“Now Moshe, tending the flock of his father-in-law Jethro, the priest of Midian, drove the flock into the wilderness, and came to Horeb, the mountain of Hashem.” Exodus 3:1 (The Israel Bible™)
It may surprise you to know that researchers have proposed about 20 different locations for Mt. Sinai and there is no consensus of opinion.
It’s a topic of endless fascination. James D. Long, author of Riddle of the Exodus: Startling Parallels Between Ancient Jewish Sources and the Egyptian Archaeological Record told Breaking Israel News, “The subject of the real Mt. Sinai generates the most discussion in the Q&A that follows my lectures. For my 2006 book, Riddle of the Exodus, I did research on the mountain’s location, but consigned the available evidence to a lengthy Appendix at the back of my book.”
Long was raised as a Catholic and identifies as a Noahide today. His personal involvement goes back to childhood. “I’m fascinated by every aspect of this epic known as the Exodus and have been since I sat, as an eight-year-old, mesmerized by Cecile B. DeMille’s film The Ten Commandments, back in 1956.
“The quest is very personal to me. The Exodus experience is an epic of Spielbergian scope that established the Torah as the actual word of the Creator and it was entrusted to a nation that He created and established. If there were no Sinai experience, then there is no Torah.
“Someone is always trying to find the real Mt Sinai,” Long said. “The most active and vocal include the [Christian researcher] Bob Cornuke, as well as the quirkily-named Doubting Thomas Research Foundation, the people who produced the documentary short called Finding the Mountain of Moses.
“The process [of locating the real Mt. Sinai] consists of doing exhaustive research then presenting criteria and matching it to a favored mountain. The hardier and more adventurous actually travel to said mountain.
“But the criteria is often faulty.
“Most researchers, even competent, honest ones, stumble on their way to their favorite mountain because they don’t understand the text of the Torah. They also seriously err by ignoring the wealth of information from vital Jewish sources available, literally for centuries,” asserted Long.
“The research offered for many [possible locations] displayed complete ignorance of, or disregard for, the Biblical sources. The situation was so bad that I once gave a lecture called Where the Real Mt Sinai Is Not.”
Long further explained that, “Scholars fall into two camps. Those who suggest sites found in the modern Sinai Peninsula and those who favor locations in Saudi Arabia.”
Saudi Arabia lies southeast of Israel, below Jordan, which is directly to Israel’s east and the Sinai Peninsula in Egypt is southwest of Israel.
“Researchers who hold with the Sinai Peninsula generally do so because they mistakenly believe that the real Mt. Sinai has to be limited to a three-day trek from Egypt. They base this theory on several Biblical verses.”
So we must go a distance of three days into the wilderness and sacrifice to Hashem our God as He may command us. Exodus 8:23
“At first blush, this would seem a viable clue, except for the fact that the actual journey to Sinai took 45 days.
“The Torah tells us in Exodus 19:1 that Israel arrived in the Sinai wilderness on the first day of the third month. Compare that with Numbers 33:3, which reveals that Israel departed from Egypt on the 15th day of the first month. Now do the math. That’s a 45-day trek.”
Of the five proposed locations in the Sinai Peninsula, Jebel Musa, the site of St Catherine’s monastery, is the most popular. Nevertheless, according to Long, there is “growing consensus that the real Mt Sinai is located in present-day Saudi Arabia. The prime candidates are Mt. Badr, Jebel al-Lawz, Jebel Hurab and Jebel Harb.”
Jebel is the Arabic word for mountain.
In order to be a credible contender, Long asserted that a site must possess six essential characteristics. The first two are that there needed to be “an expanse of land large enough to accommodate millions of people and a water supply to sustain that multitude,” Long explained.
There also needs to be a “cave at or near the summit where Moses stayed.”
and, as My Presence passes by, I will put you in a cleft of the rock and shield you with My hand until I have passed by. Exodus 33:22
The fourth characteristic necessary for a potential site to be taken seriously as a contender, according to Long, is evidence of the twelve pillars, upon which Moses established a mizbayach (altar).
The final two bits of evidence Long argued are required, are inscriptions or petroglyphs (images carved into rocks) and that some of the names of the site and the surrounding areas are related to events that transpired during the exodus from Egypt. On the basis of these six characteristics alone, Long has debunked a number of possible sites.
