Timeline: The Tradition of Mount Sinai’s Arabian Location

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There are well over a dozen proposed locations for Mount Sinai. Some are in Egypt, others in Jordan, and a few in Saudi Arabia. Though scholarly tradition largely holds that Mount Sinai is St. Catherine's in Egypt's Sinai Peninsula, there is another unbroken tradition identifying Mount Sinai in Saudi Arabia that dates back to the third century B.C.

Ancient Jewish Tradition

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300 B.C. – 134 B.C.The Septuagint

The Septuagint (the first known translation of the Original Hebrew Pentateuch and following books, known as the Old Testament in the Christian Bible) was translated and circulated among the Alexandrian Jewish population.

Dr. Allen Kerkeslager concluded in a scholarly study that the Septuagint is among the oldest works to state that Mount Sinai is in northwestern Saudi Arabia.

The Septuagint’s version of Exodus says that Mount Sinai is near an ancient city named Madyan, also spelled as “Madian” and “Madiam.” It states that Madyan is the land of Jethro where Moses fled to after killing an Egyptian. Madyan corresponds to a city named al-Bad in Saudi Arabia today and the name still shows up on current maps.

Current Bibles state that Moses went to “Midian,” a broader ancient land that would include Al-Bad.

The Septuagint refers to the specific city of Madyan that would be within the broader territory of Midian. It has also been suggested that Madyan would be referenced in the 3rd century B.C. as a way of referring to Midian overall or that Madyan/Madian/Madiam are alternative spellings of Midian.

Dr. Kerkeslager’s study found that these sources report that Mount Sinai/Horeb is near this city, pointing to Jabal al-Lawz/Jabal Maqla, which are both a short distance from al-Bad.

The Septuagint’s translators also indicate that the Red Sea crossing took place not at a marshy and shallow body of water (Sea of Reeds), but a deep and great sea—the Red Sea itself.

The original Hebrew phrase for this body of water is Yam Suph, which literally translates to “Sea of Reeds.” However, the translators choose the Greek words eruthra thalassa, which translated means “Red Sea.”

Dr. Colin Humphreys, author of The Miracles of Exodus, states that this is a strong piece of evidence in favor of an Arabian location. The translators were well-educated men, and at Alexandria, they were a mere 140 miles away from the inland Bitter Lakes. Surely, they would not have used the Red Sea to designate these smaller bodies of water.

20 B.C. – 40 A.D.Philo Judaeus of Alexandria  

Philo was a Jewish philosopher who was alive in the time of Jesus and lived in Alexandria, Egypt. Philo placed Mt. Sinai east of what is now Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula, and south of Palestine. He used the Septuagint as his exclusive source.

In On the Life of Moses, Part IIhe described Mount Sinai as “the loftiest and most sacred mountain in that district in accordance with the divine commands, a mountain which was very difficult of access and very hard to ascend…”

Dr. Allen Kerkeslager writes of Philo in Mt. Sinai in Arabia?:

“In addition to his use of the terms “Arab” and “Arabia,” Philo gives us an even more direct indication of where he believed Mt. Sinai was. He describes the Israelites wandering eastward all the way across the Sinai peninsula to the southern edge of Palestine just before the revelation at Sinai. Philo thus places Mt. Sinai somewhere east of the Sinai peninsula and south of Palestine—in other words, in northwestern Arabia. Philo adds one more detail to our collection of traditions about Mt. Sinai; he says that Moses “went up the highest and most sacred of the mountains in its region.”

Allen Kerkeslager, “Mt. Sinai—in Arabia?” Bible Review 16.2 (2000): 32–39, 52

The last quote above is a reference to Philo’s work in which he states:

“For, having gone up into the highest and most sacred mountain in that district in accordance with the divine commands, a mountain which was very difficult of access and very hard to ascend, he is said to have remained there all that time without eating any of that food even which is necessary for life; and, as I said before, he descended again forty days afterwards, being much more beautiful in his face than when he went up, so that those who saw him wondered and were amazed, and could no longer endure to look upon him with their eyes, inasmuch as his countenance shone like the light of the sun.”

Philo, On The Life Of Moses, 2:70

This is only the reference to the height of what Philo calls Mount Sinai. Philo’s commentary also includes other corroborating descriptions of the Saudi Arabia location for Mount Sinai, such as the path walked by Moses. This piece of evidence is further strengthened by how the Septuagint translators wrote that Jethro “went out” or “into the desert” from Midian in Exodus 18:5.

