Digging Mount Sinai From the Bible -- By: David Faiman

Journal: Bible and Spade (Second Run)
Volume: BSPADE 13:4 (Fall 2000)
Article: Digging Mount Sinai From the Bible
Author: David Faiman

Digging Mount Sinai From the Bible

David Faiman

Too Many Theories—Why?

There are many theories about where the Biblical Mt. Sinai was located. Among scholarly books on the subject I would draw attention to three which arrive at extremely different conclusions: Davies (1979), who concludes that it is in the south of the Sinai peninsula, at the traditional location of Jebel Musa; Har-El (1983), who locates it in the northwest of the peninsula at Jebel Sin Bishr, and Anati (1986), who identifies it with Har Karkom in the Negev, just beyond the eastern edge of the peninsula. There are also many other candidate peaks scattered throughout the Sinai peninsula, but these three represent the extremes of this triangular land mass. Furthermore, “extreme” as these conclusions might seem relative to one another, they are conservative compared to other scholars who have located the mountain of the theophany entirely outside of the Sinai peninsula—in Jordan, Saudi Arabia and even beyond.

In order to understand how it is possible for large numbers of serious scholars to reach totally different conclusions about what appears to be such a basic element of our Biblical heritage, it is necessary to appreciate two facts.

First, the Bible is not a geography book. Rather, it is a theological treatise, some of whose message happens to be set within a geographical framework and one, moreover, which was taken as being self-evident to the book’s ancient readers. To this end, the narrative concerning the Exodus of the ancient Israelites from Egypt, their arrival at Mt. Sinai and their subsequent peregrinations until their ultimate entry to the Promised Land—i.e. everything of a merely geographical interest—is told with scant detail, and with frequent interruptions for the more basic theological message. Furthermore, the geographical details are often repetitive and, in many cases, seemingly contradictory. (For example, Numbers 20:28 and 33:38 tell us that Moses’ brother, Aaron, died on Mt. Hor, whereas Deuteronomy 10:6 says it happened at Moserah.)

Second, presumably because of the seeming contradictions in the geographic narrative, many scholars permit themselves the freedom to be selective as to which Biblical verses they consider to be the “important” ones. Unfortunately, since there is no universal agreement about which verses are the most relevant, different choices will lead to different conclusions, and this could be the reason why there are so many theories about the location of Mt. Sinai.

A Self-Consistent Approach

Some years ago, I tried a different approach. Not...

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