That’s the question, isn’t it? Many people are sure they know where Mount Sinai is but it’s hardly settled. Most will say, okay, duh, Mount Sinai must be in Sinai, right? Which means the Sinai Peninsula. But the name of the Peninsula came from the assumption that that’s where the Biblical mountain was.
The name ‘Sinai peninsula’ is modern. It is derived from the Christian tradition, according to which Sinai was located in the south of the peninsula. This Christian tradition goes back to the fourth century, to the time when the Spanish pilgrim Egeria (or Etheria) visited Sinai in A.D. 383. From this time onwards, Christians grouped all the Old Testament memories round the Jebel Musa.The Early History of Israel: To the Exodus and the Covenant of Sinai. Roland de Vaux. 1978
For a variety of reasons, I’m not siting Mount Sinai in the modern-day Sinai Peninsula. Rather, I’m putting it in Tabuk province, Saudi Arabia. This is a short distance northeast (about 60 miles (95 km) as the crow flies) from the Straits of Tiran, where I place the crossing of the Red Sea (though of course the Hebrews have to take a more roundabout route).
We know that Mount Horeb is in modern day Saudi Arabia (Tabuk Province or close by) because Midian is well established to be there.
Now Moses, tending the flock of his father-in-law Jethro, the priest of Midian, drove the flock into the wilderness, and came to Horeb, the mountain of God.Exodus 3: 1
This is where Moses encounters the burning bush. Where God tells him to return to Egypt and free his fellow Hebrews.
Most commentators assume that Mount Horeb and Mount Sinai are the same place. Both being alternate names for the Mountain of God, each one used by a different set of people who wrote and/or edited/compiled the books of the Hebrew Bible.
The Biblical Mount Sinai is an ambiguously located mountain at which the Old Testament states that the Torah was given to Moses by God. In certain biblical passages, these events are described as having transpired at Mount Horeb, but though there is a small body of opinion that Sinai and Horeb were different locations, they are generally considered to have been different names for the same place. According to textual scholars, the name Sinai is only used in the Torah by the Jahwist and Priestly source, whereas Horeb is only used by the Elohist and Deuteronomist.Mount Sinai. New World Encyclopedia
We also know that Moses’ family (his father-in-law, wife, and sons) visit him at Mount Sinai. So it was a reasonable distance to their home in Midian.
Some who agree that Mount Sinai was not in the modern-day Sinai Peninsula put it quite far north, just east of the northern tip of the Gulf of Aqaba, at a place referred to in the Bible as Mount Seir. This is much further north than where I am putting it.
So this leaves a mountain at or near Jebel al-Lawz. Are there problems with this placement? Yep, lots of them. But it seems the best of the available possibilities, and one supported by a fair number of commentators, including Muslim ones. Plus its the one that matches best with the Red Sea crossing at the Straits of Tiran (which, based on my research) seems like the best placement for that. I’m not going to get into the details of the various Biblical (almost all Christian) theorists arguing amongst themselves. I’m just going to plunge ahead.
There are nine large mountains in Tabuk Province in Saudi Arabia (and several smaller ones). All named Jebel or Jabal (“mount”). The tallest, at 2,549 meters (8363 feet), is Jebel al-Lawz, also known as the Mountain of Almonds (some sources say 2580m). The road leading up to the top appears to have a plateau “slightly below 2100 meters.”
Topographical maps show the surrounding areas to be around 2000 meters above sea level. 500 meters is 1640 feet. If the trail leading up is only a mile each way, that elevation gain makes it an extreme hike but it drops down to a mere “difficult” hike if the trail is 2 miles each way.
The problem is that there is no nice flat plateau that is big enough for 50,000 people plus cattle and also close enough to the summit to make going up and down doable in a day. On the other hand, all the times Moses went up and down in a day, it’s implied that he didn’t go all the way (or at least we can interpret it that way). The times it says he went to the top, it was for multiple days.
We do have a couple flat areas to the north and east of the summit. They are 2200-2300 meters (7200-7500 feet) high and the largest (the northern one) is about 150×150 meters (500×500 feet).
Some choose the nearby Jebel Maqla (2,326 meters/7631 feet) as the Mount Sinai contender. It’s famous for a darker color up top, which might be evidence of previous volcanic activity (or not). It’s about 3 miles SSE of Jebel al-Lawz.
This to me seems like the best of the possible choices. It has a good plain nearby, it’s got the black top, and it’s near to where ancient Midian most likely was.
The summit of Jabal Maqlā consists mainly of dark-colored hornfels derived from metamorphosed volcanic rocks that originally were silicic and mafic lava flows, tuff breccias, and fragmental greenstones. The middle and lower slopes of Jabal Maqlā consist of light-colored granite, which has intruded into the overlying hornfels.Jabal Maqla. Wikipedia.
Weather on Jabal Maqlā is pleasant. Not nearly as hot as it is by the coast. Today, May 22nd, is just after Shavuot (the day of the Revelation). This week the forecast calls for sunny skies with lows around 48°F (9°C) and highs around 80°F (27°C). Light to moderate winds of 2-16 mph, from all directions. Humidity ranges from about 16-21% during the day, but goes up as high as 45% overnight. Sunset today: 07:26pm. Sunrise tomorrow: 05:44am
For many gorgeous pictures of Jabal Maqal, please see Jabal Maqla’s Blackened Peak.
- Sinai Peninsula. Wikipedia
- Mount Sinai (Bible). Wikipedia
- The Early History of Israel: To the Exodus and the Covenant of Sinai. Roland de Vaux. 1978
- SINAI, MOUNT. Joseph Jacobs, M. Seligsohn, Wilhelm Bacher. 1906 Jewish Encyclopedia
- Mount Sinai. New World Encyclopedia
- Mount Seir. Wikipedia
- Sinai Peninsula. New World Encyclopedia
- Jabal al-Lawz. Wikipedia
- Mount Sinai is NOT Jebel al-Lawz in Saudi Arabia. Associates For Biblical Research
- Why You Should Visit the Majestic Tabuk Mountains in Saudi Arabia. Clarice Awa. 6 November 2019
- Jebel al-Lawz: A mountain like no other in Saudi Arabia. Florent Egal. March 11, 2018. The Saudi Arabia Tourism Guide
- Jabal Maqla’s Blackened Peak
- Jabal Maqla. Wikipedia.
- Midian. Wikipedia.
- Current weather Jabal Maqlā‘. Also here.