(Originally published in Newsletter #6, dated January 1994)
Mt. Sinai/Horeb- Where was It?
If we go the Bible, the location of Mt. Sinai is not that difficult to ascertain. When God first spoke to Moses regarding the great work of leading the people out of their Egyptian bondage, He told Moses:
EXO 3:12 .... Certainly I will be with thee; and this shall be a token unto thee, that I have sent thee: When thou hast brought forth the people out of Egypt, ye shall serve God upon this mountain.
To find out exactly where Moses was when this conversation took place, we need to go to the beginning of chapter 3:
EXO 3:1 Now Moses kept the flock of Jethro his father in law, the priest of Midian: and he led the flock to the backside of the desert, and came to the mountain of God, even to Horeb. 2 And the angel of the LORD appeared unto him in a flame of fire out of the midst of a bush: and he looked, and, behold, the bush burned with fire, and the bush was not consumed. This conversation took place at the foot of the "mountain of God".
Moses was even told to remove his shoes, as he was standing was "holy ground" (verse 5). So, we now know that Moses was in Midian, in the "backside of the desert", which seems to us to imply the area opposite the main portion of the desert or, the other side of the mountain which provided the border of the desert. We make this assumption simply because in order to have a "backside of the desert", there must be something which marks a separation of the "frontside" and the "backside".
When Ron studied the Biblical account, he noted these references- that the mountain to which Moses was to lead the people was in Midian; and that the place where Moses spoke to God in the burning bush was specifically stated to be in the "backside of the desert". With this information, along with the discoveries of the chariot parts in the Gulf of Aqaba, he looked for a mountain on the eastern side of the gulf which fit this description. There was only one candidate in his opinion, and this was Jebel el Lawz.
His flight maps showed this mountain to be in an almost semi-circular range, with a vast desert area around it as well as more than enough room for the encampment of perhaps a couple of million people along with their flocks and herds. Not only that, but there was a single, large oasis located fairly nearby- an area that could have been the home of his father-in-law, Jethro- and this was the town of Al-Bad. He saw that there was desert area around Jebel el Lawz, between Al-Bad and the highest peak in this mountain range- and that there were valleys in the mountain range which Moses could have led his flocks through, taking him to the "backside of the desert". Ron was convinced that this mountain had to be the one.
The "Traditional" Mt. Sinai
The traditional location in the Sinai Peninsula didn’t "come into being" until almost 2,000 years after the Exodus: "The origin of the present Monastery of Saint Catherine on the NW slope of Jebel Musa is traced back to A.D. 527, when Emperor Justanian established it on the site where Helena, mother of Constantine the Great, had erected a small church two centuries earlier." (The Interpreter’s Dictionary of the Bible, 1962, p. 376.)
"There is no Jewish tradition of the geographical location of Mt. Sinai; it seems that its exact location was obscure already in the time of the monarchy....". (The Jewish Encyclopedia, Vol. 14, p. 1599.)
In 1761-1767, Von Haven, the member of a Danish expedition to the traditional site wrote, as reported in "Arabia Felix: The Danish Expedition of 1971-1767, by Thorkild Hansen: "I have observed earlier that we could not possibly be at Mount Sinai. The monastery [of St. Catherine] was situated in a narrow valley, which was not even large enough for a medium-sized army to be able to camp in, let alone the 600,000 men that Moses had with him, who, together with their wives and children, must have come to over 3,000,000."
The fact is clear that the Sinai Peninsula was always considered to be Egyptian territory. There is an abundance of evidence that the Egyptians controlled the Sinai Peninsula during the time of the Exodus because of their mining operations there. This archaeological evidence is still present and evident today. The peninsula today doesn’t even have any population to speak of except those who live around the few oases, many of which today contain the gasoline stations for travellers- travellers who are going to either the coast of the Gulf of Aqaba to go scuba diving or those visitors who go to the traditional Mt. Sinai.
In "Arabia and the Bible" by James Montgomery, we read on p. 31: "...the land west of a line from the Wady of Egypt to the Elanitic Gulf [Gulf of Aqaba] has always belonged to the Egyptian political sphere, and actually that is the present boundary of Egypt....the South-Arabians called the same region Msr, i.e. Misraim, Egypt."
