Richard Lepsius.

Letters from Egypt, Ethiopia, and the peninsula of Sinai online

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t I find all whose judgment is of any weight holding this same
opinion. Robinson, especially, has the merit of having cleared away-
many old prejudices of this nature. But even Burckhardt so little
allowed his judgment to be guided by the authority of tradition, that
he did not scruple to place his reason for transposing the convent of-.
Sinai to Gebel Musa, rather on stratagetical considerations. (Trav. in
Syria, p. 609.) ..• •


pied himself earnestly with such matters is aware of this.
Even in Jerusalem it is for the most part useless, and
has not the slightest weight, if unsupported by original
authorities, how much more so in the Peninsula of Sinai,
where far more remote questions, both as to time and
place, are treated of. In the long interval of time be-
tween the law-giving and the first centuries of the Christian
era, Sinai is only once mentioned in a passage referring to a
later historical event, as the "Mount of Grod, Hoeeb," to
which Elijah retires.* It would, in fact, be most strange if
the tradition had never received an interruption during this
period, although the population of the Peninsula had mean-
time changed so much that we are no longer able to point out
with certainty a single Old Testament name for a locality ;
and even the Greeks and Romans were unacquainted with
those ancient designations. t We are, therefore, referred
solely to the Mosaic narrative to prove the correctness of our
present assumptions.

We must further premise with respect to this, that the
general geographical conditions of the Peninsula have not
essentially altered since the days of Moses. Whoever takes
refuge in the opposite supposition, may indeed prove every-
thing, but for that very reason proves nothing. It is, how-
ever, just as important to bear in mind distinctly the his-
torical conditions of the different periods, because these
indeed were calculated to produce partial alterations of par-
ticular districts.

Accordingly, no one will be able to deny that Wadi
FiEAN, abounding at all times, and therefore in the time of
Moses, in water, and possessing a rich soil, must, in conse-
quence of its incomparable fertility and its inexhaustible
rapid stream, have been the most important and the most de-

* 1 Kings xix. 8.— Tr.

t The name of Firan, formerly Phaean, is, indeed, evidently the
same as Paran in the Bible; but it is equally certain that this name
has altered its meaning with reference to the locality. All other com-
parisons of names cannot be in the least depended on.


sirable central spot of the whole Peninsula. For this wonder-
ful Oasis, in the centre of the ever barren wilderness, was
subject even then, as now, to the general conditions of
the surface of the ground in that country. On the other
hand, it is however no less certain, that the vicinity of the
present convent of Gebel Musa was fonnerly, in spite of
the scanty springs of water also appearing on the surface
there, but which merely moisten the ground immediately
surrounding them, just as barren as all the other parts of
that mountainous wilderness, only furnishing sufficient water
for the inhabitants of the convent by means of a draw-well
dug into the rock ;* and after more than a thousand years
of artificial irrigation, the most careful employment of every
means of cultivation only enabled them to make small
plantations, such as exist there at the present time.f In
ancient times there was not the slightest reason for making
that wilderness habitable by artificial means, the rather as it
was situated away from the great roads connecting the dif-
ferent parts of the Peninsula, and formed an actual cul
Je sac, with only one single entrance through the Wadi
e' Scheikh.

On the other hand, there is another spot in the Penin-
sula which was a position of great importance long before
the time of Moses, and even in his days, but has lost it
since that time : it is the harbour of Abu Zelimeii. It
was to this point that the roads led from the three difierent
mines that hitherto we have become acquainted with. They
proceeded from AVadi Maghaba, Saebut el Chade^i, and
Wadi Xasb. There was no more convenient landing-place
than this, to connect Eg^-pt with those colonies ; indeed, our

* The smaller of the two wells dates as far back as the time of the
foundation of the convent. The principal deep well, which supplies
the largest amount and the best water, is said lo have been first dug
by an English nobleman in 1760. (Ritter, p. 610.)

t Burckhardt also (Trav., p. 504) observes distinctly that there
were no good pasture grounds near the convent, where nevertheless
the somewhat numerous small springs, might have led us to expect the
ground to have been in a moister condition. With respect to the im-
pression made on Bartlett: see Appendix B.



