Moses Mountain: Where Is The Real Mount Sinai Located?

Mount Sinai – a deeply sacred site in Judaism, Christianity, and Islam – is the location where Moses was given the Ten Commandments stone tablets by God, according to the Book of Exodus in the Hebrew Bible. Like many settings in the Bible, it’s thought to be based on a real place, although where exactly is the subject of fervid debate among scholars.

Also known as Jabal Musa, which means “Mount Moses” in Arabic, Mount Sinai on the Sinai Peninsula of Egypt is one of several locations claimed to be the biblical Mount Sinai. 

The site is brimming with religious lore and history. At the foot of the 2,285-meter (7,497-foot) tall mountain, you can find Saint Catherine’s Monastery, the world’s oldest continuously inhabited Christian monastery (and the world’s oldest continually operating library). 

The monastery was founded in the 6th century CE by Emperor Justinian I at the site where Moses is supposed to have seen the burning bush. It also features a chapel that encloses the rock which some believe is the source for the biblical Tablets of Stone that Moses received.

Jabal Musa is commonly cited as the biblical Mount Sinai because there’s some evidence to suggest the mountain in question is located in the southern part of Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula. 

“Several factors suggest the Israelites fled southward into Sinai and that Mount Sinai should be located in the southern sector of the peninsula. First, Exodus 13:17 warned against travel by the ‘way of the land of the Philistines.’ This route, which hugged the northern coast, was the major military route used by the pharaohs and was heavily garrisoned,” Dr Thomas Williams, professor of theology at Regina Apostolorum Pontifical Athenaeum in Rome, told the Doubting Thomas Research Foundation.

Saint Catherine’s Monastery, located at the foot of Mount Sinai, is part of a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Image credit: Georg Arthur Pflueger/Unsplash

“Second, Deuteronomy 1:2 locates Mount Sinai as an eleven-day journey from Kadesh-barnea, a note that fits best with a Mount Sinai located somewhere in the southern peninsula,” Williams continued.

“Third, the Israelites lost the exact location of Mount Sinai after 850 BCE when Elijah fled to the holy mountain. Had the holy mountain been located in the more frequented regions of the north, surely its location would be remembered,” he continued.

However, not everyone agrees this is the true location of Mount Sinai spoken about in the Torah, Bible, and Quran. Religious scholars have put forward at least 14 different possible locations of biblical Mount Sinai. This includes a host of mountains hundreds of miles apart across Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, and Israel.

Some of this confusion is fuelled by inconsistencies in the Biblical texts. The Book of Exodus states that Moses was handed the Godly Ten Commandments at Mount Sinai, while the Book of Deuteronomy suggests the exchange happened at Mount Horeb. There might have simply been two different names for the same place, but it’s not perfectly clear.

Many modern biblical scholars argue that Mount Sinai is not a single place, but an amalgamation of many different legendary myths from around the Middle East. Over centuries, these stories were passed down, edited, fused with others, and added upon, obscuring their original context and content. 

“Most scholars believe that the location of Mount Sinai is unknowable from the available textual evidence. As a scholar of the Hebrew Bible and language, I agree with them,” Jacob F. Love, a lecturer in Religious Studies at the University of Tennessee, wrote in an article for The Conversation.

“Based on all the evidence – or lack thereof – I argue that Sinai is located not in any specific place but rather in the hearts and minds of those who treasure the meaning of the Hebrew Bible,” he added.

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