Mount Sinai (alt. Mt. Sinai) ~ Horeb, the Mountain of God
Also the Sinaiticus Manuscripts & St. Catherine's Monastery

View from the summit of Mount Sinai at sunrise.

Three primary names are associated with this location; Mount Sinai, Horeb and the Mountain of God. The following passages not only provide a highlight of some of the events there but also tie all three names to the same locale.

Exodus 3:1-4 Now Moses was tending the flock of Jethro his father-in-law, the priest of Midian, and he led the flock to the far side of the desert and came to Horeb, the mountain of God. 2 There the angel of the Lord appeared to him in flames of fire from within a bush. Moses saw that though the bush was on fire it did not burn up. 3 So Moses thought, "I will go over and see this strange sight - why the bush does not burn up." 4 When the Lord saw that he had gone over to look, God called to him from within the bush, "Moses! Moses!" And Moses said, "Here I am." (NIV)

Exodus 4:19-21, 27-28 Now the Lord had said to Moses in Midian, "Go back to Egypt, for all the men who wanted to kill you are dead." 20 So Moses took his wife and sons, put them on a donkey and started back to Egypt. And he took the staff of God in his hand. 21 The Lord said to Moses, "When you return to Egypt, see that you perform before Pharaoh all the wonders I have given you the power to do. But I will harden his heart so that he will not let the people go. ... 27 The Lord said to Aaron, "Go into the desert to meet Moses." So he met Moses at the mountain of God and kissed him. 28 Then Moses told Aaron everything the Lord had sent him to say, and also about all the miraculous signs he had commanded him to perform. (NIV)

Exodus 18:2-6 After Moses had sent away his wife Zipporah, his father-in-law Jethro received her 3 and her two sons. One son was named Gershom, for Moses said, "I have become an alien in a foreign land"; 4 and the other was named Eliezer, for he said, "My father's God was my helper; he saved me from the sword of Pharaoh." 5 Jethro, Moses' father-in-law, together with Moses' sons and wife, came to him in the desert, where he was camped near the mountain of God. 6 Jethro had sent word to him, "I, your father-in-law Jethro, am coming to you with your wife and her two sons." (NIV)

Exodus 24:13-18 Then Moses set out with Joshua his aide, and Moses went up on the mountain of God. 14 He said to the elders, "Wait here for us until we come back to you. Aaron and Hur are with you, and anyone involved in a dispute can go to them." 15 When Moses went up on the mountain, the cloud covered it, 16 and the glory of the Lord settled on Mount Sinai. For six days the cloud covered the mountain, and on the seventh day the Lord called to Moses from within the cloud. 17 To the Israelites the glory of the Lord looked like a consuming fire on top of the mountain. 18 Then Moses entered the cloud as he went on up the mountain. And he stayed on the mountain forty days and forty nights. (NIV)

As a strategic location in the narrative of the Exodus, before and during, much speculation has existed in regards to the location of this sacred site. As this topic is closely tied the route of the Exodus and the crossing of the red sea, some of the more wild conjecture has tried to place Mount Sinai in Saudi Arabia, across the Gulf of Aqaba. Since our earlier article addresses some of their claims, here we will focus on the biblical specifics regarding Sinai that would disprove such an assertion.

The way up onto (or down from) Mount Sinai. Look very closely; there are three people almost center in the shadow.

A key passage in understanding the location of Mount Sinai comes not from the Exodus, but from Moses and Aarons divinely appointed meeting prior to their return to Egypt. Moses, following his meeting with God on the mountain, had returned to Midian. From there God told him to "go back to Egypt" (Exodus 4:19), a journey that Moses began with his wife and children (Exodus 4:20). Simultaneously God has instructed Aaron to leave Egypt and head out into the dessert to meet up with Moses (Exodus 4:27). That two people could meet up in a vast expanse of dessert is nothing short of a miraculous event. Take note that this passage makes the meeting place somewhere between Midian and Egypt. Moses was specifically heading towards Egypt; this arrives at a meeting place situated outside of Midian, specifically in the Sinai Peninsula.

Exodus 18:27 Then Moses sent his father-in-law on his way, and Jethro returned to his own country. (NIV)

If Mount Sinai was in Midian, as advocates of the Mount Sinai in Saudi Arabia idea insist, there would be no need for Moses' father-in-law to return to his own country after meeting up with Moses at the Mountain of God (Exodus 18:5). Clearly the text points to Mount Sinai being outside of Midian, in the Sinai Peninsula, in a separate country. While Egypt nominally professed to control the Sinai for much of its early history, they too never considered the Sinai to be part of their country.