A.D. 93-94 – Josephus

Titus Flavius Josephus was a Romano-Jewish Scholar born in Jerusalem and a well-respected source of history in the 1st century of the Church. In his work The Antiquities of the Jews, Josephus confirms that Midian was close to the Red Sea from when Moses meets with Jethro:

“….And when he [Moses] came to the city of Midian, which lay upon the Red Sea, and was so denominated from one of Abraham’s sons by Keturah, he sat upon a certain well …”

Titus Flavius Josephus, “Book 2, Chapter 11: How Moses Fled Out of Egypt Into Midian,” in The Antiquities of the Jews (93)

In his accounts, he mentions multiple times that Mount Sinai was the highest peak in the region:

“Now Moses called the multitude together, and told them; that he was going from them unto Mount Sinai, to converse with God; to receive from him and to bring back with him a certain oracle. But he enjoined them to pitch their tents near the mountain; and prefer the habitation that was nearest to God, before one more remote. When he had said this, he ascended up to Mount Sinai; which is 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.”3

Titus Flavius Josephus, “Book 3, Chapter 5: How Moses Ascended up to Mount Sinai, and Received the Laws of God, and Delivered Them to the Hebrews,” in The Antiquities of the Jews (93)

“Now Moses, when he had obtained this favor of Jethro, for that was one of the names of Raguel, stayed there, and fed his flock. But some time afterward, taking his station at the mountain called Sinai, he drove his flocks thither to feed them. Now this is the highest of all the mountains thereabouts; and the best for pasturage…”

Titus Flavius Josephus, “Book 2, Chapter 12: Concerning the Burning Bush and the Rod of Moses,” in The Antiquities of the Jews (93)

Regarding the Red Sea crossing, Josephus wrote in Book 2, Chapter 15 of the Antiquities:

They also seized on the passages by which they imagined the Hebrews might fly, shutting them up between inaccessible precipices and the sea; for there was [on each side] a [ridge of] mountains that terminated at the sea, which were impassable by reason of their roughness, and obstructed their flight; wherefore they there pressed upon the Hebrews with their army, where [the ridges of] the mountains were closed with the sea; which army they placed at the chops of the mountains, that so they might deprive them of any passage into the plain.

Josephus’ Antiquities is one of the most important historical sources for this project and is cited on many of our various chapter pages.

Is It Really a Tradition?

There is admittedly very little in terms of records regarding Mount Sinai’s true location in Jewish history. It seems that the Jewish people did not have a strong interest in maintaining knowledge of the mountain’s location. Rather, interest in this topic seems to be a more distinctly Christian phenomenon.

Pilgrimage to Mt. Sinai does not seem to have been an important means of affirming Jewish identity. Jews had many other ways of affirming a concrete physical connection to Jewish history, including the contemplation of their own biological existence. Later Gentile Christians may have felt more compelled tomake pilgrimages to Mt. Sinai and other concrete sites associated with Israelite history because, unlike Jews, they could not point to their own physical descent to support their claim to being “the true Israel.” Pilgrimage to sites from Jewish history was more of an identity imperative for Christians than it was for Jews.

Allen Kerkeslager, “Jewish Pilgrimage and Jewish Identity in Hellenistic and Early Roman Egypt,” in Pilgrimage and Holy Space in Late Antique Egypt, ed. David Frankfurter (Leiden: Koninklijke Brill, 1998), 207.

Ancient Christian Tradition

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A.D. 49 – Apostle Paul

Paul, who described himself as a chief Jew among Jews, and author of two-thirds of the New Testament, refers to “Sinai in Arabia” in Galatians 4:25. The book is believed to have been written approximately 49 A.D.

There is a debate about whether the Arabia he refers to (Arabian Petra) would include the southern part of Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula, and therefore potentially refer to the traditional Mount Sinai location.

The Greek reads:

“τὸ δὲ Ἁγὰρ Σινᾶ ὄρος ἐστὶν ἐν τῇ Ἀραβίᾳ, συστοιχεῖ δὲ τῇ νῦν Ἰερουσαλήμ, δουλεύει γὰρ μετὰ τῶν τέκνων αὐτῆς·”

The English translation reads:

“Now Hagar stands for Mount Sinai in Arabia and corresponds to the present city of Jerusalem, because she is in slavery with her children.”

At the time Paul wrote this, Arabia was a region on the outskirts of the Roman Empire. According to Glen Bowersock, scholar of Ancient Rome and the Near East, Arabia in the days of the Roman Empire encompassed an area southeast of Palestine.

In his 1983 book Roman Arabia, he states on the first page:

Although the heartland of the Arab nations was what is known today as Saudi Arabia, the Romans gave the name Arabia to a province of their empire which lay south and east of Palestine, in the corner of the Mediterranean world between Syria and Egypt. It comprehended the Negev, southern Syria, all of Jordan, and northwest Saudi Arabia.

When Paul referred to Arabia in the book of Galatians, it would have been within this context and framework of understanding.