sailors decidedly affirmed tbat it was the best harbour on
the whole coast, not excepting that of Tor. The Egyptians
were therefore compelled to provide, above all things, for
a copious supply of water, in the most immediate neigh-
bourhood of that spot. As this was neither furnished
by the sandy sea-coast, nor by valleys, which had their
outlets here, wells no doubt were made at the nearest spots
which offered a likelihood of yielding water from below
ground. Such a spot was discovered at the lower outlet of
the "Wadi Schebekeh (called by others Taibeh), where even
now, there are a number of Palms, and many other trees,
consequently a moist soil, although there is no appearance
of a spring.* This, therefore, would have been the most
suitable point to dig for water, and to make a well. No one
now differs in opinion that the place of encampment at the
Eed Sea, mentioned after Elim in the Book of Numbers,!
was near Abu Zelimeh. In Exodus this statement is
omitted, and the twelve icells and seventy palm-trees of Elim:
are alone mentioned.;]: What, therefore, can be a more
natural conclusion, or indeed an almost unavoidable one,
than that the wells and palms of Elim were situated about an
hour distant jfrom the outlet of the valley whose entrance was
at the harbour of Abu Zelimeh, and for that very reason in
Exodus, the encampment on the sea, is related as being not
specially separated from Elim, the watering station of the
harbour, which probably bore the same name. According to
the statements that have been hitherto admitted, as weU as
those of Eobinson, the twelve wells of Elim were situated in
the "Wadi Gthaeaxdel, by the latest calcidations § between

* I was assured of this unanimously by the Arabs. (Compare also
Burckhardt, p. 625, and Eitter, p. 769.) Lord Lindsay found " a small
^yood of Tarfa-trees here, in which blackbirds were singing, and also
some plantations of Palm-trees." It was at the entrance of the same
valley " where Seetzen had the pleasure of gathering for himself, and
eating for the first time, a great deal of manna from the bushes of
Tarfa ; he found the ripe produce of the wild Caper shrub growing here
in profusion, which was as palatable to the taste as table-fruit."

t Numbers xxxiii. 10. — Tr.

J Exodus XV. 27. — Tr.

§ See Anpendix C.

ELIil. "WILDEKNESS OF Sl>'. .307

eight and nine hours distant from the port, a long day's
journey, therefore useless for tlie supply of that important
spot. It is not easy to perceive what could have occasioned
twelve wells to be made precisely in Wadi Gharandel, where
even now the brackish water of that whole district appears
on the siu-face in somewhat greater abundance than else-
where. In addition to this, we should further be compelled
to transfer the station of Maea, which immediately pre-
ceded it, to an insignificant spring not more than an hour and
a half, or two hours distant from "Wadi Gharandel, while the
succeeding station is assumed to be at the distance of eight
hours. To me, it seems scarcely possible to doubt that the
first three desert marches conducted as far as Wadi Gha-
EANDEL, i. e. Maea, the fourth, to the harbour station of
Abu Zelimeh, i. e. Elim.

It is only in this manner that we can understand their
progress, when it is said, "And they took their journey from
Elim — and came unto the wilderness of Sin, which is between
JElim and Sinai''* The boundary of two provinces at Wadi
Gharandel would geographically be just as inconceivable, as
it is natural at Abu Zelimeh. The liarbour, with its small
plain situated between the Xochol rock and Gebel Hammam
i'araun, forms in fact, by the rock protruding into the sea,
the most important geographical section of the whole coast.f

The northern plateau sinking uniformly towards the sea
was called the AYilderness of Sue ; the southern mountainous
district rising higher, and soon passing into the primitive

♦ Exodus xvi. 1. — Te.

f These hot springs do not seem to have been originally named
Hammam Farauk, of Pharaoh, but Faran, from Pharan. For
Edrisi names those places on the coast Farax Ahrun, and Istachri
Taran, which no doubt ought to be called Farak. (See Kitter, Asien,
vol. viii., p. 170, &c.) Macrizi also calls the same spot BirketFaran.
(Ritter, Sinai-halbins, p. 64.) The harbour district of Pharan was
probably called after the town itself, though distant, and the tradition
of Pharaoh's destruction, so inapplicable to this spot, was perhaps only
connected -with the alteration of the name of Faran into Faraiin. It
remains a striking fact that the Arabian chroniclers, among whom
Macrizi himself visited the spot, speak of the town of Far^n as of a
town on the coast.



