Mount Sinai has been found: 20 years of Biblical Archaeology in the desert of Exodus. The real Mount Sinai has been found by Prof. Emmanuel Anati at Har Karkom.
Emmanuel Anati:
Gordon Franz:

Har Karkom was a major cult site of the past, a sacred mountain for the people of the desert

Video on Demand

Fig. 159. Circle of stones placed at the corner of a rectangular structure with an alignment of small, fallen stones within. In front, a dark stain indicates traces of fire. This kind of sanctuary, with collections of small stones, can be found both at Har Karkom and in the Valley of Uvda. (Site HK 1; photo ISR 84 XLIV-14; WARA W06018).


Fig. 160. The Sanctuary of Terafim in the Valley of Uvda. Small stones are gathered within a circle at the corner of a rectangular structure. (Valley of Uvda; photo ISR84: XXIII-39; WARA W06019).


Fig. 161. Small, black standing stone, with a heavy, dish-shaped stone in front, placed at the entrance to a small cave. (Site HK 69; photo EA96: III-7; WARA W06020).


Fig. 162. Standing stone with anthropomorphic face whose eyes have been retouched by man, near a stone with a large basin-shaped depression. (Site HK 214b: photo EAXX-31 E.A. 1994, fig. 59; E.A. 1994, fig. 59; WARA W06021).


Fig. 163. Large stone with anthropomorphic face, with indications of eyebrows and a long, vertical nose, near a BAC site. The high level of erosion does not allow us to establish whether the forms are natural or emphasised by man. (Site BAC 122b; photo EA93: XXI-25; WARA W06022).


Fig. 164. Small, private sanctuary with a rounded orthostat which resembles an anthropomorphic face. Eyes and mouth have been enhanced by intentional engraving. The orthostat is surrounded by stones. At the interior some fallen slabs of stone were probably once set in a vertical position. (Site BK 776; photo EA91: LXVII-26; WARA W06023).


Fig. 165. Small, private sanctuary with a central standing stone, a semicircle of stones, and smaller stones at the interior. (Site BK 607b; photo EA91 LXVIII-6; WARA W06024).


Fig. 166. Private sanctuary at the foot of the summit of Har Karkom. In the foreground is a stone with a large basin. Some of the standing stones had fallen and been replaced in situ. (Site HK 212d; photo EA96: XXII-23; WARA W06025).


Fig. 167. Standing stone and a stone circle with rock engravings. (Site HK 113; photo EA2000: LI-30; WARA W06784).


Fig. 168. Anthropomorphic stone found in a site with a circle of orthostats. (Site HK 23b; EA93: XXIII-19 E.A. 1994, fig. 80; WARA W06027).


Fig. 169. Standing stone with two deep cupholes that also seems to have two arms in relief on its sides. The upper part of the stone is missing. In front, a small space has been cleared of pebbles. (Site HK 76b; photo EA93: XIV-33; WARA W06028).


Fig. 170. Group of stone slabs, some of which are still in situ while others have fallen. (Site BK 715c; photo EA91: LXVI-5; WARA W06029; WARA W06029).


Fig. 171. Ibex with large horns in shapes reminiscent of archers' bows. The two central lines have a lighter patina, indicating they were added later. (Site HK 4; photo ISR 82: D6; WARA W06030).


Fig. 172. Table of styles and periods of Negev and Sinai rock art. (HK Archive).


Fig. 173. Moment of rest climbing toward the 'cave of the hermit,' which is barely visible in the upper right of the photograph. (Site HK 224; photo EA94: XIV-22; WARA W06031).


Fig. 174. One of the stations along a trail that climbs up to the mountain from the Paran Desert. (Site HK 106c; photo EA99: XVII-33; WARA W06032).


Fig. 175. The excavation and documentation carried out in the so-called 'Midianite Sanctuary'. In the foreground is a small group of vertical stones which emerged from the trench. (Site HK 24; EA99: XVI-16; WARA W06033).


Fig. 176. Excavation of a tumulus in which the stones of enclosure remained in their original positions. On the soil at the centre of the tumulus, a large rectangular stone about sixty centimetres long was found. (Site HK 6; photo EA99: XXIV-11; WARA W06034).


