(Map 2:S–T2–4). A triangular peninsula, bordered on the north by the Mediterranean Sea, on the west by the Gulf of Suez and the Suez Canal, and on the east by the Gulf of Aqaba/Eilat. Moving from the coastland south, the terrain gradually rises to the Ijma Plateau, near the center of the peninsula. The region south of the plateau becomes mountainous before the terrain descends to a narrow coastland between the mountains and the gulfs. From the fourth millennium BCE the mountains have been mined for copper, which was exported to both Egypt and Canaan.
It is generally assumed that somewhere on this peninsula is Mount Sinai, the mountain from which Moses reputedly delivered the Ten Commandments to the Israelites, but evidence is scant for determining which of the many mountains was called Mount Sinai during the time of the wilderness wanderings. Since Sinai is the wilderness nearest Egypt, this seems the most likely place for Mount Sinai (Num. 33.8–10; Deut. 1.1; Josephus, Apion 2.2.25), but there are problems. The mountain from which Moses received the commandments is sometimes called Sinai (generally in J and P) and sometimes Horeb (E and D). It is also labeled “the mountain of God” (Exod. 3.1; 4.27; etc.) and simply “the mountain.” It is not certain whether these were different names for the same place or different mountains. Some have thought it was initially Horeb but was renamed Sinai after the peninsula, but no one knows when the peninsula was named “Sinai”; neither Josephus nor Paul (Gal. 4.25) calls it by that name.
One of the ways scholars have tried to identify Mount Sinai has been to conjecture the route the Israelites traveled on their way to Canaan. Since the most direct route from Egypt follows the Mediterranean coastline, some have assumed that the Israelites took this route, and that one of the nearby mountains in the northern lowland or southern Canaan was Mount Sinai, but archaeological remains show that the Egyptians had this well‐traveled route fortified (and see Exod. 13.17); consequently, refugees probably avoided such confrontation. It is more likely that they turned south (see Num. 33.8–10). Since they reportedly lived in this wilderness for about forty years, they may not have planned originally to settle in Canaan.
The most popular candidate for Mount Sinai is Jebel Musa (“the mountain of Moses”; Map 2:S4) near Saint Catherine's Monastery. This identification was apparently first made by Byzantine monks in the fourth century CE, and there is no evidence to show that they had any local data that are not known today for choosing the site. Most of the modern sites are named after plants, trees, and topographical features, and they provide no clues to ancient Israelite history. Other possible sites include several mountains in northwestern Arabia, and Mount Karkom in Machtesh Ramon just west of the Arabah; the latter conjecture, made in 1985, was based on art and architecture found on and around Karkom, but it depends on a date for the Exodus in the third millennium BCE.
When Byzantine monks settled in Sinai (300–600 CE) they were able to dig wells, make terraces and direct rainfall, and raise gardens and orchards in valleys. The Emperor Justinian had a church constructed and a monastery fortified (527 CE); this was later called Saint Catherine's Convent. Within an area of two square miles is the Byzantine identification of the site of the burning bush, the place where Moses struck the rock, the mountain where God spoke to Moses, and the hill where Aaron made the golden calf. The monks apparently found an isolated location in this historic peninsula where they could survive. They then identified biblical sites with places in their immediate surroundings.
George Wesley Buchanan