rock, totally different in character, is called the "Wilderness
of Sin. There would be no meaning in the remark that this
last was situated heticeen EHm and Sinai, if by this it were
not meant that the AVilderness of Sin extended as far as
Sinai, or even farther. The next departure, therefore, from
the "Wilderness of Sin to Eaphidim, is not to be understood
as if they had quitted this wilderness ; on the contrary, they
remained in it till they reached Sinai, whose name SiNi, i. e.
"the Mount of Sin," was evidently first derived from this
district, and for this very reason should not be sought for
beyond its limits. The same conclusion may be deduced
from the account about the Manna which was given to the
Israelites in the "Wilderness of Sin ; for this is first met with
in the valleys in the vicinity of Firan, and appears as little in
the sandy districts near- the sea, as in the more elevated
regions of Gebel Musa.*

Now, if we already here put the preliminary question,
which of the two mounts, Serbal or Gebel Musa, was so
situated as to be peculiarly designated as Sini, the " Sinic,"
" the Mount of the "Wilderness of Sin," there cannot be a
moment's doubt which to select. Gebel Musa, invisible from
every quarter, almost concealed and buried,t neither distin-
guished by height, form, position, nor any other peculiarity,
presented nothing which could have induced the native tribes,
or the Egyptians who had settled there, to give it the pecu-
liar designation of the " Mount of Sin," while Serbal, attract-

* That portion of the sandy sea-shore which Robinson regards as the
Wilderness of Sin, produces no Tarfa shrubs, much less manna.
Compare Ritter, p. 665, &c., with respect to the tracts of country
where manna is found. It has been already mentioned that Ecsebil'S
maintains that the Wilderness of Sin extended as far as Sinai.
(Sti/, eprjfios rj ^era^v napaTeivovda r^s- 'Epvdpas 6aXd(T(Tr]s kol ttjs
eprjpov 2tm.)

t Robinson, i., p. 173 — 196. In opposition to what Wilson adduces
with respect to the wide prospect from Gebel Musa, we must consider
that necessarily a great many places may be seen from a point so little
elevated above the immediately surroimding country; from which
points, however, the mountain cannot be traced independently and
distinctly by the eye.

MOUNT srN'Ai. 309

ing the eve to itself from all sides, and from a great distance,
unequivocally commanding the whole of the northern portion
of the primitive range, has always been the central point for
the widely-scattered inhabitants of the country, and the goal
of travellers, not only from its external aspect, but also on
account of AVadi Firan, situated at its base; therefore it
might very appropriately be designated the " Mount of Sin."
But if any one were to conclude from the expression the
departure from the Wilderness of Sin to Raphidim, that the
broad tract of sea-shore to the south of Abu Zelimeh, which
the Israelites were obliged to traverse, was alone called the
Wilderness of Sin, which is Eobinson's view of the question,*
Serbal, which commands and also comes into immediate con-
tact with this district, and is accessible from this point by
the old convent of Si'qelji, might even then have been de-
signated ISIount Sin, for instance by the sailors on the Red
Sea ; but Gebel Musa, situated exactly on the opposite and
eastern side of the great range, could not possibly have been
named after the western Wilderness of Sin, nor have given
the smallest ground for the statement that the Wilderness
of Sin was situated between Abu Zelimeh and Grobel Miisa.
One other view might still be adopted : for instance, that
the whole of the primitive mountain range — that is to say,
the whole of the Peninsula to the south of Abu Zelimeh —
was called the " Wilderness of Sin," and consequently in-
cluded Gebel Musa. Even tliis would not necessarily pre-
vent our assuming that Serbfd, as the mountain best Ivuowii,
and nearest at hand, must especially have appeared of more
importance to the Egyptian colonists than the southern
range, and might have been distinguished by that name ;
whilst in the principal southern range Um Schomar, as
the loftiest central point, would have alone justified such a
distinction, and not the entirely subordinate Gebel Musa,
still less the insulated rock Sefsaf, which is regarded as such
by Robinson.

♦ See Robinson, i.,p. 118—196.