That both Aaron and Jethro could find Mount Sinai, God's directing of the former notwithstanding, imply that the mountain was already known. Even if Moses had told Jethro where the mountain was before starting out for Egypt, there would have had to have been something already significant about it for Jethro to find and single it out from among the many mountains in the range. It is highly probable that the mountain already had some time of fame or importance to the nomadic peoples in the region. In Scriptures, Mount Sinai appears to be the title of one particular peak and not a range of mountains. "Horeb" and "Sinai" are sometimes used synonymously in Scriptures, yet the mountain itself is quite specifically "Sinai" while "Horeb" appears to also be a more general designation of the surrounding area in the Sinai wilderness.1 (Even Rephidim, to the northwest, is referred to as being in the region of Horeb. See Exodus 17:1-8). The word Horeb has a root meaning of "desolate" or "waste", truly a descriptor of the rugged terrain in this region.

Deuteronomy 1:2 It takes eleven days to go from Horeb to Kadesh Barnea by the Mount Seir road. (NIV)

Modern scholars, attempting to confirm this recorded travel distance, have verified that the traditional Sinai (Jebel Musa) to Kadesh-barnea (Ain Qudeis) could be traversed in this timeframe.2

A view, just after sunrise, from the summit Mount Sinai

Mount Sinai is perhaps best known as the location where God established His covenant between Himself and Israel. This included His appearance to the people and the giving of the Ten Commandments and the entirety of the Law to Moses.

Exodus 20:1-19 And God spoke all these words: 2 "I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery.

3 "You shall have no other gods before me.

4 "You shall not make for yourself an idol in the form of anything in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the waters below. 5 You shall not bow down to them or worship them; for I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God, punishing the children for the sin of the fathers to the third and fourth generation of those who hate me, 6 but showing love to a thousand [generations] of those who love me and keep my commandments.

7 "You shall not misuse the name of the Lord your God, for the Lord will not hold anyone guiltless who misuses his name.

8 "Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy. 9 Six days you shall labor and do all your work, 10 but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the Lord your God. On it you shall not do any work, neither you, nor your son or daughter, nor your manservant or maidservant, nor your animals, nor the alien within your gates. 11 For in six days the Lord made the heavens and the earth, the sea, and all that is in them, but he rested on the seventh day. Therefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy.

12 "Honor your father and your mother, so that you may live long in the land the Lord your God is giving you.

13 "You shall not murder.

14 "You shall not commit adultery.

15 "You shall not steal.

16 "You shall not give false testimony against your neighbor.

17 "You shall not covet your neighbor's house. You shall not covet your neighbor's wife, or his manservant or maidservant, his ox or donkey, or anything that belongs to your neighbor."

18 When the people saw the thunder and lightning and heard the trumpet and saw the mountain in smoke, they trembled with fear. They stayed at a distance 19 and said to Moses, "Speak to us yourself and we will listen. But do not have God speak to us or we will die." (NIV)

A view from Mount Sinai

Hundreds of years later it appears that Mt Sinai's location was still well known as this is where Elijah fled during his time of discouragement in the days of king Ahab (874-853 B.C.).

