E-published by Nephi Project
|Where Is The Real Mount Sinai?|
Copyright: George Potter February 2002
|By George Potter|
Author at Arabian Candidate for Mount Sinai
Bedu guides were friendly, but failed to help us find the mountain.
Two Stone Pathways Lead To 'Altar of Moses' at Arabian Sinai. The entire monument is made of unhewn stones.
One of leven sets of 'Boundary Markers' next to Arabian candidate mountain, (tribe of Levi, the priests, had no separate camp).
Susan Potter a base of St.Catherine's candidate for mount Sinai.
Photograph taken from base of St. Catherine's, which is to the left, and not in site of the wadi of the Rest (in the distance), where Israel supposedly camped.
Calf carvings that surround the entire structure alleged to be the 'golden calf' altar. (at Arabian candidate site)
Remains of one of the marble columns at the Arabian candidate.
Well at al-Bada's which locals claim is the well of Jethro.
For this Agar is mount Sinai
The fear of God and a score of other emotions
filled my heart as I started climbing the mountain. It was a hot Arabian afternoon in May 1995.
Our destination was the alleged cave where Elijah heard the still
small voice of God. The
question kept crossing my mind, “Are we the first LDS to step onto the
real mount Sinai?” If so,
Craig Thorsted, Tom Culler and I were ascending the mountain where Moses
received his great vision (Moses 1:1, see footnote b), where the prophet
received his endowment (Moses 1), where Moses received his calling to
return to Egypt and free the children of Israel (Moses 3), and the
mountain from whence the Ten Commandments were hewn by the finger of God.
I could not help but wonder if we were playing some small, but
significant role, in identifying the mountain that some LDS believe will
play a part in the announcement of the Second Coming (D&C 29:13),
while Muslims hold that it is the actual site where Jesus Christ will take
the faith when He returns in the Last Days[i].
We were not the first LDS to attempt to locate
the Arabian candidate for Mount Sinai.
Other parties had used the instructions found on Ron Wyatt’s
Internet site (http://www.anchorstone.com)
and Larry Williams’ & Cornuke’s book, The Mount Sinai Myth,
but were unsuccessful in locating the mountain.
Indeed the Wyatt, Williams and Cornuke clues were of little help to
us either. Using
information gleaned from earlier attempts to find the mountain, we were
finally able to locate the mountain that today seems to be a better
candidate for mount Sinai than the traditional candidate on the Sinai
Peninsula. Although the
Arabian mount Sinai’s existence has been rumored for nearly 200 years,
my companions and I have now visited the mountain on several occasions and
have what is probably the most detailed photographic survey of the
archaeological monuments on the mountain.
Why is locating the real mount Sinai important
to the LDS community? First,
mount Sinai is the most ancient of all known temples. Given its role in the Latter-days, it appears that it is
still a dedicated temple site – a “House of the Lord”.
The LDS Bible dictionary states of Temples:
“In case of extreme poverty or emergency, these (temple)
ordinances may sometimes be done on a mountain top (see D&C 37:55).
This may be the case with Mount Sinai”.
Second, it provides the faithful with an actual Biblical site, one
that has remained nearly untouched since the time of the Exodus.
And third, our exploration of mount Sinai led to the discovery of
several Book of Mormon sites, including the Valley of Lemuel and the River
What Are The Characteristics of Mount
exploring the “out back” of the Arabian wilderness for the mountain,
we listed what the scriptures said about it:
It was said to be located in Arabia (not the Sinai Peninsula)
(Galatians 4:25), and not in Egypt, (Exodus 2:15,19, 3:8.10,12 – the
Sinai Peninsula is part of Egypt, and was so at the time of Moses).
It was said to be located in the furthest northwest corner of
Arabia called Midian (Exodus 4:19-25 – to locate Midian, see your LDS
The burning bush and subsequently the camp of Israel was said to be
on the backside of the mountain, the side away from the homeland of Moses
and Jethro (Exodus 3:1-2).
There was an altar built of unhewn stones (Exodus 20:24-26),
Sinai had a brook (Deuteronomy 9:21).
An altar of the Golden Calf was made within sight of the mount
Sinai (Exodus 32:17-19).
Boundary markers were erected to prevent the children of Israel
from coming up the mountain (Exodus 19:23).
Twelve pillars were set up for each tribe (Exodus 24:4).
