April 10, 2024
Search
Close this search box.
Search
Close this search box.
April 10, 2024
Search
Close this search box.

Linking Northern and Central NJ, Bronx, Manhattan, Westchester and CT

Is Mt. Sinai on the Sinai Peninsula?

Last week, I explained why arguments supporting Mt. Sinai being in Saudi Arabia aren’t convincing, and gave a reason why it’s unlikely to be there. But there’s an even stronger argument why Mt. Sinai isn’t in Saudi Arabia, but on the Sinai Peninsula.

When Moshe went back to Egypt from מדין, he was met by his brother Aharon at “God’s mountain” (Shemos 4:27). Mt. Sinai must, therefore, be somewhere between מדין and Egypt, with both Moshe and Aharon taking the same route (from opposite directions).

Traveling between Egypt and Saudi Arabia (where מדין was) requires crossing the Sinai Peninsula. Rather than crossing in the center or northern part of the peninsula, the route usually taken was through the southern part, in order to take advantage of water sources available on this longer route. To quote Aviram Perevolotsky and Israel Finkelstein (“The Southern Sinai Exodus Route in Ecological Perspective,” BAR 11:4, July/August 1985), “the only environment that enabled non-nomadic subsistence in the harsh desert was the wadis of the high mountain valleys.” [This is similar to Babylon’s attack on Israel being described as coming “from the north” (Yirmiyah 1:14) even though Babylon is east of Israel, not north of it. When traveling from Babylon to Israel, the route usually taken was via the “Fertile Crescent,” following the Euphrates River north and west before heading south into Israel, rather than crossing the desert from east to west.]

מדין is generally accepted to have been on the eastern coast of the Gulf of Aqaba, in northwest Saudi Arabia. If Mt. Sinai is in Saudi Arabia, it would only be on the way to/from Egypt if it was also on the coast and was north of מדין. However, all the proposed Saudi Arabian sites are farther east, off the coast, putting it miles out the way. [Alexander Hool, in “Searching for Sinai,” avoids this issue by putting מדין much farther east and south.] Besides, even before Aharon and Moshe met at “God’s mountain,” Moshe had already traveled far enough to check into a place of lodging (Shemos 4:24). It doesn’t sound like Mt. Sinai is near מדין; Moshe and Aharon seem to have met somewhere in the middle. Additionally, Aharon’s instructions were to “go meet Moshe in the desert” (4:27), without specifying which desert. The only desert Aharon could have been familiar enough with to be referenced as “the desert” was the one right outside Egypt, on the Sinai Peninsula, not a Saudi Arabian desert.

Another strong indication that Mt. Sinai is on the Sinai Peninsula is Moshe telling the nation that they had been “in this desert” (referring to the one they were in before leaving Kadesh) for 40 years (Devarim 2:7). Kadesh is west of Edom, and therefore part of a contiguous desert that includes the southern Sinai Peninsula. If Mt. Sinai is on the peninsula, they would have been in the same desert for 40 years (before they went around Edom). If, however, Mt. Sinai is in Saudi Arabia, they would have been in Saudi Arabia for almost a full year at Mt. Sinai, plus the seven encampments between their second stop at the Yam Suf (which would be the Gulf of Aqaba) and Mt. Sinai (Bamidbar 33:11-15). Not the same desert.

Josephus (Against Apion 2:2:25) quotes Apion (without disagreeing) that Mt. Sinai was “between Egypt and Arabia.” Although the Sinai Peninsula was, at times, considered part of Arabia (and is now considered part of Egypt), being described as “between Egypt and Arabia” disqualifies Saudi Arabia and points to the Sinai Peninsula.

If Mt. Sinai is on the peninsula, the second stop at the Yam Suf would be farther south on the eastern coast of the Gulf of Suez, another indication that Mt. Sinai is on the southern part of the peninsula. Why would they return to the coast of the gulf they had recently crossed? As Yoel Elitzur (Places in the Parasha, “Shevuot”), put it: “Even today, the road that runs north-south on the western side of the Sinai Peninsula must run along the shoreline at a point known today as Abu Zenima [because the tall mountains draw so close to the sea].” Abu Zenima is about 75 miles south of Suez and 60 miles northwest of Jabal Musa (Moses’ Mountain), the mountain most commonly associated with Mt. Sinai.

Jabal Musa isn’t the only mountain on the southern Sinai Peninsula associated with Mt. Sinai. The most famous “runner-up” is Mount Catherine, a couple of miles southwest of Jabal Musa. It is associated with Mt. Sinai primarily because Josephus (Antiquities 2:12:1) wrote that Mt. Sinai was the tallest mountain in the area, and Mount Catherine is 8,668 feet tall, while Jabal Musa rises to 7,497 feet. Even though the Talmud (Soteh 5a) says God chose Mt. Sinai precisely because it wasn’t the tallest mountain, the Talmud isn’t necessarily saying it isn’t the tallest mountain in the area, just that it isn’t the tallest mountain in the Levant (see Rashi and Bereishis Rabbah 99:1). I would disqualify Mount Catherine for a different reason; the only open area nearby large enough for the Children of Israel to have camped at—the Plain of El Raha—is a few miles north of Mount Catherine.

Jabal Musa isn’t adjacent to El Raha either, as another mountain—Ras Safsafeh—is between the two; some, therefore, suggest that Ras Safsafeh is Mt. Sinai. At 6540 feet, almost 1,000 feet shorter than its “twin peak,” Jabal Musa, and over 2,000 feet shorter than nearby Mount Catherine (all three appear to be one tall mountain from a distance, which might be what Josephus meant), Ras Safsafeh certainly fits with the Talmud saying Mt. Sinai wasn’t the tallest mountain. Additionally, Jabal Musa is barely visible (if at all) from El Raha (blocked by Ras Safsafeh), while Ras Safsafeh is an imposing summit when viewed from the plain. [Some disqualify Jabal Musa because God’s descent onto Mt. Sinai was seen by the nation (Shemos 19:11 and 24:17). However, since Moshe took them “out” of the camp (19:17) to move closer to Mt. Sinai, they could have seen the mountaintop from their closer vantage point (past Ras Safsafeh).]

Besides it being the traditionally accepted Mt. Sinai, there are other reasons to choose Jabal Musa over Ras Safsafeh. The nation camped “opposite” Mt. Sinai on the first of Sivan (Shemos 19:2, see Rashi on 19:1), while Moshe brought them closer (near its “bottom”) on the third of Sivan (19:17), implying that they didn’t camp right next to it. Additionally, Moshe knew the nation had sinned before he descended (32:7-8), yet didn’t break the luchos (at the bottom of Mt. Sinai) until he saw the dancing (32:19). Yehoshua, who was at the bottom of the mountain, only heard the noise coming from the camp, but couldn’t see what was going on (32:17-18). If Mt. Sinai is Jabal Musa, and Ras Safsafeh blocked their view of the camp (until they reached the adjacent valley—Wadi ed Deir, which leads to El Raha), we can understand why they couldn’t see what was happening earlier.


Rabbi Dov Kramer is convinced that Mt. Sinai is on the southern part of the Sinai Peninsula, and that the Plain of El Raha is likely where the Mishkan was first constructed, with Mt. Sinai probably being Jabal Musa.

Leave a Comment

Most Popular Articles