We have already observed how most maps of the Israelites’ wilderness wanderings show Mount Sinai with a question mark, located in the middle of the modern-day Sinai Peninsula, between the Red Sea’s Gulf of Suez and Gulf of Aqaba. This traditional site of Mount Sinai (known as St. Catherine’s) does not really fit the descriptions given in the Biblical text concerning the real mountain; but tradition is such a powerful thing, and it is hard to give up when it has been believed for so long.
In the 1990s, a man named Bob Cornuke climbed St. Catherine’s with his friend Jim Erwin (Jim was famous as the eighth man to walk on the moon, and he was also a Christian). After reaching the summit, Bob and Jim concluded that although St. Catherine’s was a beautiful place, it simply could not be the mountain where Moses met with God. One of Jim’s friends later passed along information to them about a mountain in Saudi Arabia that he believed matched the Biblical description of Mount Sinai. This mountain was known as Jabal al Lawz.
Bob was intrigued. He and another one of his friends, named Larry Williams, decided to go and see for themselves. But this was much easier said than done! They had to contrive a way to even get into Saudi Arabia in the first place; and once they were in, the extremes of travel in the Arabian desert took their toll on them. They ended up getting lost, but then they encountered a wandering Bedouin shepherd. When he was asked where Jabal al Lawz was, the shepherd calmly pointed to a mountain in the distance and unhesitatingly called it “Jabal Musa” – which is Arabic for “the mountain of Moses.”
Bob and Larry managed to see the sights around Jabal al Lawz – which was not easy either, because the mountain is surrounded by a fence of chain-link and barbed-wire, which places the location in a Saudi government “forbidden zone.” Nevertheless, they did explore the area, and they found much evidence that validated claims of this mountain being the real Mount Sinai. They were not able to bring home a lot of pictorial documentation, but much of what they saw was confirmed by the unique experiences and exploration of a family called the Caldwell Family.
The things that Bob Cornuke, Larry Williams, and the Caldwell Family found and documented around Jabal al Lawz are indeed exciting when they are viewed in light of the details that the Bible gives! Consider a few of these details.
When Moses was tending his father-in-law’s sheep in the land of Midian (Exodus 3:1, 2), the Lord appeared to him in the burning bush. As he spoke with the Lord, he was given an assurance from Him (Exodus 3:12) that his mission of leading the Hebrews out of Egypt would be successful. He was told that when he had finally succeeded in leading the Hebrew slaves out of Egypt, they would worship God on “this mountain” – that is, Mount Horeb, which is another name for Mount Sinai. Clearly, this rules out St. Catherine’s as a candidate for the real mountain, because the land of Midian (where Moses was tending sheep) is situated along the eastern shores of the Red Sea’s Gulf of Aqaba. Thus, Mount Sinai must be on the east side of that Gulf – not in the southern tip of the Sinai Peninsula, where St. Catherine’s is located.
Exodus 19:18 tells us that before the Lord spoke to the Hebrews, He descended upon the mountain in fire and smoke. Interestingly, Jabal al Lawz is clearly identifiable, even from a distance, because it has a distinctly darker top section that contrasts greatly with the rest of the mountain. In fact, the boundary line between the yellowish-pinkish natural granite and this black portion on the top is like day and night. When Bob Cornuke and Larry Williams were exploring, they deliberately smashed open some of the black rocks on the mountaintop; and they found that the rocks were not black on the inside. Rather, the interior of these blackened rocks was the same kind of pinkish granite boulders that are found on the lower part of the mountain. In other words, it looked as if a great fire had once burned on the summit, leaving behind a charred “crust” that transformed the exterior color of the pinkish granite.
The second verse of Exodus 19 tells us that the Hebrews were encamped around the front of Mount Sinai. At the foot of Jabal al Lawz, there is a large open area that would naturally form a place for the people to pitch camp. In this encampment area, a piece of a millstone has been found, which corresponds closely with Egyptian millstone design. Millstones were typically used to grind flour; but in the case of the Hebrews, they probably would have used such a stone to aid them in their preparation of the manna so that they could make bread from it (Numbers 11:8).
Another interesting find is located on the west side of Jabal al Lawz – probably at the location that would correspond with Rephidim (Exodus 17:1), as well as along the way that the Hebrews would have traveled to get there. In these locations, one can witness many groups of large stones arranged in circular fashion. Some suppose that these circular stone arrangements may have been used to surround tents. Perhaps they helped support the poles and framework that held up the “roof” of the tents. Or perhaps (since tents in those days did not always have closed sides all the way around) the stone circles kept the Hebrews’ cattle from wandering into the tents where the families were eating supper! The exact function of these stone arrangements is left open to speculation; but in any case, these circles give evidence that, at some point in the past, a large group of people were present in the uninhabited wilderness area around Jabal al Lawz. And they obviously considered these circles to be necessary enough for some purpose, that they expended great time and energy into putting the stones in place.
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photo by John Tuttle | Lightstock.com