Mount Sinai, also known as Moses Mountain, is recorded in the Bible as the place where Moses received the Ten Commandments. “When Moses came down from Mount Sinai with the two tablets of the covenant law in his hands, he was not aware that his face was radiant because he had spoken with the Lord.” (Exodus 34:29, NIV) In today’s world, there is a Mount Sinai in the Sinai Peninsula of Egypt, which many consider being the location of the Biblical Mount Sinai. Unfortunately, it has not been possible to prove this.
The Sinai Peninsula is located in Egypt between the Mediterranean and Red Sea. With an area of 23,000 square miles and a population of 6000, people, the peninsula makes up 6% of Egypt’s total landmass. Mount Sinai has an elevation of 2,285 m (7,497 ft), however, it is not the highest mountain in the region. Its neighbouring mountain, Mount Catherine, is the highest peak in Egypt at 2,629 m (8,625 ft).
The history of the name Sinai is a little obscure. Some people believe the mountain only earned that name because it was believed to be the Biblical mountain. Others suggest it may have derived from an ancient Mesopotamian moon-god called Sīn.
Moses is a prophet in Judaism, Christianity and Islam; therefore, the mountain is sacred for thousands of people. Jewish tradition claims that not only did God reveal the Decalogue, but He also revealed the entire corpus of biblical text and interpretation to Moses on Mount Sinai.
During the 6thcentury AD, a monastery was constructed by order of the Emperor Justinian at the foot of Mount Sinai. Officially called the Sacred Monastery of the God-Trodden Mount Sinai, it is also known as Saint Catherine’s Monastery, named after Catherine of Alexandria – Saint Catherine of the Wheel. It is the oldest working Christian monastery in the world, inhabited by a few monks of the autonomous Orthodox Church. It contains a library of ancient biblical manuscripts, some of which have helped scholars reconstruct the text of the Bible. This includes the Codex Sinaiticus, the earliest known manuscript of the Christian Bible dating from the 4thcentury AD; however, this book now resides in the British Museum.
Mount Sinai first appears in the Bible in Exodus 19. “On the first day of the third month after the Israelites left Egypt—on that very day—they came to the Desert of Sinai. After they set out from Rephidim, they entered the Desert of Sinai, and Israel camped there in the desert in front of the mountain. Then Moses went up to God, and the Lord called to him from the mountain and said, “This is what you are to say to the descendants of Jacob and what you are to tell the people of Israel …” (verses 1-3, NIV) God created a covenant with Moses; if the people of Israel fully obey Him, God promises they will be his most treasured nation.
The mountain is given its name, Mount Sinai, in verse 11 and is mentioned a further three times in the chapter. In chapter 24, Moses stayed on the top of Mount Sinai for forty days and forty nights whilst God gave him His written and verbal laws. These laws are written in greater detail in the book of Leviticus. God gave instructions for burnt offerings (Leviticus 7), the Sabbath (Lev. 25), punishment for disobedience (Lev. 26) and tithing (Lev. 27) amongst other things. In the New Testament, Stephen tells the Sanhedrin of Moses’ encounter with God on Mount Sinai.
Numbers 3 provides an account of the family of Aaron and Moses at the time that God spoke to Moses on Mount Sinai. The tribe of Levi was presented to Aaron to assist him. In Numbers 28, God commands the Israelites to present to Him daily food offerings, which include two lambs, grain and oil. “This is the regular burnt offering instituted at Mount Sinai as a pleasing aroma, a food offering presented to the Lord.” (Numbers 28:6, NIV)
In Nehemiah 9, the Israelites remembered the laws and regulations that God gave them on Mount Sinai. Repenting of their sins, they fasted, wore sackcloth and put dust on their heads.
