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Map of the Sinai Peninsula with country borders shown.

The Sinai Peninsula or Sinai (Egyptian Arabic: سينا sina; Arabic: سيناءsina'a; Hebrew סיני) is a triangular peninsula in Egypt which is about 60,000 km2 (23,000 sq mi). It lies between the Mediterranean Sea to the north, and the Red Sea to the south, and is the only part of Egyptian territory located in Asia as opposed to Africa, effectively serving as a land bridge between the two continents. In addition to its formal name, Egyptians also refer to it affectionately as the "Land of Fayrouz", based on the Ancient Egyptian "Dumafkat", which has the same meaning. The peninsula is currently controlled by Egypt, which has divided the region into two Egyptian governorates, and contains a population of approximately 1.3 million people.

The region has historically been the center of conflict between various political factions, based largely on its strategic geopolitical location. In addition to periods of direct rule by Egyptian governments (including the Ayyubids, the Mamluks, the Muhammad Ali Dynasty, and the modern Egyptian republic), like the rest of Egypt, it was also occupied and controlled by the Ottoman, and British empires. Israel invaded and occupied Sinai twice during the 20th Century, first during the Suez War of 1956, and secondly during and after the Six Day War of 1967. In the October War of 1973, it was the location of fierce fighting between Egyptian, and occupying Israeli forces.



Sinai was inhabited by the Monitu and was called Mafkat or Country of Turquoise. From the time of the First dynasty or before, the Egyptians mined turquoise in Sinai at two locations, now called by their Arabic names Wadi Maghareh and Serabit el-Khadim. The mines were worked intermittently and on a seasonal basis for thousands of years. Modern attempts to exploit the deposits have been unprofitable. These may be the first known mines.

The peninsula was governed as part of Egypt under the Mamluk Sultanate from 1260 until 1517, when the Ottoman Sultan, Selim the Grim, destroyed the Mamluks at the Battles of Marj Dabiq and al-Raydaniyya. From then until 1906, Sinai was administered by Ottoman provincial government of the Pashalik of Egypt, even following the establishment of the Muhammad Ali Dynasty's rule over the rest of Egypt in 1805. In 1906, the Ottoman Porte formally transferred administration of Sinai to the Egyptian Government, which essentially meant that it fell under the control of the United Kingdom, who had occupied and largely controlled Egypt since 1882. The border imposed by the British runs in an almost straight line from Rafah on the Mediterranean shore to Taba on the Gulf of Aqaba. This line has served as the eastern border of Egypt ever since.

At the beginning of the 1948 Arab-Israeli War, Egyptian forces entered the former British Mandate of Palestine from Sinai to support Palestinian and other Arab forces against the newly declared State of Israel. For a period during the war, Israeli forces entered the north-eastern corner of Sinai. With the exception of the Palestinian Gaza Strip, which came under the administration of the All-Palestine Government, the western frontier of the former Mandate of Palestine became the Egyptian-Israeli frontier under the 1949 Armistice Agreement.

In 1956, Egypt nationalized the Suez Canal on the western side of the Sinai Peninsula and also used its control of the eastern side to impose a blockade on the Israeli port of Eilat. Following this, Israeli forces, aided by Britain, and France (which sought to reverse the nationalization and regain control over the Suez Canal), invaded Sinai and took control of much of the peninsula within a few days (see Suez Crisis). Several months later Israel withdrew its forces from Sinai, following strong pressure from the United States and the Soviet Union. Following this the United Nations Emergency Force (UNEF) was stationed in Sinai to prevent any military occupation of the Sinai.

In 1967, Egypt reinforced its military presence in Sinai, renewed the blockade on Eilat, and on May 16 ordered the UNEF out of Sinai with immediate effect. Secretary-General U Thant eventually complied and ordered the withdrawal without Security Council authorization. Subsequent to Egyptian actions, Israel invaded Sinai, commencing the Six-Day War in which the Egyptian army was defeated, and Israel captured and occupied the entire peninsula. The Suez Canal, the east bank of which was now controlled by Israel, was closed.

In the October War of 1973, Egyptian engineering forces built pontoon bridges to cross the Suez Canal, and stormed the supposedly impregnable Bar-Lev Line while many Israeli soldiers were observing the holiday Yom Kippur. Though the Egyptians maintained control of most of the east bank of the Canal, in the later stages of the war, the Israeli military crossed the southern section of Canal, cutting off the Egyptian 3rd Army, and occupied a section of the west bank. After the war, as part of the subsequent Sinai Disengagement Agreements, Israel withdrew from the Canal, with Egypt's agreeing to permit passage of Israeli ships.

