Where is Mount Sinai?

The traditional identification of the biblical Mount Sinai, on the Sinai Peninsula of Egypt (Photo: Mohammed Moussa/Wikimedia Commons)

I took a desert tour to Mt Karkom early this century with a group of Jewish and Arab Messianic/Christian leaders.  Har Karkom is located in the southwest Negev Desert of Israel.  The tour guide told us at that time that there were 23 (!) “candidates” for the Mt Sinai of the Bible, and that Har Karkom was one of them.  My own conclusion from his explanations and from the Biblical account was that Mt Karkom was definitely not the actual Mt Sinai, but was definitely a “high place” of mixed or separate-but-equal worship by Israelis to YHVH their God, and of pagans to their gods.  This is a practice which God judges as sin for His people, and which they/we  frequently did/do. 

I had been previously to the traditional site of Mt Sinai in the Sinai Desert. Tradition is always a ‘tricky’ thing when it comes to the truth that it is based upon. I am not certain whether this site is the actual mountain, and I do know that humans have a penchant for idolizing and worshipping holy sites. God has not let us know exactly where Moses was buried; despite all of the research, there is still dispute over where Yeshua/Jesus was actually crucified and buried. But there are plenty of vested interests for the possibilities that have been popularized. Maybe one of them is right; maybe neither one is precisely.

Jebal al-Lawz, located in northwest Saudi Arabia near the Jordanian border, and across from the Gulf of Aqaba/Eilat, has become the latest “definite” discovery of the real Mt Sinai. Those who have actually been there are convinced that this is the place, and there is much pictorial evidence that it could be.

One verse in the New Testament mentions that Saul/Paul went to Arabia after he was saved and needed to get completely re-oriented by the revelation he had received from God of Yeshua/Jesus, the Son of God. (Gal 1:15-17).  In other verses Paul symbolizes Hagar and Ishmael as representing Mt Sinai in Arabia. (Gal 4:24-25)  These verses have been taken to prove that Arabia is Saudi Arabia.  However, the whole land region east, south, and west of Israel is “arabian”.

Moses’ father-in-law, Jethro, and his family lived in Midian. (Ex 2:15-253:1-4)  Midian is considered to be east of the Gulf of Aqaba/Eilat in the coastal areas of present-day northwest Saudi Arabia.  When Moses was tending Jethro’s flocks on that momentous day of seeing the burning bush at Mt Horeb, it says that he was in the backside of the desert (to the west of Midian).  God told Moses that when he and the people would be delivered from Egypt, they would worship Him on this [same] mountain, Mt Horeb. (Ex 3:112)

In my reading from Exodus, a couple of things come to mind:
1. YHVH told Pharoah through Moses and Aaron to let His people go out for a 3-day journey to worship Him. (Ex 5:1-3)  I have always taken that to be the number of days that it took for the Israelis to cross to the other side of the Yam Suf (Reed/Red Sea). (Num 33:1-8) This would give a picture of Jesus’ death, burial, and resurrection, and of our baptismal identification with Him in that.

2. It says in ch 12:40-43, that on the very same day as the Passover, that all the armies of YHVH went out from the land of Egypt, which, to me, means that what we call the Sinai Peninsula has never been officially a part of Egypt from a Biblical perspective (even if under some Egyptian control at various times). This assumes, of course, that this is where the Israelis were after going “out from the land of Egypt” that very same day. So, wherever they were, it was not “in Egypt” that first day of their exodus and sojourn towards the promised land of Canaan.

3. In ch 19, Moses writes that they all got to the Sinai Desert in the third month, and camped there at the mountain. (Ex 19:1-6)  [This, of course, connects with what we know now as the count of weeks and days to Shavuot/Pentecost from the day of the resurrection.] (Lev 23:15-17Acts 2:1-4)  So, it seems from this, that the first day of leaving Egypt was not in what we call today the Sinai. So where was it? Where is Shur, that is also not in Egypt? (Ex 15:22Gen 25:18Ex 12:41)

4. Being that the Israelis arrived at Mt Sinai/Horeb in the third month, then it may not be the traditional site, but could be Jabal al-Lawz (or some other mountain in the Sinai), from a distance and time point-of-view.

But, that still leaves me with a nagging thought and question: whatever body of water that God parted to separate them from Egypt and Pharaoh’s armies happened within those first days of leaving Egypt. To get to the Saudi peninsula in the third month, if Mt Horeb/Sinai is there, then a crossing of the Gulf of Eilat/Aqaba — too far for the Israelis to get there by the third day — is a different, unrecorded event, and not the famous parting of the Reed/Red Sea. And that body of water (the Gulf of Suez?) needed to be deep enough for the miracle and its consequences as described and referred to many times in the Bible. It made YHVH’s name great! Until today!

Are any of you able to answer the question, taking the objections into account?

This article originally appeared on Streams in the Negev, November 30, 2022, and reposted with permission.