The Route of the Israelites

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The Route of the Israelites

The Pattern of the Journeying

1. The Israelites left Egypt, crossed over the Red Sea, and arrived at Sinai, within one and a half months of leaving Egypt, towards the end of Spring, 1446 BC.

2. They stayed at Sinai for almost exactly one year, during which time they received the Law, made the Golden Calf, built the Tabernacle, and were arrayed by Moses in Camp order.

3. They departed from Sinai in the late Spring and suffered a plague sent by God at Taberah and Kibroth-hattaavah, not far from the mountain. They then journeyed across the desert some 30 miles to Hazeroth, where Miriam was excluded from the camp for disobedience, and then on to the Desert of Kadesh, in the Arabah between the Dead Sea and the Gulf of Akaba, which they reached by the Fall. From Kadesh itself (Petra) they sent spies into the land of Canaan, who brought back an evil report of it, causing the Israelites to remain in the desert another 38 years.

4. During that period the Israelites wandered in circles, and as far south as the Gulf of Akaba, around Mount Hor (near Petra) in the land of Edom (see Numbers 33 for the stations in the desert), till the whole adult generation who had left Egypt died off, apart from Moses, Joshua and Caleb. In the final year of wandering Moses brought water from the rock in Kadesh (Petra). Aaron died and was buried on Mount Hor. They then advanced north from Mount Hor towards Moab, via Punon (Wadi Feinan), where Moses set up the Brazen Serpent for healing of snake-bites, and onwards towards the eastern bank of Jordan. There on Mount Nebo Moses was taken from them. Then Israel crossed over under Joshua into the promised land.

(Note: The originals of the account of the “unidentified female pilgrim”, and of the epitome of that account in Petrus Diaconus, referenced in the following paragraphs, can be found in translation at the end of this section.)

Map of the Route of the Exodus


The name for the sea crossed by the Israelites in the Hebrew Scriptures is Yam Suf, the “Sea of Sea-weed” or the “Reedy Sea”. The Greek translators of the Old Testament called the Yam Suf “Eruthra Thalassa”, the “Red Sea”, from the color of rocks along its shore, and so also in the New Testament (Acts 7. 36, Heb. 11. 29). The same Hebrew name, Yam Suf, was given to the eastern extension of the Red Sea, the Gulf of Akaba. “in the land of Edom”, I Kings 9. 26, known in antiquity as the “Elanitic Gulf”, so the Hebrews saw the two stretches of water, the western and eastern gulfs, like the Greeks, as part of the same greater sea. The western gulf of the Red Sea, the stretch of water crossed by the Israelites, was known in ancient times as the Arabian Gulf, and nowadays as the Gulf of Suez.

Desiccation and the filling up of the Egyptian canal system has taken its toll on the north-eastern Delta area, where the western gulf encroached on Egyptian territory. A canal joining the Nile and the Red Sea was first constructed, according to Strabo, and other Classical writers, by Sesostris, viz. Sen-wosret III of Dynasty XII c. 1800 BC (Biblical chronology and uncalibrated radiocarbon dates). The canal in historical times connected the Bubastite and Pelusiac branches of the Nile to Lake Timsah running directly east via the Wadi Tumilat, and then turned south via the Bitter Lakes to the Red Sea near Suez. Lake Timsah and the Bitter Lakes formed at that time a man-made northward extension of the Red Sea, fed by the canal system with water from the Nile and connected at the southern limit by canal to the waters of the Gulf. The resulting extension of the Red Sea was known as the “Inlet (Gk. Muchos, lit. recess, innermost corner) of the Arabian Gulf”, according to two passages of the geographer Strabo drawing on Eratosthenes and Ptolemy in his Geography. It was met with immediately after leaving Heroopolis (the remains of which are found at the present-day Tel el Maskhuta) at the far eastern end of Wadi Tumilat. It was described as flowing “by Heroopolis” and therefore the whole Gulf, the “Inlet” and the Gulf of Suez, was also termed the “Heroopolitan Gulf”.

It was only 16 Roman miles, according to an unidentified female Christian pilgrim in the late Roman Imperial period (late 4th or early 5th century AD), from the land of Goshen by an overland route to Heroopolis. According to the Egyptologist Naville’s straightforward and sensible interpretation of an inscription found in the latter location, it was 9 Roman, just over 8 statute, miles from Heroopolis to Clysma. Clysma means “Inundation”. It was another name for the Heroopolitan Gulf, and was derived from a district located at the head of the Gulf of Suez. See the surviving epitome of Philostorgius, Hist. Eccl. III. 6 on the nomenclature: “The Red Sea, in its turn, after extending to a very great length, terminates in two distinct gulfs, the one of which bends in the direction of Egypt, and is called Clysma, after the name of a district [Greek topos] situated at the head of it. This was the sea across which the Israelites passed on dry ground, when they fled away from the Egyptians.” (See further infra on the location of the district along the western shore of the Gulf, and the town in Wadi Girfe which gave its name to the district.) Hence, by a corruption of the Greek, the Arabic name for the Gulf of Suez, the Sea of Qulzum (= Sea of Clysma). This stretch of water extended north in ancient times as far as Lake Timsah in the form of the “Inlet of the Arabian Gulf”.

Artapanus Concerning the Jews apud Eusebius Praep. Ev. IX. xxvii. 34-37: “34. At last after having incurred such calamities the king let the Jews go: and they, after borrowing from the Egyptians many drinking-vessels, and no little raiment, and very much other treasure, crossed the torrents {= the Inlet of the Arabian Gulf} on the Arabian {viz. Goshen} side, and, after traversing a wide space, arrived, on the third day, at the Red Sea. 35. Now the people of Memphis say, that Moses being acquainted with the country waited for the ebb, and took the people across the sea when dry. But the people of Heliopolis say, that the king hastened after them with a great force, having also with him the consecrated animals, because the Jews were carrying off the property which they had borrowed from the Egyptians. 36. There came, however, to Moses a divine voice bidding him to smite the sea with the rod [and that it should divide]: and when Moses heard it, he touched the water with the rod, and so the stream divided, and the force passed over by a dry path. 37. But when the Egyptians went in with them and were pursuing them, a fire, it is said, shone out upon them from the front, and the sea overflowed the path again, and the Egyptians were all destroyed by the fire and the flood.” The “three days” it took the Israelites to reach the location on the Red Sea where Baal-Zephon stood is also mentioned by Josephus (Ant. II. xv. 1).

In view of their numbers, the Israelites may be presumed to have been gathered immediately before the Exodus in and around the city of Raamses, ready for departure as Moses instructed them. Raamses was the up-to-date name, used retrospectively in the Bible, of the city known as Avaris at the time of the Exodus, as noted already by the 9th century AD author of the Ekloge Historion in Codex. Paris. 854, ed. Cramer, Anecdota Graeca, vol ii, p. 174f., probably from Eusebius: “And he [Jacob] dwelt in Rameses, which was in olden times called Abare [Avaris], another 17 years”. Avaris was located at Tel el Dab’a, immediately adjacent to Qantir, about 24 miles north-west of Heroopolis. However, Qantir, rather than Tel el Dab’a, became the center of the rebuilt metropolis at a later period when it was expanded and extended by Ramesses II and named the “House of Ramesses” or “Raamses” after himself. The Israelites are said to have departed “from Raamses”, and this term can refer to the land, as well as the city. The Israelites were originally concentrated in the land of Goshen, which is the district around El Faqus, the ancient Phacusa, the metropolis of the so-called “Arabian” nome. The city of Raamses is located a few miles (4 Roman miles by the reckoning of the unidentified pilgrim, infra) from El Faqus. Recent archaeological excavation has uncovered the site of Avaris-Raamses precisely at this location. Many of the Israelites dwelt in the city of Raamses (meaning Avaris) itself, others in the land of Goshen thereabouts.

Heroopolis features in the Septuagint and Josephus as the location in which Joseph met his brother Judah and his father Jacob specifically “in the land of Raamses” (LXX: Judah met Joseph “at [kata] Heroopolis in [eis] the land of Ramesses” Gen. 46. 28, and Joseph met Jacob “at [kata] Heroopolis” Gen. 46. 29) and that means the land of Raamses was held to have extended to the Wadi Tumilat and to Heroopolis within 9 Roman miles of Clysma, the ancient shore of the Inlet of the Arabian Gulf. Heroopolis was the Greek name for the location of the meeting of Joseph and Judah, that is, at Tel el Maskhuta, where Naville found several inscriptions bearing its name Ero (= Hero = Heroopolis). The Memphite Coptic version, translated from the Septuagint, uses native Egyptian terminology and describes the place of meeting as “near Pethom, the city in the land of Ramses”, which refers to the Egyptian city Pithom commonly located at Tel er Retaba a few miles to the west of Tel el Maskhuta. Pithom is described correctly by the Christian pilgrim as at that time, in the Late Roman Imperial period, a mere “camp”, and is located, again correctly, by her somewhere in the vicinity of the city of Heroopolis, which latter was reduced then to the status of a large “village”.

Immediately prior to the Exodus, some time before the 10th of the first month, Abib or Nisan (Exodus 12. 2f., cf. Num. 33. 3), the Israelites began to borrow items of gold and silver from the neighboring Egyptians (Exodus 12. 35f.), as God had instructed Moses (Exodus 11. 2). Moses himself had his final interview with Pharaoh on the night of the Passover, the 15th of Nisan, soon after midnight, when the firstborn died. He then left the court, wherever that was located at the time, perhaps by donkey or chariot, having been given immediate leave to free the Israelites. Josephus (Ant. II. xv. 1) says the point of departure for Moses and his companions after their last interview with Pharaoh was Letopolis, which was “at that time deserted”. Letopolis was the Greek name for the Egyptian Sekhem, the modern Ausim, later known as Babylon, and Old Cairo. This suggests the court was nearby, and most likely at Memphis. Memphis is named in the epitome of the unidentified pilgrim in Petrus Diaconus (ed. Gamurrini p. 135) as the location “still” of Pharaoh’s palace, and a spot six miles away beside the Nile as the traditional site of Moses’ addresses to the enslaved Israelites just before the Exodus. It is possible this departure from Memphis is mentioned in the Sinaitic inscriptions. If the readings of the Corpus Inscriptionum Semiticarum are correct (CIS II No. 3199 = Stone No. 7815, and CIS II No. 3074 = Stone No. 7692), certain named individuals are described in inscriptions in Wadis Naseb and Isla as “dymnpnqrym”, which must surely be read “dy mnp nqrym” (rather than the improbable “dy mn pnqrym” of the CIS), i.e. “those who [dy] were called forth [nqrym] out of [m] Noph [np]”, Noph being the Biblical Hebrew name for Memphis. The city-name is spelled identically, np (Noph), in the Ugaritic texts in the second half of the second millennium BC. If the Sinaitic readings are confirmed, this is prime contemporary evidence of the departure of some of the Israelites, at least, from Memphis. Moses then joined his brethren, who had sandals on their feet and a staff in their hand, ready to depart. They “left Egypt” (Exodus 12. 41, 51), out of the eastern geographical “gate” along Wadi Tumilat, with Moses at the head, on the “morrow after the Passover”.


The location of the first station after the Exodus was Succoth, a spot somewhere between Heroopolis and the station at the Red Sea, according to the Christian pilgrim referred to earlier, which is where Moses received from God instructions as to how the Passover festival was to be kept (Exodus 12. 43ff.). Succoth is thought to be the Hebrew representation of the Egyptian name Tjeket (pronounced something like Tjukut), which was that of the region around Heroopolis, and the present-day Arabic name Tel el Maskhuta to preserve an echo of the same name. This location matches the circumstantial details recorded in Exodus, as there in Succoth the Israelites are said to have first encamped on the evening after the Exodus, to have received from God instructions on how to keep the Passover in future times, and then to have been led by God the next morning, specifically not by the way of the Philistines to the left, or north, and then eastwards (i.e. by the normal road, the so-called Way of Horus) along the coast by Pelusium, as that way they would have encountered armed resistance, but rather to the right in the direction of the Wilderness of the Red Sea, i.e. southwards. The region just east of Heroopolis was the place to make such a turn, as there one could choose to journey either to the left towards Pelusium, or right towards the Red Sea.

The Christian pilgrim describes the location of the Biblical campsite at Succoth as at the foot of a hillock within a valley. The Chronographia of Julius Honorius (p. 46, Geographi Latini Minores, ed. Riese, 1878, p. 50f.) names a town (oppidum) at the end of Trajan’s Canal (which was a re-excavation of the ancient Egyptian canal between the Nile and the Red Sea), where it entered the Red Sea, as “Ovilia” and “The Camp of Moses” (Castra Moyseia). “Ovilia” means “sheep-folds”, as does the Hebrew Succoth, and since its alternative name can only be a reference to one of the stations of the Israelites as they traveled out of Egypt, this is probably the site of Succoth referred to by the unidentified female pilgrim. The point where the canal met the sea might either be at the exit of the Wadi Tumilat, that is, at the shore of the “Inlet of the Arabian Gulf”, or at the Gulf of Suez. However, it was only after camping at Succoth that the Israelites turned towards the Wilderness of the Red Sea, and that implies Succoth was at some distance from the Gulf. In any case, the Gulf of Suez would be too distant for a single day’s journey from Raamses. Also, Ptolemy (IV. 5. 54) describes Trajan’s Canal as flowing between Babylon (Letopolis, Ausim) in the west through Heroopolis in the east, and Heroopolis is the city-state most distant from Babylon mentioned in relation to the canal. Therefore, the former is more likely: that is Succoth, or “Ovilia”, otherwise known as the “Camp of Moses”, was located not far from Heroopolis and the exit of the Wadi Tumilat, near where the canal entered the waters of an extended Lake Timsah.

As regards a more precise location: there is a hillock called Jebel Gharh or Jebel Maryam, “Miriam’s Mountain”, near Al-Ismailiyah. Naville spotted Roman ruins at the foot of the southern flank of this eminence, partly under water. He tentatively identified them as the remains of the Graeco-Roman town Serapeum, so called because it was originally a temple of Osiris, or Serapis. This, in turn, he believed to be the earlier Egyptian site Per-kerehet, “House of the Snake”, which was likewise a temple of Osiris somewhere not far from Tel el Maskhuta, Osiris being worshiped there under the form of a snake. However, it is more likely the Roman ruins at the foot of Jebel Maryam are those of Ovilia (Succoth), since this is the only known Roman site east of Heroopolis on the shore of the stretch of water where Trajan’s Canal met the sea. The site is some 14 Roman miles from Heroopolis. The Antonine Itinerary places Serapeum, contrariwise, at 18 Roman miles from Heroopolis. This supports the more widely accepted location of Serapeum on the banks of the ancient canal a few miles to the south of Lake Timsah.

The Clysma named on the milestone discovered by Naville, which was only 9 Roman miles distant from Heroopolis, Naville took to mean, not a settlement as such, but the shore of the “Inlet of the Arabian Gulf” which the Roman road skirted. Since that body of water was called Clysma, the milestone marked, according to his interpretation, the distance along the southerly Roman road from Heroopolis to the “Seaside”. The several distances are as follows: from Heroopolis (at Tel el Maskhuta) along the Roman road to the coast of the Clysma Sea, 9 Roman miles (as on Naville’s milestone); from that location, 5 Roman miles farther along the coast to Ovilia on the far side, and at the foot of, Jebel Maryam; from that location, approximately 4 Roman miles, or rather 9 Roman miles directly along the Roman road from the coast of the Clysma Sea mentioned on the milestone, to Serapeum, the Egyptian Per-Kerheret (at a site not yet discovered).

Naville pointed out the circumstantial evidence in Egyptian literary remains that tides in this very section of the inundated area sometimes left a path open across the water by which bedouin could invade Egyptian territory to the west. The tradition current in Hellenistic Memphis preserved by Artapanus, that the Israelites crossed “the torrents on the Arabian side” before proceeding to the Red Sea, and that they reached the latter only on the “third day”, supports this construction. The word “torrents” is Greek potamoi, the plural of potamos, the latter being the word translated “canal” in Ptolemy (loc. cit., in the phrase “Trajan’s Canal”). Here “Arabia” is the Arabian nome, and the torrents most probably the canal and/or the intermittent waters of Lake Timsah in the area around Jebel Maryam, traversed at the beginning of the Israelites’ journey. Jebel Maryam will in that case be the “hillock in the valley” referred to by the unidentified female pilgrim as the location of the station at Succoth, the valley itself being the depression in which Lake Timsah and the Bitter Lakes are located.

The Miriam after whom Jebel Maryam is named is sometimes identified as the Virgin Mary, who visited Egypt with the baby Jesus, but the more probable tradition, in this light, is the alternative Arab one that it was Miriam the sister of Moses. Miriam was present at the mountain as a consequence of the Exodus, not, as the Arab legend has it, because she was banished there for leprosy. The latter incident occurred much farther away, within 35 miles of Mount Sinai, according to the unidentified pilgrim. Daer Maryam, the “Enclosure, or Bivouac, of Miriam”, was a place at the northern foot of Jebel Maryam (Linant de Bellefonds, Mémoires, Paris 1872-3, p. 115), so named, it may be presumed, in this instance too, not because Miriam was confined there, but because she bivouacked there on the first night after the Exodus. Most likely it was the presence of the word Daer, “enclosure”, in the place-name which gave rise to the historically unfeasible notion of Miriam’s “confinement” in that spot for leprosy.

Additional Note on the closeness to Egypt of the first station at Succoth

It might be questioned why the Israelites should camp the first night so close to the border of the land of Raamses near Lake Timsah. The following observations on eastern customs relating to the first day of travel provide an explanation:

Kadesh-Barnea, H C Trumbull, Philadelphia, 1895, p. 143f.:

“…. As a rule, the first day’s journey is hardly more than a preliminary movement for a start. Anyone familiar with Eastern travel will bear witness to this fact. For example, when I was to start from Suez for Mount Sinai, although everything was in readiness on the evening of my reaching Suez, and I was desirous of pushing forward speedily, I was detained until well into the afternoon of the next day, because, as I was told, the first night’s rest must be at Ayoon Moosa {= Uyun Musa}, in sight of Suez, across the Red Sea; nor was my case an exception just here.

“In describing the annual pilgrimage from Cairo to Mekkeh {= Mecca}, Ebers1 says: “After resting outside the walls for two or three days, the caravan sets out, and makes its first day’s journey, of scarcely more than four hours, as far as the first station at Birkett el-Hajj, or the ‘Pilgrim’s Lake.’” A century ago, Niebuhr2 reported the same point as the reach of his first day’s journey from Cairo; and yet a century earlier, Thevenot3 named it as his first stopping place on a similar journey. Four centuries ago, Breydenbach4 and Fabri,5 making a pilgrimage from Gaza to Sinai, noted their first night’s stopping place as just outside of the town of Gaza. And so it has been with the first day’s journey, in all the centuries in the unchanging East.

“Hackett6 has clustered facts in illustration of this point. He says of a “first day’s” journey: “On that day it is not customary to go more than six or eight miles, and the tents are pitched for the first night’s encampment almost within sight of the place from which the journey commences.” Referring to his own experience in this line, he says: “The only reason that I heard assigned for starting thus late and stopping so early was, that it furnished an opportunity, if anything should prove to be forgotten, to return to the city and supply the deficiency.” And he adds: “I find from books of travels, that we merely did in this respect what is customary for travelers in setting forth on a journey; and, further, that they give the same explanation of this peculiarity of the first day.” Then he quotes to this effect from Maundrell, Richardson, Burckhardt, Miss Martineau, and others; and he shows the bearing of this on the narrative of the return of the parents of the Child Jesus to search for him in Jerusalem, when at the close of “a day’s journey” he was not found in “the company.”1{a} And in this connection he notes the fact that the improbability of such a thing as this natural occurrence is one of the objections of Strauss to the accuracy of the Gospel narrative. Another illustration of imperfect knowledge as the basis of much of the modern “destructive criticism!””

1 Pict. Egypt, II., 130. 2 Reiseb., pp. 212-217. 3 Reisen, I., 220.

4 Itiner. 4. 5 Evagator. II., 406. 6 Illus. of Scrip., pp. 15-20.

1{a} Luke 2: 42-45


The next camp was in Etham. The name Etham is used synonymously with Shur in Num. 33. 8, cp. Ex. 15. 22f., and the Wilderness of Shur (or of Etham) extended a considerable distance along the eastern shore of the Gulf of Suez, which is the western shore of the Sinai peninsula. This can be proven by the fact that the Israelites crossed the Sea near the Migdol or fort opposite Baal-Zephon (the later Castrum Clysma) further south around latitude 28º 50´ eastwards across the Gulf, then wandered for several days south eastwards along the opposite shore, all within the Wilderness of Etham/Shur. Their station on the second night is said to have been at the “edge” of the Wilderness of Etham/Shur, therefore it would have been around the head of the Gulf of Suez, where the eastern shore of the Gulf (or the “edge” of the Wilderness of Etham/Shur) met the western. This was a natural halting-place for the Israelites: thus far they would have had access to drinkable water from the canal-system of the “Inlet of the Arabian Gulf”, which drew sweet water from the Nile. Having crossed the “torrents” near Jebel Maryam, then, they followed the “Inlet of the Arabian Gulf” due south the next day and camped somewhere near where the Inlet met the Gulf.

The name Uyun Musa, the “Wells of Moses”, within sight of Suez, may preserve a memory of Moses’ presence in that region at the station in Etham. The tradition that one of the wells there was sweetened by the miracle which the Bible records as having been performed at Marah, after crossing the desert of Shur, is probably dependent on the actual location of Uyun Musa in that same desert of Shur/Etham (on its far north-western edge), and not on any real connection with the particular well that was sweetened, which was much further to the south-east. It is possible, however, that the name Marah was wider spread in ancient times, there being a tribe called Maranitae, who controlled at one time an important central sanctuary at Wadi Feiran, and whose domain may have included Uyun Musa.

The Israelites expected to pass the following day straight into the desert along the eastern shore of the Gulf, which is the normal caravan route into Sinai. God, however, told them to camp in a different place the next night, to “return”, viz. across the Inlet where it met the Gulf, and travel along the western shore of the Red Sea southwards. This would look to Pharaoh like a change of plan on the part of the Israelites, and a threat to the weakened Egyptians. Pharaoh would say: “The desert has barred them in and they are wandering on the loose back into Egyptian territory”. (Exodus 14. 3.) Moreover they would be effectively trapped between the wadis running from the Nile across the eastern desert to the Red Sea, from which Pharaoh would be able to attack them, and the Sea itself to their east, a temptation Pharaoh would be unlikely to resist. In fact, God was setting a trap for Pharaoh, using the vulnerable Israelites as bait, to drown him and his army in the Sea. God is a good general!


The site of the last station of the Israelites before they crossed the sea was “before (also, “upon”) Pi-hahiroth”, that is “before (or, upon) the Shore [pi, lit. edge, mouth, border of the sea, Prov. 8. 29] of the Cave-dwellings [ha-hiroth]”. The Septuagint translates this “Epaulis” = “Dwelling-place”. The western shore of the Gulf was known to the Greeks and Romans as Troglodytis or “Region of the Cave-dwellers”, which is manifestly equivalent to the Hebrew name. In a passage extracted from the second century BC Greek writer Agatharchides by Diodorus Siculus, cited infra, it is related how there was a tradition amongst the inhabitants of Troglodytis that once in ancient times a huge reflux of the waters of the Red Sea off their coast exposed the whole of the sea bed all the way to the other side, the passage being colored notably green because of the abundance of sea-weed and other vegetation on the bottom: the water is said to have flowed back after an unstated interval, and the sea then to have returned to its normal state: which is all in remarkable accord with the account in the Bible.

The site of the crossing is described in the Book of Exodus as having been on the “other” or “opposite” side from Baal-Zephon (Exodus 14. 2, 9, Numbers 33. 7). The latter was an idol of Baal: Targum Yerushalmi refers to it as the “idol” (lit. “error”) of Zephon. Zephon = Zaphon, “North”. Baal-Zephon or Baal-Zaphon was Baal of the North, and of the storm-winds associated with that quarter. Eusebius in his Onomasticon (Greek) s.v. Beelsephon, connected the Baal-Zephon of the Biblical phrase describing the site of the Israelites’ encampment at the Sea (“before” and “on the other side from” Baal-Zephon) with the Greek word klusma: “Beelsephon: A station in the wilderness of the children of Israel as they came out of Egypt, straight across the area washed by the waves [Gk. dia tou klusmatos] by the Red Sea.” This implies the idol of Baal-Zephon stood at the shore on the “opposite” side of the sea to where the Israelites entered it.

An idol standing at the sea-side opposite the site of the crossing of the Israelites is mentioned by medieval Arab geographers. It was at the Bay of Ghurundel = Garandel, around where Wadi Garandel empties into the sea and in the vicinity of Hammam Pharaun, the traditional site of the drowning of Pharaoh amongst the Bedouin. The following quite detailed account is from Ibn Ayya (16th century, MS p. 423):

“Ghurundul. It should be known there is a town at the Bay of Ghurundul called Taran. Here also there is a mountain where no sea-going vessel has approached without damage due to the violence of the contrary winds, together with the forceful thrust of its passing through the waves. There is a reef against which the vessels were thrown, in such a way as to shatter them. The bay extends six miles into the sea. It is said that the bay was named after al-Ghurundul, which is the name of an idol that stands here on a mountain at the sea. The story behind this idol is that it holds captive anyone that escapes from the king of the land of Egypt until he is apprehended again. So, when Moses — blessed be he! — went out in the Exodus, and with him the children of Israel, who fled from Pharaoh, and when the Exodus of Moses and the children of Israel was interrupted by Pharaoh, he thought then that the afore-mentioned idol of al-Ghurundul would hold him captive, and the children of Israel who were with him, as he was familiar with this god. So out went Pharaoh and his army to follow after Moses and his people, and there, at this place, he drowned. Because of this, the Bay of al-Ghurundul is never at rest from the winds and neither are the waves at rest, because Pharaoh drowned here.”

So the Israelites were directed by God to turn west and south from the head of the Gulf of Suez (Etham), and to camp by the sea-front on the Shore of the Cave Dwellings (viz. the coast of Troglodytis, the western shore of the Gulf). The more precise location was “opposite (the idol) Baal-Zephon”. If the idol was known to Pharaoh, as the Arab tradition represents it, it would also have been known to Moses, and was, most probably, a noted landmark to sailors in the Gulf, marking the spot where the waves were turbulent and where shipwrecks might occur. Baal-Zephon, a storm-god, would be the appropriate guardian of such a spot. Pharaoh believed the turbulence hindered refugees from his justice escaping across the Gulf. In this case too God “confounded” the gods of Egypt, and led Moses and the Israelites to escape across the Gulf directly in the face of Baal-Zephon. This idol being named twice to further define the location on the Shore of the Cave Dwellings, it seems to have been a notable landmark to travelers even along that opposite shore. Then God told Moses to camp, more precisely still, “between a Migdol and the sea”, viz. in that part of the shore opposite Baal-Zephon. Evidently an otherwise insignificant watchtower or military post (Heb. “migdol”) stood at the precise spot God chose to place the Israelites before the crossing. Perhaps it guarded the place where raiders or fugitives from Pharaoh (as the legend says) could cross the sea.

In one earlier and several later sources, accordingly, the word klusma (“Clysma”) is attached to a fort or military post on the western shore of the Gulf of Suez, and most of the later sources identify it as the spot where the Israelites entered the sea. In the juxtaposition of (the idol) Baal-Zephon with a fort and the crossing of the sea, these traditions parallel the account in Exodus, as there likewise the phrase “before, or opposite, Baal-Zephon” is juxtaposed to the phrase “between a Migdol [Heb. = fort, military post, watchtower] and the sea” describing the site of the Israelites’ encampment immediately before their transit. This suggests the fort or “Migdol” near the sea-shore was the later fort named “Clysma” after the “area washed by the waves” where the idol stood and where the transit took place. But properly the word klusma denotes this “area washed by the waves”.

Hence in the Peutinger Map, drawing on sources from the late Roman Imperial period, Clysma marks the site of the crossing, which is described by a line across the Gulf, and the name Clysma actually appears on the eastern side of the Gulf. Here it is not the fort Clysma that is under consideration, but the place of the crossing so-called, and the location of the idol Baal-Zephon, which is the correct and earliest use of the word (as in Eusebius’ Onomasticon [Greek]).

From the crossing of the Israelites at that spot the name became attached to the fort on the western shore at least as early as the Roman Imperial period. It also became attached to the mountain running down to the vicinity of the fort, Mount Clysma, where Saint Antony and several other early Coptic monks set up their dwellings in the caves along its flank, presumably, amongst other reasons, for its connection with the Exodus. The “Isle of Clysma” was the site of the pearl-fishing of Mar Awgin, who later became a Pachomian monk and then migrated to Mesopotamia, giving birth there to “Nestorian” Christianity. The “isle” was either the small peninsula jutting out into the sea north of the fort, or more likely the reef just off shore. Finally in the Islamic period the Greek topographical name Clysma became the Arabic Qulzum. The “Desert of Qulzum” was the Arabic name of the barren area around Mount Clysma. It was probably a corruption of the Greek, though, as it happens, it also means in Arabic “Swallowing up”, which is an appropriate equivalent of the Greek word, to denote the place where the “waves swept over” the Egyptians (klusma) or where they were “swallowed up” (qulzum) by the sea. A territory or land of Qulzum is also referred to, and this area stretched as far as the head of the Gulf of Suez. It is the “district” (Greek topos) of Clysma at the head of the Gulf of Suez mentioned by Philostorgius (supra), after which the Gulf itself was named Clysma. It contained, according to the Arabic sources (Quatremère ut cit. infra, p. 179ff.), two ruined cities. One of them was the place which lent its name to the Gulf, and that can only be the military post Clysma near Mount Clysma. The other is not clearly identifiable, but since a Tel Qulzum (which in this case would mean a “ruin [tel] of, i.e. in, [the land of] Qulzum”) crops up later at the head of the Gulf of Suez, in the place where the ancient canal entered the Gulf, it is most probably the other ruined town in question, and is, in fact, the Ptolemaic city Arsinoe. It stood in that precise location and has recently been excavated. Many modern writers incorrectly refer to the latter site, in a rather confused way, as Arsinoe-Cleopatris-Clysma, applying the ancient Greek topographical name Clysma to Arsinoe because the Arabs called it Tel Qulzum. The Greek term Clysma should be reserved for the site further south at the foot of Mount Clysma. The correct name for the site at the head of the Gulf is Arsinoe, or alternatively Cleopatris, as it bore both these names.

In the Peutinger Map Arsinoe stands correctly near the head of the Gulf (which is extended to include the “Inlet of the Arabian Gulf”, specifically the Bitter Lakes, termed “Lacus Mori”), and the location of the Israelites’ crossing of the sea is placed south of Arsinoe (that is, to the right the way the map is drawn), straight across the main body of the Gulf, and is designated “Clisma”, in a position precisely corresponding to the traditional site eastward across the sea from Fort Clysma.

The wrongful application of the Greek topographical name Clysma to the site at the head of the Gulf has led to the mistaken siting of the transit of the Israelites, even by conservative Biblical scholars, to the region around Suez. The more liberal and rationalistic interpreters, and those who have innocently followed them, place it even farther north at the Inlet of the Arabian Gulf, around Lake Timsah or the Bitter Lakes, in an area where no miracle was required to cross the waters. A “reduced miracle” was needed at Suez, depending on the exact site of the crossing selected, but “tidal estuaries” could be invoked there, too, to make things a little easier. The only ancient traditional, and correct, site at the foot of Mount Clysma required an indisputable miracle, as the Israelites crossed the main body of the Gulf in a location where God alone could make a way through the waters.

The North-western End of the Red Sea (Gulf of Suez) in the Peutinger Map


1 = Arsinoe (near Suez)

2 = Lacus Mori (the Bitter Lakes here incorporated in an extended Gulf of Suez)

3 = Line across the Red Sea (the Gulf of Suez), south-east of Arsinoe, marking the site of the transit of the Israelites

4 = “Clisma” (Clysma), “the area washed by the waves”, where Baal-Zephon stood, on the other side of the sea from the entry point of the Israelites

5 = the main body of the Red Sea (Gulf of Suez)

The town which marked the point of entry into the Sea is referred to as Clysma Phrourion, “Clysma Garrison”, in the Greek geographer Ptolemy, and is located correctly by him at 28º 50´. This is at the foot of Mount Clysma, the modern Jabal al-Jalalah al-Qibliyah, which is the long stretch of mountains pinpricked with caves flanking the southern side of Wadi Arabah. Wadi Arabah is a wide depression running from the Nile south of Cairo and upstream a little from Atfih (the ancient Aphroditopolis) to the Red Sea at this spot. The name means “The Wadi of Chariots” and is traditionally (and doubtless in fact) the route by which the chariots of Pharaoh rushed to catch the Israelites encamped at the sea.

Under the Roman Empire the site by the sea at the foot of Mount Clysma was a famous port where the trade to and from India was carried on. It was called Castrum Clesma (Clesma = Clysma) in Latin. It was built to defend the eastern gate of Egypt against marauding Saracens from the Sinai desert. Such an attack, according to the Coptic monk Ammonius, was planned by Barbarian Blemmyes on Clysma by sea, after their slaughter of the monks at Raithu (Tor), but in that instance the design was frustrated. Running out from the headland of a level-topped eminence less than 500 paces from Castrum Clesma was the place where the Israelites entered the sea, according to the epitome of the unidentified pilgrim’s account in the 12th century De Locis Sanctis of Petrus Diaconus. The same military post is mentioned in the Sunecdemus of Hierocles (early 6th century AD) as included in the East Delta district known as Augusta(m)nica Secunda, along with the city of Arabia or Phacusa and Bubastis, (ed. Bekker p. 399) and is there called identically Klusma Kastron (= Latin Clysma Castrum). The Itinerary of the Pilgrim of Placentia (ed. Geyer, 41 [recensio prima], p. 187, my comments in braces {}) nicely describes the situation of the military post (castellum) at the place the Israelites crossed the Sea, as well as the “port” of Clysma (“Clisma”), which was probably not a built-up port, but simply a bay where ships could be beached. “From there {Elim = Raithu, Tor} we came to the place where the children of Israel set up camp when they crossed the Sea. There too there is a modest-sized military post with visitors’ accommodation within it. From there we went to the place on the shore where the children of Israel made the crossing. Where they came out of the Sea there is a place of prayer [oratorium] dedicated to Elijah. On the other side in the place where they entered the Sea, there is a place of prayer dedicated to Moses. There is also a modest-sized city there called Clysma, where ships come even from as far away as India. At the aforesaid place on the sea where they made the crossing, a gulf [culfus = Greek kolpos] extends [exit] out from the greater body of water {pelago, viz. what is now known as the Indian Ocean}, and continues inland for many miles, which experiences advances and retreats [accessa recessa {i.e. tidal action}]. When the Sea retreats everything stands out clear: Pharaoh’s instruments of war or the marks of the chariot wheels appear, though all the instruments of war have become encrusted [in marmore conuersa].” The placement of the town in the Itinerary of the Pilgrim of Placentia is proved by the statement immediately following this that the pilgrim visited next in order on his itinerary the site of the cell of the hermit Paul, the modern Deir Mari Bolos, as this is only a few miles west of where the town of Clysma was located, that is, on the southern flank of Mount Clysma, opposite from, and a little eastward of, Antony’s cell.

The same location of Clysma is found in Coptic MS. Vat. 68, fol. 93-101 in the Life of the Coptic monk John the Dwarf. The following is a translation of the French summary of the Life in E. Quatremère, Memoires géographiques et historiques sur l’Égypte, tom. 1r, Paris, 1811, pp. 151ff., s.n. Piklusma, Clysma:

“{P. 151} We read in the Life of S. John the Dwarf, that this anchorite, forced to leave the Scetic desert, to preserve himself in face of the raging fury of the barbarians, resolved to go to the town of Clysma Piklusma {this name in Greek, with Footnote 1 referring to Ms. copt. Vat. 68, fol. 93-101}, where he found a great number of idolaters. He withdrew to the mountain of Saint Antony, one day’s walking distance from the town of Clysma. {Footnote 2: Ib. fol. 94 rect.} He chose for his stay there a rock below a river, and established himself in a small cell in the form of a cave, which he built up with stones, on the model of the cell which he had lived in in the Scetic desert. From time to time he visited the town, and during that period converted to the Christian religion almost all the inhabitants. After his death he was interred in this place, that is at Clysma, and his corpse was deposited next to those of three saints, whose memory is in veneration in the Church, namely S. Athanasius, the abbot Pidjimi, and the abbot Djishoi. {Footnote 3: Ib. fol. 101 vers. Cf. also Quatremère, id. p. 160ff. for the Coptic tradition relating to the later translation of the remains of John the Dwarf back to the Scetic desert from the town of “Qulzum” [= Clysma].} This last {viz. Djishoi} is certainly {p. 152} the same person the Greeks call Sisoê {Greek} and the Latins Sisoi, Sisois, Sisoius. This anchorite likewise lived on the mountain of S. Antony, where he dwelt more than seventy years. {Footnote 1: Monumenta ecclesiae graecae, T. 1, p. 672, 677.} It would seem his little cell was no great distance from the town of Clysma. For we see that he would visit it from time to time. {Footnote 2: Ib. p. 641, 671, etc. Vitae patrum, lib. V, p. 625.} Similarly it was in this place he fell sick, perhaps of the sickness which proved fatal.”

Quatremère spends the next few paragraphs trying to extricate himself from the conclusion which must inevitably be drawn from these Coptic saints’ Lives, that Clysma was not far from the cell of Antony on Mount Clysma, in the “Desert of Qulzum”, as the Arabs called it (Quatremère ibid. p. 155). He argues on the contrary, and against the surviving evidence, that the “Mountain of Saint Antony” was a vague term for the mountain ranges along the western bank of the Gulf of Suez, and therefore Clysma itself might still have been situated at the top of the Gulf near the modern Suez. To maintain his argument he has to assume, amongst other things, a dislocation of several tens of miles in Ptolemy and the Antonine Itinerary. (Quatremère’s article is full of informative extracts from ancient authorities on Clysma, and is only defective in the argumentation relating to the town’s geographical location.)

Saints’ burials in Clysma are mentioned also in the Itinerary of the Pilgrim of Placentia (ed. Geyer, recensio prima, p. 42), where “more than eighteen coffers” “locellos … ultra decem et octo” of anchorites are referred to within a basilica. (The recensio altera in Geyer’s edition, p. 42 has XIIII, “fourteen”, interments, but the numeral has probably become corrupted here, an original V being mistaken for a I, XVIII becoming XIIII: in the first recension the numeral was spelled out and was therefore not so easily corrupted.) Precisely eighteen such interments in catacombs “besides, perhaps many others” were noticed by Wilkinson at the Greco-Roman site in Wadi Girfe below Mount Clysma, between the monastery of Paul and the seashore, which he tentatively identified as the Clysma of Ptolemy (see infra). The identity of wording employed by the ancient and modern observers in the description of these catacombs is remarkable, and is strong inferential evidence that Wilkinson discovered the true location and remains of the town of Clysma in 1823.

The Site of Clysma at Wadi Girfe near the Monastery of Saint Paul

This is further confirmed by the unidentified female pilgrim, who places 4 Roman “mansiones” (stations, halting-places) between Clysma and the land of Goshen, or between Clysma and the “city of Arabia” (= El Faqus) itself according to the epitome in Petrus Diaconus:

“Now although I had been acquainted with the land of Goshen ever since I was in Egypt for the first time, yet [I visited it again] in order that I might see all the places which the children of Israel touched on their journey out from Rameses, until they reached the Red Sea at the place which is now called Clysma {Clesma in Petrus Diaconus} from the fort {Castrum} which is there. I desired therefore that we should go from Clysma to the land of Goshen, that is, to the city called Arabia, which city is in the land of Goshen. The whole territory is called after the city, the land of Arabia, the land of Goshen, although it is part of Egypt. It is much better land than all the rest of Egypt. From Clysma, that is from the Red Sea, there are four desert stations [mansiones], but though in the desert, yet there are military quarters at the stations with soldiers and officers who always escorted us from fort to fort. On that journey the holy men who were with us, clergy and monks, showed us all the places which I was always seeking in accordance with the Scriptures; some of these were on the left, some on the right of our path, some were far distant from, and some near to our route. For I hope that your affection will believe me [when I say that], as far as I could see, the children of Israel marched in such wise that as far as they went to the right, so far did they turn back to the left; as far as they went forward, so far did they return backward, journeying thus until they reached the Red Sea {viz. the Red Sea at Clysma}.” The “mansiones”, resting-places, were on average between 18 and 31 Roman miles apart, so here a minimum distance of 72 and a maximum distance of 124 Roman miles intervened between Clysma and the land of Goshen around Phacusa (El-Faqus) though an extra 18 to 31 miles should be added at the end, that is, between the last mansio and the termination of the journey in Goshen, say around 90 to 155 Roman miles in total. Goshen being the land around Phacusa in the Eastern Delta, this proves the unidentified pilgrim’s Clysma was far down the western coast of the Red Sea, near where the geographer Ptolemy placed it, at latitude 28° 50 ´. Similarly in the Antonine Itinerary Clysma is located 50 Roman miles from Serapeum and Serapeum 18 Roman miles from Heroopolis (Tel el-Maskhuta in the Wadi Tumilat). It was 16 Roman miles, according to the female pilgrim, from Heroopolis to the land of Goshen, so the total is 50 + 18 + 16 from Clysma to Goshen = 84 Roman miles, plus a few miles to the city of Arabia (El-Faqus) itself, which is of the same order of magnitude as the estimate of 90 Roman miles based on the number of intervening stations. This means Clysma was several tens of Roman miles south of the head of the Gulf of Suez.

The actual ruins of Clysma, for the reasons given supra, seem to have been discovered by Wilkinson in 1823. The following is a transcript of his notes:

Journal of the Royal Geographical Society of London, Vol 2, 1831-1832, pp. 28ff. Notes on a Part of the Eastern Desert of Upper Egypt, accompanied by a Map. J. Wilkinson.

“[The notes relate to a journey in 1823. This entry is dated March 12 p. 33ff.] From this place [viz. the headlands on the southern section of the shore where Wadi Arabah meets the sea] the caravan set off for Deir Bolos {Deir Mari Bolos, the hermitage of Paul}, by the short road, which lies between the upper and lower Zaffarana mountains; while the dromedaries followed that between the latter and the sea, crossing the point of the same name. In an hour and a half we came in a line with this long tongue of land, which runs out to a great distance, considerably increased by the shoal at its extremity; and beyond it we passed a small rocky headland, called E’Selymat Beeud. We met with nothing interesting along this flat shore till we arrived at the low hills of Wady Girfe, which lie between Gebel Kolzim {= Jebel Qulzum, Greek Mount Clysma} and the sea. Here we observed, on the summits of several of them, the remains of old houses; the walls, consisting, as usual, of stones placed on each other without cement, have, for the most part, fallen in, but the masonry appears to have been well constructed, and the ruins to be those of an ancient town intermediate between the position of Deir Bolos and the sea. The dimensions of the rooms in the ruined houses vary from six paces by three, to eight by eight, or more; and one was upwards of thirty feet long. Amongst the rubbish within them were quantities of broken pottery, fish-bones, shells, &c. Though we found no cisterns, I have no doubt that water, conducted from the sources at the modern convent, was thus preserved here. Near the ruins is a small knoll containing eighteen excavated chambers, besides, perhaps, many others, the entrances of which are no longer visible. We went into those where the doors were the least obstructed by the sand or decayed rock, and found them to be catacombs {cf. the “more than eighteen” locelli, excavated interments of anchorites in Clysma mentioned in the Itinerary of the Pilgrim of Placentia, ed. Geyer, p. 42}; they are well cut, and vary from about eighty to twenty-four feet, by five; their height may be from six to eight feet. They are rounded at the upper end, and in many of them, at nearly two [p. 34] feet and a half from that wall, is a partition of hewn stone, stretching across from one side to the other, but not now, if ever, of any height. Some of the chambers are double, communicating by a door. In the largest we found several very fine crystals of salt: the rock is calcareous, and contains a quantity of fossils. We sought in vain for inscriptions or hieroglyphics; our curiosity was only rewarded by finding the scattered fragments of vases, bitumen, charcoal, and cloth. It is evident that the bodies were burnt, and the ashes, after the usual ceremony of bathing and wrapping them in these cloths, were probably deposited in the vases, of which innumerable broken remains are seen in every direction; they are earthenware, mostly red, and heart-shaped, with a mouth of about three inches in diameter, terminating at the base in a point; the materials and workmanship are good.

“To what people shall we ascribe these ruins? [Wilkinson’s footnote at this point reads: Will not this agree with the position of Ptolemy’s Clysma?] The Egyptians did not burn their dead; the other claimants are the Greeks and Romans; and of these the name Grady Rouemi, which the headland just below bears, inclines me in favour of the former, Rouemi or Rumi signifying Greek. [Footnote: Greek, in Arabic, is Yunani. The Arabs borrowed the name Rumi from the Greeks of Byzantium.] Grady is a plant which abounds on the flat shore below these hills, and nothing is more common among the Arabs than to name their vallies and mountains from plants growing in them. A circuitous road of about seven miles led us to the convent of Deir Bolos; it is situated in a more picturesque spot than that of St. Antony, and has a much cleaner and neater appearance, owing to its having been more recently repaired. The streets and houses are also laid out with some degree of regularity and order, though in size it yields considerably to the other ….

“[P. 37] From Deir Bolos we made an excursion to the sea, in the direction of Grady Rouemy. After a ride of three hours (about nine miles) we came to the beach, which we continued to follow in hopes of finding some port corresponding to the ruined village, but in vain. We only met with a wall of weed, sand, and fish-bones, raised in form of a crescent to keep off the north and east winds; it was probably the lodging place of the monks of Deir Bolos. A quantity of broken spars, bamboo, and cocoa-nuts, the remains of some vessel from India; the skeletons of some unfortunate sailors, washed high upon the beach; a flat barren shore without trees, or herbage, save that which delights to grow near the Salt Sea; shallow water scarcely covering the sharp rocks, which would be the inevitable destruction of any vessel driven upon them; such are the objects which present themselves on this coast. Several flights of titlarks passed us on their passage northwards. We found some dried fish, very singular in form, but had neither time nor means to procure any alive ….”

In the account of Cosmas, the site of the crossing at Clysma is said to have been at the base of a mountain next to the sea, which was on the right of those who approached it (Topographia Lib. V., MS. p. 194 = ed. Migne PG 88, col. 196): “The Egyptians … perished by drowning. This place is in what is called Clysma, on the right of those who set out on the journey, at the mountain. There, too, can be seen the trace of the chariot-wheels, for a considerable distance up to the sea, being preserved even up to the present time, for the sake of the unbelievers, not the believers.”

This accurately describes the situation as Wadi Arabah meets the sea, where the northern flank of Mount Clysma (Jabal al-Jalalah al-Qibliyah) juts out seaward not far from Wilkinson’s ruined Greco-Roman town, and a little south of Cape Zafarana. The flank of Mount Clysma would here be on the “right” of those traveling from Egypt through the Wadi. The mountain at whose base Castrum Clesma (= Clysma) was located is similarly described in the epitome of the unidentified pilgrim in Petrus Diaconus as being “on the right” of the Israelites as they approached it, as well as “on the right” of those approaching it from Egypt. The Israelites were traveling south-eastwards along the shore of the Red Sea from the direction of Suez, therefore Mount Clysma, running due west to east from the Nile valley, would be on their right hand (ed. Gamurrini p. 137f.):

Here {viz. at Castrum Clesma} is the place where the children of Israel arrived in their flight from Pharaoh, when they went forth from Egypt. The military post, or Castrum, was placed there at a subsequent date for defensive purposes, to keep law and order against the incursions of Sarracens. The location can be described as follows: everywhere there is barren desert, that is sandy plains, except for one mountain which inclines into the Sea. From the area on the far side of this mountain is gathered purple-colored marble {porphyry}. It is from this that the Red Sea receives its name, because here a mountain lying for a great distance along the edge of the Red Sea contains red or purple-colored stone. This mountain also is of a reddish tint. This mountain was on the right of the children of Israel as they escaped from Egypt, at the time they began to near the Sea. To those coming from Egypt the mountain is on the right, very steep, and reasonably high, like a wall, so you would think it had been carved out by human hand. The mountain is completely arid, to the extent it is devoid even of shrubbery.