In Galatians 1:17, Paul also stated that he traveled to Arabia after his conversion on the road to Damascus.

I did not go up to Jerusalem to see those who were apostles before I was, but I went into Arabia. Later I returned to Damascus. 

New Testament scholar N.T. Wright theorizes that Paul may have gone to Mount Sinai just as did the Old Testament prophet Elijah. In an article titled Paul, Arabia, and Elijah, Wright states that Paul may have gone to Mount Sinai as a part of his conversion, to deepen his relationship with God.

A.D. 185 – A.D. 254 – Origen of Alexandria

Origen was a well-known early Christian author who also associated Midian with Madiam, and placed it east of the Red Sea. [1]

A.D. 189 – A.D. 232 – Demetrius

Demetrius was a bishop of Alexandria in the second and third centuries A.D. He said in regards to Moses:

“And they dwelt in the city of Madiam, which was called from one of the sons of Abraham”

A.D. 260 – A.D. 339 – Eusebius of Caesarea

Eusebius was an historian and geographer who mapped the “World” in “The Onomasticon.” He described Madiam as follows:

“[It] Lies beyond Arabia to the south in the desert
of the Saracens, east of the Red Sea. From this they are called
Madianites, and it is now called Madiam.”

Eusebius of Caesaria, The Onomastikon, (Concerning the Place Names in Sacred Scripture), trans. G.S.P. Freeman-Grenville, ed. Joan E. Taylor (Carta Jerusalem 2003), 70 (Section M, Genesis)

In reference to Mount Horeb, which could arguably be adjacent to Mount Sinai, he stated:

“The Mountain of God in the land of Madiam. It lies beside Mount Sinai beyond Arabia in the desert.”

Eusebius of Caesarea, The Onomastikon, 95. It should be noted that the English translation by C. Umhau Wolf which is available online actually contains a typo, mistranslating Madiam as “Moab”

Dr. Allen Kerkeslager states in his essay on Jewish Pilgrimage and Jewish Identity (see more below) that in Eusebius’ day, Arabia was a province of the Roman Empire, but that by the time he wrote his account, the border of the Roman province of Arabia was moved northward so that Madiam was beyond the border at that time.

By the time of Eusebius, the major centeters of the Roman province of Arabia had moved northward. The southern border of the province was consequently deliberately relocated northward by detaching the southern region of the province of Palestine. By the fourth century, Eusebius could easily look out from his window in Caesarea and say that the city of Madyan in northwestern Arabia was “beyond Arabia toward the south.”

Allen Kerkeslager, “Jewish Pilgrimage and Jewish Identity in Hellenistic and Early Roman Egypt,” in Pilgrimage and Holy Space in Late Antique Egypt, ed. David Frankfurter (Leiden: Koninklijke Brill, 1998), 198.

In Dr. Kerkeslager’s assessment, the fact that Eusebius placed Sinai/Horeb in close proximity to the city of ancient Midian strongly suggests it was nearer to this city than anywhere in the Sinai Peninsula.

A.D 347 – A.D. 420 – Jerome

Jerome was a Latin Philosopher who took part in translating Eusebius’s “The Onomasticon” into Latin.

Jerome also placed Madyan in northwestern Arabia east of the Red Sea. Eusebius had identified Horeb and Sinai as two separate mountains, but Jermoe saw them as one.

How Long Did This Tradition Last?

By Jerome’s time, the “new” theory of Mount Sinai’s location began to develop and proliferate. According to Dr. Allen Kerkeslager, the monastic communities in the Sinai Peninsula took their claim to fame to the world and gradually eclipsed the previously accepted Arabian location.

However, the Arabian adherents seemed to continue for several centuries, according to his research.

 [T]he tradition of locating Mt. Sinai near the city of Madyan apparently persisted in Christian circles until sometime after the Arab conquest. Islamic sources from ca. 700 refer to Christian anchorites who lived in the mountains around Madyan. These anchorites, possibly together with local Jews, may have been the source from which later Islamic tradition received the traditions associating Moses and Mt. Sinai with the city of Madyan.

Allen Kerkeslager, “Jewish Pilgrimage and Jewish Identity in Hellenistic and Early Roman Egypt,” in Pilgrimage and Holy Space in Late Antique Egypt, ed. David Frankfurter (Boston: Brill, 1998), 199.

Kerkeslager further states that the modern town of Al-Bad, which is ancient Midian, is home to an unbroken tradition identifying Jabal Maqla as Mount Sinai that dates back to 250 B.C. with the first mention in the Septuagint.

Ancient Islamic Tradition

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The Quran

The Islamic holy book refers several times to Moses’ father-in-law. “Shu’ayb,” a prophet of the pre-Mosaic period, and later identified as Jethro. He is mentioned several times in the Quran, and the author clearly locates him in the ancient city of Madyan.