In 1979, Israel and Egypt signed a peace treaty in which Israel agreed to withdraw from the entirety of Sinai. Israel subsequently withdrew in several stages, ending in 1982. The Israeli pull-out involved dismantling almost all Israeli settlements, including the town of Yamit in north-eastern Sinai. The exception was Ofira, which became the resort town of Sharm el-Sheikh. The Treaty allows monitoring of the Sinai by the Multinational Force and Observers and limits the number of Egyptian military forces in the Peninsula.

Image gallery

Egypt-Israel border. Looking north from the Eilat Mountains  
St. Catherine's Monastery is the oldest monastery in the world and the most popular tourist attraction on the peninsula  
An image of Canadian and Panamanian UNEF UN peacekeepers in the Sinai, during 1974.  
Sand dune and rocky exposure on the Sinai Peninsula  


Image from Gemini 11 spacecraft, featuring part of Egypt and the Sinai Peninsula in the foreground and the Levant in the background

The Sinai Peninsula is currently divided among two Egyptian governorates, or provinces. The southern portion of the Sinai is called Ganub Sina in Arabic, literally "South of Sinai"; the northern portion is named Shamal Sina', or "North of Sinai". The other three governates converge on the Suez Canal, including el-Sewais, literally "the Suez"; on its southern end and crosses into African Egypt. In the center is el-Isma'ileyyah, and Port Said lies in the north with its capital at Port Said.

Approximately 66,500 people live in Ganub Sina and 314,000 live in Shamal Sina'. Port Said itself has a population of roughly 500,000 people. Portions of the populations of el-Isma'ileyyah and el-Suweis live in Sinai, while the rest live on the western side of the Suez Canal in Egypt-proper. The combined population of these two governorates is roughly 1.3 million (only a part of that population live in the Sinai, while the rest live on the western side of the Suez Canal). Sinai is one of the coldest provinces in Egypt because of its high altitudes and mountainous topographies. Winter temperatures in some of Sinai's cities and towns reach −16 °C (3.2 °F).

Over the past 30 years the Sinai has become a tourist destination due to its natural setting, rich coral reefs, and biblical history. Large numbers of Egyptians from the Nile Valley and Delta have moved to the area to work in tourism, while at the same time development has robbed native Bedouin of their grazing land and fishing grounds. This clash of cultures has resulted in the Sinai becoming the site of several terrorist attacks targeting not only Westerners, and Israelis, but also Egyptians on holiday and working in tourism.

In order to help alleviate the problems faced by the Sinai Bedouin due to mass tourism, various NGOs have begun to operate in the region including the Makhad Trust, a UK charity who assist the Bedouin in developing a sustainable income whilst protecting Sinai's natural environment, heritage and culture.

See also

Natural places
Manmade structures


Further reading

External links

Coordinates: 29°30′N 33°50′E / 29.5°N 33.833°E / 29.5; 33.833


Travel guide

Up to date as of January 14, 2010

From Wikitravel

Monastery of St. Catherine, Mount Sinai
Monastery of St. Catherine, Mount Sinai

The Sinai Peninsula is the easternmost part of Egypt between the Mediterranean and the Gulfs of Suez and Aqaba, both forks of the Red Sea. The western and northern coasts are practically uninhabited, but several Bedouin settlements and tourist attractions dot the eastern coast.

Above ground is a harsh, forbidding and (in summer) brutally hot desert of parched rock. The reason most tourists come here are the vistas underwater: the Sinai coast offers some of the best diving in the world. The region is also important because of its places of importance in the Abrahamic religions.

  • Dahab - the hippie mecca of the Middle East
  • Nuweiba - a port city
  • Sharm el-Sheikh - where the package tourists hang out--Las Vegas of Egypt
  • Taba - at the border with Israel
  • Mount Sinai - reputedly the Mount Sinai where Abrahamic scripture claims Prophet Moses received the Ten Commandments, and the neighboring Monastery of St. Catherine
  • Ras Abu Galum - nature reserve between Nuweiba and Dahab
  • Basata - one of the oldest and most popular Ecolodges in Sinai. Note that Israelis are forbidden from entering the campsite.
  • Coloured Canyon - amongst some of the most beautiful rock formations hidden in the mountains


In 1967, Israel took control over the entire peninsula. The Suez Canal, the east bank of which was controlled by Israel, was closed. In 1979 Israel and Egypt signed a peace treaty. Israel pulled out of Sinai in several stages, ending in 1982.

The tourist cities are built around previous Israeli settlements. While the original population are bedouin, most of the staff and workers in this area come from Lower Egypt and especially the canal cities.

Al Tor is the regional center of Southern Sinai, which includes Dahab, Nuweiba and Sharm. Al-Arish is the regional center of less visited Northern Sinai, close to Rafah and the border to the Gaza strip.


