Josh Philpot

Theology, the Church, and Music

Archive for July 2011

A few thoughts on Exodus 34:29

leave a comment »

  1. Moses’ second descent from Sinai is much different from the first. This time he has two new tablets and a changed complexion: the skin of his face is “shining” (from Heb. qrn) because he had been talking with God. The use of qrn here is odd since it usually means “horns,” not “to shine,” as depicted in Michelangelo’s statue of  Moses in the church of San Pietro, Rome. Michelangelo based his depiction of Moses on the translation of qrn in the Vulgate (“he knew not that his face was horned“).
  2. Scholars differ on the interpretation of qrn in Exod 34: Jirku (“horns”), Propp (“disfigurement,” or blistered skin), Sasson (“horns”), Stuart (“rays”), Sanders (“light”), Cassuto (“rays of light”), Childs (“rays of light”), Enns (“afterglow”), etc. The LXX has, “the skin of [Moses’] face had become glorified.” Paul follows the LXX: “The Israelites could not look steadily at the face of Moses because of its glory” (2 Cor 3:7).
  3. While it is true that qrn normally means “horns” (see HALOT, vol 3, 1144), in this case we must consider alternatives. The verbal form here in Exod 34 literally means “to show horns,” not “to shine.” But consider this analogy: my kids and I drew a picture of the sun today with yellow crayons. Like most kids do (and adults too), we drew spikes, or “horns,” around the sun to show that it emanates light and that it’s really hot. Perhaps what we have in Exod 34 is similar. The skin of Moses’ face shines just like the sun shines. Instead of saying that Moses’ face “was shining” (using the normal language of illumination) the author of Moses depicts Moses’ face much like we would draw the sun: he had horns of light (a similar analogy would be the head of the Statue of Liberty); that is, rays that reflect the very brightness of  Yahweh’s own presence. As Cassuto writes, “Something of the divine glory remained with [Moses], and on an infinitesimal scale he also had rays at his side—enveloping his countenance.”
  4. Habbakuk 3:4 substantiates the interpretation of qrn as rays of light: “[God’s] brightness was like the light; beams of light (qrn) come from his hand; and there he veiled his power.”

Written by Josh Philpot

July 13, 2011 at 2:02 am