A.D. 704 – A.D 770 – Muhammad Ibn Ishaq

Ishaq was an early Islamic historian who collected oral traditions which became an important part of a biography on the prophet Mohammed. About Midian, he wrote:

“The People of Madyan are descendants of Madyan, son of Midyan, son of Ibrahim. Shuaib was the son of Mikil bin Yashjur. In the Syrian language, his name was Yathrun (Jethro).”

Tafsir Ibn Kathir on Quran 7:85 This translation has been modified by this author in order to make it more readable to a popular western audience.

A.D. 898 – Ahmad al-Yaqubi

Ahmad al-Yaqubi was a famous Muslim geographer who lived in the late ninth-century and spoke the following regarding the modern town of al-Bad:

“Midian is a populous, ancient town with many springs, rivers and an abun- dance of gardens, orchards and plan trees inhabited by different ethnic groups.”

Al-Ya’qubi, 1988, 341 as quoted in Dr. Abdul Rahman al-Tayyib al-Ansary, Al-Bid’ History and Archeology (Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, Ministry of Education, 2002), 17.

He later quoted earlier Islamic geographers, stating:

…at the cost of the Qulzum Sea, lies the city of Midian, which is larger than Tabuk. Inside the town was the well from which Moses (Peace be upon him) extracted water for the livestock of Shu’aib [Jethro]. But the well is said to be dried up and a house was built in its place, while the inhabitants depended on drinking water from a nearby spring. Midian was named after the tribe of Su’aib. It was a hard place to live, even the trade there was inactive.

A.D. 1100 – 1165 – Al-Sharif al-Idisri

Al-Sharif al-Idisri was a twelfth-century Muslim geographer. Quoting from earlier Muslim geographers, regarding Mount Sinai, he said:

“at the coast of Quzlum Sea, lies the city of Midian, which is larger than Tabuk. Inside the town was the well from which Moses (Peace be upon him) extracted water for the livestock of Shu’aib… Midian was named after the tribe of Shu’aib.”

Al-Idrisi quoted in Dr. Abdul Rahman al-Tayyib al-Ansary, Al-Bid’ History and Archeology (Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, Ministry of Education, 2002), 17-18.

Modern Archaeologists, Cartographers, Explorers, and Historians: 1500 – 1900

mount sinai saudi arabia
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1654 – Chez Pierre Mariette

French cartographer Chez Pierre Mariette drew a map of the Arabian Peninsula in 1654, and identified locations for Madian, Sinai Mont, and Mont Oreb. Though the map omits the Gulf of Aqaba, he placed Sinai/Oreb to the east of Madian.

1682 – Frederick de Wit

Dutch cartographer Frederick de Wit also drew a map of the Arabian Peninsula nearly three decades after Mariette. He identified Madian, “Horeb M.”, and “Sinai M.” on his map. Just as with Mariette, the map did not show the Gulf of Aqaba, but de Wit did place both Horeb and Sinai considerably to the east of Madian, roughly corresponding with the Jabal al-Lawz/Jabal Maqla mountain range.

1840s – Charles Beke

In the mid-1800s, Charles Tilstone Beke, an English geographer, traveler, and Biblical critic, traveled to the Sinai Peninsula in what is now the nation-state of Egypt. He looked for evidence of Mount Sinai and the Exodus in the Sinai Peninsula but did not find anything convincing.

In a book compiling his discoveries, published in 1878, Beke found:

When relating how Moses fled from Pharaoh, king of Egypt, he [Josephus] says that “he came to the city Midian, which lay upon the Red Sea, and was so denominated from one of Abraham’s sons by Keturah.” Now we are told in Scripture, that those descendants of the Patriarch were sent into the “east country,” that is to say, into the regions lying to the east of the valley of the Jordan and its continuance south- ward to the Gulf of Akaba, and not anywhere within the peninsula west of that gulf, where Moses’s place of refuge has been so erroneously imagined to have been situated.

Beke concluded that the likeliest location for Mount Sinai would be northwestern Arabia.

He later traveled to northwestern Arabia and found volcanic fields that believed could have been the reported manifestation of fire and smoke on Mount Sinai. Based on his research, he said that Sinai was likely Mt. Baggir, and Horeb was Mt. Ertowa.[2]

Beke was also one of the earliest proponents of a Gulf of Aqaba crossing. Up until the 19th-century, the Gulf of Aqaba was misunderstood by geographers and cartographers. Most maps completely omitted or severely underestimated the Gulf’s true size. Because of hazardous sailing conditions, exploration remained untenable until the age of steam power.