As is the case throughout Egypt, the language of the Sinai is the Egyptian dialect of the Arabic language and local bedouin Arabic dialects. But in tourist areas you also get by with English, and on the east coast also with Hebrew, because here many Israelis come for holidays. On Mount Sinai and in other heavy tourist zones, you are likely to encounter multi-lingual bedouin capable of conversing (and negotiating prices) in a repertoire that includes (but is in no way limited to!) French, Spanish, Italian, Russian and German.

Get in

No Egyptian visa is required, as special 14-day Sinai permits are granted on arrival at the Taba border, Taba Airport and Sharm el-Sheikh's airport. Note that this permit allows travel only on the eastern Sinai coast and the Mount Sinai with St. Catherine's Monastery.

By land

There is a busy border crossing between Eilat, Israel and Taba. See the Taba article for details on crossing in either direction.

By ferry

Two ferries run between Nuweiba and Aqaba, Jordan. One is a standard speed ferry, the other a so-called 'Fast Ferry'. For travelers interested in bypassing Israel by crossing the Gulf of Aqaba from Egypt to Jordan directly, these ferries offer some degree of convenience. Patronized mainly by Arab nationals prohibited from entering Israel, the ferries will save other travelers little time and hassle over the land route from Taba through Eilat to Aqaba.

Regular ferry: US$50, plus 50 EGP or 5 JD departure tax.

Fast ferry: US$70, plus 50 EGP or 5 JD departure tax. Though its marketing materials say, "On time departure, first class service," that is not quite true of the high-speed ferry, named the Princess. The boat departs daily from Nuweiba at 3PM, or so its schedule says. However, the consensus among regular travelers is that the real time of departure is more like 5PM. (Schedule of Aqaba to Nuweiba trips unknown.) For trips departing Egypt, passengers must arrive at the station in Nuweiba and purchase tickets by 1PM. AB Maritime, the company that owns the Princess, does not offer any baggage handling service; indeed, luggage must be stacked against the walls of the vast cargo hold beneath the passenger deck, and cannot be taken as "carry on." And, non-sensically, dirty crowded buses transport passengers from the customs terminals in both Nuweiba and Aqaba to the boat, meaning an extra busride on each end of the trip adds time to the schedule.

By train

There are trains from Cairo to Port Said at the northwestern edge of the Sinai, but no further.

Get around

Whether you're going from the airport to your hotel, traveling from beach resort to beach resort, trekking up to St. Catherine's Monastery and Mount Sinai, or heading to Nuweiba to catch the ferry to Aqaba, Jordan, the trick to getting around in Sinai is to coordinate all ground transport through your hotel.

By taxi

If you're on any kind of reasonable budget, avoid at all costs the local taxis, whose prices are higher than Cairo taxis by a factor of around 10. However, it is possible to use the local taxis if you know the price in advadnce, and haggle a bit before going inside the car. 10 EGP should be considered the maximum payment for any taxi inside the cities (15 for Sharem).

By minibus

Inexpensive minibuses travel on regular schedules throughout the peninsula. The key to utilizing them is to do it through your hotel. Ask your hotel to coordinate your timetable, pick-up, and pricing. The exceptions to this hotel rule are minibuses traveling to and from Cairo, which leave all day, as soon as they are full of passengers, from Sharm el-Sheikh and Dahab. In Sharm el-Sheikh, you can find these minibuses at the west end of the taxi parking lot in front of the strip mall in the center of town.

By bus

East Delta bus company: Regular cheap full-sized coaches depart daily for points throughout the peninsula from bus stations in Sharm el-Sheikh and Dahab. Be sure to check schedules at the bus station, however, because the times are always changing and even hotels can get them wrong. In Sharm el-Sheikh, the East Delta bus station lies about 2km outside of town on the road toward the airport and Dahab. Call the appropriate East Delta office ahead to check the timings & rates that concern you:

Taba: 069 - 3530250 Nuweiba: 069 - 3520371 Dahab: 069 - 3641808 Cairo: 02 - 23428589

  • Desert Landscapes: Sinai's mountains and desert are spectacular. Rugged mountains made up of different mineral layers, contrasting with golden sand and blue skies. Trees and lush oases provide a beautiful surprise. Recommended is Wadi Ulrada and the Coloured Canyon. But many more little gems including hot springs and pharonic ruins are also to be found.
  • Sunrises and Sunsets: Sun rises over the Saudi Arabian Mountains and the Red Sea are a beautiful sight. As are the sunsets from the Sinai Mountains over the Red Sea to Saudi Arabia - when the sea is calm on a clear day you will see the red sea become red!
  • Underwater attractions: The Sinai peninsula is situated by the Red Sea and as such is an ideal point for diving and snorkeling. Various dive centers operate in each resort town/city to arrange both recreational and educational trips for all levels of experience and budgets.


