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Sinai, Mount

SINAI, MOUNT

The mountain of revelation, called Mt. horeb in the Deuteronomic source, where Moses received the revelation of the Law and the people of Israel entered into solemn covenant with Yahweh. It is traditionally located at the southern end of the Sinai Peninsula.

The origin and meaning of the name Sinai (Heb. sînai ) is uncertain. Some scholars connect it with the Hebrew word s eneh, which is translated as bush in the account of the vision that Moses had of the bush that was aflame but not consumed by the fire (Ex 3.14). Actually, in this passage the place of the vision is not called Sinai, but "Horeb, the mountain of God." Other suggestions are that the name Sinai is connected with that of the Babylonian moon-god Sin or that it is related to the Desert of Sin to the northeast. Not only the mountain but the surrounding desert is called Sinai in the Old Testament. The name is now used also for the peninsula or triangle of desert land that lies between the south of Palestine, the Suez arm of the Red Sea, and the Gulf of Aqaba. This peninsula, an area of about 10,000 square miles, was the scene of most of the 40-year wandering of the Israelites after the Exodus from Egypt. At its southern point is a group of dominating peaks, the highest of which are Jebel Serbāl (6,759 feet), Jebel Katerîn (8,652 feet), Jebel Mûsā (7,497 feet). The Egyptians considered these mountains sacred from antiquity.

Although most scholars agree that the traditional identification of Mt. Sinai with Jebel Mûsā (Mountain of Moses), attested as early as c. a.d. 400 by the pilgrim Silvia, is correct, the location has been doubted by some. Because of Moses' dealings with the Madianites and because of the volcanic activity of the mountain El Bedr in Madianite territory to the east of the Gulf of Aqaba, J. Garstang identified Sinai with this mountain. J. Wellhausen, relying on his interpretation of Dt 33.2, "The Lord came from Sinai and dawned from Seir upon us," as well as for other reasons drawn from literary criticism, put the place of the revelation of the Law at Cades, and not at Sinai. Some, therefore, have identified Mt. Sinai with Jebel Helal, a hill to the west of Cades. Most scholars, however, agree on regarding Rās es-afafeh (6,937 ft),

one of the twin peaks of Jebel Mûsā, as the mountain of the Ten Commandments. Rās es-afafeh accords well with the data found in Exodus. The mile-and-a-half plain at the foot of the mountain would have been ideal for the year's encampment that the Israelites, with their herds and flocks, made at Sinai.

In the 6th century, the Byzantine Emperor Justinian the Great had the Monastery of St. Catherine built on the shady northern slope of Jebel Mûsā, the traditional site of the burning bush. This monastery, with its ancient manuscripts and priceless works of art, still remains as a relic of an age long passed. Because of the monastery's isolation, its icons escaped the iconoclastic ravages of the 8th century. Its collection of manuscripts, more than 3,000 of them, are written in Greek, Arabic, Syriac, Georgian, Slavonic, and other languages. The renowned Bible manuscript, Codex Sinaiticus, dating from the 4th century, was found there by C. Tischendorf in 1844.

Bibliography: g. e. wright, The Interpreter's Dictionary of the Bible (Nashville 1962) 4:376378. Encyclopedic Dictionary of the Bible, translated and adapted by l. hartman (New York, 1963) 223233. m. j. lagrange, "Le Sinaï biblique," Revue Biblique 8 (1899) 369392. f. m. abel, Géographie de la Palestine, 2 v. (Paris 193338) 1:391396. d. baly, The Geography of the Bible (New York 1957) 56. e. g. kraeling, Rand McNally Bible Atlas (2d ed. New York 1962) 107113. m. du buit, Géographie de la Terre Sainte (Paris 1958) 111115. g. h. forsyth, "Island of Faith in the Sinai Wilderness," National Geographic Magazine 125 (1964) 82106.

[c. mcgough]

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