Skip to main content

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]

Cite this article
Pick a style below, and copy the text for your bibliography.

  • MLA
  • Chicago
  • APA

"Sinai, Mount." New Catholic Encyclopedia. . 18 Aug. 2018 <>.

"Sinai, Mount." New Catholic Encyclopedia. . (August 18, 2018).

"Sinai, Mount." New Catholic Encyclopedia. . Retrieved August 18, 2018 from

Learn more about citation styles

Citation styles gives you the ability to cite reference entries and articles according to common styles from the Modern Language Association (MLA), The Chicago Manual of Style, and the American Psychological Association (APA).

Within the “Cite this article” tool, pick a style to see how all available information looks when formatted according to that style. Then, copy and paste the text into your bibliography or works cited list.

Because each style has its own formatting nuances that evolve over time and not all information is available for every reference entry or article, cannot guarantee each citation it generates. Therefore, it’s best to use citations as a starting point before checking the style against your school or publication’s requirements and the most-recent information available at these sites:

Modern Language Association

The Chicago Manual of Style

American Psychological Association

  • Most online reference entries and articles do not have page numbers. Therefore, that information is unavailable for most content. However, the date of retrieval is often important. Refer to each style’s convention regarding the best way to format page numbers and retrieval dates.
  • In addition to the MLA, Chicago, and APA styles, your school, university, publication, or institution may have its own requirements for citations. Therefore, be sure to refer to those guidelines when editing your bibliography or works cited list.