Fig. 177. Circle of stones, some of which have rock engravings, on the plateau of Har Karkom. (Site HK 111; photo EA86: XXXV-20; WARA W06035).


Fig. 178. Orthostat with a vague anthropomorphic resemblance, located on the trail climbing to the plateau from the western slope. At the orthostat's foot are two slabs of stone with rock engravings. (Site HK 3b; photo EA99: XV-16; WARA W06036).


Fig. 179. A group of orthostats on the plateau, some of which have fallen. Next to them is a wide, flat space cleared of pebbles which may have been a ceremonial site. On the left side are remains of what seems to have been an area of fires. (Site HK 191b; photo EA92: CXXXIX-29; WARA W06037).


Fig. 180. Flint stone, with flakes probably due to fire. (Site HK 13; photo EA99: XX-6; WARA W06038).


Fig. 181. Quantitative table of the number of sites per period in eight zones of the Negev Desert, where the Archaeological Survey of Israel has completed a systematic exploration of 100 square kilometres per zone. This comparative table shows the massive presence of settlements in the Palaeolithic, BAC, Iron Age, and Roman/Byzantine periods, a limited presence of Epi-Palaeolithic, Neolithic, and Hellenistic, and a total lack of finds in the middle and late Bronze Age. (E.A. 1994, fig. 81. HK Archive).


Fig. 182. Eastward view of the Paran Desert, with the sanctuary in the foreground. (Site HK 86b; photo EA93: XVII-14; E.A. 1994, fig. 86-87; WARA W06040).


Fig. 183. Flint orthostat intentionally shaped by man with course flaking on both sides, coming from the Palaeolithic sanctuary. (Site HK 86b; photo EA93; XXXV-9; WARA W06039).


Fig. 184. Aerial view of the prehistoric trail (marked by dotted line) which descends from the sanctuary toward the Paran Desert. In the surrounding area, different Palaeolithic sites are denoted by white circles, which are remains of hut floors. (Site HK 86b; photo EA93: XXX-10; E.A. 1994, fig. 83; WARA W06042).


Fig. 185. The treacherous trail as it descends from the sanctuary to the desert. A small cave located under the sanctuary. (Site HK 86b; photo EA92: CXXVII-10; GC92: CXLIV-3; WARA W06043).


Fig. 186. Point of the treacherous trail as it descends from the sanctuary to the desert. (Site HK 86b; photo EA92: CXXVII-10; GC92: CXLIV-3; WARA W06044).

Mount Sinai has been found.


When we compare the historical geography that emerges between the lines of biblical narration to the physical surroundings of the mountain itself, we realise that Har Karkom may well be the mountain the Bible calls Sinai. The archaeological testimony indicates that indeed this was a paramount sacred mountain, and multitudes of people camped at its foot. Is it possible to identify, among those tribes that left traces, the people and the events described in the Bible?

Many queries remain regarding the role of this mountain and its real or imaginary relation to the people of Moses. Among all these questions the most problematic one is that concerning dating: our discoveries indicate that Har Karkom was a sacred mountain from the fourth and third millennia BC until the beginning of the second millennium BC. These dates, however, far from correspond to those put forward by the traditional exegesis for the period of the Exodus.

Archaeological research has shown that many of the sites mentioned in the biblical narrative of Exodus and Joshua, such as Jericho and Ai, flourished in the third millennium BC. Destruction and devastation took place towards the end of this millennium. Scholars have made many attempts to make their discoveries coincide with conventional dates of the Exodus, but if the identification of the archaeological sites is correct, not one of these sites existed in the thirteenth century BC, nor for several centuries before or after.

When archaeology found no traces of the late Bronze Age at Jericho, instead of claiming that the date they were searching for was not correct some researchers claimed that the biblical Jericho could not be there; others concluded that Joshua's conquest was just a fairy tale. When excavations failed to find remains of the late Bronze Age at Ai, the same explanations were advanced. Extensive archaeological excavations showed that Arad was a strongly fortified city in the early Bronze Age, but in the late Bronze Age it did not exist. At Ein-Kudeirat (Kadesh-barnea) traces of early Bronze and beginning of the middle Bronze Age camping sites are similar to those of Har Karkom, but there are no remains from the late Bronze Age.