Local Traditions of Moses and Jethro In NW Arabia
But also importantly, the few explorers of this region found the NW area of Arabia (Midian) to have a vast array of local traditions about Moses and Jethro in the area, as H. St. John Philby writes of his extensive exploration of the area in his "The Land of Midian", p. 222: "From here my guide and I climbed up the cliff to visit the 'circles of Jethro' on the summit of Musalla ridge, from which we climbed down quite easily to our camp on the far side....A cairn marked the spot where Jethro is supposed to have prayed, and all round it are numerous circles,..."
Charles Doughtery traveled the entire area and in his chronicles of his journey, "Travels in Arabia Deserta", he writes of: "...a tradition amongst their [the inhabitants of this NW Arabian region] ancestors that 'very anciently they occupied all that country about Maan, where also Moses fed the flocks of Jethro the Prophet.' "
Later in this issue, you will learn that when Ron was at Jebel el Lawz in 1985 with Dave Fasold, they were told that this mountain is even today known to the inhabitants of the region as "Jebel Musa", or the mountain of Moses.
Philby’s Investigation of Jebel el Lawz
If we continue with Philby’s account as left off above, he writes: "From here [the ridge which had the ’Circles of Jethro’] I had a magnificent view of the whole of the Midian mountain range, with Lauz [Lawz] and its sister peaks in the northeast and Maqla’a very little north of east, with the valley of al-Numair separating the latter from the low ridge of All Marra, extending from east to south-east, where the two peaks of Hurab stood out in front of the great range of Zuhd, which runs down to a point not far from the sea to our southward....The spot that held my imagination was the smooth, double-headed, granite boss of Hurab, an obvious candidate for identification with the Mount Horeb of the Exodus,...the only candidate for the honor which can claim to have preserved the name....According to Hasballah, the name Hurab applies primarily to the wadi [canyon], while he calls the mountain itself Al Manifa (which simply means lofty.)"
Bible Commentaries on "Midian" and "Sinai"
All these quotes only confirm that in the last century, men were led to investigate the evidences of the true site of Mt. Sinai because the traditional site simply did not fit the Biblical description. For some reason, many Biblical scholars simply ignored the Biblical fact that Mt. Sinai was in Midian. A quick check in several Bible commentaries shows that the location of Midian is pretty much accepted as being in Saudi Arabia: "Midian, a son of Abraham and Keturah (Gen. xxv. 2; I Chr. I.32); progenitor of the Midianites, or Arabians dwelling principally in the desert north of the peninsula of Arabia. Southwards, they extended along the eastern shore of the Gulf of Eyleh [Gulf of Aqaba]..." "Smith’s Bible Dictionary", under "Midian". However, in this same book, under "Mt. Sinai", we find the traditional location in the Sinai Peninsula given.
Remember Paul’s reference to Mt. Sinai?:
GAL 4:25 For this Agar is mount Sinai in Arabia, and answereth to Jerusalem which now is, and is in bondage with her children.
"Peake’s Commentary on the Bible" noticed it, as Paul’s entire passage here is explained: "Their mothers likewise represent the two dispensations. Hagar [Agar] represents that given on Mr. Sinai, and, Paul notes in passing the appropriateness of the fact that Mt. Sinai is in Arabia, the land to which Hagar took her son."
We have numerous commentaries which locate Midian in Saudi Arabia, but few which locate Sinai there. Why? In our opinion, God allowed the true location to remain unknown until He saw fit to reveal it. If we carefully study the Biblical evidences which archaeology has revealed, we will see that the vast majority of these came to light beginning in the 1800’s-the time in earth’s history in which these things could be presented to the world in publications and books. Had they been known for any length of time, there would be no evidence left.
"The Biblical references connecting Sinai with Mount Seir, Edom and the land of Midian seem cleary to indicate this region east of the Aelanitic Gulf (g. of Akaba) as pointed out by Beke (1834), Walhausen (1886), Sayce (1894), Moore (1895), Shede (1897), Gall (1898), Gunkel (1903), Edward Meyer (1906), Schmidt (1908), Gressmann (1913), Haupt (1914) and by Alois Musil in ’The Northern Hegaz’ (1911)." "On the Track of the Exodus" by C.C. Robertson, p. 87.