If you love hiking, this is the place to be, so many hiking trails, i.e Tarboush Mountain, El Galt el Azrak, Gabal El Banat, Bab El Donia mountain (gate to life) Nabateya village, Wadi Etlah, Kharazet El-Shhagg, Gebel Abbas Pasha, Ain Najila, St. Katherine mountain and Moses mountain. Arranging a hike and guides are fairly easy. You can base at El Karm Echolodge in El-sheikh Awwad, or the Bedouin Camp in Katerina village. Sheik Mousa, Mob:+2 0106880820 can help you hire a Bedouin guide and camels to carry luggage to your destination. You can also check Sheikh Sina website for Bedouin treks arrangements. Bedouins will also arrange dinner for the group. Several local organizations offer trekking and excursions into the Sinai desert. The Bedouin tribe of the mountains organizes treks in St Katherine's national park. Saint Katherine website also offers information on region, treks and history.

  • Sharm Tickets (Aqua Parks, gokarting, parties, paintball tickets delivered to your door), 0103451290, [1]. Aqua Parks, Go Karting, parties, paintball tickets delivered to your door.  edit

The Muziena Tribe offer you Coloured Canyon, Ain Hudra, The blue desert and many more beautiful places to visit. Try Sheikhs Travel at Sheikh Salem House for organising tours and safaris in east Sinai. They also offer taxi transfers from Taba, Nuweiba, Dahab, Sharm El Sheikh or St Catherines if you can't wait for the buses. [2].

Others offer yoga trips to the St Katherine's area and the desert itself ( where the silence and tranquility is ideal for relaxation and meditation.

  • Underwater attractions: The Sinai peninsula is situated by the Red Sea and as such is an ideal point for diving and snorkeling. Various dive centers operate in each resort town/city to arrange both recreational and educational trips for all levels of experience and budgets.
  • Bir Sweir - Cheap and amazing place, 32 km from Taba, including many devine beaches, mostly cost 20-30LE for a Hut. You can start in one beach and leave it, if there are too many mousquitos for example. the most popular beaches are Paradaise (in the middle of Bir Sweir, the chepest food but the noisiest place) and Alexandria (in the South), but there are also Aquarium beach (of Auda, a local intelectual), Diana or Antica. Try the sweet hot Sahleb, theBanaganoush (eggplant salad) and the Bedouine Salad. Give a try to the Sudanese Salad in Alexandria beach. when you go in a taxi from Taba, pay 40-50LE or 50-70LE alone, if they ask for more, start to walk away and bargain.
  • Harby's Place, Wadi Mahash (20 KM north of Nuweiba, 40 KM south of Taba), [3]. Harby's Place is a Bedouin owned and managed eco-lodge situated in the beautiful surroundings of Wadi Mahash on the shores of the Red sea, South Sinai, Egypt. Its remote location and authentic beach huts make it an unique destination for eco-tourism and peace-seeking visitors. It is also very suitable for workshops and training courses, spiritual retreats, or similar group activities. Harby's Place operates on two fundamental principles: the Principle of Simplicity and minimal environmental impact, and the Principle of Hospitality - the highest Bedouin virtue. Guests experience the time-honoured hospitality and culture of the Bedouins in the simple comfort of the Zula. Harby's place aspires for a practical ecological equilibrium and respect to the local Bedouin culture. The camp's restaurant offers local organic and seasonal food. Just as the locals eat… Fish and seafood cought off shore on the same day, fresh salads from locally grown organic vegetables, and Bedouin dishes as Magluba - a meal of lamb (or chicken), rice and vegetables cooked for over 4 hours on red burning coals and Sayadiya the fisherman's food – rice and fish cooked with fish stock and local vegetables and spices. 30EU for Full board , 10EU B&B.  edit
  • Ananda Camp, around 42 kilometers south taba check point, (++2)012-356-1742. One of the most beautiful places in the coast of Taba/Neuibaa. Wooden bungalows that accommodate 2 persons two screened windows. some huts are right on the beach with rugs over sand and no electricity and others with hard tiles and electricity available. Nice hangout area and few shady ones on the beach. Clean, shared modern bathrooms are available with showers and hot water. Electricity is available throughout the camp from 6PM-12midnight. Prices: hut which comfortably accommodates 2 people costs LE60 (approx $12)per night. Meal is between LE25-LE50 ($5-$10). Drinks are reasonably priced.

Get out

*Sharm Tickets (Aqua Parks, Go Karting, parties, paint Ball tickets delivered to your door), 0103451290, [4]. Aqua Parks, Go Karting, parties, paint Ball tickets delivered to your door  edit

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1911 encyclopedia

Up to date as of January 14, 2010
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Proper noun




  1. A peninsula of eastern Egypt, bordering Asia.
  2. A mountain located in the Sinai Peninsula; the location where Moses is said to have received the Ten Commandments from God.

