According to the biblical story, Moses set the Jewish people free from their bondage by Egypt and escaped. On the way to Canaan – their promised land – they came to Mount Sinai. Moses went up the mountain and stayed there for 40 days, then he received the Ten Commandments. The Mount Sinai and the Ten Commandments are the most significant events in the Old Testament. However, historians do not agree when answering the most important question: “Where is the Mount Sinai of Moses?”
The “Sinai” Disputes
According to the documentary hypothesis the name “Sinai” is only used in the Torah by the Jahwist (Yahweh for God) and Priestly source, whereas “Horeb” is only used by the Elohist (Elohim to refer to the Israelite God) and Deuteronomist.
Horeb is understood as “glowing/heat”, which seems to be a reference to the sun, while as Sinai is understood that it may have derived from the name of Sin, the Sumerian deity of the moon and therefore, Horeb and Sinai would be the mountains of the sun and the moon respectively. The southern Sinai Peninsula, where the current official Mount Sinai exists, contains archaeological discoveries but it cannot prove the exodus from Egypt. At the same time the proposed dates of the Exodus vary so widely that there are several hundreds of years of disagreement. The earliest references to Jebel Musa (Mount Moses) as Mount Sinai being located in the present-day Sinai Peninsula are inconclusive.
Local Bedouin (nomadic Arab people) tradition considers Jebel Musa, which lies next to Mount Catherine, to be the biblical mountain and it is this mountain that local tour groups and religious groups presently advertise as the biblical Mount Sinai (in Sinai Peninsula in Egypt). In the 16th century a Christian church was constructed at the peak of this mountain, which was replaced by a Greek Orthodox chapel in 1954. Regardless, this understanding has lots of opposition.
It may be surprising for you to know that researchers have proposed about 20 different locations for Mount Sinai and there is no consensus among them. The following examples are just some of the reasons why so many historians/researchers are against calling the present day Mount Sinai in Egypt as the official Mount Sinai of Moses.
- Romano-Jewish historian Josephus (CE37-100) had stated that Mount Sinai was “the highest of all the mountains thereabout,” which would imply that Mount Catherine (in the Sinai Peninsula) was actually the mountain in question. The adjacent Mount Moses (or Jebel Musa in Arabic), the current popular site and the location favored in Bedouin tradition and the Quran, was chosen by Helena of Constantinople, the mother of Emperor Constantine the Great, in about 330 AD. She also reported the site was confirmed in her dream. This choice of the Mount Moses in the peninsula contradicts Josephus’ statement.
There is “growing consensus that the real Mount Sinai is located in Midian, present-day north- western Saudi Arabia. The prime candidates are Mount Badr, Jebel al-Lawz, Jebel Hurab and Jebel Harb.” The reason being that scholars are looking at the Bible sources, and Jebel al-Lawz is the highest mountain in the upper two thirds of the country. The source samples are as follows:
“Moses fled from the face of Pharaoh and dwelt in the land of Midian; and he sat down by a well” Exodus. 2:15 NKJV.
“And she (Zipporah=wife of Moses) bore him a son, and he called his name Gershom; for he said, “I have been a stranger in a foreign land” Exodus. 2:22.
“Now Moses kept 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.
“So He (God) said, ‘I will certainly be with you. And this shall be a sign to you that I have sent you: When you have brought the people out of Egypt, you shall serve God on this mountain‘” Exodus 3:12. (Indicating that Mount Sinai is outside of Egypt. The Sinai Peninsula was in Egypt at Moses’ time, as it is today).
Also, there are differing references leading to the location as Mount Sinai. For example:
- The Song of Deborah, which many textual scholars consider one of the oldest parts of the Bible, believe God as having dwelt at Mount Seir, and seems to suggest that this mountain is Mount Sinai.
- Based on a number of local names and features, in 1927 Ditlef Nielsen identified the Jebel al-Madhbah (meaning mountain of the Altar) at Petra as being identical to the biblical Mount Sinai. The valley in which Petra resides is known as the Wadi Musa (Valley of Moses), and at the entrance to the Siq is the Ain Musa, meaning “spring of Moses.”
Getting out of Historical Maze
The process of locating the real Mount Sinai consists of doing exhaustive research by many researchers. Each has his own unique logic to show why he chose one particular location over the other. In reality, digging down in history to identify and prove the real Mount Sinai with 100% certainty, although valuable, may be next to impossible.
As the Talmud describes, it is not the place that honors the person; rather, it is the person that honors the place. Mount Sinai itself was not inherently holy, rather, what was done at the mount gave honor and holiness to Sinai, so once the people received the Torah and moved on, Sinai was no longer holy.
Thus, though Sinai was holy during the giving of the Torah, once it had accomplished its purpose the mission was accomplished. Simply hanging around Mount Sinai would defeat the purpose.
The controversy surrounding Mount Sinai and the search for physical proof of its true location is but one example, albeit a complex and intriguing one, of how we humans are given to “finding ourselves.” Too often the process is tantamount to identifying the Mount Sinai of your life by identifying the one peak in a range of mountains as being your true purpose. Rather than seeking physical proof of your purpose in this world, finding your mission in this world would be more meaningful. Feel your trapped life, then look down within yourself with your birds’ eye view. There lies your answer. That is your intuition.