The Search for the Biblical Mount Sinai

Did Moses Speak to God on the Site of St Catherine’s Monastery?

Mount Sinai (Jebel Musa) on Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula is believed by some traditionalists to be the site where Moses received the Ten Commandments from God.

The Sinai Peninsula joins the continents of Africa and Asia and despite its harsh climate and difficult environment, people dating from the Early Bronze Age have been living in and travelling through the area for millennia. The Nabateans particularly left their mark, evidenced by thousands of rock inscriptions.

Mount Sinai

The name of Mount Sinai is inextricably linked to the story of Moses and the Ten Commandments. Exodus 19:16-20 says: “The Lord came down on the top of Mount Sinai and called Moses to the top of the mountain.”

St Catherine’s Monastery

At the foot of Mount Sinai is the magnificent St Catherine’s Monastery, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, run by Eastern Orthodox monks and one of the oldest Christian monasteries in the world. In one of the holiest parts of the building is the Chapel of the Burning Bush where a living bush, said to have come from the bush that Moses saw burning, grows beside the chapel alter.

There is no doubt about the actual site of the Biblical Mount Sinai in the minds of the monks at St Catherine’s. Their website clearly states the monastery is: “Located at the very place where God appeared to Moses…”

Unfortunately there is no historical or archaeological evidence that links Mount Sinai Egypt (Sinai Peninsula) with the Biblical story.

Where is Biblical Mount Sinai?

It’s a question that has taxed the minds of some of the world’s most distinguished scholars and although there are many theories, there is, to date, no definitive answer.

Stephen Gabriel Rosenberg, a Fellow of the Albright Institute of Archaeological Research, writing in the Jerusalem Post (June 4, 2008) posed the question: “Where is Mount Sinai? We Jews received the Ten Commandments at the top of Mount Sinai but where was that mountain?”

He says that it’s not in Egypt and it’s not in Israel; it could be in the Sinai Peninsula or the Arabian Peninsula or he says it could be: “Just in the mind.”

After exploring the options and then in answer to his own question, Rosenberg says: “That leaves us with Jebel Musa, (Sinai Peninsula) whose location rests solely on Christian tradition going back to the fourth century CE. Should we accept that for the most important and most sacred mountain in our history?

Har Karkom Archaeological Survey

Professor Emmanuel Anati, who headed the Har Karkom Archaeological Survey, may already have had the answer. His compelling hypothesis derived from his work, carried out over many years, that looked for evidence linking Biblical Sinai with the site at Mount Karkom.

Mount Karkom, in Israel’s bleak Negev Desert is about half way between the ancient city of Kadesh Barnea and the Nabatean city of Petra.

His investigations have uncovered an immense amount of evidence, which allows a documentation of: “The way of life, the social structure, the economy, the habits, and the beliefs of ancient desert people.”

Anati concluded that Har Karkom should be identified with the Biblical Mount Sinai on the basis of the topography and archaeological evidence.

However if Professor Anati thought that his pronouncement would be an end to the matter he was mistaken. The debate goes on.

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