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Correspondence: Mt. Sinai

November 13, 2006

Dr. Aardsma,

I am currently taking some online Bible courses, one of which is an Old Testament survey class. I had to give a best estimate for the route of the exodus and Mt. Sinai. My dad suggested I check out your site, as you have studied this. I found the information on your site intriguing. But I am also puzzled by the location that you suggest for Mt. Sinai. It appears to me that the suggested mountain is inside the promised land. Would this not pose a problem for the Israelites to have been camped inside the promised land during the last part of Exodus - Numbers? I am interested in hearing your point of view.

Kindly,
Coralynn

Hello Coralynn,

Your question is a new one to me, so I need you to help me understand better what you are thinking. Specifically, why do you feel it would pose a problem for the biblical narrative in Exodus and Numbers if Mt. Sinai were located within the Promised Land? Note that Yeroham is in the Negev desert. The traditional site of Kadesh-barnea (which seems mistaken to me), where the Israelites would have spent most of their time prior to the Conquest in the traditional view, is also in the Negev desert. Does this also seem to pose a problem for the biblical narrative in Exodus and Numbers to you?

Dr. Aardsma

January 20, 2007

Gentlemen:

Regarding your theorized location for Mt Sinai as being Mt Yeroham:

The statement is made that Mt Yeroham passes the test because it is in the Northern Negev.

It is BECAUSE it is in the northern negev that this location flatly fails the acid test.

Why? Because this mountain is IN THE LAND OF CANAAN as it existed at the time of God's promise to Abraham.

It is smack in the middle of the land Caleb won. It is in the midst of the land apportioned by Moses and again by Joshua. It is north of the southern border of Israel.

This location fails to explain why it took Elijah WEEKS to get to Sinai from...the Negev.

The popular theories of the Exodus all fail this test. They actually have the Israelites wandering IN Canaan (the negev) after they were banned from even seeing the land after the rebellion.

You place Sinai in the midst of several Canaanite tribes that lived in the region at the time.

Respectfully
Rob

Hello Rob,

If I understand you properly, your main assertion is that Mt. Sinai can not be situated in Canaan. So far, I fail to see any proof of this in the Bible. But your reference to God's promise to Abraham needs to be filled out for me to follow your argument in regard to it. What Bible verses are you referring to?

Elijah's travel time might be explained by a slightly different, though I believe more probable, interpretation of 1 Kings 19:1-13 than you have assumed. Might it be possible that what the text means to communicate is simply that Elijah went to Sinai and spent 40 days on the mountain (just as Moses had done -- Ex. 24:18) fasting the entire time he was there?

My understanding from the Bible is that the Israelites spent their time in Kadesh-barnea, not Sinai, following the rebellion. My best efforts to locate Kadesh-barnea on the map land me tentatively to the east of the Red Sea's Gulf of Aqaba---not in Canaan.

What proof do you have, from the Bible, that Mt. Sinai can not be in Canaan? The chronological and archaeological evidence showing that Mt. Yeroham is Mt. Sinai is really quite strong, and seems most unlikely to be overturned at this stage.

Dr. Gerald Aardsma

February 15, 2007

RE: Mount Sinai.

In an article, it speaks of Mt. Yeroham as being Mount Sinai. I will assume that you are getting only interpretation from the Bible, not substantiation. The holes that I see are not the location and whereabouts of what is talked about, but rather what is missing. What is missing are ACTUAL photos of a "charred" or "burned" mountain top from when God's glory ascended on top of Mount Sinai. What seems also to be missing are the split Rock, the possible altar that the Golden Calf was worshiped, the twelve pillars, etc. Also, it would seem to me that the specialness of the Israelites having water to drink would be much more exciting if the water came from nowhere, which is what happened in that time.

I hope this email finds you well.

Sincerely,
Joe

Hello Joe,

I am not surprised that the BC summary article on the location of Mt. Sinai didn't immediately answer all your questions---it is, after all, just a summary. Still I am sorry it did not do better for you. Let me try to help you with your concerns a bit more with this brief reply.

Much more in-depth information is located in the BC newsletter back issues. If you look at the summaries for BC Volume 6 and Volume 7 especially, you will be able to pick out specific issues of relevance to the things you are wondering about. These talk about the twelve pillars, for example, and the nature of the summit of the mountain. In this last regard, we do not find that the summit is "charred" or "burned", but rather it is altogether gone---replaced by a crater. Note that this field observation seems much more suitable to the biblical description of the sort of phenomena which accompanied God's visit on Sinai than mere blackening of some rocks near a summit. Field evidence of the earthquake accompanying God's descent on the mountain is discussed in the BC back issues as well.

