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Bible Dictionaries

Holman Bible Dictionary

Mount Sinai

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(mownt ssi' nay i) Mountain in the south central part of a peninsula in the northwestern end of Arabia. God made many significant revelations of Himself and His purposes to Israel there. The meaning of the name is unclear; but it probably means “shining” and was likely derived from the word sin , a Babylonian moon god. The suggestion that it means “clayey” does not in any way fit the nature of the terrain.

The entire peninsula takes the shape of an inverted triangle whose base Isaiah 150 miles long and is bounded on the east by the north end of the Red Sea and on the west by the Gulf of Aqaba. The Gaza strip lies directly north. This peninsula contains 23,442 square miles and has a population of approximately 140,000 at time of publication. The central and southern parts are extremely mountainous, ranging from 5000 to about 9000 feet, and the land today is valued for its oil fields and manganese deposits.

The Bible uses the term Sinai for both the mountain and the entire wilderness area ( Leviticus 7:38 ). Sometimes Sinai is called “the mount” (Exodus 19:2 ); sometimes “the mountain of God” (Exodus 3:1 ); sometimes “the mount of the Lord” (Numbers 10:33 ).

The term Horeb is often used to refer to Sinai in such a way as to make the names synonymous ( Exodus 3:1 ). Since Horeb means “waste” or “wilderness area,” it seems best to think of Horeb as the general term for the area and Sinai as the specific peak where God manifested Himself to Moses.

The modern name for the traditional site of Sinai is Jebel Musa (the mount of Moses). Jebel is the Arabic word hill , sometimes written Jabal or Gabel (French has Djebel).

Jebel Musa (7500 ft.) is one of three granite peaks near the southern tip of the peninsula. The highest peak, Jebel Katarin (Mount Catherine, 8,652 ft.), lies immediately on the southwest, and Ras es-Safsafeh (6,540 ft.) on the north, northeast of Jebel Musa. Many explorers think Ras es-Safsafeh is the biblical Sinai because it has a plain, er Rahah , on its northwest base, which is two miles long and about two thirds of a mile wide. This plain was certainly large enough to accommodate the camp of the Israelites.

Another suggested location for Mount Sinai is far north and east of Jebel Musa, near the top of the Gulf of Aqaba. The major argument for this view is that Sinai's phenomena indicate volcanic action—fire, smoke, quaking earth (Exodus 19:16-18 )—and no volcano is found in the Sinaitic peninsula. The nearest volcano lies far east of the Gulf. However, the phenomena that appeared at Sinai were undoubtedly supernatural in origin, for they were accompanied by the sounds of a trumpet and the voice of God (Exodus 19:19 ).

Another location for Sinai is sought far north of Jebel Musa, primarily because of historical references such as the battle with the Amalekites (Exodus 17:8-16 ). The Amalekites lived in Canaan proper (Numbers 14:42-45 ) and would not, it is claimed, have met the Israelites in the Sinaitic peninsula. However, the Amalekites could have followed the recently delivered Israelites to the south of their territory for the purpose of preying on the poorly organized refugees (Deuteronomy 25:17-19 ). See Palestine; Exodus, Wilderness Journey

J. Travis

Copyright Statement
These dictionary topics are from the Holman Bible Dictionary, published by Broadman & Holman, 1991. All rights reserved. Used by permission of Broadman & Holman.

Bibliography Information
Butler, Trent C. Editor. Entry for 'Mount Sinai'. Holman Bible Dictionary. 1991.

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