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Bible wiki

Up to date as of January 23, 2010

From BibleWiki

of Sin (the moon god), called also Horeb, the name of the mountain district which was reached by the Hebrews in the third month after the Exodus. Here they remained encamped for about a whole year. Their journey from the Red Sea to this encampment, including all the windings of the route, was about 150 miles.

The last twenty-two chapters of Exodus, together with the whole of Leviticus and Numbers. ch. 1-11, contain a record of all the transactions which occurred while they were here. From Rephidim (Ex 17:8ff) the Israelites journeyed forward through the Wady Solaf and Wady esh-Sheikh into the plain of er-Rahah, "the desert of Sinai," about 2 miles long and half a mile broad, and encamped there "before the mountain." The part of the mountain range, a protruding lower bluff, known as the Ras Sasafeh (Sufsafeh), rises almost perpendicularly from this plain, and is in all probability the Sinai of history. Dean Stanley thus describes the scene:, "The plain itself is not broken and uneven and narrowly shut in, like almost all others in the range, but presents a long retiring sweep, within which the people could remove and stand afar off. The cliff, rising like a huge altar in front of the whole congregation, and visible against the sky in lonely grandeur from end to end of the whole plain, is the very image of the 'mount that might be touched,' and from which the voice of God might be heard far and wide over the plain below." This was the scene of the giving of the law. From the Ras Sufsafeh the law was proclaimed to the people encamped below in the plain of er-Rahah. During the lengthened period of their encampment here the Israelites passed through a very memorable experience. An immense change passed over them. They are now an organized nation, bound by covenant engagement to serve the Lord their God, their ever-present divine Leader and Protector. At length, in the second month of the second year of the Exodus, they move their camp and march forward according to a prescribed order. After three days they reach the "wilderness of Paran," the "et-Tih", i.e., "the desert", and here they make their first encampment. At this time a spirit of discontent broke out amongst them, and the Lord manifested his displeasure by a fire which fell on the encampment and inflicted injury on them. Moses called the place Taberah, Num 11:1ff. The journey between Sinai and the southern boundary of the Promised Land (about 150 miles) at Kadesh was accomplished in about a year.

This entry includes text from Easton's Bible Dictionary, 1897.

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The mountain on which the Mosaic Law was given.

Horeb and Sinai were thought synonymous by St. Jerome ("De situ et nom. Hebr.", in P.L., XXIII, 889), W. Gesenius amd, more recently, G. Ebers (p. 381). Ewald, Ed. Robinson. E.H. Palmer, and others think Horeb denoted the whole mountainous region about Sinai (Ex., xvii, 6). The origin of the name Sinai is disputed. It seems to be an adjective from the Hebrew word for "the desert" (Ewald and Ebers) or "the moon-god" (E. Schrader and others). The mount was called Sinai, or "the mount of God" probably before the time of Moses (Josephus, "Antiq. Jud.", II, xii.) The name is now given to the triangular peninsula lying between the desert of Southern Palestine, the Red Sea, and the gulfs of Akabah and Suez, with an area of about 10,000 square miles, which was the scene of the forty years' wandering of the Israelites after the Exodus from Egypt.

The principal topographical features are two. North of the Jabal et-Tih (3200 to 3950 feet) stretches an arid plateau, the desert of Tih, marked by numerous Wadis, notably El-Arish, the "River of Egypt", which formed the southern boundary of the Promised Land (Gen., xv, 18; Num., xxxiv, 5). South of Jabal et-Tih rises a mountainous mass of granite streaked with porphyry, dividing into three principal groups: the western, Jabal Serbal (6750 feet); the central, Jabal Musa (7380 feet), Jabal Catherine (8560 feet), and Jabal Um Schomer (8470 feet); the eastern, Jabal Thebt (7906 feet) and Jabal Tarfa, which terminates in Ras Mohammed. It is among these mountains that Jewish and Christian tradition places the Sinai of the Bible, but the precise location is uncertain. It is Jabal Musa, according to a tradition traceable back to the fourth century, when St. Silvia of Aquitaine was there. Jabal Musa is defended by E.H. and H.S. Palmer, Vigouroux, Lagrange, and others. However, the difficulty of applying Ex., xix, 12, to Jabal Musa and the inscriptions found near Jabal Serbal have led some to favour Serbal. This was the opinion of St. Jerome (P.L., XXIII, 916, 933) and Cosmas (P.G., LXXXVIII, 217), and more recently of Birkhard and Lepsius, and it has of late been very strongly defended by G. Ebers, not to mention Beke, Gressmann, and others, who consider the whole story about Sinai (Ex., xix) only a mythical interpretation of some volcanic eruption. The more liberal critics, while agreeing generally that the Jewish traditions represented by the "Priest-Codex" and "Elohistic documents" place Sinai among the mountains in the south-central part of the peninsula, yet disagree as to its location by the older "Jahvistic" tradition (Ex., ii, 15, 16, 21; xviii, 1, 5). A. von Gall, whose opinion Welhausen thinks the best sustained, contends that Meribar (D. V. Temptation. - Ex., xvii, 14), that the Israelites never went so far south as Jabal Mûsa, and hence that Sinai must be looked for in Madian, on the east coast of Akabar. Others (cf. Winckler, II, p.29; Smend, p. 35, n. 2; and Weill, opp. Cit. Infra in bibliography) look for Sinai in the near neighbourhood of Cades (Ayn Qâdis) in Southern Palestine.

