THE BIRTH OF A HYPOTHESIS:
MOUNT SINAI EXODUS AT HAR KARKOM
A mountain of sanctuaries in the heart of the desert of Exodus should have quickly suggested biblical parallels. Although the archaeologically and historically relevant character of Har Karkom as a Bronze Age holy mountain was immediately evident, at first no relation was considered between this high place and Mount Sinai. Until our Har Karkom research, no reasonable doubt met the conventional belief that the Exodus as described in the Bible occurred in the thirteenth century BC, and that the biblical Mount Sinai was the mountain at whose foot the Byzantine Monastery of Saint Catherine was built. For us, like for many people, these were established and consolidated traditions. In fact, however, the surroundings of Saint Catherine show no traces of cult activity from periods prior to the Byzantine.
Many scholars today are convinced that the geography of the biblical narrative locates Mount Sinai in the north of the peninsula rather than in the south, but we had never faced the problem before. On the other hand, no remnants of human presence belonging to the thirteenth century BC are found at Har Karkom. The date usually attributed to the Exodus coincides with the middle of a long hiatus of archaeological evidence at Har Karkom. Therefore, if indeed the thirteenth century must be the date of the Exodus, Har Karkom could hardly have been Mount Sinai.
Today we know that this hiatus encompasses most of the Sinai Peninsula and the Negev desert, the only exceptions being military stations, trading posts along established routes and mining centres run by the state. Therefore the hiatus is not a peculiarity of Har Karkom. The Bible describes the daily life of different peoples living in the desert at the time of the Exodus. If the biblical narration is rooted in some base of historical memory, the Exodus should have taken place in a period when people like Midianites, Amalekites, Edomites, Amorites, Horites, and other tribes lived in the region through which the Israelites journeyed.