True Mount Sinai in the Paran Desert

by

Damien F. Mackey

A few years ago there appeared in The Jerusalem Post what I considered to be a most interesting article written by Stephen Linde, entitled “Vatican to accept that Mt. Sinai is in Negev, not Egypt” (http://www.jpost.com/Israel/Vatican-to-accept-that-Mt-Sinai-is-in-Negev-not-Egypt). I have been promoting for years the idea that Mount Har Karkom in Israel’s southern desert (Negev) – {and not the tourist destination of Jebel Musa (“Mount of Moses”) in the Sinai Peninsula} – is the true Mount Sinai. All credit goes to archaeologist professor Emmanuel Anati, firstly for recognizing Har Karkom as the sacred mountain, and, more recently, for bringing his prolific research to the attention of Vatican officials.

Anati said that it had taken the Catholic Church several years to be persuaded by his argument, and recognition had been a slow process. “About three-and-a-half years ago, I had a telephone call from the Vatican that a priest of high standing wanted to meet with me, and he arrived here with a driver. I live 500 km. from Rome, and he sat with me for a whole day and asked me a lot of questions,” Anati recalled.

“Then he disappeared, and after about a year, a group of theologians from the Catholic Church appeared and wanted to investigate the matter more deeply. Seven theologians sat here for the whole day, and I later met with them four times. Six months ago they spent four days with me at [Har] Karkom, and as a result of this, the Vatican publisher –Edizioni Messaggero Padova – asked me to write up my findings. I revised and updated my book, and they have now published it in Italian, changing the title to The Rediscovery of Mount Sinai.”

Unrealistic Views

There have been many attempts by archaeologists and would-be historians to identify the sacred mountain of Moses and to determine the correct route of the Exodus. I myself have received from eager writers several different versions of the Exodus route, some of which efforts seem to have Moses and the Israelites bogged down in a waterlogged Egypt, whilst others seek a direct route to the Red Sea (the popular choice), even though the Book of Exodus describes a miraculous passage by Israel through a reedy place, Yam Suf (“Sea of Reeds”), which does not befit the Red Sea.

Often these efforts come from people who may have visited these areas, but who work largely from maps. Professor Anati, on the other hand, has spent at least forty years excavating in these desert regions (like the period of time that the Israelites spent in the wilderness). He understands the regions and the challenges of trying to live there. Thus his thesis is a holistic one, taking into account water supplies; location of designated tribes; an appropriate archaeology; and so on.

The various stages of the Exodus journey would have been determined by the location of water holes, Anati argues. One must also take into account the tribes named in the Exodus narrative, such as the Amalekites, the Midianites, the Ammonites and Horites, and exactly where these peoples were situated.

Again, the proposed route and mountain must have an appropriate archaeology to go along with it.

Often other contributors do not give due regard to all of these factors; some probably imagining that the Exodus was a constant series of miracles, with supplies of water ‘on tap’. But an attentive reading of the narrative shows that it was a hard slog indeed.

Conventional Dates Need Rectifying

Dr. Rudolph Cohen got it right, I believe, that the Israelites were the Middle Bronze I [MBI] nomadic peoples (“The Mysterious MBI People”, Rudolph Cohen, BAR9:04, Jul/Aug 1983). He has been even more forthcoming on this in personal interviews. Hence, any biblico-archaeological system that cannot accommodate this correlation is, I would suggest, doomed to failure. Har Karkom has the greatest collection of BAC (Bronze Age Complex) sites in the entire Sinai Peninsula and Negev. Jebel Musa completely misses out here.

Read Anati’s explanations further on.

The only significant weakness with Professor Anati’s thesis, as with Dr. Cohen’s, is that these conventionally educated archaeologists still follow an inflated chronological system, according to which the MBI people are dated to c. 2000 BC, which is half a millennium too early.

This is further complicated by an un-biblical dating of the Exodus to the C13th BC, in order for Ramses II ‘the Great’ to be the Pharaoh of the Oppression/Exodus. For a much firmer dating of the important pharaoh Ramses II, see my:

Ramses II Re-Dated by Byblite Evidence

https://www.academia.edu/8945565/Ramses_II_Re-Dated_by_Byblite_Evidence

according to which Ramses II actually belongs about half a millennium later than the Exodus. These factors need to be taken into account when reading Anati’s statements later.