His assertion that the Israelites crossed the Gulf of Aqaba was largely based on the observation that Yam Suph (the original Hebrew term for the Red Sea) was adjacent to Jordan and not Egypt. In 1878, Beke wrote about how stunned he was that the Gulf was misunderstood for so long.

The wonder is, how an error of such moment, and one which was so easy of rectification, should during so many ages have maintained its ground undetected, and, as far as I have the means of judging, even without the slightest suspicion of its existence.

There is no evidence to suggest that Beke was aware of, or examined, Jabal al-Lawz/Jabal Maqla as part of his survey.

1853 – Sir Richard Francis Burton

Richard Francis Burton was an English geographer, cartographer, and writer. He traveled to Arabia in search of gold and the source of Arabian wealth.

According to his records and research, the Egyptian Sinai Peninsula belonged to the ancient Egyptians as early as the Sixth Dynasty (2323-2510 BC[3]).[4]

Midian and Egypt would not have shared this territory and, around the time of the Exodus, Dr. Charles Whittaker found that the Peninsula was a protectorate of the ancient Egyptian empire. This would make it impossible for Mount Sinai to be in Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula, as the traditional site and some other candidates are.

According to Burton’s research, he didn’t specify Jabal al-Lawz or Jabal Maqla as Mount Sinai, but he did appear to favor an Arabian location. In his works, he quotes Eusebius saying that he assigned Rephidim and Horeb to “Pharan,” and the Mountain of God to Midian.

1885 – Julius Wellhausen

Dr. Julius Wellhausen (1844-1918) was a German biblical scholar who is often credited as one of the earliest proponents of the documentary hypothesis.

Regarding Mount Sinai, he wrote a footnote in chapter 15 of his Prolegomena to the History of Ancient Israel that one of the best criteria for determining the mountain’s location would be identifying Midian’s true location.

The site of Sinai (= Horeb?) hardly admits of ascertainment. The best datum would be the sanctuary of Jethro, if we could identify it with Midian (Jakut, iv. 451), which lies on the Arabian coast of the Red Sea obliquely facing the traditional Sinai. 

In chapter 8, footnote 344:1, he further states:

We do not know where Sinai was situated, and the Bible is scarcely at one on the subject. Only dilettanti care much for controversy on the matter. The Midian of Exod. ii. tells us most: it is probably Madian on the Arabic shore of the [R]ed sea. In our passage Sinai seems to be S.E. of Edom; the way from Sinai to Kadesh is by Seir and Paran.

Jabal Maqla lies southeast of the former territory of Edom, east of the ancient city of Midian, which is modern-day Al-Bad.

Contemporary Research & Study: 1900 – Present

Doubting Thomas Research Foundation original photo

1909 – Dr. Paul Haupt

Hermann Hugo Paul Haupt (1858-1926) was an American Semitic scholar and one of the first scholars of Assyriology. In 1909, he stated that “Mount Sinai cannot be located on the Sinaitic Peninsula; it was a volcano in the land of Midian.”

1912 – Dr. Eugen Oberhummer

Eugen Oberhummer (1859-1944) was a German-Austrian geographer who was a professor of historical and political geography at the University of Vienna from 1902-1930. Regarding Mount Sinai, he believed that it was located in the ancient land of Midian, a volcanic mountain we call Hala’-l Bedr.

1910 – 1926 – Alois Musil

Alois Musil traveled to Arabia over several years and investigated the topography and ethnology of the region.[5] He noted the purple “range of Lowz” in his notes (Jabal al-Lawz), and 50 kilometers to the south of it, “the half white and half black mountains of al-Makla and ar-Raha.”[6]

Musil departed from Josephus’ claim that Sinai was the highest peak in the region, as Lawz is higher than Maqla. However, he did maintain a Midianite location for Sinai/Horeb.

“According to all our sources of information, Horeb was situated in the land of Midian.”Musil also stated that “This place must be located in the land of Madian, to the southeast of the modern settlement of al-‘Akaba.”[7]

In 1926, Musil drew up a map of “Ancient Madian.” Next to the city of “al-Bed,” one can see an oasis of palm trees drawn to the east.

Based on the information currently available to us, this could very well be Elim.

1940 – Nelson Glueck

Nelson Glueck was a Jewish archaeologist and rabbi in the 20th century. His archaeological scholarship led to the discovery of nearly 1,500 ancient sites.

In 1940, Glueck wrote regarding the Exodus, “the Gulf of Aqabah is the modern name of the northeastern tongue of the Red Sea, or the Yam Suf as it is called in the Hebrew Bible” (quoted in Glen Fritz, The Lost Sea of the Exodus, p. 10). Identifying Yam Suph as the Gulf of Aqabah subsequently points to an Arabian location for Mount Sinai.

