Richard Lepsius.

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

. (page 46 of 54)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

tion of the Nile Valley ; and any competent geologist, well
versed in the questions of physical structure involved, who
may hereafter visit Nubia, would have a very interesting oc-
cupation in endeavouring to solve the difficulty.
7lh April, 1850.

' Keisen, Bd. ii. 1 Thl. s. 328.


530 APPE^'DIX.

Translation of a Letter from Dr. Lepsius to Mr. Rorner,
dated Berlin the 12th of A^pril, 1853.

Deae Sie, — I observe from a letter of your daughter,
that she is desirous of adding to her translation of my
Letters a note upon the height of the water of the Nile, with
reference to your paper in the "Edinburgh Philosophical
Journal." I wish that you would get reprinted in that note
the whole of the small memoir, as it possesses great interest,
and abounds in data not easily brought together ; for in that
case the subject may probably be further discussed.

I will, at all events, avail myself of this opportunity to
make some remarks, which you may, if you like, propose to
have introduced into the contemplated note.

I must first remark that tlie word Katahomben was en-
tirely a typographical error for Katarakten, as was unfor-
tunately the case in many other instances in those things
which were printed during my absence.

But in respect of the explanation of the observed facts,
my views are perhaps less different from yours than you
imagine. You imagine a natural or artificial barrier which
has broken down, but this appears to me of insufficient mag-
nitude ; I too imagine barriers to have existed, and natural
ones, but that there must have been several of them. I do
not, moreover, regard it as impossible, that at certain periods,
when the country was in its most fiourishing condition, arti-
ficial dams may have been constructed in order to obtain a
higher rise of the water within a particular space, such as
was necessary for an overflowing. But if we imagine an
entire dam thrown across the river, this, if I am not mis-
taken, could only hold back the current for a very short
way, namely, where there is a greater general fall. If, for
example, we imagine a barrier at Assuan, it would require to
be several hundred feet high to have any efiect on the
height of the water at Semneh, and then the whole valley
from Philae to Wadi Haifa would be a great lake, as it may
indeed have been in geological time.

If we imagine a succession of bamers which would


be especially formed where veins existed in the primitive
roek, then tlie present entire pliysioguomy of the Nile valley
seems to be more easily explained. Tlie river-bed, amidst
granitic or other uplieaved rock, is not level, like a chalk
or sandstone channel, but forms sometimes lakes, sometimes
barriers. The force of the swollen current at these last, of
which there is one at Semneh itself, does not act in the mean
proportion of a space of considerable extent, but with im-
mense eftects, exceeding all calculation, especially when, in
addition, there is a contraction of the sides, as at Semneh.
lunnediately below this barrier the bed again spreads out,
and the rocks disappear in the current. The colossal rock-
fragments on that bank, whose inscriptions sometimes show
that above 4000 years ago they were still not broken loose,
display the Titan force of a current thus hemmed in, and
allow us to conceive how at that spot it gradually waslied out
its bed, sometimes to a great depth, but sometimes also to a
greater breadth, which has the same effect, and how all that
is broken away, or that during the time of low water splits
to a considerable depth in the bed of the river from tho
summer heat, rolls away, until arrested by falling into hol-
lows. But if these single barriers are only washed away in
the course of thousands of years, then the whole river must
receive an equable fall, and it will never rise in the very rocky
districts, but can only continue to be still more excavated,
and will only again deposit the heavier portions it bears
along with it, below the cataracts, where every obstruction
disappears. The monuments can hardly be cited in opposi-
tion to the view of a gradual sinking of the bed of the river
in the higher districts. All of them lie tolerably far above
the region of the rise of the Nile — for example, the temple on
the island of Bigeh, to which there is a considerable ascent.
Phila? has only been built upon since the time of Nectanebus,
and there is nothing to indicate buildings of an earlier date.
The sinking of the surface of the w^ater even at Phila) and
Assuan must also have been far less than at Semneh. Never-
theless, special researches with respect to the relative condition

2 m2


of the ancient temple and rock-inscriptions to the present sur-
face of the water would certainly be of the greatest utility.

Herr von Humboldt, after reading some observations on
the same subject by Wilkinson in the Nouv. Ann. des
Voyages, i., without recollecting my views, wrote to me as
follows :

" Breaches in dams, I imagine, cause only temporary rises
of water, unless in earlier times (for which I see no reason)
there was a greater accumulation of water in the valley of
the river, from meteorological causes. Primeval conditions,
where broad valleys were filled with waters, are not appli-
cable to periods when there were inscriptions. Does it not
seem to you more probable, that the height of the water
was at one time at a greater elevation, on account of the
bed of the river not having been so much furrowed out, be-
cause at an earlier period the bottom of the river was not
at c d, but at ef.