Your expectations regarding the Golden Calf and its altar seem improbable to me. Recall that the Golden Calf was ground to powder. Is it likely that the altar was left intact? Even if it had been, since it was located on the plain, and not on the mountain, it would have been subject to easy access by all who passed that way during the four and a half thousand years since Moses, making its preservation into the present unlikely.

There are too many split rocks to choose any specific one from, and also an abundance of caves suitable to Elijah's experience at Sinai---also discussed in greater depth in the BC newsletters.

I am not sure I understand why you feel the water the Israelites drank came from "nowhere". The biblical account says "I [Moses] threw its dust into the brook that came down from the mountain" (Deuteronomy 9:21.) Doesn't that sound like there was natural runoff available for them to drink, at least during some part of the year? And wouldn't that allow the possibility of damming to produce a reservoir of water for the dry months---just as we found Yeroham to be so well suited to?

The match between what the Bible describes at Sinai and what has been found on site at Yeroham is really quite impressive. Nothing at any other location shows this kind of agreement. When you couple the field evidence with the chronological exact match to the biblical date of the Exodus, it is pretty hard to avoid the conclusion that Yeroham is simply Sinai.

I trust these brief comments will be of assistance to you in your quest.

Sincerely,
Dr. Aardsma

April 4, 2007

Hello,

I found your theory that Mt.Yeroham may be the Mt. Sinai of Exodus intriguing.

From the map, it appears that Mt. Yeroham is fairly close to Beersheba.

If Yeroham is Mt. Sinai why did it take Elijah 40 days to arrive there after going one day's journey beyond Beersheba? Even the angel said the journey from there was great. (1 Kings 19:7-8)

Thank you for your website and research.

Sincerely,
Stan

Hello Stan,

The straight-line distance from Beersheba to Yeroham is about 17 miles. So, if we take 30 miles per day to be a normal day's journey for a person on foot, then an easy day's journey beyond Beersheba could have brought Elijah into the vicinity of Yeroham. Clearly, if the Bible, in 1 Kings 19, says Elijah had a 40-day trip ahead of him to get to Sinai, then it seems pretty obvious that Yeroham could not be Sinai. But does 1 Kings 19 say or mean to imply that Elijah had a 40-day trip ahead of him to get to Sinai when he encountered the angel south of Beersheba? I suggest not.

Note, first of all, that at 30 miles per day, times 40 days, Elijah could travel 1,200 miles! This is way beyond the distance from Beersheba to any candidate mountain for Mt Sinai that I have ever heard of. Do you know of a candidate mountain which is 1,200 miles from Beersheba? The traditional Mt. Sinai, for example, way down near the tip of the Sinai Peninsula, is less than 200 miles from Beersheba. It does not make good sense from a biblical geography perspective to interpret 1 Kings 19 in a way which says Elijah had an arduous 40-day trip ahead of him to get to Mt. Sinai. This does not appear to be what the passage means to say.

Secondly, notice that the angel did not say, "the journey ahead of you is too great for you". He just said, "the journey is too great for you". This could refer at least as easily, in context, to the journey Elijah had already made from Mt. Carmel, some 125 miles due north, as it could to any journey ahead. Remember that this journey had been made over terrain that was drought-parched. And the journey south of Beersheba is through pretty dry, desert-like terrain even at the best of times. Furthermore, Elijah had gone through a pretty intense experience with the prophets of Baal at Carmel immediately prior to setting out on this journey. And he had outrun Ahab's chariot from Carmel to Jezreel, some 25 or 30 miles, an obviously physically draining exercise. There is plenty of reason for the angel to say "the journey is too great for you" based on what Elijah had already been through. It is not necessary to understand the angel to be referring to a journey yet ahead.

Thirdly, notice that the idea that Elijah was headed for Sinai is nowhere stated or implied in 1 Kings 19. The angel, for example, did not say that the journey to Horeb was too great for Elijah. He simply said, "the journey is too great for you". Sinai has not even been mentioned in the narrative to this point. We only learn that Elijah wound up at Sinai once he arrived there.

Elijah's purpose for this journey is explicitly stated, and it does not require or even encourage the idea that Elijah was headed for Sinai or any other fixed destination. 1 Kings 19:3a says: "he was afraid and arose and ran for his life...". That is, Elijah, in full-scale panic, was trying to get away from Jezebel who was out to kill him. It would be clear at the outset that this purpose could take him anywhere, depending on what moves Jezebel made to catch him.

