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Map of the Roman Empire - Mt. Sinai
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Ancient Mt. Sinai has been traditionally identified with Jebel Musa or Jebel Helal the holy mountain where the Law was given. The Bible records Mount Sinai in Exodus 19:1, 11ff.; 19:20 etc., and so in later tradition, Ps. 68:8, 17; Neh. 9:13; Acts 7:30; Gal. 4:24, 25 ('Arabia' in Paul's time included the area of the Sinai Peninsula); traditionally Jebel Musa in the South of the Peninsula, but Jebel Helal is another possible alternative.
Exod. 19:1 - In the third month, when the children of Israel were gone forth out of the land of Egypt, the same day came they [into] the wilderness of Sinai.
Exod. 19:11 - And be ready against the third day: for the third day the LORD will come down in the sight of all the people upon mount Sinai.
Exod. 19:20 - And the LORD came down upon mount Sinai, on the top of the mount: and the LORD called Moses [up] to the top of the mount; and Moses went up.
Mount Sinai Sinaď or Sina. Now Jebel-et-Tur. A cluster of dark, lofty, rocky mountains in the southern angle of the triangular peninsula enclosed between the two heads of the Red Sea, and bounded on the north by the deserts on the borders of Egypt and Palestine. The name, which signifies “a region of broken and cleft rocks,” is used in a wider sense for the whole peninsula, which formed a part of Arabia Petraea, and was peopled, at the time of the Exodus, by the Amalekites and Midianites, and afterwards by the Nabathaean Arabs. Sinaď and Horeb in the Old Testament are both general names for the whole group, the former being used in the first four books of Moses , and the latter in Deuteronomy. The summit on which the Law was given was probably that on the north, or the one usually called Horeb. There are a good many Nabathaean inscriptions dating from the early centuries of our era carved on the rocks of Sinaď. See Hull, Mount Seir, Sinai, and West Palestine (London, 1885); and Euting, Sinaitische Inschriften (1892). - Harry Thurston Peck. Harpers Dictionary of Classical Antiquities. New York. Harper and Brothers. 1898.
Maps are essential for any serious study, they help students of Roman history understand the geographical locations and historical backgrounds of the places mentioned in historical sources.
Mount Sinai SINAI
SINAI, the celebrated mountain of Arabia Petraea. It, however, lent its name to the whole peninsula in which it was situated, which must therefore first be described. It is formed by the bifurcation of the Red Sea at its northern extremity, tremity, and is bounded by the Heroopoliticus Sinus (or Sea of Suez) on the west, and the Aelaniticus Sinus (the Gulf of Akaba) on the east, ending in the Posidium Promontorium (Ras Mohammed). At the northern extremity of the Sea of Suez stood Arsinoe (Suez), and Aelana (Akaba), at the extremity of the gulf that bears its name. The caravan road of the great Haj, which joins these two towns, traverses a high table-land of desert, now called Et-Tih= “the Wilderness of the Wandering,” part of ancient Idumaea. To the south of this road, the plateau of chalk formation is continued to Jebel Tih, the µ??a?a ??? of Ptolemy, extending from the eastern to the western gulf, in a line slightly curved to the south, and bounded in that direction by a belt of sandstone, consisting of arid plains, almost without water or signs of vegetation. To this succeeds the district of primitive granite formation, which extends quite to the southern cape, and runs into the Gulf of Akaba on the east, but is separated by a narrow strip of alluvial soil called El-Kâa from the Seat of Suez. The northern part of the Tih is called in Scripture “the wilderness of Paran” (Numb. 12.16, 13.3, 32.8, &c.), in which the Israelites abode or wandered during great part of the forty years; although Eusebius and St. Jerome, as will be presently seen, identify this last with the wilderness of Sin. This wilderness of Sin is commonly supposed to be connected, in name and situation, with Mount Sinai; but as the Israelites entered on the wilderness of Sin on leaving their encampment by the Red Sea, the next station to Elim (Exod. 16.1; Numb. 33.10, 11), and traversed it between Elim and Rephidim, where they had apparently left it (Exod. 17.1),--for Dophkah and Alush are inserted between the two in Numbers 33.12--14,--and yet had not arrived at Sinai (ver. 