three days, as he had before ordered them to do. And they prayed to God that he would favorably receive Moses in his conversing with him, and bestow some such gift upon them by which they might live well. They also lived more plentifully as to their diet; and put on their wives and children more ornamental and decent clothing than they usually wore.

2. So they passed two days in this way of feasting; but on the third day, before the sun was up, a cloud spread itself over the whole camp of the Hebrews, such a one as none had before seen, and encompassed the place where they had pitched their tents; and while all the rest of the air was clear, there came strong winds, that raised up large showers of rain, which became a mighty tempest. There was also such lightning, as was terrible to those that saw it; and thunder, with its thunderbolts, were sent down, and declared God to be there present in a gracious way to such as Moses desired he should be gracious. Now, as to these matters, every one of my readers may think as he pleases; but I am under a necessity of relating this history as it is described in the sacred books. This sight, and the amazing sound that came to their ears, disturbed the Hebrews to a prodigious degree, for they were not such as they were accustomed to; and then the rumor that was spread abroad, how God frequented that mountain, greatly astonished their minds, so they sorrowfully contained themselves within their tents, as both supposing Moses to be destroyed by the Divine wrath, and expecting the like destruction for themselves.

3. When they were under these apprehensions, Moses appeared as joyful and greatly exalted. When they saw him, they were freed from their fear, and admitted of more comfortable hopes as to what was to come. The air also was become clear and pure of its former disorders, upon the appearance of Moses; whereupon he called together the people to a congregation, in order to their hearing what God would say to them: and when they were gathered together, he stood on an eminence whence they might all hear him, and said, "God has received me graciously, O Hebrews, as he has formerly done; and has suggested a happy method of living for you, and an order of political government, and is now present in the camp: I therefore charge you, for his sake and the sake of his works, and what we have done by his means, that you do not put a low value on what I am going to say, because the commands have been given by me that now deliver them to you, nor because it is the tongue of a man that delivers them to you; but if you have a due regard to the great importance of the things themselves, you will understand the greatness of Him whose institutions they are, and who has not disdained to communicate them to me for our common advantage; for it is not to be supposed that the author of these institutions is barely Moses, the son of Amram and Jochebed, but He who obliged the Nile to run bloody for your sakes, and tamed the haughtiness of the Egyptians by various sorts of judgments; he who provided a way through the sea for us; he who contrived a method of sending us food from heaven, when we were distressed for want of it; he who made the water to issue out of a rock, when we had very little of it before; he by whose means Adam was made to partake of the fruits both of the land and of the sea; he by whose means Noah escaped the deluge; he by whose means our forefather Abraham, of a wandering pilgrim, was made the heir of the land of Canaan; he by whose means Isaac was born of parents that were very old; he by whose means Jacob was adorned with twelve virtuous sons; he by whose means Joseph became a potent lord over the Egyptians; he it is who conveys these instructions to you by me as his interpreter. And let them be to you venerable, and contended for more earnestly by you than your own children and your own wives; for if you will follow them, you will lead a happy life you will enjoy the land fruitful, the sea calm, and the fruit of the womb born complete, as nature requires; you will be also terrible to your enemies for I have been admitted into the presence of God and been made a hearer of his incorruptible voice so great is his concern for your nation, and its duration."

4. When he had said this, he brought the people, with their wives and children, so near the mountain, that they might hear God himself speaking to them about the precepts which they were to practice; that the energy of what should be spoken might not be hurt by its utterance by that tongue of a man, which could but imperfectly deliver it to their understanding. And they all heard a voice that came to all of them from above, insomuch that no one of these words escaped them, which Moses wrote on two tables; which it is not lawful for us to set down directly, but their import we will declare (10)

5. The first commandment teaches us that there is but one God, and that we ought to worship him only. The second commands us not to make the image of any living creature to worship it. The third, that we must not swear by God in a false matter. The fourth, that we must keep the seventh day, by resting from all sorts of work. The fifth, that we must honor our parents. The sixth that we must abstain from murder. The seventh that we must not commit adultery. The eighth, that we must not be guilty of theft. The ninth, that we must not bear false witness. The tenth, that we must not admit of the desire of any thing that is another's.

6. Now when the multitude had heard God himself giving those precepts which Moses had discoursed of, they rejoiced at what was said; and the congregation was dissolved: but on the following days they came to his tent, and desired him to bring them, besides, other laws from God. Accordingly he appointed such laws, and afterwards informed them in what manner they should act in all cases; which laws I shall make mention of in their proper time; but I shall reserve most of those laws for another work, (11) and make there a distinct explication of them.

7. When matters were brought to this state, Moses went up again to Mount Sinai, of which he had told them beforehand. He made his ascent in their sight; and while he staid there so long a time, (for he was absent from them forty days,) fear seized upon the Hebrews, lest Moses should have come to any harm; nor was there any thing else so sad, and that so much troubled them, as this supposal that Moses was perished. Now there was a variety in their sentiments about it; some saying that he was fallen among wild beasts; and those that were of this opinion were chiefly such as were ill-disposed to him; but others said that he was departed, and gone to God; but the wiser sort were led by their reason to embrace neither of those opinions with any satisfaction, thinking, that as it was a thing that sometimes happens to men to fall among wild beasts and perish that way, so it was probable enough that he might depart and go to God, on account of his virtue; they therefore were quiet, and expected the event: yet were they exceeding sorry upon the supposal that they were deprived of a governor and a protector, such a one indeed as they could never recover again; nor would this suspicion give them leave to expect any comfortable event about this man, nor could they prevent their trouble and melancholy upon this occasion. However, the camp durst not remove all this while, because Moses had bidden them afore to stay there.

8. But when the forty days, and as many nights, were over, Moses came down, having tasted nothing of food usually appointed for the nourishment of men. His appearance filled the army with gladness, and he declared to them what care God had of them, and by what manner of conduct of their lives they might live happily; telling them, that during these days of his absence he had suggested to him also that he would have a tabernacle built for him, into which he would descend when he came to them, and how we should carry it about with us when we remove from this place; and that there would be no longer any occasion for going up to Mount Sinai, but that he would himself come and pitch his tabernacle amongst us, and be present at our prayers; as also, that the tabernacle should be of such measures and construction as he had shown him, and that you are to fall to the work, and prosecute it diligently. When he had said this, he showed them the two tables, with the ten commandments engraven upon them, five upon each table; and the writing was by the hand of God.


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Matt Curtin
Last modified: Fri Apr 17 12:42:13 EDT 1998