1 Kings 19:1-18 Now Ahab told Jezebel everything Elijah had done and how he had killed all the prophets with the sword. 2 So Jezebel sent a messenger to Elijah to say, "May the gods deal with me, be it ever so severely, if by this time tomorrow I do not make your life like that of one of them." 3 Elijah was afraid and ran for his life. When he came to Beersheba in Judah, he left his servant there, 4 while he himself went a day's journey into the desert. He came to a broom tree, sat down under it and prayed that he might die. "I have had enough, Lord," he said. "Take my life; I am no better than my ancestors." 5 Then he lay down under the tree and fell asleep. All at once an angel touched him and said, "Get up and eat." 6 He looked around, and there by his head was a cake of bread baked over hot coals, and a jar of water. He ate and drank and then lay down again. 7 The angel of the Lord came back a second time and touched him and said, "Get up and eat, for the journey is too much for you." 8 So he got up and ate and drank. Strengthened by that food, he traveled forty days and forty nights until he reached Horeb, the mountain of God. 9 There he went into a cave and spent the night. And the word of the Lord came to him: "What are you doing here, Elijah?" 10 He replied, "I have been very zealous for the Lord God Almighty. The Israelites have rejected your covenant, broken down your altars, and put your prophets to death with the sword. I am the only one left, and now they are trying to kill me too." 11 The Lord said, "Go out and stand on the mountain in the presence of the Lord, for the Lord is about to pass by." Then a great and powerful wind tore the mountains apart and shattered the rocks before the Lord, but the Lord was not in the wind. After the wind there was an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake. 12 After the earthquake came a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire. And after the fire came a gentle whisper. 13 When Elijah heard it, he pulled his cloak over his face and went out and stood at the mouth of the cave. Then a voice said to him, "What are you doing here, Elijah?" 14 He replied, "I have been very zealous for the Lord God Almighty. The Israelites have rejected your covenant, broken down your altars, and put your prophets to death with the sword. I am the only one left, and now they are trying to kill me too." 15 The Lord said to him, "Go back the way you came, and go to the Desert of Damascus. When you get there, anoint Hazael king over Aram. 16 Also, anoint Jehu son of Nimshi king over Israel, and anoint Elisha son of Shaphat from Abel Meholah to succeed you as prophet. 17 Jehu will put to death any who escape the sword of Hazael, and Elisha will put to death any who escape the sword of Jehu. 18 Yet I reserve seven thousand in Israel - all whose knees have not bowed down to Baal and all whose mouths have not kissed him." (NIV)

One of the arguments sometimes used against Jebel Musa as being Mount Sinai is that the top of the mountain cannot be seen from the largest plain nearby. Those holding this view deem the following verses to require that the actual top of the mountain must have been in full view.

Exodus 19:10-12, 18-20 And the Lord said to Moses, "Go to the people and consecrate them today and tomorrow. Have them wash their clothes 11 and be ready by the third day, because on that day the Lord will come down on Mount Sinai in the sight of all the people. 12 Put limits for the people around the mountain and tell them, 'Be careful that you do not go up the mountain or touch the foot of it. Whoever touches the mountain shall surely be put to death. ... Mount Sinai was covered with smoke, because the Lord descended on it in fire. The smoke billowed up from it like smoke from a furnace, the whole mountain trembled violently, 19 and the sound of the trumpet grew louder and louder. Then Moses spoke and the voice of God answered him. 20 The Lord descended to the top of Mount Sinai and called Moses to the top of the mountain. So Moses went up... (NIV)

It is not as certain that the mountain had to be in full view, only that the people would have had to see that God descended upon the top of it - something that would still be clear if the mountain was partially shielded by foreground objects. An additional possibility includes that there is a smaller plain closer to the mountain that does have a clear view.

In modern times some have made Mount Horeb to be a different mountain than Mount Sinai, albeit neighbors. In this view Ras es Safsafeh (6540 ft tall) is the former and Jebel Musa the latter. Strictly speaking the two are twin peaks of one large mountain. The peak of Ras es Safsafeh can be seen from the larger plain of er-Raha. This plain is approximately 2 x 7 miles (3 x 11 km). Access to this summit, via a path through a ravine on the northeast end of the range (now called "Jethro's path") would have enabled Moses and Joshua to hear the sounds of the camp without seeing it (Exodus 32:15-18).

Jebel Musa (7500 ft tall) is about 3 miles (5 km) away from the larger plain of er-Raha, and as previously mentioned has a restricted view of its summit from that larger gathering place. Besides the possibility that a clear view was not necessary, there is a smaller plain further up, just below the highest part of Jebel Musa, that could have been an alternate site for the Israelites to have gathered.

Other peaks in the range have also been proposed, yet Jebel Musa alone enjoyed a special status from well before Christian times. Later candidates, such as Ras es Safsafeh, did not become sacred sites until well into the Christian era. The identification of Mount Sinai, early in the Christian period, was not completely arbitrary but built on the earlier weight of tradition regarding this locale. Other factors, including travel distances and candidates for additional waypoints, also help verify Jebel Musa as being the best contender.3

By the fourth century A.D. we know that Christian monks and pilgrims were visiting and living in the area. The account of an Egyptian traveler, named Ammonius, who visited Mount Sinai circa 373 A.D. is a great example. Peregrinatio Silviae (circa A.D. 388) gives specific directions for to the "mount of God" from Wadi Feiran, stating that it was 35 Roman miles from Pharan (Feiran). This is the actual distance between the oasis in Wadi Feiran and Jebel Musa. Certainly by the reign of Justinian (527-565 A.D.), the tradition of Jebel Musa as being Mount Sinai was unquestionable. It was Justinian who established the still existing St. Catherine's monastery on the northwest side of Jebel Musa - notably to replace a smaller church that was already two centuries old.