“As the children of Israel departed from Ramesses they wandered on foot first through the intervening sandy regions, but when they neared the Red Sea, the mountain which appeared on their right came within close range, so following the edge of that mountain, they came to the Sea. The flank of that same mountain towered to the right of them, and the Sea was on their left, then promptly, as they got up to it, there came into view that place where the mountain and the Sea came together, and proceeded further to form a headland. The plain where the children of Israel spent the night in the company of Moses stretches out as far as the eye can see, and its level surface is of immense extent. The distance between the place where the mountain descends into the sea and Castrum Clesma is 500 paces, or one half a Roman mile. Between the Castrum and the mountain is an intervening place running out from the headland of the mountain, where the children of Israel and Pharaoh and his men entered the Sea. The distance to the other side where they crossed the Red Sea on dry land is eight Roman miles.”

The same headland is mentioned by Josephus in his account of how the Egyptians found the Hebrews camped by the sea (Ant. II. xv. 3):

“When the Egyptians came upon the Hebrews they prepared for battle, and drove them together into a restricted space by their superior force. For six hundred chariots pursued them, followed by 50,000 cavalry, and there were 200,000 foot-soldiers. These blocked the way by which the Hebrews expected to escape, trapping them between uncrossable headlands and the sea. For the mountain terminates at the sea, impassable by reason of the narrowness of the exits, making flight impossible. So at the junction of the mountain and the sea they hemmed in the Hebrews with their army, taking up their position at this bay, so as to preclude their exit onto the plain.”

The epitome of the account of the unidentified female pilgrim in Petrus Diaconus mentions that on the other side of the mountain running out into the sea, beside which was Castrum Clysma, was a mountain chain running along the shore of the Red Sea which was famous for its porphyry quarries. The following account of Wilkinson relating to Jebel Dokhan just over 1½ degrees south of Mount Clysma confirms the accuracy of that statement, and incidentally the location of Clysma in the account of the pilgrim.

On Mons Porphyrites, the “Porphyry Mountain”, op. cit. p. 42ff.

[This entry is dated May 6] At Gebel Dokhan, we had the satisfaction of seeing ruins of some extent; of viewing those vast quarries, from which Rome took so many superb pieces of porphyry to adorn her baths and porticos; of contemplating the labour and expense incurred in making so many fine roads, which cross the mountains in all directions; of walking in the streets and houses, of the old inhabitants of an ancient town; and, above all, of finding a temple in the midst of a now deserted and uninhabitable valley.

The chief difficulty in working these quarries was the want of water. It was removed by sinking two wells, one of which must have cost immense labour, being a shaft of about fifteen feet in diameter, sunk in a solid porphyry rock; it is now impossible to judge of its depth, being much filled up with earth, but there is still some distance to the spring; the actual depth of that part where it is solid rock is thirty-eight feet, and much more must be allowed for a good supply of water. It has a cistern attached to it, from which are led troughs for the cattle. The other well is more filled up, being altogether only twenty-two feet deep, with a diameter of fifteen feet; that part which is still visible is cased with stone. It is placed on one side of a circular space, which was perhaps once covered in, by means of a roof supported on pillars, five of which still remain. On them are scratched boats and various figures, also a few Greek letters above a cross. This last is near the town which the Arabs call Belet Kebeer, or the large village; the other is a ten minutes’ walk distant, and in another valley.

The town was situated on a small height, at the base of the eastern mountain, and contained many houses of various forms and dimensions. At the north end is a square, around which seem to have been shops, where they worked small porphyry mortars, judging from the number of unfinished ones we found in them. In another long apartment, are some round holes in the earth, cased with terra cotta, apparently for the purpose of washing some mineral, though I see no other marks of anything having been wrought here but porphyry. A house, perhaps that of the prefect, consists of an area, on each side of which are four pillars, which perhaps once supported a covering; beyond is a stuccoed cistern, and then a room, from which staircases lead to the upper story, at least to those rooms which are above, for the town is built on a declivity. The whole is surrounded by a wall, strengthened with towers placed according to the nature of the ground. I consider the whole as a military station, containing workshops, storehouses, and every thing which the place might require. On the outside of the wall, to the south, is a separate building, either a furnace or a bath, more probably the latter. Besides this town there are houses built on either side, at the base of the mountain, or upon the adjacent low hills, which were perhaps habitations of workmen. A little farther up the valley, to the south, is a small temple dedicated to Sarapis; it was never finished, though all the materials are on the spot; not a column was ever put up, nothing was completed but the step on which they were to stand, and which was to form the base of the portico. The order is Ionic, the mouldings very simple, and the architecture superior to anything one could have expected to find in these mountains. In the area, which was paved with rude flat stones, stands an altar without inscription; it is three feet two inches high, and was once stuccoed. All the architectural part of the temple is of red granite: the inner part, which may be said to consist of an adytum and two wings, is of the usual piled stones, like the houses of the station, and was once stuccoed. The whole was inclosed by a wall, at the north end of which was the door way, at the top of a flight of steps, which are placed at one side, instead of the front, evidently in order to avoid the torrent. On the architrave is the following inscription, of the time of Hadrian: … [omitted]

Sarapis, the god to whom the temple is dedicated, seems to have been a favourite deity among the miners, since to him alone are dedicated altars and temples in the two principal mountains of Dokhan and Fateere, from which the Romans took their porphyry and granite….

In the quarries there is nothing remarkable but the remains of a few furnaces for repairing and tempering the tools; for, it is evident, from the quantity of small chippings of porphyry, that the large blocks were chiseled, and, probably, nearly finished on the mountain. There were several small huts, and others, on the summit of the hill, for these seem to have been watch-towers, perhaps as look-outs, on the different heights; in one of these huts; a stone, which formed part of the wall, is inscribed with the name Socrates.

The western mountain presents more to interest the traveller. At the base of it is a small village, in which was worked the porphyry that was sent down by the superb road, which terminates here. The larger blocks were cut into sarcophagi, or baths, and tazze, in a court without the houses, which were themselves very small; many of the blocks are still in the position in which the workmen left them. The road which leads from this village up the mountain is fourteen paces broad: at the distance of about every twelve paces are piles of stones. Innumerable smaller roads diverge from it, in various directions, to the different quarries.

On the principal road are buttresses, or solid piles of stone, raised at intervals, probably for lowering the larger blocks; and in some parts we observed inclined descents, paved with great care, which must have been for the same purpose. It is probable that the column, or other kind of wrought stone, was placed on a sledge (similar to that represented in the grottoes of Massara), which was gently lowered by means of cranes attached to the buttresses.

The road, cut into the sides of the rock, is built over the beds of the smaller torrents, winds round the precipices of the larger ones, and is supported wherever the rock was not solid, by a well-built wall. From one of the quarries the stones had been thrown down over the road below, from which they had afterwards been cleared, either by carrying them away or by rolling them down to the ravine beneath: beyond this was a large quarry, in which we found an unfinished porphyry* column [Footnote: * All these quarries are of red porphyry, and of a most beautiful kind; it is that close-grained stone, so much of which is found, and still admired, amidst the ruins and magnificence of ancient and modern Rome. It has been thus described, ‘lapides porphyretici tenuibus astris distincti;’ and Pliny calls it ‘leucostictos,’ observing that it is interspersed with white spots ‘candidis iutervenientibus punctis.’]; its dimensions were twenty feet two inches long, by three feet six inches diameter. This, as well as several bases of columns higher up the mountain, sufficiently prove that large blocks were worked nine hundred or a thousand feet above the plain; nor was this without its advantage in a stone of so heavy a nature, particularly as the workmen were not deficient either in number or skill, and that, consequently, the risk of lowering the blocks was but trifling, when compared with the benefit arising from lessening their weight. Many of the blocks were raised on stones, that they might be more easily accessible to the workmen.

Some marks on the blocks seem to indicate the number of stones cut by each workman; and that the men who worked here were condemned* [Footnote: *I since find that Aristides, Orat. Aegypt. Oper., vol. iii., in speaking of this mountain says, that to these celebrated porphyry quarries were taken those malefactors who were condemned to the public works; and Eusebius tells us that Christians were also sent thither.] to complete a certain quantity of work, according to the offence for which they were sentenced; for nothing can induce me to think that any men but those who were condemned to this labour, would ever endure the heat and oppressive toil of cutting blocks from a porphyry quarry in a climate like this, unsheltered, as they must have been, from the scorching rays of a summer sun. Those who were employed in the valley, or lived in the town, had a better lot. It appears, from an inscription at Gertassy, in Nubia, that the workmen drew forth a certain number of stones, after which they were probably exempt from labour, unless condemned for life, as was sometimes their lot. The writer of that inscription, after having finished his task, very naturally performed his vow to the tutelary goddess of the quarries for his deliverance.

Continuing to ascend the mountain, we met with the base of a column three feet nine inches in diameter; and, beyond it, came to a steep inclined plane, similar to that on the eastern mountain. On the point of this height was a watch-tower, which though at some distance from the summit of the mountain, seems to shew the termination of the works here. In the valley, or ravine, to the N.W. of these quarries, is another village, but apparently of a later date than the Belet Kebeer; the walls of the houses are in good preservation, and the doorways and windows are still entire. It is built on either side of the bed of a torrent, whose course was confined within the walls which protected the houses from its force, and served as their foundations. On one side is a cistern, from which the water was admitted to the torrent by a small channel, leading obliquely from it; on the other is a large house, probably belonging to the commandant, at one end of which a flight of steps led to a terrace above. There were several mortars cut out of rough blocks, which had evidently been used on the spot, with the remains of furnaces, and much of the blue and other pottery. On ascending the western mountain, it struck me that the works there were of a posterior date to those on the eastern side of the valley, and the appearance of the village confirmed my opinion; indeed, after the time of Adrian, much porphyry was carried to and used at Rome; and the greater importance of this mountain may account for the unfinished state in which the temple of Adrian, in the other valley, was left. A little lower down this valley are other houses, in one of which we found a broken bath, and a tazza, which had merely received its shape.

Gebel Dokhan, ‘the mountain of smoke,’ is, perhaps, an old traditional name by which the people of this desert designated the spot when numerous furnaces continually smoked here; its Latin name was porphyrites mons.

It was long a matter of doubt where the famous porphyry quarries were situated, though so often mentioned by ancient writers: some went so far as to question whether Egypt produced this stone at all, because the quarries happened not to be on the Nile, and because Egyptian statues were rarely made of this material; it was supposed to have come from Arabia, and the ‘rubet porphyrites in eadem Aegypto’ of Pliny was not sufficiently convincing. But Ptolemy proves that the quarries were in the mountains which extend southward from the calcareous ridge of Troicus [lib. IV. c. 5], on the western side of the Arabian Gulf. {Troicus ran eastward of Memphis towards the Gulf of Suez, south of this along the western coast of the Gulf of Suez, within the same degree of latitude as Clysma Phrourion, at 28°, was what was called the “Alabaster Mountain”, and the next mountain-chain to the south was the “Porphyry Mountain”, Ptolemy, Geographia, IV. 5. §27.}

In the time of Claudius statues of porphyry were first taken to Rome by Triarius Pollio; but we do not learn that any quarries were then worked, or that the mountain from which the stone came was yet known to the Romans. It is probable, however, that the Egyptians, or Greco-Egyptians, wrought them long before the time of Claudius, though we find no proofs of this fact on the spot.

The objects for which the porphyry was used by the Greeks and Romans were principally baths, columns, tazze, statues, and for ornamenting their houses: we may also add, for making mortars, though I do not think the pyrrhoprecilum which Pliny says was in great request for that purpose, and which came from the Theba’is, was porphyry, but rather syenite. For statues porphyry was but ill suited from its hardness and colour, nor does it appear that they were ever much admired at Rome; but this stone served often for the drapery, while the heads, arms, and legs were of white marble. The lower age revived the bad taste of porphyry statues, and many are still in existence….”

The site near Antony’s monastery was the traditional site of the crossing well into the medieval period: (Epiphan. Hagiopol. c. 13th century AD, in Leo Allatius Symmykt. p. 55) “About a two days’ journey from St. Antony’s monastery one arrives at the Red Sea, and the rock where Moses stood and made a sign with his staff over the sea. The sea was then divided into twelve parts, according to the number of the tribes. He crossed over from there along with his people. The crossing was 18 miles in length {this is probably the width of the Gulf elsewhere, and not in the exact location of the crossing, since the same distance appears in Gregory of Tours infra as a general geographical measurement}. Next to that rock where the prophet stood oil poured forth. Emerging out of the sea there he came to Raithu {Tor, identified by ancient and modern monastic sources with the Biblical Elim}, where the seventy fathers were slain by the barbarians. {These were Coptic monks of the early period whose martyrdom was described by the monk Ammonius. On the cells of these ascetics, see the account of Wellsted supra, in the notes appended to Dated Inscription XI, “The Title”.}”

Orosius, History Against the Pagans, 1. 10, confirms the remains of Pharaoh’s chariots could be seen where the Israelites entered the sea in the fourth century AD:

“Soon afterward they dared to pursue the exiles and paid with their lives for their impious obstinacy. For the king of the Egyptians led his entire army, which included chariots and horsemen, against the wanderers. The size of the army may be inferred from this evidence, or at least chiefly therefrom, that once six hundred thousand men fled in terror before it. But the God who protects the oppressed and chastises the stubborn suddenly divided the waters of the Red Sea. On each side of the path opened, He formed the waters into motionless walls like unto mountains. He held these walls in position so that the good, encouraged by the hope that their journey was nearing its end, might enter unharmed upon the path leading to safety of which they had despaired, while the wicked should enter a pitfall where they would unexpectedly meet their death. After the Hebrews had thus passed in safety over the dry passage, the masses of stationary water collapsed behind them, overwhelming and destroying the whole host of Egypt together with its king. The entire province, which had previously been afflicted with plagues, was emptied by this final slaughter. Even at the present day there remain unmistakable evidences of these events. For the tracks left by the chariots and the ruts made by the wheels are visible not only on the shore but also in the deep as far as the eye can see; and if by chance these marks are at times disturbed, accidentally or purposely, Divine Providence at once restores them to their former appearance with the help of the wind and waves. Thus if a man be not taught the fear of God by the study of revealed religion, that fear may be borne in upon him by this example of God’s wrath.”

And in Gregory of Tours’ History of the Franks, 1. 10:

“Since many authorities have made varying statements about this crossing of the sea I have decided to give here some information concerning the situation of the place and the crossing itself. The Nile flows through Egypt, as you very well know, and waters it by its flood, from which the inhabitants of Egypt are named Nilicolæ {cultivators of the Nile}. And many travelers say its shores are filled at the present time with holy monasteries. And on its bank is situated, not the Babylonia of which we spoke above {in Mesopotamia}, but the city of Babylonia {i.e. Egyptian Sekhem, the modern Ausim, Greek Letopolis, later known as Babylon, and Old Cairo} in which Joseph built wonderful granaries of squared stone and rubble. They are wide at the base and narrow at the top in order that the wheat might be cast into them through a tiny opening, and these granaries are to be seen at the present day. From this city the king set out in pursuit of the Hebrews with armies of chariots and a great infantry force. Now the stream mentioned above coming from the east passes in a westerly direction towards the Red Sea; and from the west a lake or arm of the Red Sea {viz. the Gulf of Suez} juts out and stretches to the east {strictly south-east}, being about fifty miles long and eighteen wide. And at the head of this lake {sic} the city of Clysma is built, not on account of the fertility of the soil, since there is nothing more barren, but because of the harbor, since ships coming from the Indias lie there for the convenience of the harbor; and the wares purchased there are carried through all Egypt. Toward this arm the Hebrews hastened through the wilderness, and they came to the sea itself and encamped, finding fresh water. It was in this place, shut in by the wilderness as well as by the sea, that they encamped, as it is written: “Pharaoh, hearing that the sea and the wilderness shut them in and that they had no way by which they could go, set out in pursuit of them.” And when they were close upon them and the people cried to Moses, he stretched out his staff over the sea, according to the command of the Deity, and it was divided, and they walked on dry ground, and, as the Scripture says, they crossed unharmed under Moses’ leadership, a wall of water on either hand, to that shore which is before Mount Sinai, while the Egyptians were drowned. And many tales are told of this crossing, as I have said. But we desire to insert in this account what we have learned as true from the wise, and especially from those who have visited the place. They actually say that the furrows which the wheels of the chariots made remain to the present time and are seen in the deep water as far as the eye can trace them. And if the roughness of the sea obliterates them in a slight degree, when the sea is calm they are divinely renewed again as they were. Others say that they returned to the very bank where they had entered, making a small circuit through the sea. And others assert that all entered by one way; and a good many, that a separate way opened to each tribe, giving this evidence from the Psalms: “Who divided the Red Sea in parts.” [Ps. 135:13] But these parts ought to be understood according to the spirit and not according to the letter. For there are many parts in this world, which is figuratively called a sea. For all cannot pass to life; equally or by one way. Some pass in the first hour, that is those who are born anew by baptism and are able to endure to the departure from this life unspotted by any defilement of the flesh. Others in the third hour, plainly those who are converted later in life; others in the sixth hour, being those who hold in check the heat of wanton living. And in each of these hours, as the evangelist relates, they are hired for the work of the Lord’s vineyard, each according to his faith. These are the parts in which the passage is made across this sea. As to the opinion that upon entering the sea they kept close to the shore and returned, these are the words which the Lord said to Moses: “Let them turn back and encamp before Phiahiroth {Pi-hahiroth} which is between Magdalum {Migdol} and the sea before Belsephon {Baal-Zephon}.” There is no doubt that this passage of the sea and the pillar of cloud typified our baptism, according to the words of the blessed Paul the apostle: “I would not, brethren, have you ignorant that our fathers were all under the cloud and all baptized unto Moses in the cloud and in the sea.” And the pillar of fire typified the holy Spirit. Now from the birth of Abraham to the going forth of the children of Israel from Egypt and the crossing of the Red Sea, which was in the eightieth year of Moses, there are reckoned four hundred and sixty-two years.”

Following: detail of the transit of the Israelites across the Red Sea and the post-transit stations:

Map of the Transit and Post-transit Stations of the Israelites

The Stations from the Crossing to Sinai: Marah, Elim, the Red Sea, Sin, Dophkah, Alush, Rephidim

According to Cosmas Indicopleustes the Israelites passed over the sea to “Phoinikon” on the other side. Phoinikon, the “Palm Grove” is mentioned by Diodorus Siculus and Strabo. Because it is described as having an abundance of trees and refreshing water, it has been identified with two places: (1) the palm-grove in El-Wadi near Tor on the coast, and (2) the palm-grove of Pharan in Wadi Feiran. These are the only notable palm-groves in locations near the western seaboard of the Sinai peninsula, where the ancient accounts locate Phoinikon. The palm-grove near Tor is certainly ample, and of the oases in the peninsula is only outshone by the amazingly verdant and extensive palm-grove in Wadi Feiran. But Cosmas’ account rules out Tor: he mentions Phoinikon first and then Tor, the latter in a different location altogether from Phoinikon. He calls Tor by its ancient name Raithu, and identifies it with the Biblical Elim, which was several days’ journey from where the Israelites emerged out of the sea, and also separated from it by the notable halting-place of Marah. Cosmas locates Phoinikon likewise well up the coast from Tor, that is, by implication, in a position directly east of, and opposite to, Clysma at the foot of Mount Clysma, where the Israelites entered the sea.

According to the unidentified pilgrim in the epitome of Petrus Diaconus it was a three days’ journey of 35 Roman miles from Marah to Elim (Cosmas’ Raithu), and a three days’ journey intervened also between the exit from the sea and Marah. That suggests the exit from the sea (Phoinikon in Cosmas) was approximately 70 Roman miles up the coast north-westwards from Tor (Raithu). 70 Roman miles from Tor brings one to the vicinity of the mouth of Wadi Feiran where it meets the Red Sea. Therefore Phoinikon clearly was Wadi Feiran.

Wadi Feiran can be approached through various wadis from the sea-shore, not only through the mouth of Wadi Feiran, but also through Wadi Sidri and Wadi Shellal, Maghara and Mukatteb further north, which latter lead out to the sea over the plain of Murkha. Any and all of these approaches could be viewed as extensions of Phoinikon. The plain of Murkha is almost directly opposite Mount Clysma, and it is likely the Israelites emerged from their miraculous transit on the plain of Murkha, and the neighboring shoreline as far south as the mouth of Wadi Feiran.

Albright discovered the remains of a small port, or rather beaching-site for ships, towards the north of the plain of Murkha dating from the New Kingdom period, which was the era of the Exodus. This was probably the place where materials for and from the mines at Serabit el-Khadim were shipped by the Egyptians. The site has recently been re-identified and examined more thoroughly. The likelihood is, considering its position, that the mining materials were shipped directly across the Gulf to Wadi Arabah near the later site of Clysma, and so to the Nile south of Memphis. In that case, the Israelites nearly followed in their transit the shipping route to the mines in Sinai. Mining and shipping activities in the vicinity are evidence that the sea here was well known to the Egyptians at the time of the Exodus, and confirms the possibility that an idol at the same spot, the idol of Baal-Zephon, would be a landmark recognized both by the Egyptian authorities and by Moses. Baal-Zephon’s divine spouse, Baalat, who was like him a Canaanite divinity, and identified with the native Egyptian goddess Hathor, was the deity most revered in Serabit el-Khadim.

According to Diodorus Siculus and Strabo there was adjacent to Phoinikon in their much later period a coastal area called Poseideion, so called after an altar to the sea-god Poseidon set up by Aristo, a Greek officer of the Hellenistic ruler of Egypt. From Poseideion one passed Phoinikon by ship on the way to the mouth of the Gulf of Suez. This implies Poseideion was somewhat north of Phoinikon. It is precisely the region of the sea just north of Wadi Feiran and Murkha that was called Birket Gurundel, the Lake of Gurundel, after the idol standing on the mountain washed by the waves. Gurundel is probably the Arabic name for the god identified as Poseidon by the Greeks, viz. the original Baal-Zephon of the era of the Exodus, the deity believed to be responsible for the dangerous currents in that part of the Gulf and therefore also for the shipping routes through them. Poseidon would be a natural Greek substitute for such a divinity, particularly as Poseidon’s spouse, Demeter, was equated commonly with the Egyptian Isis, Isis with Hathor, the presiding deity of the mines at Serabit el-Khadim, and Hathor with Baalat, the consort of Baal-Zephon. The location of the altar of Poseidon seems to have been at the spot known as Abu Zenneh (or Abu Zenimah), in the mountainous cliffs rising up from the narrow sea-shore just south of Wadi Garandel. The Arab tradition remembers this place as an ancient pagan shrine of “the horse of the monkey” (Husan Abu Zenneh). Monkey is a term of insult, meaning “infidel, idolater, apostate” etc. and doubtless refers to the pagan god himself. His horse, according to the legend, was a mare and a mother-to-be, who received offerings of barley and wheat from the idolaters at a pile of stones, and was famous for making an enormous leap. These characteristics suggest the stones were the remains of the altar of Poseidon. Poseidon was called Hippios (“Horse-god”) and consorted with his divine spouse Demeter (the “Mother,” specifically of the goddess Kore) in the form of a mare. Demeter was a Corn-goddess. The wide strides and amazing agility of Poseidon’s horses were well-known, because they symbolized the surging waves of the sea. The following account is from Budge, Cook’s Handbook for Egypt and the Sudan, 1906, vol 2, p. 534f. “The Arab legend of the mare of Abu Zena is given in the Ordnance Survey of the Peninsula of Sinai, Part I, p. 67, and runs thus: ‘An Arab named Abu Zena was riding a mare that was with foal, and, notwithstanding her condition, was urging her along at a cruel speed. When she came to the spot which now bears her name, he dug his spurs into her sides, whereupon she made a tremendous bound, and immediately after foaled and fell down dead. Abu Zena, in wonder at the immense length of the stride which his unfortunate beast had taken, marked the distance with stones, and related the incident to his friends. The matter was soon noised abroad, and every Arab that came by would relate the story, marking out the distance as he did so with a stone. Admiration for the mare’s performance soon grew with the pagan Arabs of that time into a stronger feeling of veneration, and the mare was worshipped as a deity, and offerings of corn were brought to the spot. But when they forsook idolatry, and came to look upon their previous idols as devils, they turned their late idolatrous observance into ridicule, and an expression of aversion from the demon supposed to haunt the spot; and instead of bringing offerings of barley or wheat they would throw pebbles on the heap, and kick a little sand on it with their feet, crying “Eat that and get thee gone” (‘Agsa allig’). This custom is kept up to the present day, and no Arab passes the spot without kicking the sand and throwing a pebble on to the heap of stones, exclaiming as he does so, ‘Agsa allig’.’ In ancient days there was a harbour here, and it was at this point that the copper, malachite, and turquoise stones brought down from the mines were exported to Egypt. Tradition points to this place as the site of the Israelitish camp after the Hebrews had crossed the sea. [My emphasis.]”

Poseidon on His Horse the original Abu Zenneh

The same geography of Cosmas incidentally confirms the traditional and modern monastic identification of Raithu (= Elim) and Tor, as the El-Wadi gardens adjacent to Tor are the only notable palm-grove south-east along the coast from the exit out of the sea opposite Clysma. The attempt by travelers since Breitenbach to locate Elim at Wadi Garandel falls with the theory that the Israelites crossed the sea near Suez, as Garandel is located the required distance south-east from Suez, but north-west of the true exit at the Plain of Murkha and the mouth of Wadi Feiran. In any case only wet patches in the sand can be found in Garandel to correspond to the “twelve springs” of Elim and a few bedraggled palms, but the fountains and luxurious palm-groves of El-Wadi amply match the Biblical description. Cosmas himself and other ancient writers noted the seventy Biblical palms at Elim had greatly multiplied already in their day, and the same can be seen to be true today in respect of the palms at El-Wadi.

Midway between the place where the Israelites exited the Sea and Elim, was Marah, reached after three days wandering in the Wilderness of Shur. The epitome of the unidentified pilgrim in Petrus Diaconus separates the Wilderness of Shur from Marah itself, placing one halting-place “on the Sea” between them. Moses sweetened the “bitter” waters (“Marah” means “bitter” in Hebrew), by throwing parts of a tree into them, as God directed him. According to the epitome of the unidentified pilgrim in Petrus Diaconus it was three days’ journey from the exit from the Sea to Marah, and three days’ journey, likewise, in this case stated to be 35 Roman miles, from Marah to Elim. The latter being Tor, Marah must have been just over 32 statute (modern) miles (= 35 Roman miles) north or north-west from Tor. This identifies Marah clearly as the oases of and around Wadi Thaghad at the western foot of Mount Serbal, where the mountain meets the Plain of Kaa. This region is located some 11 statue miles or 12 Roman miles south of the western portion of Wadi Feiran as it courses to the Gulf. There are a well of good water, palms and numerous seyal (Biblical “shittim”) trees and a few ruined houses at the mouth of Wadi Abura, palms and water too at the neighboring Wadi Gurdi, and a grove of palms and several wells at Wadi Thaghad itself, just over half a mile away. Thaghad (“Throttling”) was so named from the bad dates produced by the palms there which, when eaten, gagged in the throat. These springs are at the required distance, and are the most significant water-sources in the otherwise barren wasteland of Kaa. Some of them have a trace of their original, undrinkable, brackish (“bitter”) quality, but are still welcome refreshment, considering the nature of their surroundings. In the nineteenth century the wells at Wadi Thaghad were much frequented by the Bedouin on their way to and from Suez on the Tor route, and were one of the main places where their water-skins were refilled. This location fell most probably within the Biblical “Desert of Sin”, which is located specifically in the Bible between Elim (Tor) and Sinai (Serbal). It corresponds roughly to the modern Arabic Desert of Kaa. This is the broad desolate plain running between the low coastal Arabah mountain range and the high mountain ranges of the interior. Such a location explains why the epitome of the unidentified pilgrim in Petrus Diaconus actually distances Marah somewhat from the Wilderness of Shur, as in this case it belonged more properly to the Wilderness of Sin.


Map of area between Elim (El-Wadi near Tor) and Sinai (Jebel Serbal) from R. Weil, La Presqu’ile du Sinai, Paris, 1908, p. 186 (modified).


Braces {} enclose my comments. The Account of the Monk Ammonius on the Slaughter of the Holy Fathers by the Barbarians in Mount Sinai and Raithu, ed. Combefis, Paris, 1660, p. 95f.:

“There came an Ishmaelite, telling us, that all the ascetics who dwelt in the interior desert called Raithu {Tor} had died at the hands of the Moors. This place was two days’ journey distant from us {viz. from Mount Sinai, which therefore must be Serbal, Katrina being three days’ journey from Tor} in the coastal regions bordering the Red Sea; there also are the twelve fountains and the seventy palms, as the Scripture says, though by now they have increased in number.”

Cosmas Indicopleustes, Christian Topography, Book V, MS. p. 195f., ed. Migne 88, cols. 198ff.: “When the Israelites, therefore, had crossed over to the other side to what was called Phoinikon, they began to walk through the wilderness of Shur, God spreading over them by day a cloud for shade from the heat of the sun, and guiding them by it, and by night appearing in a pillar of fire, and so leading them through the whole wilderness, as it is written, “He spread a cloud for a shade to them, and fire to light up the night for them”. This can be depicted as follows: [Picture omitted.]

“After this, in the next place, journeying from Marah, they came to Elim, which we call Raithu. Here were twelve fountains, which remain to this day. But the palms have become much more numerous. Up to this point they had the sea on their right hand, and the desert on their left. But from henceforth they take the upper road to the mountain, turning their back on the sea, and moving onwards into the wilderness. Here, being midway between Elim and Mount Sinai, at this part of their route, the manna fell down on them; and here, first, they kept the Sabbath day, according to the commandments which God gave Moses unwritten at Marah. This can be depicted as follows: [Picture omitted]

“{This passage in italics recapitulates the account supra and was originally appended to the picture of the events described.} Thus arrived at Elim from Marah, and again journeying onwards midway between Elim and Mount Sinai, into the desert of that region, the quails descended on them in the evening, and in the morning the manna. And there, again, they first began to observe the Sabbath, the manna being preserved from the sixth to the Sabbath day.

“After this, they next pitched at Rephidim, in the locality now named Pharan. And they being athirst, Moses went forth by command of God, with the elders, bearing the rod in his hand, to Mount Horeb, that is, to Sinai, which is about six miles distant from Pharan {proving Sinai = Serbal}; and there having smote the rock, “many waters” gushed out, and the people drank: as David, also, exclaims in the Psalms, “He clave asunder the rock in the wilderness, and gave them drink as out of the great abyss;” and again, “He clave asunder the rock, and the waters gushed out: rivers ran forth in the waterless places;” and again, “He drew forth water from the rock, and drew down waters like rivers.” The Apostle Paul, also, saith, “For they drank of that spiritual rock which followed them, and that rock was Christ:” as though he would say, “As he gave these to drink copiously of the water which flowed in exhaustless abundance out of the rock, so unto us Christ supplies life-giving streams through the mysteries, of which gift the rock was a type.””

Re.: Phoinikon and neighboring Poseideion (altar to Poseidon erected by Aristo[n]), and the Red Sea thereabouts.

Diodorus Siculus Bk. iii. 40-43. trans. Booth (modified), Diodorus citing Agatharchides, middle second century BC, beginning with a description of the western coast of the Gulf of Suez:

“[40] Then, sailing on farther from these parts, appear many of those nations called the Ichthyophages, dispersed along the sea-shore; and many likewise of those Troglodytes called Nomades; several mountains likewise present themselves in this course, as far as to the haven called Safe-port, which gained this name from some Greeks that first sailed into these parts, and there arrived safe.

“Thence passing on, the gulf begins to grow narrower, and bends its course towards Arabia: and the peculiar property of the places is such, that both the nature of the sea, and the soil, seem to be changed; for the land appears very flat and low, without any hills or rising ground, and the sea seems to he muddy and green all over, and is not above two fathoms and a half deep. This greenness is not ascribed to the nature of the water, but to the abundance of moss and sea-grass that grows at the bottom, and casts their color through the water. {Hence the name Yam Suf, “Reedy/Weedy Sea”, amongst the Hebrews.}

“This part is very safe and commodious for small ships with oars, because the sea is there very calm, and no roughness of the waves for many leagues; and there they take abundance of fish. But the mariners that transport elephants run into great and desperate hazards, by reason of the strong built ships they use for that purpose, and the depth of water they draw. For oftentimes they are so driven by the violence of the winds, at full sail in the night time, that they are either split upon the rocks, or stranded upon some of the deep sanded necks of land thereabouts; and there is no going for the mariners out of the ship, because the ford is above the height of any man; neither can they force the ship in the least forward with their poles: and although they throw all overboard but their victuals, yet (even while they have provision) they are reduced to the utmost extremities; for neither island, promontory, or ship, is to be seen in these parts, being desert, and seldom frequented by mariners.

“And to the other inconveniences, this further is an addition; the violent waves on a sudden raise up such heaps of sand out of the channel, and so enclose the ship, as if men on purpose had fixed it to some continent: being plunged into this calamity, at first they only gently and modestly breathe out their complaints to a doleful wilderness, which regards them not, yet not altogether despairing of deliverance.

“For often, by the raging working of the sea, the ship is mounted up on high above the heaps of sand, and so the poor creatures that were in this desperate condition are unexpectedly (as by some god, assisting them out of an engine) delivered. But if this help from God do not intervene, when their provision grows low, the stronger throw the weaker overboard, that the meat that is left may last the longer for the support of those few that remain: but at length, when all hope of safety is gone, and provision spent, these few die far more miserably than those that perished before: for these, in a moment of time, give up that breath which nature had given them, but those (by prolonging their misery, and dividing, as it were, their sorrows into several parts) die at last with more lingering torments. The ships, being in this miserable manner deprived of their pilots and mariners, continue a long time as so many solitary sepulchers; and at length, being buried in heaps of sand, their lofty masts and main-yards remain only spectacles to move compassion in them that see them afar off: for, by the king’s command, the monuments of these misfortunes are not to be touched, but are to remain as sea-marks to mariners to avoid those dangerous places.

It has been an ancient report among the Ichthyophages, (the inhabitants of those tracts) continued down to them from their forefathers, that by a mighty reflux of the sea (which happened in former days) where the sea is thus green, the whole gulf became dry land, and appeared green all over, and that the water overflowed the opposite shore, and that all the ground being thus bare to the very lowest bottom of the gulf, the water, by an extraordinary high tide, returned again into the ancient channel.

“….These are the utmost bounds of Troglodyta (known to us) ….

“[42] And now we shall pass over to the other side of the gulf {the eastern shore of the Gulf of Suez, the western shore of the Sinai Peninsula}, and take a view of the regions lying towards Arabia, beginning again at that part of the seashore which is called Poseideion, because Ariston erected there an altar in honor of Poseidon, when Ptolemy sent him to discover the Arabian coast as far as to the ocean. From thence to the mouth of the gulf {therefore, south of Poseideion}, is a place along the sea-coast, of great esteem, among the inhabitants for the profit it yields them: it is called Phoinikon {the Palm-Grove, in Wadi Feiran}, because they {palms} abound there, and are so very fruitful, that they yield sufficient both for pleasure and necessity. But the whole country next adjoining is destitute of rivers and brooks, and, lying to the south, is even burned up by the heat of the sun, and therefore this fruitful tract that lies amongst dry and barren regions, (far remote from tillage and improvement), and yet affords such plenty of food and provision, is justly by the barbarians dedicated to the gods. For there are in it many fountains and running streams as cold as snow, by which means the region from one side to the other is always green and flourishing, and very sweet and pleasant to the view. In this place there is an ancient altar of hard stone {presumably the altar of Moses mentioned by the unidentified female pilgrim at the foot of Sinai-Serbal}, with an inscription in old and illegible characters {viz. the Sinaitic inscriptions}; where a man and a woman (that execute here the priest’s office during their lives) have the charge of the grove and altar. They are persons of quality and great men that abide here, and for fear of the beasts, have their beds (they rest upon) in the trees ….

{The succeeding passage, which is omitted, describes the next destination for those sailing past the coast, viz. one of the islands in or near the Straits of Tirana at the southern extremity of the Sinai peninsula.}

“[43] The coast next adjoining {this passage returns to the description of coastal regions adjoining Phoinikon on the south} has been anciently inhabited by the Maranites {Maranitae, cf. the Biblical name Marah for the isolated water sources around Wadi Thaghad in the Desert of Kaa, this desert similarly adjoining Wadi Feiran, i.e. Phoinikon, on the south}, and afterwards by the Garindaneans, their neighbours, who got possession in this manner. {The Garindaneans were presumably inhabitants originally of the seacoast northwards of Marah/Kaa, that is, around the identically-named idol Gurundul/Garandel, their original homeland corresponding to, or forming part of, the Biblical Desert of Etham/Shur. Their name is likely to have spread south into the territory originally occupied by the Maranites around the Desert of Kaa, when they supplanted the latter. It may have become attached to the Roman fort in Tor, which is spelled “Arandara” (for Garandala?) in the epitome of the unidentified pilgrim in Petrus Diaconus, and Surandala (for Gurandala?) in the Itinerary of the Pilgrim of Placentia (ed. Geyer, 41). This name and derivation has been used to support the erroneous identification of Elim with Wadi Garandel in the north, which was the original home territory of the Garindaneans, that is, Elim = Arandara/Surandala (meaning originally the Roman fort at Tor), and the latter name = Garandel, therefore Wadi Garandel has been presumed to be Elim but the name was much wider spread than in the area of that single northern wadi.}

“At the festival celebrated every fifth year in Phoinikon, a great concourse of the neighbours meet together from all parts, both to sacrifice stall-fed camels to the gods of the grove, and likewise to carry some of the spring-water that rises there back into their own country, which they say is health-giving.

“The Garindaneans taking the opportunity when the Maranites were gone to the feast, cut the throats of all those that remained at home, and lay in wait for those that returned, and in their way homeward, slew all them likewise; and so, the country being by this means depopulated, they divided that fruitful region, and those rich pastures for flocks and herds, by lot amongst themselves.

“But this coast has very few harbors in it, by reason of the many vast mountains that lie all along as they sail; from whence is presented to the view such variety of colors, that they afford a most wonderful and delightful prospect to the passengers at sea as they sail along.”

Strabo Geographia Bk. XVI c. 4, trans. Hamilton and Falconer (modified), citing Artemidorus, who borrowed from Agatharchides:


“5. Artemidorus3 says ….

“{The translators’ Footnote:} 3. The long and interesting passage from §5 to the end of §20 is taken from Artemidorus, with the exception of a very few facts, which our author has taken from other sources, accompanied by observations of his own. On comparing this fragment of Artemidorus with the extracts of Agatharchides preserved by Photius, and the description of Arabia and Troglodytica which Diodorus Siculus (b. iii. 31) says he derived from Agatharchides, we find an identity, not only in almost all the details, but also in a great number of the expressions. It is, therefore, evident that Artemidorus, for this part of his work, scarcely did anything more than copy Agatharchides. Agatharchides, in his youth, held the situation of secretary or reader to Heraclides Lembus, who (according to Suidas) lived in the reign of Ptolemy Philometor. This king died BC. 146. He wrote a work on Asia in 10 books, and one on Europe in 49 books; a geographical work on the Erythraean Sea in 5 books; a treatise on the Troglodytae in 5 books; and other works. He wrote in the Attic dialect. His style, according to Photius, was dignified and perspicuous, and abounded in sententious passages, which inspired a favourable opinion of his judgment. In the composition of his speeches he was an imitator of Thucydides, whom he equalled in dignity, and excelled in clearness. His rhetorical talents also are highly praised by Photius. He was acquainted with the language of the Ethiopians, and appears to have been the first who discovered the true cause of the inundations of the Nile, See Smith, art. Agatharchides.


“18. Having given this account of the Troglodytes and of the neighbouring Ethiopians, Artemidorus returns to the Arabians. Beginning from Poseideion, he first describes those who border upon the Arabian Gulf, and are opposite to the Troglodytes. He says that this {viz. the Heroopolitan Gulf where Poseideion was located} is situated further in than {viz. recessed more deeply than} the bay of Aila {= the Gulf of Akaba}, and that contiguous to Poseideion is Phoinikon, well supplied with water, which is highly valued, because all the district around is burnt up and is without water or shade. But there the fertility of the palm is prodigious. A man and a woman are appointed by hereditary right to the guardianship of the grove. They wear skins, and live on dates. They sleep in huts built on trees, the place being infested with multitudes of wild beasts.”

Nonnosus apud Photius Bibli. III: trans. Freese (modified).

“Read the History of Nonnosus, containing a description of his embassy to the Ethiopians, Amerites, and Saracens, then a most powerful nation, as well as to other Eastern peoples. At this time {6th century AD} Justinian was emperor of the Romans, and Caisus chief of the Saracens. …..

“He tells us that most of the Saracens, those who live in Phoinikon {Feiran}, as well as in the mountains of Phoinikon {the Serbal range} and the neighboring Taurenian mountains {probably the same as the modern designation “Tur”, deriving from the Aramaic word for mountain, and applied to Jebel Musa and surrounding peaks, as well as to the port of Tur or Tor}, have a sacred meeting-place consecrated to one of the gods, where they assemble twice a year. One of these meetings lasts a whole month, almost to the middle of spring, when the sun enters Taurus; the other lasts two months, and is held after the summer solstice. During these meetings complete peace prevails, not only amongst themselves, but also with all the natives; even the animals are at peace both with themselves and with human beings. Other strange, more or less fabulous information is also given.”

The Bifurcation of the Route of the Israelites to Sinai after Elim

The Bible records the Israelites departed from the Wilderness of Sin, i.e. the Plain of Kaa, heading to Rephidim (Wadi Feiran), “on their journeyings” (plural, Exodus 17. 1), a phrase which only occurs once more (Numbers 10. 12), viz. when they departed from Sinai a year later. This could indicate a bifurcation in their route, since the Book of Exodus (16. 1, 17. 1, 19. 1) lists the relevant stations as Elim, Wilderness of Sin, and Rephidim, then finally the Desert of Sinai at the foot of the mountain, whilst the Book of Numbers (ch. 33. 10-15) lists the stations as Elim, the Red Sea, the Wilderness of Sin, Dophkah, Alush, Rephidim and the Desert of Sinai. There are three extra stations in Numbers, the Red Sea, Dophkah and Alush. Since the most direct route to Sinai (Serbal) from Elim (Tor), was straight across the Desert of Kaa (viz. the Wilderness of Sin) and then up the wadis at the southern and eastern flanks of Sinai (Serbal) to Rephidim (Wadi Feiran), this may have been the route taken by one group of Israelites. Cosmas says correctly that on the way to Elim the Israelites had the Red Sea on their right. Then leaving Elim across the Wilderness of Sin to Sinai they had the sea to their backs. As they crossed the Wilderness of Sin the quails and manna fell upon the camp. A longer route than this was to skirt the Red Sea coast and the coastal chain Arabah into the western end of Wadi Feiran as it heads to the sea, then to follow the course of the wadi east till it turns sharp south and east towards Serbal. This longer route would be more suitable for herds of cattle, as it was relatively level, and did not involve negotiating steep, narrow, paths up the flanks and foothills of Serbal like the first.

In that case, the Red Sea station would be somewhere at the foot of the coastal Arabah chain north-westwards along the coast from Tor, on the way to Wadi Feiran. Dophkah has been thought since the nineteenth century to be the Hebrew transcription of the Egyptian Ta-mafkat, the “Turquoise Land”, which is what they called the area around Serabit el-Khadim and Wadi Maghara where turquoise was mined. Since Wadi Maghara is one of the wadis extending out from, and connected in an unbroken chain on the north and north-west to, Wadi Feiran, it is possible, indeed likely, that the term Ta-mafkat, and therefore the Hebrew Dophkah, covered some part or parts of Wadi Feiran. This suits the second extended route. Alush has been commonly identified with El Hesue, since Alush is traditionally explained to mean “a crowd of men”, and El Hesue means just that in Arabic. El Hesue is a pleasant oasis, not far from where the great turn south-east occurs in Wadi Feiran.

As regards Rephidim and Sinai itself, the following nineteenth century accounts identify the sites precisely.

The Mosaic associations of Wadi Feiran

Wadi Feiran at the foot of Mount Serbal

Rothenberg (God’s Wilderness, New York, 1962, p. 10f.) writes as follows on changes inflicted in recent times on the Sinai peninsula: “I could not help being struck by the great changes which had taken place, in the last century or two, not merely in individual sites, but in whole landscapes …. There were times when it seemed to me that the very air had changed. On the one hand I saw neglect, on the other industrialization or abortive attempts to change the character of the inhabitants: a beautiful spring (Ain el Qudeirat) covered up with an ugly structure of reinforced concrete, a purling stream forced into a strait-jacket of iron pipes, nomadic Beduin shepherds turned into peasants tied to the soil.” In the following pages nineteenth-century accounts are used to illustrate traditions and customs of the Sinai relating to the Israelite wanderings. These are more valuable in many respects than modern treatments, because the Sinaitic landscape and culture were preserved up to that time in something not too far removed from their original condition, minimally affected by influences from the West.

Wadi Feiran with a glimpse of Mount Serbal in the background

J. Gardner Wilkinson in John Murray Handbook for Egypt and Sudan p. 285ff.

“Leaving the point where the Wady Igne joins the Seih Sidreh, we continue along the latter till its junction with the Wady Mukatteb (the “Written Valley”) (5 miles), a broad shallow watercourse, with terraced cliffs, piled up at the base with crumbling blocks and fragments. It derives its name from the so-called Sinaitic inscriptions with which its rocks abound. These inscriptions are to be found in more or less abundance all the way from Wady Igne to the head of Wady Mukatteb, but the greater number of them occur in clusters in the space of about a mile at the lower end of this wady. They are generally found in the lower strata of sandstone. At one time supposed to be of great antiquity, they are now proved {sic!!!} to be the work of Christian hermits and pilgrims of certainly not earlier than the 4th century. The language in which they are written, according to Prof. Palmer, is a dialect of the Aramaic tongue, and the letters a link between the ordinary Hebrew and Cufic. The inscriptions consist generally of the writer’s name, with some conventional formula attached. From the watershed at the head of Wady Mukatteb the view is very beautiful, presenting striking contrasts of form and colour. On the E. is a magnificent red granite mountain, Jebel Merzegah.

“The road now descends from the summit level, and enters a wide boulder-strewn valley towards Wady Feiran (4 miles), the grandest of all the Sinaitic wadies. About a mile up the valley, at the mouth of Wady Nisreen, are some stone circles and cairns, probably sepulchral monuments of a very early date. There are some 14 or 15 circles closely grouped together, and of from 10 to 20 ft. in diameter. In the centre of each is a cist, about 4 ft. long, 2½ft. broad, and 2½ ft. deep, composed of four large stones, and a covering slab. Inside the cists have been found human bones, teeth, &c., and in one instance a small bracelet of copper, lance and arrowheads, and a necklace of marine shells. Though the bones were decomposed, the outline of the body could be traced, placed on its left side, in the bent position usually considered one of the oldest forms of burial.

“The Wady Feiran now opens out into a succession of long open reaches, with Jebel Serbal and its neighbouring peaks filling up the background. The soil is a crisp granite gravel, with here and there tracts strewn with boulders or shingle. The rich colouring of the sandstone rocks is now exchanged for the somewhat more sober hues, but more varied outlines, of granite, gneiss &c. As we advance farther the bed of the wady narrows, and the scenery becomes grander at every step. At a sharp angle of the valley, on its right bank, is a large block of fallen granite covered with a heap of pebbles and small stones. This is called Hesy el Khattateen (11 miles), and is declared by the Bedaween to be the identical rock struck by Moses to supply the thirsty Israelites (Ex. xvii. 6). It should be noted that we are again on the most probable route taken by the Israelites, who are supposed to have come up Wady Feiran from the sea. {This tradition is in accord with the proposed bifurcation of the route of the Israelites from Elim, those with cattle being presumed to have entered Wadi Feiran near the sea and to have proceeded along its entire length to Serbal.} Contrary to most of the traditional sites in the peninsula {sic}, this rock is just where we should expect to find it. The Amalekites, encamped three miles higher up the valley at Rephidim (Feiran), cut off all access to the water supply there {sic}, and the eager thirst of the Israelites, after three weary marches without coming to any springs, may well at last have caused the murmurings described in the sacred narrative, when they found themselves cut off from the hoped-for oasis {sic}. The grandeur and desolation of the scenery now becomes almost overpowering, and the eye rests with pleasure on the little oasis of El Hesweh, to be followed not long after by the welcome sight of the great palm-grove of Feiran, a rich mass of dark-green foliage winding eastward through the hills. A rugged valley, Wady ‘Aleyat, at whose head stands Jebel Serbal, here comes in from the south-east; and in the centre of the open space caused by their junction stands a low hillock, El Maharrad (3 miles) crowned with ruins. In this pleasant oasis the traveller will pitch his tent with delight, and, if he can, devote at least one, still better two days to an examination of the surrounding district.