15; Exod. 16.1), it may be questioned whether the identification rests on solid ground. Eusebius and St. Jerome, who distinguish between the deserts of Sin and Sinai, yet appear to extend the former too far eastward. “The desert of Sin,” they say, “extends between the Red Sea and the desert of Sina; for they came from the desert of Sin to Rephidim, and thence to the desert of Sinai, near Mount Sina, where Moses received the dispensation of the Law; but this desert is the same as that of Kaddes according to the Hebrew, but not according to the LXX.” The confusion indicated by this last remark may be explained by the observations, 1st, that Zin, which is a synonym “for the wilderness of Kadesh” (Numb. 20.1, 33.36), i identical in Greek with the Sin (i. e. S??); the S representing both the HEBREW (tsadi) of HEBREW and the HEBREW (samech) of HEBREW; and, 2dly, that instead of making Zin identical with Kadesh, as it is in the Hebrew, the LXX. read so as to make “the desert of Paran,” which they identify with “the desert of Kadesh,” an intermediate termediate station between Sin and Mount Hor (Numb. 33.36, in LXX.)
The wilderness of Sin, then, must be fixed to the northwest part of the granite district of the peninsula between Serbal and the Red Sea, while Zin is north of Ezion Geber, between it and Mount Hor,--chief the southern extremity in fact of Wady Műsa, or the Arabah, north of Akaba.
With respect to Sinai, it is difficult to decide between the rival claims of the two mountains, which, in modern as in ancient times, have been regarded as the Mountain of the Law. The one is Serbal above-mentioned, situated towards the NW. extremity tremity of the granite district, towering with its five sharp-pointed granite peaks above the fruitful and agreeable oasis of Wady Pharan, still marked by extensive ruins of the churches, convents, and buildings of the old episcopal town of Paran; the other between 30 and 40 miles south-east of Serbal, in the heart of the granite district, where native traditions, of whatever value, have affixed to the mountains and valleys names connected with the inspired narrative of the giving of the Law, and where the scenery is entirely in unison with the events recorded. Emerging from the steep and narrow valley Nakba Hawa, whose precipitous sides rise to the perpendicular height of 1000 feet, into the wide plain called Wady Műsa, at the northern base of the traditionary Horeb, Russegger describes the scene as grand in the extreme. “Bare granite mountains, whose summits reach to a height of more than 7000 Paris feet above the level of the sea; wonderful, I might say fabulous, forms encompass a plain more than a mile in length, in the background of which lies the convent of St. Catharine, at the foot of Jebel Aűsa, between the holy Horeb on the west, and Ebestimmi on the east.” In this valley, then, formed at the base of Horeb by what may be called a junction of the Wady-er-Rahâh and Wady-esh-Sheikh, but which, according to Russegger's express testimony, bears in this place the native name of Wady Műsa, must the children of Israel have encamped before Jebel Műsa, whose rugged northern termination, projected boldly into the plain, bears the distinctive name of Ras Sasâfah. Jebel Műsa rises to the height of 5956 Paris feet above the sea, but is far from being the highest of the group. Towering high above it, on the south, is seen the summit of Horeb, having an elevation of 7097 Paris feet, and south of that again Jebel Katherina, more than 1000 feet higher still (viz. 8168 Paris feet), all outtopped by Jebel-om-Shomer, the highest of this remarkable group, which attains an altitude of 8300 Paris feet. Over against Jebel Műsa on the north, and confining the valley in that direction, is the spur of a mountain which retains in its name, Jebel Sena, a memorial of the ancient Scripture appellation of the Mountain of the Law. To attempt anything like a full discussion of the questions at issue between the advocates of the conflicting traditions or hypotheses, would be as inconsistent with the character of such an article as this, as with the limits which must be assigned it: a very few remarks [2.1004] must suffice. There seems, then, to be no question that the site of Horeb was traditionally known to the Israelites for many centuries after the Exodus (1 Kings, 19.8); and if so, it is improbable that it was subsequently lost, since its proximity to Elath and Ezion Geber, which