All 'that has been here said about Slitai as the " Mount- of
THE Wilderness of Sin," is also applicable to the still more
remote question, which of the two mountains, Serbal, or G-ebel
Musa, possessed such qualifications as to have been regarded
by- the native tribes of the Peninsula, even before the great
event of the Law-giving, as a " Holt Mount," a Mount of
God.* For Moses drove the sheep of Jethro from Midian
beyond the wilderness to the " Mount or God, CH0EEB,"t
and Aaron met him, on his return to Egypt, at the Mount
of God.J If we maintain that the necessary centre of the
Sinaitic population must have been, at all events, the Oasis of
PiEAN, we may also suppose that those tribes founded a
sanctuary, a common place of woeship, in the vicinity of
that spot, either at the base, or, still more naturally, on the
summit of the mountain which rises up from that valley. §
This also was the most appropriate place for the meeting

* Ewald— Gesch. des Volkes Israel, ii., p. 86— also assumes that
Sinai was held sacred " even before the time of Moses, as a place of
oracles, and the seat of the gods." Ritter (see Appendix B) considered
this to be incompatible.

f Exodus iii. 1. — Tr.

i Exodus iv. 27.— Tr.

§ This is even proved to exist now by Riippell, who holds Gebel Ka-
therin to be Sinai. On his journey to Abyssinia (vol. i., p. 127) he
relates, in the account of his ascent of Serbal in the year 1831, as fol-
lows: — " On the summit of Serbal the Bedouins have collected small
stones, and placed them in the form of a circular enclosure, and other
stones are placed outside on the shelving rock-precipice, like steps, to
facilitate the ascent. "SMien we arrived at the stony circle my guide
drew off his sandals, and approached it ivith religious veneration ; he then
recited a prayer within it, and told me afterwards that he had already
slaughtered two sheep here as a thank-offering, one of them on the oc-
casion of the birth of a son, the other on regaining his health after an
illness. Prom a belief that Mount Serbal is connected with such things,
it is said to have been held in great reverence hy the Arabs of the sur-
rounding districts since time immemorial; and it must also at" one time
have been regarded as holy in certain respects by the Christians, as,
in the valley on the south-western side, there are the ruins of a great
convent, and of a great many small hermit's cells. At all events, the
wild jagged masses of rock 'in Serbal, and the isolated position of the
mountain, 2s far more striking, and in a certain degree more imposing, than
any other mountain group in Arabia Petrcea, and for that reason was pecu-
liarly calculated to be the object of religious pilgrimages. The highest
point of the mountain, or the second pinnacle of rock, proceeding from


between Moses, who came from Midiau iu tlie East, and
Aaron, who came from Egypt. In such a barren and un-
inliabited country there was no occasion to searcli for any
peculiarly secret and remote corner among the mountains
for such an interview.

In addition to this, the Sinaitic inscriptions, which, as
mentioned above, are found in the greatest numbers, espe-
cially on the roads to "W^adi Eiran, and in Wadi Aleyat, which
leads up to Serbal, seem to indicate that in much later times
also considerable pilgrimages were undertaken thither to
solemnise religious festivals.*

If we now pass at once to the principal point, which must
appear as most decisive to those who look attentively at the
general conditions connected with the march of the Israelites,
it must be allowed that if Moses desired to lead his numerous
people to the Peninsula, tlie first and chief task he had to
))erform, in accordance with his wisdom, and his knowledge
of the countr)-, was to maintain them. Eor however we
may explain the given numbers of the emigrants, which
according to Eobinson amounted to two millions, by Lane's
account equal to the present population of Egypt, we must
always admit that there was a very considerable mass of
people who were suddenly to be maintained in the Sinaitic
wilderness without any importation of provisions. How

tlio west, on which the Arabs are in the habit of sacrificing, by my ba-
rometrical measurements is 6342 French feet above the level of the

* "With reference to this, compare particularly the admirable pam-
phlet by Tuch: Em uiul Zwanzig Sinaitische Inschrlften. Leipzig, 1849.
Tliis scholar endeavours to prove from the names of the pilgrims that
have been deciphered, that the authors of the inscriptions were native
heatlien Arabs, who wandered to Serbal to some religious festivals.
And he is of opinion that pilgrimages ceased in the course of the third
century at latest. We may also mention that the name itself of Serbrd,
wliich 'Rudiger (in Wellsted's Travels in Arabia, vol. ii., last page)

derives, no doubt correctly from the Arabic ^-';