“Chief among the objects of interest to some will be Jebel Serbal, the ascent of which mountain will occupy a whole day, and should not be undertaken by any but good walkers and climbers, as the way is hard and toilsome, and the climbing near the summit requires a steady head, and some experience in mountaineering. The ascent from Feiran will take about 5 hrs. Jebel Serbal is in many ways the most striking mountain of the peninsula; it rises abruptly to a height of 4000 ft. above the valleys at its base, and its summit, a ridge about 3 miles long, is broken into a series of beautifully outlined peaks of nearly the same height. The loftiest, 6734 ft., is towards the eastern extremity of the ridge. Some writers have identified Serbal with the Mount Sinai of the Bible, but all the best recent authorities agree {sic} in considering that the topographical requirements of the Bible narrative are not met by its position. There is no large plain in its vicinity on which the Israelites could have encamped in sight of the mountain: a sufficiently fatal objection in itself. {This ignores Lepsius’ arguments in favor of Wadi Aleyat at the foot of Serbal as the center of the encampment. The present-day difficulty encountered in traversing Wadi Aleyat is explained by the fact that a tremendous cataclysm occurred when God descended on the peak of Mount Sinai, which caused the whole mountain to shake violently, and strewed Wadi Aleyat at its base, where most of the Israelites were gathered, with boulders and debris.}

“The way to Jebel Serbal lies up the Wady ‘Aleyat, a broad rugged valley, with a few trees and a little herbage. At the upper part of the wady, which rises rapidly in its 3 miles’ course, are some springs of cool water and a few palms. The path now enters the lower slopes of Serbal. Hence to the summit basin from which the peaks rise there are two principal paths, or goat-tracks, one by a steep rocky ravine called Aboo Hamatah (the “Road of the Wild Fig-tree”), and the other and longer one by two less precipitous paths called Sikket Sadur and Sikket er Reshshah (“the Road of the Sweater”). The principal peak is an enormous smooth dome of granite surrounded by a cupola of like nature. The climbing here is not easy, and it is only the coarse nature of the rock, which affords a good foothold, that makes it possible to get up or down, there being nothing to cling to. In a few places there are steps of loose stones, laid probably ages ago, which make the task easier.

“A narrow ledge runs out from near the summit, of the peak for about 50 yards, ending in a sheer precipice of 4000 ft. On this are the ruins of the lighthouse, which gives its name El Madhawwa to the highest peak of Serbal. It was one in a system of beacon-fires kept up from Matal’i Hudherah, or “Look-outs of Hazeroth,” to Suez, and along the sea-coast. It is a rude stone structure, probably built by the same men who traced the Sinaitic inscriptions, several of which are found on the path up to the summit, and in a hollow near the lighthouse. Capt. H. S. Palmer thus describes the view from the top of Serbal: “From the summit of Serbal the landscape on a clear day is one of the most striking and varied, if not the most extensive in the country. Looking seaward, a wild chaos of rock and mountain fills the foreground: then comes the hot brown El Ga’ah {the Desert of Kaa}; then Tor and its palm-groves, faintly seen, and the low coast range farther north; then the glittering water of the gulf, backed in the far distance by grey and purple ranges of African mountains. Looking inland, the eye roams over an amazing complication of desert mountains and valleys, a vast network, of which the white and grey wady-beds, winding in fanciful snaky patterns over the whole face of the country, form the threads, while mountains of all sizes, forms, and hues fill the interstices; northward the far prospect is closed by the long blank of the Tih escarpment; the peaks of Katharina and Umm Shomer rise darkly in the south-east; at your feet is Feiran, a thin green line of palms straggling through the hills.” {Further on this summit, E. H. Palmer, Desert of the Exodus, p. 151: “The topmost peak of Serbal consists of a series of rounded crags, separated by deep and rugged ravines, and commanding a fine view of the country around … The highest point is called El Madhawwa (the Light-house), and is covered, as well as the roads leading up to it, with Sinaitic inscriptions: some of these have been executed in white paint, or whitewash, and, owing to their sheltered position on the walls of a cavern, have perfectly withstood the ravages of time. On the lower of the two bluffs of which the summit consists, is a ring of stones, the remains of the erection on which beacon-fires were lighted at the approach of invaders, or other danger, when Sinai was better populated than it is now. Other similar beacon-fires were found throughout the Peninsula, and a regular system of such signals seems to have existed along the road from Syria to Egypt.”}

“The derivation of the word Serbal is, according to Professor E. H. Palmer, whose etymology has been adopted in this account of the Peninsula, from the Arabic word sirbal, a “shirt” or “coat of mail,” in allusion to the gushing of the waters, during a storm, over the round smooth rocks of the summit, which clothe it, as it were, with a shirt, or coat of mail, of glittering fluid. The Rev. F. W. Holland describes the appearance of Serbal after a heavy winter rain as “covered with a sheet of ice that glittered like a breastplate.”

“The objects of interest close to Feiran itself are many, but they can only be briefly alluded to here. The evidence in favour of its being the Rephidim of the Bible has been already pointed out; but there is one more feature, and that an important one, that should be mentioned. On the right bank of the wady, opposite the hillock of El Maharrad, is a conical hill called Jebel et Tahooneh (“the Mountain of the Windmill”) about 600 ft. high, so placed as to be in full view of the two valleys ‘Aleyat and Feiran, where the battle between the Israelites and the Amalekites would have been fought, and accessible from a point near El Hesweh, lower down the Wady Feiran. Access to this hill would have been easy to Moses, and from its summit he could have witnessed the battle raging below (see Ex. xvii. 9-12). An early tradition favours this view, and Antoninus Martyr (600 A.D. {viz. the Itinerary of the Pilgrim of Placentia, c. AD 550-570}) states that a chapel stood on the spot from which Moses viewed the battle. Ruins of such a chapel still exist on the summit of Jebel et Tahooneh. Its aisles divided by square pillars of red sandstone can still be traced, and the form of the apse. It was afterwards altered and turned into a mosk {= mosque}. The whole of the path, or rather flight of steps, which leads up from Wady Feiran to the top of Jebel et Tahooneh is lined with the remains of small chapels, often built over the cells or tombs of anchorites, and serving as “stations” on the way to the principal church at the summit. All this seems to prove that Jebel et Tahooneh was regarded as a place of great sanctity by the pilgrims of early ages.

“The ruins of Feiran itself are those of the old episcopal city of Pharan. The old convent and church stand on the top of the hillock (El Maharrad) already mentioned, at the junction of the wadies. The principal walls of the convent still remain, built of flat stones and mud, with sundried bricks at the top. The church is at the northern end, and, from the number of capitals, broken shafts, and other remains found within its walls, appears to have been a building of some importance. On a low neck of land which connects the hillock with the wady are the remains of the town, surrounded by a wall which was 7 ft. high; parts of it remain, the composite of mud and small stones being here faced with large unhewn boulders. Both within and without the walls are the remains of buildings, and to the west, in a “jorf “ or bank of alluvium, is the cemetery; the tombs are partly cut perpendicularly in the face of the rock, and partly built with large stones, and the entrances are either closed by large slabs of stone, or built up with mud and stones. These tombs are often used by the Bedaween. On the right bank of the Wady Feiran is a deserted village, which probably formed part of the old city, but which bears traces of having been occupied at a later period by a settled Arab population.

The Site of the Ruins of Pharan, El Maharrad

“The hill called Jebel el Moneijah (the “Hill of the Conference”), in the east bank of Wady ‘Aleyat, is remarkable for the number of Sinaitic inscriptions found on it. There is a small enclosure on the top, both within and without which the inscriptions abound. It is looked upon by the Bedaween as a place of great sanctity, and they sacrifice a lamb in front of the enclosure at the time of the date-harvest in Wady Feiran. {The author omits to mention the reason why it is so named and revered, viz. it is the traditional site of Moses’ “Conference with God”, being plainly within view of the central peak of Serbal-Sinai.}

“On both banks of Wady Feiran are the homes of numerous anchorites who once lived there, and sat “like a lot of rabbits at the mouths of their holes.” There are also a number of tombs generally with two tiers of “loculi;” they lie almost invariably east and west, and the method of burial appears to have been to lay the bodies on their backs on the bare rock, heads to the west, feet to the east, the arms stretched out at full length by the side.

“There are the remains of several monastic establishments in the neighbourhood of Wady Feiran, of which the most remarkable are in Wady Sigilleeyeh to the south of Serbal, an almost inaccessible gorge approached by a road the construction of which, as shown by what still remains of it, proves the monks to have been both skilled and energetic in road-making.

“The natural beauties of the oasis of Feiran are enough almost to induce the traveller to spend a day in doing nothing else but give himself up to their delights. For 4 miles, beginning from the mouth of Wady ‘Aleyat, it extends up the valley, a luxuriant mass of trees and vegetation, hemmed in between magnificent rugged granite cliffs from 600 to 800 ft. in height. Here all the trees common to the Peninsula show at their best, and the date-bearing palm is of unusual size and fruitfulness. A varied undergrowth of herbs and grasses, moss, turf, small flowers, rushes, and other marshy plants, cover the bed of the valley, save where some stone-strewn dry torrent-bed marks the course of and the ravages of recent floods, such as that which occurred in 1867. Here and there are clusters of rough Bedaween houses, with enclosed gardens, in which are grown maize and tobacco, irrigated by means of water raised by shadoofs.

“Through this long valley, the Paradise of the Bedaween, the traveller bends his way on leaving Feiran, till, after about 3 miles, the palms and water cease, and the only verdure is a tamarisk-grove. In another mile this also ends, and all is again barren and desolate. At this point occur a series of curious alluvial deposits, consisting of banks of soil rising sometimes to a height of 100 ft., and extending along the wady’s brink. By the Bedaween they are called “jorfs.” Their origin is uncertain, but Mr. Holland attributes their formation to the action of the rushing torrents that sweep down the wadies during a storm. El Buweib, an islet of gneiss in mid-channel forms “the gate” of Wady Feiran, through which the road passes into the Wady Solaf; and a short distance farther on the mouth of Wady esh Sheykh (6 miles) is reached.

“It is conjectured {by those who believe one of the mountains near St Catherine’s monastery to be the real Sinai} that the bulk of the Israelite host passed up this valley by a longer and easier route to Sinai {i.e. the supposed Sinai near St Catherine’s}, while Moses and the elders went by the shorter and more difficult route on which we now enter.

“We continue up the Wady Solaf, which opens out into long straight reaches. At the mouth of Wady Umm Takkeh are a number of the primitive stone houses called nawamees, before alluded to. Namoos in Arabic means a “mosquito,” and the plural nawamees is the name given by the Bedaween to these stone houses, which resemble the “bothan” or beehive houses of Scotland, from the supposition that they were built by the Israelites to protect themselves from the stings of mosquitos. Their usual shape is an ellipse or irregular circle from 40 to 50 ft. in circumference, with walls 2½ to 3 ft. thick: these walls rise perpendicularly for 2 ft., and then begin to close in, each successive course of stone projecting slightly beyond the one below it, till only a small hole, covered with a flat stone, is left at the top. The doors are about 1¾ ft. wide, and the same in height, with lintels and doorposts. Sometimes a large granite boulder forms a portion of a wall. There is no evidence of any tool having been used in their construction.

“About 3 miles beyond these stone houses the direction of the wady changes, and approaches the wall of granite cliffs which form the northwestern frontier of the heart of the Peninsula. Through this massive barrier, 14 miles in length, and which rises some 3000 ft. above the level of Wady Solaf, there are but two openings; one through the pass of Nugb el Hawa, about half-way along the barrier, and the other through the pass of El Wateeyah, in the Wady esh Sheykh, at its extreme northern end. At the entrance of the Nugb Hawa (14 miles) the camp will probably be pitched on the day of leaving Feiran; and even if it should be necessary the next day to send the baggage-camels by the longer and easier route, the traveller himself will do well to follow the magnificent approach by Nugb Hawa (“the Pass of the Wind”).

“At the turn from Wady Solaf are some stone circles and nawamees. The foot of the pass is about a mile from the wady. The first part of the ascent is steep and difficult, and winds up an ancient road in and out amongst tremendous blocks and boulders detached from the heights and precipices which hem in the defile. A few wild fig-trees and stunted palms, with straggling patches of vegetation, mark the bed of the torrent. After a time the ascent becomes less steep, and after a long 2 hours’ climb the summit of the pass (5 miles) is reached, and the cliffs of Ras Sufsafeh are seen closing the prospect in the far distance. After a short descent the path rises again along the Wady Aboo Seileh, which soon widens into a plain, and then the crest of the hill is reached (5140 ft. above the level of the sea), and the whole plain of Er Rahah, with Jebel Sufsafeh only 2 miles off, and the monastery of St. Catherine nestling in the Wady ed Dayr, lies spread out before the astonished gaze. “It is a view which, once seen, is not likely to be forgotten. Indeed the whole prospect from this point is so beautiful and sublime that no beholder can fail to be impressed by it. It is indeed unrivalled; there is nothing else like it in this or any other part of the Peninsula, the long wide plain sloping down to the mount, the grand outlines of the surrounding hills, and the stately cliffs of the Ras Sufsafeh, the ‘brow’ of Sinai or Jebel Moosa, overlooking and seen from every point in the plain below, the most conspicuous and imposing feature in a landscape where all is grand.” Capt. H. S. Palmer. Crossing Er Rahah we reach the foot of Ras Sufsafeh, and leaving the Wady esh Sheykh on the left continue up the Wady ed Dayr to the walls of the Monastery of St. Catherine (5 miles); unless indeed the traveller decides to encamp, rather than seek the hospitality of the monks, in which case the tents will probably be pitched at the entrance of the Wady ed Dayr.”

Following is the report of Palmer, Desert of the Exodus, p. 147 on Jebel Muneijah (2,508 ft.) in Wadi Aleyat. This is the second most important shrine in the Sinai peninsula for the Bedouin, the prime place of honor being accorded to the shrine of Sheikh Salih which is approached through Wadi es Sheikh (named after him) near the entrance to Wadi Feiran. Salih is the Biblical patriarch Salah, father of Eber, and son of Arphaxad, the son of Shem son of Noah (Gen. 11. 12-17). Eber is called Hud by the Arabs. Hud is thought to stand for Yehud, “Jew”, Eber being the eponymous ancestor of the Hebrews or “Jews”. In view of the significance of the Hebrews, viz. the wandering Israelites, in relation to the Sinaitic peninsula, it would seem natural for the Arab Bedouin to emphasize by contrast their descent from the prophet Salih (= Salah), the father of the prophet Hud (= Eber), as he was the elder of the two, and could be treated as preeminent in a genealogical sense. The Bedouin believe Salih was their earliest ancestor to settle in this region. Almost all the sacred legends of the Bedouin of the Sinai revolve around either Salih or Musa (Moses).

“About half-way up Wadi ‘Aleyat, on the left hand, is a mountain named, like that at Jebel Musa, Moneijah {= Muneijah}, “the Mount of the Conference”. The Arabs, while they attach no sanctity or importance whatever to Serbal, regard this little mountain with profound veneration, and sacrifice to Moses upon it once every year. {Sic Palmer, who tends to belittle Serbal in comparison to Jebel Musa, but this does not agree with the evidence of other travelers: cf. Rüppell in the account of his journey to Abyssinia, vol. i p. 127, apud Lepsius, Letters p. 310, footnote, respecting an enclosure existing as late as 1831 on the summit of Serbal, which the Bedouin regarded as sacred; note also the offering of important sacrifices on this rock at the foot of Serbal, where Moses is believed to have held his “conference with God”.} On the summit is a small enclosure of rude stones, in which they are accustomed to leave some votive offerings whenever they visit the spot, and the ground is covered with beads, pieces of old camel rope, human hair, and other relics of the faithful. When I made the ascent, I borrowed a zemzemiyeh, or small waterskin, from an old woman in the neighborhood, as I wished to take some paper squeezes of the Sinaitic inscriptions with which the walls of the inclosure are covered.

The summit of Jebel Muneijah with Serbal in the background

At first the owner was unwilling to lend it, fearing, as she said, that “I might take it into my head to leave it on the top as an offering to the saint!” The sacrifices here are, as usual, followed by a mesamereh, or serenade, the whole assembly singing in chorus

“Ya m’neijat Musa talibin testurak
Teslim el ajawid kull senneh enzurak”

“Oh, place of Moses’ conference, we seek thy privilege! Save the good folk, and we will visit thee every year.””

Negev (Israel Exploration Journal XXVII [1977], pp. 219-231) adds the following comments (p. 230f.):

“So far Palmer’s description of the site. The sanctity which the local Bedouin attach to this place still persists. Mr. Levi has saved from oblivion many of the Bedouin traditions, among which are the stories told by Jum’a, an old Bedouin who takes care of the sacred enclosure and the small mosque in the valley below. According to Jum’a the sanctity of J. Moneijah lies in the presence on that mountain of one of the footprints of Moses’ camel. This place draws Bedouin from all over the peninsula. Pilgrimage is made several times a year, both on the traditional Moslem holidays, such as the Feast of the Sacrifice, and on holidays which are connected with the agricultural calendar, notably at the end of the gathering of the dates in the nearby oasis of Feiran, in which thousands of palms grow.

“Years ago, tells Jum’a, he repaired both the mosque and the enclosure, but these were damaged in the flood of 1968 and never repaired since. According to the old man the lower part of the enclosure, up to a height of 0.75 m., was never affected, and it is he who previously built it up to 1.50 m. The enclosure has a diameter of 5 m. There is an opening on the north-west of the enclosure, and a hole in the ground near the wall opposite the opening. On Levi and Goren’s visit to the site there were remnants of offerings in the hole, including incense, a bracelet, the strap of a watch and beads.

“All the festivities which take place here are connected with the name of Moses. At the commencement of the gathering the chapters of the Koran devoted to Moses are read. The blood of a goat is then spilled on the ground. The goat is sacrificed in the enclosure which bears the name of Moses, and then roasted and eaten at the mosque below. Apart from formal festivities, the Bedouin shepherdesses are in the habit of coming to this enclosure with their flocks of goats. They burn incense and milk the goats on the ground, dedicating the milk to Moses, the patron of the shepherds. The sand which absorbed the milk is then sprinkled on the goats’ heads, thus insuring Moses’ blessing.”

Sinaitic inscriptions on the top of Jebel Muneijah

The main arguments for Sinai = Serbal

Sinai (Mount Serbal) from the East

1. The first argument in favor of equating Sinai with Serbal:

The Biblical geography:

“{Forster, Israel in the Wilderness, p. 208ff.} Scripture Notices of Mount Sinai.{In relation to Midian}

“The earliest Scripture notices, equally with the earliest Ecclesiastical traditions, we will now proceed to show, all point to Mount Serbal as Mount Sinai. The first of these notices occurs Exodus iii. 1: “Now Moses kept the flock of Jethro, his father-in-law, the priest of Midian: and he led the flock to the extreme back [i e. the extreme west] of the desert, and came to the Mount of God, even to Horeb.”

“The geography of this passage is perfectly simple and clear. Midian, the country of Jethro, lay along the eastern coast of the Gulf of Akaba, beginning from its head. ‘The back side,’ or extreme west, of the desert of Sinai lay on the opposite side of the peninsula from Midian, or along the Gulf of Suez. ‘The Mountain of God,’ or ‘Horeb,’ is here described as the furthermost mountain to the west, or at the back of the desert. It is further described (understanding the Hebrew literally) as a single and isolated mountain … Now these Scriptural marks agree absolutely with Mount Serbal; but not one of them with either of the monkish Sinais. For the Serbal lies at the extreme back, or opposite side, of the Sinai desert from Midian: it is the remotest mountain to the west in the whole peninsula, being twenty geographical miles due west of Djebels Mousa and Katharin; and it, and it only, of the whole Sinaitic range, stands alone. Those monkish Sinais, on the contrary, lie inland to the east, at least twenty miles, or one third of a degree east of Serbal, and as many miles, consequently, nearer to Midian: they are in no sense at ‘the extreme back of the desert,’ and in no just sense … ‘The Mount,’ being, instead of a single mountain, two of a cluster of five mountains in the inner Sinaitic range. If, therefore, we read the text of Moses literally, and follow his geography as to the relative positions of Midian and Horeb, Mount Serbal is to a certainty ‘The Mount of God.’”

2. The second argument in favor of equating Sinai with Serbal:

The statement of Josephus that Sinai was the highest mountain in the area, followed by an account of Serbal by Stewart:

Josephus, Ant. II. xii. 1:

“Some time later, as he {viz. Moses} was pasturing the flocks, he led them to what is called Mount Sinai: this is the highest of the mountains in this area and the best for pasturage, since good herbage is abundant, but because it had the reputation that God dwelt on it, it was not used for pasturing in previous times, since the herders did not dare venture onto it.” This description can only apply to Serbal. On its height, see infra. The abundance of herbage (Josephus uses at this point in his description the present tense “is the highest …, good herbage etc.”) must refer to the greenery of Wadi Feiran at the foot of the mountain in his own day. It does not hold true, nor did it ever, of Jebel Katrina. The fear of God’s presence on Mount Serbal has survived into modern times amongst the Bedouin.

Forster Israel in the Wilderness 202ff., citing Stewart of Leghorn, ‘The Tent and The Khan’:

“{from Stewart op cit. mainly on the aptness of the Serbal-Sinai equation:} ‘From Wadi Feiran we turned to the right into Wadi Aleiat, which leads directly to the base of Serbal. In a few minutes more than one hour we reached the entrance to the ravine which separates the easternmost peak of Serbal from the rest of the mountain; so that I should reckon the length of Wadi Aleiat to be about five miles. A turn to the south-west, at the entrance, completely shuts it in from Wadi Feiran, a ridge of hills running between them. The avalanches of rock and stone which, during the course of ages, have been brought down from the mountains by the winter torrents, have so covered this valley, as to suggest the idea that the clouds must, at some period, have rained down boulders instead of hailstones; yet it is not deficient in such verdure as this desert produces, and there are more saut trees than we have yet met with, scattered over the surface. These are the shittah trees of Scripture, from the wood of which the Ark of the Covenant, the Cherubim, and the Pillars of the Tabernacle were made; and it is a fact worthy of remark, that, while these trees are found here still in considerable numbers, there is not one to be seen, so far as my observations served, in the plain of Er-Rahah, or in any of the Wadis about Ghebel Mousa. This valley is sufficiently ample to have contained the tents of all the Children of Israel; and my impression is that, from every part of it, the summits of Serbal can be seen; but I am quite certain that, from the upper part of it, at least, the whole mountain is visible.

“‘Serbal does not disappoint one on a near approach to it. Majestic as he seems when you trace his serrated crest towering above all his compeers, for days before you reach the base, his presence is still more noble as seen from Wadi Aleiat. There are no out-works or fences, no shoulders or projecting spurs, to detract from his stature or hide his summit, until you have achieved half the ascent; his precipitous sides rise sheer and clear from the rough valley along which we were toiling, like a large three-decker from the sea. I perceived at once the force and propriety of that description which is given of the Mount of God, “The Mount which might be touched!” The first impression made on the mind, when the wide waste of wilderness [as seen from the summit] is unfolded before us, is one of stupefaction. The view is so extensive, it seems as if we should never be able to master all its details; but gradually wadis and mountains begin to link together in the memory, until we discover that almost the entire Arabian peninsula is mapped out at our feet. But for the more southerly Sinaitic range, we should take in the whole length and breadth of it at a glance, from the head of the Gulf of Suez to the head of the Gulf of Akabah.

“‘To me, however, there was something more attractive in that desolate mountain top than the view. From previous study of the subject (which subsequent personal observation has confirmed) I made my pilgrimage there under the impression that it is the Mount Sinai; that on this, or one of the neighbouring peaks, Jehovah spake with Moses from out of the cloud, and gave him the Law, both moral and ceremonial, for a testimony in Israel; and that the Wadi Aleiat is that portion of the wilderness of Sinai where the Tribes were gathered.

“‘Leaving my guides, I sought shelter from the piercing blast under the venerable granite rock which crowns the summit, that I might meditate awhile, not only on that scene, so terrible that it caused Moses to exclaim, “I do exceeding fear and quake;” but also on Saint Paul’s allegory, in which he likens Mount Sinai in Arabia to Hagar the bondswoman, and Jerusalem above to Sarah the mother of the free. It was a solemn thing, too, sitting on that spot, to realize the fact, that the terrible majesty in which God appeared on Sinai as the Law-giver, was but an emblem and foreshadowing of his yet more glorious and terrible appearing, when he comes as the Law-avenger, “when every eye shall see him, and they also who pierced him: and all kindreds of the earth shall wail because of him.” The peak we ascended is the same which Burckhardt visited, and, on consulting his Travels after my return to Europe, I found his description of it very accurate.

“‘The Bedouins who live in Feiran declare that it is the highest of all the peaks but its exact elevation has never yet been ascertained. Ruppell, however, made the ascent of the second peak from the west, and imagining it to be the highest, gives its height as 6,342 Paris feet above the level of the Red Sea, which, according to Dr. Robinson, makes it 1,700 feet lower than Dgebel Katerin. But even granting Dgebel Katerin the advantage of a few hundred feet over the highest point of Serbal, it must be remembered that, rising as the latter does from a far lower level, standing completely isolated from all the surrounding mountains, and presenting the most striking and magnificent outline, as seen from all quarters of the peninsula, it is, emphatically, the mountain of the desert.

“‘I have hinted my preference for Serbal as Sinai, but deferred stating my reasons for it until the reader had accompanied me to Dgebel Mousa; this seems, therefore, the fitting place to refer briefly to the whole subject. If anyone will consult the account given in the book of Exodus of the encampment of the Israelites in the wilderness of Sinai, and of the events which subsequently happened there, he will find that the two things required to fix the locality are, a mountain sufficiently isolated and lofty to be seen from the region lying round its base; and secondly, a valley, or opening of some kind, among the mountains, large enough to contain the tents of Israel, and visible through all its extent from the mountain top. Though not so high as the southern mountains, its great elevation above all those in its immediate vicinity, and its perfect isolation, make Serbal the most prominent and commanding feature in the peninsula. On its north-eastern side, running up to its very base, are Wadi Aleiat and Wadi Rimm, which would have afforded ample room for the encampment of the Israelites, and from which its peaks are clearly visible, thus fulfilling the conditions required by the Scripture narrative. On entering Wadi Aleiat, and leaving to the left the great central channel of Wadi Feiran, the Israelites would, at the same time, enter the confines of the desert of Sinai, which probably embraced all the country south of Wadi Feiran; and this would account for their speedy reentrance into the wilderness of Paran, when, after a year’s sojourn before the Mount, the cloud was at last lifted up from off the Tabernacle.’ — Stewart p. 111-118.”

The point that Stewart makes here about the comparative height of Serbal and the surrounding peaks is important. According to Josephus Mount Sinai was the highest mountain in the peninsula. This statement of Josephus has been used as evidence against the Serbal-Sinai equation, because there are higher mountains nearby. But ancient writers did not have a system of measuring by height from sea-level. Thus on modern maps Jebel Katrina, Um Shomer, and other peaks in the neighborhood of Serbal appear to be higher than Serbal. But, as Stewart says of the first of these, they rise from higher land. The sheer rocks of Serbal rise from the Plain of Kaa on their south-western flank from around 1000 feet above sea-level, making the height of the mountain, in the ancient sense, around 5790 feet. Um Shomer, which is the second highest peak of Sinai in the modern sense, rises sheer from around 3000 feet on the same south-western side, making its height, in the ancient sense, around 5484 feet, and therefore not as high as Serbal. Jebel Katrina, currently listed as the highest peak above sea-level, rises sheer from a higher level still, from around 4000 feet, making its height in the ancient sense around 4743 feet, and therefore less high than Serbal and Um Shomer. Josephus’ statement of the comparative height of Sinai, which is the highest peak in the peninsula as measured by the rise of its flanks from the base, that is, by the ancient method of measurement, is strong evidence in favor of identifying his Sinai as Mount Serbal.

3. The third argument in favor of equating Sinai with Serbal:

Eusebius’ statement that Horeb, which was either identical with, or included, Mount Sinai, lay alongside Pharan (in Wadi Feiran). Eusebius, Onomasticon, s.v. “Raphidim: a place in the wilderness beside Mount Horeb, in which waters flowed out of the rock, and the place was called Testing. There too Joshua fought Amalek near Pharan.” See infra in the argument of Lepsius.

4. The fourth argument in favor of equating Sinai with Serbal:

The account of the unidentified female pilgrim (see further and in full infra). The description of the luxuriant vegetation in the wadi alongside Sinai, with its multiple peaks accessible by individual ascent, not from one another, and viewable from restricted angles, matches Serbal rising from Wadi Feiran only, and not the peaks of the Jebel Katrina range. M. L. McClure and C. L. Feltoe, ed. and trans. The Pilgrimage of Etheria, London: Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge, 1919. Numbered footnotes are those of the McClure-Feltoe edition, with a minor modifications. Footnotes marked by letters of the alphabet are my own. Page numbers of the McClure-Feltoe edition are in angled brackets. Braces {} enclose my observations.

“… In the meanwhile we came on foot to a certain place where the mountains, through which we were journeying, opened out and formed an infinitely great valley {present-day Wadi Feiran, a luxuriant oasis}, quite flat and extraordinarily beautiful, and across the valley appeared Sinai, the holy mountain of God. And this place, where the mountains opened out, lies next to the place where are the graves {orig.: memoriae} of lust.1 Now on reaching that spot, the holy guides who were with us told us, saying: “The custom is that prayer should be made by those who arrive here, when from this place the mount of God is first seen.” And this we did. The whole distance from that place to the mount of God was about four miles across the aforesaid great valley.

“For that valley is indeed very great, lying under the slope of the mount of God, and measuring, as far as we could judge by our sight, or as they told us, about sixteen miles in length, but they called its

1 Eng. Bible, Kibroth-hattaavah, Num. xi. 34.


“breadth four miles. We had, therefore, to cross that valley in order to reach the mountain. Now this is the great and flat valley wherein the children of Israel waited during those days when holy Moses went up into the mount of the Lord and remained there forty days and forty nights.1 This moreover is the valley in which that calf was made,2 and the spot is shown to this day, for a great stone stands fixed there on the very site. This also is the same valley at the head of which is the place where, while holy Moses was feeding his father-in-law’s flocks, God spake to him twice out of the burning bush.3 {The burning bush is located in the close vicinity of the city of Pharan also in the 7th cent. AD Anastasius the Sinaite see infra.} And as our route was first to ascend the mount of God, which is in sight here [because] the ascent was easier by the way we were coming and then to descend to the head of the valley where the bush was, that being the easier descent, so we determined, having first seen all that we desired, to descend from the mount of God so as to arrive at the place of the bush, and thence to return on our journey throughout the whole length of the valley, together with the men of God, who there showed us each place which is mentioned in the Scriptures. And so it was done. Thus, going from that spot where we had prayed when we arrived from Faran,4 our route was to cross the middle of the head of that valley, and so turn to the mount of God.

“Now the whole mountain group looks as if it were a single peak, but, as you enter the group, [you see that] there are more than one; the whole group however is called the mount of God. But that special peak which is crowned by the place where, as it is

1 Exod. xxiv. 18.

2 Exod. xxxii.

3 Exod. iii. I ff.

4 LXX, Faran: Eng. Bible, Paran.


“written, the Glory of God descended, is in the centre of them all.1 And though all the peaks in the group attain such a height as I think I never saw before, yet the central one, on which the Glory of God came down, is so much higher than them all, that when we had ascended it, all those mountains which we had thought to be high, were so much beneath us as if they were quite little hills. This is certainly very wonderful, and not, I think, without the favour of God, that while the central height, which is specially called Sinai, on which the Glory of the Lord descended, is higher than all the rest, yet it cannot be seen until you reach its very foot, though before you go up it. But after that you have fulfilled your desire and descend, you can see it from the other side, which you cannot do before you begin to ascend. This I had learned from information given by the brethren before we had arrived at the mount of God, and after I arrived I saw that it was manifestly so.


“We reached the mountain late on the sabbath, and arriving at a certain monastery, the monks who dwelt there received us very kindly, showing us every kindness; there is also a church and a priest there. We stayed there that night, and early on the Lord’s Day, together with the priest and the monks who dwelt there, we began the ascent of the mountains one by one. {Note Hogg’s quotation from Burckhardt, infra, which shows the pilgrim went first to the monastery at Deir Sigillye, on the south-eastern flank of the mountain, then from there up to the mountain: “The accurate Burckhardt, in his visit to that mountain, noticed Deir Sigillye, “a ruined convent on the southeast side of Serbal, near the road which leads up to the summit of the mountain.”} These mountains are ascended with infinite toil, for you cannot go up gently by a spiral

1 Exod. xix. 18, 20.


“track, as we say snail-shell wise, but you climb straight up the whole way, as if up a wall, and you must come straight down each mountain until you reach the very foot of the middle one, which is specially called Sinai. {cp. E. H. Palmer, Desert of the Exodus, p. 151: “The topmost peak of Serbal consists of a series of rounded crags, separated by deep and rugged ravines.”} By this way, then, at the bidding of Christ our God, and helped by the prayers of the holy men who accompanied us, we arrived at the fourth hour, at the summit of Sinai, the holy mountain of God, where the law was given, that is, at the place where the Glory of the Lord descended on the day when the mountain smoked.”

5. The fifth argument in favor of equating Sinai with Serbal:

The Coptic monastic, that is, the earliest ecclesiastical, tradition, including Cosmas’ statement that Sinai was only 6 Roman miles from Pharan (in Wadi Feiran), supports the identification of Sinai and Serbal.

From Beke, Discoveries of Sinai in Arabia and of Midian, London etc., 1878, p. 19ff. Beke himself believed Mount Sinai lay east of the Gulf of Akaba, which is really an untenable hypothesis, though it has lately been revived. His survey of ecclesiastical history, however, convinced him that the primitive Coptic tradition (the most ancient outside the Bible itself, Josephus and Eusebius) identified Serbal as Mount Sinai.

“In the time of the Emperor Julian (360-3) the deserts of Sinai were beginning to teem with ascetics, whom the example of Hilarion {a disciple of St Antony} had attracted to the monastic life. Among these ascetics was Nicon, who is supposed to be the same as is honoured by the Greeks on the 26th November, and of whom the following story is told by Nilus, who, like Nicon, is a saint of the Greek calendar:— Nicon was dwelling on Mount Sinai, when the seducer of the daughter of an inhabitant of Pharan persuaded her to accuse that venerable man of the crime. On this the father of the girl went after Nicon to kill him; but on his raising his sword in the act of striking him, his hand became withered. Not deterred by this miracle, the father accused the saint before the priests of Pharan, who caused him to be beaten, and would have banished him from the country, but that he asked permission to remain in order to do penance. For three years he remained excommunicated, no one being allowed to speak to him; and during that period he came every Sunday to the church with the other penitents to beseech the faithful to pray for him. At length it pleased God to make known Nicon’s innocence; the true seducer of the girl, possessed by the devil, openly confessed before the whole congregation his crime and his calumny. On this all the inhabitants of the place went to demand pardon of the saint, who readily granted it, but refused to remain longer among them, inasmuch as not a single one of them had shown any charity or compassion for him.

“Ammonius relates the following anecdote: [Footnote: See Ammonius, Tillemont, vii. 576, 577] — “A vessel from Aila {Eilat} was stranded on the shores of the Avalitic gulf {Gulf of Havilah} (the modern Gulf of Zeila). The people of this district (whom the historian designates by the convenient but much-abused term Blemmyes) seized on the vessel, and (being accustomed to navigation), resolved to use it in a piratical excursion against the wealthy city of Clysma. They sailed up the Arabian Gulf (or Red Sea), and on entering into the Heroopolitan Gulf, were driven on the eastern shore, instead of the Egyptian, to which their voyage tended. They landed at Ratha {Raithu} (the modern Tor), and after the massacre of part of the inhabitants, carried away the rest as captives. Being driven a second time on the coast of Ratha, they murdered their remaining captives, but were fortunately overtaken by Obedian {king of the Saracens} before they could resume their voyage. The king having heard of their former landing [had] hastened to Ratha at the head of a small and select body of troops, and falling upon the African savages, slaughtered them to a man.” The date of this occurrence is stated to be the year 373 of the Christian era.

“In the curious work entitled, “Narrative of the Monastic Monk Nilus,” touching the massacre of the monks on Mount Sinai,1 [1 Narrative of the Monastic Monk Nilus, Paris, 1639, Narratio. iv.] an account is given of an occurrence similar to that recorded by Ammonius. The writer describes how he and his son Theodulus were living as anchorites with others on Mount Sinai. The position of their residence was on the mountain itself, and lower down dwelt other hermits at the spot called “the Bush;” it being supposed to be that at which Moses was first addressed by the Almighty.2 [2 Exod. iii. 4.]

“Nilus and his son were in the habit of visiting these other hermits, and one day when they were supping with them, the priest of the place, named likewise Theodulus, speaking with more than his usual kindness, said, “How do we know whether we shall ever sup together again before we die?” The result showed the pertinency of what he thus said; for early on the morrow, when hardly the morning hymns had been sung, they found themselves attacked by a band of Saracens, who killed the priest Theodulus, and his companion Paul, an old man, with a boy named John who waited on them, and then allowed all the other men to escape, but retained the boys. Those who were liberated hastened to gain the summit of the mountain, which the Saracens did not dare to approach, under the persuasion that the Majesty of God resided there, it being there that He appeared to the Israelites. Nilus was at first unwilling to accept his liberty whilst his son was kept a prisoner, but at the solicitation of the latter, he also escaped to the top of the mountain, whence he had the grief of seeing his son carried away by his captors, who went on pillaging other places and killing a great number of other persons. Nilus and the others who had fled to the top of the mountain came down from it in the evening to bury the bodies of their slaughtered brethren. Life had not quite left the priest Theodulus, who, before breathing his last, had strength to exhort them to worship God without fear, and to give them the kiss of peace. After having buried them, they reached the city of Pharan before the morrow.1 [1 Tillemont, xiv. 200-203.]

“In page 87 of the original work, Nilus speaks of the Senate of that city, which was also in his time the seat of a bishop. … Nilus has usually been supposed to have lived some time during the fifth century, and the slaughter of the monks on Mount Sinai related by Nilus has consequently been supposed to be a repetition of the event related by Ammonius. But there is no good reason for imagining it to be a different occurrence.

“In A.D. 372 or 373 the prince was Obedian, who died soon after, and was succeeded by his wife, Mavia or Moawiyah, who, ten years after Julian had carried the Roman arms triumphantly beyond the frontier to the capital of Persia,—where, however, he was slain in the moment of victory,— defeated the Roman forces in Phoenicia. Socrates relates that no sooner had the Emperor (Valens) departed from Antioch, than the Saracens, who had before been in alliance with the Romans, revolted from him, being led by Mavia, their Queen, whose husband (Obedian?) was then dead. All the regions of the East, therefore, were at that time ravaged by the Saracens; but their fury was repressed by the interference of Divine Providence, in the manner I am about to relate. A person named Moses, a Saracen by birth, who led a monastic life in the desert, became exceedingly eminent for his piety, faith, and miracles. Mavia, the Queen of the Saracens, was therefore desirous that this person should be consecrated bishop over her nation, and promised on this condition to terminate the war. The Roman generals considering that a peace founded on such terms would be extremely advantageous, gave immediate directions for its ratification. Moses was accordingly seized, and brought from the desert to Alexandria, in order to his being initiated into the sacerdotal functions; but, on his presentation for that purpose to Lucius, who at that time presided over the churches in that city, he refused to be ordained by him, protesting against it in these words:—“I account myself indeed unworthy of the sacred office; but if the exigences of the state require my bearing it, it shall not be by Lucius laying his hand upon me, for it has been filled with blood.” Moses having expressed himself in this manner, was taken by his friends to the mountains, that he might receive ordination from the bishops who lived in exile there. His consecration terminated the Saracenic war; and so scrupulously did Mavia observe the peace thus entered into with the Romans, that she gave her daughter in marriage to Victor, the commander in chief of the Roman army.1 [1 Socrates, Eccl. Hist., book iv. chap. 36.]

“The same story is related by Theodoret substantially in slightly different terms. His words are:—“At this period the tribe of Ishmaelites ravaged the provinces situated on the frontier of the empire. They were led by Mavia, who, notwithstanding her sex, possessed masculine intrepidity. After several engagements she made peace with the Romans, and having received the light of the knowledge of God, she stipulated that a certain man, named Moses, who dwelt on the borders of Egypt and Palestine, might be ordained bishop of her nation. Valens acceded to her request, and desired that the holy man should be conveyed to Alexandria, and that he should there receive the holy rite of ordination, for this city was nearer her place of residence than any other. After his arrival at Alexandria, when he found Lucius desired to lay hands upon him for the purpose of ordination, he said, ‘I account myself indeed unworthy of the sacred office; but if the exigences of the state require my bearing it, it shall not be by Lucius laying his hand upon me, for it has been filled with blood.’ Lucius was deeply incensed, and wished to put him to death; but not daring to renew a war which had been terminated, he ordered him to be conveyed to the other bishops, by whom he desired to be ordained. After having received, in addition to his fervent faith, the archi-episcopal dignity, he, by his apostolic doctrines, and by the working of miracles, led many to the knowledge of the truth.”1 [1 Theod., Eccl. Hist., book iv. chap. 23.]

“It could not, however, have been till some considerable time after the death of this saintly bishop Moses that he became confounded (whether intentionally or through ignorance is not at all material), with the great Lawgiver of the Israelites {this is Dr. Beke’s theory}, so as to allow the mountain called after the former to become “traditionally” associated with the latter. But when once the ball was set rolling, the Greek ecclesiastics were at no loss in finding materials to increase its bulk, till at length almost the whole Christian world has been brought to look on Jebel Musa—the Mountain of (Bishop) Moses—as the veritable Mount Sinai.

“From the foregoing anecdotes, the general truth of which cannot reasonably be questioned, it is manifest that, in the time of Nicon, Nilus, and Ammonius, Mount Sinai was considered to be in the immediate vicinity of Pharan. Therefore it could have been no other than Jebel Serbal, which is distant only about five miles from Wady Feiran. To suppose the incidents related could have referred to Jebel Musa, which lies more than twenty miles in a direct line from that spot, would render the whole story inconsistent, and consequently impossible. That Jebel Serbal continued to be regarded as the true Mount Sinai till the beginning of the sixth century is proved by the statement of the Coptic monk Cosmas Indicopleustes, who then visited the Holy Mountain. The testimony of this traveller is too precise and explicit to be open to any question. He relates that, landing at Raithu ({Gk.} Raithou), (the town of Ptolemy’s {Gk.} Raithenoi, and the modern Tor), which was two days’ journey from Sinai, he went along the Wady Hebron to Rephidim, which is now called Pharan, where he was at the termination of his Sinaitic journey. From this spot, he says, Moses went with the elders “unto Horeb, which is in the Sinaic (Mountain), the same being about six thousand paces (six miles) from Paran.”1 [1 Topograph. Christ., lib. v. sect. 196, apud Migne, Patrolog. Cursus, vol. Lxxxviii., Series Graeca.] And in a subsequent passage he distinctly affirms that he journeyed on foot to all these places ({Gk. omitted} …………….., “as I myself, having visited these places on foot, bear witness”).2 [2 Ut supra, lib. v. sect. 205.] And it was, as he journeyed on foot, in the wilderness of Mount Sinai, that he saw the inscriptions which he supposed to have been written by the children of Israel, and which, in consequence of this supposition, are known as the Sinaitic Inscriptions. Now, although the distance of two days’ journey from Tor corresponds equally well both to Jebel Musa and to Jebel Serbal, the distance to Pharan of six thousand paces, and the presence of the Sinaitic inscriptions, can apply to the latter mountain alone. So far, all is clearly in favour of Jebel Serbal.

“But on the other hand, it appears not less clear from the Greek writer Procopius, who was the contemporary of the last-named writer, Cosmas, that Jebel Musa had at that time begun to be regarded as the true Mount Sinai. {See the note at the end of the citation from Hogg infra, refuting this conclusion.} He, Procopius, says that in the third Palestine, which was formerly called Arabia, is a barren mountain named Sinai, which is as if it were suspended over the Red Sea. This mountain was inhabited by monks, who, living in pious solitude and in the meditation of death, and having no wants in this world, required nothing more; so that all the Emperor Justinian could do for them was to build them a church, which he dedicated to the Mother of God. This church, says Procopius,1 [1 Procop. de Aedificiis, v. 8, ap. Corpus Script. Hist. Byzant, ed. Dindorf.] was not erected on the summit of the mountain, where Moses received the Law, but far below; because, no one could pass the night on the summit on account of the noises heard there, which caused them to fear and tremble: in this agreeing with the reports of Ammonius and Nilus, which themselves are in accordance with the tradition recorded by the Jewish historian Josephus. Procopius adds, that Justinian also caused a very strong castle {better: “guard-post”} to be built at the foot of the mountain, {add from the original text of Procopius, see infra: “and a most notable fortress”} in which he placed a sufficient garrison, in order to prevent the inroads into Palestine of the barbarian Saracens who inhabited these desert regions.

“The erection of this castle by Justinian had evidently some connection with the treaty which that Emperor made with the prince of the Saracens, called by Procopius,1 [1 Procop. de Bello Persicos, i. 19, sect. 3] Abocharagos, who, submitting himself to the Emperor, surrendered his country to him, and was in return appointed by him Governor (Phylarch) of the Saracens of Palestine; an arrangement which, in the estimation of the historian, gave the Emperor nothing but a nominal sovereignty. If this Saracen prince, Abocharabos {sic here}, was a successor of Obedian and Mavia, whose seat of government was at Pharan, it might almost be conjectured that the Mount Sinai overhanging the Red Sea, on which the Emperor built the church dedicated to the Mother of God, and at the foot of which he erected a fortress, might still have been Jebel Serbal, and not Jebel Musa. {The phrase overhanging the Red Sea can only allude to Serbal.} But without insisting on this, it will be sufficient to say that the Church of the Virgin Mother of God, described by Procopius as being some way down the mountain’s side, cannot have stood on the site of the present Convent of the Transfiguration on Jebel Musa, but must rather be represented by the existing Chapel of the Virgin,1 on Jebel Serbal [1 See Robinson’s Biblical Researches, vol. i. pp. 97, 102, 104.], which stands at some distance above the convent, whilst the convent itself represents Justinian’s castle at the foot of the mountain. The “tradition” of the monks of the convent, that the Chapel of the Virgin is of later date, is manifestly only a part of the general system of fraud and imposture in which the whole history of the convent is involved. After the lapse of so many ages, it may be difficult, if not impossible, to determine the actual circumstances under which Jebel Musa came to supersede Jebel Serbal as Mount Sinai. But the change may well have been caused, as Ritter suggests, by party views and jealousy between the monks of Constantinople and Alexandria. It is certainly remarkable that the rival claims of the two mountains should have been in existence at the same moment; those of Jebel Serbal being evidenced by the Coptic monk, Cosmas Indicopleustes, and those of Jebel Musa by the Greek historian, Procopius, both writing at the beginning of the sixth century. But the fact that the monks of the convent on the former mountain were Egyptians, or Copts, and that those on Jebel Musa were orthodox Greeks, would sufficiently explain not only the rivalry between the two, but the eventual victory of the latter. It is quite certain that the Greek monks would not have been at all scrupulous as to the means they employed to gain the victory over their heterodox rivals. The deliberate fraud and falsehood of the Greek clergy, from the earliest ages of Christianity, are matters of history. In my work, “Jesus the Messiah,”1 [1 Jesus the Messiah, chaps, iii., iv., London, Trubner & Co., 1872.] I have adduced some striking examples of this, to which I will refer my readers.

“There can be no question as to the fact that Pharan, near Mount Serbal, was the first Christian centre of the Peninsula, and that the church founded by the Emperor Justinian,2 [2 Procopius’s Life of Justinian, cap. ii. sect. I.] on Jebel Musa, was dependent on the Bishop of Pharan, and so continued during several centuries, which would hardly have been the case had Jebel Musa, and not Jebel Serbal, been from the commencement deemed to be Mount Sinai.

“The two inscriptions on the wall of the convent on Jebel Musa afford another instance of Greek fraud and imposture. These inscriptions, which are in Greek and Arabic, assert that this convent was built by the Emperor Justinian in the 527th year of the Christian era. But, according to my erudite friend, Dr. Wetzstein, formerly Prussian Consul at Damascus, the written characters of the Arabic inscription indicate that it could not have existed before the year 550 of the Hegira (a.d. 1172), and no earlier date can be attributed to the corresponding Greek inscription; so that the authority of these fabricated records is worthless. There seems to be a third inscription of older date, which Lepsius could not copy (Lepsius’s Letters, p. 553).”