Sinai had a habitable cave that was used by Elijah (1 Kings
The mountain was “exceedingly high” (Moses 1:1).
There was room for approximately 3,000,000 Israelites to camp next
to the mountain (Exodus 12:37).
From the campsite at the foot of the mountain, the children of
Israel could see the presence of God (Exodus 19:17-18).
There was ample grazing for their animals for an extended period of
The Traditional Site for the Mountain of
There seems to have been no rational
reason why the St. Catherine’s mountain on the Sinai Peninsula was
labeled mount Sinai. All we
know is that a psychic had convinced Constantine that this remote mountain
near the southern end of the Sinai peninsula was the sacred mountain.
Tim Sedor and I visited St. Catherine’s and found it a poor
candidate. Williams and
Conuke also visited St. Catherine’s and outlined these reasons why it
could not be mount Sinai. 1)
Moses would not have driven Jethro’s flocks nearly two hundred miles to
a land that is almost entirely void of fodder for sheep.
2) There is not enough room for large encampment at the St.
Catherine’s site. Indeed
the nearest campsite would have been what is referred to as the wadi of
the Rest. This wadi could not
have been where the children of Israel camped because the mountain is not
visible from the campsite, and we know that the children of Israel were
able to see the presence of God on the mountain. 3) The terrain is
extremely barren, the flocks of the children of Israel would have starved.
4) Moses, a man of eighty years of age, would have needed to climb a
mountain that requires mountaineering equipment, 5) The mountain has no
source of drinking water. Why
would Moses have led more than 2.5 million people to a place with no
water? 6) There is no archeological evidence that there was an encampment
of nearly 3,000,000 people. 7) None of the other features described in the
Bible are found there (i.e. cave, creek, etc.)
We concluded that the traditional view of
Mount Sinai, as found on the southern end of the Sinai Peninsula, is a
myth that is promoted mainly by the Egyptian Ministry of Tourism. After visiting the mountain in 2001, I now understand why its
credibility has been discounted away over the last hundred years.
So where is the mountain of God?
One modern commentary to the Torah contains a
map showing eight possible candidates for mount Sinai.
Indeed, the quest to find mount Sinai has baffled explorers and
scholars for millennia, and the scriptures seem to suggest that the
mountain’s real location might never be revealed (Moses 1:42).
However, the Apostle Paul seems to have known Sinai’s location.
He placed the Mountain of Moses in Arabia (Galatians 4:25), not in the Sinai Peninsula.
Paul’s testimony of where the sacred mountain was located seems
to have been based on what he saw in that desert land.
Paul wrote that, “Neither went I up to Jerusalem to them which
were apostles before me; but I went into Arabia….” (Galatians 1:17)
Since Paul spent time in Arabia, it is possible that he actually
visited the mountain himself. Regardless,
if we are to trust this great Apostle the seven of the eight proposed
sites of mount Sinai should be dismissed.
They are not even found in Arabia.
What is most impressive about the only Arabian
mount Sinai candidate are the many archeological artifacts that are found
at its base. The mountain is
found in a remote place, yet there are man made artifacts that suggest it
is mount Sinai. These include
what Williams and Cornuke believed to be the altar of Moses, eleven piles
of stones that are found next to the mountain – these seem to form
“boundary markers, a natural rock formation which has had a Petra style
high-place-altar cut in its top and which is surrounded with petroglyphs
of Egyptian stylized calves (the altar of the golden calve), and
semi-buried marble pillars which have been broken in pieces.
There is also a dried brook bed that runs next to the altar and a
habitable cave that overlooks the archeological monuments.
What The Scriptures Say:
The record of the Jews, the Torah, meaning the
Instruction and the Hebrew Old Testament point to Arabia as the
land of mount Sinai. Although
55% of the modern locations of Biblical place-names are still lost to us,
there are several key place-names that have been carried down from
One of these is Midian were mount Sinai was located.
The account of Moses reads:
fled from the face of pharaoh, and dwelt in the land of Midian: and he sat
down by a well.
the priest of Midian had seven daughters: and they came and drew water,
and filled the troughs to water their father’s flock.
the shepherds came and drove them away: but Moses stood up and helped
them, and watered their flock. (Exodus 2:15-17)
There is ample scholarly evidence that Midian
was both a town and also a “land” in northwest Arabia.
Its western border is the eastern shore of the Gulf of Aqaba.