The end of Moses time at Mount Sinai was almost a year after their arrival as a nation. From there they continued northeastward, subsequently wasting forty years in the dessert - due to their unbelief and sin - before being allowed to enter the Promised Land. For a specific timeline of events of the Exodus, click here.

Exodus 19:1-2 In the third month after the Israelites left Egypt - on the very day - they came to the Desert of Sinai. 2 After they set out from Rephidim, they entered the Desert of Sinai, and Israel camped there in the desert in front of the mountain. (NIV)

Numbers 10:11-12 On the twentieth day of the second month of the second year, the cloud lifted from above the tabernacle of the Testimony. 12 Then the Israelites set out from the Desert of Sinai and traveled from place to place until the cloud came to rest in the Desert of Paran. (NIV)

Chapel at the top of Mount Sinai (Jebel Musa)


Sinaiticus Manuscripts (Codex Sinaiticus)

In 1844, this manuscript was rescued from imminent destruction, in the fire, at the Monastery of Saint Catherine at Mount Sinai. It is a 4th century uncial manuscript of the Bible in Greek, thought to have been written between 330-350 A.D.. While it originally contained the whole of both Testaments, portions of the Old Testament have been lost although the complete New Testament and the apocryphal books of the Epistle of Barnabas and portions of The Shepherd of Hermas, survive. Along with Codex Vaticanus, Codex Sinaiticus is one of the most valuable manuscripts in existence today. It is the only uncial manuscript containing the complete text of the New Testament.

The official Codex Sinaticus Web Site

Sinaiticus Manuscript, showing Old Testament leaf of Jeremiah, Lamentations.


1. There are fourteen specific references to Sinai as the mountain. Though there are an additional sixteen references to the area also using the name Sinai, each are clearly delineated as the "dessert of" or "wilderness of" Sinai. These become no more than statements pointing to the immediate region surrounding the specific mountain of Sinai.

2. More detail is provided in ISBE...

Deuteronomy 1:2 records that the journey from Horeb to Kadesh-barnea by way of Mt. Seir took eleven days. This distance has been confirmed independently by modern scholarship, on the assumption that the route went from the traditional Sinai (Jebel Musa) to Dhahab on the east coast of the Sinai Peninsula, then N toward Edom and across to Kadesh-barnea (Ain Qudeis). (Article "SINAI", International Standard Bible Encyclopedia, revised edition, Copyright © 1979 by Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co.)

3. ISBE's summary is quite appropriate...

Again, locating Sinai elsewhere than at Jebel Musa would leave the ancient traditions about that mountain unexplained. Finally, the reference in Deut 1:2 to a journey of eleven days from Kadesh to Horeb can be properly understood only in relationship to the southern portion of the Sinai Peninsula. On balance, therefore, the identification of Mt. Sinai with Jebel Musa, as traditionally maintained, seems the most satisfactory. (International Standard Bible Encyclopedia, revised edition, Copyright © 1979 by Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co. All rights reserved.)


The Monastery of Saint Catherine, nestled in a valley. Mount Sinai rising behind it to the left and foreground.

Front of St. Catherine's
Note wooden structure where people and supplies would be hauled up in early times, before a door was later made.


Steeple of church inside compound with spire of a mosque (white) behind it, also in the compound. Also below...


A glimpse inside the church, looking through the doors. Relics and decorations of gold and silver.


Looking down at Saint Catherine's coming off of Mount Sinai.

A number of dubious claims are made regarding sites at St. Catherine's, including that this is/was the burning bush Moses saw.

One of the narrow passages inside of Saint Catherine's.

More view from up on Mount Sinai

More view from up on Mount Sinai

Rugged rock formations of Mount Sinai

(c) 2008 Brent MacDonald/Lion Tracks Ministries. Images span 2005-2007.