6. The sixth argument in favor of equating Sinai with Serbal:

Procopius (De Aedificiis v. 8) in the sixth century AD refers to the building work of Justinian aimed at protecting the monks of Sinai from Saracen harassment. See infra for the full details on this passage of Procopius in the citation from Hogg and the note following it. Procopius’ contemporary was Cosmas Indicopleustes, and he believed Serbal was Mount Sinai. No doubt was then even entertained on the point. There is therefore no need to assume Procopius held any other belief relating to the location of Mount Sinai. In fact, his statement (ibid.) that Mount Sinai “hung over” the Red Sea can only apply to Serbal, which looks down on the Red Sea over the Plain of Kaa, and not to Jebel Katrina 20 miles or more inland.

7. The seventh argument in favor of equating Sinai with Serbal:

The identification of Mount Sinai as Serbal is indicated also in the statement of Anastasius the Sinaite as late as the 7th cent. AD, that the burning bush was in the same place as the town of Pharan, viz. in Wadi Feiran (ed. Nau, Oriens Christianus, Zweiter Jahrgang, Erste Abt., 1902, p. 87, Appendix on the occupation of Sinai by the Arabs, from cod. graecus 1596, p. 413): “When, according to the just judgment of God, the nation of Saracens appeared at the holy mount of Sinai, to take the place {Gk. topon, singular}, and to cause those who were there {viz. in that single place} before them and were previously Christians to apostatize from the faith of Christ, then those in the neighborhood of Castrum Pharan {Gk. kastrou Pharan} and of the holy Bush, who had a permanent habitation and tents, retreated with their family members up to the holy peak {viz. of Sinai} as though to a stronghold, there to fight as from on high against the invading Saracens, which also they did; they were unable in general, however, to muster sufficient forces against the multitude of the intruders, and so allowed themselves to merge with them, and adopt their faith.”

8. The eighth argument in favor of equating Sinai with Serbal:

The following five passages are cited from the Original Christian Quran, online at The original should be consulted for full details, and to view the cross-references mentioned in the following passages. The basic argument is that the Othmanic Quran (accepted, wrongly, as the authentic original text by the majority of modern Muslims), and other texts, locate the sacred shrine frequented by Muhammad, the Kaaba at Mecca (also called Bekka, etc.), on Mount Sinai, and Mecca itself at Pharan in Wadi Feiran. This incidentally proves Mount Sinai to have been at Mount Serbal, adjacent to Pharan. The same work shows the great importance of the Nestorian prophet Sergius Bahira in the ministry of Muhammad, Sergius being present on Mount Sinai (Serbal) when he received a vision of the destiny of the Saracens which he subsequently conveyed to Muhammad. The circumstantial detail relating to Mount Sinai and the ascetics dwelling on it in his account further confirm the picture outlined supra.

1. “Sebeos” on the Origin of Islam: the Earliest Account of the Rise of Islam

“From “External References to Islam”

“A chronicle ascribed to Sebeos, Bishop of the Bagratunis (written in the 660s, i.e. within a single generation of Muhammad himself, and, according to the author, based on eye-witness accounts.)

“[From the book (pp. 124-125):] “There has been much controversy over the authorship of this work. Its first modern commentator tried to identify it with the History of Heraclius referred to by five medieval historians and attributed to a bishop Sebeos, presumably the ‘lord Sebeos, bishop of the House of Bagratunis,’ who attended the Council of Dwin in 645 and witnessed its canons. This was for a long time generally accepted until the researches of Abgarian, who pointed out that the three surviving excerpts from Sebeos’ composition are not found in, or even contradict, our anonymous chronicle. So the two must be considered distinct documents, the one by Sebeos having been lost bar the excerpts …. Unlike the question of authorship, studies on dating and reliability have not been forthcoming, and a few comments are therefore necessary. There are indications that Sebeos [the anonymous chronicler] lived through many of the events that he relates: he maintains that the account of the Arab conquests derives from fugitives ‘who had been eyewitnesses thereof’ and, speaking of happenings in 652, declares that the Armenian faith has prevailed ‘until now.’ Gero considers that Sebeos’ notice on the launching of a fleet by Muawiya to attack Constantinople must refer to ‘the great siege in 674-78.’ But the text describes a single assault rather than a long siege, and the event is clearly to be identified with that reported by a mid-eighth-century Syriac source. Both emphasize that a great force of ships was readied and that the expedition took place in the thirteenth year of Constans (654). Sebeos concludes with Muawiya’s ascendancy in the first Arab civil war (656-61), and the above points would suggest that the author was writing very soon after this date.”

“[The following is from chapter 30 of Bedrosian’s translation:]

“External References to Islam

“I shall discuss the [line of the] son of Abraham: not the one [born] of a free [woman], but the one born of a serving maid, about whom the quotation from Scripture was fully and truthfully fulfilled, “His hands will be at everyone, and everyone will have their hands at him” [Genesis 16. 11,12]. Twelve peoples [representing] all the tribes of the Jews assembled at the city of Edessa. When they saw that the Iranian troops had departed leaving the city in peace, they [122] closed the gates and fortified themselves. They refused entry to troops of the Roman lordship. Thus Heraclius, emperor of the Byzantines, gave the order to besiege it. When [the Jews] realized that they could not militarily resist him, they promised to make peace. Opening the city gates, they went before him, and [Heraclius] ordered that they should go and stay in their own place. So they departed, taking the road through the desert to Tachkastan {= land of the Arabs} to the sons of Ishmael. [The Jews] called [the Arabs] to their aid and familiarized them with the relationship they had through the books of the [Old] Testament. Although [the Arabs] were convinced of their close relationship, they were unable to get a consensus from their multitude, for they were divided from each other by religion. In that period a certain one of them, a man of the sons of Ishmael named Muhammad, became prominent [t’ankangar]. A sermon about the Way of Truth, supposedly at God’s command, was revealed to them, and [Muhammad] taught them to recognize the God of Abraham, especially since he was informed and knowledgeable about Mosaic history. Because the command had [g104] come from on High, he ordered them all to assemble together and to unite in faith. Abandonning the reverence of vain things, they turned toward the living God, who had appeared to their fatherAbraham. Muhammad legislated that they were not to [123] eat carrion, not to drink wine, not to speak falsehoods, and not to commit adultery. He said: “God promised that country to Abraham and to his son after him, for eternity. And what had been promised was fulfilled during that time when [God] loved Israel. Now, however, you are the sons of Abraham, and God shall fulfill the promise made to Abraham and his son on you. Only love the God of Abraham, and go and take the country which God gave to your father Abraham. No one can successfully resist you in war, since God is with you.”

“Then all of them assembled together, from Havilah to Shur, which is opposite Egypt [The text is corrupt here. The citation is from Genesis 25.18 {Shur is the area inhabited by Ishmaelites immediately to the east of the Nile Delta bordering Sinai}, and they set out from the P’arhan desert {the Paran desert is the desert area stretching from Wadi Feiran (“Paran”) at the foot of Mount Serbal in western Sinai to Petra between the Dead Sea and the Gulf of Akaba in the east} [being] twelve tribes [moving] in the order [of precedence] of the Houses of the patriarchs of their tribe. They were divided into 12,000 men, of which the sons of Israel were in their own tribes, 1,000 to a tribe, to lead them to the country of Israel. They traveled army by army in the order [of precedence] of each patriarchy: Nebaioth, Kedar, Adbeel, Mibsam, Mishma, Dumah, Massa, Hadad, Tema, Jetur, Naphish and Kedemah [Genesis 25. 13-16]. These are the peoples of Ishmael. They reached Moabite Rabbath, at the borders of [124] Ruben’s [land]. The Byzantine army was encamped in Arabia. [The Arabs] fell upon them suddenly, struck them with the sword and put to flight emperor Heraclius’ brother, T’eodos. Then they turned and encamped in Arabia.

“All the remnants of the sons of Israel then assembled [g105] and united, becoming a large force. After this they dispatched a message to the Byzantine emperor, saying: “God gave that country as the inherited property [i kaluats zharhangut’ean] of Abraham and of his sons after him. We are the sons of Abraham. It is too much that you hold our country. Leave in peace, and we shall demand from you what you have seized, plus interest [tokosiwk’ pahanjests’uk’ i ken zkalealn]”. The emperor rejected this. He did not provide a fitting response to the message but rather said: “The country is mine. Your inheritance is the desert [k’oy vichak zharhangut’ean anapatn]. So go in peace to your country”. And [Heraclius] started organizing brigades, as many as 70,000 [troops] giving them as a general, a certain one of his faithful eunuchs. He ordered that they were to go to Arabia, stipulating that they were not to engage them [125] in war, but rather to keep on the alert until he could assemble his other troops and send them to help.

“Now [the Byzantines] reached the Jordan and crossed into Arabia. Leaving their campsite on the riverbank, [the Byzantines] went on foot to attack [the Arabs’] camp. [The Arabs], however, had placed part of their army in ambuscades here and there, lodging the multitude in dwellings around the camp. Then they drove in herds of camels which they penned around the camp and the tents, tying them at the foot with rope. Such was the fortification of their camp. The beasts were fatigued from the journey, and so [the Byzantines] were able to cut through the camp fortification, and started to kill [the Arabs]. But suddenly the men in the ambuscades sprung from their places and fell upon them. Awe of the Lord came over the Byzantine troops, and they turned in flight before them. But they were unable to flee because of the quicksand which buried them to the legs. There was great anxiety caused by the heat of the sun and the enemy’s sword was upon them. All the generals fell and perished. More than 2,000 men were slain. A few survivors fled to the place of refuge.

“[The Arabs] crossed the Jordan and encamped at Jericho. Then dread of them came over the inhabitants of the country, and all of them submitted [g106]. That night the Jerusalemites took [126] the Cross of the Lord and all the vessels of the churches of God, and fled with them by boat to the palace at Constantinople. [The Jerusalemites] requested an oath [from the Arabs] and then submitted. The emperor of the Byzantines was no longer able to assemble his troops against them. [The Arabs] divided their army into three parts. One part went to Egypt, taking [territory] as far as Alexandria. The second part went north [to war] against the Byzantine empire. In the twinkling of an eye they had seized [territory stretching] from the Farthest Sea to the shores of the great Euphrates river, as well as Edessa and all the cities of Mesopotamia, on the other side of the [Euphrates] river. The third part [of the Arab army] was sent to the east, against the kingdom of Iran. In that period the kingdom of Iran grew weaker, and their army was divided into three parts. Then the Ishmaelite troops who were gathered in the east, went and besieged Ctesiphon, since the king of Iran resided there. Troops from the land of Media [zawr ashxarhin Marats’], some 80,000 armed men under their general Rostom assembled and went against [the Arabs] in battle. Then [the Arabs] left the city and crossed to the other side of [127] the Tigris river. [The Iranians] also crossed the river, pursuing them. And they did not stop until they reached their borders, at the village called Hert’ichan. [The Iranians] continued to pursue them, [eventually] going and encamping in the plain. Present were Mushegh Mamikonean, son of Dawit’, the general of Armenia with 3,000 armed men, and also prince Grigor, lord of Siwnik’, with 1,000 men. [The Iranian and Arab armies] attacked each other, and the Iranian forces fled before them. But [the Arabs] pursued them, putting them to the sword. All the principal naxarars died, as did general Rostom. They killed Mushegh and two of his sister’s sons, as well as Grigor, the lord of Siwnik’, along with one son. Some [of the Iranian troops] escaped and fled back to their own land. The remnants of the Iranian forces assembled in Atrpatakan at one spot and made Xorhoxazat their general.

2. Thomas Artzruni and the Origins of Islam

“From Thomas Artzruni, II. 4 [14], composed at the beginning of the 10th century AD, based on early sources. Thomson’s translation in R. W. Thomson, Studies in Armenian Literature and Christianity, Variorum, 1994, X, p. 829-858, Muhammad and the origin of Islam in Armenian literary tradition. The orthography has been slightly modified and some of my notes added in braces {}.

“{The following account presumes an angel communed with Muhammad, imparting to him the Revelation, and shows itself, accordingly, to be based on the testimony of one or more of those who corrupted the original Quran preserved by Ali, since that corruption included specifically the substitution of the Angel Gabriel for the prophet Sergius. Thomas Artzruni was not familiar, as Al Kindi was, with the process of the formation of the Quran, and, besides, had a greater animus against the Muslims than Al Kindi, because of the subjugation of his people by them, which clouded his judgment regarding the inspiration of Muhammad himself. The ultimate source of this account was probably Salman, one of the corrupters of the original Quran, given the centrality of Salman in the narrative. The accusation that Muhammad slew Sergius “secretly”, — because he denied Sergius’ role in the Revelation and held to its angelic origin, — is, of course, based likewise on the testimony of one or more of those who transferred the authorship of the Quran from Sergius to Gabriel. Whilst rejecting the more negative elements of this testimony, we note also the numerous very valuable historical details embedded in it, which prove it originated at an early stage in the corruption of the tradition, only a little later than the eye-witness accounts in Sebeos, and in an era when the Sinaitic milieu of the original Revelation was still taken for granted. These historical details include: 1) the location of what was later known as the city of “Medina” at the “city of Midian” destroyed by the Israelites in Numbers 31, viz. Areopolis or Moabite Rabbath (Er-Rabba) south of the Arnon River; 2) the location of Mecca at the city of Pharan in Wadi Feiran, Sinai, within the wider domain of Petra, Pharan being, indeed, in Muhammad’s era, the center of the kingdom of the Saracens; 3) the gathering of 12,000 Jews at, and their conquest of, the “city of Midian”, that is of Moabite Rabbath, Areopolis, in an obvious comparison with the 12,000 Israelites who took the cities of Midian in Numbers 31, and, thus, the implicit comparison of their subsequent campaign in Palestine with the Israelites’ invasion of Canaan, which similarly followed the Midianite war; 4) the true background of the flight of Muhammad from “Mecca to Medina”, viz. the flight of Muhammad from Pharan to Moabite Rabbath; 5) the subsequent success of Muhammad at “Medina” proved to be the alliance of Muhammad at Moabite Rabbath with the 12,000 Jews and their acceptance of him as a prophetic leader; 6) the seminal influence of Sergius Bahira on Muhammad; 7) the dating of the death of Sergius to the period following Muhammad’s initial successes in Palestine, and prior to the death of Muhammad himself.}

“Thomas Artzruni, II. 4 (14) (composed beginning of 10th century AD):

“How the wicked kingdom of the Persians came to an end and was succeeded by the even more wicked (kingdom) of the Ishmaelites

“In the time of the Byzantine emperor Heraclius the Persian kingdom reached its end. And at that time there came and gathered in the city of Edessa 12,000 men from all the tribes of Israel. As they had seen that the Persian army had left and abandoned the city, they entered (Edessa), closed the gates, fortified themselves therein, and began to rebel against Roman rule. But the emperor Heraclius commanded them to be besieged. The king’s brother Theodore and the host of the army wished to slaughter them, but the king commanded them to go from his territory. They took the desert road and went to Arabia to the sons of Ishmael, to the city called Madiam {Midian}, which Israel had destroyed on leaving Egypt in its war with Balak, king of Moab. {For the account see Numbers ch. 31.} And because the Persian power had become very weak, they fearlessly entered the city of Madiam and dwelt in it.

“They sent messengers to the sons of Ishmael, indicating their close relationship: “We are sons of Abraham, we and you, brothers. You must come to our help, and we shall take the land of our inheritance”. But although the latter were persuaded, yet there was a great division among them, because they were divided by the worship of idols according to each one’s desire.

“At that time there were some despotic brothers in the regions of Arabia Petraea in the place (called) P’aran {Pharan}, which is now called Mak’a {Mecca} — warlike chieftains, worshipers of the temple of the Ammonites of the image called Samam and K’abar. It happened that one of them, called Abdla, died leaving a son of tender age called Mahmet {Muhammad}. His uncle Abutalib took and raised him until he reached puberty. On attaining a sufficient age he dwelt with a certain wealthy man from among their kin. He served him faithfully, pastured camels, and was the steward of his house. When some time had passed, the master of the house died. Seeing that Mahmet was a faithful man and very judicious in all worldly affairs, the wife (widow) married him and turned over to him all the supervision of the house and property. So he became a merchant by trade and skilled in commerce. He undertook distant journeys on mercantile business, to Egypt and the regions of Palestine. And while he was engaged in this business he happened to meet in the regions of Egypt a monk called Sargis Bhira, who had been a disciple of the mania of the Arians. {Thomas wrongly describes Sergius as an Arian, simply because he denied the particular Trinitarian theology of the Armenian sect Thomas belonged to. Sergius was a Nestorian, with idiosyncratic doctrines which led to his exclusion from his parent community.} Becoming acquainted with him and in the course of time becoming friendly, he taught (Mahmet) many things, especially concerning the old testaments and that God has by nature no Son. {This, again, reflects Thomas’ mistaken views as to Sergius’ beliefs.} He tried to persuade him to follow the former faith of the Israelites: “For if you accept this, I predict that you will become a great general and the leader of all your race”. He reminded him of God’s promise to Abraham and of the rites of circumcision and sacrifice and all the other things which it is not necessary to mention here in detail. On these the Ishmaelites speculate to the very end (i.e. the nth degree). It happened one day when he was departing from him that a strange voice, an inspiration fearsome and demonic, fell upon him and drove him out of his senses …. {Thomas inserts here an aside concerning the mother of Antichrist.} For when his traveling companions asked why he had lost his wits, he said: “Some fearsome angel’s voice fell on me and ordered me to go as a messenger to my nation, to show (them) God the Creator of heaven and earth, to take upon myself the title of leadership and to refute and destroy the false faith in idols”. Coming to P’aran he repeated these same words to his uncle called Abljehr. He said: “What is this new faith which is now being revealed by you? If you say any more you will be responsible for your own safety”. Grieved, he went to his own house, for he was continuously oppressed by the demon; perhaps God allowed him to suppose that his loss of reason (was caused) by an angel. And many of them believed him when he said he was a messenger of God.

“One day, when he was depressed from his uncle’s threats, Ali son of Abutalib came in and said to him: “For what reasons do you sit depressed?” He said: “I preach God the creator of heaven and earth, but they reject me with threats”. Now Ali was a valiant man. He said to him: “Arise, let us go out, for there are many men with us. Perhaps there may be some good solution to this matter.”

“When they had gone outside, Mahmet began to speak the same words publicly. There was a great outcry among them and such a dispute that many of them drew their swords. Mahmet’s side was defeated; many on both sides were wounded, and Mahmet and Ali fled with about forty men. They came to the city of Madiam which we mentioned above. On hearing the cause of their flight the Jews, like zealots for God and as sons of Abraham and mutual brothers, were emboldened to unity and to proclaim that his words were true. They joined him and made a pact, gave him a wife from their nation, and made ready to support him in whatever way his wishes might dictate. So one could say that it was by a command of God that this undertaking began. The Jews joined with the Ishmaelites, forming a large army. Attacking P’aran, they inflicted a great defeat on their opponents, killed Abljehr and many of the Ammonite and Moabite troops, destroyed the images of Samam in his temple, and dared say that the temple was the house of Abraham. They subjected all the inhabitants of the neighboring regions and wiped out by the sword all resistance.

“When Mahmet saw the success of this venture and the concord of the Jews, he proclaimed himself head and leader of them all. He appointed as his officers and generals Ali and Abubik’r and ‛Amr and Ut’man. He sent a message to Theodore, the brother of Heraclius, in that the Jews had cooperated:

““God promised this land to Abraham and his seed, and it was in their possession for a long time. And if God was disgusted with their wicked deeds and gave it into your hands, let the period you have held it suffice for you. Now we are the sons of Abraham and you know the promise made to Ishmael our father. Give to us our land peacefully, otherwise we shall take it by war — and not only that (land) but also many others”. He (Theodore) wished to show it to the king, but Heraclius died in those same days. His son Constans did not agree to respond as he (Theodore) had wished, but simply ordered caution and not to wage war against them until he saw the outcome of events. But the army of Ishmael was vigorously straining for war. So wishing to defend the country (the Byzantines) went out against them. Leaving their horses, they opposed them on foot. The latter, having been at rest, attacked them. Exhausted by the weight of their arms, the great heat of the sun, the density of the sand which gave no support to the feet, and their tramping on foot, and distressed in every way, they fell into the hands of the enemy who slew them with their swords. Reaching the site of their camp, (the Muslims) seized a great amount of booty, and began fearlessly to spread over the land because they had no worries of any battle.

“Then the inhabitants of Jerusalem, seeing the perilous situation with no hope of help, took the divine holy symbol of the Lord with their church ornaments and brought them in flight to the imperial capital to Constans. And Ishmael ruled over all Judaea.

“Now the Arian monk whom we mentioned above, Mahmet’s teacher, on seeing his success rose up and went to Mahmet (to ask for) his kind favor, as if he had attained such things on being instructed by his teacher. But since (Mahmet) said he had a message from an angel and not from a man, he was very vexed at this and killed him secretly.

“At this very time there was a certain hermit in the regions of Persia who had a pupil called Salman. At the hour of his death the hermit gave him these instructions: “My son, on my death do not remain in this land lest you lose your faith among the infidels, but go to the regions of Egypt to dwell in the numerous company of brethren (monks) so that you may gain your soul”. When the hermit died, Salman intended to carry out his instructions. On his journey he happened to come to the city of Madiam; he had knowledge of the scriptures, though not a perfect one. When Mahmet saw him, he summoned him and attached him to him, and ordered him to write a book of laws for his nation by the hand of Abut’uraba the Ishmaelite; for he himself did not know writing or reading. Salman agreed to write for him and composed a fictitious book, some of it from accurate memory, other parts being imaginary sayings. But Mahmet himself, moved by a raving spirit, had him write perverse (things), of which we shall give brief extracts.

“He said that he was the Consoler whom the Lord Christ had promised to send to his disciples; he said he was equal to the Savior, his travelling companion — in the words of Isaiah: “riding one on a donkey, and the other on a camel”. All this he applied to himself. Instead of holy baptism (he prescribed) continual washings with water, and reckoned this was sufficient for purification. The heavenly gifts which the Lord has promised for the future, the ineffable and angelic renewal, he said were vast quantities of food and drink; should one wish to eat insatiably one would find them (already) prepared. And there would be continual and insatiable intercourse with women who remained virgins. It is too long to repeat all his impure sayings, for they are many and opposed to God. And all this he affirmed and set down for his nation, calling it the Quran.

“…. {Thomas inserts a diatribe against the Muslims.} All these evils he {Mahmet} accomplished, and even more laws than these he established for his nation in his multifarious wickedness. Having lived for twenty years in this fashion he died, and appointed Abubak’r to the leadership of the Arabs.”

3. A Chronicler of Khuzistan on Midian = Medina

A Chronicler of Khuzistan (written before ca. 660s, i.e. within a single generation of Muhammad himself, and a very short time after the Othmanic edition of the Quran was imposed on all Muslims):

…. Medina is named after Midian, Abraham’s fourth son by Qetura; it is also called Yathrib. And Dumat Jandal [belongs to them {viz. the Muslims}], and the territory of the Hagaraye {the Hagarenes, i.e. Saracens}, which is rich in water, palm trees and fortified buildings {this description can only apply to Wadi Feiran, the capital of the kingdom of the Saracens}…. (Chron. Khuzistan, 38-39 [pp. 187-188]).”

4. Some Major Geographical Alterations Made in the Quran

“Characteristic of post-Othmanic exegesis was the relocation of the few precise geographical terms in the text of the Quran to far-off Saudi Arabia, away from the Levantine neighborhood, which was the scene of the original Revelation, and of the currently on-going Islamic advance. This had the effect of distancing the narrative of the post-Othmanic interpretation from the Syrian and Nabataean milieu of the Hashimite original, and hence made it more difficult to discredit, as well as removing it from its Nestorian Christian context. (Fuller details on the geographical location of the original Mecca and of the original Medina can be found in Testimony #10 infra.)

“Thus, for example, the important shrine at “Bekka” or “Bakka” (also pronounced “Mecca”), mentioned in the Othmanic Quran, was originally located on Mount Sinai, and the city so named was the city of Pharan (also spelled Paran) within the wider territory of Arabia Petraea in the Sinai Peninsula: sic, according to the Othmanic Quran itself (Sura 95:1-4), 7th century AD, and according to Thomas Artzruni, 10th century AD, the city of Pharan being still known as Mecca in his day. The earliest historical witness to the location of the Mountain on which the Law was given, the Coptic monk Cosmas Indicopleustes (early 6th century AD, Christian Topography, Book V, MS p. 195f., ed. Migne, Patrologia Graeca vol. 88, col. 198ff.) says the city of Pharan lay immediately under Mount Sinai. The relevant passage of Thomas Artzruni, cited in full hereafter, reads: “…. in the regions of Arabia Petraea in the place (called) P’aran {Pharan}, which is now called Mak’a {Mecca}”. The Quranic verses read as follows: “By the fig and the olive, and the Mount of Sinai, this City of Security, We [Allah and the angels] have indeed created man in the best of molds.” The words “City of Security” are used to describe the site of the shrine known as the Kaaba to which the Othmanic Quran commanded pilgrimages to be made, and prayers to be directed, for the reasons given in Sura 5:97, “Allah made the Kaaba the Sacred House as an asylum of security”, and in Sura 3:96-97, “The first house [= place of worship] appointed for men was that at Bekka …. In it are signs manifest, for example the station of Abraham [viz. where Abraham once stood]: whoever enters it attains security …. etc.” The Quran explicitly locates the City of Security at Mount Sinai. The Bekka/Mecca which was the sacred site of the Muslims, according to a Samaritan tradition (Asatir VIII. 3), was the Biblical Hebrew “Boachah” (in Samaritan Hebrew “Baka”) mentioned in Genesis 25. 18 as located next to the district of Shur. The wilderness of Shur stretched southwards from the northern coast of the Sinai peninsula, east of the Nile Delta and Lake Timsah, along the western Sinaitic coast of the Gulf of Suez as far as Wadi Feiran (the site of the city Pharan), and thus immediately adjoined Boachah/Baka/​Bekka/​Mecca at Mount Sinai. Shur was inhabited by the Ishmaelites in their earliest days.

“The wider area encompassing Pharan and the Desert of Paran was Arabia Petraea. It included the desert east and south of the Dead Sea, the territory along the eastern shores of the Gulf of Akaba, and the Peninsula of Sinai. Pharan, in Wadi Feiran under Mount Serbal (which was Mount Sinai according to Cosmas Indicopleustes, viz. the mountain he locates six Roman miles from the city of Pharan in Wadi Feiran), a little to the north of the port of Tor on the Gulf of Suez, was the site of the first miracle of water from the rock performed by Moses, and Petra, the cave-city in the mountains south of the Dead Sea, the site of the second miracle of water from the rock, as well as of the tomb of Aaron. Muhammad’s mentor Sergius is commonly reported to have been resident in Bozra near Petra and to have frequented Mount Sinai.

“That the Mount Sinai referred to in the Quran was Mount Serbal, towering over Wadi Feiran, not the site at St Catherine’s monastery much later identified as Mount Sinai, is proven by the reference in the Quranic verse to figs and olives, which are abundant in the luxurious palm-grove of Wadi Feiran, but absent in the parched plains around St Catherine’s. (On this and the following geographical facts relating to Mount Serbal-Sinai, see the relevant sections supra and infra.) Another Quranic reference to olives at Mount Sinai is cited by Mukaddisi (179) and the description of the location only fits Mount Serbal, Cosmas’ Mount Sinai, not St. Catherine’s: “Tur Sina [Mount Sinai] lies not far from the Bahr al Kulzum (the Red Sea). One goes up to it from a certain village called Al Amn [viz. Elim] which same is the place where Moses and the children of Israel encamped. There are here twelve springs of fairly sweet water, and thence up to Sinai is two days’ march. The Christians have a monastery (Dair) in Mount Sinai, and round it are some well cultivated fields, and there grow here olive-trees, said to be those mentioned by Allah in the Kuran (chap. xxiv., verse 35), where it is written concerning that ‛blessed tree, an olive neither of the east, nor of the west.’ And the olives from these trees are sent as presents to kings.” Here Sinai is near the Red Sea, which is true of Mount Serbal, but not of the mountain at St. Catherine’s; the fields around Sinai are cultivated, which is again true of the former, not of the latter, and Serbal is two days’ journey from Elim (identified by the monks as the port of Tor on the Gulf of Suez), not three days’ journey like St. Catherine’s. Similarly in Idrisi (2): “Jabal at Tur [Mount Sinai] is reached from Faran (Paran) [i.e. the city of Faran in wadi Feiran]. It lies close to the (Red) Sea, and the mountain-chain stretches parallel thereto, and between it and the sea is a road that is much traversed. It is a high mountain into which you go up by steps, and at its summit is a mosque where there is a well of stagnant water, from which those who come and go may drink.” Again here the location of Sinai is close to the Red Sea at the Gulf of Suez, in a mountain-chain running parallel to, and separated from, the sea by a plain. This is precisely the case with Mount Serbal. Serbal is located in the mountain-chain running like a vast granite wall parallel to the Gulf of Suez. The mountains are separated from the latter by the Plain of Kaa (inland from the port of Tor, the traditional monastic site of Elim). Travelers pass across the latter to Serbal and onward another day’s journey to St. Catherine’s. St. Catherine’s is much further inland within the mountainous zone, and not noticeable from the Red Sea. There are steps running up the slopes of Serbal, as described by Idrisi. The mosque on one of the peaks referred to here, with a well of stagnant water in it, is doubtless the original Kaaba shrine, at the place called “Bekka”. Only the pagan Arabs, and other Ishmaelites, before the reception of Muhammad’s Revelation, were interested in this site, and its name is consequently unknown to Christian and Classical sources. When the Revelation popularized it, its name was transferred to the city of Pharan in Wadi Feiran, and this was known henceforth as the “city” of “Bekka/Mecca”, being the principal civilian settlement in the vicinity of the sacred location on the mountain. The water in the shrine is referred to elsewhere in Muslim sources, e.g. Ibn Ishaq in Guillaume, Life of Muhammad, 2006, p. 176. He describes a pagan precinct at Mecca sacred to Tammuz under the title Dushara : “in it was a trickle of water from a rivulet from the mountains.” The Kaaba is said to have been a pagan temple before Muhammad’s time, and Muhammad removed the idols from it. The pagan Saracens at Sinai (Serbal) are known to have had a temple to the moon-god on the mountain before the Muslim era. It contained a sacred stone which supposedly turned from white to black when the moon entered a certain phase. This undoubtedly was the original “black stone” at “Bekka” which became famous in Islamic legend, and this similarly is said to have turned from white to black.

“The whole area of Paran (Pharan, Faran), and more widely of Arabia Petraea, was associated with Abraham in the most ancient sections of the Torah (where Petra is called Kadesh, “Holy Place”, and En-mishpat, “Fountain of Judgment”, retrospectively after the water miracle), and so too in the Quran. Abraham was indeed present in the vicinity of “Bekka” (Pharan), as he is said in Genesis to have camped “between Kadesh and Shur”, that is, between Petra and the desert east of the Nile Delta and along the shore of the Gulf of Suez, which included the territory of Pharan. Abraham dismissed Hagar and her son Ishmael into this wilderness area, and he is said to have dwelt henceforth in the “wilderness of Paran” or Pharan (Gen. 21. 21), which stretched from the vicinity of Mount Sinai and Wadi Feiran north and eastwards towards Kadesh (Petra), as demonstrated by a comparison of Numbers 10. 12 and the following passages describing the journey to Kadesh, with Numbers 13. 26. All the events referred to in those Biblical passages are described as having transpired within the wilderness of Paran. The Othmanic Quran itself (Sura 34:17) admits Abraham dismissed Hagar and Ishmael into the vicinity of Allah’s sacred house, the Kaaba: “O Lord,” Abraham is there quoted as saying, “I have caused some of my offspring [referring to Ishmael and his descendants] to dwell in an unfruitful valley [lit. wadi] near thy holy house”. Therefore, the Kaaba was in the near vicinity of the wilderness of Paran, since Paran was where Ishmael dwelt according to Gen. 21. 21. In fact, Wadi Feiran (Paran/Pharan) itself, so named after the wilderness, was most definitely in the days of Ishmael an “unfruitful valley”, as the Othmanic Quran states it was, since it was barren and without water as late as the time of Moses: Moses brought forth water from the rock at Rephidim within Wadi Feiran precisely because it was required in that parched and desolate valley to give drink to the Exodus Israelites. In the post-Othmanic interpretation “Bekka” was identified with Mecca in Saudi Arabia (an alternative spelling for which was “Bekka”). And the name Paran, referring originally, and in all the earlier historical sources, to the wilderness in the vicinity of the Sinaitic “Bekka”, was transferred, along with the name of the shrine, to Saudi Arabia. The word “Bekka”, “Boachah” in Biblical Hebrew and “Baka” in Samaritan Hebrew, will be shown (infra) to mean “Agitated” or “Frantic” in the act of running to and fro, and the fuller form of the place-name, Boachah Ashur, to mean “Frantic Step”, in reference, most probably, to the frantic search of Hagar for water for her and her son Ishmael, which God eventually provided by revealing to her a fountain at that place (Genesis 21. 12-21). Abraham, Hagar and Ishmael, of course, historically, were never present in Saudi Arabia. As a consequence of the post-Othmanic dislocation, the whole history of Abraham and his family was transported into the far-off southern deserts, and has remained there, in Arab mythology, ever since.

“The association of Bekka on Mount Sinai with Hagar and Abraham in the Othmanic Quran built also on the typology employed by Paul in Galatians 4. 25, which identified Hagar (viz. the Hagarenes or Ishmaelites) with Mount Sinai in Arabia. Sinai signified, according to this exegesis of the Apostle Paul, the Mosaic Law dispensed on that mountain; and the fact that Sinai was located in Ishmaelite territory, signified that those (Jews) who were in bondage under the Mosaic Law were merely “children of Abraham” in a physical or genetic sense, like Ishmael, whilst spiritual (Christ-believing) children of Abraham were typed by Isaac, the “child of promise”, and their homeland was the heavenly Jerusalem. Traditions associating certain rocky eminences around Bekka (originally, that is, the area of Mount Sinai-Serbal and Wadi Feiran), with Hagar, proliferated as a consequence in later Muslim tradition.

“Similarly, the “Medina” of the Quran denoted originally (as in some texts of the Syriac Bahira legend and other chronicles) a particular “city of Midian” in Arabia Petraea, that is, within the district east, south, and south-east of the Dead Sea, and the neighboring areas under Midianite control: but in the post-Othmanic interpretation “Medina” was identified with Medina in Saudi Arabia. The meaning of the name Midian was “dispute, disputatious judgment”, and the form Medinah or Medina, meant “the location of such a disputatious judgment”, hence “province, city etc.”, and this name too, for obvious reasons, was of frequent occurrence in the Near East. The obscure references in the current text of the Quran to a migration of people connected with Muhammad from Bekka to Medina was explained in terms of a supposed flight of Muhammad from the Saudi Arabian Mecca to the Saudi Arabian Medina in the post-Othmanic interpretation, instead of by the historical flight and migration of Muhammad and forty or so companions from his birthplace Bekka, viz. Pharan (where his prophecy was at first rejected), to the “city of Midian”, as Thomas Artzruni calls it. The latter was defined by Thomas as one of the Midianite cities destroyed by the Exodus Israelites, according to Numbers 31. The city named “Midian” referred to in Numbers, the one associated with the daughters of Moab and the feast of Baal-Peor, — was that which was situated just south of the River Arnon adjoining Areopolis on the borders of Moab, as described in Jerome’s Latin version of the Onomasticon of Eusebius. (Areopolis is the Hebrew Ar Moab, the Byzantine Rabbathmoba, Moabite Rabbath, the modern Er-Rabba in Jordan.) The Onomasticon differentiated it from the identically named “city of Midian” near Tabuk further south, on the east coast of the Gulf of Akaba, which was where Jethro welcomed Moses in his flight from Pharaoh. By the time of Muhammad the population of the ancient, now ruined, city of Midian south of the Arnon, had transferred to the newer city immediately adjoining, that is, to Areopolis or Moabite Rabbath, and the latter had become known as the “city of Midian”. The followers of Muhammad preferred the Biblical name, city of Midian (Arabic Medina), because it reminded them that they were the “new Israel” entering the Promised Land by the same route as the ancient Exodus Israelites. In Muhammad’s day an army of 12,000 Jews had gathered in this city of Midian, having been expelled from Edessa in northern Syria by the Byzantines. Muhammad was accepted by the Jews as their prophetic leader, and they marched under his banner into Palestine. (This according to the Armenian chronicle, based on eye-witness accounts, and on the related sources drawn on by Thomas Artzruni.) The flight of Muhammad from Pharan (“Mecca”) to Midian (the “city of Midian”, or “Medina”) was the incident which triggered these later successful military adventures, and hence of major importance in the history and progress of the Revelation.

“By the by, Muhammad is represented in the eye-witness account preserved in the Armenian chronicle as a strong supporter of the claims of Israel to the Promised Land, to the point of willing to die in battle in order to put effect to those claims. The same attitude is evinced in the behavior of Muhammad’s immediate successors, according to that account. This is the reverse of the post-Othmanic narrative, which has had such a deleterious effect on the relations of Muslims and Jews since the time of Othman.”

5. The Traditional Location of Mecca at Pharan and Medina at Midian (Moabite Rabbath, Areopolis, modern Er-Rabba) in Arabia Petraea

“According to Thomas Artzruni, Mecca was the later name for the city called Pharan in the days of Muhammad himself: “At that time {the era of Muhammad} there were some despotic brothers in the regions of Arabia Petraea in the place (called) P’aran {Pharan}, which is now called Mak’a {Mecca} — warlike chieftains, worshipers of the temple of the Ammonites of the image called Samam and K’abar.” Pharan, also spelled Paran, was a small city in Wadi Feiran (Feiran = Pharan) at the foot of Mount Serbal, that is, in the far west of the Sinai Peninsula, somewhat to the north of the port of Tor on the Gulf of Suez. Mount Serbal, according to the 6th-century Coptic monk Cosmas Indicopleustes, was the Mount Sinai of the Hebrew Scriptures where Moses received the Law. Note the statement of Thomas Artzruni that Pharan was in the territory which the Romans called Arabia Petraea. The metropolis of this province was Petra, a little south of the Dead Sea in modern-day Jordan.

“The connection of Mecca with the city-state of Petra passed down into Medieval and Renaissance times. From J. H. Hottinger, Historia Orientalis, Zürich, 1660, p. 215: “‘The capital of Arabia Petraea is the City of Petra’, according to the account of Lud. Godof. page 230, ‘which the Holy Scriptures call Petra Deserti {Petra of the Desert}, and there are many who consider this to be the same Mecca in which Muhammad was born.’” He cites Alessandro Sardi, the Renaissance scholar, ibid. p. 214f., as calling Mecca “Arach”, in spite of the fact Mecca in Saudi Arabia never had this name. Hottinger argues that the appellative “Arach” became attached wrongly to the Saudi Arabian Mecca because of the widespread tradition that the Mecca or Bekka where Muhammad was born was Petra, as Petra was indeed called “Arach” (also “Archam”) in the Middle Ages. Hottinger (p. 215) quotes Adrianus Romanus in Theatro Urbium in this regard: “Arach was formerly called Petra.”

“There is a little confusion in the nomenclature because the ancient names had specific meanings, and the later names more general ones. The name Arach and Archam was derived from the ancient Midianite chief Rekem of Numbers 31, who inhabited the rock-caves of Petra before the Exodus, hence the Greeks knew this place as Arkem or Arekeme (from Rekem, producing the later Medieval form Archam) and Arke (whence the Medieval Arach). At the time of the Exodus, the Israelites inhabited the site some time themselves under the name of Kadesh, the “Sanctuary” (so-called on account of the second miracle of water from the rock performed there). Later still the location was known in Hebrew as Sela, the “Rock, Cliff-face”, which is nowadays denominated the Sik. The Sik is a huge rock-face, split by a chasm along its length, which was formed, according to the Bedouin account, by the smiting of Moses’ rod, when he brought forth the water. The chasm is the entrance, and a very magnificent entrance, to the ancient cave-city. The Hebrew term “Sela” for this rock-face translates into Greek as “Petra”, the “Rock”.

“In Roman Imperial and early Byzantine times the Nabataeans ruled the whole of Arabia Petraea, along with some adjoining districts, from the aforesaid cave-city. It was called in that era Petra. Thus what might be termed the city-state of Petra (as opposed to the cave-city itself) included at the time parts of what was anciently termed the Desert of Paran or Pharan, which stretched from the notable city of Pharan in Wadi Feiran in Sinai eastwards and northwards to within a few miles of the cave-city of Petra. The city of Pharan in Wadi Feiran was itself the center of an important Late Roman and Byzantine Saracen state. The term Paran or Pharan denoted both the city of Pharan in Wadi Feiran and the adjoining desert, the eastern portion of which was included in the territory of Petra. Hence, no doubt, the belief arose in Medieval times that Mecca where Muhammad was reared, originally the city of Pharan, according to Thomas Artzruni, was “Petra” or “Arach”, Pharan in this case being understood to be a geographical name referring to that portion of the desert of Pharan included within the territory of the city-state of Petra, rather than as the name of the city in Wadi Feiran. This belief would have acquired a stronger hold on the Medieval historical consciousness on account of the fact that the city of Pharan by that time had been reduced to a heap of ruins, and had ceased to be permanently inhabited. Petra, though deserted too in Medieval times, had a more prominent name than the city of Pharan in the ancient history of the East, and would naturally be adopted by preference as a geographical anchor-point for the traditions about Muhammad’s early life. Thus, the name of the metropolis itself, “Arach”, came to be used as an alternative name for the whole of Arabia Petraea, including the city of Pharan at the base of Mount Sinai. An example of this usage is found in the commentary of J. W. Goebelius to the Works of H. Conringius (ed. Brunsvigae, 1730, p. 451 note [g]): “[Arabia] Petraea, which took its name from the city of Petra, and was the Nabathaea of the ancients, nowadays called Herac and Arach, in which are the mountains Sinai and Horeb, likewise the deserts of Sin, Zur, Kedar, Kades, and the notable cities Bussereth, Herath, Eltor, Eilan, Havarra and Median.” (Latin: “[Arabia] Petraea, quae ab urbe Petra nomen tulit veterumque Nabathaea fuit, nunc Herac & Arach appellata, in qua sunt montes Sinai & Horeb, item deserta Sin, Zur, Kedar, Kades, urbes praecipuae Bussereth, Herath, Eltor, Eilan, Havarra & Median.”)

“Even in the earliest stages of the textual corruption of the Evangelical Quran, traditions of the Subba, or Mandaeans of Iraq, were inveigled into the text. The Mandaeans were classed as Nabataeans by the Muslims, and the Nabataeans were traced from Nebajoth, the firstborn of Ishmael. There was, therefore, an ethnological connection between the Subba and the Ishmaelite family of Muhammad who were geographically located in the regions of Sinai inhabited by the Nabataeans.

The Subba derived their religious traditions from the Samaritans. It would be no surprise to find Subba, “Nabataean”, or early Muhammadan traditions in general, preserved by the Samaritans. And, in fact, we find unique traditions relating to the geography of the Nabataean Ishmaelites of Muhammad’s era preserved in the Samaritan chronicle known as the Asatir. (Asatir, ed. trans. Gaster, [Pitron, or, Commentary] VIII. 3f., p. 243, and [Asatir text] VIII. 3, and footnote 3 ibid., p. 262.) This chronicle states that the people of Nebajoth son of Ishmael built Mecca or Beccah within thirty years of the death of Ishmael, and it identifies the famous Arabian city with the place-name mentioned in Genesis 25. 18: “17. And these are the years of the life of Ishmael, an hundred and thirty and seven years: and he gave up the ghost and died; and was gathered unto his people. 18 And they dwelt from Havilah unto Shur, that is before Egypt; in Boachah Ashur he [viz. Ishmael, or, “it”, viz. the people] encamped [lit. “fell”, which can also mean, less plausibly in this instance, “fell dead”] in the presence of [or, “east of”, or “overlooking”] all his brethren [or, “its fellow-tribesmen”].” The Samaritans split the verse at the word “Egypt” and identified the place-name Boachah in the second half of the verse as Becca/Bakkah/Mecca. The word is read Baka in Samaritan Hebrew. The common Muslim tradition, accordingly, holds that Ishmael lived and died in “Mecca”. The Hebrew phrase “Boachah Ashurah” is usually translated “as thou goest [boachah] to Assyria [Ashurah]”. Grammatically there is no objection to that translation. But it has always remained a mystery why the rather limited territory occupied by the Ishmaelites in their earliest days, around Shur in the zone immediately east of Egypt in the Sinai peninsula (“before Egypt” as the text states), should be extended in that same text as far as Assyria, which was hundreds of miles away to the north and east. The Egyptian road known as the “Way of Horus” did run eastwards through Shur and onwards through Palestine and Syria as far as Assyria, but there is no Scriptural or historical evidence, and, indeed it is inherently improbable, that the Ishmaelites inhabited those vast intervening territories in their early days. The Samaritan interpretation found in the chronicle itself (Asatir VIII. 3, Gaster, p. 262) removes the difficulty, even if the Pitron or Commentary (ibid. p. 243) still understands the place-name following Boachah, that is, Ashurah, as a reference to Assyria on the Euphrates. Thus, the Ishmaelite people, or Ishmael himself, encamped in (locative final -h in Ashurah) the place known as “Boachah Ashur”. Boachah would be a Poal participle of the verb bk (for bwk, as q’m for qwm), meaning “disturbed/agitated/frantic”, and ashur (which can be feminine in gender) means “step”. Boachah Ashur means “Frantic Step”. Since Mecca (and therefore Boachah [Ashur], according to the Samaritans) was traditionally, and specifically, the place Hagar frantically ran backwards and forwards searching for water for her dying son Ishmael, the place-name “Frantic Step” is highly appropriate. From the early Armenian sources we know Mecca was located at Pharan in Wadi Feiran, and more precisely, on Mount Sinai, where a small fountain supplied water. According to Muslim tradition the fountain at “Mecca” was the well Zamzam, miraculously opened up for Hagar by an angel, thus supplying her and her son with life-giving water.

“One of the mountain peaks Hagar ran between during this episode was Mount Arafat (traditionally also located near “Mecca”). Arafat features in the same Samaritan chronicle and a parallel source exchanges “Paran” for “Arafat”. (Gaster, Asatir, p. 190, Asatir I. 17, and ibid. note.) Here too, evidently, the real geographical setting is Wadi Feiran. In Asatir it is Adam and Eve who are associated with Arafat, and the same association has been transferred from the original Paran in Sinai to the Saudi Arabian “Paran” and “Mecca” in post-Othmanic Muslim mythology: Adam and Eve are thus represented as having frequented the same sites in the vicinity of the Saudi Arabian Mecca as Abraham, Hagar and Ishmael. The original association of Adam with Paran (and hence, secondarily with Mecca) arose from a midrash on Joshua 14. 15. The ancient name of Hebron, Kiryath-Arba, is explained in that verse by the phrase: “He [Arba] is Adam the Great [thus interpreted, rather than, “the great man”, Hebrew ha-adam ha-gadol] amongst the Anakites.” Kiryath-Arba and the dependent Anakite territories as far as El-Paran (“the terebinth of Paran”), which are referred to in Genesis 14 as the scene of the war between Amraphel and the Anakites of Kiryath-Arba, were now understood to be the home-territory of Adam (“Arba”): the location, that is, outside Paradise where he was formed from the dust, and whither he returned after the Fall. (This region is called “Campus Damascenus” in Medieval literature, meaning, the scene of the battle between the Anakites allied with Abraham and Amraphel, which was terminated by the victory of Abraham near Damascus.) Asatir locates Adam accordingly in Arafat (Paran) after the Fall.

“The text in Genesis 25. 18 locates Boachah Ashur by implication in the near vicinity of Shur, just east of Egypt. Wadi Feiran and Mount Serbal-Sinai do indeed communicate directly with the wilderness of Shur at its southern end, this zone being nowadays known as the Plain of Markah, through a series of intervening wadis, which include Wadi Mukatteb. The wilderness of Shur stretches from the region immediately east of Lake Timsah, east of the Nile Delta, and runs southwards along the western Sinaitic seaboard. The name Shur means “Wall” and this word appropriately describes the characteristic feature of this region, viz. the wall of mountains which separate the coastal strip from the mountainous zone of the hinterland. The location of Boachah Ashur on Mount Serbal overlooking, eastward of, and adjoining, Shur, the most northerly section of the Ishmaelite homeland, explains the statement in the text that Ishmaelites (or Ishmael himself) encamped there al pene, that is “overlooking/east of/in the presence of”, their brethren.