1957 – Harry St. John Philby (Hajj Abdullah)

Harry St. John Philby (Hajj Abdullah) traveled to Arabia and extensively explored the region. He used Musil’s maps and published The Land of Midian in 1957.

He didn’t identify Jabal al-Lawz as Sinai, but he referred to Jabal Maqla as a twin or sister peak of Lawz with its “basalt cap.” He also refers to it as a “basalt pyramid.”[8]

Philby does appear convinced that this was Midian though, the home of Jethro, giving it a connection to Moses.[9] He said that Musil’s claim for Hurab didn’t yield him any evidence, such as inscriptions.

He also found a strong tradition among the population that Jethro, Moses and the Israelites resided in the area. Not only that, but he also wrote that Jabal al-Lawz/Maqla appear to indicate that it was a qualified candidate for Mount Sinai/Horeb. (Joel Richardson, The Land of Midian, p. 222):

From here [the ridge which had the ‘Circles of Jethro’] I had a magnificent view of the whole of the Midian mountain range, with Lauz [Lawz] and its sister peaks in the northeast and Maqla’a very little north of east, with the valley of al-Numair separating the latter from the low ridge of All Marra, extending from east to south-east, where the two peaks of Hurab stood out in front of the great range of Zuhd, which runs down to a point not far from the sea to our southward ….

The spot that held my imagination was the smooth, double-headed, granite boss of Hurab, an obvious candidate for identification with the Mount Horeb of the Exodus…the only candidate for the honor which can claim to have preserved the name…According to Hasballah, the name Hurab applies primarily to the wadi [canyon], while he calls the mountain itself Al Manifa (which simply means lofty).

1984 – Ron Wyatt

Amateur explorer and controversial figure Ron Wyatt claimed to have found evidence of the Exodus in northwestern Saudi Arabia.

Wyatt and his two sons were arrested by Saudi police after illegally entering the country from Jordan. They were held for 70 days before being released, but their photographs were confiscated and the evidence was lost.

Years after Wyatt’s captivity, pictures started leaking to the outside world showing strange things at Jabal Maqla and the surrounding area.

1988 – Bob Cornuke and Larry Williams

Former police officer Bob Cornuke and Wall Street trader Larry Williams visited the mountain in 1988 and were likewise detained and had their evidence confiscated.

Cornuke recounted the journey in his 2000 book In Search of the Mountain of God: The Discovery of the Real Mt. Sinai.

1990s – Jim and Penny Caldwell

Video and photography of the mountain and associated evidence began anonymously leaking out in the 1990s. The source of the unprecedented photos and videos is now known to be Jim and Penny Caldwell, an American couple that worked in Saudi Arabia from 1990 to 1998 and repeatedly visited the area in question.

1991 – Frank Moore Cross

Frank Moore Cross, a Biblical scholar known for his study of the Dead Sea Scrolls and tenure as a Professor of Hebrew and Other Oriental Languages at Harvard University, favors the theory that Mount Sinai is in northwestern Saudi Arabia. He said there was also some possibility of it being in southern Jordan. In 1992, regarding the theory of Mount Sinai’s location, he stated:

[T]he consensus is that ancient Midian was south of Eilat on the Saudi side… The notion that the ‘mountain of God’ called Sinai and Horeb was located in what we now call the Sinai Peninsula has no older tradition supporting it than Byzantine times.

Cross would not guess which particular mountain is Mount Sinai, but held out Jabal al-Lawz as a distinct possibility.

He said that the Saudis would not permit him and a colleague to excavate in the area for the American Schools of Oriental Research and British School of Archaeology.

1998 – Dr. Allen Kerkeslager

Dr. Kerkeslager wrote a scholarly article titled “Jewish Pilgrimage and Jewish Identity in Hellenistic and Early Roman Egypt,” in Pilgrimage and Holy Space in Late Antique Egypt, which was edited by David Frankfurter. He affirms the Arabian location for Mount Sinai based on an in-depth study of Eusebius’ writings.

In the book, he stated:

Because Eusebius located Mt. Horeb and Mt. Sinai next to one another, he must have believed that both were in northwestern Arabia near the city of Madyan.

Allen Kerkeslager, “Jewish Pilgrimage and Jewish Identity in Hellenistic and Early Roman Egypt,” in Pilgrimage and Holy Space in Late Antique Egypt, ed. David Frankfurter (Boston: Brill, 1998), 199.

Dr. Kerkeslager noted in the article that many Western scholars have been hesitant to adopt the view that Mount Sinai is in Saudi Arabia, and that seems to be more because of the “inertia of one stream of scholarly tradition.” This is in spite of the fact that Biblical and post-Biblical evidence suggests an Arabian location for Mount Sinai, east of the Red Sea, and not in the Peninsula.

