Talk:Biblical Mount Sinai

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NOTE-This is the Mount Sinai Talk page copy-edited from that page to this as it was mostly related to the Biblical Mount Sinai.--Tomtom9041 16:58, 11 July 2007 (UTC)


I removed "south" because the location of Mount Sinai (or whether there even is such a place) is the subject of a huge debate, and there are those who believe that it is in the northern half of the peninsula. While it is traditionally associated with Santa Katerina, this is highly questionable. Danny

I think we need to be somewhat more pragmatic, Danny. If you look at any major Western atlas, Gebel Musa will be marked as Mount Sinai. The only people who question the name are Jewish scholars with a particular axe to grind, and many of them have long since given up the battle. user:sjc

SJC, your claim is false, as well as insulting. Most historians agree that no one knows for certain where the historical Mount Sinai really is, if it even exists as such. Your claim to the contrary is unsupportable. This point is a question of historical scholarship; please do not insult Jews as having "an axe to grind" simply because their modest claim ("We don't know where it is") happens to be the same as that of the historians ("We don't know where it is"). RK

Well, given that I have probably done more archaeological research in the Sinai Peninsula than most, having spent more than 3 years there, between Ras Abougaloum and Dahab, I think that I am fairly acquainted with the pros and cons. Not all Jewish scholars subscribe to this point of view, only some who subscribe to a particular position. I have a very nice military map of the Sinai which I acquired whilst on secondment to the UN in the Camp David pullout. It is quite clearly marked as Mt Sinai. Go to Eilat and ask directions to Mt Sinai. You will end up at Gebel Musa. BTW, I don't see any particular insult in my assertion; if you can find it, you are probably more than capable of locating the true Mt Sinai without my assistance. There is plenty of NPOV hedging in the article; just because you think something is the truth, it doesn't make other positions incorrect. You may not agree with its collocation with Gebel Musa; most of the world population does. user:sjc

SJC, you are arguing against a point that I am not making. Of course I agree with you that there is a mountain today called "Mount Sinai", and that many maps mark it as such. What kind of person would disagree with this fact? I agree with you. I was talking about a different subject, that is, whether or not this mountain is known for sure to be same mountain that Moses actually climbed on! Historians do not agree on this issue. I don't understand how my comments could be so miscontrued as to be saying anything else. RK

When I edited the article I noted that Mount Sinai had been described as legendary (amongst other factual inexactitudes). user:sjc
There are two different issues here, and unfortunately the comments by RK and sjc do not, as yet, bring much clarity to them. The first issue is where is the place that people today call "Mt. Sinai." I am sure that people living in the Sinai peninsula, as well as cartographers, army personnel, and politicians agree to call a particular place "Mt. Sinai." This is an issue of a naming convention. I happened to live in Ecuador for a few years, and everytime I took a bus south, I passed through a town called Logroño. Everyone knew where Logroño was, and it was clearly marked on the map. But there is a second issue: was this place always known as Logroño? There are documents from the 16th century identifying a town called Logroño; is this the same town? In fact, everyone who studies Ecudorian history agrees that it isn't; there is an archeological site some distance away and that is the other (original) "Logroño." Well, similarly there is a text that mentions a Mt. Sinai around 3,000 years ago. Was that Mt. Sinai the same as the contemporary Mt. Sinai? That everyone calls a particular place today Mt. Sinai does not answer that question -- it merely informs us of a naming convention. It is possible that the contemporary Mt. Sinai and the ancient Mt. Sinai are one and the same. But that the two places having the same name does not prove that they are the same thing (anyone who has gone to an "Original Ray's Pizza" in New York knows exactly what I mean). The location of the original Mt. Sinai is an historical and archeological question.
Apparently there is some debate. It would be most helpful if RK and sjc could spell out some of the evidentiary reasons why some people make certain claims, and others reject them. All I know for sure is that just because a contemporary military map names a place as Mt. Sinai, that tells us nothing about where the Biblical Mt. Sinai was. Are there real "pros and cons?" Please list them in the article! Slrubenstein
Well, precisely Slrubenstein. The whole issue of Mount Sinai (geographical fact) as opposed to Mount Sinai (biblical fiction) is muddied by dint of the fact that we have two distinct concepts muddied by virtue of having the same name. I have no problem with some Jewish scholars questioning whether the Mount Sinai in southern Sinai is the same place as the one where Moses was purported to have received the 10 commandments; in fact, I would be rather inclined to side with them on a number of matters of geophysical evidence. However, the fact remains that if one talks of Mount Sinai in the 21st century, one can only be referring to the place which is clearly marked on most major modern Western atlases. The article should clearly be disambiguated into two articles Mount Sinai, the usual meaning of the term and Mount Sinai, (biblical location). Gebel Musa is clearly and unequivocally thought by the indigenous Bedu inhabitants to be the place most Westerners conceive of as Mount Sinai. It is marked as Gebel Musa on Egyptian military maps of the area.user:sjc
SJC, I don't understand. Previously you said that you disagreed with me, but now it looks like we agree to some extent. Am I missing something here? Now it looks like the only area of disagreement is that you think that only "some" Jewish scholars are uncertain. It is this specific claim that I disagree with. I think most historians around the world would deny that we know for sure the location of Mt. Sinai, or any location where the Israelites camped after their exodus from Egypt. RK
I would therefore politely suggest you should have had a look at what my original article said before leaping in. Moreover, most historians are not that interested (I would probably say 99.9% recurring). Those who have an interest in the subject of where Sinai may or may not have been by reference to a document of uncertain authorage and dubious provenance, constitute a very small number, the preponderance of whom happen to be adherents to the veracity of the aforementioned document and its associated religion. There are admittedly others who believe in other bits of a later appendage who also take a view but they represent a tiny wee minority and in my part of the world these people spend more time bombing and blowing each other up. I think you will find the great Sinai debate is very small potatoes indeed.
What I was saying was that we should be more pragmatic. We should primarily show the place commonly conceived of as being Mt Sinai, and which is embedded in most peoples minds. Then we can explore the alternatives. The way the article was worded when I came to it, it read like Mt Sinai never existed in the first place. user:sjc

