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Lately there has been an increasing awareness among biblical scholars that Mt. Sinai is in Arabia and not in the Sinai peninsula as has been previously thought. Jabal Maqla (or Jabal Al Lawz as the entire range is called) is now the most famous candidate in the Arabian peninsula, see here and here. An ancient altar has been found at the foot of the mountian with petroglyphs of bulls which are supposedly images of the golden calf the Israelites worshipped as described in the bible. See here and here. And according to this documentary twelve pillars were also found at the site.

I haven't seen any serious alternative theories to explain the existence of an altar with petroglyphs at the foot of a mountain, and neither does there seem to be a serious effort from the proponents against Jabal Al Lawz to explain who else may have been behind them (Perhaps Nabateans or some other ancient indigenous tribes). I have come across some claiming that these petroglyphs are so common in Saudi Arabia that they do not prove the existence of an Israelite tribe in the area. But is this true? Furthermore, were these petroglyphs dated to a specific era? If we would be able to date these petroglyphs, that would surely settle the question, because they would have to coincide with the period of the Exodus.

To me the Archaeological evidence seem pretty overwhelming, the descriptions match up the location of the biblical Mt. Sinai pretty well, and the altar and the entire site seem to point in this direction. Unless there is some other theory that can effectively and satisfactorily explain the existence of an altar at the foot of a mountain with a burnt top, the conclusion that it is indeed Mount Sinai seems inescapable.

So my questions are, are there any alternative theories to explain the existence of an altar with petroglyphs resembling Egyptian idols, and the other clues found at the site? Furthermore, have these petroglyphs ever been dated? If yes, what do they reveal?

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    What is your question? This is a Q&A site, not a discussion site. Please read the Help on how to ask a question. – Pieter Geerkens Jul 7 '18 at 0:19
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    I think this could be closed as unclear what you are asking, but I think it would be far better if @SeligkeitIstInGott converted the two excellent comments into an answer. There is merit in answering a question that is difficult to understand. – Mark C. Wallace Jul 7 '18 at 11:31
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    @MarkC.Wallace I removed my comments above and incorporated them into a broad / general answer. – SeligkeitIstInGott Jul 7 '18 at 16:11
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    @Bach Although I tried to give a broad and somewhat balanced answer below, for what I think you are interested in, the final link I provided in my answer might be of most interest to you, linked here also for convenience: bible.ca/archeology/bible-archeology-midianite-pottery.htm Also, please do check out that Dissertation as well, as that is probably the longest treatment I have ever seen in research on the subject of Mt. Sinai and the sources cited in footnotes could probably help further your research as well. – SeligkeitIstInGott Jul 7 '18 at 17:10
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    Would it be possible to give a source (or multiple) for the statement "Lately there has been an increasing awareness among biblical scholars"? After all, you ask an answerer to source "petroglyphs are "universally acknowledged" to belong to the Nabatean period". I personally find both "lately there has been" and "universally acknowledged" to be troublesome personal opinions being given as 'fact'. – CGCampbell Jul 13 '18 at 10:48
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The Big "Where?" Question

It's nearly impossible to establish Jebel al Lawz as the location of Mt Sinai based solely on physical remains today. The petroglyphs at the site of Jebel al Lawz are almost universally acknowledged to be from the Nabataean period. I've watched one of the several videos put out about Jebel al Lawz (this particular one by Bob Cornuke - which at least didn't have the grainy "bigfoot" footage of some previous videos), located the area on Google Maps to examine a few things for myself, and spent a while considering it seriously. I don't think the physical evidence is conclusive as to that particular mountain. However, the larger debate inside (calmer and less hyped) academia, in historical and anthropological circles, is more general: does the Exodus text describe a crossing at the modern Gulf of Suez or Aqaba? The debate continues to rage there.

Part of that debate ties into logistics (how and where could so many people cross?) and also the identification of the Yam Suph (the designation "Red Sea" is a mistranslation at best where it is rather "Sea of Reeds", and is entirely misleading since there is no clear relationship between the Sea of Reeds and the Red Sea). See the brief Wikipedia entry here on that topic.

I am among those who lean toward an Arabian crossing, mainly because of the location of ancient Midian. There is actually someone who wrote a whole Ph.D. Dissertation arguing for Jebel al Lawz as the location of Mt. Sinai, which has some useful examination of the textual evidence (I'm not endorsing it, but it demonstrates the kind of texts one must deal with). But there is also a whole website against Jebel al Lawz being Mt Sinai. That debate is too specific (trying to name the particular mountain), IMO, and should focus more on whether the crossing was into Arabia or not generally speaking. Some people also appeal to the Apostle Paul's reference in Galatians 4:25 of "Mt Sinai in Arabia", though it is disputed how his ancient audience would have understood "Arabia" in that day.

Some general resources for weighing information about Midian

As with a lot of historical sleuthing work, often the less sensational sources that require more time and effort to sink your time into will pay off and allow you to piece evidence together yourself little by little. Knowing more about Arabia and also the Transjordan in the general period of the Exodus (which itself is subject to much chronological debate) I think will help you in this area if you want to investigate whether the crossing into the territory of Midian is a viable option.