Putting these three considerations together, it seems to be reading a great deal into the angel's statement, "the journey is too great for you", to interpret it to mean "you've got a 40-day trip ahead of you to get to Mt. Sinai". That is not what the angel said, and does not seem to be what the Bible intended we should understand. I suggest, rather, that what the angel was saying is, "Elijah, you're totally worn out; eat up". Notice that Elijah does not appear to be thinking very clearly at this point in the narrative. He requests of God to die, though his whole purpose in taking this journey was to save his life. It seems best in the full context of the narrative to understand the angel to be saying that Elijah needed to eat to get back to normal health and strength so he could begin to think straight, rather than that he needed to eat to prepare himself for an arduous 40-day hike to Mt. Sinai.

Here is a simple suggestion. Try reading the entire passage from the following perspective. Assume that you know (as the Israelites to whom 1 Kings was originally written would have known, and as Elijah obviously knew) the true location of Mt. Sinai. Further assume that Yeroham is that true location. Now read the 1 Kings 19 passage and see whether you encounter anything which seems fatal to these assumptions to you.

I think you will find, when you do this, that at least two alternative interpretations of 1 Kings 19:7--9 present themselves within this framework. 1. Elijah, having no fixed destination and only the purpose of staying clear of Jezebel, moved furtively from place to place in the Negev for 40 days after his encounter with the angel, his movements eventually bringing him to Sinai. 2. Elijah, more or less immediately following his encounter with the angel, took up residence at Sinai, which was near at hand, and stayed there fasting for 40 days, as Moses had done long before him. (In this second interpretation---which is my personal preference---verse 8 summarizes ahead, and verse 9 goes back and gives the more detailed narrative.)

These interpretations, besides making good sense of the full biblical narrative, find strong support from biblical archaeology and biblical chronology relative to Yeroham.

Sincerely,
Dr. Aardsma

September 9, 2007

Dear Dr. Aardsma

Re: True Location of Sinai.

I read with amazement your contention that Mt. Yeroham, in the Negev of Israel, is the true Mt. Sinai.

If this is the case I will have to throw out my Bible and find a new religion.

Reason:
As I recall the Hebrews were forbidden to enter or even see the land of Canaan, the Promised Land, after the false report of the spies.

And last time I read Exodus 23:31, it gave the southern border of the Promised Land as extending from the Red Sea (Aqaba) to the Sea of the Philistines.

Also, last time I read Joshua, the Negev was awarded by lot to the tribes of Judah and Simeon... It would seem one of them inherited Mt. Sinai in the bargain.

So, according to you, we have... Mt. Sinai, IN THE PROMISED LAND...

It would be nice if someone actually took into account the entire Bible before conjuring up theories of where Mt. Sinai really is.

I don't know where the real Sinai is but this theory is a complete waste of time for anyone who believes the Bible.

Sincerely,
Rob

Dear Rob,

Hang onto your Bible --- but you may want to throw out some of your logic and find a new hermeneutic.

Your claim is that Mt. Yeroham cannot be Mt. Sinai. The argument you have advanced to support this conclusion seems to go as follows:

Premise 1: The generation of Israelites which rebelled upon hearing the bad report of the ten spies at Kadesh-barnea was forbidden to ever enter or even see the Promised Land.
Premise 2: Mt. Yeroham is within the land apportioned to the tribe of Judah, and thus within the Promised Land.
Conclusion 1: Therefore the Israelites who rebelled could not ever have visited or seen Mt. Yeroham.
Premise 3: The Israelites who rebelled were present at Mt. Sinai prior to the rebellion.
Conclusion 2: Therefore Mt. Yeroham cannot be Mt. Sinai.

It appears to me that you are making a Bible interpretation error in the construction of this argument. This is most easily seen by constructing an argument completely parallel to the first part of your argument, but substituting Kadesh-barnea for Mt. Yeroham. We then get:

Premise A: The generation of Israelites which rebelled upon hearing the bad report of the ten spies at Kadesh-barnea was forbidden to ever enter or even see the Promised Land.
Premise B: Kadesh-barnea is within the land apportioned to the tribe of Judah, and thus within the Promised Land. (See Numbers 34:4, Joshua 15:3, and Joshua 10:40--43.)
Conclusion A: Therefore the Israelites who rebelled could not ever have visited or seen Kadesh-barnea.

I hope you will agree with me that Conclusion A is false. It blatantly contradicts the Biblical historical record, and it blatantly contradicts its own Premise A.

It thus appears that there is something wrong with the argument you have advanced to support your claim that Mt. Yeroham cannot be Mt. Sinai.

