Historians, theologians and the faithful have for centuries wanted to know: Where is the holy mountain where Moses met God?
Theories have ranged from the Sinai Peninsula in Egypt to the Arabian Peninsula of modern-day Saudi Arabia. Israeli researchers who stumbled upon a surprising glowing halo are asking, along with an Italian archaeologist who first floated the theory: could the burning bush have actually been in Israel’s Negev desert, just north of the Sinai?
Channel 2 reports (translated from Hebrew):
“On the border with Egypt, in an isolated firing range in the Negev, one of the mountains vying for the title can be found – Mount Karkum. Researchers recently discovered that once a year, at a unique time, something very strange occurs. An unusual natural phenomenon or perhaps a massive scientific discovery? Watch and try to believe.”
On Saturday, a news crew from Israel’s Channel 2 went along with one of the researchers on a trek to the remote site of Mount Karkum, or Turmeric Mountain. (Yes, in the Holy Land, biblical archaeology often makes the cut of hot news items).
A brief biblical recap:
In the beginning of Exodus Chapter 3, Moses tends his father-in-law Jethro’s flock. When he arrives at Mount Horeb, an angel of God appears to him in a bush that continually burns but is not consumed. God tells Moses not to get closer and to take off his shoes, because he is standing on holy ground.
Mount Horeb is considered by most biblical scholars to be interchangeable with Mount Sinai, and with “the Mountain of God.” It is also where Moses prepares to receive the Ten Commandments in Exodus 19.
Dr. Haim Berger, a zooanthropologist at Sde Boker College and a jeep tour guide says Mount Karkum holds some 40,000 stone drawings thousands of years old. Channel 2 reports that the geographical location and finding of artifacts led the Italian archaeologist Emanuel Anati to come to a conclusion that “if verified it will shake the scientific and maybe even religious world: Mount Karkum, is essentially Mount Sinai.”
Berger believes this etching found on the site depicts the two tablets of the covenant on which the Ten Commandments were written which “established the destiny of the Jewish nation."
Berger believes this etching is a map showing the three ridges of the mountain. On the right of the middle V, he says a marking denotes the burning bush:
But what’s gotten people talking is an unusual vision seen only once a year during the month of December. Yigal Granot, an ecologist at Sde Boker College, says he first visited the site in 2003:
“We arrived here. I simply turned my head and suddenly I see a round gate surrounded by a golden halo that shouldn’t be there. There’s nothing there. As it appears, a person can’t get over there. It’s a protruding wall overlooking an abyss…I didn’t understand what I was seeing.”
His driver at the time photographed the site in black and white. Granot explains that in addition to the golden halo one can see rays coming out of the cave:
One tourist tells Channel 2, “I suddenly saw it sort of light up like a flashlight from inside the mountain. I didn’t understand what it was.”
The Blaze spoke to biblical scholars who caution against jumping to conclusions. Jonathan Ben-Dov, Professor of Bible Studies at Haifa University, tells The Blaze that like many biblical geography efforts, the quest for Mount Sinai has been controversial:
“There are many theories in historical geography. One person says it’s in Saudi Arabia. There are many other theories, too. I wouldn’t say Karkum is the most convincing one of them all. But it’s entirely and absolutely a fascinating place because of the special concentration of rock carvings. You don’t find these things very often.”
Whether the carvings depict the burning bush or the tablets of the covenant, he says, requires “some creative imagination.”
Ben-Dov suggests those trying to pinpoint the location of Mount Sinai need to map out the entire itinerary of Moses’ journey and then figure out how Mount Sinai fit into that journey.
Dr. David Ben-Gad HaCohen, a biblical geographer who did his PhD on the geography of the Exodus tells The Blaze that Mount Karkum “probably was a holy site, but we have plenty of sites with inscriptions all over the area.”
In order to understand the lay of the land, you have to examine the biblical data, which in three cases, he says, disprove Karkum as being the location where Moses met God.
First, in Exodus 4:27, the mountain of God where Moses saw the burning bush is also where he met his brother Aaron. It is described as lying between Egypt and Midian. Dr. HaCohen says Karkum is not along that route.
Second, the location is mentioned in Numbers 10:29 when Moses and his father-in-law Jethro (now named Reuel) part ways, Moses heading toward Kadesh-barnea and Jethro back to Midian. There is only one mountain at the junction between the two places, and HaCohen suggests Mount Karkum is not a candidate.
Thirdly, Deuteronomy 1:2 describes Mount Horeb as an 11-day journey from Kadesh-barnea. Dr. HaCohen explains that moving sheep and goats would allow for 7-10 miles per day. Mount Karkum is a lot closer to Kadesh-barnea than an 11-day trek, he says.
Despite the skepticism, the ecologist Granot is convinced of the spiritual presence at Karkum:
“There are miracles on this mountain. I was here with a religious group and it was a cloudy day with no sun and I’m driving and asking myself ‘What am I doing? People came to see the cave and there’s nothing.’ We arrived here. They sat down when suddenly there’s a hole in the clouds … at noon. A hole in the clouds and they saw how it [the cave] ‘turned on’ and when we turned to leave the hole closed up.”
Watch the video from Israel Channel 2 News. It’s in Hebrew, but at 8:55 you can see the halo around the cave’s entrance. Optical illusion or a miraculous discovery?