Jebel Khashm Et-Tarif as Mount Sinai

khashm et tarif mount sinai

Jebel Khashm Et-Tarif is a mountain peak in the eastern Sinai Peninsula in close proximity to the northern tip of the Gulf of Aqaba. It has been proposed as a candidate by filmmaker James Cameron in a History Channel special The Exodus Decoded.

Located in what is now Egyptian-controlled territory, Khashm et-Tarif has several features that convince some scholars and other investigators that this is Mount Sinai. In Cameron's special, several arguments are presented.

  • There is reportedly a cleft rock at the mountain that oversees amphitheater, which could have assisted Moses in speaking to the massive crowd of Israelites when reading the law
  • There is a large plateau below that mountain that could have easily held the 600,000 to 2 million Israelites that left Egypt.
  • Calcium deposits are at the top of the mountain, indicating that there may have been a spring here, though it is now dry.
  • Several shrines also surround the area, and some prominent people are reportedly buried at this site.

In spite of the evidence that Cameron presented, the Egyptian military would not allow further archaeological research.

Additional research from Israeli filmmaker Simcha Jacobovici is that this mountain is within grazing distance from the ancient land of Midian. Since Midian was on the eastern side of the Gulf of Aqaba, Mount Sinai could not have been overly distant.

Professor Bryant G. Wood's research leads him to believe that Khashm et-Tarif is the best candidate, as well. This is based on several pieces of evidence.

  • The Bible refers to Mount Sinai as "Mount Paran" several times. Since the New Testament refers to the Wilderness of Paran, which leads Wood to conclude that Sinai should be within this wilderness.
  • The wilderness of Paran was a midpoint between the Dead Sea and the Gulf of Aqaba. Khashm et-Tarif lies within this region.
  • Around the mountain are remains of what may have been stone structures, implying there were people camping here at some point in antiquity; stone structures that resemble animals are also scattered about.
  • The travel time from Rameses to Sinai was 60 days. Khashm et-Tarif is approximately 290 miles from this ancient location. With several sabbaths occurring in that time, the Israelites would have had 52 travel days. This makes for a rate of about 5-6 miles per day, and this rate is reasonable in Wood's estimation.

Potential Criticisms

Jebel Khashem et-Tarif has no known tradition identifying it as Mount Sinai, unlike other candidates like St. Catherine's or Jabal al-Lawz/Jabal Maqla.

A bigger criticism is that the Sinai Peninsula was likely controlled by the Egyptian empire during the time of the Exodus, with garrisons guarding the valuable copper and turquoise mines. If this was Mount Sinai, the Israelites would not have been truly "out of" Egypt.

Simcha Jacobovici believes that the mountain must also have been easy to climb since Moses was about 80 years old at this time, but Josephus' description of Mount Sinai indicates the opposite, that it was "the highest of all the mountains that are in that country and is not only very difficult to be ascended by men, on account of its vast altitude, but because of the sharpness of its precipices also..."

Jebel Khashm et-Tarif is not as difficult to ascend as St. Catherine's mountain or Jabal Maqla, which detracts from this candidate's likelihood.


Professor Peter Gentry, Southern Baptist Theological Seminary

Professor Bryant G. Wood, Associates for Biblical Research

James Cameron, Filmmaker

Simcha Jacobovici, Israeli Film director, producer, journalist, and writer

Last updated April 17, 2019

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