Sinai was the refuge of many Christian anchorites during the third-century persecutions of the Church. There are traces of a fourth-century monastery near Mount Serbal. In 527 the Emperor Justinian built the famous convent of Mt. Sinai on the north foot of Jabal Mûsa, which has been known since the ninth century as St. Catherine's. Its small library contains about 500 volumes of valuable manuscripts in Greek, Arabic, Syriac, Ethiopic, etc. It was here that Tischendorf, during his researches in 1844, 1853, and 1859, found a very ancient Greek MS. (since known as the "Codex Sinaiticus") containing most of the Septuagint, all the new Testament, the "Epistle of Barnabas" and the first part of the "Shepherd" of Hermas. Forty-three MS. Pages found by him are preserved at the University of Leipzig and known as the "Codex Friderico-Augustanus". In 1892 Mrs. Smith Lewis found at Sinai a fourth-century palimpsest Syriac text of St. Luke's Gospel. Sinai is rich in valuable inscriptions. M. de Vogüé gives 3200 Egyptian and Semitic inscriptions found in the Wâdi Mukatteb, the ruins of the temple of Ischta, or Astaroth-Carmain, and the iron and turquoise mines and granite and marble quarries, which were extensively worked under the twelfth and eighteenth Egyptian dynasties.

The present population of Sinai is 4000 to 6000 semi-nomadic Arabs, Mohammedans, governed by their tribal sheikhs and immediately subject to the commandant of the garrison at Qal' at un-Nakhl, under the Intelligence Department of the Egyptian War Office at Cairo.

Portions of this entry are taken from The Catholic Encyclopedia, 1907.


—Biblical Data:

Mount Horeb.

Mountain situated in the desert of Sinai, famous for its connection with the promulgation of the Law by God through Moses (Ex. xix. 1-xx. 18). The general opinion of modern scholars is that the name "Sinai" is derived from the name of the Babylonian moon-god Sin. Mount Sinai is often referred to as "the mountain" (that is, the mountain par excellence), "the mountain of Elohim" (Hebr.), and "the mountain of Yhwh" (Hebr.; Ex. iii. 1, iv. 27, xviii. 5, xix. 2, et passim; Num. x. 33), and in many other passages it is called "Horeb" (Ex. iii. 1; Deut. i. 2 et passim). The Biblical text, indeed, seems to indicate that this last was its proper name, while "Sinai" was applied to the desert. According to one theory, Sinai and Horeb are the names of two eminences belonging to the same range; if this be so the range became prominent in the history of the Hebrews some time before the promulgation of the Law. When Moses led the flocks of his father-in-law to the desert and came "to the mountain of God, even to Horeb," an angel appeared to him from a flaming bush, and then God Himself spoke to Moses, telling him that where he stood was holy ground, thus foreshadowing the great event that was to occur there. From that mountain God persuaded Moses to go to Pharaoh and deliver the Israelites from his yoke. After the Exodus, when the Israelites who had encamped at Rephidim were suffering with thirst, Moses, by command of God, smote water from a rock in Horeb (Ex. xvii. 6).

Having encamped before Mount Sinai, the Israelites were told that from this mountain they would receive the commandments of God, and that they would hear His very voice. They were commanded to give three days to preparation for that solemnity, for on the third day God would come down on the mountain in sight of all the people. Moses set a boundary up to which they might go, and they were prohibited under penalty of death from even touching the mountain. On the third day the mountain was enveloped in a cloud; it quaked and was filled with smoke as God descended upon it, while lightning-flashes shot forth, and the roar of thunder mingled with the peals of trumpets. Then Moses appeared upon it and promulgated the Ten Commandments, after which God instructed him in many of the laws which form a part of the Pentateuch (Ex. xix. 1-xxiii. 33). Later, Moses, Aaron, Nadab, Abihu, and seventy elders of Israel went together up the mountain, where they saw the God of Israel. Mount Sinai was then enveloped in a cloud for six days, while on its summit, fire, the emblem of God, was seen burning. On the seventh day Moses was commanded by God to ascend the mountain to receive the tables of the Law; he remained there forty days and nights (Ex. xxiv. 9-10, 16-18). The Song of Moses refers to the solemn promulgation of the Law on Mount Sinai (Deut. xxxiii. 2); so does the Song of Deborah (Judges v.), which declares that the "earth trembled," the "heavens dropped, the clouds also dropped water," and the "mountains melted" (comp. Ps. lxviii. 9, 17).