Mount Sinai: The Mountain of God

In this section, I briefly take a look at Professor Anati’s findings on and around the sites of Har Karkom, considering the archaeology of this mountain according to:

(i) its chronological implications;

(ii) its location in relation to the Exodus route; and

(i) Chronological Implications

Anati first laid eyes on Har Karkom back in 1954. However, it was not until 1983 that he ventured the suggestion that it might be Mount Sinai. Thus he explains:

Although Har Karkom’s religious character was quite evident, no connection was made at first between that mountain and Mt. Sinai. Never before had we had to deal with problems concerning the Exodus and Mount Sinai and never did we have reasons for questioning the conventional belief that the Exodus had occurred in the 13th century BC. Indeed, this appeared to be an established ‘fact’.

However, Anati’s research led him to a different conclusion: “There is no evidence of any human occupation at Har Karkom in the 13th century BC, or for centuries before and after. The usually accepted date for the Exodus occurred right in the middle of a long archaeological gap at Har Karkom.”

But not only at Har Karkom, for:

Now we know that the hiatus concerns most of the Sinai peninsula and the Negev if we leave aside military and trading stations. Thus it is not a peculiarity of Har Karkom. In fact the description of daily life of Midianites, Amalekites, Amorites, Horites and other tribes appearing in the Bible, if nor pure mythology, must refer to either before or after the 2nd millennium BC. According to the archaeological evidence, such dynamic tribal life can hardly belong to the 2nd millennium BC.

Thus we find that (abstracting for a moment from which mountain ought to be identified with the true Mountain of Moses) the archaeology of the entire Sinai and Negev regions shows us that there is, factually speaking, an irreconcilable disagreement between the conventional view of an Exodus during the Late Bronze Age/New Kingdom Era (Anati’s conventional “C13th BC”) and the biblical testimony about the tribes (Amalekites, Midianites, etc.) living in these deserts at the time of Moses. Essentially, then, the issue involves far more than a mere debate about which mountain is the true Sinai.

(ii) The Location

How did the traditional Jebel Musa come to be accepted as the true Sinai? It seems [see also explanation further on] that Christian explorers of Byzantine times went in search of the highest mountain that they could find in the Sinai Peninsula, in which direction they estimated that the Israelites would have travelled after the Exodus. Some of these explorers selected the impressive Jebel Musa, at the foot of which the monastery of St. Catherine was built; though others preferred Jebel Halal, a little to the west of Kadesh-Barnea. Today, a visitor to St. Catherine’s monastery will be shown what the monks there claim to be “the burning bush”(Exodus 3:2).

The science of archaeology, however, has revealed that there is no trace of the MBI [Middle Bronze I] people in this southern region. In other words, the Israelite wanderers [MBI] did not –according to the revised chronology – go anywhere near Jebel Musa.

In maps showing the major ancient routes between Asia and Africa, we find that none of these well-trodden routes veers down into the southern Sinai Peninsula.

Professor Anati has come to light with many other compelling reasons as well for why neither Jebel Musa, nor Jebel Halal, can be a suitable candidate for Mount Sinai. For example, he wrote that:

The presently named “Jebel Musa”, at the foot of which the monastery of St. Catherine was built, has not provided any evidence of cult sites previous to Byzantine times. The same applies to … Jebel Halal. The only evident traces of ancient human presence were several Palaeolithic stations, a few clusters of funerary tumuli … and some sites of rock art belonging to Roman-Byzantine and to Islamic times. No traces of BAC [that is, from Early Bronze to Middle Bronze I] cult sites were found.

Anati even extends his case to cover the whole of the so-called “Sinai” region: “Other mountains which have been proposed by various authors as a possible “Mount Sinai” also lack the same sort of archaeological evidence. Some … have advocated the possible existence of several mounts Sinai. However, if that is the case, where are they?”

_______________________________________

[Professor Anati] is just as certain that the Holy See would officially sanction his stance, and that millions of Catholic pilgrims could soon be visiting Mount Karkom instead of Mount Sinai.

________________________________________

Italian-Israeli archeologist Professor Emmanuel Anati says he believes that his controversial view that the biblical Mount Sinai is in Israel’s Negev desert rather than Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula will soon be adopted by the Vatican. … he presented his theory in the form of a new book at a seminar at the Theological Seminary in the northeastern Italian city of Vicenza, the Jerusalem Post reports. “Actually it’s not a theory, it’s a reality. I’m sure of it”, Anati told the paper by telephone from his home in Capo di Ponte. “My archeological discoveries at Har Karkom over many years and my close reading of the Bible leave me with no doubt that it is the real Mount Sinai. I’m now sure that Karkom is the real mountain of God.”

Pin-pointing the Exodus Route

A decade of research (1983-1992), following on from his first estimation that Har Karkom might be Mount Sinai, has served to convince Anati that his initial idea was correct. During that decade of further findings, he says, other scholars, “after the first shocked refusal of evidence”, have come to agree with him.