Yes, it seems there are three places involved, whose relation to each other is not yet clearly explained in the article:

  • Gebel (Jabal) Musa
  • Mt Sinai -- as marked on modern maps
  • Mt Sinai -- as referred to in the bibble.

I apologise for this whole debacle, since I probably started it off by shunting the content from a Easton's Bible Dictionary page. -- Tarquin 12:53 Aug 8, 2002 (PDT)

I wouldn't lose any sleep over it, Tarquin. The biblical controversy is largely irrelevant to Mount Sinai (+ its geographical location) but pertinent to Mount Sinai, (biblical location). user:sjc
Right, Tarquin -- don't worry. It is pretty obvious that a Bible dictionary is referring to a Biblical location -- as long as the article makes that clear, and discusses the difficulties or different arguments over the location of the biblical location, I think it would be a very good article indeed. Slrubenstein

Too bad I actually had to work today, so I am getting into this debate pretty late in the game. Sjc, I have also spent considerable time in the Sinai. I have climbed Mount Sinai several times, and I have the t-shirts to prove it ;-). I think Slrubenstein answered pretty well, but I want to add to this a bit. Yes, there is a site in the southern Sinai Desert that has been identified as Mount Sinai for about 2,000 years. In other words, the basis of this identification is tradition (and I am in no way disparaging the importance of tradition). The question is, however, whether this tradition corresponds with the historical facts. I do not want to get into a debate here over identifying biblical sites, but even later locations, such as Golgotha are controversial. In fact, there are two Golgothas, two Gethsemanes, and countless locations for the Last Supper. They all appear on maps too, even though it is possible that none of them is right. The Sinai problem is compounded by the very question of whether there really was an Exodus. Most scholars will tell you that there wasn't (or at least that there wasn't one on the scale described in the Bible). Assuming that the Bible itself was written in Palestine during the First Temple Period, the authors themselves may never have seen Mount Sinai or known where it was. For this reason, modern scholars--Jewish, Christian, and Muslim alike--have questioned with authority whether the site known today as Jebel Musa is identical with the mountain intended by the biblical authors. Plenty of other options have been proposed. Since this article is about the biblical Mount Sinai, it is certainly worth inserting that there is a serious question over whether this current Mount Sinai is the same Mount Sinai intended in the Bible or not. I also believe that it is seriously worth inserting that the story of Mount Sinai and the Giving of the Law, is itself challenged by most modern scholars, and not accepted as unquestioned fact as it was by the authors of the Easton Encyclopedia. Finally, this is a debate that will repeat itself time and again. Where is Mount Nebo? Where did the Israelites cross the Red Sea. Later on and in another continent, where is Camelot? You cannot identify legendary sites with certainty. That's why I switched normally to often. Oh, one more thing, some of the biggest Mount Sinai critics are Catholics (de Vaux, Viviano, etc.) Danny