Horeb reappears later as the place to which Elijah escaped after Jezebel had massacred the prophets of Yhwh (I Kings xix. 8 et seq.).

—In Rabbinical Literature:

Different Names.

The Rabbis consider "Sinai" and "Horeb" to be two names of the same mountain, which had besides three other names: (1) "Har ha-Elohim" (= "the mountain of God"), the Israelites having received there the knowledge of the divinity of God; (2) "Har Bashan," the latter word being interpreted as though it were "beshen" (= "with the teeth"), that is to say, mankind through the virtue of this mountain obtains its sustenance; and (3) "Har Gabnunim" (= "a mountain pure as cheese"). The names "Horeb" and "Sinai" are interpreted to mean, respectively, "the mountain of the sword," because through this mountain the Sanhedrin acquired the right to sentence a man to capital punishment, and "hostility," inasmuch as the mountain was hostile to the heathen (Ex. R. ii. 6). Shab. 89a, b gives the following four additional names of Sinai: "Ẓin," "Ḳadesh," "Ḳedomot," and "Paran," but declares that its original name was "Horeb" (comp. Midr. Abkir, quoted in Yalḳ., Ex. 169); according to Pirḳe R. El. xli., it acquired the name "Sinai" only after God had appeared to Moses in the bush ("seneh"; comp. Sinai, Biblical Data).

Jacob's dream is an allegorical allusion to Sinai (Gen. xxviii. 12), "ladder" being interpreted as meaning the mountain. It is also supposed by the Rabbis that the well near which Jacob met Rachel (ib. xxix. 2) symbolizes Mount Sinai. Mount Sinai and Moses had been predestined from the days of Creation to meet each other; and therefore the former, when Moses led his father-in-law's flocks towardit (Ex. iii. 1), moved from its foundation and went to meet him. It stopped only when Moses was upon it; and both manifested great joy at the meeting. Moreover, Moses recognized that it was the mount of God on seeing that birds hovered over but did not alight upon it. According to another authority, the birds fell at Moses' feet (Yalḳuṭ Re'ubeni, Shemot, quoting the Zohar).

Scene of the Law-giving.

Sinai, however, acquired its greatest importance through the promulgation of the Law. God's descent upon the mountain was the sixth of His descents from heaven (Pirḳe R. El. xiv.). He had previously measured all the mountains, and His choice fell on Sinai because it was lower than the others. Then the other mountains, particularly Tabor and Carmel, began to dispute among themselves, each claiming that it ought to be the place of the delivery of the Torah. God, however, said to them: "Do not dispute; you are all unworthy of this occasion, as idols have been placed upon all of you except Sinai" (Soṭah 5a; Mek., Yitro, Baḥodesh, 4; Gen. R. xcix. 1; Lev. R. xiii. 2; Num. R. xiii. 5). Referring to Ex. xix. 17, Mek., l.c. 3 concludes that the mountain was torn from its foundation and that the Israelites were placed just under it (but see Shab. l.c.). The mountain was not very large, and when God descended upon it He was accompanied by 22,000 companies of archangels and by an equal number of chariots similar to that seen by Ezekiel. God therefore ordered the mountain to extend itself, so as to be capable of receiving such a host (Tan., Ẓaw, 16). In order to reconcile Ex. xix. 20 (where it is said that God descended upon the mountain) with ib. xx. 22 (which declares that God spoke to the Israelites from heaven), the Rabbis hold that God lowered the heavens and spread them on Sinai (Mek., l.c. 4). A similar statement occurs in Pirḳe R. El. xli., namely, that the mountain was removed from its foundation and that the heavens were rent asunder, the summit of the mountain extending into the opening. Moses, while standing on Sinai, could thus see everything that was going on in the heavens.

Since that time Mount Sinai has become synonymous with holiness (Yalḳ., Ps. 785). Sinai and Moriah are the two sacred mountains, through whose virtue the world exists (Midr. Teh. to Ps. lxxxvii.). After the arrival of the Messiah, God will bring Sinai, Carmel, and Tabor together, and will build the Temple on them; and all three will sing in chorus His praises (Yalḳ., Isa. 391, quoting the Pesiḳta, Midr. Teh. l.c.). Rabbah bar bar Ḥana relates that while he was traveling in the desert an Arab showed him Mount Sinai. It was encompassed by a scorpion which had its head raised; and Rabbah heard a Bat Ḳol, cry: "Wo is me for having sworn! For who can now make my oath of no effect?" (B. B. 74a).

