MemberJune 11, 2021 at 10:18 pm
Yes, Arabia in Roman terms included the Sinai Peninsula. Israel, then as now, was surrounded by Arab nations, including to the south and southwest.
Your first point about facing east is relevant to the second, where אחר המדבר ahar ha-midbar “behind the wilderness” indicates ‘west’ to people who described direction when facing east. So ‘east’ is קֵדְמָה kadimah or קֶדֶם kedem meaning “to the fore”, “in front”. They also use מִזְרָח mizrah “sunrise”. In biblical texts, ‘west’ is nearly always יָם yam “sea” in reference to the Mediterranean Sea in the west. So Josh 11:3 has “to the Canaanites in the east מִזְרָח [sunrise] and the west יָם [sea]”.
But the Mediterranean Sea is also called הים האחרון ha-yam ha-aharon “the sea behind” as in Zech 14:8 and Joel 2:20. Thus אחרון aharon “behind” signifies ‘west’ to someone facing קֵדְמָה kadimah ‘east’. It is in this sense, ‘west’, that Moses took Jethro’s flocks אחר המדבר ahar ha-midbar “behind the wilderness”, that is, to the west side as per the ESV, ISV, NrIV, and even the MSG 🙂 This wilderness, it turns out, is the Wilderness of Paran, so familiar to Moses that he often doesn’t bother to name it. Mount Sinai-Horeb is also called “Mount Paran” in Hab 3:3.
Hab 3:3 God came from Teman, the Holy One from Mount Paran. [Selah] His glory covered the heavens, and the earth was full of his praise.