When the biblical stories were put into writing, they were addressed to peoples who knew where Jericho, Ai and Arad were located. These sites were part of their daily life and of their oral traditions. Nobody can be seriously convinced that all these identifications of sites are wrong. We may conclude that if the biblical narratives have a historical background, they refer to events that could not have taken place in the late Bronze Age. The solution proposed by some scholars, that the whole story of Exodus refers to events that took place in the Iron Age, after the Kingdom of Solomon, does not stand up to the evidence of the ethnographic context of the biblical accounts or with geography, history or archaeology.

Some scholars try to solve the dilemma by concluding that the story of Exodus is the fruit of pure imagination and bears no relation whatsoever to historical fact. The preconceived idea of dating these events of the Bible to the thirteenth century or the late Bronze Age has reached a dead end, but archaeological investigation has brought to light sites and cities that have been built and destroyed, suggesting a new chronological framework. Through an analysis of these remains it seems possible to reconstruct the sequence of events that made up history and inspired myths.

From a vast gamut of findings, exploration, and site investigations archaeology indicates the late third millennium BC as a time when people from the periphery became more aggressive and invaded the fortified cities of fertile areas. Today we know the reason for such phenomena. As climatic changes caused desertification of the semi-fertile areas, peripheral tribes intruded into fertile lands in order to survive. The Joshua saga of aggression against Canaanite cities may well have been inspired by memories and stories referring to an age in which drought and expansion of deserts severely restricted liveable spaces in the southern periphery. Both the global archaeological context and palaeoclimatic research can help us to understand the biblical narrative.

In the last hundred years, many efforts have been made to find references to the Israelites and to the Exodus in ancient Egyptian literature. In the rich New Kingdom literature, no mention is made of the children of Israel or of their departure from Egypt. Not even the social or historical context corresponds to that suggested by the Bible. The biblical narrative refers to important Asiatic groups present in Egypt, to upper-level political changes, and to political strategies by new leaders which upset the social positions of these Asiatic tribes. If this tradition has even the most minimal connection to a historical reality, it is unlikely that the situation was totally ignored by Egyptian record-keepers, and in fact it does not seem to have been ignored. Related texts do exist; they refer, however, to the Old Kingdom rather than the New Kingdom.

As we shall try to elaborate in the following paragraphs, the archaeological layers of previously mentioned sites, climatic variations, social and tribal structures described in the Bible, and the literature of ancient Egypt seem all to converge at one point.

Egyptian texts of the Sixth Dynasty, in the late Old Kingdom (2345-2181 BC) and of the First Intermediate Period (2181-2040 BC), show many points of contact with the biblical narrative. From third millennium Egyptian literature, the conceptual and contextual world that emerges is similar to that described by the Bible. Such similarity of concepts and metaphors does not seem to be present in any other period of the ancient Egyptian literature. Several parallels in texts, such as those concerning the teachings of Mer-Ka-Re and the admonitions of Ipu-wer, were discussed at length in the book Esodo tra Mito e Storia (E. Anati 1997). Some details may be cited here. During the Sixth Dynasty and especially during the reign of Pepi I (2375-2350 BC) the Egyptians conducted a number of punitive campaigns against the Asiatics. One commander by the name of Uni immortalised his actions against the Asiatic "Sand-Dwellers" ("who-are-upon-the-Sands"), and described situations that are fairly comparable to those described in the Book of Exodus (ANET, p. 227). The world emerging from this Egyptian narrative is both conceptually and contextually very close to the one described in the biblical texts.

The "Instructions of Meri-Ka-Re" consist of an Egyptian text dating to the twenty-second century BC compiled for the education of a prince, in which several commandments are outlined. They include: "Revere the God; respect thy fathers and thy ancestors; do justice whilst thou endurest upon earth; do not distinguish the son of a man (i.e., of noble birth and rank) from a poor man" (ANET, p. 414). Many of these maxims are similar to those received by the Hebrews in the desert of Sinai, according to the biblical texts.