Its capital city, Madyan (Midian), was a major halt of the
ancient frankincense trade route from southern Arabia to Egypt, and would
have been a good place for Moses to have come upon as he fled along the
trail from Egypt to the great desert.[iii]
The official name of the town is now al-Bada’a.
However, modern Arabic maps of northwest Arabia still show the name
of the town as Shu’ayb, the Arabic spelling of Jethro.
The LDS Bible (1979 Edition), Map #6, The
Ancient World at the Time of the Patriarchs, agrees with the early
Islamic geographers, i.e. Midian, was located in Arabia next to the Gulf
of Aqaba. The first Western
explorers in the area agreed that the northwest corner of Arabia was
Midian (Beke (1834), Burton (1878)[iv],
Wallhausen (1886), Sayce (1894), Moore (1895), Shede (1897), Gall (1898),
Gunket (1903), Meyer (1906), Schmidt (1908), Gressmann (1913), Haupt
(1914) and Musil (1911).[v]
Over a thousand years ago, the early Islamic
geographer Al-Hauqal wrote that there was a well in Midian from which
Moses watered the flocks of Jethro (Shu’aib).
He explained, even then, that the name of the town was derived from
the tribe of Jethro.[vi]
Writing in the same period, Al-Muqqaddasi wrote “Here may be seen
the stone which Moses removed when he gave water to the flocks of
Shu’aib. Water here is
Arab geographers place the land of Midian west
of the city of Tabuk[viii],
which infers that the land Midian only reached a short distance into the
interior of Arabia. Tabuk
is less than 150 miles east of the Gulf of Aqaba.
Abdulla Al-Wohaibi who compiled the writing of the Arab geographers
between 900-1100 A.D. noted, “The attention that Madyan [Midian] has
always attracted from the Arab geographers is due to the fact that it is
mentioned in the Qur’an in connection with the story of the prophet
Some try to justify the myth that mount Sinai
was in Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula by suggesting that Midian might have
included the Sinai Peninsula during the time of Moses.
Biblical scholar James Montgomery dismisses this: “the land west
of a line from the Wady of Egypt to the Elanitic Gulf [the Gulf of Aqaba]
has always belonged to the Egyptian political sphere, and actually
that is the present boundary of Egypt…the South-Arabians called the same
region, Msr, i.e. Misraim, Egypt”[x].
The remains of the ancient Egyptian copper mines near St.
Catherine’s support the idea that Egypt controlled the Sinai.
Although local traditions can be misleading,
the local habitants of Midian (al-Bada’a) have a rich tradition of Moses
and his father-in-law Jethro. Besides
the traditional name of the town being Jethro, the locals will ready show
you the caves of Moses, the wells of Jethro, the wadi Horeb, the wadi
Moses, and the Waters of Moses. The
renowned Arabia explorer H. St. John Philby wrote on his visit to Midian:
“From here my guide and I climbed up the cliffs to visit the
‘circles’ of Jethro on the summit of Musalla ridge, from which we
climbed down quite easily to our camp on the far side…A cairn marked the
spot where Jethro is supposed to have prayed, and all around it are
numerous circles,…from here I had a magnificent view of the whole of
Midian mountain range, with Lauz [Jebel al-Lawz] and its sister peaks in
In Exodus we read of the place where Moses saw
the burning bush:
Now Moses kept the flock of Jethro his father in law, the priest of
Midian: and he led the flock to the backside of the desert, and came to
the mountain of God, even to Horeb.(Exodus 3:1)
As Philby described, the mount al-Lawz is
visible from al-Bada’a (town of Midian) and is to its northeast.
The Bible seems to suggest that this is the location of mount
Sinai. First, Moses took
Jethro’s flocks there, which implies that the mountain is in the
vicinity of Al-Bada’a. Second,
since Arabia has long been known as “the desert” or “the
wilderness”, its backside would be the interior or east – not the
shoreline. This would further
imply that the burning bush was on the eastside of the mountains, the
opposite side of the mountain from the town of al-Bada’a (Midian).
Since Jethro’s home in the valley where the major settlements
existed was on the west side of the mountain, the backside would be the
side of the mountain away from Jethro’s home and the town of Midian.
This describes exactly the location where we
found the monuments and petroglyphs.
Not only is the mountain northeast of Al-Bada’a, the monuments we
found are on the east side of the mountain.