Adding further strength to Anati’s thesis is his success in having been able to provide the most plausible identifications of sites along the route of Exodus, and to pinpoint the homes of the various tribes mentioned in the Bible for this period. Just to mention some examples that he gives, the “Hill Road of the Amorites” (Numbers 13:29) is likely to be in the territory of the Amorite tribe which, according to the Bible, lived in the vicinity of the Dead Sea. “Hazeroth” (Numbers 11:35), near, or in, the Paran Desert, is described as the place of departure of the twelve scouts who reached Hebron by “the desert [or wilderness] of Zin” (Numbers 13:21). This desert in the biblical narration is likely to include what is presently called Nahal Zin, from the Arabah Valley to present Sde Boker. The site of “Bene Yaakan” (Numbers 33:31) has a Horite name and the Horites lived on the eastern side of the Arabah. “Hattavah” and “Abronah” (Numbers 33:33 and 33:34) are localities in the Artava and “Ezion Geber” (Numbers 33:35) is near Eilat.

On the other hand, as Anati goes on to explain, no such plausible series of identifications as these can be made for any locations in the Sinai Peninsula:

If one starts the analysis with the preconceived idea that Mount Sinai must be near St. Catherine, or somewhere else in the southern or central … Sinai peninsula, it is very difficult, if not impossible, to give a geographical sense to the sequence of the exodus stations. In any case, in our view, the itinerary described must have been topographically meaningful to people from the first millennium BC who were acquainted with the region.

Professor Anati goes on to describe some typical criticisms that his discovery has provoked – to which criticisms he replies by drawing support from [Dr. Rudolph] Cohen’s findings:

…[there] were those who could not agree with our chronology, saying “Since the Exodus took place in the 13th century BC, Mt. Sinai should have at its foot remains of 13th century camping sites.” Should the date be as certain as some believe, this rule should apply to any site candidate for Mt. Sinai, not just to Har Karkom. In such a case, it is probable that not a single mountain in the Sinai Peninsula would fit because the 13th century BC is part of a hiatus in settlement. …. This fact was further confirmed by extensive archaeological research carried on by Rudolph Cohen of the [Palestinian] Antiquities Authority. It led him to propose for the “Age of the Exodus” the same dates as those resulting from Har Karkom (R. Cohen, BAR, 1983).

The Scriptures provide a detailed description of the deserts and tribal areas around Mount Sinai. “One of the main emerging points”, writes Anati, “is that Mt. Sinai … must be located on or near the border between the land of Midian and the land of Amalek”; a scenario that, as he explains, applies only to the Har Karkom region.

The Bible also indicates that the Amalekites occupied the highlands of the Central Negev and the area of Kadesh Barnea, and the Midianites were on both sides of the Arava [Arabah] Valley. Mt. Sinai, according to the biblical narration, should be located between these two regions, meaning in the Har Karkom area. A thorough examination of the topographical details described in the Bible locates Mount Sinai in the Har Karkom region even without the findings at Har Karkom.

Har Karkom a Holy Place

In 2001, Anati published the English edition of a book that was first issued in Italian two years earlier and titledThe Riddle of Mount Sinai –Archaeological Discoveries at Har Karkom. In the book, he postulated that Karkom, 25km from the Ramon Crater, was probably the peak at which Moses received the Ten Commandments – and not the summit in southern Sinai where Santa Catarina (Saint Catherine’s Monastery) stands. According to Anati an abundance of archeological evidence showed that Mount Karkom had been a holy place for all desert peoples, and not just the Jews, which substantiated his case. “I know this is revolutionary,” he conceded. “I’m not only changing the location, but I’m moving Mount Sinai to Israel, and I’m sure it will anger the Egyptians. But Israel should be proud of this. The Negev is empty and should be developed.”

“I’m also changing the date of the Exodus from Egypt to some 1,000 years earlier than previously thought,” he added. “I know this will drive everyone crazy. But I am right. I’m sure of it.”Anati reasoned that if the account in the Book of Exodus was historically accurate, it must refer to the third millennium BCE – and more precisely to the period between 2200 and 2000 BCE.

It has taken him more than a decade, but Italian-Israeli archeologist Prof. Emmanuel Anati now believes his controversial view that the biblical Mount Sinai is in Israel’s Negev desert rather than Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula will soon be adopted by the Vatican. Anati reasoned that if the account in the Book of Exodus was historically accurate, it must refer to the third millennium BC – and more precisely to the period between 2200 and 2000 BC. Jewish tradition puts the Exodus around the year 1313 BC. According to Catholic tradition, Helena of Constantinople – the mother of Emperor Constantine credited with finding the relics of Jesus’ cross –determined the location of Mount Sinai and ordered the construction of a chapel at the site (sometimes referred to as the Chapel of Saint Helen) in about 330 AD.