Danny, this is very illuminating -- I hope when you have time you will incorporate as much of what youjust wrote in the the article as you see fit. Thanks, Slrubenstein
I agree. None of the foregoing however actually changes the geographical fact that Mt Sinai, Egypt is where Mt Sinai, Egypt is. It is unlikely to ever move on a map again. The fact that it was probably somewhere else is irrelevant to the realpolitik of the situation. If we are going to have an article about a real geographical location, this should take primacy over historical and scholarly speculation, that's all. user:sjc
When I wrote this article originally, it was not about the biblical Mt Sinai, Egypt. It dealt with all the points of contention. The import of a load of 19th century Christian gibberish appears to have knocked this completely out of whack. I suggest we revert to my original stuff, and try again user:sjc
I did not realize that the bible dictionary stuff had been imported into a previous article -- I simply saw that RK was responding to that material. The article now distinguishes between the contemporary and Biblical "Mt. Sinai." Nevertheless, I think it is a mistake (and utterly unpragmatic) to think that an article on Mt. Sinai as a specific named place in the Sinai Peninsula today would be to "primarily show the place commonly conceived of as being Mt Sinai, and which is embedded in most peoples minds." Of course this is the case for anyone living or working in the Sinai. But the very reason that there is an article on Mt. Sinai in an English Encyclopedia is that "Mt. Sinai" is embedded in most people's (or more precisely, most Jewish, Christian, and Muslim peoples, and peoples influenced by Jewish, Christian, and Muslim literature, which is probably most people in Europe and the New World) minds, and the reason it is embedded in so many people's minds is because of the Bible. I bet if you asked a thousand people on the street of any major US city if they have ever heard of Mt. Sinai and they answer "yes," the vast majority will know if it because of the Bbible or something influenced by the Bible (like a Hollywood movie). And if you were to show them a current map of the Sinai peninsuly with "Mt. Sinai" marked on it, they would simply assume that this is the Biblical Mt. Sinai. Consequenly, an' article on "Mt. Sinai has to distinguish between the current named place and the Biblical Mt. Sinai, and explain any debates concerning the relationship between the two. It really doens't matter who wrote the article originally; it looks to me like it is improving Slrubenstein
Well, the general preamble now resembles what we started with but with a slightly clearer delineation between the geographical and biblical connotations. Forward to the past! [[user:sjc]

Sjc, your response far above was certainly surprising. Rhetorical too. Yes, 99.999 of historians do not deal with the minutiae of the biblical period in Egypt-Palestine. I am sure that RK was talking about that teeny tiny percentage that does study the history, write on it, etc. As for their ethnic/religious origins, Kenyon would certainly be surprised at being insinuated as Jewish. So would her father, a prominent clergyman in the Church of England (and chronicler of the various codices, including Sinaiticus). So would de Vaux--in fact, he would probably have given up his monkhood if it leaked out. Today, Israel/Palestine/Sinai/Jordan is home to many of the most important archeological investigations taking place anywhere. Investigative teams represent top universities around the world. Insinuating that they are predominantly Jewish or suggesting that they have a "faith"-based agenda is both ridiculous and offensive. Nor can you justify a sweeping rejection of all Israeli archeologists, regardless of what you think about their politics. In many instances, it is their work that has shattered the basic myths that shaped our perception of the Bible and the period in which it was created. In other words, it ain't all BAR (Biblical Archeology Review), and even Shanks and Co. shouldn’t be discounted off hand. As for people blowing people up, that is so far removed from the topic of this discussion that it is hardly worth comment.

Now to the issue itself. I very much disagree with your changes though I think I can understand why you made them. Correct me if I'm wrong but essentially it is a map thing. The map says Mount Sinai, so this is Mount Sinai. Describe it as such. Go on to say that the biblical Mount Sinai is legendary.