He also explained that evidence that purports to be remains of Egyptian chariot wheels are not credible. Long emphasized to Breaking Israel News that, “The whole chariot wheel controversy will not go away, despite the fact that, to this day no one has ever retrieved an actual chariot wheel anywhere in the Red Sea.
“The waters are home to numerous wreckage of ships. Shipwrecks mean debris fields. Since that body of water has been a shipping area for centuries, finding wheeled-shaped objects covered in coral would not be that uncommon.”
In addition, Long explained that “there are coral formations common to the region called acroporal or table corals,” that look very much like a wheel covered in coral.
The essence of the significance of Mt. Sinai lies in what was taken away from it, and not what was left behind.
Rabbi Alexander Hool, author of Searching for Sinai: The Location of Revelation which was published at the end of 2017, was initially intrigued by the topic after Long gave Hool, “a copy of his excellent work The Riddle of the Exodus.”
Hool noted that many of the potential locations that have been proposed can be eliminated by taking into account details available in the Oral Torah. He told Breaking Israel News that, “Researchers are predominately guided by criteria based on information gleaned from the Biblical narrative with regard to the journey from Egypt until Sinai and characteristics of the site itself. Then they look for hints of evidence, such as remnants of altars or place names which might recall the Biblical account.
“Unfortunately, researchers have not [attempted] to investigate what is recorded in the Jewish annals. A great wealth of historical detail is incorporated into rabbinic tradition, handed down with the Oral Law by Moses himself.
“Unaware of this rich source of information, many researchers have sadly veered off course from the very outset by setting out criteria [about which] rabbinic tradition reveals quite the opposite.”
In other words, researchers who propose possible locations for the true location of Mt. Sinai based exclusively on their understanding of Biblical texts are not taking into account a wealth of information that the 3,300 year-old rabbinic tradition offers.
Hool asserted that, in a time when academic scholars are disputing the veracity of the Bible, “The discovery of the true site of Mt. Sinai in our days will surely aid in demonstrating the truth of the Bible.”
Why has the site been so tricky to identify? Long suggested, “The difficulty in locating the mountain after all this time may have something in common with the fact that we don’t know where Moses is buried. The Creator knows we’ll enshrine the site, turn it into a place of disputed worship and, worst of all, a tourist trap. The other obvious problem would is that the site would become a politically charged hotspot like the Dome of the Rock.”
Hool ruminated on this question as well. “The reason why the site has been hidden for so many millennia I think is one of natural consequence, but perhaps may signify something deeper. The essence of the significance of Mt. Sinai lies in what was taken away from it, and not what was left behind.
“What was taken away from it was the Torah, and therefore knowledge of the exact location was never deemed crucial. In the course of time, being in a remote and isolated spot somewhere in the wilderness, the location inevitably became forgotten. The message behind this perhaps is to remind us that the Torah cannot be confined to space or time. It goes way beyond these parameters.”
Despite the fact that both men suggest that God may have had very good reasons for hiding the true location of Mt. Sinai, modern tools, such as detailed mapping and satellite technology, make the possibility of identifying the elusive mountain much more likely in our day.
There is also a potential End of Days connection to the search. Hool noted, “I think the revelation of the true site of Mt. Sinai will bring an awareness and closeness to the event that took place on it. We are clearly very close to the Messianic era, and I believe the revelation can only be conducive to prepare man for that time.”
So where does Hool think the evidence ultimately points to? In the first section of his book, he “analyzes the popular locations to see if they conform to the Biblical narrative and rabbinic tradition.”
In the second section, using satellite imagery and map illustrations, coupled with, “a careful study of the verse, the plethora of rabbinic tradition and precise measurements afforded to us by the sources, we are intriguingly led to a precise point in the Arabian desert, in Saudi Arabia.
“We then discover that what lies in front of us is a small, unassuming little mountain which remarkably bears all the Biblical characteristics of Mt. Sinai. We further discover that many other characteristics indicated by rabbinic tradition also match with the mountain, including its precise measurements.
“We then investigate several other lines of deduction, based on cryptic verse and rabbinic tradition and find that all avenues of research point precisely to the same mountain.
“Finally, we discover that the name of the mountain is none other than Jebel Harb or in other words, Mt. Horeb, the very name given to Mt. Sinai before the Giving of the Torah.
Hool concluded with humility. “I am always ready to reconsider, but the weight of the indication of all the diverse sources and the total harmony between them seems to point inevitably to one conclusion.”