were long in their possession, would serve to ensure the perpetuity of the tradition. It is worthy of remark that Josephus nowhere uses the name Horeb, but in the passage parallel to that above cited from the 1st book of Kings, as uniformly throughout his history, substitutes t? S??a??? ????,--so far confirming the identity of locality indicated by the two names, learnedly maintained by Dr. Lepsius, who holds Horeb to be an Amalekite appellative equivalent in signification with Sin, both signifying “earth made dry by draining off the water,” which earth he finds in the large mounds of alluvial deposit in the bed of Wady Faran, at the northern base of Serbal, his Sinai. Buxtorf, however, cites rabbinical authorities for another etymology of Sinai, derived from the nature of the rock in the vicinity. (See Shaw's Travels, 4to. p. 443, and note 7.) Josephus does not in any way identify the site; but Eusebius and St. Jerome have been erroneously understood to describe Serbal under the name Sina, when they say that Pharan was south of Arabia, next to the desert of the Saracens, through which the children of Israel journeyed when they decamped from Sina (Onomast. s. v. Pharan.); for they obviously confound the city of Paran with the wilderness mentioned in Numbers (12.16, 13.3); and the description is so vague as to prove only their ignorance, if not of the true site of the city Pharan (which they place 3 days east of Aila), at least of the utter want of all connection between this and the desert of Zin, which is Paran; and in this, as in other passages, on which much reliance has been placed in this discussion, it is clear that they are not writing from any local knowledge, but simply drawing deductions from the Scripture narrative (see e. g. Onomast. s. v. Raphadim), which we are perhaps equally competent to do. The earliest Christian writer, then, who can be quoted as a witness to the true site of the “Mountain of the Law” is Cosmas Indicopleustes (circ. A.D. 530), who undoubtedly describes Mount Choreb, in the Sinaic (desert?), as near to Pharan, about 6 miles distant; and this Pharan must be the Pharan of the ecclesiastical annals, whose ruins at the foot of Mount Serbal have been noticed above. This then is direct historical testimony in favour of a hypothesis first started by Burckhardt in modern times, advocated by Dr. Lepsius, and adopted by Mr. Forster and others. But then it appears to be the only clear historical evidence, and must therefore be compared with that in favour of the existing tradition, which, as it is accepted in its main features by Drs. Robinson and Wilson, Ritter, Mr. Stanley, and other eminent scholars, is obviously not unworthy of regard. That the present convent of St. Catharine was originally founded by the emperor Justinian (about A.D. 556), is as certain as any fact in history; and it is equally difficult to imagine that, at so short an interval after the journey of Cosmas, the remembrance of the true Sinai could have been lost, and that the emperor or the monks would have acquiesced in what they knew to be a fictitious site; for the mountain had long been regarded with veneration by the monks, who, however, had erected no monastery before this time, but dwelt in the mountains and valleys about the bush in which God appeared to Moses (Eutychii Annales, tom. ii. p. 163; comp. Procopius, De Aediffciis Justiniani, 5.8); so that when their monasteries are mentioned in earlier times, it is clear that the monastic cells only are to be understood. On the whole, then, the testimony of Cosmas can hardly avail against a tradition which was not originated, but only perpetuated, by the erection of Justinian's monastery. To this historical argument in favour of the existing traditions a topographical one may be added. If Rephidim is correctly placed by Dr. Lepsius and others at Wady Faran, at the foot of Serbal, it seems to follow incontestably that Serbal cannot be Sinai; for what occasion could there be for the people to decamp from Rephidim, and journey to Sinai, if Rephidim were at the very base of the mount? (Exod. 19.1, 2). Dr. Lepsius feels the difficulty, and attempts to remove it by insinuating that the sacred narrative is not to be implicitly trusted. That Horeb is mentioned in connection with Rephidim is certainly a palpable difficulty (Exod. 18.1--6), but in a choice of difficulties it is safer to adopt that which does least violence to the sacred text.