—Critical View:

Modern scholars differ widely as to the exact geographical position of Mount Sinai. It is generally thought to be situated in the middle of the Sinaitic Peninsula, which apparently acquired its name from the mountain. But there is a whole group of mountains there, known to the Arabs as Jabal al-Ṭur, as it was to Idrisi (ed. Jaubert, p. 332) and Abu al-Fida (Hudson, "Geographiæ Veteris Scriptores Minores," iii. 74, Oxford, 1712); and it appears from Niebuhr ("Description de l'Arabie," p. 200) that this group is still occasionally called Ṭur Sinai, just as it was by Ibn Ḥaukal (ed. Ouseley, p. 29). According to the statement of Josephus ("Ant." iii. 5, § 1) that the Law was promulgated from the highest mountain in that country, the scene must have occurred on the peak now known as Mount Catherine. But the opinion of the natives is that the Biblical Sinai is identical with the peak now called Jabal Musa (Mountain of Moses), which is north of Mount Catherine. Other scholars, again, think that the scene must be placed on the Ras al-Ṣafṣafah (= "peak of the willow-tree"), the highest peak of the supposed Horeb, as at the foot of that peak there is a plain large enough for a camp.

But Grätz ("Monatsschrift," xxvii. 337 et seq.) and, later, Sayce ("Imperial and Asiatic Quarterly Review," 1893, vi. 149 et seq.) have concluded that the Biblical Sinai must not be looked for at all in the so-called Sinaitic Peninsula. It may be noted, by the way, that this appellation is not ancient; it was not known in the time of Josephus, who described Mount Sinai simply as situated in Arabia Petræa. Von Gall ("Altisraelitische Kultuslätten," p. 15) considers that originally Horeb and Sinai were the names of two distinct peaks, that Horeb was in the Sinaitic Peninsula, and Sinai in Midian, and that the identification of the two mountains is a post-exilic mistake (comp. Mal. iii. 22; Ps. cvi. 19). Von Gall's assertion, however, is not approved by critics like Holzinger and Sayce.

By comparing Num. xxxiii. 8-10 with Deut. i. 1 it is to be concluded that Sinai was between the Gulf of 'Aḳabah and Paran. According to this theory, Sinai-Horeb was either a part of Mount Seir or it was not far west of it, and Deut. xxxiii. 2, as well as Judges v. 4-5, favors the former supposition. The whole region now denominated the Sinaitic Peninsula was then under Egyptian control and strongly garrisoned. Baker Green identified Sinai with Mount Hor, which forms a part of Mount Seir, and Beke identified it with Jabal al-Nur (= "mountain of light"), at the northern end of the Gulf of 'Aḳabah.

It is evident that, long before the promulgation of the Law, Mount Sinai was one of the sacred places in which one of the local Semitic divinities had been worshiped. This is clearly indicated in Ex. iii. 5: the ground was holy, for it was Yhwh's special dwelling-place. The expression "and brought you unto myself" (Ex. xix. 4) means that Yhwh brought the Israelites to His mountain. The two names of Sinai and Horeb, meaning respectively "moon" and "sun," are of a cosmological nature. According to the higher critics, the "mountain of Yhwh" is called "Sinai" in J (Ex. xix. 11, xxxiv. 4) and P (Ex. xvi. 1; xxiv. 16; xxxiv. 28, 32; Lev. xxv. 1, xxvi. 46, xxvii. 34). On the other hand, in E, the earlier source, Horeb is the seat of Yhwh (Ex. iii. 1, xvii. 6, xxxiii. 6; in the last-cited passage the words "from Mount Horeb" belong to verse 9); and so in D, as throughout Deuteronomy, with the exception of Deut. xxxiii. 2, which is not Deuteronomic andwhich is parallel to Judges v. 3 et seq. The wilderness of Sinai is mentioned only in P (Ex. xix. 11 et seq.; Lev. vii. 38; Num. i. 1, 19).

The object of E is to show that before the Exodus the Israelites were heathen until Yhwh revealed Himself from His mountain to Moses (Ex. iii. 9-14). In E, Jethro is not the priest of Midian, but is connected with the worship of Yhwh of Horeb. On the other hand, J makes Jethro the prince of Midian, and omits all the expressions used by E tending to connect the cult of Yhwh with the older cult.

Bibliography: W. R. Smith, Rel. of Sem. pp. 110-111; Robinson, Researches, i. 140, 158, 176-177; Stanley, Sinai and Palestine, pp. 29 et seq.; Winer, B. R.

This entry includes text from the Jewish Encyclopedia, 1906.

See also: SINAITIC COMMANDMENTS (Jewish Encyclopedia)


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