Based on his research, he concludes that it is “inexcusable” to ignore the evidence of the Exodus in northwestern Saudi Arabia, and at least as much attention ought to be devoted to it as has been devoted to St. Catherine’s mountain, in spite of the rather scant evidence at the traditional site.

If one seeks the “Mt. Sinai of Jewish tradition,” one will henceforth have to seek a mountain near Al-Bad. 

Kerkeslager, 200.

Dr. Kerkelsager was one of the first Western academics to seriously undertake scholarly research on this subject.

2002 – Dr. Lennart Möller

In 2002, Dr. Lennart Möller published his tome, The Exodus Case, an extremely detailed science-based investigation into the theory. Möller is a professor of medical sciences in Sweden with a special interest in archaeology, Egyptian history, and marine biology.

After gaining rare access to the mountain and the sites that may relate to the Exodus account, Möller endorsed Jabal al-Lawz and Jabal Maqla as the likeliest candidates for Mount Sinai/Horeb.

Möller also concluded that the likeliest crossing point for Moses and the Israelites was from Egypt’s Nuweiba Beach into northwestern Saudi Arabia via an underwater land path in the Gulf of Aqaba. He also took part in diving expeditions to explore this land path and believes there is evidence of the destroyed Egyptian army in the coral.

2002 – Al-Bid’ (History and Archaeology)

Several archaeologists from the Saudi Ministry of Museums and Antiquities published a detailed book about the history of the city of Al-Bid (also known as Al-Bad). In the book, the researchers found a great deal of evidence pertaining to the Exodus in the area surrounding this city, which was once Midian.

In the preface of the book, Dr. Abdul Rahman al-Tayyib al-Ansari writes about Al-Bid:

Certainly, some inportant events occurred in the western coastal area of the Gulf of Aqaba which are related to Prophet Moses and his exodus with the Israelites from the lakes eastern Egypt, where he crossed by a miracle to the land of Sinai, the land of (manna) and (quails), and the twelve wells which were gushed out by Giod in the desert of Sinai one springwell for each tribe.

Dr. Abdul Rahman al-Tayyib al-Ansari, et. al., Al-Bid’ (History and Archaeology), (Saudi Arabia: Ministry of Education, Deputy Ministry of Antiquities and Museums), 2002, 10.

What’s odd about the book’s conclusion is that the researchers appear to consciously downplay the evidence of the Exodus in this region. We are unsure why this is, though it may be a part of a larger effort to keep the evidence hidden from outside view.

As one of Ryan Mauro’s former jihadist contact stated in our documentary, all the jihadist fighters knew that Mount Sinai was in Saudi Arabia, and that the Kingdom was keeping the evidence hidden to prevent it from becoming an object of idolatry.

Under Islamic law, objects that are used for idolatrous worship must be destroyed, even holy sites. We believe this may be at least one of the Kingdom’s justifications.

2003 – Dr. Charles Whittaker

In 2003, Charles Whittaker published his doctoral thesis, “The Biblical Significance of Jabal al Lawz,” for his Ph.D. from Louisiana Baptist University. His 225-page investigation considered over 20 candidates for Mount Sinai and thoroughly reviewed historical accounts, scholarly opinions throughout time, archaeological surveys, old maps, and satellite imagery.

Whittaker concludes that Jabal al-Lawz “is the best candidate for the Biblical Mt. Sinai.” His doctoral thesis greatly assisted the Doubting Thomas Research Foundation in documenting this theory.

2007 - 2016 – Dr. Glen Fritz

Dr. Glen Fritz has published several academic works regarding the location of Mount Sinai and the Red Sea Crossing. In 2007, he published the first edition of The Lost Sea of the Exodus, with a second edition being published in 2016. In this book, he provides an unparalleled level of detail regarding the true location of the Red Sea, identifying it as the modern-day Gulf of Aqaba.

In The Lost Sea of the Exodus, he deals with the wide variety of misconceptions about the nature of the Red Sea crossing. These misconceptions date back thousands of years, and these faulty understandings affected the proposed location for Mount Sinai. New technology has led to a better understanding of the region’s geography, but certain misconceptions continue, and new ones have arisen to justify the traditional theory. Dr. Fritz addresses these problematic theories to show why the Red Sea crossing took place at the Gulf of Aqaba.

In 2016, he also published Fire on the Mountain: Geography, Geology & Theophany at Jabal al-Lawz, which details his on-the-ground observations and study of the land, including topographical and geological examination. He explains his findings and how they line up with the Biblical account.