I see a Wikipedia article on "Mount Sinai" as something more than a brief description of some pinprick on an Egyptian military map (which I am sure says Jebel Musa anyway) or some exotic hike in the Lonely Traveler's Guide to Egypt. After all, the legend of Mount Sinai is, for better or for worse, an intrinsic part of Western civilization--the site where God purportedly gave the Ten Commandments: a basis of our morality.. Do I believe it happened? No. Nor do I believe in the story of the Resurrection, but I do believe that those two legendary events had a lasting impact on our society and culture.

The fact is that some 1800 years ago, a group of people felt so attached to the story that they decided to set up a monastery at what they believed was the site. Why did they believe it? Who knows? Possibly because it was the tallest mountain in the general region, or because it fit some of the descriptions given in the Bible, or because there was a tradition among the local Bedouin that this was a holy site. Helena did more or less the same thing in Jerusalem about 100 years later, when she wandered around, picking out sites connected with the Crucifixion. Modern scholars challenge her sites, regardless of how many processions march down the Via Dolorosa every Friday (and the scholars aren’t just Jews either: note the Garden Tomb--okay, it's 19th century and wrong, but it does make more sense than the Holy Sepulchre). She was dealing with events that took place in a city that was almost continually occupied since that time some 300 years earlier. Meanwhile, our intrepid monks in the Sinai were looking for a site from some 1500 years earlier in an uninhabited wilderness (assuming that the Exodus refers to some event in c. 1250 BCE at the very latest). They picked a place, called it Mount Sinai, and the name stuck, sort of (the Bedouin call it Jebel Musa, not Sinai, and that is how it is known in Egypt--and I too have been there). It was especially popular with pilgrims/tourists, who would pay good money to see the mountain and even the Burning Bush (which appears on tourist maps too, btw—I sure hope we aren’t going to say in the relevant article that it is the Burning Bush).

The question that (the handful of interested) scholars ask(s) today is whether those early monks and recluses were correct in assuming that this mountain was the same as the one described by the authors of the Book of Exodus, or whether those authors intended another mountain, or whether they intended any real geographical location at all. See my comments above for that.

Why is this important? As someone who has participated in archeological surveys of the Sinai Peninsula, you know that there is absolutely no evidence of a mass exodus of Semitic tribesmen from Egypt to Palestine. Nevertheless, this event is intrinsic to our culture. It is the birth of Judaism and, by extension, of Christianity and Islam. In fact, the Last Supper was a seder meal celebrating this very event, while Christ is often compared to the Paschal Lamb. It is no coincidence that Easter coincides with Passover, since both are spring festivals of rebirth. It would seem important to me to understand what really happened, if anything at all. Within the context of Mount Sinai, a key event in the Exodus story, maybe we are looking in the wrong place.

I therefore suggest that the article be rewritten, and I would be happy to cooperate with you on this. We both agree that the Easton material is crap. My suggested outline is:

  1. A brief (2 sentence at most) definition of Mount Sinai;
  2. An overview of the biblical legend and its relevance today;
  3. A discussion of possible locations;
  4. A history of Jebel Musa and the Santa Katerina monastery as the best-known contender (ancient monastery, scriptorium, etc.);
  5. A brief piece on the site best known as Mount Sinai today (sites, tourism, etc.). I say brief, because IMHO this is probably the least important part of the whole picture.

Please let me know if you agree. Danny

I don't think I disagreed to start with. All I am saying is that in an encyclopedia article the geographical reality must be recognised prima inter pares.
Point 1. Is exactly the article I wrote originally, nothing more, nothing less; it is also the current first two blocks of the current article covering all conceivable bases.
Points 2 - 4 are entirely up to anyone who cares to write them and is prepared to spend hours wrangling the toss with all and sundry who have a take on this somewhat less than fascinating storm in a teacup. To draw a parallel, it is as ridiculous as trying to find the geographical location of King Arthur's court of Camelot: most of the evidence is apocryphal where it is not misleading. Since none of this provable, once you open the floodgates you will have to deal with and entertain every possible fruitcake theory on the block (believe me there are some very interesting theorists in the sphere of Mt Sinai's location.... They are almost as deranged, by and large, a bunch as the Arthurian romantics). Is Mount Sinai in Saudi Arabia? Was there an undersea tunnel to enable the crossing of the Red Sea? Just exactly how many commandments did Moses receive in any case? I am not joking, these theories exist. There are people who are very robust in their defence and the asylums are not built large enough to accommodate 'em all. To add to the fun and games, every so often some comedian masquerading as an academic comes up with the true solution to the enigma amidst much media brou-ha-ha.
Point 5 is probably the most useful of all and of real practical value for anyone planning to visit the area. I might drag my pen out of bed to do this one. user:sjc
PS: I just followed the link to Camelot. It needs some serious attention. user:sjc