A good scholarly volume to start with for the Transjordan might be Early Edom and Moab: The Beginning of the Iron Age in Southern Jordan (Sheffield Archaeological Monographs 7) edited by Piotr Beinkowski, especially Kenneth Kitchen's discussion of Egyptian excursions into the area (often no further south than Edom or Sier except to Timna) which testify to the presence of the pastoral nomadic peoples in those lands early on. I can't remember if that volume has information on the Arabian spice trade of the 12th century B.C. or not, but that's another topic to research to find out about the Midianites since their location makes it likely that they participated in that trade.

Also if you want to learn more about the Midianites I would suggest consulting several of Beno Rothenberg's volumes and excavation reports where he discusses "Midianite Ware" pottery that he uncovered at Timna, which later became known as "Qurayya Painted Ware" when a large volume of the same pottery was found in Qurayya in Arabia.

The Wikipedia article on Midian states:

Midianite pottery, also called Qurayyah Painted Ware (QPW), is found at numerous sites stretching from the southern Levant to NW Saudi Arabia, the Hejaz; Qurayyah in NW Saudi Arabia is thought to be its original location of manufacture. The pottery is bichrome / polychrome style and it dates as early as the 13th century BC; its many geometric, human, and animal motifs are painted in browns and dark reds on a pinkish-tan slip. "Midianite" pottery is found in its largest quantities at metallurgical sites in the southern Levant, especially Timna.

You may find a brief bibliography for Rothenberg below.

Rothenberg. B. 1969. The Egyptian temple of Timna.
Rothenberg, B. 1972. Timna, Valley of the Biblical Copper Mines. London.
Rothenberg, B. & Glass, J. 1983. The Midianite Pottery. In: J.F.A. Sawyer & D.J.A. Clines (eds), Midian, Moab and Edom (= Journal of the Study of the Old Testament, Suppl. 24, Sheffield): 65-124.
Rothenberg, B. 1987. Pharaonic Copper Mines in South Sinai. Iams 10/11: 1-7.
Rothenberg, B. 1988. The Egyptian Mining Temple at Timna. London.
Rothenberg, B. 1998. Who were the ‘Midianite’ copper miners of the Arabah ? About the ‘Midianite enigma’. In: Th. Rehren, A. Hauptmann & J. Muhly (eds), Metallurgica Antiqua, (= Der Anschnitt, Beiheft 8, Bochum): 197-212.

This article on Midianite Pottery is also packed with information that liberally draws upon Rothenberg's findings, and even briefly mentions the Mt. Sinai issue.

All that to say, you will have to do some research of your own for historical, archaeological, and geographical sources to allow you to make up your own mind, because no one has come to a consensus yet where the historical Mt. Sinai is.

  • Thanks for your time and +1. However I would appreciate if you can add more detail to your claim that the petroglyphs are "universally acknowledged" to belong to the Nabatean period. This is really what i'm mostly interested in. Also you don't discuss much the presence of an altar at the site and how the proponents against Al Lawz explain it, in my opinion the presence of an altar with petroglyphs of bulls is quite convincing. Thanks. – Bach Jul 8 '18 at 2:20
  • I will check out the website against Al Lawz when I have the time. I see it contains a lengthy discussion on the significance of altar and petroglyphs and whether it is of Nabatean origin. Now unfortunately I haven't got the time. – Bach Jul 8 '18 at 2:30
  • @Bach Well, it seems there is more diversity in the opinion of the dating than I recognized, based on my fresh reading of what Charles Whittaker wrote in his dissertation. See the extensive discussion he has (with photographs) about the petroglyphs starting at pg 85. It appears the art is not unique to that specific location, for one, but can be found in other places throughout the region. But apparently as to official archaeologist attempts to guess the date some saw it as basically as ancient as some neolithic cave art, some to the Bronze Age, and some to the Nabatean period (see following). – SeligkeitIstInGott Jul 8 '18 at 3:48
  • The conclusion I often encountered when reading various online sources was the Nabatean date. But on pg 97 of Whittaker's diss. he writes: "Another confident assertion is made in this survey: “The cattle figures located on Jabal al Lawz with geometric patterns on their bodies, and in one case a person worshipping an ox, are contemporary to the Nabataean period[…]” Again, to relegate these petroglyphs to 100 BC-AD100, based on the absence of artifacts from an earlier period at a nearby ancient structure, and the presence of “Nabataean Redware” at the same structure is still speculative". – SeligkeitIstInGott Jul 8 '18 at 3:50
  • He also discusses the altar, so that dissertation should probably be the go-to reference. If I find time later I can try to expand the answer but I will probably just refer to page numbers & summarize details from the dissertation. – SeligkeitIstInGott Jul 8 '18 at 4:03
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Mount "Sinai" is in the "Sinai" Peninsula

Traditional Judaism, as handed down from generation to generation since the giving of the Torah on Mt. Sinai, teaches that Israel left Egypt, spent 40 years in the Sinai wilderness, then entered the land of Israel.

In the book of Exodus, at the very beginning of the third chapter, Moses is tending to the flock of Jethro, his father in law, in the Sinai, where he reaches "the mountain of God", which is Mount Sinai. There the vision of the burning bush happens. This all happens in the Sinai wilderness, now referred to as the Sinai Peninsula.

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