“The original site of Hagar’s fountain on Mount Sinai, Boachah Ashur (Baka, Bakka, Mecca), became a shrine of the Ishmaelites in later times. The Ishmaelites here drifted into idolatry and idols were set up in the shrine. Muhammad is said to have cleared the idols out of the shrine at Bakka, including pictures of Abraham and Ishmael carrying games of chance in their hand. Only Ishmaelites (“Saracens”) and exiled Jews frequented the shrine in Christian times, the latter presumably because of its association with Abraham. The Christian ascetics lived in caves or other dwellings around the mountain, and in greater numbers in the town of Pharan in Wadi Feiran. Occasionally gangs of outlaw Saracens raided the Christian sanctuaries, which is why Justinian built a guard-post at the mountain, and a fortress (the present-day monastery at Saint Catherine’s), to prevent their conducting raids eastward of Pharan into Palestine. The relationsip between Saracens and Christians, therefore, was uneasy, as it was also between the Jews who frequented the shrine and the Christians, on account of the religious conflict between them. That is why Muhammad only found Jews and idolaters at Bakka when he introduced them to Sergius’ Christian revelation, and was at first rejected. By Bakka in the earliest days was meant the local shrine on the mountain. Later, as aforesaid, the name Bakka was extended to Pharan, when it was conquered by Muhammad. As Thomas Artzruni says of the Pharan in Arabia Petraea, it “is now called Mak’a {Mecca}”, that is, following the spread of Islam, as described in that work, but prior to the beginning of the 10th century AD when Artzruni was writing.

“Christians in pre-Islamic times rarely visited the pagan shrine at Bakka for the reasons mentioned, as well as for the more obvious reason of the idolatry practiced there. Providentially, however, a record of one such visit has survived from the mid-sixth century AD just before the rise of Islam. It shows the separation in those days between the Coptic Christians in Wadi Feiran and the environs and the pagan Saracens at their shrine. It also provides details about the sacred (idolatrous) stone in the shrine, which was adopted by the later Muslims as the Black stone of Mecca. The shrine is said to have been located on Mount Horeb, which in these early Christian accounts is treated as one of the seven peaks of Serbal adjoining the central and highest peak, called Sinai. The name Sinai was also extended at this period to the seven-peaked mountain as a whole. Thus, the shrine is said to have been located on Sinai, though strictly it was on the peak called Horeb. The following account is from the Itinerary of the Pilgrim of Placentia c. AD 550-570 (ed. Geyer, recensio prima, 37ff., my additional notes in braces {}) reads as follows:

“37. Traveling on foot through the desert, on the eighteenth day we arrived at the place where Moses brought forth water from the rock. Passing on from there the next day, we came to the Mount of God, Horeb, and pressing forward with the aim of ascending Sinai, there met us an innumerable multitude of monks and hermits, carrying crosses and singing psalms. They prostrated themselves on the ground at our feet, and we at theirs, with tears in our eyes. They then conducted us to the valley separating Horeb from Sinai, at the foot of which latter mountain is the spring where Moses caught sight of the miraculous burning bush, when he was watering his flocks in the place. This spring is enclosed within a monastery and the monastery itself surrounded by fortified walls. There are three abbots within it who speak several languages, namely Latin, Greek, Syriac, Egyptian and Persian [Persian: from a variant in the second recension], as well as many interpreters of individual languages. There are monastic establishments inside it. We then proceeded on up the mountain without halt for three [Roman] miles, until we came to the location of the cave in which Elijah hid, when he fled from Jezebel. A spring bubbles forth in front of this cave, providing water for the mountain. We then proceeded on upwards three [Roman] miles to the peak of the mountain. There is a place of prayer there of modest proportions, about six feet long in both directions. No-one is presumptuous enough to stay there permanently, but at first light the monks make their way up to it and perform divine service. The custom is for all visitors to clip their beards and hair and deposit the clippings there, and I accordingly cut my beard. 38. Mount Sinai is wholly composed of rock, and hardly any gravel. There are many cells of God’s servants around its circumference, and similarly on Mount Horeb, and they say Horeb is clean gravel. On this mountain, in a certain part of the mountain, the Saracens have set up their idol, made of marble, as white as snow. Here they have a priest on permanent duty, arrayed in a long woolen inner robe and a linen outer robe. So when the time of their festival comes round, with the revolution of the moon, before the moon moves out of its phase, on their feast day the color of that marble begins to change: presently the moon enters its phase, and when they begin to worship the idol, the marble becomes black as pitch. When their festival is over, it resumes its original color, at which we were all amazed.

“The “city of Midian” to which Muhammad fled from Pharan, and where he joined forces with 12,000 Jews, was defined by Thomas as one of the Midianite cities destroyed in ancient times by the Exodus Israelites, according to the Book of Numbers, chapter 31. “They {the 12,000 Jews who fled from Edessa} took the desert road and went to Arabia to the sons of Ishmael, to the city called Madiam {Midian}, which Israel had destroyed on leaving Egypt in its war with Balak, king of Moab. {For the account see Numbers ch. 31.} And because the Persian power had become very weak, they fearlessly entered the city of Madiam and dwelt in it.” The particular city named “Midian” referred to in Numbers, — the one associated with the daughters of Moab and the feast of Baal-Peor initiated by Balak king of Moab, — was that which was situated just south of the River Arnon adjoining Areopolis on the borders of Moab, as described in Jerome’s Latin version of the Onomasticon of Eusebius. The entry in Jerome’s version of the Onomasticon, s.v. Madian, reads: “Madian {the later form of the name Midian. Jerome proceeds to describes the first city of this name on the coast of the Red Sea} …. There is another city of the same name as this, adjoining the Arnon and Areopolis, the ruins of which only remain as evidence in our days.” Areopolis is the Hebrew Ar Moab, the Byzantine Rabbathmoba, the modern Er-Rabba in Jordan. The ancient city of Midian had been supplanted in Byzantine times by the more recent city of Areopolis, known locally as Rabbathmoba, the “Rabbath [Great City] of Moab” or “Moabite Rabbath”.

“That this was indeed the city of Midian referred to is demonstrated by a comparison of the accounts of “Sebeos” (the contemporary account of the rise of Islam) and of Thomas Artzruni. Thomas tells us Muhammad enlisted the help of 12,000 Jews at the city of Midian, campaigned successfully against the unbelievers at Pharan, then returned in triumph to the city of Midian, from which he launched his invasion of Palestine. “Sebeos” tells us Muhammad traveled from Pharan to “Moabite Rabbath”, and launched from the latter site his invasion of Palestine. The “Moabite Rabbath” of the account of “Sebeos” corresponds to the “city of Midian” of the account of Thomas Artzruni, confirming the identity of the one with the other. Jerome in the Onomasticon more precisely identified the city of Midian with what were in his day (late 4th century AD) ruins “adjoining” (Latin iuxta) Areopolis, Areopolis being also termed Rabbathmoba or “Moabite Rabbath”. The older site, evidently, was abandoned, and, as commonly in such cases, the population transferred to the newer city immediately adjoining. The Onomasticon, by the by, differentiated this city of Midian from the identically named “city of Midian” near Tabuk further south, on the east coast of the Gulf of Akaba, which was where Jethro welcomed Moses in his flight from Pharaoh.

“Accordingly, in Muhammad’s day, as inferred from the account of Thomas Artzruni, the Arabic name for Moabite Rabbath or Areopolis was “Medina”, viz. “the city of Midian”. In Arabic legend Muhammad fled from the unbelievers of Mecca to Medina, where he was received. In Thomas Artzruni’s account, based on contemporary sources related to “Sebeos”, Muhammad fled from Pharan (later called Mecca), to the city of Midian (corresponding grammatically and otherwise to the Arabic Medina). Thus, in the early account of Al Kindi, Muhammad is said to have fled from Mecca to Medina “which was in ruins”, and “where resided only enervated people, mostly Jews without purpose” (ed. French trans. Tartar, Dialogue islamo-chrétien, p. 140, translation into English mine). This accurately describes the state of the old city of Midian adjoining Areopolis, where the Jews who accepted Muhammad’s prophecy were located.

“Cf. also H, Schaevius, Sceleton Geographicum, 1662, p. 14: Arabia Petraea “Where is Arach and Medina. Likewise Petra.” Medina here is likely to be, as in Thomas Artzruni, the city of Midian, viz Moabite Rabbath, Areopolis, in Arabia Petraea. The “Petra” referred to in Schaevius, being differentiated specifically from Arach (the city we know as Petra) can only be the city of Kerak in Arabia Petraea, as that was also called “Petra” by the Crusaders. Kerak is the Hebrew Kir Moab, the Byzantine Caracmoba, south of the Arnon, on the borders of Moab, located in Roman Imperial times within the territory of Arabia Petraea. This entry in Schaevius is listed separately from Arabia Felix (Saudi Arabia). It is a reflection of the widespread belief in Renaissance times that Medina, the site of Muhammad’s death, as well as Mecca, the site of his birth, was in Arabia Petraea.

“Similarly, since (1) Medina is the Arabic term for the “city of Midian”, (2) the “city of Midian” in Thomas Artzruni’s account is the site referred to in Numbers 31, viz. Moabite Rabbath or Areopolis (Er-Rabba) south of the River Arnon, and (3) Muhammad was buried in Medina, then the original tomb of Muhammad must have been in Moabite Rabbath or Areopolis (Er-Rabba) in modern-day Jordan. His remains may have been removed subsequently to the Medina in Saudi Arabia. The later Muslim era, that of the Hejira, was, and still is, based on the date of Muhammad’s flight from Pharan (Mecca) to Moabite Rabbath, the city of Midian (Medina, Er-Rabba), as described by Thomas Atrzruni.

“Speaking of the flight of Muhammad in Muslim tradition from Mecca to Medina, and comparing it with the Biblical Exodus traditions, Crone and Cook, Hagarism, p. 24, say: “The Islamic tradition operates with two basic categories: the exodus takes the Prophet to the ‛province’, the madina {= Medina}, whence he prepares the recovery of the ‛metropolis’, the umm al-qura {= Mecca}.” The madina is Midian in the Khuzistan chronicle (ibid. and endnote). Indeed the city of Midian was commonly referred to by the Arabs as “madinat qaum Shuaib”, that is, the “Province/city of the tribe of Jethro”. (Golius, al-Fargani p. 143; al-Kazwini, obit AD 1255, Kitab Asar al-Bitad, p. 173, ed. Wüstenfeld, 1848: “Madyan [Midian] is a city of the tribe of Shuaib [madinat qaum Shuaib], upon whom be peace! It was founded by Madyan son of Ibrahim [Abraham], the Friend (of Allah), the grandfather of Shuaib”.) The post-Othmanic Muslim writers generally never associated the Quranic Medina with the more famous city of Midian on the Red Sea, as indeed, it was never so associated: they transferred the site instead to the city in Saudi Arabia. But in this case, specifically, the province/city [madina = Medina] to which Muhammad fled was Moabite Midian, Rabbath Moab, as in Sebeos and Thomas Artzruni, not the other Midian on the coast of the Red Sea.

“The archaeological facts showing the direction of Muslim prayer marked in the earliest mosques was towards the general direction of the Sinai peninsula, not Mecca in Saudi Arabia:

“P. Crone and M. Cook, Hagarism: The Making Of The Islamic World, 1977, Cambridge University

Press, pp. 23-24.

“But the importance of the targumic north-west in the sacred geography of the Hagarenes is most dramatically confirmed by what we know of early history of the qibla {that is, the direction of Muslim prayer ed}: it is towards somewhere in north-west Arabia that they appear to have turned in prayer. In the first place, we have the archaeological evidence of two Umayyad mosques in Iraq, that of Hajjaj in Wasit and another attributed to roughly the same period near Baghdad. These mosques are oriented far too north by 33 degrees and 30 degrees respectively; and with this we may compare the literary testimony to the effect that the Iraqi qibla lay to the west. Secondly, we have the literary evidence relating to Egypt. From the Islamic side there is a tradition that the mosque of ʿAmr b. al-ʿAs in Fustat pointed too far north, and had to be corrected under the governership of Qurra b. Sharik.”

“Cook: “According to archaeological research carried out by Creswell and Fehervari on ancient mosques in the Middle East, two floor-plans from two Umayyad mosques in Iraq, one built by the governor Hajjaj in Wasit (noted by Creswell as, “the oldest mosque in Islam of which remains have come down to us” Creswell 1989: 41), and the other attributed to roughly the same period near Baghdad, have qiblahs (the direction which these mosques are facing) which do not face Mecca, but are oriented too far north (Creswell 1969: 137ff. and 1989: 40; Fehervari 1961: 89; Crone-Cook 1977: 23, 173). The Wasit mosque is off by 33 degrees, and the Baghdad mosque is off by 30 degrees.”

Maps of the Qiblas of the three early mosques mentioned supra.

Note: the orientation circles superimposed on the following maps are taken from a Muslim study,, which argues against the findings of Crone, Cook et al., and may therefore be taken as an independent, unbiased, confirmation of the orientations illustrated here. The principal argument employed on the islamic-awareness website, that the direction of prayer was based solely on astronomical considerations, is not realistic in the earliest phase of the Muslim advance, when these mosques were built. Then, as pointed out by the adherents of the Crone-Crook position, the direction of prayer was the simple geographical orientation towards the site held sacred by Muhammad, as commanded in the Quran. And that, as the argument outlined supra, and the following maps, illustrate, was towards Mount Sinai. However, the location of Sinai itself doubtless was computed by its astronomical orientation, viz. from Cairo, the direction of sunrise at the winter solstice, and in Iraq, the direction of sunset at the winter solstice, from which in each case the qibla is only a few degrees off, as shown at that link. The following reference is found in External References to Islam at​islamrefs.html. The following passage is from the Syrian Christian Jacob of Edessa (Jacob of Edessa, Letter to John the Stylite no. 14, fol. 124a; summarized by Wright, Catalogue, 2.604, and translated by Crone and Cook, Hagarism, 173 n. 30 [pp. 565-566].). Jacob of Edessa died in AD 708, and states he was an eyewitness of the direction of prayer of the Muslims, viz. in the first century of the Muslim conquest. He states the Muslims prayed “towards the Kaaba”, but also “towards the east” (if the Muslims were in Egypt), or “towards the Kaaba” and “towards the west” (if the Muslims were in Babylon). The term “east” in Syriac indicates the direction of sunrise, and “west” the direction of sunset. Evidently in this case, more precisely, as shown by the alignments of the early mosques, the direction was towards midwinter sunrise and midwinter sunset respectively. Jacob emphasizes that the direction of prayer was not towards the compass direction itself, marked by the position of the sun, but towards the physical sacred site, that is, for Muslims, the Kaaba. Thus, he says, in Syria the Muslims prayed towards the south, only because the Kaaba was in that direction, and not because they were praying “towards the south”. In other words, the position of the sacred site was worked out by its position in relation to the sun, then the mosque was pointed towards the sacred site by reference to the position of the sun. Presumably Jews and/or Christians in the pre-Muslim era had already computed the location of Mount Sinai from Cairo (that is Old Cairo, called Babylon in the later Roman Empire) and from Babylon in Mesopotamia, and had found it coincided with the direction of midwinter sunrise and midwinter sunset respectively. This knowledge will have passed down to the Muslim conquerors when they emerged out of Sinai and overwhelmed the Near East. The relevant passage of Jacob of Edessa reads: “Your question is vain . . . for it is not to the south that the Jews pray, nor either do the Muslims (mhaggraye). The Jews who live in Egypt, and also the Muslims there, as I saw with my own eyes and will now set out for you, prayed to the east, and still do, both peoples—the Jews towards Jerusalem and the Muslims towards the Kaaba. And those Jews who are to the south of Jerusalem pray to the north; and those in the land of Babel, in Hira and in Basra, pray to the west. And also the Muslims who are there pray to the west, towards the Kaaba; and those who are to the south of the Kaaba pray to the north, towards that place. So from all this that has been said, it is clear that it is not to the south that the Jews and Muslims here in the regions of Syria pray, but towards Jerusalem or the Kaaba, the patriarchal places of their races.”

Map 1. Fustat Cairo

Map: A= Fustat, Cairo Egypt, the site of the ancient mosque, B= Wadi Feiran, C= Mecca, Saudi Arabia. The Blue arrow is the orientation of the earliest mosque (pointing to Wadi Feiran, the original Bekka or Mecca). The black arrow Q marks the direction to Mecca, and the Red arrow J marks the direction to Jerusalem.

Map 2. Baghdad, Iraq

A = Baghdad, the site of the ancient mosque, B = Wadi Feiran, Sinai, C = Mecca, Saudi Arabia

The Blue arrow marks the orientation of the ancient mosque (to somewhere near the tip of the Sinai peninsula, viz. not as accurate as the nearer situated mosque in Cairo of the first map), the Black arrow marked Q is the direction to Mecca and the Red arrow marked J is the direction to Jerusalem.

3. Wasit mosque, Iraq

A = Wasit, Iraq, the site of the ancient mosque, B = Wadi Feiran, C = Mecca, Saudi Arabia

The Blue arrow marks the orientation of the mosque (to roughly the tip of the Sinai peninsula, again not as accurate as the nearer situated mosque in Cairo of the first map), the Black arrow marked Q points to Mecca, and the Red arrow marked J to Jerusalem.

Mount Serbal the Original Sinai


From: Transactions of the Royal Society of Literature of the United Kingdom, 2nd Ser., vol. III, London 1850, p. 183ff., John Hogg, “Remarks and Additional Views on Dr. Lepsius’s Proofs that Mount Serbal is the True Mount Sinai, etc.”. Braces {} enclose my own notes.

Ibid. p. 190ff.:

Again, from the Arabic Annals of Sa’id Ebn Batrik (Eutychius), in the commencement of the tenth century after Christ, it is clearly evident that the chief reason of the Emperor Justinian’s having built a convent (in the thirtieth year of his reign,17 and about twenty-five years after Cosmas had visited that Peninsula) for the monks of (the then called) Mount Sinai, on their personal request, was,—that it might be a fortress to protect them from the frequent attacks of the Ishmaelites, or Arabs, or Saracens,18 as they are indiscriminately named by the earlier writers.

The following is the narration, which, being of importance, I have translated from Professor Pocock’s Latin interpretation of those Annals.19 ‘The monks of Mount Sinai having journeyed to Justinian himself, complained that the Arabs (Ishmaelites) injured them, by devouring their provisions and pulling down their houses, and that, entering their cells, they plundered them of every thing, and rushing into their chapels, swallowed the Eucharist. Whereupon the Emperor asking them, what they desired?—they say, we ask, O King, that you would build for us a monastery in which we may be fortified. For neither before that time was there any convent in Mount Sinai wherein the monks resorted together, but they dwelt here and there in the mountains and valleys about the Bush


17 “An Arabic inscription over the gate” of the present convent, “in modern characters, says that Justinian built the convent in the thirtieth year of his reign, as a memorial of himself and his wife Theodora.”—Burckhardt’s ‘Syria,’ p. 545.

18 The forefathers of the present Bedouins. The word Saracens, Σαρακηνοὶ, is used by Eusebius, and as early as the time of Dionysius of Alexandria. I am strongly inclined to derive it from “Sarah, the wife of Abraham,” in Hebrew שרה and, with Mr. Forster, to maintain “the scriptural origin of that name,” rather than to deduce it from Sahara, which means a ‘desert.’—See ‘Historical Geography of Arabia,’ vol. ii. pp. 8-29.

19 “Monachi Montis Sinae …… ad ipsum (Justinianum) profecti, conquesti sunt Arabes Ismaelitas ipsis damnum inferre, penum ipsorum devorando, locaque diruendo, cellasque ingredientes quicquid ibi esset diripere, et in ecclesias irruentes Eucharistiam deglutire. Rogante ergo imperatore, quid vellent? Rogamus, inquiunt, O Rex, ut nobis monasterium extruas in quo muniamur. Neque enim ante illud tempus ullum fuit in Monte Sinâ Coenobium in quo convenirent Monachi, sed in montibus ac vallibus circa Rubum, e quo Deus Mosen allocutus est, sparsim degerunt.” ……. “Legato in mandatis dato ut in Monte Sinâ monasterium aedificaret, idemque permuniret, adeo ut non alibi in toto mundo magis munitum reperiretur, adeoque firmatum daret, ut non alicubi locus aliquis esset unde vel monasterio vel monachis damnum inferendum metueretur.”— Eutychii Annales, tom. ii. pag. 163. Edit. Oxon. 1658.

from which God spake unto Moses. {And this was in the same place as Castrum Pharan, viz. at the foot of Serbal, according to Anastasius the Sinaite ut cit. supra.}’ ‘The Legate received his orders that he should erect a monastery in Mount Sinai, and should fortify the same strongly, so that in no other place in the whole world should there be found one better defended, and should make it so strong that nowhere could there be any spot from whence it could be feared that injury might be done either to the monastery, or to the monks.’

Procopius also, in his work ‘on the Edifices of the Emperor Justinian,’ thus writes:20 ‘In the country formerly called Arabia, but now the Third Palestine, … an abrupt and fearfully wild mountain hangs on high, somewhere near {better: “over”} the Red Sea, by name Sinai. … And in this Mount Sinai monks reside. … {add to Hogg’s citation at this point from the original text of Procopius: “For these monks the Emperor Justinian … built a church, which he dedicated to the Mother of Jesus. … This church he did not erect on the peak of the mountain, but much further down. …} There {viz. on the peak} they say that Moses, formerly receiving the laws from God, bore them away. And near the foot of the mountain this Emperor

20 Ἐν δὲ τῇ μὲν πάλαι ραβίᾳ, νν δὲ Παλαιστίν Τρίτ καλουμν …. ρος πτομν δὲ κα δεινς γριον ποκρμαται γκιστά πη τς ρυθρς θαλάσσης, Σιν νομα …. ν τουτ δὲ Σιν ρει, μοναχο κηνται …. {add to Hogg’s citation at this point from the original text of Procopius: τοτοις δ τος μοναχος ουστινιανς βασιλες …. κκλησίαν κοδομσατο, νπερ τ θεοτκ νθηκεν …. τατην δὲ τν κκλησίαν ο κατ το ρους δείματο τν περβολν, λλ παρ πολ νερθεν. ….} νταθ ποτε τν Μωσα φασ πρς το Θεο τος νμους παραλαβντα ξενεγκεν. ς δὲ το ρους τν πρποδα κα φροριον χυρτατον Βασιλες οτος κοδομσατο· φυλακτριν τε στρατιωτν ξιολογτατον κατεστσατο, ς μ νθνδε Σαρακηνο Βάρβαροι χοιεν, τε τς χρας ρμου οσης, ᾗπρ μοι ερηται, σβάλλειν ς λαθραιτατα ς τ π Παλαιστνης χωρα.

Προκοπου Κασαρως περτν το Δεσπτου ουστινιανο κτισμάτων.Lib. v. cap. 8, tom. ii. Edit. Par. 1663.

“erected a very strong fortress, and placed a renowned guard of soldiers in it, so that the Barbarian Saracens might not be able from thence, — the country being a desert, as I have before said, — to make secret incursions into the regions of Palestine.’ {Correct Hogg’s translation as follows: “And on a spur of the mountain also this Emperor built a very strong guard-post, and he further erected a most notable fortress garrisoned by [lit. “of”] soldiers, so that the Barbarian Saracens might not be able from thence, — the country being a desert, as I have before said, — to make secret incursions into the regions of Palestine.” See on this important passage the note at the end of the citation from Hogg.

For these reasons I entertain very little or no doubt, that for a considerable period, until about the year 536 of the Christian era, the Serbal had been regarded as the real Sinai, and as such had been the chief resort of pilgrims; and that soon after, or about that period, owing most likely (among other causes) to the attacks and cruelties of the Barbarians, Arabs or Saracens, the numerous monks, hermits, anchorites, and pilgrims, were compelled to leave21 their monasteries and cells on that sacred mount, and to establish themselves, for greater safety, amongst the higher, more desolate, and secluded mountains, distant, by the ordinary road or camel path, nearly thirty-four miles to the south-east, where Justinian erected for them, in A.D. 556, their present fortified monastery. To these lofty mountains the monks assigned the titles of Horeb, Moses, St. Catherine, &c., which continue to this day, as well as marked out the pretended sites of the burning bush, Elijah’s cave, the rock in Horeb from which the waters flowed, and other objects of scriptural interest.

21 The fact of the monks of Sinai having, at an early period, migrated on account of the incursions of the Saracens, is recorded in history. Baronius, relating the death of St. Paul the anchorite, in A. D. 956, says, that he had ascended to the summit of Mount Latrus {which was in Bithynia}, and dwelt there some years; that the place was not unknown, since St. Athanasius the anchorite had previously inhabited it in the time of the Emperor Michael the iconoclast (about A. D. 825); and that the same mountain had already been illustrious for the migration thither of the monks of Mount Sinai. These are his words: “Porro et illustrem fuisse montem illum Latrum dictum habitatione monachorum Sinaitarum, qui ob Sarracenorum incursus inde profecti Dei monitu illuc migrarunt.”—Annal. Eccl. tom. xvi. p. 95. vm. edit. Lucae, 1744.

A few years after this time, Antoninus Martyr {viz. the Pilgrim of Placentia} saw these localities {Hogg here assumes the Sinai of the Pilgrim of Placentia was not Serbal, but the evidence is contrary, and therefore supplies further support for Hogg’s principal argument, see the note infra}, and described them in his Itinerary. According to De Laborde, “Antoninus, in the year 560, visited Sinai; he found three abbots in a convent, which had already been constructed there; and on the summit of the mountain he observed the chapel, of which remains are still to be seen.”22

“That such is the correct history will, I think, appear from the following accounts :

In the translation before given from Eutychius’s Annals, it is thus stated: “neque enim ante illud tempus ullum fuit in Monte Sinâ coenobium in quo convenirent monachi, sed in montibus ac vallibus . . . . . . sparsim degerunt.” ‘For neither before that time (the journey of the monks to Justinian, requesting him to build them a monastery,) was there any convent in Mount Sinai wherein the monks resorted together, but they dwelt here and there in the mountains and valleys.’

But Tillemont, in his narrative abstracted from Ammonius, describing the massacre of the monks on Mount Sinai by the Saracens, December 28th, A.D. 373, writes, — “ils en trouvèrent trente-huit de morts dans le monastère de Gethrabbi a Cobar ou Coreb;” — ‘thirty-eight of them23 were found dead in the monastery of Gethrabbi at Cobar or Coreb;’ and Robinson (vol. i. p. 183) adds, — “In the middle of the fifth century, we find a letter from the Emperor Marcian to the Bishop Macarius, the archimandrites and monks in Mount Sinai, ‘where are situated monasteries beloved of God and worthy of all honour.’”24 And he subsequently (p: 186) remarks, that the Bishop Macarius, spoken of here, probably had his seat “at Pharan, or Faran, the present Feirân.”

22 See the English edition of M. Le’on de Laborde’s ‘Journey through Arabia Petraea,’ p. 314, Lond. 1836. That author has assigned 560 as the year when Antoninus was at the present convent of Mount Sinai. This is somewhat doubtful; but the incident appears to me to have occurred a little later,—probably between A.D. 560 and 570. For the descriptions of the convent (monasterium), the chapel (oratorium), and other places, vide ‘Itinerarium Beati Antonini Martyris,’ p. 28.—Juliomagi Andium,

Now from these passages there at first sight seems to be some contradiction, but it is only an apparent one, as I will thus easily show. The Mount Sinai mentioned by Procopius and Eutychius is the mountain at present so called. The strong convent built by Justinian is allowed by all travellers to be the same which exists at this day, notwithstanding a doubt may arise as to the meaning of the words φροριον χυρτατον.

23 Two others died afterwards. The anniversary of the massacre of these martyrs is kept January 14; vide Act. Sanct. Jan. torn. i. p. 961. Robinson says, “It was doubtless from these forty martyrs that the convent El Arb’ain (‘The Forty’) received its name. Not improbably it may have been the Gethrabbi (‘Bibl. Res.’ vol. i. p. 182, note 2.) This, however, is most improbable, for the reasons I have subsequently alleged; (see infra, p. 196.) But possibly the name El Arb’ain was given to the building, either in commemoration of those martyrs, or from having been founded on the anniversary of the day (28th December) on which they were killed: or indeed it may merely mean ‘the many;’ for “the number ‘forty’ among Oriental nations is often used to signify a great but indefinite number.” — See note 14, p. 121, vol. ii. (second series) ‘Transactions of the Royal Society of Literature;’ also additional note 1.

24 Robinson (p. 184) refers in a note (1) to “Harduin Acta Concilior. ii. col. 665, compared with col, 685.”

which occur in the passage from Procopius translated above; but these, literally meaning a strong fortress, or a fortified building, yet seem to me to answer to what Eutychius calls ‘a monastery which might be a fortress,’ — “monasterium in quo muniamur,” — in fact, a strongly fortified convent.25 And in reality the existing edifice, from the great height and strength of its walls, and from its mode of construction, has much more the appearance of a fortress than of a convent. On the other hand, the mountain named Sinai by Josephus, Ammonius, St. Nilus, Marcian, and other writers anterior to about A.D. 536, is, as I am led to conclude, no other than Mount Serbal, upon which were “monasteries beloved of God.” The accurate Burckhardt,26 in his visit to that mountain, noticed Deir Sigillye, “a ruined convent on the southeast side of Serbal, near the road which leads up to the summit of the mountain.” It is distant from Faran four or five hours. Now ‘Deir Sigillye’ is the ‘Convent Sigillye,’ or, as the Rev. G. C. Renouard writes it, “Deir Sijillé,” and which, he tells me, “probably means the convent or house of the notary.” Also the monastery of ‘Gethrabbi,’ mentioned in Tillemont from Ammonius, is doubtless the same as that which St. Nilus (p. 89) has written Βηθραμβή, Bethrambe,27 which, I conceive, is only a corruption of Βηθραββὶ, Bethrabbi, signifying in Hebrew a house or convent, Beth בית, and רבי Rabbi. This last word was a title of honour among the Jews in the time of Christ, and was bestowed on the professors or teachers of the law. So Deir Sigillye—literally the house of the notary—seems probably to be a mere Arabic translation of Bethrabbi,—the word Rabbi answering to Sijillé, a notary. Moreover, this etymology is to me rendered the more likely and obvious, from the sect called Paulicians having two sorts of teachers, called Synecdemi and Notarii:28 thus then ‘Deir Sigillye or Sijillé’ would mean the convent or house of the teachers—Bethrabbi, and its ruins would in all probability be identified as those of the ancient convent of the latter name. Further, the expression used by Tillemont is—“le monastère de Gethrabbi a Cobar ou Coreb, et à Codar:” here Cobar is evidently a corruption of Coreb, for Choreb, the more correct form of writing Horeb, Χωρήβ.29 And as, from evidence already adduced,30 it appears that Mount Serbal was situate in Horeb, or was itself Mount Horeb, the words of Tillemont, properly interpreted, are—‘the monastery of Bethrabbi in Horeb.’

25 Dr. Robinson writes (p. 185), — “This accords with the appearance of the building at the present day, and is probably the same work which Procopius has confounded with a fortress.”

26 ‘Syria,’ p. 610.

27 Dr. Robinson is of the same opinion. See his note 1, p. 182, vol. i.

28 See the ‘Encyclopaedia Metropolitana,’ vol. xi. p. 446. Lond. 1845.

29 Compare p. 217, and note 62; also additional note 1.

30 See also infra, p. 204 and p. 218.

Hence the accuracy of Eutychius is evidently established — where he has recorded, that before the time (A.D. 556) in which Justinian erected his stronghold for the monks, there was no convent on Mount Sinai (i.e. the mountain now called Sinai) wherein they resorted together; whilst the correctness of the Emperor Marcian’s statement in his letter, about A.D. 450, that in Mount Sinai — that is, the earlier and first-named Mount Sinai (hodiè Mount Serbal) — there were “situated monasteries beloved of God and worthy of all honour,” — is likewise equally well established.”

Note on this extract from Hogg.

Hogg’s argument is convincing. However it is defective in two points, first in its treatment of the important passage from Procopius (De Aedificiis v. 8) relating to the building work of Justinian, and second in its assumption that the Itinerary of the Pilgrim of Placentia (ascribed to Antoninus the Martyr) referred to the St Catherine’s site rather than Serbal. When rectified, these actually strengthen Hogg’s principal argument.

From the same era as Procopius and the Pilgrim of Placentia we have the work of Cosmas Indicopleustes proving Serbal was identified at that time as Mount Sinai. No doubt was entertained on the point. There is therefore no need to assume either Procopius or the Pilgrim held any other belief relating to the location of Mount Sinai, unless demanded by assertions of the writers themselves to the contrary.

In fact, Procopius’ statement that Mount Sinai “hung over” the Red Sea can only apply to Serbal, which looks down on the Red Sea over the Plain of Kaa, and not to Jebel Katrina 20 miles or more inland. The view from the direction of the coast of the Red Sea at Tor is described by Weil as follows (translation from the French mine): “For the observer contemplating the great granite facade of the interior, the salient points of the tableau are the massif of Serbal, on the extreme left, and on the right, the enormous mountainous blocs which the eye comes to distinguish, separated by the incision of Wadi Sle, into Jebel Um Shomer to the left and Jebel Thebt to the right.” (La presqu’ile du Sinai, 1908, p. 193.) Jebel Katrina does not come into the picture at all. Further, the commonly mistranslated passage of Procopius, De Aedificiis v. 8, mentions THREE building works initiated by Justinian: “For these monks the Emperor Justinian … {1} built a church {Gk. ekklêsia}, which he dedicated to the Mother of Jesus. … This church he did not erect on the peak of the mountain, but much further down. … There {viz. on the peak} they say that Moses, formerly receiving the laws from God, bore them away. And on a spur of the mountain also {2} this Emperor built a very strong guard-post {Gk. phrourion}, and {3} he further erected a most notable fortress {Gk. phulaktêrion} garrisoned by [lit. “of”] soldiers, so that the Barbarian Saracens might not be able from thence, — the country being a desert, as I have before said, — to make secret incursions into the regions of Palestine.” Two of them, viz. the church dedicated to Mary (“Theotokos”) and the “guard-post” (Gk. phrourion), were on Mount Sinai, i.e. Serbal. In addition to these, Procopius mentions a THIRD building, a “most notable fortress garrisoned by [lit. “of”] soldiers”, which Justinian established to prevent secret raids by the Saracens (the town of Pharan being the center of their kingdom) eastwards into Palestine. Nothing is said of the location of this last building on Mount Sinai, and in fact such a notable garrisoned fortress on Serbal would likely have been taken by the inhabitants of Pharan (unlike the smaller guard-post on the mountain, in relation to which no soldiers are made special mention of by Procopius) as an invasion of their territory by the Emperor. Since it was intended to guard the route eastward from Wadi Feiran towards Palestine, it may be presumed to have been located somewhat east of Wadi Feiran. Now this is precisely where the fortress-like Convent of Saint Catherine’s, is located. The “fortress” (Gk. phulaktêrion) of Procopius must surely be this same Saint Catherine’s. The mistranslation of phulaktêrion as “guard”, when it really means either “fortress” or “security”, and hence “fortress” here, has given the impression that it is no third building, but simply the military force itself which is supposed to have been stationed in the guard-post on Mount Sinai. It is unnatural to apply the description “most notable” (Gk. axiologôtaton) to a military force, but such a description suits a building admirably, just as the description “most strong” (Gk. ekhurôtaton) is applied a few words earlier in the passage to the guard-post on Sinai. There is certainly no trace of such a “most notable” fortress any where in the vicinity of either Jebel Katrina or Jebel Serbal, if it is not, in fact, the present-day monastery of Saint Catherine’s. Thus the whole passage of Procopius, just like Cosmas, presumes the location of Mount Sinai at Serbal.

The earliest record assumed to imply, not even yet directly asserting, that St Catherine’s monastery was located at Mount Sinai is that of Eutychius (Said ibn Batrik) in the tenth century AD. The monks seem to have migrated there from Serbal, as concluded also from Baronius’ account of Paul of Latrus, before the ninth century, and most probably as a result of the Muslim invasions referred to in Anastasius the Sinaite in the seventh century. Justinian’s system of fortification, the guard-post on Serbal and the fortress, i.e. St Catherine’s, seems to have succeeded in dealing with the earlier, and less serious, threat of Saracen harassment in the sixth century. But it should be kept in mind that the monastery Eutychius is talking about is what Pocock terms a “coenobium” (a monastery where monks live communally) and is specifically differentiated from the scattered cells of the monks on Mount Sinai. Eutychius might simply be saying that there was, prior to the era of Justinian, no monastery on Mount Sinai, — and by Sinai he could still mean Serbal, — in which the monks lived communally, and in a protected environment, as opposed to monasteries where they came together for divine service from their separate cells and hermitages, of which there were several in Justinian’s day. He might be commenting merely on the use of Justinian’s guard-post (phrourion) on Serbal (Sinai) as a communal monastic refuge, whilst the efforts he notes as taken to protect or defend it might have included the fortress at St. Catherine’s, though that was not specially in view. A “fortified” monastery of precisely this kind at the foot of Mount Sinai (Serbal) is mentioned in the following account of the Pilgrim of Placentia, which dates from the era when Justinian’s military arrangement was in effect. It was located at the traditional site of the burning bush, viz. near the city of Pharan and at the base of Serbal (Anastasius the Sinaite). It contained a number of “monastic establishments”, which suggests a communal environment.

The relevant section of the Itinerary of the Pilgrim of Placentia c. AD 550-570 (ed. Geyer, recensio prima, 37ff., my additional notes in braces {}) reads as follows:

“37. Traveling on foot through the desert, on the eighteenth day we arrived at the place where Moses brought forth water from the rock. Passing on from there the next day, we came to the Mount of God, Horeb, and pressing forward with the aim of ascending Sinai, there met us an innumerable multitude of monks and hermits, carrying crosses and singing psalms. They prostrated themselves on the ground at our feet, and we at theirs, with tears in our eyes. They then conducted us to the valley separating Horeb from Sinai, at the foot of which latter mountain is the spring where Moses caught sight of the miraculous burning bush, when he was watering his flocks in the place. This spring is enclosed within a monastery and the monastery itself surrounded by fortified walls. There are three abbots within it who speak several languages, namely Latin, Greek, Syriac, Egyptian and Persian [Persian: from a variant in the second recension], as well as many interpreters of individual languages. There are monastic establishments inside it. {See supra on the phrourion of Justinian and the account of Eutychius.} We then proceeded on up the mountain without halt for three [Roman] miles, until we came to the location of the cave in which Elijah hid, when he fled from Jezebel. A spring bubbles forth in front of this cave, providing water for the mountain. We then proceeded on upwards three [Roman] miles to the peak of the mountain. There is a place of prayer there of modest proportions, about six feet long in both directions. No-one is presumptuous enough to stay there permanently, but at first light the monks make their way up to it and perform divine service. The custom is for all visitors to clip their beards and hair and deposit the clippings there, and I accordingly cut my beard. 38. Mount Sinai is wholly composed of rock, and hardly any gravel. There are many cells of God’s servants around its circumference, and similarly on Mount Horeb, and they say Horeb is clean gravel. On this mountain, in a certain part of the mountain, the Saracens have set up their idol, made of marble, as white as snow. Here they have a priest on permanent duty, arrayed in a long woolen inner robe and a linen outer robe. So when the time of their festival comes round, with the revolution of the moon, before the moon moves out of its phase, on their feast day the color of that marble begins to change: presently the moon enters its phase, and when they begin to worship the idol, the marble becomes black as pitch. When their festival is over, it resumes its original color, at which we were all amazed.

39. Between Sinai and Horeb there is a valley, in which at certain times liquid drops distil from the heavens, and they call this “manna”. It coagulates and forms something like chewable granules, which they collect. They have jars full of it in the monastery. They give people small ampules of it as a blessing. They gave us five measures of it, accordingly. They also make a spiced drink of it, and they gave some to us and we drank it. Now in those same mountains there are lion, panther, wild asses, durgones, which are wild goats, and mules, and these eke out a living in the mountains, and feed together, none of them suffering harm from the lion, because of the barrenness of the desert.

Now because by this time the feast-days of the Saracens were over, a herald went forth, with the announcement that since no-one could survive returning through the desert by which we came, some should return through Egypt, and others through the Arabian desert to the Holy City.

40. From Mount Sinai in Arabia to the city called Aila [Elat; text: Abila, but read Ahila, i.e. Aila, with Gildemeister] there are eight stations [Latin mansio, a distance of between 18 and 31 Roman miles]. In Aila [text: Abila] ships arrive from India carrying different kinds of spices. However, we decided to return through Egypt and so arrived at the city of Pharan [Fara], where Moses fought with Amalek, and where there is a place of prayer, the altar of which is located on the rocks placed under Moses whilst he was praying. In that place there is a city defended with walls along its flanks, the location itself being very barren, apart from palms and water-courses. There is a bishop in this city. There met us there some women and children, carrying palm-branches in their hands and ampules of oil made from radishes, who threw themselves at our feet and anointed the soles of our feet and our heads, singing psalms in the Coptic language in an antiphonal chant, “Blessed be ye of the Lord, and blessed be your coming, Hosanna in the highest.” This is the land of Midian, and it is claimed these inhabitants of the city are descended from the family of Jethro, the father-in-law of Moses. Eight hundred [var. eighty] members of their households serve as soldiers from the public treasury, accompanied by their wives: they receive wages and clothing at the public expense from Egypt, and perform no labor, because there is nowhere to do it in that wholly desert region, except also each has days when, with the Saracen horses all possess (which receive an allowance of hay and barley at the public expense), they ride out through the desert for the protection of the monasteries and hermits from the attacks of the Saracens. For fear of them the Saracens remain tranquil. When they leave the city, they form lines and carry staves with them, and those who remain within do likewise, on account of Saracen attacks, since there is nowhere to escape outside the lines except heaven and the desert.

41. From there we went to Succoth {i.e. along the eastern shore of the Gulf of Suez to Lake Timsah, following the normal caravan route from Wadi Feiran to the eastern Nile Delta}, and from there down to Migdol {now down the western shore of the Gulf of Suez to Wadi Arabah, following the route of the Exodus}, and then on to the location of the seventy-two [sic] palms and twelve fountains {viz. Elim, Raithu, Tor, reached presumably by boat across the Gulf, still loosely following the route of the Exodus}, where we spent two delightful days after our wearisome, inhospitable, desert experience. There is a military-post of moderate proportions in this place, called Surandala. It has nothing inside it except a church [ecclesia] with its presbyter, and two guest-rooms for travelers. I saw a pepper tree here and gathered some fruit from it. From there we came to the place where the children of Israel set up camp when they crossed the sea {presumably around or near the Plain of Murkha up the coast from Tor}. There too there is a modest-sized military post with visitors’ accommodation within it. From there we went to the place on the shore where the children of Israel made the crossing. Where they came out of the sea there is a place of prayer dedicated to Elijah. On the other side {which indicates they were still at this point on the eastern shore of the Gulf of Suez} in the place where they entered the sea, there is a place of prayer dedicated to Moses. There is also a modest-sized city there called Clysma, where ships come even from as far away as India. At the aforesaid place on the sea where they made the crossing, a gulf [culfus = Greek kolpos] extends [exit] out from the greater body of water {pelago, viz. what is now known as the Indian Ocean}, and continues inland for many miles, which experiences advances and retreats [accessa recessa {i.e. tidal action}]. When the Sea retreats everything stands out clear: Pharaoh’s instruments of war or the marks of the chariot wheels appear, though all the instruments of war have become encrusted [in marmore conuersa]. There we received whole green nuts, which come from India, and people imagine to be from paradise. These are welcome refreshment, as however much one eats of them, one feels satisfied. {The pilgrims have now recrossed the Gulf of Suez and are back at Clysma on the western shore.}

41. Within the bounds of the greater body of water [pelago] itself a distance of eleven [Roman] miles, is an island of moderate proportions, of native rock, in which are suspended soft fingers of flesh-like substance just like human fingers, which yield oily matter, called rock oil. People carry this on their person as a great spiritual blessing. The vessel in which it is carried, if it has been filled, and you want to go on again and carry it, does not receive or contain the substance. There, as many as are sick, especially of some demonic affliction, who came seeking to touch it, are all made well. The people who carry it for a spiritual blessing are not allowed to bring it out through [other recension: to enter with it into] Clysma in its natural state, but oil is mixed with it. If it was not adulterated like this, I believe, it would keep its same power for ever, for this diluted unguent maintains it for two miles. Its odor is actually sulphurous. However powerful a storm strikes the sea, it is just as though one were in a pool underneath that liquid. Within the bounds of Clysma itself, inside in a basilica, we saw more than eighteen wooden coffers of sainted hermit fathers.

43. From there we passed on through the desert to the cave of Paul {Deir Mari Bolos on Mount Clysma}, that is Syriace Cuba [other recension: Syracumba], which a spring to this day provides with water. From there, passing on again through the desert, we came to the cataracts of the Nile. ….”

Again in this account there is nothing to indicate any other location of Sinai than that accepted as self-evident by the writer’s contemporary, Cosmas Indicopleustes. In fact, there are a number of reasons to believe the Pilgrim’s Sinai must have been Serbal. First this account dates from the time of Justinian’s military arrangement (of which he gives details), when the monks were scattered over the wilds of Serbal. This never was the case at the Saint Catherine’s site, for the reasons already given. Secondly, the Pilgrim mentions that “manna” was collected in his day on Sinai, and the manna traditionally identical with the Biblical substance, still collected from the tarfa shrub, as Lepsius points out infra, is found mainly around Feiran, not Jebel Musa. There is also mention in the Pilgrim’s account of pagan worship on Sinai. There is no evidence that the Saint Catherine’s site was ever a center of pagan worship, but the reliable ancient authority cited supra, Agatharchides in Diodorus Siculus, indicates the area around Wadi Feiran (Phoinikon) was such a center. (The same is implied in Nonnosus, referring to the situation in the sixth century AD, which is the Pilgrim’s own era.) Thus, the Sinai of the Pilgrim of Placentia, like the Sinai of Cosmas and Procopius, was Jebel Serbal.


The detailed arguments presented here by Dr. Richard Lepsius in favor of locating the Biblical Mount Sinai at Serbal have never been refuted. The usual, and often the sole, defense offered for the traditional site near St. Catherine’s is the feeble one, countered conclusively here by Lepsius, that sufficient space for the Israelites’ encampment, and a clear view from the camp site of the mountain, as the Biblical account requires, can only be found at that location.

Richard Lepsius Letters from Egypt, Ethiopia and the Peninsula of Sinai, trans. Horner and Horner, London 1853, pp. 303-321, Letter No. XXXIII, followed by Appendix B, p. 532ff.

(My observations in braces {}. “Tr.” marks notes added by the translators.)

“I became doubtful, even in the convent at Gebel Musa, whether the holy mount of the lawgiving could have been situated here. Since I have seen Serbal and Wadi Firan {= Feiran} at its base, besides a great part of the rest of the country, I have become convinced that Serbal must be recognised as Sinai, in preference to the other.*

“The monkish tradition of the present day is of no value to the unprejudiced inquirer. Whoever has once occu-


* See Appendix B.

† I find all whose judgment is of any weight holding this same opinion. Robinson, especially, has the merit of having cleared away many old prejudices of this nature. But even Burckhardt so little allowed his judgment to he guided by the authority of tradition, that he did not scruple to place his reason for transposing the convent of Sinai to Gebel Musa, rather on stratagetical considerations. (Trav. in Syria, p. 609.)

“-pied himself earnestly with such matters is aware of this. Even in Jerusalem it is for the most part useless, and has not the slightest weight, if unsupported by original authorities, how much more so in the Peninsula of Sinai, where far more remote questions, both as to time and place, are treated of. In the long interval of time between the law-giving and the first centuries of the Christian era, Sinai is only once mentioned in a passage referring to a later historical event, as the “Mount of God, Horeb,” to which Elijah retires.* It would, in fact, be most strange if the tradition had never received an interruption during this period, although the population of the Peninsula had meantime changed so much that we are no longer able to point out with certainty a single Old Testament name for a locality; and even the Greeks and Romans were unacquainted with those ancient designations.† We are, therefore, referred solely to the Mosaic narrative to prove the correctness of our present assumptions.

“We must further premise with respect to this, that the general geographical conditions of the Peninsula have not essentially altered since the days of Moses. Whoever takes refuge in the opposite supposition, may indeed prove everything, but for that very reason proves nothing. It is, however, just as important to bear in mind distinctly the historical conditions of the different periods, because these indeed were calculated to produce partial alterations of particular districts.