Hi, I'm glad we agree on most points, though I wonder whether 5 is the most uselful. I certainly agree about the crackpots--in fact, I've run into Vendyl Jones professionally a couple of times myself (to name just one). As I see it, this article is an ideal place to introduce the basic concepts of biblical archeology and the distinction between fact and fancy when tackling the biblical epic from a historical perspective. (In a previous comment, I actually drew the same comparison with Camelot that you do.) I agree with Slr that most people identify Mount Sinai with the one mentioned in the Book of Exodus, rather than the tourist site, which is why point 2 is so important. 3 is why this is considered Mount Sinai, other reasonable candidates, and reasons for and against, and 4 is about a fascinating ancient monastery that was an important player in biblical scholarship (Codex Sinaiticus) and the rise of monasticism. My suggestion is that we revert to the original article you wrote, and I will add the relevant material. Once again, the biblical Mount Sinai came first. This site's importance today is that it was identified (albeit a long time ago) with that site. Danny

In response to sjc's caveat about how ridiculous it is to try to find the "real" Mt. Sinai -- I again want to encourage Danny to move his discussion of the possibly/probably mythic nature of the Exodus (as such; including all the Children of Israel together) into the article. I think that rather than view Danny's points 2-4 as expressing a trivial effort to "prove" where the real Mt. Sinai is, I think it would be more constructive to explore some of the reasons, historical and archeological, why it is so difficult to "prove" any one location as the "real" Mt. Sinai. The purpose of encyclopedia articles is to educate, and as Danny remarks we agree that a discussion of the current location of a place conventionally called "Mt. Sinai," however useful it may be for potential visitors to the area (unlikely in my view as I assume potnetial visitors will either have bought guide-books or checked out more detailed web-sites intended for tourists), would be practically useless to the general reader, who I think would be better-served by a (brief) essay revealing important issues in Biblical historiography and archeology. This was the intent of my oritginal remark, which was directed not only to sjc but to RK as well; anyone with knowledge of the controversy should put in more detail (and I repeat, not with an aim of "proving" anything about the location of Mt. Sinai, but with an aim of educating people more about archeology and historiography), Slrubenstein


Are there any objections to moving this to Mount Sinai? Almost all the links there refer to this page. --Jiang 16:21, 3 Jan 2004 (UTC)

Done yesterday. --Jiang 23:46, 5 Jan 2004 (UTC)

mt nebo[edit]

"Judaism further teaches that the exact location of the original Mount Sinai was deliberately kept secret, so that no one would be tempted to erect a shrine at the tomb of Moses (itself an unknown location near in the territory of Moab.)"

what the connection between tomb of Moses and mt Sinai?

and by the way, by searching the internet, jebel Musa is not favored much as Mt Sinai... but the article clears that point more or less/ --Urij 12:21, 15 Jun 2005 (UTC)

Since no one answers my question I changed the article to my best opinion. It is a primary edit only and if no one will delete it I will add the Eliya encounter with God at mt Sinai and the mention in the new Testement.--Urij 06:00, 16 Jun 2005 (UTC)


I am not sure what the Josephus quote proves. Josephus lived from roughly 40-100 CE, which is 1200-1500 years later than the events of Exodus. (Note that, while Josephus wrote the quoted words around 90 CE, he is describing events which happened (or which he claimed happened) in the period of the Exodus; you can see his words in context at .) If Josephus is being quoted to establish that the location of Sinai was known in the period of the Exodus, I would question whether Josephus is an accurate source on this point. If he is being quoted to establish that the location was known (or believed to be known) in 90 CE, then I would consider describing this time period as "biblical" to be highly misleading -- it does overlap some of the events described in the book of Acts, but it is many centuries removed from the biblical events relating to Sinai. I would suggest a rephrasing something like

"The Jewish historian Josephus implied that the location of Mount Sinai was still known in his lifetime (circa 40 CE - circa 100 CE),"

followed by the present quotation and a link to the source above. I'd also add "Moses" in brackets after the first occurrence of "he" in the quotation, just to give the reader some context. I'll check back in a few days to look up more accurate dates and make the changes if no one else has commented.