Digging Deeper

Chapter 4 - Mount Sinai

The real Mount Sinai

Jebel Musa climb takes two hours but is quicker riding a camel

The Chapel at the summit has Greek religious icons inside

Note the size of the plains in front of Safsafeh and Sinai

The climb from the monastery at the foot of the mount to the summit of Jebel Musa (Mount of Moses) takes two hours, more or less, depending on the agility of the climber. On the summit is a small Greek chapel.

Some scholars have rejected Jebel Musa as being the real Mount Sinai on the grounds that there is no suitable place at the foot of the mount where a large number of people could camp within sight of the summit. The Bible record seems to require this when it says: ‘On the third day the LORD will come down upon Mount Sinai in the sight of all the people’ (Exodus 19:11, NKJV).

These scholars prefer a granite ridge called Ras es Safsafeh, at the foot of which is a plain which could accommodate a large number of people. But there are problems with this identification, and at least 10 alternative sites have been identified by other scholars. After all, there is no Bible text that says that the real Mount Sinai had to be the highest mountain in the region.

The most recent claim has been made by Emmanuel Anati, who has spent many years excavating on Mount Karkom, south of Kadesh. Here he has found evidence of cultic activities which go back to the early Bronze Age, and stones which he believes were associated with the biblical incidents there.

The early Bronze Age is far too early for anyone’s (except Anati’s) reckoning for the Exodus, and his mountain is not much more than a sloping hill which scarcely seems to fit the description.

Personally, I think the most likely area is in the rugged mountains east of Aqaba. Here is a lofty mountain named Jebel Baghir, identified in 1878 by Charles Beke, a noted British traveller and biblical scholar as Mount Sinai (Encyclopaedia Britannica, vol. 3, p. 409). Another mountain in the vicinity is Jebel Ram, 1,750 metres high. This was in the land of Midian, where Moses tended Jethro’s flocks, and it was while he was caring for his sheep that he saw the burning bush. ‘Moses was tending the flock of Jethro his father-in-law, the priest of Midian. And he led the flock to the back of the desert, and came to Horeb, the mountain of God’ (Exodus 3:1, NKJV). Horeb is another name for Sinai (1 Kings 8:9); and Paul said that Sinai was in Arabia (Galatians 4:25).

Another factor is that it was only an ‘eleven days’ journey from Horeb by way of Mount Seir to Kadesh Barnea’ (Deuteronomy 1:2, NKJV). This would not fit the journey from Jebel Musa, but the journey could be made within that time limit if Sinai were located near Aqaba.

Safsafeh has huge plain in front

East of Aqaba is ancient Midian

Jebel Ram with Beduoin tents