The Mystery and the Majesty: Moses at Mount Sinai

May 8, 2013

The closing chapters of the Book of Exodus contain some of the most dramatic and exciting moments in the Bible. The events culminating in the giving of the Ten Commandments, and the aftermath, are explored in Seymour Rossel’s upcoming class, “The Peak Experience: Moses at Mount Sinai“.  We recently caught up with Seymour to find out more.

WIH Reporter: What is important to know about your class?

Seymour Rossel: The revelation at Mount Sinai , including the giving of the Ten Commandments, is the lynchpin of Western religious thought to this day. Yet, there is much more to it than the Ten Commandments—especially, much that surprises us when we carefully consider it.

The narrative is found in the last chapters of the Book of Exodus, though the laws given in Leviticus also are included as part of the revelation. It is sophisticated account of the direct revelation of God to human beings. 

WIH Reporter
: What things would surprise us to know about this subject?

Seymour Rossel: Three things. First, the Golden Calf incident is nowhere near as simple as it seems. It reflects the conflicts between the Northern Kingdom of Israel and the Southern Kingdom of Judah and has political, as well as religious, implications. Second, there are actually two sets of Ten Commandments, mutually exclusive, and both claiming to be the “original” Ten Commandments. Finally, the “acceptance ritual” administered by Moses reflects some of the most primitive thinking in the entire Bible.

WIH Reporter: What is the biggest misconception that we have about this Bible section?

Seymour Rossel: We generally think that the entire story is contained in the most often repeated parts of the narrative—Moses going up the mountain, the Golden Calf, the breaking of the first set of tablets, the punishment of the guilty sinners, Moses going back up the mountain, and the giving of the second set of tablets. Actually, this is just the tip of the iceberg (or the top of the mountain). In reality, the story is full of twists and turns, every one of them exciting and some of them contradictory.

WIH Reporter: How does this compare with other religions and founders of religions in terms of the peak experience?

Seymour Rossel: I call this the “peak experience” because that is a good pun for the mountain, of course, but also because it is the experience which continued to be developed and embellished through hundreds of years of religious thought. Christians, Muslims, and others have all read this narrative and embellished it in their own ways, and we shall consider these embellishments, too.

WIH Reporter: What exciting things do we have to look forward to learn in this class?

Seymour Rossel: The most exciting thing is rediscovering Mount Sinai—so many of us only know the carefully expurgated children’s version of the story. Here’s a chance to see and discuss the full adult side and judge for ourselves the impact of revelation in religious thought.

This afternoon class (1:00 pm -3:00 pm) begins May 14th and runs for four weeks.