Sinai in Israel

Professor Emmanuel Anati, an Italian-Israeli archaeologist, says the real Mt. Sinai — Elijah’s Mountain of God (1 Kings 19:8) — is Har Karkom, a 2,700-foot ridge in the southern Negev, Israel’s desert.

I followed this idea down memory lane as far as Kibbutz Sde Boker and a photo shoot with Prime Minister Ben Gurion at the gate. Yet Professor Anati says many more will soon be following all the way down into the Negev.

Vatican pilgrimages to Har Karkom

“Actually, they have already accepted my theory,” he said. “They are already organizing pilgrimages. There is already a plan, and I have meetings scheduled with theologians and others, including the Vatican pilgrimage office. They want to start pilgrimages to Karkom as soon as next year.”

I’m sure of it!

“Actually it’s not a theory, it’s a reality. I’m sure of it,” states Professor Anati. “Mt. Karkom was an important pilgrimage and holy place for desert peoples, not only Jews, but all religious people in the area.”

From Nahal Tzin to Hebron

Professor Emmanuel Anati

Professor Emmanuel Anati

“When the Children of Israel left Egypt, they reached the Arava. They couldn’t have been in Santa [St. Catherine’s Monastery at Jabal Mousa in the Sinai Peninsula], because it says in the Bible that they reached Nahal Tzin [a large wadi near Kibbutz Sde Boker], and moved on to Hebron,” Anati said. “The whole story of receiving the Torah must have taken place in the Negev. The Children of Israel wandered in the north and not the south, in the Negev and not the Sinai.”

30-year dig

Ibex Crescent Horns

Ibex Moon-Shaped Horns

Professor Anati’s discoveries while digging for 30 years at Har Karkom:

  • 1,300 archaeological sites
  • 40,000 rock engravings
  • 120+ rock cult sites


He says from 4300 to 2000 B.C.E. Har Karkom was a religious center for the moon-god Sin. The abundant Har Karkom rock art depicts ibexes, animals with crescent-shaped horns that may have symbolized the moon.

Ten Commandments?


Aaron’s Rod?

Professor Anati also points to an image of ten boxes that he claims represent Biblical tablets of the Ten Commandments. On other rocks vertical and curvy lines may be re-telling the story of Moses’s brother Aaron when he stood before Pharaoh and turned his staff into a snake.

Others are not so sure.

Those who disagree include Israel Finkelstein, Davida Eisenberg-Degen, Professor Uzi Avner, Isaac Nieman, Professor James K. Hoffmeier, and film maker Simcha Jacobovici.

Mount Karkom is not unique

Professor Israel Finkelstein

Professor Israel Finkelstein


Davida Eisenberg-Degen

Israel Finkelstein, Tel Aviv University, and Davida Eisenberg-Degen of the Israel Antiquity Authority reject Anati’s conclusions, because the type of Early Bronze Age cultic installations discovered at Har Karkom have also been found in significant numbers in the southern desert, Negev, and Sinai—so Har Karkom is not unique. Eisenberg-Degen notes, “the quantity of petroglyphs on Mt. Karkom is average for the Central Negev.”

Rock art does not tell the story

The Twenty Commandments?


Professor Uzi Avner

Although Professor Anati points to rock showing ten boxes that represent the Biblical tablets, Professor Uzi Avner shows similar pictures containing twelve, fifteen and more boxes from the Haroz Valley, just east of Har Karkom.

Patina does not date rocks

Professor Anati dates the petroglyphs to the Bronze Age period based on patina (the thin film that develops over time on rock) and content (the subject matter of the pictures). But Eisenberg-Degen argues that you can’t date pictures based on the subject depicted, nor can you use patina as a reliable tool for dating ancient rock art.

The Exodus date is wrong

Professor James K. Hoffmeier

Professor James K. Hoffmeier

Since the religious center at Har Karkom flourished at least 800 years earlier than the traditional date of the Exodus, Professor Anati proposes moving the date of the Exodus to match. That’s not a problem, he says, because  whether or not the Exodus described in the Bible occurred, Har Karkom inspired the Biblical authors.

Israel Finkelstein is appalled by Anati’s date-switching.

Professor Hoffmeier asks, if you want to move the Exodus to an earlier date — 2200 b.c. — in what language would the tablets with the ten commandments have been written? As late as 1800 b.c. the Hebrew script —  which borrowed from the Canaanite alphabetic script — was still developing.

In conclusion

Simcha Jacobovici

Simcha Jacobovici

And if the lineup against Professor Anati were not long enough, Jacobovici declares, “Science is science and Mount Karkom is not Mount Sinai.”

The American archaeologist, Isaac Nieman, says that although the research is extensive, the claims and evidence are “put together in a way that is not exactly accurate. People will never truly know where the mountain is.”

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