In Palestine there are two mountain chains, on each side of the River Jordan, running from north to south. Trade and communications therefore moved in these directions, and east–west routes were sparse and limited to the few gaps in the mountains. In the OT mountains dominate the history of Israel and are mentioned in many connections—for assemblies (Josh. 8: 33), military sites (1 Sam. 17: 3), and battles (1 Sam. 23: 26); they are also useful for pasture (Ps. 104: 18). The term ‘mount’ is used for particular peaks within the ranges, and two are especially important for Israel—Mount Sinai, where the covenant between God and Israel was enacted (Exod. 19: 23) and the Law received, and Mount Zion, regarded as the dwelling place of God (e.g. Ps. 68: 16).
Mountains are held to be awesome and sacred (Deut. 11: 29), which is a continuation of the Canaanite mythology, whose God Baal, controller of thunderstorms, was thought to live on Mount Zaphon. For the Hebrews too, God was a God of the mountains (1 Kgs. 20: 23, 28 f.); on a hill was the resting‐place for the Ark (1 Sam. 7: 1) and on a hill ecstatic prophets congregated (1 Sam. 10: 5). Mount Zion, on which the Temple was built, will always be the ‘mountain of God’ (Pss. 2: 6; 78: 68–9), the ‘holy mountain’ (Isa. 8: 18). And this perspective about mountains reappears in the NT, notably in Matt. 5–7 where Jesus delivers the Sermon on the Mount, which is the counterpart of the old covenant now given to the New Israel as a new manifesto: Jesus is the New Moses who saves people from their servitude. So too, the glory of Jesus in the Transfiguration takes place on a mountain (Mark 9: 2) and on a mountain the Eleven are given their marching orders (Matt. 28: 16 ff.).