According to Anati, however, an abundance of archeological evidence showed that Mount Karkom had been a holy place for all desert peoples, and not just the Jews, which substantiated his case. He said more than 1,200 finds at Karkom – including sanctuaries, altars, rock paintings and a large tablet resembling the Ten Commandments – indicated that it had been considered a sacred mountain in the Middle Bronze Age. In addition, he said, the topography of its plateau perfectly reflected that of the biblical Mount Sinai.

Finally, he concluded, the biblical tale clearly backed up his geographic argument. “When the Children of Israel left Egypt, they reached the Arava. They couldn’t have been in Santa [Catarina], because it says in the Bible that they reached Nahal Tzin, and moved on to Hebron,” Anati said. “The whole story of receiving the Torah must have taken place in the Negev. The Children of Israel wandered in the north and not the south, in the Negev and not the Sinai.”

He was just as certain that the Holy See would officially sanction his stance, and that millions of Catholic pilgrims could soon be visiting Mount Karkom instead of Mount Sinai. “Actually, they have already accepted my theory,” he said. “They are already organizing pilgrimages. There is already a plan, and I have meetings scheduled with theologians and others, including the Vatican pilgrimage office. They want to start pilgrimages to Karkom as soon as next year.”

Anati said it had taken the Catholic Church several years to be persuaded by his argument, and recognition had been a slow process. “Twenty years ago, I had a hunch that Har Karkom was the real Mount Sinai,” Anati said. “Three years ago I was convinced I was correct. Today I know I’m right.”

Anati said he was aware that he had his detractors, especially among archaeologists in Israel, several of whom were interviewed refuting his claims on a Channel 1 Mabat Sheni documentary ….

“I know there are all kinds of people –including professors – who resist my theory, and it’s natural that this occurs,” he said. “I urge them all to read my book and study the evidence before criticizing me.”

Tel Aviv University’s Professor Israel Finkelstein, a world-renowned expert on the subject, said he could not accept Anati’s hypothesis. “I do not see any connection between the third millennium BCE finds at Har Karkom and the Exodus story. The latter was put in writing not before the 7th or 6th centuries BCE, and as such depicts realities which are many centuries later than the finds of Har Karkom,” Finkelstein told the Post.“Roaming the desert with the Bible in one hand and the spade in the other is a 19th-century endeavor which has no place in modern scholarship.”

For my own estimation of Israel Finkelstein as a biblical archaeologist, see my:

Israel Finkelstein has not archaeologically “destroyed Solomon”, as he thinks. He has completely missed Solomon.

https://www.academia.edu/3689852/Israel_Finkelstein_has_not_archaeologically_destroyed_Solomon_as_he_thinks._He_has_completely_missed_Solomon

Damien Mackey’s Note. In 1990 I was fortunate enough to have been part of a touring party, including my mother and sister, to the Sinai Peninsula, dotted with burned out army tanks in the sand, and there to have visited St. Catherine’s monastery and the famous Jebel Musa. Being already convinced, however, that this was not the true mountain of Moses, but that far away Har Karkom (the“Saffron Mountain”) was – {the Bedouin call it “Jebel Ideid”, meaning perhaps “Mountain of the Multitude” or “of Celebration”} – I was suffering from a certain lack of enthusiasm, despite the place’s rugged awesomeness. There is no indication that the aged Moses had had to exert great effort coming and going on the mountain, as would have been the case with Jebel Musa – just as Noah would have had his work cut out with the high, ice-peaked Mount Ararat (Judi Dagh in ancient Urartu being the preferable mountain for ‘Ararat’). Nor was I impressed by being shown remnants of the Burning Bush by the monks in the monastery.

Later, coming to Israel, I could not pick up any clues or interest there about Har Karkom – that is, not until we were about to fly out to Rome, when I saw a notice on a board advertising a camel trek to Har Karkom. Rather recklessly I signed up for it – emboldened perhaps by having recently been led on the back of a camel up to the Giza pyramids. So, my mother and sister agreed that we meet up again later in Rome. Anyway, the Har Karkom expedition was cancelled and I ended up rather more comfortably on the plane back to Rome. The Negev desert is a frightful place, reminding me of a moonscape, and one can have some degree of sympathy with the complaining Israelites – during whose time, though, it may have been somewhat less denuded.

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