There is only one reference to Mount Sinai in the Bible that is not connected to Moses. In Galatians 4, Paul expresses his concern for the Galatians. He uses the wife and concubine of the prophet Abraham as an analogy for their current predicament. “These things are being taken figuratively: The women represent two covenants. One covenant is from Mount Sinai and bears children who are to be slaves: This is Hagar. Now Hagar stands for Mount Sinai in Arabia and corresponds to the present city of Jerusalem, because she is in slavery with her children. But the Jerusalem that is above is free, and she is our mother.” (Galatians 4:24-26, NIV)
Being the location of the origin of the Ten Commandments makes Mount Sinai one of the most important in the Bible. It is a shame that the true location cannot be agreed upon. Different scholars contest the route the Israelites took; therefore, any number of mountains could be the true location. Suggested mountains include:
Which mountain was the resting place of Noah’s ark? If you answered “Mount Ararat”, you are wrong. The Bible never specifically refers to Mount Ararat. “And on the seventeenth day of the seventh month the ark came to rest on the mountains of Ararat.” (Genesis 8:4, NIV) The wording of this verse implies the ark came to rest on mountains in an area called Ararat.
Ararat is mentioned again in 2 Kings 19:37 (NIV): “One day, while he was worshipping in the temple of his god Nisrok, his sons Adrammelek and Sharezer killed him with the sword, and they escaped to the land of Ararat. And Esarhaddon his son succeeded him as king.” Jerusalem was delivered from the Assyrians after the death of Sennacherib, the king of Assyria. Isaiah had predicted his death and his murderers fled to the land of Ararat. Note there is no mention of a mountain. Isaiah 37:38 records the same incident.
In Jeremiah 51:27 (NIV), Ararat is one of the kingdoms summoned to destroy Babylon. “Lift up a banner in the land! Blow the trumpet among the nations! Prepare the nations for battle against her; summon against her these kingdoms: Ararat, Minni and Ashkenaz. Appoint a commander against her; send up horses like a swarm of locusts.” Again, no mountain.
Although the Bible never uses the term “Mount Ararat”, it does exist. Comprised of two volcanic cones: Greater Ararat and Little Ararat, Mount Ararat is a snow-capped dormant mountain in the extreme east of Turkey, bordered by Armenia, Azerbaijan and Iran.
Ararat is the Greek for the Hebrew Urartu, which was a kingdom that existed in the 9th– 6thcenturies BC in what is now Armenia. Archaeological excavations, oral history and written records have provided evidence that the two volcanoes that make up the mountain have erupted several times, the last being on 2ndJuly 1840. Possibly occurring as a result of an earthquake, the eruption killed up to 10,000 people in the region, flattening an entire village and destroying the Armenian monastery of St Jacob.
Bible scholars agree that Ararat is the equivalent of the Urartu and that the word referred to the wider region rather than a specific mountain. Nevertheless, Mount Ararat has become the traditional resting place of Noah’s ark. Armenian’s began to associate the mountain with the ark’s landing place in the 11thcentury AD. Greater Ararat is the highest peak in Turkey at 5,173 m (16,854 ft). Being the highest peak, it would have been the first mountain to appear above the floodwaters; therefore, many assume the ark would have had a greater chance of landing there.
Due to this traditional belief, many archaeological expeditions have taken place on the mountain in search of the ark. Some believe there may still be pieces of the ark hidden under the snow that now perpetually covers it. Over 200 people from more than 20 countries claimed to have seen the ark on Mount Ararat since 1856. The museum of Etchmiadzin Cathedral in Armenia supposedly owns a fragment of the ark.
Medieval Armenian historian Movses Khorenatsi (410-90) wrote in his History of Armenia that Noah and his family first settled in Armenia before moving to Babylon. Noah’s son Japheth returned to the area around Mount Ararat and established the roots of the Armenian nation. Many Armenians still consider Japheth their founding father and, since 1918, Mount Ararat has been depicted on the Armenian coat of arms.
Since 1923, Mount Ararat has belonged to Turkey; however, it was originally within the Armenian borders. After the Armenian Holocaust in 1915, when the Ottoman Empire exterminated 1.5 million Armenians, Ararat came to represent the destruction of the native population. Not only did millions lose their lives, but Armenia also lost its beloved Biblical mountain. Some Armenian political parties continue to contest the Turkey-Armenia border.