The exodus story in the Qur’an appears to supports the notion
that the backside of Sinai was indeed the eastward side.
Facing the mountain from Jethro’s home, the mount is on the
northeast, or one’s right side.
The Qur’an states that the Lord appeared to Moses on the “right
side” of the mountain. (Qur’an 19:52, see Abdullah Yusuf Ali’s
translation, footnote 2601 which implies that the right side was the east
Although these arguments are straight-forward
and consistent with the Biblical account, there are still those who hold
that mount Sinai was on the Sinai Peninsula. They argue that there are
Biblical accounts of herdsmen taking the flocks to far off lands.
“Perhaps”, they argue “Moses took Jethro’s flocks on a long
search for food and ended up in the southern region of the Sinai
This seems very unlikely, especially if one
realizes that the entire region around the St. Catherine site is
unsuitable for grazing. Britain’s
governor of the Sinai after WWI, became acquainted with the peninsula
during this long tenure there as perhaps no other westerner before him. Writing in ‘Yesterday
and Today in Sinai’, C.S. Jarvis asserted that there was no way the
Israelite multitudes and their livestock could have traveled through-much
less sustained themselves for more than a year-in the “tumbled mass of
pure granite” of the southern Sinai.
Besides, what would Moses’s reason be for taking Jethro’s
flocks out of Arabia and into Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula where the pasture
is inferior and Moses was a wanted man?
It should be remembered that Egyptian garrisons protected the
copper mines near St. Catherine’s mountain?
contrast, we have observed large Bedouin camps in and around the mountains
of Midian. Historian Abdulla
Al-Wohaibi indicates that Midian was “a flourishing ancient town with
numerous wells and permanently flowing springs whose water had a good
taste. There are farms, gardens and groves of palm trees.[xii]”
In ancient times there appears to have been more than enough fodder
for sheep in Midian. The
Greek Agatharkides of Cnidos wrote of Midian “the country is
full of wild camels, as well as of flocks of deer, gazelles, sheep, mules,
and oxen”. As a result he
also noted that the game “attracts numerous lions, wolves, and
mount Sinai is in Midian, then where is it?
A bluntly naïve thing to do is to just pick up a modern road map
and follow it. The most
widely used road maps in Arabia are published by Eng. Zaki M.A. Farsi. His map guide to Tabuk[xiii]
covers the land of Midian. The
modern roadmap shows a trail leading east from the wadi I’fal, about ten
miles north of Al-Bada’a.
The trail heads directly towards a towering V shaped mountain that
towers into the sky. The name
of the valley is “wadi Musa”, meaning the valley of Moses.
The wadi Moses ends at the western base of the V shaped mountain.
On the “backside” or “eastside” of this very peak is where
we found the monuments that suggest that it is the real mount Sinai.
are many other reasons for believing that the peak nine miles south of
Jebel al-Lawz is the best candidate for mount Sinai.
My companions and I have discovered more information concerning
this candidate for the Mountain of Moses.
Richard Wellington and I plan to author a book that discusses the
mountain, the trail of the children of Israel to it, the place where they
crossed the Red Sea, and the campsites they stayed in prior to reaching
 Burton, 108.
[i] Hadith, Riyadh-US-Saleheen, Imam Adu Zakariya Yahya Bin Sharaf An-Nawawi, Vol. II (Riyadh, International Islamic Publishing House), p. 873.
[ii] Yohanan Aharoni, The Land of the Bible: A Historical Geography, trans. A. F. Rainey, 2d ed. (Philadelphia: Westminster, 1979), 129.
[iii] Abdulla Al-Wohabi, The Northern Hijaz In The Writings of The Arab Geographers 800-1150 B.C. p. 142
[iv] Burton, Richard, Sir, The Gold-Mines of Midian, and the ruined Midianite cities (1878) (Cambridge, England: Oleander, 1979).
[vi] Abdulla Al-Wohabi, The Northern Hijaz In The Writings of The Arab Geographers 800-1150 B.C. p. 142.
[vii] Al-Wohabi, p. 142.
[viii] Burton, p. 169.
[ix] Al-Wohaibi, 140.
[x] Montgomery, James A, (University of Pennsylvania, 1934), p. 31.
[xi] Philby, H. St. John, The Land of Midian (London: Ernest Bean Limited), p. 222.
[xii] Al-Wohaibi, p. 141.