As several scholars have already remarked, the "Admonitions of Ipu-wer", an Egyptian text that goes back to the Sixth Dynasty (2375-2181 BC), shows consistent parallels with the biblical account of the ten plagues. It also shares a similar system of allegories, metaphors, and ways of interpreting natural phenomena and of assigning them certain specific meanings. Even if these texts did not have a common matrix, they are undoubtedly close in spirit and seem to reflect the attitudes of the same age. Many other aspects of this text would be worth considering more closely, as would another Egyptian text known as "The Prophecy of Nefer-rohu" which is particularly intriguing. It dates to the twentieth century BC (Twelfth Dynasty) and among other things it says "The Asians will not be permitted to come back into Egypt that they might beg for water in the customary manner, in order to let their beasts drink" (ANET, p. 444).

Another Egyptian text that belongs in the known version to the twentieth century BC is the epic of Sinuhe, which has much in common with the biblical story of Moses. According to biblical tales, Moses committed a crime in Egypt and ran away to the land of Midian, where he married the daughter of Jethro. After living in Midian territory as a shepherd and raising a family, Moses heard the voice of God asking him to return to Egypt for an important task. In the story of Sinuhe the sequence of events is the same: This legendary character committed some infraction, he ran away from Egypt to the land of Ya, married the daughter of the local chief, became a shepherd, and had children, a messenger called him back to Egypt for an important task. It is unlikely that such parallels in these stories were the result of pure coincidence. The two tales may well have a common matrix, which cannot be more recent than the oldest of the two versions; thus the matrix of the biblical story of Moses in Midian must go back at least to the twentieth century BC.

The Bible describes a desert full of life, with people who encountered each other both in peace and in battle. Midianites, Amalekites, Amorites, Edomites, Horites, and Israelites were all tribal groups that lived in the area, and yet the archaeological data from Har Karkom, Beer Karkom, Ein-Kudeirat, and in the entire Sinai Peninsula excludes, without any doubt, the possibility of tribal groups thriving there from the twentieth century to the eleventh century BC. Palaeoclimatologists indicate that this stretch of time was one of drought; the density of archaeological finds of this period changes drastically, therefore registering a corresponding decrease in the population. Several of the now desert areas of the Near East were intensely frequented by human groups in the third millennium BC and were practically abandoned around 2000 BC, at the beginning of an archaeological gap that lasted until the Iron Age.

This situation is further emphasised by research from Jordan. In the course of the BAC period in the late Chalcolithic, the early Bronze Age, and the beginning of the middle Bronze Age, in the fourth and third millennia BC, the same models of settlement found at Har Karkom were spread over the Negev Desert, the Sinai Peninsula, and southern Jordan, in the areas of Edom and Moab. At the beginning of the middle Bronze Age the settlements were abandoned and the area became a desert. The conquered cities of the biblical narrations, if they have any historical background, refer to traditions that imply the presence of a population in the area. The territories said to have been colonised, occupied, and cultivated by the Israelites are shown by archaeology as having been intensely populated in the third millennium BC and then reverting to wilderness in the second millennium. During the second millennium they could have been neither colonised nor cultivated. If the stories refer to a historical memory, on the basis of archaeological finds from Moab and Edom it is unlikely that the populations the Bible refers to lived in the area later than the twentieth century BC.

"From Kadesh Moses sent envoys to the king of Edom: ‘This is a message from your brother Israel. … we are here in Kadesh, a town near your frontier. Grant us passage through your country. We will not trespass on field or vineyard, or drink from your wells’' (Numbers 20:14,17). The indication of Kadesh being on the frontier of Edom provides an element in favour of the much discussed hypothesis that the land of Edom reached that far to the north-west. On both sides of the Arabah Valley, in southern Jordan and in northern Sinai, fields and vineyards could have existed before the twentieth century BC, but thereafter fields and vineyards dried up.