2016 – Dr. Miles Jones

In 2016, Dr. Miles Jones, a historical linguist with expertise in Thamudic inscriptions and the history of the alphabet, published, The Writing of God: Secret of the Real Mount Sinai. He has not visited the sites in-person but has analyzed pictures of inscriptions found in the area.

Jones determined that the inscriptions are Thamudic and proto-Hebrew. He interprets them as referring to the Exodus events. He believes these inscriptions show the birth of literacy happening in the area, with letters replacing pictographs.

2017 – Rabbi Alexander Hool

Rabbi Hool published his book on the alternative location theory for Mount Sinai in 2017. The book, Searching for Sinai: The Location of Revelation, explores Jewish sources that offer clues for the location of Mount Sinai. He does not believe that Jabal Maqla is Mount Sinai, but does place the mountain in Saudi Arabia, in the ancient land of Midian, with Jabal Harb being his proposed location.

Rabbi Hool places Midian further south on the Arabian Peninsula than many scholars do, closer to Mecca. He asserts that when Moses met Aaron at Mount Sinai in Exodus 4:27, Moses had to have been traveling from another location a fairly long distance from the mountain. Our research shows that Midian was not this far south though, but lay upon the Gulf of Aqaba, with the capital at what is modern-day al-Bad.

Rabbi Hool nonetheless agrees with the Arabian theory for the mountain’s location.

2017 – Present – Doubting Thomas Research Foundation

The Doubting Thomas Research Foundation traveled to Saudi Arabia multiple times over a period of two years to see the alleged evidence and document it thoroughly. This website is the result of those trips and thousands of hours of editing, writing, researching, and interviewing. The Foundation believes that the tradition identifying Mount Sinai in modern-day Saudi Arabia has the most Biblical and extra-Biblical support.

In Summary

From roughly 250 B.C., when the Septuagint translation was produced, right to this very day, there has been a tradition that supports the theory of Mount Sinai being located in Saudi Arabia. Among the three major monotheistic traditions—Jewish, Christian, and Muslim—all three point us to the same place, the tallest mountains in the range just outside of the city of al-Bad, known today as Jabal Maqla/Jabal al-Lawz.


[1] Origen of Alexandria, Selecta Genesim (Select Comments on Genesis) PG 12.120, as referenced in Allen Kerkeslager, “Jewish Pilgrimage and Jewish Holy Space,” in Pilgrimage and Holy Space in late Antique Egypt, ed. David Frankfurter (Leiden, Netherlands: Brill, 1998), paperback edition 2015, 196.

[2] Charles Whittaker, “The Biblical Significance of Jabal Al-Lawz” (diss., Louisiana Baptist University, 2003), 72.

[3] The Ancient Egypt Site. 6th Dynasty (2323-2150), https://www.ancient-egypt.org/history/old-kingdom/6th-dynasty/index.html

[4] Whittaker, 73.

[5] Ibid., 76.

[6] Alois Musil. The Northern Hegaz. (New York: American Geographical Society. 1926), 269, 298.

[7] Ibid.

[8] John Philby, The Land of Midian. (London: Ernest Benn Limited, 1957), 210, 215.

[9] Whittaker, 83.

Last updated July 15, 2019.

5 thoughts on “Timeline: The Tradition of Mount Sinai’s Arabian Location”

  1. In 1978 Ron Wyatt and his two sons dove in the Gulf of Aqaba off the shore of Nuweiba Beach observing coral encrusted chariot parts and indicated his interest in Jebel El Lawz being Mount Sinai as written about in Rene Noorbergen’s 1982 book “Treasures of the Lost Races.” In 1984 The Wyatt’s were actually arrested and held for 78 days for investigating Jebel El Lawz. After convincing the Saudis of their true intent and showing them evidence they were released. The Wyatts returned home and gave witness to their discoveries in an interview with Bill Kurtis on CBS Morning News, April 17, 1984. Ron was invited back to the site in 1985 and so convinced the Saudis of the authenticity of the evidence for the Hebrews encampments around the mount that they immediately fenced off the entire area as an archaeological reserve.

  2. Yam Suph should really be read as Yam Sof. The Hebrew vowel “vav” can be read as the sound “o” or “oo” depending on the punctuation. Since at that time there existed no punctuation markings in the Hebrew script, I really think we should be reading the Hebrew not as Yam Suph but as Yam Sof. Why Yam Sof? Because in Hebrew these two words translate as “Sea End”, which is exactly what the Gulf of Eilat or the Gulf of Aqaba is. It is a finger like projection of water from the Red Sea into the Sinai. It is where the Red Sea ends, therefore Yam Sof, or Sea End.

    1. We discuss some of the translations of the word on our Red Sea Crossing page. We agree that a vegetative translation for Yam Suph, such as “Sea of Reeds,” does not accurately fit the broader context of the passages that use this term.

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