In literature, Mount Ararat is written about more than any other named mountain. William Wordsworth, for example, imagined seeing the ark on the mountain in his poem Sky-prospect. Unfortunately, it is impossible to prove whether Noah’s ark landed on Mount Ararat or somewhere within the surrounding area, however, most Christian teachings continue to believe this was the ark’s final destination.
There are at least forty different mountains mentioned in the Bible. Some appear several times and others only once. The majority of these are written about in the Old Testament and have helped scholars to map out the locations of Biblical characters, towns and cities. To most of us, however, the names of these mountains mean very little. Borderlines change and mountains become part of different regions; they get renamed. Rock falls, volcanoes, and erosion may have changed the shape or obliterated some of the Biblical mountains. So, where are these mountains today? Do they still exist? Let’s have a look.
One of the first mountains written about in the Bible is Mount Seir. “And the Horites in their mount Seir, unto Elparan, which is by the wilderness.” (Genesis 14:6, KJV) The Horites were the aboriginal inhabitants of the area during the life of Abraham. Elparan was a city and harbour by the Red Sea.
The next we hear about Mount Seir is in Genesis 36:8-9 where “Thus dwelt Esau in mount Seir: Esau is Edom. And these are the generations of Esau the father of the Edomites in mount Seir:”
One thing we need to be aware of is the Hebrew Bible mentions “Mount Seir” and the “land of Seir.” We can assume the mountain is in the geographical region of Seir, south of the Dead Sea. Mount Seir was named after Seir the Horite, whose offspring inhabited the area. We also know from Genesis 36 that Esau, the son of Isaac, made Seir his home.
Mount Seir still exists today, however, it is known by its Arabic name, Jibāl ash-Sharāh. Rather than being a single mountain, the name Mount Seir refers to a mountainous region stretching from the Dead Sea, which lies between Jordan and Israel, and the Gulf of Aqaba, at the northern tip of the Red Sea. Deuteronomy 1:2 tells us that there was an eleven-day journey between Horeb (also known as Sinai) via Mount Seir to Kadeshbarnea, on the border of Canaan.
The next notable mentions of Mount Seir are written in 1 and 2 Chronicles:
1 Chronicles 4 contains a list of the sons and descendants of Simeon and the places they inhabited. Verse 42 tells us that some of them went to mount Seir, which is where the Simeonites lived after annihilating the remainder of the Amalekites, who had escaped there. The Amalekites were one of the Biblical enemies of Israel and had been defeated in a previous battle.
Later, as recorded in 2 Chronicles 20, the people living in Seir, the Edomites, joined the Ammonites (a Semitic-speaking nation on the east of the River Jordan) and Moabites (a nation in Jordan) to fight against Jehoshaphat, the King of Judah. As verses 22-23 record, God intervened, causing the Edomites, Ammonites and Moabites to destroy each other instead of the king.
Since Mount Seir is also a mountainous region, some versions of the Bible use the name as an alternative for Edom, i.e. the land of the Edomites. The prophet Ezekiel mentions Mount Seir four times in a record of one of his visions from God. In Ezekiel 35:2-3 (KJV), God tells the prophet to “set thy face against mount Seir, and prophesy against it” and say, “O mount Seir, I am against thee, and I will stretch out mine hand against thee, and I will make thee most desolate.”The Edomites “had a perpetual hatred, and hast shed the blood of the children of Israel by the force of the sword” (35:5), therefore, God is punishing them by making them desolate.We do not hear what becomes of Mount Seir after this.
Earlier in the Bible, Joshua 24:4 (KJV) mentioned Mount Seir: “and I gave unto Esau mount Seir, to possess it; but Jacob and his children went down into Egypt.” There is also another verse in the book about mount Seir; however, it appears to be in a completely different location. Confusing!Joshua 15 speaks of a Mount Seir in the northern region of Judah near a city called Hebron, which is now in the south of Jerusalem. Today, this mountain can be found near the modern town of Sa’ir in the west of the Palestinian territories. Could the reference to Mount Seir be an error due to its similarity to Sa’ir? We will never know for sure.
Just for fun, I have found a list of all the reasons for Seir/Edom’s destruction:
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Rev'd Martin Wheadon