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image of Vetus Testamentum

The crux of Moses' shining face in Ex. xxxiv is explained by first-millennium Mesopotamian astronomical and lexical sources which attest an ancient understanding of light as material. Moses' face could, quite literally, radiate horns of light, and the need to translate the term as either divine radiance or physical protuberance is a side-effect of modern conceptual categories, irrelevant to ancient Israelite ideas. Furthermore, the well known ancient Jewish tradition of Moses' coronation, and his divine physical transformation attested in newly published Midrashic sources suggests an authentic ancient reading of the text that resolves the contradiction between Ex. xxxiii and xxxiv. While no human could see God and live, in Ex. xxxiv, the Israelites recoil from a transformed Moses who is no longer precisely human.


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