“Accordingly, no one will be able to deny that Wadi Firan, abounding at all times, and therefore in the time of Moses, in water, and possessing a rich soil, must, in consequence of its incomparable fertility and its inexhaustible rapid stream, have been the most important and the most de-

* 1 Kings xix. 8. Tr.

†The name of Firan, formerly Pharan, is, indeed, evidently the same as Paran in the Bible; but it is equally certain that this name has altered its meaning with reference to the locality. All other comparisons of names cannot be in the least depended on.

“-sirable central spot of the whole Peninsula. For this wonderful Oasis, in the centre of the ever barren wilderness, was subject even then, as now, to the general conditions of the surface of the ground in that country. On the other hand, it is however no less certain, that the vicinity of the present convent of Gebel Musa was formerly, in spite of the scanty springs of water also appearing on the surface there, but which merely moisten the ground immediately surrounding them, just as barren as all the other parts of that mountainous wilderness, only furnishing sufficient water for the inhabitants of the convent by means of a draw-well dug into the rock;* and after more than a thousand years of artificial irrigation, the most careful employment of every means of cultivation only enabled them to make small plantations, such as exist there at the present time.† In ancient times there was not the slightest reason for making that wilderness habitable by artificial means, the rather as it was situated away from the great roads connecting the different parts of the Peninsula, and formed an actual cul de sac, with only one single entrance through the Wadi e’ Scheikh.

…. the Wilderness of Sin extended as far as Sinai, or even farther. The next departure, therefore, from the Wilderness of Sin to Raphidim, is not to be understood as if they had quitted this wilderness; on the contrary, they remained in it till they reached Sinai, whose name Sin, i. e. “the Mount of Sin,” was evidently first derived from this district, and for this very reason should not be sought for beyond its limits. The same conclusion may be deduced from the account about the Manna which was given to the Israelites in the Wilderness of Sin; for this is first met with in the valleys in the vicinity of Firan, and appears as little in the sandy districts near the sea, as in the more elevated regions of Gebel Musa.*

“Now, if we already here put the preliminary question, which of the two mounts, Serbal or Gebel Musa, was so situated as to be peculiarly designated as Sini, the “Sinic,” “the Mount of the Wilderness of Sin,” there cannot be a moment’s doubt which to select. Gebel Musa, invisible from every quarter, almost concealed and buried,† neither distinguished by height, form, position, nor any other peculiarity, presented nothing which could have induced the native tribes, or the Egyptians who had settled there, to give it the peculiar designation of the “Mount of Sin,” while Serbal, attract-

* That portion of the sandy sea-shore which Robinson regards as the Wilderness of Sin, produces no Tarfa shrubs, much less manna. Compare Ritter, p. 665, &c., with respect to the tracts of country where manna is found. It has been already mentioned that Eusebius maintains that the Wilderness of Sin extended as far as Sinai. (Σν, ρημος μεταξπαρατενουσα τς ρυθρς θαλσσης κα τς ρμου Σινά. {“Sin, a wilderness, that which covers the interval between the Red Sea and the wilderness of Sinai.”})

† Robinson, i., p. 173-196. In opposition to what Wilson adduces with respect to the wide prospect from Gebel Musa, we must consider that necessarily a great many places may be seen from a point so little elevated above the immediately surrounding country; from which points, however, the mountain cannot be traced independently and distinctly by the eye.

“-ing the eye to itself from all sides, and from a great distance, unequivocally commanding the whole of the northern portion of the primitive range, has always been the central point for the widely-scattered inhabitants of the country, and the goal of travellers, not only from its external aspect, but also on account of Wadi Firan, situated at its base; therefore it might very appropriately be designated the “Mount of Sin.” But if any one were to conclude from the expression the departure from the Wilderness of Sin to Raphidim, that the broad tract of sea-shore to the south of Abu Zelimeh, which the Israelites were obliged to traverse, was alone called the Wilderness of Sin, which is Robinson’s view of the question,* Serbal, which commands and also comes into immediate contact with this district, and is accessible from this point by the old convent of Si’qelji, might even then have been designated Mount Sin, for instance by the sailors on the Red Sea; but Gebel Musa, situated exactly on the opposite and eastern side of the great range, could not possibly have been named after the western Wilderness of Sin, nor have given the smallest ground for the statement that the Wilderness of Sin was situated between Abu Zelimeh and Gebel Musa. One other view might still be adopted: for instance, that the whole of the primitive mountain range, that is to say, the whole of the Peninsula to the south of Abu Zelimeh, was called the “Wilderness of Sin,” and consequently included Gebel Musa. Even this would not necessarily prevent our assuming that Serbal, as the mountain best known, and nearest at hand, must especially have appeared of more importance to the Egyptian colonists than the southern range, and might have been distinguished by that name; whilst in the principal southern range Um Schomar, as the loftiest central point, would have alone justified such a distinction, and not the entirely subordinate Gebel Musa, still less the insulated rock Sefsaf, which is regarded as such by Robinson. {Sefsaf is the dramatic rock face most commonly represented in popular works and films, like The Ten Commandments, as “Mount Sinai”.}

* See Robinson, i., p. 118-196.

“All that has been here said about Sinai as the “Mount of The Wilderness of Sin,” is also applicable to the still more remote question, which of the two mountains, Serbal, or Gebel Musa, possessed such qualifications as to have been regarded by the native tribes of the Peninsula, even before the great event of the Law-giving, as a “Holy Mount,” A Mount of God.* For Moses drove the sheep of Jethro from Midian beyond the wilderness to the “Mount Of God, CHOREB,” and Aaron met him, on his return to Egypt, at the Mount of God. If we maintain that the necessary centre of the Sinaitic population must have been, at all events, the Oasis of Firan, we may also suppose that those tribes founded a sanctuary, a common place of worship, in the vicinity of that spot, either at the base, or, still more naturally, on the summit of the mountain which rises up from that valley.§ This also was the most appropriate place for the meeting

* Ewald, Gesch. des Volkes Israel, ii., p. 86, also assumes that Sinai was held sacred “even before the time of Moses, as a place of oracles, and the seat of the gods.” Ritter (see Appendix B) considered this to be incompatible.

† Exodus iii. 1. Tr.

‡ Exodus iv. 27. Tr.

§ This is even proved to exist now by Rüppell, who holds Gebel Katherin to be Sinai. On his journey to Abyssinia (vol. i., p. 127) he relates, in the account of his ascent of Serbal in the year 1831, as follows: “On the summit of Serbal the Bedouins have collected small stones, and placed them in the form of a circular enclosure, and other stones are placed outside on the shelving rock-precipice, like steps, to facilitate the ascent. When we arrived at the stony circle my guide drew off his sandals, and approached it with religious veneration; he then recited a prayer within it, and told me afterwards that he had already slaughtered two sheep here as a thank-offering, one of them on the occasion of the birth of a son, the other on regaining his health after an illness. From a belief that Mount Serbal is connected with such things, it is said to have been held in great reverence by the Arabs of the surrounding districts since time immemorial; and it must also at one time have been regarded as holy in certain respects by the Christians, as, in the valley on the south-western side, there are the ruins of a great convent, and of a great many small hermit’s cells. At all events, the wild jagged masses of rock in Serbal, and the isolated position of the mountain, is far more striking, and in a certain degree more imposing, than any other mountain group in Arabia Petraea, and for that reason was peculiarly calculated to be the object of religious pilgrimages. The highest point of the mountain, or the second pinnacle of rock, proceeding from {… continued in the next set of footnotes}

“between Moses, who came from Midian in the East, and Aaron, who came from Egypt. In such a barren and uninhabited country there was no occasion to search for any peculiarly secret and remote corner among the mountains for such an interview.

“In addition to this, the Sinaitic inscriptions, which, as mentioned above, are found in the greatest numbers, especially on the roads to Wadi Firan, and in Wadi Aleyat, which leads up to Serbal, seem to indicate that in much later times also considerable pilgrimages were undertaken thither to solemnise religious festivals.* {Lepsius came to believe these belonged to the turn of the Christian era, though his first-hand impressions were entirely different.}

If we now pass at once to the principal point, which must appear as most decisive to those who look attentively at the general conditions connected with the march of the Israelites, it must be allowed that if Moses desired to lead his numerous people to the Peninsula, the first and chief task he had to perform, in accordance with his wisdom, and his knowledge of the country, was to maintain them. For however we may explain the given numbers of the emigrants, which according to Robinson amounted to two millions, by Lane’s account equal to the present population of Egypt, we must always admit that there was a very considerable mass of people who were suddenly to be maintained in the Sinaitic wilderness without any importation of provisions. How

{previous footnote continued …}” the west, on which the Arabs are in the habit of sacrificing, by my barometrical measurements is 6342 French feet above the level of the sea.”

* With reference to this, compare particularly the admirable pamphlet by Tuch: Ein und Zwanzig Sinaitische Inschriften. Leipzig, 1849. This scholar endeavours to prove from the names of the pilgrims that have been deciphered, that the authors of the inscriptions were native heathen Arabs, who, wandered to Serbal to some religious festivals. And he is of opinion that pilgrimages ceased in the course of the third century at latest. We may also mention that the name itself of Serbal, which Rödiger (in Wellsted’s Travels in Arabia, vol. ii., last page) derives, no doubt correctly, from the Arabic سرب serb, palmaram copia {= “abundance of palm-trees”}, and Baal, “the Palm-grove (φοινικών) of Baal,” refers to its heathen worship. {This etymology has been generally abandoned in favor of Palmer’s Ar. sirbal, “shirt of mail”; however, it is possible the Bedouin have replaced a non-understandable ancient name, like that suggested by Rödiger, with a similar-sounding one understandable to them, but having a different meaning. Adaptations of this kind, whereby an ancient place-name has been altered to suit the popular idiom, are a common phenomenon in the Arabic-speaking areas of the Middle East.}

“then can we imagine that Moses would not have kept in view, above all other places, the only spot in the Peninsula that was fertile and amply supplied with water; and that he would not have endeavoured to reach it by the shortest path; but that in place of this, a remote nook in the mountains should have been sought out, which at that time could not possibly have supplied the daily necessity of water and other nourishment, even for only 2000 emigrants and their belongings. I mention a high number intentionally. Moses would have been wrong to have trusted here to miraculous aid from God; for this is never manifested until human wisdom and human counsel, which is not intended to be rendered superfluous through it, can go no further. {This argument is valid if applied to the period of time spent in Wadi Feiran when the Law was given, approximately one year. It is more likely the water in the Wadi was that provided by God to Moses when he struck the rock in the valley, as believed by the Bedouin themselves. The whole area, the Rephidim of the Bible, was dry when the Israelites first arrived there, as the Bible itself describes it.}

“It appears to me that we should not relinquish this inevitable opinion respecting the position of Sinai, which is opposed to the view hitherto entertained, and becomes stronger the longer we reflect upon it, and we ought not to disclaim any more particular historical consideration of this wonderful occurrence, unless other grounds, as urgent, should afford proofs against our mode of acceptation. Let us therefore pursue the narrative still further.

“From Elim, Moses reached Raphidim in a march of three days {rather of three named halting-places}. Modern scholars generally agree that the march from Abu Zelimeh {presuming wrongly that this was Elim, as did Lepsius himself, or the Red Sea halting-place} did not pass again through the same Wadi Schebekeh or Taibeh through which they had descended, back to the eastern sandy plain of E’ Raml, but followed the customary caravan road which leads to Wadi Firan. How should Moses then have selected the far longer upper road devoid of water, or even the still longer, and still more arid, circuitous route along the sea-coast by Tor and Wadi Hebran {that is, the possible routes to the supposed site of Sinai near St Catherine’s}, instead of at once entering the less arid valleys of the primitive range which abounded in manna?

“He was obliged therefore to go to Wadi Firan; no third way was possible. This is the urgent reason why Raphidim (except by Robinson*) has almost as unanimously been

* Vol. i., p. 198. See Appendix B.

“transferred to Firan. It seems, however, impossible that this oasis, if it was traversed, should not have been once mentioned; therefore even Josephus,* Eusebius, Jerome, and, as it appears, all the older authors and travellers,§ place Raphidim near the town of Pharan. No spot in the whole land could have been of greater value for the native tribes who were menaced by Moses than these orchards of Pharan. We may, therefore, perfectly conceive that Moses was attacked at this very spot in Raphidim by the Amalekites, who were about to lose their most precious possession {though a recent one, if the miracle of the water from the rock had just been performed there}. He repulsed them, and Moses could now first say that he had

* I thought I might have been able to deduce this indirectly from his narrative, Antiqu., iii., 2. Now it seems to me that there is nothing that we can extract about his views from this; for which reason the above name should be effaced. Abstractedly considered, it is very probable that he entertained the same views as Eusebius and Jerome. Compare note, p. 316, and Appendix G {not included here}.

† Eusebius, Περ τν τοπικν νομ, etc., s.v. αφιδμ, τπος τς ρμου παρ τ Χωρβ ρος, ν κ τς πτρας ρρυσε τ δατα κα κκλθη τπος πειρασμς. νθα κα πολεμε ησος τν μαλκ γγς Φαρν {Trans.: “Eusebius, Onomasticon, etc. s.v. Raphidim: a place in the wilderness beside Mount Horeb, in which waters flowed out of the rock, and the place was called Testing. There too Joshua fought Amalek near Pharan.”}

‡ Hieronymus, de situ et nomin, etc., s. v. ‘Raphidim, locus in deserto juxta montem Choreb, in quo de petra fluxere aquae, cognonimatusque est tentatio, ubi et Jesus adversus Amalec dimicat prope Pharan. {Trans.: “Jerome, Onomasticon, etc., s.v. Raphidim, a place in the wilderness beside Mount Horeb, in which waters flowed out of the rock, and it was called Testing, and there too Joshua fought against Amalek near Pharan.”}

§ Among the older authors, Cosmas Indicopleustes must be especially named here (about A.D. 535). (Topogr. Christ., lib. v., in the Coll. nov. patr. ed. Montfaucon, tom, ii., fol. 195.) Εἶτα πάλιν παρενβαλον ις αφιδμ, ις τν νῦν λεγομνην Φαρν. {Trans.: “Then again they came to Raphidim to what is now called Pharan.”} Antoninus Placentinus, who is placed about the year 600 (while the learned Papebroch, who published his Itinerarium in the Acta SS., month of May, vol. ii., p. x.-xviii., does not place him earlier than the eleventh or twelfth century), came, as he says, in civitatem (which can only be Pharan) in qua pugnavit Moyses cum Amalech: ubi est altar positum super lapides illos quos posuerunt Moyse orante. {Trans.: “… to the town…” [Lepsius adds: “which can only be Pharan”] “… in which Moses fought with Amalek: there is an altar there located on top of those stones which they placed there when Moses was praying.”} That the town was enclosed by a brick wall and valde sterilis {= “noticeably void of life”}, instead of which Tuch (Sinait Inschr., p. 38) proposes to read fertilis {i.e. “noticeably fertile”}. If Pharan is called an Amalekitish town by Macrizi (Gesch. der Kopten, uebers. v. Wüstenfeld, p. 116), then this can only indicate the same view that Moses was attacked near Pharan by the Amalekites, to whom this district belonged. Among more recent scholars we must especially mention Ritter, as is mentioned in Appendix B.

“got possession of the Peninsula. His nearest object was attained. What could have attracted him still farther from this point?

“It is also said, however, in distinct terms, that the people had arrived here at the Mount of God; consequently at the Mount Of The Law. For it is said, after the victory at Raphidim, that Jethro, the father-in-law of Moses in Midian, heard of all that had happened. “And Jethro, Moses’ father-in-law, came with his sons and his wife unto Moses into the Wilderness, Where He Encamped At The Mount Of God.”* And even before that, the Lord had said to Moses, “Behold, I will stand before thee there upon the rock in Choreb; and thou shalt smite the rock, and there shall come water out of it, that the people may drink,” words which could only have alluded to the wonderful spring of Firan, as has been already supposed long before my time. It may still further be deduced, that Moses really found repose here in Raphidim, because now, by the advice of Jethro, he organises the hitherto disorderly mass of people to enable him to govern them.§ He selects the best qualified men, and places them over a thousand, over a hundred, over fifty, and over ten; these are appointed judges of smaller matters while he only retains the most important for himself.

“All this evidently indicates that the journey was past, and the period of repose had commenced.

“The beginning of the following chapter (Exodus xix. 1 3) certainly seems to contradict this, for it is said, “In the third month, when the children of Israel were gone forth out of the land of Egypt, the same day|| came they into the wilderness of Sinai. For they were Departed From Raphidim, and were come to the desert of Sinai, and had pitched

* Exodus xviii. 5. Tr.

† Exodus xvii. 6. Tr.

‡ See below, the complete passage by Cosmas. See Appendix G {not included here}.

§ Even the name itself, Raphidim, i. e. the places of repose, indicate that the place was adapted for rest of some duration.

|| See Appendix D {not included here}.

“in the wilderness; and there Israel camped Before The Mount, and Moses went up unto God, and the Lord called unto him Out or The Mountain,” &c.

“According to this, they decamped between Raphidim and Sinai. This favoured the tradition which believed that the Mount of the Law might be rediscovered in Gebel Musa beyond Firan. At the same time, however, it was not considered that by admitting this we encounter much greater contradictions with the text. In the first place, the words mention no more than one day’s journey,* not even in the Book of Numbers,† where, nevertheless, between Elim and Raphidim, not only Alus {= Alush} and Daphka {= Dophka}, but the Red Sea (though this last was near Elim) are particularly mentioned. From Firan to Gebel Musa there were, however, at least two long days’ journeys, if not more. The “Mount Of God” has likewise been already mentioned in Raphidim, it was there called a rock in Choreb; and it is therefore impossible to understand by the Mount of God any other than “The Mount Of God” to which Moses drives the sheep of Jethro.

“We should, thus, be obliged to admit that there were two “Mounts of God;” one, the “Mount Of God, Choreb,” in Raphidim, which would be Serbal, and a “Mount Of God, Sinai,” on which the law was given, which would be Gebel Musa.‡

“To admit this would, however, in itself not only be scarcely

* For that reason Robinson and others, who do not allow that any positions of the encampments were omitted, place Raphidim beyond FIRAN; and although they make the march through the latter place, they leave it either totally unmentioned, or place Alus there. We have already mentioned above the objections to this opinion, which have been partly proved by Ritter. On the other hand, Ritter, to remove the difficulty, distinctly admits of an omission in our present text. (P. 742.)

† Numbers xxxiii. 10-14.Tr.

‡ Ritter (see Appendix B) is consequently compelled to draw this conclusion; which, in fact, seems to me the most doubtful of all. The present tradition differs from this in holding Horeb and Sinai to be two mounts, situated immediately beside each other but yet apart.

“conceivable, but most distinctly self-contradictory, inasmuch as it maintains that the Mount of God, Choreb, where God first appears to Moses, is even in anticipation designated as the Mount of the Law (Exodus iii. 112); that further, the general designation, the “Mount of God,” which appears so frequently without a name being appended (Exodus iv. 27, xviii. 5, xxiv. 13; Numbers x. 33), could only have been employed if there were no more than one such Mount; and, finally, because the name of Sinai, or Mount Sinai, and Choreb, or Mount Choreb, are continually mentioned with exactly the same meaning as Mount of the Law-giving.

“This evident difficulty has indeed been felt strongly at all times.* Josephus (Ant. iii. 2, 3) forwarded his view by transposing the doubtful commencement of the xix chapter from its present position after the visit of Jethro, to before it, so that Moses does not receive his family in Raphidim, but in Sinai. By this means certainly the double difficulty is avoided; on the one hand, because two Mounts of God do not appear, on the other, that the organisation of the people does not occur during the journey. He also deliberately omits the statement that in Choreb was situated the rock which Moses strikes for the spring of water.

“Modern scholars have, on the contrary, proposed either to make Sinai the general name for the whole of the range, and Choreb the individual Mount of the Law-giving, or vice versa, Choreb for the more extended, and Sinai for the limited designation,† while the tradition of the monks

* The three possible ways of removing this difficulty have been tried by Robinson, Ritter, and Josephus. The first, places Raphidim near Gebel Musa; the second, assumes there is an omission between Raphidim and Sinai, and retains two Mounts of God; the third, transposes the separating passage, and does not mention Horeb at all, only Sinai.

† See the manner in which Robinson combines, and weighs both views, i., p. 197, &c. All those passages where precisely the same is said concerning Horeb, as about Sinai, are opposed to the more recent opinion that Horeb was the general designation for the mountain range, or for the district, and that Sinai was the individual Mount, {… continued infra …}

“refer both names to different mountains situated immediately beside each other.* It seems to me that the comparison of the individual passages admits of none of these views; in my opinion it is rather clearly proved, by the names of Choreb and Sinai being used alternately, but with perfect equality, that both designated one and the same mountain together with the district immediately surrounding it,† so

{… previous footnote continued …} while not a single passage requires us to think of a large extent of ground. No mention is ever made of a “Wilderness Of Horeb,” as of the Wildernesses of Sur, Sin, Paran, and others. We might also cite in favour of the opposite opinion Acts vii. 30 compared with Exodus iii. 1.

* This view is found already in the above-mentioned (note, p. 313) Itinerarium of Antoninus, who places the convent between Sinai and Horeb. The monks’ tradition of the present day, that the rock projecting into the plain of Raha was Horeb, is well known. The arbitrary character of such assumptions is evident; nevertheless, the latter opinion is maintained by Gesenius (Thesaur, p. 517, Wiener, and others).

† St. Jerome expressly says the same thing, since he adds to the words of Eusebius s. v. Choreb: Mihi autem videtur quod duplici nomine idem mons nunc Sina, nunc Choreb vocetur. {Trans.: “It seems to me that the same mountain is referred to under a double name, sometimes Sinai, sometimes Horeb.”} Even Josephus evidently considered both mountains to be one, for wherever Choreb is mentioned in the Bible, he placed Sinai instead; the same is done by the author of the Acts of the Apostles (vii. 30), and also by Syncellus (Chron., p. 190), who says of Elijah, πορεετο ν Χωρβ τ ρει τοι Σιναίῳ{Trans. “He went to Mount Horeb, or the Sinaitic (Mount).”} (The following passage within brackets added by the author, April, 1853. Tr.) [There has been an attempt to prove, from the Greek termination Σιναίῳ {lit. “the Sinaitic (Mount)”}, that Choreb is only meant to designate here part of the range of Sinai. However, the word cannot be understood thus in the sense of an adjective, as there was no other but the Sinaitic Choreb. Τ ρος Σιναον ({“the Sinaitic Mount”} Syncell., p. 122; Cosmas, p. 195; ν μσον λεμ κατο Σιναον ρους {“between Elim and the Sinaitic Mount”}. Joseph. Ant. Jud. 3, 5: νεισι (Μωϋσς) πρς Τ Σιναον {(“Moses) went up into The Sinaitic (mount)”}; compare the inscription on the convent, Appendix E {not included here}) is used just as much as Τ ρος Σιν {Mount Sinai”}. But if, which is not the case, Choreb especially was only called Τ Σιναον {“the Sinaitic (Mount)”}, not Τ Σιν ρος {“Mount Sinai”}, we could only infer the reverse, namely, that Sinai must have meant a part of the range of Choreb.] Ewald, especially among modern scholars, brings forward the same opinion of the similarity of the two mounts. He says (Gesch. des. V. Isr., ii., p. 84) the two names, Sinai and Horeb, do not change because they designated points in the same range, situated beside each other; but the name of Sinai is clearly the most ancient, for it was used also by Deborah, Judges v. 5, whereas the name of Horeb cannot be pointed out before the period of the fourth narrator {sic, the existence of such a narrator being pure conjecture} (compare Exodus iii. 1; xvii. 6; {… continued in next footnote …}

“that Choreb perhaps was the more precise Amalekitish local name, Sinai the more indeterminate one, derived from its position in the Wilderness of Sin.

“But with respect to the departure from Raphidim, many might think it very probable that those words, which so strikingly interrupt the natural sequence of circumstances as to have been intentionally transposed either by Josephus, or prior to his time, did not originally belong here, but were placed at the commencement of the account of the Law-giving; if, as no doubt frequently occurred, this was to be understood by itself alone, separate from all that preceded and succeeded it.* The unusual manner in which they are connected, since the arrival at Sinai is mentioned previously to the departure from Raphidim, and the expression “the same day,” which is so difficult to explain, while in the other statements of time a particular day is mentioned, would support the supposition,† Whoever, however, may consider it too bold to assume that we no longer possess the original composition, can only explain the fresh departure to be a last and insignificant removal of the encampment, such as we were obliged to admit to be the case at the departure from Elim to the sea coast. This removal was either while they advanced from El Hessue (where they first beheld the water) towards Firan, or from Firan into the upper portion of Wadi Aleyat, where the camp might have extended far and wide at the foot of the Mount.‡

“Whoever endeavours to realise the whole progress of the event, with its essential and necessary characteristics, can

{… continued from previous footnote …} xxxiii. 5; but it then becomes very prevalent, as is proved in Deuteronomy, and in the passages of 1 Kings viii. 9; xix. 8; Mal. iv. 4; Psalms cvi. 19, while it says nothing against this view when very late authors reintroduce the name of Sinai, merely from their learned acquaintance with the old books.

* If we omit the two verses, Exodus xix. 1, 2, the account, xix. 3, follows most naturally after xviii. 27. “And Moses let his father-in-law depart, and he went away into his own land. And Moses went up unto God; and the Lord called unto him out of the mountain.”

† See Appendix D {not included here}.

‡ See Appendix B.

“only be satisfied by comprehending it in this manner. He will not be able to blind himself to the conviction that Serbal, on account of the oasis at its base, must have been the necessary object and centre for the pouring in of the new people, and that the wise Man of God, so well acquainted with the country, could never have intended to lead the multitude into a mountain enclosure like the plain at Gebel Musa, where they would find no water, no trees bearing fruit, nor manna, and where they would have been more easily cut off from all connection with the other parts of the Peninsula than anywhere else. He will be compelled to acknowledge that the designation of Sinai as the chief mountain of the Wilderness of Sin, and the sanctity with which it was regarded, not merely by the Israelites, but by the native tribes of the country, decidedly points to Serbal; further, that the Raphidim defended by the Amalekites was undoubtedly situated, together with the spring of Moses in Choreb, in the Wadi Firan; that consequently the Mount of God at Choreb, where God appeared to Moses, and the Mount of God at Raphidim, where Moses is visited by Jethro, and organises the people, could also be no other than Serbal, from which, finally, we must as necessarily deduce that unless we admit that there were two Mounts of God, the Mount of the Law was also near Raphidim, and is recognisable in Serbal, not in Gebel Musa.

“In conclusion, if we now once more look back and observe how the present tradition bears on our account of the event, we perceive that it refers at once to the foundation of the convent, by Justinian, in the sixth century.* This, however, was by no means the first church of the Peninsula. At a far earlier period we already find a bishopric in the town of Pharan, at the foot of Serbal.† Here was the first Christian centre of the Peninsula, and the church founded by Justinian also remained dependent on this for the space of several centuries. The question therefore is, whether the tradition

* See Appendix E {not included here}.

† See Appendix F {not included here}.

“which regards the present Gebel Musa as Sinai can be referred to a time prior to Justinian.* The remoteness of that district, and its distance from frequented roads of communication, though from its position in the lofty range offering sufficient subsistence for the trifling necessities of the single, scattered monks, rendered it peculiarly applicable for individual hermits, but for the same reason inapplicable for a large people, ruling the land for a certain period of time, and exhausting all its resources. The gradually increasing hermit population might have drawn the attention of the Byzantine emperors to that particular district, and, as it appears, have fixed the previously wavering tradition to that spot for future times.†

“I have, indeed, been in need of a learned foundation for what I have here said about the position of Elim, Raphidim, and Mount Choreb or Sinai, but this I shall not be able to supply even in Thebes; it would, however, chiefly refer to the history of the earliest tradition before Justinian, which, even were it to agree in all its parts with the tradition of the present day, would still hardly suffice to decide anything conclusively. It seems to me that these questions will always remain unsolved, if the elements which were at my command, namely, the Mosaic account, a personal view of the locality, and acquaintance with the history of that period, should not be considered sufficient to explain them. We shall only obtain a correct idea of the whole of the external character of the event, by simultaneously observing these

* See Appendix G {not included here}.

† Ritter (p. 31), when he mentions that Sinai was almost simultaneously regarded by the Egyptian, Cosmas, to be Serbal; and by the Byzantine, Procopius to be Gebel Musa; adds another supposition, which I will mention here. “Might there not,” he says, “have, perhaps, existed a different tradition or party-view on this matter in convents, and among the monks at Constantinople and Alexandria, which might proceed from a jealous feeling to vindicate the superior sanctity of one or the other locality? It is remarkable that such different views of the matter should be held simultaneously by the most learned theologians of their day.”

“three most essential sides of the investigation, while, on the other hand, an endeavour to obtain an indifferent and equal confirmation of each individual feature in the account now under our consideration, must necessarily lead to the wide road of false criticism, which always sacrifices the comprehension of the whole, to the comprehension of the individual part.”

APPENDIX B. (Ibid. pp. 432-547.)

“Appendix B. ({referring to the following pages of the Letters:} P. 303 and 318.) The tradition of Gebel Musa being the Mount of the Law, became gradually more decided and exclusive for this view after the time of Procopius in the sixth century; mainly, no doubt, on account of the church founded at that spot in the reign of Justinian. I am not aware that there are any modern travellers and savants who have thrown doubts on the correctness of this assumption. Not even Burckhardt, although from the numerous inscriptions on Serbal he was led to infer that that mountain might have been at one time incorrectly regarded by the pilgrims as Sinai. The words of this distinguished traveller are as follows: (Trav. in Syr. p. 609.) “It will be recollected that no inscriptions are found either on the Mountain of Moses, or on Mount St. Catherine; and that those which are found in the Ledja valley at the foot of Djebel Catherine, are not to be traced above the rock from which the water is said to have issued, and appear only to be the work of pilgrims who visited that rock. From these circumstances I am persuaded that Mount Serbal was at one period the chief place of pilgrimage in the Peninsula; and that it was then considered the mountain where Moses received the tables of the law; though I am equally convinced, from a perusal of the Scriptures, that the Israelites encamped in the Upper Sinai, and that either Djebel Mousa, or Mount St. Catherine, is the real Horeb. It is not at all impossible that the proximity of Serbal to Egypt, may at one period have caused that mountain to be the Horeb of the pilgrims, and that the establishment of the convent in its present situation, which was probably chosen from motives of security, may have led to the transferring of that honour to Djebel Mousa. At present neither the monks of Mount Sinai nor those of Cairo consider Mount Serbal as the scene of any of the events of sacred history; nor have the Bedouins any tradition among them respecting it {this is not so, as the site at the foot of Serbal, Jebel Muneijah, is their second most sacred locality in Sinai, because of Moses’ Conference with God there}, but it is possible, that if the Byzantine writers were thoroughly examined, some mention might be found of this mountain, which I believe was never before visited by any European traveller.”

“More recently the remarkable book of travels by E. Robinson form a marked epoch in our knowledge of the Peninsula as well as of Palestine. With reference to the position of Sinai, he for the first time especially urges the favourable vicinity of the great plain of Raha, to the north of Gebel Musa, in which there was ample space for the encampment of the people of Israel. (Palestine, vol. i., p. 144, &c.) In his determination, however, of the actual Mount of the Law, he deviates from the previous tradition, since he endeavours to prove that Moses did not ascend Gebel Musa, but the mountain ridge jutting out from the south, above the plain, which is now called Horeb by the monks, and whose highest point is named Sefsaf. (Vol. i. p. 176.) Unfortunately he did not visit Wadi Firan and the adjoining Serbal. In a more recent treatise (Bibl. sacra, vol. iv. No. xxii. May, 1849, p. 381, &c.) the learned author returns to the question with reference to my view of it, with which he had become acquainted, and in opposition he especially mentions the arguments which he had formerly maintained in favour of Gebel Sefsaf. He comprehends these under the three following heads, which he extracts from the Mosaic narrative, as being eminently striking, and which must therefore also now be pointed out: “1st. A mountain summit overlooking the place where the people stood. 2nd. Space sufficient adjacent to the mountain for so large a multitude to stand and behold the phenomena, on the summit. 3rd. The relation between this space where the people stood and the base of the mountain must be such that they could approach and stand at ‘the nether part of the mount,’ that they could also touch it; and that further bounds could appropriately be set around the mount, lest they should go up into it, or touch the border of it.” Of these three heads, the first would speak against Gebel Musa and not against Serbal. This last, says Robinson, is excluded by the second and third head. Now with respect to the second, I must only call to mind that the encampment of the people at Sinai is not related in a different manner from all the previous stations. If, therefore, we take such a circumscribed view of the encampment as to believe that we must provide for sufficient space for the settlement of such a great people; we should then have to indicate a plain of Raha at all the previous stations, especially in Raphidim (which by almost unanimous opinion was situated at the foot of the Serbal), because here manifestly they remained for a considerable time, Moses was visited by Jethro, by his advice divided the whole people into tens, and organised them according to a form of law, from which we should be compelled to conclude that there, for the first time, existed a distinct locality for each individual. He who imagines a multitude of two millions of men, about as many as the inhabitants of London, or of the whole of Egypt at the present day, placed, in an enclosed camp composed of tents, of which they must have had two hundred thousand, if we reckon one for every ten, like a huge, well-arranged military camp, even to him the plain of Raha would appear too small; but he who assumes that a comparatively small number could assemble round the chief quarters of Moses, but that all the others must have sought, for shady places, caves in the rock-precipices, and the scanty herbage of the adjacent valleys, can as easily imagine the camp to have been placed in Wadi Firan, or at any other station. Wadi Firan besides as far down as El Hesue, even if we only take its most fertile portion (more inviting as a settlement than any other spot), would offer, in combination with the broad Wadi Aleyat, just as large, and at all events a far more habitable space, for a combined encampment than the plain of Raha. Indeed, if it be true that we can gain anything from such single facts, such an encampment would render it still more comprehensible why the people were led out of the camp towards God at the foot of the mountain in the upper portion of Wadi Aleyat, in order, to have a complete survey of the mountain. To obtain such a view would be impossible at Gebel Musa, and unnecessary at Gebel Sefsaf. Finally, the command not to ascend the mountain, which is expressed still more imperatively, that no one “should touch the border of the mountain,” applies to every mountain, which rises simply before the eyes, and whose means of access can be shut out by a fence. Immediately beyond the fence lies the border of the mountain.

“With reference to this last point, Robinson appeals to my own map of Serbal, and the description of Wadi Aleyat, by Bartlett (Forty Days in the Desert, p. 54, 59). It would be difficult, however, to prove from my map that the people could not have spread themselves out at the foot of the mountain, and Bartlett seems to me rather to share my opinion. As this traveller is so well known by his descriptions of countries, which are both beautifully illustrated and clearly and graphically described, and as he is just one of the few who have examined the localities with his own eyes in reference to the question started by me without holding any previous views on the subject, it may not be inappropriate to insert here those words relating to it, from a book cited by Robinson in favour of his own view; so much the rather, as I could not possibly have placed the chief heads of the question in a more convincing point of view.

“He says, p. 551: “If we endeavour to reconcile ourselves to the received but questionable system which seeks to accommodate the miraculous with the natural, it is impossible, I think, not to close with the reasoning advanced in favour of the Serbal. There can be no doubt that Moses was personally well acquainted with the Peninsula, and had even probably dwelt in the vicinity of Wadi Feiran during his banishment from Egypt; but even common report as to the present day, would point to this favoured locality AS THE ONLY FIT SPOT in the whole range of the desert for the supply, either with water or such provisions as the country afforded, of the Israelitish host: on this ground alone, then, he would be led irresistibly to fix upon it, when meditating a long sojourn for the purpose of compiling the law. This consideration derives additional force when we consider the supply of wood and other articles requisite for the construction of the tabernacles, and which can only be found readily at Wadi Feiran, and of its being also, in all probability, from early times a place visited by trading caravans. But if Moses were even unacquainted previously with the resources of the place, he must have passed it on his way from the sea-coast through the interior of the mountains, and it is inconceivable that he should have refused to avail himself of its singular advantages for his purpose, or that the host would have consented, without a murmur, to quit, after so much privation, this fertile and well-watered oasis for new perils in the barren desert, or

1 The italics in the above quotation are thus distinguished by Dr. Lepsius, the Capitals by the author himself.

“that he should, humanly speaking, have been able either to compel them to do so, or afterwards to fix them in the inhospitable, unsheltered position of the monkish Mount Sinai, with the fertile Feiran but one day’s long march in their rear. Supplies of wood, and perhaps of water, must, in that case, have been brought of necessity from the very spot they had but just abandoned. We must suppose that the Amalekites would oppose the onward march of the Israelites, where they alone had a fertile territory worthy of being disputed, and from which Moses must, of necessity, have sought to expel them. If it be so, then in this vicinity, and no other, we must look for Raphidim, from whence the Mount of God was at a very short distance. We seem thus to have a combination of circumstances, which are met with nowhere else, to certify that it was here that Moses halted for the great work he had in view, and that the scene of the lawgiving is here before our eyes in its wild and lonely majesty. The principal objection to this is on the following ground, that there is no open space in the immediate neighbourhood of the Serbal suitable for the encampment of the vast multitude, and from which they could ALL OF THEM AT ONCE have had a view of the mountain, as is the case at the plain Er Rahah at Mount Sinai, where Robinson supposes, principally for that reason, the law to have been given. But is this objection conclusive? ‘We read, indeed, that Israel camped BEFORE THE MOUNT,’ and that ‘the Lord came down in sight of all the people;’ moreover, that bounds were set to prevent the people from breaking through and violating even the precincts of the holy solitude. Although THESE conditions are more LITERALLY fulfilled at Er Rahah, yet, if we understand them as couched in general terms, they apply perhaps well enough to the vicinity of the Serbal. A glance at the view, and a reference to this small rough map1, will show the reader that the main encampment of the host must have been in Wadi Feiran itself, from which the summit of the Serbal is only here and there visible, and that it is by the lateral Wadi

1 Here follows a sketch of the plan.

“Aleyat that the base of the mountain itself, by a walk of about an hour, is to be reached. It certainly struck me, in passing up this valley, as a very unfit, if not impracticable spot for the encampment of any great number of people, if they were all in tents; though well supplied with pure water, the ground is rugged and rocky, towards the base of the mountain awfully so; but still it is quite possible that a certain number might have established themselves there, as the Arabs do at present, while, on other occasions, the principal masses were distributed in the surrounding valleys. I do not know that there is any adequate ground for believing, as Robinson does, that because the people were warned not to invade the seclusion of the mount, and a guard was placed to prevent them from doing so, that THEREFORE THE ENCAMPMENT ITSELF pressed closely on its borders. Curiosity might possibly enough lead many to attempt this even from a distance, to say nothing of those already supposed to be located in the Wadi Aleyat, near the base of the mountain, to whom the injunction would more especially apply. Those, however, who press closely the literal sense of one or two passages, should bear in mind all the difficulties previously cited, and the absolute destitution of verdure, cultivation, running streams, and even of abundant springs, which characterise the fearfully barren vicinity of the monkish Sinai, where there is indeed room and, verge enough for encampment, BUT NO RESOURCES WHATEVER. If we take up the ground of a CONTINUAL AND MIRACULOUS PROVISION for all the wants of two millions of people, doubtless they may have been subsisted there as well as in any other place; otherwise it seems incredible that Moses should ever have abandoned a spot, offering such unique advantages as Feiran, to select instead the most dreary and sterile spot in its neighbourhood.”

“This was the distinct impression, and one frankly offered, after comparing those localities with the Biblical narration, by a man who nevertheless finally remains doubtful whether, in spite of all the reasons cited, it would not be more advisable to follow “the other system,” in accordance with which we must assume it to be an uninterrupted miracle from the beginning to the end, even though this is not expressed in the Bible (see p. 19 of the work cited), whereby, assuredly, all considerations about the most probable human course of that great historical event become worthless. The author then passes to some individual points, which he himself only calls attention to as such; in which he deviates from my mode of comprehension, since, for instance, he feels himself obliged to place the attack of the Amalekites somewhat farther down the valley towards El Hessue. The various possibilities in the explanation of the shorter marches oblige us always to point out again, that it is only by taking a view of the most essential points of the question, as a whole, that we can arrive at a positive conviction; this would necessarily drive those objections into the background, which might arise from regarding it only from any individual point.

“Shortly after Robinson, in the year 1843, Dr. John Wilson travelled through Palestine and the Peninsula of Arabia Petraea; he published his extensive travels (The Lands of the Bible, 2 vols. Edinburgh, 1847), but did not by any means attain the high standing point held by his learned predecessor. Nevertheless, I cannot but accord with some of the objections which (vol. i. p. 222, &c.) he makes to Robinson’s assumption that Sefsaf is the Mount of the Law. He coincides with the tradition in recognising the Mount of the Law in Gebel Musa. In Serbal, on the contrary, he believes that he recognises the Mount Paran of the Bible (p. 199), which we could only suppose, if we admit Mount Paran to be another expression for Sinai, and if we identify the last with Serbal. At the close of the second volume (p. 764, &c.) the author adds a note in the Appendix, in which he guards himself against my different view as to the position of Sinai. He does not, however, here touch upon the most essential arguments which I have everywhere placed in the foreground, but only speaks of individual points, some of which can be easily overcome, and of others which have no influence on the chief question. He places Daphka, which is not once mentioned in the principal account, and therefore assuredly must have been a subordinate spot, in Wadi Firan, and Raphidim, “the places for rest,” in the barren sandy Wadi e’ Scheikh, because there was no water there. But, that I may use his own weapons, what has become of the spring of Moses? “Few in the kingdom of Great Britain at least,” says the author, “will be disposed to substitute the Wadi Feiran, with clear running water, for Rephidim, where there was no water for the people to drink.” I think he wrongs his countrymen in making them deviate so universally from the almost unanimous tradition, and reject as a rationalistic explanation what is admitted even by the learned Fathers of the Church, who place Raphidim in Firan, and consequently regard the spring there as belonging to Moses; besides, independently of H. Bartlett, many others of his countrymen have distinctly declared themselves in favour of my view, which includes this point, among whom I may mention Mr. Hogg (see below, concerning his pamphlet about this particular point), the Rev. Dr. Croly, and the author of the Pictorial Bible. If he is of opinion that I had overlooked the fact that the Wilderness of Sin and the Wilderness of Sinai had different meanings, I refer him to my pamphlet, p. 47, where precisely the opposite occurs; I have not either left unnoticed the words “out of the Wilderness of Sin” (p. 39), which has not either been done by Eusebius nor St. Jerome, who equally make the Wilderness of Sin extend as far as the Wilderness of Sinai. The fight with Amalek, as it is related in Exodus, presupposes a universal, obstinate, and probably a prepared contest; that the principal attack of the front was immediately supported by an attack of the rear-guard is not excepted, as it is added besides in Deuteron. xxv. 18; the double attack besides appeared distinctly indicated in the words קברך בדרך ויזנב, ἀνέστη σοι ἐν τῇ ὁδῷ, καὶ ἔκοψε σου τν οραγαν {“… met thee in battle in the way and cut thee down in the rear”}. At Elim, certainly, twelve springs עינת, not wells, are mentioned; but this does not alter the case, as nevertheless we cannot imagine twelve rushing springs like those in the Wadi Firan, but as the author (vol. i. p. 175) himself observes, only standing water underground, which must be specially dug for, therefore, in fact, wells. Their great number alone remains worthy of consideration, from which we may conclude that it was an important place. I knew the Sheikh Abu Zelimeh very well; but that would not prevent the existence of a connection between the name and the locality, although I do not lay the slightest weight on such accordance of names.

“The author omits some other reasons, which he believes he can prove in opposition to my views; these might perhaps have referred precisely to the chief points of the whole question, which had hitherto remained uncontested. The author now perhaps feels himself obliged to repeat his arguments, with reference to the separate remarks of one of his countrymen, Mr. John Hogg, who handled the subject in a very complete manner, and worked it out still further, first in the Gentleman’s Magazine, March, 1847, and afterwards in the Transact, of the R. Soc. of Literature, 2 Ser. vol. iii. p. 183-236 (read May, 1847, Jan. 1848), under the title: Remarks and Additional Views on Dr. Lepsius’s Proofs that Mount Serbal is the true Mount Sinai; on the Wilderness of Sin; on the Manna of the Israelites; and on the Sinaitic Inscriptions. This learned author combines the earliest testimonies about the tradition, and from them endeavours to prove, that before the time of Justinian it was in favour of Serbal, and not of Gebel Musa. He seems, in fact, to have succeeded in proving this, but we shall return to this question below.

“Since then the comprehensive work of my respected friend Carl Ritter has appeared, which is executed with his usual mastery of the subject: Vergleichende Erdkunde der Sinai-Halbinsel, von Palästina und Syrien, erster Band, Berlin, 1848. Although he has employed and worked out all imaginable authorities, from the most ancient to those of modern date, and has formed a complete picture of the Peninsula as a whole and in details, with a clear perception and steady hand, both in its geographical bearing and in the historical relations of its population, he has nevertheless not neglected the question now under consideration, in which geography and history are more intimately connected than in any other. Sinai is to the Peninsula of Sinai what Jerusalem is to Palestine, and as it is certain that the erection of the church on Gebel Musa in the sixth century, from a belief that it was founded on the spot of the lawgiving caused the historical centre of the Peninsula, which previously coincided indisputably with the town of Pharan and its forest of palms (the natural geographical centre), to be sundered for the first time, and gradually, since the tenth century, from this, and to be removed several days’ journey farther to the south, so it is equally certain that the decision of the question, whether this was a first or second separation between the historical and geographical centre, must be most essentially on the comprehension and delineation of the earliest history of the Peninsula, and might even exercise an influence not only on the future form of Sinaitic literature, but even on many relative conditions of the Peninsula itself, which are in no small degree regulated by the objects aimed at by the constantly increasing number of travellers. Ritter’s representation was compelled at the very outset to decide for one of these two views. At the same time, the new view, proffered at the latest termination of the preliminary works of merit, and in opposition to what had been held with implicit faith for the last thousand years, and maintained without exception by all recent writers of travels, now first appeared in the form of an occasional and necessarily imperfect traveller’s account, and might very naturally lay even less claim to a favourable hearing, not having hitherto received critical examination from any quarter, nor been noticed by later travellers. For this reason I so much the more value the careful and impartial examination of the grounds in favour of Serbal being Mount Sinai, for which Ritter has granted a place in his work.

“He does this at p. 736, &c. He here rejects the opinion that the tradition of the convent on Gebel Musa, known only since the sixth century, could have any weight in forming a decision; “the tradition of the still older convent of Serbal, and of the town of Serbal in Wadi Firan, might be said to have existed just as truly, but has only been lost to us.” Other reasons, therefore, derived from nature and history, must speak in its favour. He then cites the view adopted by Robinson, who places Raphidim in the upper part of the Wadi e’ Scheikh; but with justice he places in opposition to this, that it then encroaches upon the farther march, and would be mentioned; and shortly afterwards he says, in as convincing a manner, that we cannot then conceive how the people could have murmured for want of water, already one day’s journey beyond the Firan, which was so richly supplied with water, while this can be easily explained on the long way from Elim, as far as the neighbourhood of Firan. Ritter therefore agrees with me and the old tradition in regarding the wonderful brook of Firan as the spring of Moses. He only thinks, if Moses struck the spring out of the rock, it must then have been at the beginning, and not at the termination of the present brook, and he therefore transfers Raphidim into the uppermost portion of Wadi Firan, whose fertility did not exist before the appearance of the spring. With respect to the position of the Mount of the Law, he evades positive decision for the time. “Already,” he says, “in both the almost contemporaneous narrators, Jerome (Procopius?) and Cosmas, we see the division of the views entertained about these localities, neither of which, even in the most recent double view, it appears by decisive and sufficient grounds, can be preferred, by us at least, alone before the others. Since each of these two modes of explanation of a text so indeterminate in topographical respects, and of a locality still known so imperfectly, can only serve as hypothetical probabilities in a more exact interpretation, allow me to point out cursorily our hypothetical view of this affair, which will perhaps never be placed in a perfectly clear light.”