The archaeological surveys of Edom and Moab have shown that in the second millennium BC no sedentary populations lived in the southern regions of Jordan. The biblical accounts may well reflect a story supported by the archaeological finds at Har Karkom, Beer Karkom, and Kadesh-barnea, as well as at Jericho, Ai, Arad, and in the lands of Moab and Edom. But when? Presumably at the age indicated by the pertinent archaeological finds. By trying to match archaeology, history, and biblical accounts, we may understand something more about the historical events that could have inspired the biblical accounts. The ethnologic background of the biblical narrations, describing tools and weapons, daily activities, the way of life, and social relations with other tribes, may provide additional precious hints.

Students considering the biblical stories as purely unreliable inventions, may have undervalued the integrity and survival of memories transmitted by oral traditions. The biblical accounts may have survived orally for many generations before they were put into writing; this is a common pattern attested to by tribal oral traditions. Bantu tribes in South Africa have oral traditions about a great migration which may have taken place two thousand years ago, and Native American tribes have stories of crossing a land of ice and winter, a migration which is likely to date back several millennia. The memory of myth appears to have surprising abilities of survival; our minds are free to forget because necessary information is delegated to texts. Failing cultural memory is one of the main reasons of our loss of identity. Tribal people can hardly afford that risk.

The earliest non-biblical confirmation of Israel’s presence as a defined political entity established in the land of Canaan, is found written on a stele which Pharaoh Merneptah erected in Thebes, Egypt, around 1220 BC. Israel is listed as one of the nations subdued by the Egyptians, and its territory is located west of the Jordan. According to the Egyptian document, the defeat was of such proportions that its story should have remained deeply ingrained in the memory of Israel. The biblical texts that reached us, however, make no mention of it. In fact, many historical events, from the incursion of the Hyksos to the events of the Tell el-Amarna letters, are not recorded in the Bible. In the story of Israel in the Old Testament, there seems to be a gap between the book of Joshua and the book of Judges.

According to some biblical scholars, these two books belong to the same age. In our view, they reflect two different ages, two different mentalities, and two different historical periods, separated by the entire duration of the Late Bronze Age. Such a gap would corroborate the theory of a missing book that did not reach the modern age.

If there was an Exodus of the Israelites from the land of Egypt, this event should have happened before the stele of Merneptah. The date of 1220 may therefore be considered a terminus ante quem. Opinions diverge, however, concerning the lapse of time between the military campaign of Merneptah and the epic age of Moses.

At the beginning of the book of Exodus, a shift is mentioned in the Egyptian government which caused a significant change in the status of the Israelite population: 'Then a new king ascended to the throne of Egypt, one who knew not of Joseph. He said to his people, ‘These Israelites have become too many and too strong for us. We must take precautions to see that they do not increase any further; or we shall find that, if war breaks out, they will join the enemy and fight against us, and they will become masters of the country.’ So they were made to work in gangs with officers set over them, to break their spirit with heavy labour. This is how Pharaoh’s store-cities, Pithom and Rameses, were built' (Exodus 1:8-11).

If the biblical text relies upon a historical memory, the described political change in Egypt could be identified. We know of such changes in the late Old Kingdom while the story does not seem to reflect known regime changes in the Late Kingdom.

According to the Biblical story, Rameses and Pithom were built when the children of Israel lived in Egypt. Pithom, alias Pr-Atom, or the house of the god Atom, is likely to correspond to Patoumos of Herodotus (11-518). Rameses, the capital of Egypt in the north of the Nile Delta from the times of Pharaoh Rameses II (circa 1300-1237 BC) to the Twenty-second Dynasty (935-730 BC) gained that name under the reign of Pharaoh Rameses II. Various hypotheses concern the location of this city. The conventional interpretation, however, presumes that since the city of Rameses was built, rebuilt, or in any case acquired the name Rameses, after 1300 BC, and since the Israelites built the city, the Exodus must have taken place after that date. Thus the reign of Rameses II is the milestone in the traditional chronology of Exodus.

