How far did Elijah hike in “forty days and forty nights”?
A lumbering old bus from Tel Aviv chugs me 2,739 feet up to Jerusalem — 2/3 the distance to the Jordan River — in 43 minutes.
“Hmm, small country.”
Small Holy Land
The changing minutes show the current driving time from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem
On maps drawn to the same scale, the tiny sliver, Israel, gets lost in the mighty continent, USA. A mere 8,019 mi² hiding inside 3,797,000 mi². In such a small land where will a hike of 40 days and nights take Elijah?
For starters I calculate the miles from Beersheba to three proposed locations for Mt. Sinai: Petra, Hashem el-Tarif, and Jabal Mousa.
1. How far to Petra?
Let’s say Elijah walks about 3 miles per hour, so he puts 24 miles behind him in an 8-hour day, covering the 114 miles from Beersheva to Petra in 5 days.
Remaining travel time: 40 – 5 = 35 days.
2. How far to Hashem el-Tarif?
If I ever visit Hashem el-Tarif, I intend to ask the locals how many of these stone figures were here during Elijah’s time.
The direct route from Beersheba is about 150 miles. But today’s political borders force me to travel 192 miles. If Elijah takes my longer route, he first walks 152 miles from Beersheva to Eilat. By starting on a Fun Tuesday and resting on the Sabbath, next Wednesday morning he is rewarded for his extra miles by dipping his toe in the Red Sea and doing lunch at the Aroma Cafe in downtown Eilat. Days traveled = 8.
The last leg of his trip is only 40 miles, so in 2 more days he arrives in Hashem el-Tarif.
Remaining travel time: 40 – 8 – 2 = 30 days.
3. How far to Jabal Mousa?
I’d be sure to stay at St. Catherine’s Monastery and pay no attention to that man by the tent waving the sign, “Elijah slept here.”
From Eilat, Elijah has 32 days of travel time left. But he makes the 120 miles to Jabal Mousa in only 5 days.
Remaining travel time: 32 – 5 = 27 days.
So even at the farthest destination, Elijah still has 27 days x 24 miles = 648 miles to complete his 40-day trek. Where will I send him?
Say he hikes the 269 miles (11.2 days) from Eilat to Cairo and — against my recommendation — takes a swim. If he survives the Nile, he hikes 269 miles (11.2 days) back to Eilat. Days elapsed = 22.4
Remaining travel time: 27 – 22.4 = 4.6 days
The way we talk
I let Elijah sit a spell because this morning Vickie tells me, “We’ve got a ton of solar today!” I know my engineer wife has not started measuring Alabama sunshine by the pound. By “ton of solar” she means the skies are clear, so the solar panels she tends will generate many watts today. “Ton of” is just the way we talk.
Now I prefer to take Biblical writers literally. As in, a real whale swallowed a real Jonah. Yet I wonder, when they wrote the book of Kings, was “forty days and forty nights” just the way Israelis talked?
“Remember what a huge flood hit Noah after 40 days and 40 nights of rain? Well, that’s how long it felt when Elijah hiked to Horeb.”
Feel free to use the “Leave a Reply” box below to correct any of my heresies. Or write me at length here.