By far the strongest argument in favour of the identity of Serbal with Sinai is to be found in the celebrated inscriptions with which the rocks on that mountain and in the surrounding valleys are covered. Not that anything can be certainly determined from these mysterious records, while the art of deciphering them is still in its infancy. The various theories respecting them cannot here be discussed; the works containing them are referred to at the end of the article: but it may be well to put on record the whole of the earliest testimony concerning them, and to offer for their elucidation an observation suggested by an early writer which has been strangely overlooked in this discussion. It is an interesting theory of Cosmas Indicopleustes, that the Israelites, having been instructed in written characters in the Decalogue given in Horeb, were practised in writing, as in a quiet school, in the desert for forty years: “from whence it comes to pass,” he proceeds, “that you may see in the desert of Mount Sinai, and in all the stations of the Hebrews, all the rocks in those parts, which have rolled down from the mountains, engraven with Hebrew inscriptions, as I myself, who journeyed in those parts, testify; which certain Jews also having read, interpreted to us, saying that they were written thus. ‘The pilgrimage (?pe?s??) of such an one, of such a tribe, in such a year, and such a month,’ --as is frequently written in our hostelries. For they, having newly acquired the art, practised it by multiplying writing, so that all those places are full of Hebrew inscriptions, preserved even unto this time, on account of the unbelievers, as I think; and any one who wishes can visit those places and see them, or they can inquire and learn concerning it that I have spoken the truth.” (Cosmas Indicopleustes, de Mundo, lib. v. apud Montfaucon, Collectio Nova Patrum, tom. ii. p. 205.) On this it may suffice to remark, that while it is certain that the characters are neither the original nor later Hebrew,--i. e. neither Phoenician nor Chaldaic,--still the Jews in Cosmas's company could decipher them. We know that they are for the most part similar to the ancient Arabian (the Hamyaritic or Hadraműtic) character, with which the whole region in the south of the Arabian peninsula teems. If, then, Mr. Forster's ingenious and very probable conjecture of the identity of the rock-hewn inscription of Hissn Ghorab with that [2.1005] copied by Abderakhman from the southern coast of Arabia, preserved and translated by Schultens, be correct, it will follow that the old Adite character was decipherable even two centuries later than the date assigned to Cosmas, who could scarcely have failed to discover the Christian origin of these inscriptions, if they had been really Christian. Indeed it may well be questioned whether any Christians could have been sufficiently conversant with this ancient character to use it as freely as it is used on the rocks of the peninsula. Certainly if the hypothesis of this place having been resorted to as a place of pilgrimage by the pagan tribes of Arabia, and so having acquired a sanctity in the very earliest times, could be established, the fact might furnish a clue to the future investigation of this deeply interesting subject, and, as Ritter has suggested, might serve to remove some difficulties in the Sacred Narrative. Now the journal of Antoninus Placentinus does in fact supply so precisely what was wanting, that it is singular that his statement has attracted so little notice in connection with the Sinaitic inscriptions; which, however, he does not expressly mention or even allude to. But what we do learn from him is not unimportant, viz., that before the time of Islâm, in “the ages of ignorance,” as the Mohammedans call them, the peninsula of Mount Sinai was a principal seat of the idolatrous superstition of the Arabians; and that a feast was held there in honour of their miraculous idol, which was resorted to by Ishmaelites, as he calls them, from all parts; the memorial of which feast seems still to be preserved by the Bedawin. (Burckhardt, Syria, pp. 566, 567.) Now when it is remembered that the eastern commerce of Greece and Rome, conducted by the Arabs of Yemen and Hadramant, must have brought their merchants and sailors to the vicinity of this ancient sanctuary at Arsinoe or at Elana, the pilgrimage becomes almost a matter of course; and the practice which we know prevailed in their own country of graving their memorials with an iron pen in the rock for ever, was naturally adopted by them, and imitated by the Christian pilgrims in after times. Undue stress has been laid on the frequency of the inscriptions about Serbal, contrasted with their rarity about Jebel Műsa; but it should be remembered that they are executed almost entirely in the soft sandstone which meets the granite on and around Serbal, but which is scarcely found in the interior, where the hard, primitive rock did not encourage the scribbling propensities of the travellers, as the softer tablets in the more western part, where the blocks of trap-stone (which are also largely interspersed with the granite, and which present a black surface without, but are lemon-coloured within) were studiously selected for the inscriptions, which, in consequence, come out with the effect of a rubricated book or illuminated manuscript, the black surface throwing out in relief the lemon-coloured inscriptions.