However, the region of Rameses is also mentioned in Genesis (47:11) in a period that in any case must have come well before the thirteenth century BC. The name Rameses appears both in the books of Genesis and Exodus as a geographical indication referring to a site where, according to tradition, the Israelites lived in Egypt, and where they were submitted to slave labour to build the city. Because Nile Delta cities were rebuilt again and again from the beginning of dynastic times, the remains of cities in the Delta area present complex stratification. In many archaeological excavations levels from the Old Kingdom have been found below middle and late Bronze Age levels. Princely tombs and remains of palaces from the period of the Old Kingdom are not uncommon in this region.

The geographical name used in the Bible was probably that applied to the site when the Bible was put into writing, but the site was not necessarily called Rameses at the time of the Patriarchs or of Moses. This is repeated also for other biblical names that are used anachronistically. For example, the way of the 'Land of the Philistines' could hardly have possessed that name at the time of the Exodus, which, in any case, if it took place, was well before the arrival of the Philistines. When the biblical text was compiled the area had acquired that name, and the Philistines had already lived there (Exodus 13:17). This obviously does not imply that the name 'Land of the Philistines' was in use before the arrival of the Philistines. A contemporary example of the same phenomenon may make the relationships among place, time, and name more clear: if one states that there are Palaeolithic sites in the area of the Monastery of Saint Catherine, this does not imply that the place was called Saint Catherine’s in Palaeolithic times.

On the basis of the previous considerations, the date of the Exodus was fixed within the above limits, between 1300 and 1200 BC, and this chronology has been widely accepted among biblical scholars. In our view, such dating is in sharp contrast with ethnological, archaeological, environmental, and climatic data, and is clearly against the evidence of the Egyptian literature and other historical sources external to the Bible. The biblical texts in this specific case may simply mean that the Israelites built in Egypt the cities that at the time of the biblical compilation had the names of Rameses and Pithom. This can hardly be used as a chronological argument for dating the Exodus.

Many scholars agree that the ethnic, spiritual, and social world reflected in the narratives of Exodus is distant, both conceptually and chronologically, from the one described in the book of Judges. A fundamental query in the historical reconstruction of the biblical narrative is an evaluation of the time lapse separating the nomadic tribes of Moses from the society of sedentary peasant villages at the time of Judges.

People, climate and history are connected. When climate is liveable there is history. People make history, but they cannot make it without water. Survival depends on climate. People depend on climate. This is particularly true for desert areas. Climatic variations may have caused at one time Semitic tribes from the Near East to travel all the way to the Nile Valley, and at another time, the return of the tribes into semi desert regions. In other instances they may have caused the abandonment of desert areas and the forced penetration into the land of sedentary populations.

The archaeological sequence in the area of Har Karkom, with over 1200 sites on record in the middle of the desert, provides a frame for climatic and population fluctuations in the southern periphery of the Levant. This is the framework in which historical events concerning the region can find their chronological location.

Fig. 158a/b. Rock engraving called 'the eye that watches from the rock.' A large eye has seven lines arrayed from the bottom and seven from the top. (Site HK 36b; photo EA98: LVIII-5; drawing: HK Archive; WARA W06016, W06017).

Cover | Mount Sinai | Sanctuaries | Hypothesis | Exegesis | Testimony | Landscape | Discoveries | Rock Art | History | Conclusions | HK Survey | HK Periods | HK Rock Art | HK Corpus 1-99 | 100-199 | 200-299 | 300-399 | BK Corpus 100-399 | 400-499 | 500-599 | 600-699 | 700-799 | 800-899 | Glossary | Acknowledgements | Emmanuel Anati | Bibliography | Edizioni | CCSP | Images | Links

Copyright © 2001-2023 by Emmanuel Anati. All rights reserved. No part of this web site may be reproduced in any form without permission in writing from the publisher, except by a reviewer, who may quote brief passages and reproduce not more than two illustrations in a review to be published in a magazine, newspaper or web review.
Reviews should include at least two links to, once in the article body and once at its end, referring readers to for more informations.

Edizioni del Centro, 25044 Capo di Ponte, Valcamonica (BS), Italy
TEL: 0039 0364/42091, FAX: 0039 0364/42572, [email protected]


Webdesign by feedmeback