As to what exactly is wrong with it, there are several possibilities. Note, as a first possibility, that both Psalm 95:11 and Hebrews 3 see God's judgment of the rebellious Israelites as a prohibition from entering into a state of rest, not a prohibition from entering into any land which might eventually be apportioned to the tribes of Israel. This view draws our attention not to geographical boundary lines, but to the quality or nature of the land occupied. In this view, it is as if, having been promised the United States of America as an inheritance, you had entered into the United States of America to take possession of the promised inheritance, but then found yourself confined to Death Valley for a generation.

As a second possibility, note that it seems that not all the land which was distributed to Israelite tribes was considered part of the promised inheritance. Consider, for example, Deuteronomy 12:9--10 in context of Deuteronomy 3:1--17. This suggests that it may be a too loose use of "the Promised Land" which is causing the problem in your argument.

But let me not do all your homework for you. Whatever you may ultimately find the error(s) in your argument to be, there continue to be some sound arguments, and a great weight of evidence from the Bible and the archaeological record, supporting the claim that Mt. Yeroham is indeed Mt. Sinai, and I would like to recommend these for your careful consideration. In contrast to the complete waste of time you feared, I think you will find them to be highly rewarding in your quest to understand the truth.

Sincerely,
Dr. Aardsma

July 9, 2012

Dear Sir,

I am doing a Bible Study. I am currently in Exodus 3 where we first "meet" Mt. Horeb. After my lesson I decided to do some light research on the location of Mt. Horeb/Mt. Sinai. I found your page on Mt. Sanai and found what I feel to be an error. The quote from that page is:

Another verse which is often cited in relation to the location of Mt. Sinai is Exodus 3:1.

Now Moses was pasturing the flock of Jethro his father-in-law, the priest of Midian; and he led the flock to the west side of the wilderness, and came to Horeb, the mountain of God.

Where you have "west side of the wilderness" is incorrect. The Hebrew word in that verse is actually "achar" which means:

From H309; properly the hind part; generally used as an adverb or conjugation, after (in various senses): - after (that, -ward), again, at, away from, back (from, -side), behind, beside, by, follow (after, -ing), forasmuch, from, hereafter, hinder end, + out (over) live, + persecute, posterity, pursuing, remnant, seeing, since, thence [-forth], when, with.

In The Complete Jewish Bible this meaning is used:

Now Moshe was tending the sheep of Yitro his father-in-law, the priest of Midyan. Leading the flock to the FAR SIDE (my emphasis) of the desert, he came to the mountain of God, to Horev.

As the class instructor states, the word west was NOT used. The Hebrew word for "west" is:

ya^m
yawm
From an unused root meaning to roar; a sea (as breaking in noisy surf) or large body of water; specifically (with the article) the Mediterranean; sometimes a large river, or an artificial basin; locally, the west, or (rarely) the south: - sea (X -faring man, [-shore]), south, west (-ern, side, -ward).

The class instructor also takes into account that Moses would most likely NOT have driven his sheep so far a distance to the suggested location of Mt. Horeb. The location must also take into account the fact that Moses was a shepherd with a flock of sheep. Just how far would a shepherd take his sheep to new pasture, which was probably a known and accepted grazing area already? Scripture does not tell us that Moses was looking for NEW pasture; he was leading the flock, most likely, to a traditional grazing area.

I am in NO WAY a Bible Scholar, sir. Please excuse my forwardness to yourself, in pointing out these issues. I do so humbly, knowing full well my limitations in this area. I only wished to point out what I feel are some elementary points which are at this time in the grasp of my most limited knowledge. I do thank you for your time and attention in this matter. May the Lord continue to bless you in abundance, sir.

Sincerely,
Bonnie

Dear Bonnie,

Thank you for your good comments, and the evident Christian spirit in which you have shared them.

Like you, I profess no scholarly expertise in regard to the original languages of the Bible. I am trained as a scientist, not a theologian or linguist. Thus I must be careful to rely on the best scholarship available when quoting from Scripture.

The BC website quote from Exodus 3:1 you have pointed out is from the New American Standard Bible. (I failed to note this in the original article, but have now corrected this oversight.) Given the commitment of the translators of the NASB to conservative Christian scholarship (for example, from the Foreword of the NASB: "The New American Standard Bible has been produced with the conviction that the words of Scripture as originally penned in the Hebrew and Greek were inspired by God", and from The Fourfold Aim: "These publications shall be true to the original Hebrew and Greek") it seems unlikely to me that "west side" is indeed an error. Note that the translators provide a marginal note with the suggestion that this might also be translated as "rear part". But, evidently "west side" is both permissible and preferred in the context of Exodus 3:1 as the translators have used it as their primary choice.

Sincerely,
Dr. Aardsma


 
 
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