“It amounts finally to this, that the “Mount of God,” where Moses was encamped when he was visited by Jethro in Raphidim, could have in no case meant the convent mountain of Sinai (i.e. Gebel Musa), although this, on a later occasion, is even thus called, as that of the true God, but from which they at that time under every supposition were far removed, though probably it might have been a designation for the overtowering and far nearer Serbal when they were still in the camp at “Raphidim.” He afterwards acknowledges that before the 19th chapter there was an interruption of the connection with the preceding chapters, but seeks a reason for this in a gap in the text, while I would rather assume that there was a short interpolation. Let the progress of the people from the Feiran valley into the upper valley of the Scheikh, and to Gebel Musa, the true Sinai, be thrown into this gap. This at first is only called “the Mount” (Exodus xix. 2), and becomes a “Mount of God” for the first time after the lawgiving (which, however, the following verse, xix. 3, contradicts), while Serbal might have been called “the Mount of God” from a heathen deity there worshipped. “Both mounts, the Mount of God (Serbal) in Raphidim, and the mount in the Wilderness of Sinai, are therefore just as different by name as they appear removed from each other by the last day’s marches between both places of encampment.” He regards the general natural conditions of the country about Gebel Musa on account of the greater security and coolness, and from the pasture-land bearing a greater resemblance to the Alps, as more adapted for a longer sojourn of the people. The name of Horeb only, which is already mentioned in Raphidim, might serve as an objection, yet he sees no sufficient ground not to extend this name to some of the lower mountains attached to Serbal itself, for already Robinson, Hengstenberg, and others, comprehend it as a general designation.

“So far as I know, this is the first time that it has been attempted to prove that there were two Mounts of God, Serbal and Gebel Musa. This, however, certainly is the necessary result, though not yet expressed by others, which all must arrive at who place Raphidim in Firan. In this, it appears to me, lies a main proof with reference to the criticism of the text, that both Mounts of God are to be recognised in Serbal. We must not lay too much stress on the greater security of the plain of Raha for a “harnessed” (Exodus xiii. 18) army of 600,000 men, after it had set firm footing in the land, besides Serbal must have at all times offered an admirable place of reserve. The cold in the high mountain range, which, according to Rüppell and Robinson, freezes the water into ice in the convent (5000 feet above the sea) even as late as February (Ritter, p. 445, 630), would have alone rendered an open encampment on the plain of Raha during the winter impossible, for a population lately accustomed to the Egyptian climate. But with respect to the vegetation in those districts, which has indeed been differently described by different travellers, the idea that not the slightest doubt existed as to this having been at one time the sojourn of the Israelites, may have partly caused many to presuppose the existence of more herbs in the neighbourhood than they momentarily saw; partly, no doubt, the season of the year occasions some variations. I therefore only observe that I visited the Peninsula about the same time of the year in which, according to the Mosaic narration, the Israelites also went thither. Ritter, finally, has expressed his views on the Sinai question on another occasion in a popular essay, “The Peninsula of Sinai, and the Path of the Children of Israel to Sinai,” in the “Evangelical Calendar,” Almanack for 1852, published by F. Piper, p. 31, &c. Here also he places Raphidim in Firan, and traces the Mount of God at Raphidim in Serbal. But in opposition to the identity of Serbal and Sinai, he here adduces principally the two following reasons. As it has been now proved {sic!!} that the so-called Sinaitic inscriptions have a Pagan origin, and that they indicate that Serbal, to which they principally refer, was the “centre of an ancient worship,” then this remarkable mount, if already a holy mount of the idolater, could not have been at the same time a “Mount of Jehovah” (p. 51), and further (p. 52), “Israel’s holy Mount of God was not situated in the territory of Amalek, like Serbal, but in the eastern and southern, territory of Midian, for it is said expressly (Exodus iv. 19), that the Lord commanded Moses in Midian to go to Egypt, and to lead the people to sacrifice to him upon this Mount Horeb and Sinai in Midian” (Exodus iii. 1-12). With respect to these two points however, the first, namely that Serbal was also a holy mount for the Semitic people ruling over the Peninsula at a later period, seems to me a reason of great weight in favour of Serbal-Sinai, as indeed also already, before the lawgiving, it was not called “Idol Mount,” but Mount of God (Exodus iii. 1, iv. 27, xviii. 5), just as much as after the lawgiving (Exodus xxiv. 13, 1 Kings xix. 8), and a heathen readoption at a later period of the worship of this mount must certainly be less surprising. But that Moses dwelt with Jethro in Midian, when the Lord spoke to him, offers no ground to place the Mount of the Law in Midian, for that is nowhere said. We only know that Raphidim, where Moses was visited by Jethro out of Midian. was situated in the territory of the Amalekites, as these here made the attack. Eusebius, who (s. v. Ῥαφιδίμ {Raphidim} see note, p. 313) expressly places Raphidim and Choreb in Pharan, says (s. v. Χωρήβ {Horeb}) that this Mount of God lay in Madian. In the Itinerar. Antonini, c. 40, also, Pharan is placed in Madian.

“I trust these remarks, in which I think I have touched upon all the essential objections of the respected author, may prove to him how high a value I place on each of his arguments, as being those of one who is more competent to judge in this field than any other person. Ritter’s long proved acuteness for tracing the correct view of such questions, would have excited more consideration in me against my own view of the subject, than all the reasons he has adduced, which, taken singly at least, seem to me refutable, had I not in this case, at any rate, had the advantage of a personal view of the localities, without any preconceived influence; this might render my judgment of earlier narrators more independent than could be the case with him.”

Note: Ebers in his biography of Richard Lepsius p. 162: “His {Lepsius’} sagacity and erudition established that which the king of Oriental travellers, Burckhardt, had suspected before him, namely, that the mountain from which the Law was given was not the Gebel-Musa group, which is at present held to be the Sinai of the Scriptures, but the magnificent Serbal. The author of this biography, during his own journey to Sinai, was also obliged to adopt the view of Lepsius; he furnished fresh arguments to confirm it, and is of the opinion that sooner or later it must be generally accepted as correct, in spite of the opposition which it still encounters on many sides.”

On the water from the rock

Forster Israel in the Wilderness, London, 1865, 175ff.

‘As, on a point of so high interest, this coincidence is one between two wholly independent witnesses, I give here my own view and explanation, as they stand in my published ‘Letter to Lord Lyndhurst.’:

p. 176 ‘The Site of Rephidim and the true Mount Sinai.

‘Dr. Lepsius, as I have already stated, has settled both questions to my entire conviction, and to the full satisfaction of all his own friends. I shall not task Your Lordship with the details, but shall only repeat my conviction that Dr. Lepsius has set both questions at rest for ever.

In coming to this conclusion, I am perfectly aware that very serious, and, unless in some way removable, insurmountable, difficulties attend his verifications of these long-lost localities. To Dr. Lepsius himself, it is true, they are not difficulties, because he explains miraculous events by natural causes. Moses, according to him, had frequented the fertile Wady Firan during his forty years’ previous sojourn in these deserts; and the miracle at Rephidim consisted in his conducting the fainting Israelites to that vale of living waters! Mr. Stanley alludes, indeed, to his striking the rock, but seems not to doubt or question the preexistence of the waters.

‘Now if there is one point more clear than another in the Scriptural account of Rephidim, it is its absolute and total destitution of water. I need but refer to Exod. xvii. 1-3, in proof of this point. It is perfectly impossible, therefore, that the Wady Firan, in hs present state, could have been the scene of the miracle, or the site of the Mosaic Rephidim, as Dr. Lepsius and all his followers maintain it to have been. The idea is too puerile, almost, for serious discussion; for, according to this theory, the Israelites already occupied this earthly paradise, and Moses, encamped on the hill of Paran, already held the key of this position, when attacked by the Amalekites. He lay, with the springs of the Wady Aleyat above, and of el Hesue (or Alush) below; and the danger of the Israelites must have lain not in the dearth, but the plethora of water. All this notwithstanding, I hold Lepsius’s site to be the Mosaic Rephidim; and difficulties apparently insurmountable, to be explicable and removable by plain warrant of Scripture.

‘My view and explanation of this great apparent difficulty is simply this: Rephidim, assuredly, was the waterless waste which the Sacred narrative describes, when the Israelites arrived there; and the Wady Firan, with its palm-groves and water, then first sprang into being, when, by the Divine command, Moses smote the rock, and the living waters gushed out:

“The desert smiled,
And paradise was opened in the wild.”

‘My belief is, that this loveliest oasis of Sinai, perhaps of all the East, was the CREATION of the miracle at Rephidim, and remains to this day a standing record of that great miracle. If this be so, the upper of the two springs of the Wady Aleyat may be the offspring of the miracle; and it appears, in Bartlett’s sketch, to gush out of a rock.

‘But a view so new and startling as this justly demands the strongest evidences to support it. I admit the proposition, and am prepared with those evidences. My evidences are passages in the book of Psalms, as yet wholly unexplained, and, unless.upon the grounds which I now submit to Your Lordship, altogether inexplicable. Thus, in Psalm cv. 41, we read:

“He opened the rock of stone,
And the waters flowed out,
So that rivers ran in the dry places.

‘Again, in Psalm Ixxviii. 15-16:

“He clave the rocks in the wilderness,
And gave them drink as out of the great depths:
He brought streams, also, out of the rock,
And caused the waters to run down like rivers.”.

‘St. Paul’s spiritual application of the miracle equally proves its historical character. “They did all drink the same spiritual drink; for they drank of that spiritual rock which followed them: and that rock was Christ.”* [* 1 Cor. x. 4.]

‘These texts, if they prove anything, most incontrovertibly prove that the miracle at Rephidim was not a mere temporary relief, but a permanent and effluent supply. “Rivers ran in the dry places.” “The waters ran down like rivers.” Nay, they “followed” the course of the Israelites, as far as that course required this miraculous supply. Compare these inspired statements with the existing phenomenon of the Wady Firan, and they become all fully explained: take away this wonderful phenomenon, and they become and must remain inexplicable.* [* St. Dionysius, bishop of Alexandria in the third century, takes this Scriptural and only true view of the miracle: …. {Trans. of Forster’s Greek citation into English: “The river which rushes down by the city, at one time appeared drier than a waterless wilderness, and more dry than that: as Israel passed through it, they were so thirsty, Moses came down, and there flowed down for them through the worker of miracles water to drink from what was nothing but a sharp rock. It flowed down in such abundance on that occasion, that all the country round about, the paths and fields, were inundated, threatening to bring on again the onrush of water in Noah’s time”.} Dionys. Alex. ap. Galland. t. iii. p. 535.]

‘But there remains a crowning witness to these evidences in another Scripture, the 107th Psalm. The last part of this Psalm relates exclusively to Israel in the wilderness. And here are the words of its testimony:

“He maketh the wilderness a standing water:
And water-springs of a dry ground.
And there he setteth the hungry,
That they may build them A CITY to dwell in:
That they may sow their land, and plant vineyards,
To yield them fruits of increase.”

‘I pause to compare this description with the physical characteristics, and the actual circumstances, of the Wady Firan. It is the only spot in the peninsula of Sinai where the “water-springs” run like ever-flowing rivers: it is the only spot in the peninsula of Sinai where an ancient city, or any city, exists or ever did exist: it is the only spot in the peninsula of Sinai where CORN ever did or ever could grow. In a word, all the conditions depicted in the Psalm are found in the Wady Firan: none of the conditions depicted in the Psalm are to be found in any other region of that “waste and howling wilderness.”

‘I resume, therefore, with the authority attaching to those who bring substantive proof in support of what has been theoretically advanced, the position from which I set out, namely, that the Wady Firan, with its corn and its palm-groves, its city and its waters, is a standing witness to the miracle at Rephidim, and a lasting memorial of the dealings of Almighty God with his people Israel.* [* Exod. xvii. 1-6, xxxii. 20, Deut. ix. 21, taken together, seem to supply a perfect demonstration of the correctness of the above view. For from Exod. xvii. 1-6, it is certain that, previously to the miracle at the rock of Rephidim, Mount Horeb and its valley (i. e. Serbal and the Wady Firan) were absolutely waterless: from Deut. ix. 21, it is equally certain that, immediately after the miracle, a running brook descended perennially from Mount Horeb; and, from Exod. xxxii. 20, that this brook became a broad stream in the valley beneath, upon whose waters Moses cast the dust of the golden calf, and which was sufficiently prolonged to give space for all the children of Israel to drink of the waters thus sprinkled. The stream of Wady Firan, running now for six miles through the valley, it thus appears with moral certainly, was ‘the water’ sprinkled by Moses with the ashes of the golden calf.

‘I subjoin the texts in question seriatim, in order. that the reader may have the evidence in one view:


‘And all the congregation of the children of Israel journeyed from the wilderness of Sin, after their journeys, according to the commandment of the Lord, and pitched in Rephidim:

and there was no water for the people to drink.

‘Wherefore the people did chide with Moses, saying, Give us water that we may drink.

‘And Moses said unto them, Why chide ye with me? wherefore do ye tempt the Lord?

‘And the people thirsted there for water, and the people murmured against Moses, and said, Wherefore is this that thou hast brought us up out of Egypt, to kill us, and our children, and our cattle, with thirst?

‘And Moses cried unto the Lord, saying, What shall I do unto this people? they be almost ready to stone me.’


‘And the Lord said unto Moses, Go on before the people, and take with thee of the elders of Israel: and thy rod, wherewith thou smotest the river, take in thine hand, and go. Behold I will stand before thee there, upon the rock of Horeb; and thou shalt smite the rock, and there shall come water out of it, that the people may drink.

And Moses did so in the sight of the elders of Israel.’


‘And he took the calf which they had made, and burnt it in the fire, and ground it to powder, and strewed it upon the water, and made the children of Israel drink of it.’

‘And I took your sin, the calf which ye had made, and burnt it with fire, and stamped and ground it very small, even until it was as small as dust; and I cast the dust into the brook that descended out of the Mount.’]

‘Save from the 107th Psalm, the origin and date of the ancient city of Pharan or Paran is unknown. It is known only to be of immemorial antiquity. {See supra on the finds of sherds dating to the time of the Israelite Monarchy, Iron Age II, on the tel marking its site.} It could not have been built by the Israelites properly so called, because they were, one and all, bound for the Land of Promise. But why may it not have owed its origin to “the mixed multitude,” who accompanied Israel out of Egypt? These had no longer a country; they had no promised Canaan; and might gladly pause and rest, dwell and build, in an oasis uniting all that the hearts of an Eastern people could desire. Once severed from the Israelites, they were sure to relapse into idolatry; the tradition of the Exode {= Exodus} would remain, but its true character would be gradually lost; until, in after times, it would be dissolved in those heathen myths, which Strabo, or Diodorus Siculus, chronicled and handed down, to be speculated and theorized on by the visionary votaries of German “Neology,” who can find everything at Sinai but traces of God’s people Israel. What I last submit to Your Lordship is conjecture only; but it is conjecture founded on the analogy of history, and on the instinctive tendency of every migratory people to colonize and settle down.’ Letter to Lord Lyndhurst, pp. 63-69.

Ranyard, Stones Crying Out, p. 221ff.:

“The proofs which were decisive to the mind of M. Lepsius we must leave his readers to explore.* [*See “Discoveries in Egypt, Ethiopia, and Sinai,” by Dr. Lepsius. Edited by Mackenzie. 1852.] Mr. Forster draws his conclusions from the varied and carefully studied information of travellers, concerning the localities of the Sinaitic inscriptions.

“If then we inquire where these are mainly to be found, Mr. Forster believes they mark the route by which Moses indicates that the people came out from Egypt to Serbal. Various travellers agree in the report that, commencing near Suez, the Wadys Wardan, Maghara, Mokatteb, Feiran, and Aleyat, are all full of them, and the last, “Wady Aleyat” leads up to the five-peaked Serbal {sic, there being between around five to ten eminences, though it was believed in ancient times, as recorded by the unidentified female pilgrim, infra, there were six main peaks surrounding the central one, Mount Sinai itself, seven in all}, whose two easternmost summits, according to Burckhardt and Dr. Stewart, are covered with inscriptions. Ruppell finds them on the second peak from the west; Stanley saw them on the top of the third or central peak; and Mr. Pierce Butler especially tells us that innumerable inscriptions clothe the northern side of the mountain.

“The Wady Aleyat,” he says, “is one vast chaos of ruins, of rocks precipitated from the face of the mountain above by some great convulsion of nature. The face of the perpendicular summit towers 2000 feet in height above this mountain-valley (see frontispiece), which Stewart describes as five miles in extent, and he considers this valley and that of Wady Rimm to have been of quite sufficient extent for the gathering of the tribes, at the foot of the mount.* [*See “The Tent and the Khan,” p. 111.] From every part of the Wady Aleyat, Serbal can be seen, there are no projecting spurs to hide his summit; the precipitous sides rise clear from the rough ground, and the propriety of the inspired description is fully realized, “the mount that might be touched.”

“Stewart descended from Serbal as daylight was fading, and depicts the agony of walking when footsore over the loose angular stones of Wady Aleyat. He reached his tent utterly exhausted and bruised with severe falls sustained by stumbling over rocks in the darkness; and he elsewhere speaks of the “avalanches” of rock and stone which during the course of ages have been brought down from the mountain by the winter torrents, and have so covered Wady Aleyat as to suggest the idea that the clouds must have some time rained down boulders instead of hailstones. Yet it is not deficient in verdure, and scattered over its surface also are the Saut or Shittah trees of Scripture (see p. 186), not one of which trees, he observes, are found in the plain of El Rahah, or in the Wadys round Gebel Mousa.

“But it is Mr. Pierce Butler who in his ascent of the Serbal, by daylight, from this rocky valley, struck into an untrodden path, and, as he clambered through those wrecks of nature, discovered, to his great astonishment, that hundreds upon hundreds of the fallen stones were covered with Sinaitic inscriptions. “So numerous were the instances that it seemed that every second stone was inscribed.” Mr. Butler adds, that the granite rocks thus shivered were largely interspersed with blocks of trapstone, black on the surface, but lemon-coloured inside; this latter material had been studiously selected for the inscriptions, and the black surface threw out the lemon-coloured characters. Burckhardt remarks that no inscriptions are found either on Gebel Mousa or on Mount St. Catherine.

“Stewart describes the view from the summit of Serbal as the grandest, but the most desolate, to be found upon the earth’s surface. Between each of the five peaks, he says, there is a ravine so steep and narrow that the ascent seems perfectly impossible. The easternmost and highest peak is ascended by a mighty flight of rock stairs which wind round its shoulder. “As we neared the huge block of grey granite which crowns the summit, the Sinaitic inscriptions began again to appear, and that block itself, with several lying around it, are covered with them, though many were so defaced that it would be impossible to copy them.”

“Let us descend once more by the Wady Aleyat amid the “wreck of nature,” heretofore described, which Mr. Forster considers to be “the standing result and evidence of the shock which the mountain experienced at the Giving Of The Law,” when Scripture tells us it was shaken to its foundations “And the whole mount quaked greatly” (Exod. xix. 18). This must have resembled an earthquake, for there are no signs of volcanic agency throughout the region. “The earth trembled and shook” (Psa. Ixxvii. 18), says the psalmist long afterwards, in reference to the events of the Exodus, and the witness of Paul follows (Heb. xii. 26), “Whose voice then shook the earth.” “The shivered rocks are thrown down by Him,” says the prophet Nahum (i. 6); and Mr. Forster adds, “Can facts attest more literally the awful sequel than do the precipices here rifted beneath the feet of Jehovah? If a certainty of the locality is still recoverable by actual record in Scripture signs, Mount Serbal is The True Mount Sinai.”

Wadi Feiran.

“Descending from Wady Aleyat we reach Wady Feiran,” says Dr. Bonar, “level and spacious, sandy and bare, and from half a mile to a mile wide, it winds round immense mountains of trap covered with debris; and here we noticed many inscriptions, some on hard blocks of granite. There is Serbal, with its five rugged spires, ever frowning down upon us in its magnificence. The next turn to the left has brought us to a thousand noble palms in a lovely hollow like a garden

“A palm-grove islanded amid the waste.”

“Here our tents were pitched, and exquisite were the changes of starlight and moonlight as we wandered among those ancient trees. Here the hosts of Israel must surely have found rest for their year at the base of Sinai.”

“Dr. Bonar did not visit Serbal, and his belief in the monkish Sinai or Gebel Mousa was, at the time he wrote (1858) not apparently disturbed. “Neither,” says he, “can Wady Feiran be Rephidim; nay, there is proof that it was not Rephidim, for there must always have been water here. So that Israel could not have lacked it, as we read that they did at Rephidim.”

“Dr. Lepsius, however, and all his followers, maintain that Wady Feiran must have been Rephidim from its proximity to Serbal, and Mr. Forster agrees with them, giving, however, full notice to Dr. Bonar’s assertion, that “in Rephidim there was no water for the people to drink.” Remarking on Exod. xvii. 1. “It surely was,” he says, “the waterless waste which the sacred narrative describes when the Israelites arrived there, and the Wady Feiran, with its waters and palm-groves, the noblest oasis of the peninsula, then first sprang into being; when by the Divine command, Moses smote the rock, and the living waters gushed out and remained to this day (like the fallen rocks of Wady Aleyat), a standing record of a great miracle. Mr. Forster looks for his evidence in passages from the Book of Psalms. In Ps. cv. 41, we read: “He opened the rock: and the water gushed out: the rivers ran in the dry places.”

“In Ps. Ixxviii. 15, 16: “He clave the rocks in the wilderness, and gave them drink out of the great depths. He brought streams also out of the rock, and caused waters to run down like rivers.”

“The latter part of Ps. cvii. relates exclusively to Israel in the wilderness, and its record is as follows: “He maketh the wilderness a standing water, And water springs of a dry ground. And there He setteth the hungry, That they may build them a city to dwell in: That they may sow the land and plant vineyards, To yield them fruits of increase.”

“The Wady Feiran,” says Mr. Forster, “is the only spot in the peninsula of Sinai where water springs run like rivers; where an ancient city exists, or ever did exist; or where corn did, or ever could grow.” It is certain, from Deut. ix. 21, that “a running brook descended out of Mount Horeb” after Moses had smitten it, and that this brook became a broad stream in the valley beneath, upon whose waters Moses cast the dust of the golden calf, and which gave space for all the children of Israel to drink of the waters thus sprinkled. The stream of Wady Feiran runs now for six miles through the valley.

“The expression “He maketh the wilderness a standing water,” is confirmed by an observation of Lepsius. “Soon after leaving the outskirts of Feiran,” he says, “we saw before us a tall craggy peak called Buob {= Buweib}, which almost intercepted the valley, and to the right and left a number of mounds of earth, from sixty to one hundred feet high; the largest and indeed the only ones I had seen since we left the valley of the Nile. They continued along the valley on both sides, and showed that there had once been an elevated basin here containing water, a lake which had not then found an outlet, for that is the only way so large a body of earth could have been deposited. The geographical position of the whole mountain range in this district, bears marks of the same phenomenon. All the streams from the east and north, some of them in large sheets of water, unite here at the end of Wady Feiran.”

“Do we not read the history of its miraculous source in Exod. xvii. in the hour when God said, “I will stand before thee there upon the rock in Horeb. Take with thee the elders of Israel, and thy rod wherewith thou smotest the river; take it in thine hand and go.” Was not this the converse miracle to that of the Red Sea? The Lord bound the river by the rod of Moses, and made a dry path through its billows, and again He burst rocky bars, and let flow “the fountain of Israel,” which Paul tells us followed them in their wanderings, a type of Christ; they doubtless returned to its refreshing borders and also to the neighbouring Wady Hebron for a part at least of the thirty-eight years during which they did not journey to the Promised Land, during which time each of them who was older than twenty when he came out of Egypt, except Joshua and Caleb, found a grave in the scorching sands.

““It is impossible to conceive the weariness” (says Bartlett in his “Forty Days in the Desert”) “that is felt by the solitary wanderer in this great and terrible wilderness. Ravine succeeds to ravine, each more forsaken and desolate than the last, with its bed of sand or gravel, overhung with mountains, whose bold, awful abrupt forms, with their colouring of brown, black, red, and yellow, glare under the fiery sun like a portion of some early world untenanted by man. The mechanical and silent footfall of the camel passes noiselessly from morn to night among the voiceless crags. It is then we remember and realize the incidents of Israel’s toilsome march, and understand their horror at being transported from verdant Egypt into the heart of solitudes so deep.

“So lonely tis that God Himself
Scarce seemeth there to be.”

“How blissful is the sudden change to Wady Feiran! “Most like a poet’s dream” it burst upon us. The cliffs around still towering indeed bare and perpendicular, but instead of a gravelly valley there arose as by enchantment tufted groves of palm and fruit trees. Presently a stream of running water, rushing through the tarfa trees, led us on to the shade and the unequalled verdure of the Valley of Feiran.

“There in the heart of the wilderness of rock and sand, when weary of the stunted bush and nauseous scanty pool, I pitched my tent beneath a group of palms which bent to shelter it; the spring came down the valley, and, rippling among green sedges, formed a small transparent basin at the foot of a fragment of limestone rock fallen from the mountain wall above, and was decorated like a natural altar with freshest foliage. The camels were scattered about the bowery thickets, cropping the thick blossom with avidity, and the Arabs revelled around.

“My oasis of palms were not a solitary group. On stepping out from my tent I was in an almost tropical wilderness. In the palm groves of Egypt the stumps are trimmed and straight, but here this most graceful of trees is all untended; its boughs spring direct from the earth and form tufts and avenues and over-arching bowers, through which sunlight falls tremblingly on the shaded turf. Among them some few branches shooting upright, lift high above the rest their lovely coronal of rustling fans and glowing branches of dates. Some droop to the ground like wavy plumes, others form mossy alleys resounding with the songs of birds. The wind plays over the rustling foliage with the gentlest murmurs; fig, pomegranate, and acacia mingle their foliage with the palm, and here in its season is seen the waving corn. Where else did Israel grow the corn that was ordered, in Lev. ii. 14, to be offered with their meat-offerings to the Lord?”

“Now for the ownership and sole possession of such a stream, was it not probable that the sons of the desert would speedily strive?

“Then came Amalek,” says Moses, “and fought with Israel in Rephidim.” Exod. xvii. 8.”

Note on the location of Kibroth-hattaavah and Hazeroth

The location of Hazeroth around Ain Hudhera (or Hudhra) coincides with the account of the unidentified pilgrim (see infra), particularly in respect of its distance from Mount Sinai (Serbal) and the fact it was specially in sight of the latter. The identification of Erweis el Ebeirig with Kibroth-Hattaavah does not accord with the pilgrim’s account, whilst that of Turbet es Yahud does, as the pilgrim locates the graves close to Wadi Feiran. Wadi Berah, running south and east, meets with Wadi Akhdar, running north-east to south-west, about twelve to fifteen miles east of Serbal. Wadi Akhdar merges with the Wadi es Sheikh westwards and the latter via Wadi Solaf and El Buweb, “the Gate”, into Wadi Feiran at the foot of Serbal. Wadi Feiran also connects with Wadi Berah through Wadi Lebweh. This makes it likely that the Israelites left Wadi Feiran along Wadi Solaf, suffered the catastrophe in the area around the exit of Wadi Berah, buried the victims at Turbet es Yahud, and then passed on via Wadi es Sheikh past Erweis el Ebeirig to Hazeroth. Sinaitic inscriptions abound in these areas. It is possible that the name Hazeroth (“enclosures”) was derived from the Hebrew designation of the camp at Erweis el Ebeirig, and hence to the district around about, whence the same name was given to the oasis Ain Hudhera (“the Spring of Hazeroth”) and the beacon nearby (“Look-outs of Hazeroth”).

1. TURBET ES-YAHUD, the “Graves of the Jews” = Kibroth-hattaavah

Ranyard, Stones Crying Out, London 1865, p. 240ff.

“But here a service of no common moment has recently been rendered to Scripture history and evidences by

[p. 241]

“Dr. Stewart, of Leghorn,* [*See “The Tent and the Khan.”] who has recovered, in the adjoining wadys, at different and distant points, a series of ancient tombs and cemeteries, distinguishing the whole region, and called universally by the Arabs to this day, “Turbet es Yahoud,” the “Graves of the Jews.”

““Turning to descend the hill,” says Stewart, “my attention was directed to a number of cairns of stone, which, from their blackened appearance, had evidently remained untouched for ages. Others, however, had been opened, and the stones were scattered about; a small hole had been made in the centre of each, probably in search of treasure. In two of those which were undisturbed a huge stone had fallen in from the top, revealing two narrow chambers formed of granite blocks, each of which could only have contained a single body.

“The next day, as we travelled up the Wady Berah, we came upon more tombs, with several chambers in each. The whole of this part of the wady, opposite Wady Tamner, seems to have been covered with graves, the stones of which are scattered abroad in all directions. There is no vestige of a town or village. The plain is too distant from Feiran for these graves to have any connection with the ancient city there, and the idea of pilgrims having died here in such numbers is not to be entertained, even if the graves themselves did not betoken an earlier existence.”

“Dr. Stewart, therefore, believes they are the graves of the Israelites, and the same as the graves of greediness at Kibroth-hattaavah. But if Wady Berah be indeed the Taberah of Scripture, if the Israelites marched this way and died here, it may fairly be expected that their route shall be traced by their road-

[p. 242]

“marks, the Sinaitic inscriptions. Dr. Stewart says nothing about these, but Dr. Robinson unconsciously comes in to supply the missing link of evidence.

“In passing through Wady Berah, the sepulchre and burial-grounds escaped his notice, but he observed and notices the usual writings. “I struck across the valley,” he says, “and on a large rock found four inscriptions in the usual unknown character. Just by our tent was also a huge detached rock covered with similar writings, but much obliterated. Indeed we found these writings at almost every point where the overhanging or projecting rocks seemed to indicate a convenient resting-place.

“The occurrence of the Sinaitic inscriptions in connection with the graves in Wady Berah is a new point in the evidence, since, if it be admitted that the tombs are those of the Israelites, it is in vain to question the Israelite authorship of the adjoining inscriptions.”

Click the image above to view higher quality version

Horatius Bonar, The Desert of Sinai, New York, 1857, p. 248f.:

“On we went, with similar slight showers till noon, when the sky brightened into its usual clear and cloudless blue. About half an hour before this we had turned to the right, out of Wady Sheikh, and crossed a narrow defile over rocks like a Scottish glen, and then in about three quarters of an hour we came down upon a fine valley, where we had once more a full view of the ubiquitous mountain, which seemed to watch us at every step,— Serbal. Crossing this wady we went up a rocky road into Wady Berakh or Berah, and suddenly came upon an Arab grave-yard, on the right. [Bonar’s footnote here: ‘One might almost have supposed that in Berah we have a mere abbreviation of Taberah, Israel’s first station after leaving Sinai (Numb. xi. 3. Deut. ix. 22), were it not that the route of the Israelites would seem to have been more eastward than Wady Berah would admit of.” {But Bonar’s difficulty results from his assumption that Sinai is in the area of St Catherine’s monastery. The true site of Sinai at Serbal is south and west of Berah, and directly in the line of march of the Israelites as they passed out of Wadi Feiran via Wadi es-Sheikh and the desert of Kadesh to the north and east.}] With its simple stones, unhewn and uncarved, amid these lonely hills, it spoke most touchingly to the heart, and seemed to throw over the scene a dreary melancholy. Above ground no life appeared, beneath there was what once was life. The want of life makes the desert at all times lonely; but the presence of death deepens the intensity of the loneliness. It seems lonely to live in such solitude, lonelier to die there,— but loneliest of all to be buried in such a place! Who were lying there we knew not,—father, mother, wife, and husband, brother, sister, child, such we knew were there; and that was enough to make us feel an interest in the spot. How many generations were there we could not tell; they may go back to the days of Moses, and the dust of the sons of Israel may be mingling there with the dust of the sons of Ishmael. It is curious that so many of these graveyards should be found in the centre of the desert, so few anywhere else. Up Wady Berah we pursued our way, in a westerly direction, for about an hour.”

Fisk, A Memorial of Egypt, the Red Sea etc., New York, 1850, p. 145f.:

“The whole day’s journey through Wadey Berah was wearisome indeed—frowned upon as we were, by massive mountains, which appeared as if they had been scorched and blackened by volcanic fires. We were obliged to proceed slowly and cautiously over passes covered with fragments of large and loose stones.” Note the reference here to the appearance of marks of a great conflagration in Wadi Berah of precisely the kind that occurred at Taberah, or Kibroth-hataavah.

Rev. F. W. Holland, “Recent Explorations in the Peninsula of Sinai”, Proceedings of the Royal Geographical Society, Vol. XIII, 1868-9, April 26, 1869, p. 208:

“Lower down, in Wadi Berah, we passed a large detached rock, covered with Sinaitic inscriptions, which was said by the Arabs to have been cleft by Moses with his sword, to enable the Israelites to pass it.” This is traditional evidence of the passage of the Israelites through the wadi.


J. Gardner Wilkinson in John Murray Handbook for Egypt and Sudan p. 249f:

“The road from Sinai {supposed site near St Catherine’s} to Akaba passes down the Wadi es-Shekh as far as the tomb of Nebi Salih. The festival of this saint is a great event for the Tawwara Arabs who flock to the tomb from all parts of the Peninsula, and encamp around it for three days. Leaving the Wadi es-Shekh, and passing up the ravine of Abu Suwera, the main watershed of the Peninsula is crossed, and after traversing an open tract we reach the gorge of Wadi Saal, 13 m. from the Convent. 16 m. farther on a sandy tract with blackish mounds, called Erwes el-Eberig, is reached, a spot identified by Prof. Palmer {probably erroneously} with Kibroth-hattaavah of the Bible (Numb. xi. 34). He is strengthened in this conclusion by the tradition of the Arabs etc ….. The road now leads across a desolate sandy plain with a few isolated rocks, some of which are covered with Sinaitic inscriptions. The principal of these is called Hudhebat el-Hajjaj (“the Pilgrim’s Hall”). The ordinary road to Akaba here enters Wadi Ghazala, and descends to its junction with the oasis of Wadi el Ain, and thence down the magnificent gorge of Wadi Wetir to the Gulf of Akaba. If, however, we wish to to reach Ain Hudhera, the probable Hazeroth of the Bible, we turn to the l{eft}., and soon meet a magnificent gorge, in which nestles the dark-green palm-grove of Ain Hudhera (incorrectly written Khadhra). There are remains of old walls, an aqueduct, and many Greek and Sinaitic inscriptions. On a hill at the E. side of the cliff is a building which may have been a beacon, and gives its name to the spot, Matali Hudhera, “the Hazeroth Look-outs.””

Palmer, Desert of the Exodus, p. 212ff.

“A little farther on, and upon the watershed of Wady el Hebeibeh, we came to some remains which, although they had hitherto escaped even a passing notice from previous travelers, proved to be among the most interesting in the country. The piece of elevated ground which forms this watershed is called by the Arabs Erweis el Ebeirig, and is covered with small inclosures of stones {Heb. Hazeroth means “enclosures”}. These are evidently the remains of a large encampment, but they differ essentially in their arrangement from any others which I have seen in Sinai or elsewhere in Arabia; and on the summit of a small hill on the right is an erection of rough stones surmounted by a conspicuous white block of pyramidal shape. The remains extend for miles around, and, on examining them more carefully during a second visit to the Peninsula with Mr. Drake, we found our first impression fully confirmed, and collected abundant proofs that it was in reality a deserted camp. The small stones which formerly served, as they do in the present day, for hearths, in many places still showed signs of the action of fire, and on digging beneath the surface we found pieces of charcoal in great abundance. Here and there were larger inclosures marking the encampment of some person more important than the rest, and just outside the camp were a number of stone heaps, which, from their shape and position, could be nothing else but graves. The site is a most commanding one, and admirably suited for the assembling of a large concourse of people.

Erweis el Ebeirig (Hazeroth) and Ain Hudherah (highlighted in red)

Detail of Erweis el Ebeirig (Hazeroth) and Ain Hudherah

“Arab tradition declares these curious remains to be “the relics of a large Pilgrim or Hajj caravan, who in remote ages pitched their tents at this spot on their way to Ain Hudherah, and who were soon afterward lost in the desert of the Tih, and never heard of again.”

“For various reasons I am inclined to believe that this legend is authentic, that it refers to the Israelites, and that we have in the scattered stones of Erweis el Ebeirig real traces of the Exodus.

“Firstly: they are said tahu, to have “lost their way,” the Arabic verb from which the name Tih, or “Wilderness of the Wanderings” is derived {traditionally the Wanderings of the Israelites, Tiah bne Israel, as in Istachri etc.}. Secondly: they are described as a Hajj caravan. At the first glance this would seem an anachronism, as the word is employed exclusively by the Muslims, and applied to their own annual pilgrimage to Mecca. But this very term owes its origin to the Hebrew Hag, which signifies “a festival,” and is the identical word used in Exodus (x., 9) to express the ceremony which the children of Israel alleged as their reason for wishing to leave Egypt namely: “to hold a feast unto the Lord” in the wilderness. It could not apply to the modern Mohammedan Hajj caravan, for that has never passed this way, and would not under any circumstances find it necessary to go to Ain Hudherah; but the children of Israel did journey to Hazeroth, and the tradition is therefore valuable in determining the latter site, as well as their subsequent route on leaving the Peninsula. The length of time which has elapsed since the events of the Exodus furnishes no argument against the probability of this conclusion, for there are other monuments in the country in even better preservation, and of a date indisputably far anterior. It is a curious fact that, if you ask twenty different Arabs to relate to you one of their national legends, they will all do so in precisely the same words, thus showing with what wonderful precision oral tradition is handed down from generation to generation among them. These considerations, the distance exactly a day’s journey from Ain Hudherah, and those mysterious graves outside the camp to my mind prove conclusively {sic} the identity of this spot with the scene of that awful plague by which the Lord punished the greed and discontent of His people; where “the wrath of the Lord was kindled against the people, and the Lord smote the people with a very great plague. And he called the name of that place Kibroth-hattaavah, because there they buried the people that lusted. And the people journeyed from Kibroth-hattaavah unto Hazeroth, and abode at Hazeroth” (Numb. xi., 33-35).

“And we journeyed on in their track, passing over desolate sandy plains dotted with weird sandstone crags, until we reached Ain Hudherah. Although this place is mentioned as a station in the ordinary road to Akabah, no European except Mr. Holland and ourselves appears ever to have visited it before.

“Travelers usually stay to rest at a large isolated rock, in the centre of the plain, called Hudheibat Hajjaj, “The hill of the Hajj pilgrims” (again reminding us of those first Hajjis who may have also enjoyed “the shadow of this great rock in a weary land”); while their Arabs, who take water at Ain Hudherah, descend to it from Wady el Ghazaleh, an hour or two on the other side. But, did the pilgrim know that the uninviting cleft in the white limestone rock some half an hour farther on, and not ten minutes from his camel track, looked down on Hazeroth, he would turn aside and gaze upon what is without exception the most beautiful and romantic landscape in the desert. Advancing toward the cleft, as we did at the close of the day, all was bare, barren, and desolate; and a violent sand-storm, obscuring the mountains to the south-west, made the prospect drearier still. Great and pleasant, then, was our surprise when, on reaching the cliff, we gazed for the first time on Ain Hudherah.

“Through a steep and rugged gorge, with almost perpendicular sides, we looked down upon a wady bed that winds along between fantastic sandstone rocks, now rising in the semblance of mighty walls or terraced palaces, now jutting out in pointed ridges, rocky promontories in a sandy sea. Beyond this lies a perfect forest of mountain peaks and chains, and on their left a broad white wady leads up toward the distant mountains of the Tih. But the great charm of the landscape lies in its rich and varied coloring; the sandstone, save where some great block has fallen away and displayed the dazzling whiteness of the stone beneath, is weathered to a dull red or violet hue, through which run streaks of the brightest yellow and scarlet, mixed with rich dark purple tints. Here and there a hill or dike of greenstone, or a rock of rosy granite, contrasts or blends harmoniously with the rest; and in the midst, beneath a lofty cliff, nestles the dark green palm-grove of Hazeroth. This picture, framed in the jagged cleft, and lit up by the evening sun, with the varied tints and shades upon its mountain background, and the awful stillness that might be seen as Egypt’s darkness could be felt, was such a landscape as none but the Great Artist’s hand could have designed.

“Before leaving, we made a complete examination of the place. The fountain itself rises in the rock behind the palm grove, and is conducted, by an aqueduct cut in the solid granite, into a reservoir or pool, from which it is let out by a rude sluice to irrigate the gardens which the Arabs still cultivate here. The remains of several well constructed walls point to a former and perhaps Christian occupation of the place. The present owners, two members of the Emzeineh tribe, took us to see a large crack in the flat surface of the rock behind the spring, and called the Bab er Rum, or “Christian’s Gate.” They say that the ancient inhabitants opened a door in the mountain and constructed a passage through it to their own country, Rum (or Asia Minor), and, having built a city within the subterranean depths and conveyed thither an incalculable treasure, they closed it up after them by the same magical arts which had enabled them to effect an entry.”

Palmer, Palestine Exploration Fund Quarterly Statement 1872 p. 8f.

“From Jebel Musa we proceeded to Ain Hudherah, and commenced the survey at the point where Captain Wilson and myself had retraced our steps on the occasion of our former visit. As this point has been determined by the Ordnance Survey, the whole of our subsequent work is connected with that of the Sinai Expedition by an unbroken series of compass bearings, and as these, after extending over upwards of 600 miles of country, show an almost inappreciable error on subsequently joining a place the latitude of which has been ascertained, I may venture to say that the accuracy of our observations is to be depended upon, and that our map exactly represents the geographical features of the country.

“I have already, in previous communications, adverted to the curious remains at Erweis el Ebeirig, near Ain Hudherah, which I then believed to be relics of an Israelitish camp. Our second visit on this occasion entirely confirmed this supposition, and the further discovery of what were undoubtedly tombs outside the camp seemed to point with still more certainty {sic} to the identification of this spot with Kibroth Hattaavah, the scene of the dreadful pestilence described in Numbers xi. 31. The distance from Jebel Musa {he presumes this is the true Sinai} on the one hand, and from Ain Hudherah on the other, exactly corresponds with the position of Kibroth Hattaavah relative to Mount Sinai and Hazeroth, as given in the scriptural account {there is actually no description of distances in the Scriptural account, except that Paran, which was reached after Kibroth-hattaavah and Hazeroth, was three days’ journey from Sinai} and the discovery is therefore not only important as confirming the opinion set forth by the Sinai Survey with regard to the position of the Mountain of the Law, but as enabling us to trace the route by which the Israelites left the Peninsula of Sinai for the scene of their Forty Years’ Wanderings.

“The situation is a most commanding one, and the hill-sides and more elevated portions of the watershed are covered for more than a mile in every direction with curiously arranged stones, evidently the remains of a large encampment; but differing essentially from any others that I have seen in the country, whether Arab or otherwise. The larger inclosures {note: more likely this is the site of Hazeroth, the “Enclosures”, and the whole district gave its name to the Spring Ain Hudhera} occupied by the more important personages, the hearths or fire-places, &c., are still distinctly to be traced. The extent of the remains, indicating the assemblage of an unusually large concourse of people, and above all, the curious story of the lost Hajj caravan, all tend to confirm the supposition that we have here really a vestige of the Exodus.

“Some distance farther on we came to some well-built, regular nawamis, on a sandbank, at the bottom of which was a rude wall. This seems to have been used as a fort, a conjecture strengthened by the fact that there are a fair number of flint arrow-heads and flakes lying about. About half-past three or four o’clock we reached Hudheibat Hejaj, where we found the tent pitched; but as we had told Sheikh Hassan to encamp near the Shagif, we made him pack up again and proceed to the appointed spot. We then went up to the cleft, and were as much struck as before with the beauty of the prospect, although the light was not quite good enough to bring out in all their perfection the lovely tints of the rocks and mountains. We ascended the hill to the right side of the cleft, on the top of which is a well-built, oval erection, evidently used as a beacon in former times, and apparently, one of those posts which gave the present name to the spot, Matali Hudherah, “The look-outs of Hazeroth” There are many Greek and Sinaitic inscriptions on the neighbouring rocks, which I imagine were written by the soldiers and sentries once posted there, as one or two have the word stratiotes {Gk. “soldier”} after their names {This is probably the same usage as in the Garm-Al-Balos Iouliou inscription, treated supra, which alludes to the “members of the host” of Israel who mustered their men at these sites.}. The spring itself, Ain Hudherah, was once undoubtedly a monkish colony; the old walls, the well-made aqueduct, the religious inscriptions, and the legend of the Bab er Rum, or “Greek Gate,” all point to this fact.”


Stanley, Sinai and Palestine, London 1875, p. 19ff.

“Not less illustrative, though perhaps less explanatory, of the more special incidents recorded, are some of the more local peculiarities of the Desert. The occasional springs, and wells, and brooks, are in accordance with the notices of the “waters” of Marah; the “springs” (mistranslated “wells”) of Elim; the “brook” of Horeb; the “well” of Jethro’s daughters, with its “troughs” or tanks, in Midian. The vegetation is still that which we should infer from the Mosaic history. The wild Acacia (Mimosa Nilotica), under the name of “sunt,” everywhere represents the “seneh” or “senna” of the Burning Bush. A slightly different form of the tree, equally common under the name of “sayal,” is the ancient “Shittah,” or, as more usually expressed in the plural form (from the tangled thickets into which its stem expands), the “Shittim,” of which the tabernacle was made, an incidental proof, it may be observed, of the antiquity of the institution, inasmuch as the acacia, though the chief growth of the Desert, is very rare in Palestine. The “Retem,” or wild broom, with its high canopy and white blossoms, gives its name to one of the stations of the Israelites (Rithmah), and is the very shrub under which in the only subsequent passage which connects the Desert with the history of Israel Elijah slept in his wanderings. The “palms” not the graceful trees of Egypt, but the hardly less picturesque wild palms of uncultivated regions, with their dwarf trunks and shaggy branches, vindicate by their appearance the title of being emphatically the “trees” of the Desert; and therefore, whether in the cluster of the seventy palm-trees of the second station of the wanderings, or in the grove, which still exists at the head of the Gulf of Akaba, were known by the generic name of “Elim,” “Elath,” or “Eloth,” “the trees.” The “tarfa,” or tamarisk, is not mentioned by name in the history of the Exodus; yet, if the tradition of the Greek Church and of the Arabs be adopted, it is inseparably connected with the wanderings by the “manna” which distils from it, as gum-arabic from the acacia. {If this “manna” from the tarfa is the Biblical substance, which is probable, a wholly miraculous increase in the quantity, continuity and extent of its production is implied, as it lasted forty years up to the time of the entrance into Canaan, and fed a multitude numbering approximately 2,000,000 souls.} It is also brought within the limit of their earlier history by the grove of “tamarisks,” which Abraham planted round the wells of Beersheba, as soon as he had exchanged the vegetation of Palestine the oaks of Moreh and of Mamre, for the wild and scanty shrubs of the desert frontier. The lasaf or asaf, the caper plant, the bright green creeper which climbs out of the fissures of the rocks in the Sinaitic valleys2 has been identified on grounds of great probability with the “hyssop” or ezob of Scripture, and thus explains whence came the green branches used, even in the Desert, for sprinkling the water over the tents of the Israelites …… {note 2 p. 21: “Ritter, Sinai 345, 761. I remember it especially in the Wady Shellal, the Wady el-Ain, and the Sik at Petra … To us, as to Lepsius, and Forskal, the Bedouin name seemed to be Lasaf or Lasef. But it is the same as Burckhardt, Freytag, and Richardson give under the name of Aszef and Asaf; and the other form is probably only a corruption of el-asaf (See Journal of R. Asiat. Soc. No. xv. 203). The arguments in favour of the identification are thus summed up by Professor Royle. “It is found in Lower Egypt, in the Deserts of Sinai …. Its habit is to grow on the most barren soil, or rocky precipice, or the side of a wall … It has, moreover, always been supposed to possess cleansing properties, [especially in cutaneous disorders. Pliny, H. N., xx. 15] … It is capable of yielding a stick, to which the sponge might be affixed.” (Journal of R. Asiat. Soc., No. xv. p. 202.) The word hussopos {Gk.} seems to have been used by the LXX as the Greek name most nearly resembling the Hebrew ezob in sound, though differing in sense. Thus Baris {Gk.} is used for “Bireh,” and Bomos {Gk.} for “Bamah.”}

“Finally, the relation of the Desert to its modern inhabitant is still illustrative of its ancient history. The general inhabitants’ name by which the Hebrews called “the wilderness,” including always that of Sinai, was “the pasture.” Bare as the surface of the Desert is, yet the thin clothing of vegetation which is seldom entirely withdrawn, especially the aromatic shrubs on the high hill sides, furnishes sufficient sustenance for the herds of the six thousand Bedouins who constitute the present population of the Peninsula.

“Along the mountain ledges green,
The scattered sheep at will may glean
The Desert’s spicy stores.”