This account of the peninsula must not be concluded without a brief notice of the very remarkable temple of Sarbut-el-Chádem, and the stelae which are found in such numbers, not only in the temple, but in other western parts of the peninsula, where large masses of copper, mixed with a quantity of iron ore, were and still are found in certain strata of the sandstone rocks along the skirts of the prime-val chain, and which gave to the whole district the name still found in the hieroglyphics, Maphat, “the copper land,” which was under the particular protection of the goddess Hathor, Mistress of Maphat. The temple, dedicated to her, stands on a lofty sand-stone stone ledge, and is entirely filled with lofty stelae, many of them like obelisks with inscriptions on both sides; so crowded with them in fact, that its walls seem only made to circumscribe the stelae, although there are several erected outside it, and on the adjacent hills. The monuments belong, apparently, to various dynasties, but Dr. Lepsius has only specially mentioned three, all of the twelfth. The massive crust of iron ore covering the hillocks, 250 yards long and 100 wide, to the depth of 6 or 8 feet, and blocks of scoriae, prove that the smelting furnaces of the Egyptian kings were situated on these airy heights; but the caverns in which the ore was found contain the oldest effigies of kings in existence, not excepting the whole of Egypt and the pyramids of Gizeh.
The chief authorities for this article, besides those referred to in the text, are Niebuhr (Voyage en Arabie, vol. i. pp. 181--204); Seetzen (Reisen, vol. iii. pp. 55--121). For the physical history and description of the peninsula, Russegger is by far the fullest and most trustworthy authority (Reisen. vol. iii. pp. 22--58). Dr. Robinson has investigated the history and geography of the peninsula, with his usual diligence (Travels, vol. 1. § § 3, 4. pp. 87--241); and Dr. Wilson has added some important observations in the way of additional information or correction of his predecessor (Lands of the Bible, vol. i. chapters vi.--viii. pp. 160--275). Lepsius's Tour from Thebes to the Peninsula of Sinai (Letters, pp. 310--321, 556--562), which has been translated by C. H. Cottrell (London, 1846), argues for Serbal as the true Mountain of the Law; and his theory has been maintained with great learning and industry by Mr. John Hogg (Remarks on Mount Serbal, &c. in Transactions of the Royal Society of Literature, 1849). The graphic description of the country from Mr. A. P. Stanley's pen is the latest contribution to the general history of the peninsula (Sinai and Palestine, 1856). The decipherment of the inscriptions has been attempted by the learned Orientalists of Germany, Gesenius, Roediger, Beer, and others (Ch. Bunsen, Christianity and Mankind, vol. iii. pp. 231--234); and Mr. Forster has published a vindication of his views against the strictures of Mr. Stanley on his original work (The Voice of Israel from the Rocks of Sinai, 1851; The Israelitish Authorship of the Sinaitic Inscriptions, 1856). - Dictionary of Greek and Roman Geography (1854) William Smith, LLD, Ed.
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