“So were they seen following the daughters or the shepherd-slaves of Jethro. So may they be seen climbing the rocks, or gathered round the pools and springs of the valleys, under the charge of the black-veiled Bedouin women of the present day. And in the Tiyahah, Tawarah, or Alawin tribes, with their chiefs and followers, their dress, and manners, and habitations, we probably see the likeness of the Midianites, the Amalekites, and the Israelites themselves in this their earliest stage of existence. The long straight lines of black tents which cluster round the Desert springs, present to us on a small scale the image of the vast encampment gathered round the one Sacred Tent which, with its coverings of dyed skins, stood conspicuous in the midst, and which recalled the period of their nomadic life long after their settlement in Palestine. The deserted villages marked by rude enclosures of stone are doubtless such as those to which the Hebrew wanderers gave the name of “Hazeroth,” and which afterwards furnished the type of the primitive sanctuary at Shiloh. The rude burial-grounds, with the many nameless head-stones, far away from human habitation, are such as the host of Israel must have left behind them at the different stages of their progress at Massah, at Sinai, at Kibroth-hattaavah, “the graves of desire4.” {n. 4 p. 23: “Dr. Stewart, Tent and Khan, pp. 96, 159, mentions circular cairns, as called by the Arabs Turbet es Yahoud (graves of the Jews), near the Wady Feiran, and Wady Berah.”} The salutations of the chiefs, in their bright scarlet robes, the one “going out to meet the other,” the “obeisance,” the “kiss” on each side the head, the silent entrance into the tent for consultation, are all graphically described in the encounter between Moses and Jethro. The constitution of the tribes, with the subordinate degrees of sheykhs, recommended by Jethro to Moses, is the very same which still exists amongst those who are possibly his lineal descendants the gentle race of the Tawarah.”

Rithmah-Kadesh and Mount Hor

In the earlier parts of the Book of Numbers the Israelites are said to have journeyed after Hazeroth to Kadesh in the Desert of Paran (Num. 12. 16, 13. 3, 26), and from there to have dispatched the spies into Canaan. In Numbers chapter 33 (v. 18), however, no mention is made of Kadesh as a stopping-place immediately after Hazeroth, and instead the next station after the latter is Rithmah. At least as early as the Talmudic scholar Rashi (11th century AD, al ha-Torah, Num. 33. 18) it has been asserted by commentators, including Rashi himself, Raleigh, Calmet and Robinson, that Rithmah is another name for Kadesh. The name Kadesh (Sanctuary) was given to the place as a result of the “sanctification” of God by the miracle of water produced there from the rock at the end of the 40 years’ wandering (Num. 20. 13). It could well be, therefore, that Rithmah was its original or native name, when the Israelites first arrived at that place in the second year of the wanderings, and Kadesh, Kadesh-Barnea, or Meribah-Kadesh, its special Hebrew designation. The name Rithmah is formed from the root rtm. It is a grammatical fact (Gesenius-Tregelles, s. letter qoph) that the Hebrew letter qoph (q or k) can alternate with tav (t or th). Thus the root rqm with medial qoph has the same meaning as the root rtm, with medial tav, namely, “to interweave”. It is established on the authority of a very ancient tradition that Kadesh was otherwise called Rekem (or, Reqem) with medial qoph. (The authorities are cited in the following passage from Stanley’s Sinai). Since qoph can alternate with tav, the name Rekem could also be pronounced Rethem, or with final vowel, Rithmah. Hence the identity of Rithmah and Kadesh is confirmed.

Map of Kadesh (Petra) and Punon (Wadi Feynan)

A. P. Stanley, Sinai and Palestine, New York, 1890, p. 152ff.


The whole prospect changes at this point. We lose the opening of the valley into the Gulf of Akaba, and we gain the view of Mount Hor, — the “Mountain of Aaron,” as it is still called. Behind it lies Petra, and to Petra, through fantastic rocks, we turned aside, and encamped at last at the entrance of the pass, and waited for the morning. One isolated rock, with an excavation inside, in front of the hill, indicated the region we were approaching, apparently an outpost for a sentinel, — perhaps the very one which the Prophet had in his eye in that well-known text, “Watchman, what of the night?”1

“And now arose the strange feeling of arriving at a place which it was possible we might be prevented by force from entering, or have by force to enter. Fifty years hence, when our friend Sheykh Mohammed has put down the surrounding tribes, Petra will have lost half its interest; but now the failures and dangers are sufficiently recent to form part of the first impression of the place. It is literally “paved with the good intentions” of travellers, unfulfilled. There was Mount Hor, which Robinson and Laborde in vain wished to ascend; there, the plain half way, where Burckhardt was obliged to halt without reaching the top; here the temple which Irby and Mangles only saw through their telescope; here the platform from which the Martineau party were unable to stir without an armed guard; and, lastly, on the very plain of our encampment, at the “entrance of the pass, travellers with our own dragoman were driven back last year without even a glimpse of the famous city.


“We ascended the pass early in the morning; and leaving the


1 Isaiah xxi. 11. “He calleth to me out of Seir.”

“camels and tents to go on to Petra, turned to climb the summit of Mount Hor.

It is one of the very few spots connected with the wanderings of the Israelites, which admits of no reasonable doubt.1 There Aaron died in the presence of Moses and Eleazer; there he was buried; and there Eleazer was invested with the priesthood in his stead. The mountain is marked far and near by its double top, which rises like a huge castellated building from a lower base, and on one of these is the Mohammedan chapel erected out of the remains of some earlier and more sumptuous building, over the supposed grave. There was nothing of interest within; only the usual marks of Mussulman {Muslim} devotion, ragged shawls, ostrich eggs, and a few beads. These were in the upper chamber. The great High-priest, if his body be really there, rests in a subterraneous vault below, hewn out of the rock, and in a niche now cased over with stone, wood, and plaster. From the flat roof of the chapel we overlooked his last view —that view which was to him what Pisgah was to his brother. To us the northern end was partly lost in haze; but we saw all the main points on which his eye must have rested. He looked over the valley of the Arabah, countersected by its hundred watercourses, and beyond, over the white mountains of the wilderness they had so long traversed; and at the northern edge of it, there must have been visible the heights through which the Israelites had vainly attempted to force their way into the Promised Land. This was the western view. Close around him on the east were the rugged mountains of Edom, and far along the horizon the wide downs of Mount Seir, through which the passage had been denied by the wild tribes of Esau who hunted over their long slopes. A dreary moment, and a dreary scene, — such at any rate it must have seemed to the aged priest.

“The peculiarity of the view was the combination of wide extension with the scarcity of marked features and points on which to observe. Petra itself is entirely shut out by the intervening rocks. But the survey of the Desert on one side, and the mountains of Edom on the other, is complete; and of these last the great feature is the mass of red bald-headed sandstone rocks, intersected, not by valleys, but by deep seams. In the heart of these rocks, itself invisible, lies Petra. Beyond spreads the range of yellow downs, tufted with vegetation, now called Sherah. And now to Petra let us descend.

Map of Kadesh (Petra)


1 The proofs of the identity of “Gebel Haroun,” as it is now called, with Mount Hor, are (1). The situation “by the coast of the land of Edom,” where it is emphatically “the mountain” (Hor) as connected with Aaron’s tomb. Numb. xx. 23. (2). The statement of Josephus (Ant IV., iv. 7), that Aaron’s death occurred on a high mountain enclosing Petra. (3). The modern name and traditional sanctity of the mountain.


The first thing that struck me in turning out of the Arabah up the defiles that lead to Petra was, that we had suddenly left the Desert. Instead of the absolute nakedness of the Sinaitic valleys, we found ourselves walking on grass, sprinkled with flowers, and the level platforms on each side were filled with sprouting corn; and this continues through the whole descent to Petra, and in Petra itself.

“The next peculiarity was when, after having left the summit of the pass, or after descending from Mount Hor, we found ourselves insensibly encircled with rocks of deepening and deepening red. Red indeed, even from a distance, the mountains of “Red” Edom appear, but not more so than the granite of Sinai; and it is not till one is actually in the midst of them that this red becomes crimson, and that the wonder of the Petra colours fully displays itself.

“Two mistakes seem to me to have been made in the descriptions. All the describers have spoken of bright hues—scarlet, sky-blue, orange, etc. Had they taken courage to say instead, “dull crimson, indigo, yellow, and purple,” their account would have lost something in effect, but gained much in truth. Nor really would it have lost much any way. For the colours, though not gaudy, — or rather because they are not gaudy, — are gorgeous. You are never, or hardly ever, startled by them. You could never mistake them for anything else but nature; they seem the natural clothing of the place.

“Another mistake is, that the descriptions lead you — or at least, they led me — to suppose that wherever you turn at Petra, you see nothing but these wonderful colours. I have already said, that from a distance one hardly sees them at all. One sees the general contrast only of the red sandstone cliffs standing out against the white limestone and yellow downs, which form their higher background. But when one comes in face of the very cliffs themselves, then they are, as I have said, a gorgeous, though dull crimson, streaked and suffused with purple. These are the two predominant colours, — “ferruginous,” perhaps, they may best be called, — and on the face of the rocks the only colours. But one striking feature of the whole scenery is, that not merely the excavations and buildings, but the rocks themselves, are in a constant state of mouldering decay. You can scarcely tell where excavation begins and decay ends. It is in these caves, and roofs, and recesses, whether natural or artificial—very numerous it is true, but not seen till you are close within them — that there appears that extraordinary veining and intermixture of colours, in which yellow and blue are occasionally added — ribbon-like — to red and purple. Of the three comparisons usually made — mahogany, raw-flesh, and watered silk — the last is certainly the best.


1 I have to apologise for adding another account of a place so well known as Petra now is, through the descriptions of Burckhardt, Dr. Robinson, and Miss Martineau. But it was too important a stage in the journey to be altogether omitted; and two or three points in the previous descriptions seemed to me to require corrections or additions.

“This brings me to the third great feature of Petra — its excavations. Here again the same error has been committed. I had expected to be surrounded with rocks honey-combed with caves. By no means. I do not doubt, that by calculation of all in the outlying ravines, you might count up thousands; but in the most populous part that I could select, I could not number in one view more than fifty, and generally much fewer. It is their immense ramifications, rather than their concentrated effect, that is remarkable, and this of course can no more be seen in one view than all the streets of London. The larger excavations are temples; the others may be divided between modern (i. e., Roman or Arab) tombs, and Edomite or Horite1 habitations. Round about, or rather east and west, are masses of crumbling rock, their faces immediately above this mass of ruins cut out into holes, and sometimes with Grecian facades. Of these, the most remarkable are in the eastern cliffs, where four of these great excavations, apparently not tombs or houses, but temples, stand close together with tiers of pillars one above another, giving to that cliff an embattled appearance, which architecturally speaking, is the only remarkable feature in the basin of Petra, taken by itself. ….

A View of Petra

“But Petra, that is, the mere site of the city, is by far the least striking part of Petra. There any one, I think, with highly-raised expectations will feel disappointment. In the two points I am going to describe, I believe no one.

“First there is the famous defile which, in ancient times, was the chief — the only usual — approach to Petra; and I feel so strongly the loss of interest which Petra suffers by the present gradual entrance, that I would strongly recommend all travellers — even at the cost of another day’s journey — to come round by this eastern approach, through which, though we only saw it reversed, I mean now to conduct you, as if entering from the east.

“You descend from those wide downs and those white cliffs which I have before described as forming the background of the Red City when seen from the west, and before you opens a deep cleft between rocks of red sandstone rising perpendicularly to the height of one, two, or three hundred feet. This is the Sik, or “cleft;” through this flows — if one may use the expression — the dry torrent, which, rising


1 The name of the “Horim,” who preceded the Edomites (Deut ii. 22) signifies “dwellers in caves.”

“in the mountains half an hour hence, gives the name by which alone Petra is now known amongst the Arabs—Wady Mousa. “For,” — So Sheykh Mohammed tells us — “as surely as Gebel Harun (the Mountain of Aaron) is so called from the burial-place of Aaron, is Wady Mousa (the Valley of Moses) so called from the cleft being made by the rod of Moses when he brought the stream through into the valley beyond.” It is, indeed, a place worthy of the scene, and one could long to believe it. Follow me, then, down this magnificent gorge — the most magnificent, beyond all doubt, which I have ever beheld. The rocks are almost precipitous, or rather, they would be, if they did not, like their brethren in all this region, overlap, and crumble, and crack, as if they would crash over you. The gorge is about a mile and a half long, and the opening of the cliffs at the top is throughout almost as narrow as the narrowest part of the defile of Pfeffers, which, in dimensions and form, it more resembles than any other of my acquaintance. At its very first entrance you pass under the arch which, though greatly broken, still spans the chasm — meant apparently to indicate the approach to the city. You pass under this along the bed of the torrent, now rough with stones, but once a regularly paved road like the Appian Way, the pavement still remaining at intervals in the bed of the stream — the stream, meanwhile, which now has its own wild way, being then diverted from its course along troughs hewn in the rock above, or conducted through earthenware pipes, still traceable. These, and a few niches for statues now gone, are the only traces of human hand. What a sight it must have been, when all these were perfect!

The Sik, the cleft made by the rod of Moses

“A road, level and smooth, running, through these tremendous rocks, and the blue sky just visible above, the green caper plant and wild ivy hanging in festoons over the heads of the travellers as they wind along, the flowering oleander fringing then, as now, this marvellous highway like the border of a garden-walk. You move on; and the ravine, and with it the road, — and with the road in old times the caravans of India, — winds as if it were the most flexible of rivers, instead of being in truth a rent through a mountain wall. In this respect, in its sinuosity, it differs from any other like gorge I ever saw. The peculiarity is, perhaps, occasioned by the singularly friable character of the cliffs, the same character that has caused the thousand excavations beyond; and the effect is, that instead of the uniform character of most ravines, you are constantly turning round corners, and catching new lights and new aspects, in which to view the cliffs themselves. They are, for the most part, deeply red, and when you see their tops emerging from the shade and glowing in the sunshine, I could almost forgive the exaggeration that calls them scarlet. But in fact they are of the darker hues which in the shadow amount almost to black, and such is their colour at this point to which I have brought you, after a mile or more through the defile — the cliff’s over-arching in their narrowest contraction — when, suddenly through the narrow opening left between the two dark walls of another turn of the gorge, you see a pale pink front of pillars and sculptured figures closing your view from top to bottom. You rush towards it, you find yourself at the end of the defile, and in the presence of an excavated temple, which remains almost entirely perfect between the two flanks of dark rock out of which it is hewn; its preservation, and its peculiarly light and rosy tint being alike due to its singular position facing the ravine or rather wall of rock, through which the ravine issues, and thus sheltered beyond any other building (for one may so call it) from the wear and tear of weather, which has effaced, though not defaced, the features, and tanned the complexion, of all the other temples.

“This I only saw by degrees, coming upon it from the west; but to the travellers of old times, and to those who, like Burckhardt in modern times, came down the defile, not knowing what they were to see, and meeting with this as the first image of the Red City, I cannot conceive anything more striking. “There is nothing of peculiar grace or grandeur in the temple itself — (the Khazné, or Treasury, it is called) — it is of the most debased style of Roman architecture; but under the circumstances, I almost think one is more startled by finding in these wild and impracticable mountains a production of the last effort of a decaying and over-refined civilisation, than if it were something which, by its better and simpler taste, mounted more nearly to the source where Art and Nature were one.

“Probably any one who entered Petra this way, would be so electrified by this apparition (which I cannot doubt to have been evoked there purposely, as you would place a fountain or an obelisk at the end of an avenue) as to have no eyes to behold or sense to appreciate anything else. Still I must take you to the end. The Sik, though it opens here, yet contracts once more, and it is in this last stage that those red and purple variegations, which I have before described, appear in their most gorgeous views; and here also begins, what must have been properly the Street of Tombs, the Appian Way of Petra. ‘Here they are most numerous, the rock is honeycombed with cavities of all shapes and sizes, and through these you advance till the defile once more opens, and you see — strange and unexpected sight! — with tombs above, below, and in front, a Greek Theatre (like that of Tusculum) hewn out of the rock, its tiers of seats literally red and purple alternately, in the native rock. Once more the defile closes with its excavations, and once more opens in the area of Petra itself; the torrent-bed passing now through absolute desolation and silence, though strewn with the fragments which show that you once entered on a splendid and busy city gathered along its rocky banks, as along the quays of some great northern river.

“The Sik is unquestionably the great glory of Petra; but there is another point, on the other side, which struck me very much also, and which, if thoroughly explored, would, I think, be the most instructive and interesting spot in the place.1 You turn up a torrent-bed in the western cliffs (for torrent-beds from all sides pour down into this area in the heart of the hills), but soon leave it to ascend a staircase hewn out of the rocks, steps not absolutely continuous now, though probably they once were; broad steps glowing with the native colours, which conduct you through magnificent rocks, and along the banks of an almost second Sik, high up into the vast cluster of rocks which face Mount Hor on the north. This staircase is the most striking instance of what you see everywhere. Wherever your eyes turn along the excavated sides of the rocks you see steps, often leading to nothing; or to something which has crumbled away; often with their first steps worn away, so that they are now inaccessible; sometimes as mere ornaments in the facades, but everywhere seen even more than the caves themselves. High up in these rocks, withdrawn like the Khazné between two gigantic walls of cliff, with a green platform before it, is another temple of the same kind, though not of the same singular colour. In fact, it has the appearance of yellow stone, but in form it is more perfect than the Khazné, and its whole effect is so extremely modern, that I cannot better describe its impression on me than by comparing it to a London church of the last century. That is to say, you must imagine a London church, of the most debased style of ornament and taste, transplanted into a mountain nook as wild and solitary as the Splugen. I call it solitary — but it was not always so. The Arabic name, El-Deir, — “the Convent,” — implies their belief that it was a Christian church. Crosses are carved within it. The Sinaitic inscriptions are carved on the steps by which it is approached. Ruins lie above, below, and around it. Everything, in short, tends to indicate that this was a specially sacred spot, and that it was regarded so by Christians afterwards.

El Deir


“With the departure from Sinai, or at least from Hazeroth, the geographical interest of the Israelite history almost ceases till the arrival in the table-lands of Moab, and the first beginning of the conquest. Not only is the general course of their march wrapt in great obscurity, but even if we knew it, the events are not generally of a kind which would receive any special illustration from the scenes in which they occurred.


1 See p. 163.

No attempt shall here be made to track their course in detail. It is possible that some future traveller may discover the stations recorded in the itinerary of the 33rd chapter of the book of Numbers. At present none has been ascertained with any likelihood of truth, unless we accept the doubtful {sic} identification of Hazeroth with Huderah1 of which I have already spoken. All that is clear is that they marched northward {sic, as Stanley presumes Sinai is in the Katrina range} from Mount Sinai, probably over the plateau of the Tih — which seems to be designated as “the wilderness of Paran” — then that they descended into the Arabah — designated, apparently, as “the wilderness of Zin.” Thence, on the refusal of the king of Edom to let them pass through his territory, they moved southward, encamped on the shores of the Gulf of Akaba, at Ezion-Geber, and then turned the corner of the Edomite mountains, at their southern extremity, and entered the table-lands of Moab at the “torrent of the willows” (“the brook Zared”) at the south-east end of the Dead Sea.

In this general obscurity, one place stands out prominently. There can be no question, that next to Sinai, the most important of all the resting-places of the Children of Israel is Kadesh.2 It is the only one dignified by the name of “a city.” Its very name awakens our attention — the “Holy Place” — the same name by which Jerusalem itself is still called in Arabic, “El-Khods.” It is


1 A list of possible identifications may be seen in the Descriptive Geography of Palestine by Rabbi Joseph Schwartze, p. 212-214.

2 Although Reland (Palaestina, p. 115 {–?}} is probably mistaken in supposing that there were two halting-places of Israel called Kadesh, yet it does appear that in Gen. xvi. 14; xx.1; Josh. xv. 23, another Kadesh may be intended on the northern plateau of the Tih; and, if so, this may be the one found by Mr. Rowlands (Williams’ Holy City, vol. i. App. p. 466), under the same name, in a place corresponding with those indications, but too far northward and westward to be identified with Kadesh-Barnea. The fact of the affix of “Barnea” may indicate that there was another. Whether Israel was twice at Kadesh seems extremely doubtful. {Sic, but it is a certainty. — ed.} The difficulty of reducing the second part of the wanderings of Israel to distinct chronological order, will be evident to any one who compares Numb. xxxiii. 30-36 with Deut x. 6-7. {There is no particular difficulty as regards the chronology, only in relation to the identification of the sites. — ed.}

probably the old oracular “Spring of Judgment,” mentioned as existing in the earliest times of Canaanite history1 as if, like Mount Sinai itself, it had an ancient sanctity before the host of Israel encamped within its precincts. The encampment there is also distinct in character from any other in the wilderness, except the stay at Sinai or perhaps at Rephidim. The exact time is not given; but it is stated generally that “they abode in Kadesh many days.”2 They were there at least forty days,3 during the absence of the spies. In its neighbourhood, two battles were fought with the southern Canaanites — one a defeat, the other a victory.4 There arose the demand for water, which gave to the place its new name of Meribah Kadesh;5 there also the rebellion of Korah, and the death of the sister and the brother of Moses.

All these indications compel us to look for some more definite locality than can be found in the scattered springs and pools in the midst of the Desert, with which travellers have usually endeavoured to identify it — such, for example, as Ain El-Weibeh, on the eastern side of the Arabah, which Dr. Robinson selected as the spot, and which, but for the reasons just given, would not be an inappropriate scene.

The geographical notices of its situation are unfortunately too slight to be of much service. Yet thus much they fix, that it was “in the wilderness of Zin,”6 that it was “on the ‘edge’ of the border of Edom”7 — that it was


1 Gen. xiv. 7. “’En-Mishpat (the spring of judgment), which is Kadesh.” Compare for the combination, Exod. xv. 25, “He made for them (at Marah) a statute and a ‘judgment’ (mishpat).” Jerome, however, distinguishes Kadesh-’en Mishpat from Kadesh-Barnea, making the former to be a spot in the Valley of Gerar, well known in his days as Beer-dan, — “the well of the judge.” De Loc. Heb. voc. Puteus judicis.

2 Deut. i. 46.

3 Judith v. 14.

4 Deut xxviii. 2.

5 Deut. xxxii. 51.

6 Numb, xxvii. 14; xxxiii. 36; Deut. xxxii. 51. In one passage, Kadesh appears to be placed in “the wilderness of Paran.” Numb, xiii 26. The spies returned “unto the wilderness of Paran to Kadesh” (cf. xii. 16). It is possible that the other Kadesh (before noticed) may be here meant. But, however it is explained, a passage of this kind, — with the liability to mistakes which seems to have beset the whole text of the wanderings {there is no evidence whatever of such mistakes — ed.}, — cannot avail against the emphatic contrast elsewhere drawn between the two wildernesses of Paran and of Zin, and the close connexion of Kadesh-Bamea with Zin.

7 The ‘edge,’ Numb. xx. 16, is the same word as is used in Numb, xxxiii.37 of Mount Hor. To represent Edom as extending west of the Arabah in the time of Moses is an anachronism, borrowed from the times after the Captivity, when the Edomites, driven from their ancient seats, occupied the “south” of Judea as far as Hebron; 1 Macc. v. 65.

“near “Mount Hor,” — that it was at the southern point to which the territory of Judah afterwards reached.

“Is there any place to which these indications correspond? Possibly, if the country were thoroughly explored, there might be found several in the deserted cities of Edom, known only to the very few travellers who have entered Edom by the Wady Ithm. At present one only is known, and that is Petra.

An oasis of vegetation in the desert hills; scenery only second in grandeur to that where the Law was delivered; a city of which the present ruins are modern, but of which the earlier vestiges reach back to the remotest antiquity —these are some of the points which give Petra a claim to be considered as the original sanctuary of the Idumean wilderness. It is moreover one of the few facts localised by anything like an authentic tradition, — in this case preserved by Josephus, the Talmudists, Eusebius,1 and Jerome,2 — that Kadesh was either identical, or closely connected with Petra. With this the existing names (though capable of another origin) remarkably harmonise. The mountain which overhangs the valley of Petra has been known as far back as the knowledge of travellers extends, as the “mountain of Aaron.” The basin of Petra is known to the Arabs by no other name than “the Valley of Moses.” The great ravine through which the torrent is admitted into the valley, is called “the Cleft of Moses” — in distinct reference to the stroke of the rod of Moses.3


1 Josephus (Ant IV., iv. 7) speaks of Mount Hor as lying above Arke which he identifies with Petra. Arke is evidently the same word (perhaps with the prefix Ar for “mountain” — as in Armageddon) as “Rekem,” the Syriac name for Petra (Jerome, De Loc. Heb. voc. Petra and Rekem) and the Talmudist name for Kadesh, — see also the Syriac and Arabic versions, — derived (says Jerome, voc. Rekem, and Josephus, Ant. IV, vii. 1) from the Midianite chief Rokan. {Heb. Rekem, Num. 31. 8, Josh. 13. 21, one of the Midianite chiefs slain by the Israelites, along with Balaam. — ed.} Abulfeda (Tabula Syriae, p. 11) speaks of Ar-Rakem as near Al Balkâ (the Arabic name of the country east of the Ghor), and remarkable for the houses cut in the rock. There may be other places on the east of the Ghor to which this description would apply, but none to which it would so well apply as Petra. The Targums of Onkelos, Jonathan, and Jerusalem, call Kadesh-Barnea “Rekem Giah,” — ‘of the ravine,’ probably alluding to the Sik. See Schwarze, p. 23, 24, who has, however, his own explanations.

2 “Cades Barnea in deserto, quae conjungitur civitati Petrae in Arabia.” {“Kadesh-Barnea, which is adjacent to the city of Petra in Arabia.”} He notices the tomb of Miriam as still shown there, not that of Aaron. (De Loc. Heb.) {Aaron’s tomb on Mount Hor is a short distance from Petra itself. — ed.}

3 See p. 156. This also agrees with Jerome’s descriptions of Mount Hor. “Or Mons, in quo mortuus est Aaron, juxta civitatem Petram, ubi usque praesentem diem ostenditur rupes qua percussa magnas aquas populo dedit. {“Mount Hor, on which Aaron died, next to the city Petra, where even to the present day is shown the rock from which, when it was struck, he gave abundant water to the people.” — ed.} De Loc. Heb. voc. Or.

In accordance with these confirmations are the incidental expressions of the narrative itself. The word always used for “the rock” of Kadesh,1 in describing the second supply of water, is “sela” or “cliff” in contradistinction to the usual word “tzur” — “rock” which is no less invariably applied to “the rock” of Horeb — the scene of the first supply.2 It may be difficult to determine the relative meaning of the two words. But it is almost certain that of the two, “sela” like our word “cliff,” is the grander and more abrupt feature; which is of importance as excluding from the claimants to the name of Kadesh, such spots as Ain El-Weibeh, where the rocks are merely stony shelves of three or four feet in height. But the name “Sela” is also the same as that by which in later times the place now called “Petra” was designated. As the southern boundary of Judah is described as reaching over the “ascent of scorpions” to Kadesh, so the Amorite boundary is described as “from the ascent of scorpions, from ‘the cliff’ (sela), and upwards.”3 “Amaziah took ‘the cliff’ (sela) by war.” “Other ten thousand did the children of Judah carry away captive, and brought them up to the top of ‘the cliff’ (sela), and cast them down from the top of ‘the cliff’ (sela), that they were all broken into pieces.”4 The name of Kadesh almost entirely disappears from the Sacred Books before the name of Sela appears, and it is therefore possible that the latter, taken from its natural peculiarity, may have been given to it by the Edomites or later settlers, after the recollections of its earlier sanctity had passed away. That a sanctuary of this kind should have been gradually transformed into an emporium and thoroughfare of commerce, as was the case with Petra during the Roman empire, would be one out of many instances with which oriental and ancient history abounds.


1 Numb. xx. 8-11. See Appendix {not reproduced here}.

2 Exod. xvii. 6.

3 Joshua xv. 3; Judg. i. 36.

4 2 Kings xiv. 7; 2 Chron. xxv. 12. The use of this word in these passages makes it probable that the denunciation of Psalm cxxxvii. 9, is aimed not against the “daughter of Babylon,” but against “the children of Edom.” — “Happy shall he be that rewardest thee as thou hast served us; happy shall he be that taketh and dasheth thy little ones against the ‘cliff’ (sela).”

If there be any ground for this conclusion, Petra assumes a new interest. Its rock-hewn caves may have served in part for the dwellings, in part for the graves of the Israelites; it is dignified as the closing scene of the life both of Miriam and Aaron; its sanctity may account for the elevation and seclusion of some of its edifices, perched high among almost inaccessible rocks, and evidently the resort of ancient pilgrims; its impressive scenery well accords with the language of the ancient hymns of Israel, in which Kadesh with the surrounding rocks of Edom is almost elevated to the rank of a second Sinai: “Lord, when thou wentest out of Seir, when thou marchedst out of the field of Edom1 — “God came from Teman, and the Holy One from Mount Paran.”2 “He brought them to Mount Sinai and Kadesh-barnea.”3 “The Lord came from Sinai, and rose up from Mount Seir unto them; he shined forth from Mount Paran, and He came . . . . with ten thousands of saints”4 (if we take the Hebrew as followed in the Authorised Version — but more probably {sic} with the Septuagint) — “with the ten thousands of Kadesh;” or (perhaps more probably still {sic}, with Ewald5), “from Meribah-Kadesh.” {It is possible this is an allusion to Meribah Kadesh. There is no need to alter the text.}

“And if any point is to be selected in Petra, as especially the seat of this primeval sanctuary, it is that which I have just described, commonly known by the name of the “Deir,” or “Convent.” Its present form is of the same modern character as that which deprives all these monuments of any deep interest— a facade, with a vast urn on the summit; the interior, one large hall. But its situation and its accompaniments indicate the great importance, if not sanctity, with which it was invested at some period by the inhabitants of Petra. Removed as it is from the sight not only of the town, but of the numerous sepulchres or excavations with which the cliffs which surround the town are perforated, it must have had some special purpose of its own. The long ascent by which it is approached, mostly along the edge of a precipitous ravine, is carefully


1 Judg. v. 4.

2 Habak. iii. 3.

3 Deut xxxiii. 2.

4 Jude 14.

5 Geschichte, 2nd edit, ii. 257.

hewn, wherever the rocks admit, into a continuous staircase, of which the steps are in more than one instance marked by the unknown inscriptions in the so-called Sinaitic character. The walls of the interior of the Deir itself, as well as the steps, are sculptured with the usual accompaniments of these inscriptions, — crosses and figures of the wild goat, or ibex. Immediately opposite is a hill, with a large chamber below, partly natural, partly artificial; containing a sculptured niche at the end of it for a statue; and bases of columns lie strewed around. A staircase leads to the roof of the Deir, which is again inscribed with a rude character; and on the rocky platform with which the roof communicates,1 is a circle of hewn stones, and again still beyond is a solitary cell hewn in an isolated cliff, and joined to this platform by a narrow isthmus of rock.

In the absolute dearth of records of Petra, it is impossible to decide the reason of the selection of this lonely spot for a sanctuary, thus visited, as it would appear, by the same pilgrims, who have left their traces so often elsewhere in the Peninsula. {This presumes the Sinaitic inscriptions are the work of pilgrims long after the Exodus. — ed.} Yet its situation inevitably suggests some relation to Mount Hor. From the threshold, indeed, of the Deir, Mount Hor is not visible.2 But the whole of the upper story, and the roof — to which, as I have said, a staircase ascends as if for the express purpose of commanding a wider view, — both look upon the sacred mount of the High Priest’s tomb, and are seen from thence. It is in fact the only building of Petra included in the view from Mount Hor, through which alone, in its deep seclusion, it was first revealed to the eyes of travellers.

Mount Hor, the burial-place of Aaron, modern Jebel Haroun

“Is it too much to suppose that this point and Mount Hor were long regarded as the two sacred spots of Petra; that the scene of the death and sepulture of Aaron was designedly fixed in view of this, the innermost sanctuary of the Holy Place of “Kadesh;” that this sanctity was retained through the successive changes of Pagan and Christian worship; and that the pilgrims of the Desert {sic, see earlier note} mounted these time-worn steps, and traced their inscriptions upon the rock, on their way to the only spot, whence they could see the grave of Aaron? {The plain statement of Scripture is that the name “Kadesh” was given to the place because Jehovah was “sanctified” there by the miracle of water from the rock, Num. 20. 13. — ed.}


1 This last feature I derive from Miss Martineau (Eastern Life, 2nd ed., p. 410), who is the only person who has left a record of its existence. From an oversight I omitted to see it on the spot.

2 By a not unnatural confusion of an intervening mountain with Mount Hor, Dr. Robinson (ii. 536) has asserted the contrary. It is one of the very few inaccuracies he has committed.”

The Dukhan at Petra and Its Inscription in Memory of Aaron

The Dukhan is the name given in an important, and hitherto mistranslated, Sinaitic inscription to the sanctuary on the summit of Jebel al Khubtha in the center of Petra, along the flanks of which are located the most imposing set of tombs in the city. (See site above no. 1 in the map of Petra supra.) Dukhan means “a platform where a priest performs his services”, and that is precisely what is found on the summit of Jebel al Khubtha: a vast rock sanctuary, reached by a series of staircases cut in the solid rock. One long set of steps starts near the tomb of the Roman Sextius Florentinus, and not far from the top of the rock staircase is the inscription. It is on a smoothed surface adjoining the staircase, and next to it is a niche which originally may have contained a statue or bust of the person commemorated in the inscription. There are spectacular views from the summit in all directions, including south-west to Jebel Haroun (Mount Hor, the burial place of Aaron). Among the usual arrangements at the top there is a horseshoe-shaped triclinium known as the stibadium. Other features include a betyl represented in relief on the back wall of a chapel, basins, cisterns for rain water, and more to the east, a long cistern that once had a vaulted roof.

Robinson on the Dukhan (referred to by him as “The Triple High-Place”):


The Biblical World, N.S. vol. 31, Jan.-Jun. 1908, p. 8ff. THE HIGH-PLACES OF PETRA, p. 13f.


“This large sanctuary was discovered by Mr. Forder of Jerusalem in May, 1904. [Note: Also independently by Messrs. Hoskins and Myers on November 16, 1905, and by Mr. Hoskins briefly described in Biblical World, May, 1906, pp, 385-90.] It is conspicuously situated high above the so-called Corinthian Tomb on the eastern mountain wall of the city, its altitude being approximately 3,600 feet. Some consider it composed of three separate high-places, but it is better to regard it as one continuous sanctuary made up of a series of shrines. The worshipers may have visited them in rotation.

“It was approached by stairways leading up from different ravines; two beginning near the tomb with the Latin inscription, a third near the tomb with the urn, a fourth leading up the ravine north of the Khazne. The numerous courts are of the usual kind with drain and seat accommodations, and cut as usual on the points of the compass. The altars are of various sorts, the northernmost one being rough and unhewn without any distinct passageway about it. To the east of this one, at a distance of 142 feet, stands another, broken, however, and apparently long ago abandoned. By Professor J. Stewart Crawford it is regarded as probably the oldest altar in Petra. {My emphasis.} But by far the most interesting altar of this sanctuary is that situated at the western end of the most southern court. It stands upright and undetached from the rock boundary of the court, and has a drain from its upper surface. It has been considered a mazzebah or pillar, but more probably it was an altar of libation. About 200 yards east of this Triple High-Place may be found an actual pyramid or obelisk cut in the northern wall of a rock-hewn highway, and still another similar to it on the main road to el-Beida.

“The distinctively new feature of this high-place is the semicircles or roasting-ovens. These open circles are too small to have been used as sitting-places during the sacrificial meal, but, on the contrary, are just large enough to accommodate a cauldron like those used by the Arabs today on the summit of Mt. Hor. The irregular ‘cavity’ in the court of the northern section may have been intended for the same purpose. This theory is confirmed by the presence of possible tomb-chambers 75 feet east of the southernmost court; though by some these chambers are considered to have been storehouses or magazines; or possibly as quarters for the custodian of the sanctuary. This theory is also substantiated by the presence of a once-roofed-in chamber (southern section) which in other sanctuaries seems always to be associated with mortuary chapels. In any case this high-place ranks among the most important in Petra. It must be quite as old, or even older than the Great High-Place. Mt. Hor is distinctly visible from every portion of it.”

Following: views of the Dukhan and copies of the inscription.

Rock-cut stairway (restored) to the Dukhan

Altar area of the Dukhan on the summit of Jebel al Khubtha

Brown’s transcription of the Dukhan inscription (above). His admittedly imperfect squeeze (below).

Cantineau’s transcription (with a more accurate reproduction of the final letter on the second line).

A transcription of the inscription:




Hebrew Equivalents

אלה נציביא לעזא דכן אבדתא

עבד דהב אלהי שיני

Transliteration into Roman Characters

lh nyby’ l‘z’ dkn ’ bdt’

bd dhb ’ lhy syny


These majestic monuments (are) the priestly platform of the Deceased

The maker of the golden god at Sinai.

These words can apply to only one person: Aaron the brother of Moses, who is buried on Mount Hor in sight of the Dukhan. A third very faded line of characters (see Brown’s transcription supra) has been thought to spell the common Sinaitic word dkyryn meaning “In Commemoration”, literally “commemorative (m. pl., in apposition to the word “monuments”)”, i.e. the monuments “are commemorative (of the Deceased)”, but these characters are too faded to be certain.

Word-by word explanation of the inscription:

These, Hl], אלה, lh, “these”

monuments, ]ybycn, נציביא, nṣyby, lit. “the set up (things)”, usually meaning stelae, or other monumental features. The common translation (see infra) takes the final aleph, the mark of the emphatic state, from this word and places it with the following lamed, to make up the first element (“Al”) in a pagan divine name “Al-Uzza”. This word, according to that interpretation, is in the construct state (final yod) with the following divine name, and hence “stelae of Al-Uzza”. The correct reading of the two final words in the line (see infra) makes that interpretation improbable.

majestic, ]z[l, לעזא, l‘z’, lit. “of majesty”, the common preposition l, “of, belonging to, for etc.” + ‘z’ , “power, majesty, strength, etc.” in the emphatic state with final aleph. The phrase is then literally “these monuments of majesty”, i.e., as we would say, “majestic monuments”. Those who read the two words Al-Uzza here, are reading the same root word, since the name “Al-Uzza” means the “The (Al) Powerful, Majestic (Uzza)” one, and is a name of the goddess of the planet Venus.

priestly platform, Nkd, דכן, dkn, defective spelling (as commonly elsewhere in the Sinaitic inscriptions, e.g. in the preceding and the succeeding words) of dwkn (pronounced doo-khan) Aram. “priest’s platform”, an elevated platform where the priest exercised the functions of his office, performed sacrifices etc. This precisely describes the complex on the summit of Jebel al Khubtha.

the Deceased, ]tdb], אבדתא, ’bdt’, lit. “that which has perished, is deceased” etc. (fem. sing.), defective spelling = Heb. ’bydh, this word being used to designate “the deceased” person. The final two words mean “priestly platform of the deceased”. It is, in that case, unlikely that the preceding phrase is “stelae of Al-Uzza” as we would then be presented with the nonsensical expression “These stelae (or, monuments) of Al-Uzza are the priestly platform of the Deceased”.

the maker, db[, עבד, ‘bd , here in apposition to the preceding word, a participial form, lit. “the making one”, i.e. the “maker, fashioner”.

golden, bhd, דהב, dhb, Aram. “gold”, here of the material out of which the object was made, “(out of) gold”.

god, yhl], אלהי, ’ lhy, a god, the Aramaic abs. plural in y, viz. “Elahi”, like Heb. “Elohim” = “god”.

Sinai, ynyv, שיני, syny, “Sinai”, locative = “at Sinai”. The name of the mountain is spelled in Biblical Hebr. with a samekh, but in Sinaitic Aramaic, as in other Semitic dialects, sin can stand in place of samekh. The final letter yod (y) is joined to the preceding nun (n) by a ligature, as is clear from the squeeze (reproduced accurately in Cantineau’s transcription), and as commonly elsewhere in the case of this letter in other Sinaitic inscriptions.

The amazing Dukhan inscription is misread in the standard studies, because these filter any and all writings composed in the Sinaitic script through Nabataean-of-the-Roman-period tinted spectacles. The ninth to thirteenth letters of the first line, if split differently, happen to spell the name of a pagan goddess, Al-Uzza. That coincidence was seized on by the anti-fundamentalist school, when the inscription was discovered at the turn of the 20th century, as proof that the priestly platform on the summit of Jebel al Khubtha was a place of pagan sacrifice, perhaps even human sacrifice! That nicely doused the flames of Biblical “fanaticism” which saw in the “Nabataean scrawlings” in the nineteenth century evidence of the Biblical Exodus. To maintain the notion that the inscription was a dedication to Al-Uzza, a little bit of palaeographical manipulation was practiced on the very clear Sinaitic characters following the supposed divine name. Three letters spelling the word Dukhan (Sinaitic: d-k-n) occupy that position, and each is crystal clear. It was admitted that the second letter looks exactly like a kaph (k) by the scholar who first interpreted the inscription (Torrey). Similarly the next letter after that looks like a final nun (n). But that made no sense if the divine name Al-Uzza was read preceding it and if the initial daleth (d) was read, as this scholar read it, as a waw (w). Daleth and waw are easily confused in the Sinaitic script, though in fact waw usually has a leftward-facing loop, whereas daleth usually has a square, straight, or rounded leftward-facing projection. This letter has the latter and is therefore more probably a daleth. Of course the resulting word “dukhan”, a priestly platform, makes perfect sense in the context and is the natural and most obvious, as well as the contextually most appropriate, reading. With the Nabataean-of-the-Roman-period spectacles in place, the now “nonsensical” letters kaph and nun “had” to be read differently. The upward stroke at the bottom of the kaph was accordingly extended, in the mind of the bespectacled, up the break in the rock (even though the squeeze clearly shows it is restricted to a moderate length), and thus produced a mem (m), and the long final nun was similarly, and mentally, shortened to produce a resh (r), on the excuse that the transcription done at the same time as the squeeze (Brown’s) showed a slight roughness in the rock at the base of the letter. (Note in Cantineau’s transcription the stroke at the bottom of the kaph has even been graphically extended to almost join with the top of the letter, as though to ensure the reading mem.) With a clear aleph following, these formed the word m‑r‑, “lord”, and this, “undoubtedly”, was the first element in a “second divine name”, “Mare bayta”, the “lord of the temple”! There was a slight difficulty in that the letter which was supposedly a yod (y) in the middle of the word “bayta”, “temple”, the last set of letters in the first line, did not have the normal s-shaped curve of the “Nabataean” yod, and looked much more like a beth (b), resh (r), or daleth (d), all of which in a ligature with a preceding beth (as here), may be reduced to a simple stroke (as here). The bespectacled now read the first line as follows: “These monuments of Al-Uzza and Mare bayta”. That is the common, and totally erroneous, “scholarly” reading today. The second line was simpler to deal with, as the word d-h-b (“gold” or “golden”) could be turned into w-h-b, if the curve at the top of the initial letter (identical to that in the initial daleth of d-k-n, “dukhan”, in the first line) was taken to be the malformed loop of a waw (as also in the first line). This produced the name Waheb-allahi. All that was left now was the problematic word at the end of the second line (which is, in fact, the name “Sinai”). The very clear second letter of this word is a nun (n), and usually, as here, it drops below the line of writing. Still, with a little imagination, it could be read as a resh (r). The last letter of the word, as proved by the squeeze and Cantineau’s transcription, which harmonizes perfectly with the squeeze, is a yod (y), forming a flourish off the preceding letter, as commonly elsewhere in the Sinaitic inscriptions. The standard reading misses that detail, and sees in the lines of the flourish (what could only be a rather malformed) aleph. All this produces, instead of the simple Biblical toponym Sinai, the difficult word š-y‑r‑, which was thought at first might be a word for “caravan-master”, but has latterly been thought to mean “plasterer”. So, according to this convoluted reading it was “Waheb-allahi the plasterer” who “made” these monuments to the two pagan divinities.

The process explained here in detail, which still passes today as “scholarship”, shows the danger of reading preconceived ideas into the Sinaitic inscriptions, instead of letting the script speak for itself. The priority, of course, should be to transcribe the letters accurately, without jumping to a conclusion on the meaning of the words, and only then work out the letter-combinations. No currently received reading of a “Nabataean” inscription should be accepted till the original has been examined and transcribed with “tinted spectacles” firmly off. A limited number of these may prove to be Nabataean of the Roman period, as the Nabataeans used a similar script, but undoubtedly many will prove to be MEMORIALS OF THE WANDERING OF THE CHILDREN OF ISRAEL.

The Brazen Serpent

Punon (Wadi Feynan)

From Kadesh and Mount Hor the Israelites journeyed to Zalmonah, at some unidentified site, and then to Punon. It was in this area that the people complained of the hardships they were suffering and were plagued with poisonous snakes. (See Numbers 21. 4 and 10, which verses show the site was between Mount Hor and Oboth, and compare Numbers 33. 41-43, where the stations Zalmonah and Punon intervene between Mount Hor and Oboth.) Many died as a result. They went to Moses, confessing their lack of faith in God and respect for his prophet. God then revealed to Moses how the people could be healed. He was to set up a copper or bronze serpent on a pole, and place it in public view. Whoever looked on it was healed of the poisonous bites. Though the site of Zalmonah has not been identified, the site of Punon has been discovered in Wadi Feynan, not many miles distant from Petra. (Feynan is the Arabic pronunciation of the Hebrew name Punon.) There in ancient times were located great copper-mines, which were worked long before even the time of Moses. Remains of the workings are still visible, scattered over the area. This therefore was the right site for the construction of an object, like Moses’ serpent, made of copper or of bronze, bronze being an alloy of copper. Targum Jonathan on Num. 33. 42 says Punon was the place where fiery serpents attacked the people (and therefore also the location of the construction of the Brazen Serpent).

The place is described by Eusebius in his Onomasticon [Greek] s.n.: “Phinon, where Israel abode in the desert. It was also a city of Edom. It is the same place as Phaino[n], where deposits of copper ore are found, situated between Petra and Zoar [this last being at the southern end of the Dead Sea].”

For the sake of the Cross of Jesus, which the Brazen Serpent foreshadowed (John 3. 14), many martyrs of Jesus suffered in the copper-mines of Phaino or Phaeno during the last phase of pagan outbursts against the Christians under the Roman Empire. Athanasius (Hist. Arian. VII. 16) describes the Phaeno mines as such as “where even a condemned murderer is hardly able to live a few days”. Eusebius outlines the events as follows in his History of the Martyrs in Palestine (MS. p. 49f.):

History of the Martyrs in Palestine (ed. trans. Cureton) MS p. 49f.

“[p. 49] ….



“It was the nineteenth day of Ilul, and during the same wonderful conflict of the martyrs of God, that a great spectacle was assembled in Phaeno, in this same Palestine; and all the combatants [meaning soldiers in Christ’s spiritual army] were perfect, and in number they were about a hundred and fifty. Many of them, also, were Egyptians, amounting to more than a hundred. And the same in the first place had their right eyes and their left legs in their sinews destroyed by cautery of fire and by the sword. And then after these things they were delivered over to dig copper in the mines. Those, also, who belonged to Palestine had to endure afflictions in the same manner as the Egyptians; and they were all assembled together in a place called Zauara [Zoar], as a congregation consisting of many persons. There was also much people with them, who came from other places to see them, and many others who ministered to them in their necessities, and visited them in love, and filled up their lack. And all the day they were occupied in the ministry of prayer, and in the service of God, and in teaching and reading; and all the afflictions which passed over them were esteemed by them as pleasures, and they spent all that time as if it had been in a festive assembly. But the enemy of God and wicked envier was not able to bear these things, so there was immediately sent out against them one of those generals of the Romans that is styled Dux; and first of all he separated them one by one from each other, and some of them were sent to that wretched place Zauara, and some not; and some of them to Phaeno, the place where the copper is dug; [p. 50.] and the others went to different places. Afterwards he selected from among those in Phaeno four of them who were of great excellence, in order that by them he might terrify the rest. Having, therefore, brought them to the trial, and not one of them having shewn any signs of dismay, this merciless judge, thinking that no punishment was so severe as that by fire, delivered up God’s holy martyrs to this kind of death. When, therefore, they were brought to the fire, they cast themselves into the flames without fear, and dedicated themselves as an offering more acceptable than all incense and oblations; and presented their own bodies to God as a holocaust more excellent than all sacrifices. And two of these were Bishops Paulus and Nilus; and the other two were selected of the laity, Patermytheus and Elias; and by race they were all of them Egyptians. They were pure lovers of that exalted philosophy which is of God, and offered themselves like gold to the fire to be purified. But He who giveth strength to the weak, and multiplieth comfort to the afflicted, deemed them worthy of that life which is in heaven, and associated them with the company of angels.”

Ancient Remains in the copper mining area of Wadi Feynan (Punon) where metal could be found to construct the Brazen Serpent, with a flashback to the time of Moses

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