" There are rivers whose beds are elevated and rendered
more shallow by deposition, others which furrow out their
bed ^ui creusent un lit plus profondy

"With sincere respect, your faithful,

E. Lepsius.

Appendix B. (P. 303 and 318.)— The tradition of Gebel
Musa being the Mount of the Law, became gradually
more decided and exclusive for this view after the time
of Procopius in the sixth century; mainly, no doubt, on
account of the church foimded at that spot in the reign
of Justinian. I am not aware that there are any modem
travellers and savants who have thrown doubts on the
correctness of this assumption. Xot even Burckhardt,
although from the numerous inscriptions on Serbal he
was led to infer that that mountain might have been at


one time incorrectly regarded by the pilgrims aa Sinai.

The words of this distinguished traveller are as follows:

(Trav. in Syr. p. 609.) ''It will be recollected that no

inscriptions ar»» f«nmd either on fh^ ^founfain of Mnst^g, or on

Mui'.nt St. < 1 in the

I. '' I v.ii: ^ , ' i to be

above the rock from which the water is said to have

and appear only to be the work of pilgrim.^ who

i that rock. From these circumstances I am persuaded

th ■ M^.^'.it S, -1,1] teas at ' ' • of

^ i I J / . / , , / V ■ id th' y V ninsu In ; red

the mountain tchrrr .Vc oj' tiir law;

though I am etjually com. - / J" ^^^ Scrip-

rr*, that the Israelites encamped in the Upper Sinai^ and

*' r Djebel Mousa, < ^' * St. Catherine, is the

It is not at all that the proximity of

iSi'i'ual Ut ! ■ "ju-

tain to bf , i-'h-

icnt of the concent in its present situation, ichtch tca4

■ ' ''fy chosen from motives of security, may have led to the

rrinfj of that honour to Djebel Mousa. At present

' of Mount Simii nor those of Cairo con-

i :is the scene of any of the events of

nor have tlie Bedouiiis any tradition among

_^ .^' it, but it is possible, that if the Hyzaniine

. niters were thoroughly examined, some mention might be

lund of this r ■ ' ■ :. which I believe was never before

; sited by any 1 traveller."

^loie recenth llu ivinarkable book of travels by E.

Kg BIN SON furm a nuirkid epoch in our knowledge of the

Peninsula as well as of Palestine. AVith reference to the

position of Sinai, he for the' first time especially urges the

favourable ncinity of the great plain of Baha, to the north

of Gebel Musa, in which there was ample space for the

encampment of the people of Israel. (Palestine, vol. i.,

p. lU, &.c) In his determination, however, of the actual

!Mount of the Law, he deviates from the previous tradition,

since he endeavours to prove that Moses did not aacend


Gebel Musa, but the mountain ridge jutting out from tlie
south, above the plain, -which is now called Horeb by the
monks, and Avhose highest point is named Sefsaf. (Yol. i.
p. 176.) Unfortunately he did not visit "Wadi Firan and
the adjoining Serbal. In a more recent treatise (Bibl. sacra.
vol. iv. ]S'o. xxii. May, 1849, p. 381, &c.) the learned author
returns to the question with reference to my view of it, with
which he had become acquainted, and in opposition he espe-
cially mentions the arguments which he had formerly main-
tained in favour of Gebel Sefsaf He comprehends these
under the three follo^ving heads, which he extracts from the
Mosaic narrative, as being eminently striking, and which
must therefore also now be pointed out : " 1st. A mountain
summit overlooking the place where the people stood. 2nd.
Space sufficient adjacent to the mountain for so large a mul-
titude to stand and behold the phenomena on the summit.
3rd. The relation between this space where the people stood
and the base of the mountain must be such that they could
approach and stand at ' the nether part of the mount,' that
they could also touch it ; and that further bounds could
appropriately be set around the mount, lest they should go
up into it, or touch the border of it." Of these three heads,
the first would speak against Gebel Musa, and not against
Serbal. This last, says Eobinson, is excluded by the second
and third head. JN'ow with respect to the second, I must
only call to mind that the encampment of the people at Sinai
is not related in a different manner from all the previous
stations. If, therefore, we take such a circumscribed view of
the encampment as to believe that we must provide for suffi-
cient space foi the settlement of such a great people, we
should then have to indicate a plain of Eaha at all the pre-
vious stations, especially in Eaphidim (which by almost
unanimous opmion was situated at the foot of the Serbal),
because here manifestly they remained for a considerable
time, Moses was visited by Jethro, by his ad^^ce divided the
■whole people into tens, and organised them according to a
form of law, from which we should be compelled to conclude
that there, for the first time, existed a distinct locality for each


individual. He who imagines a multitude of two millions of
men, about as many as the inhabitants of London, or of the
whole of Egypt at the present day, placed in an enclosed
camp composed of tents, of which they must have had two
hundred thousand, if we reckon one for every ten, like a
huge, well-arranged military camp, even to him the plain of
Eaha would appear too small ; but he who assumes that a
comparatively small number could assemble round the chief
quarters of Moses, but that all the others must have sought
for shady places, caves in the rock-precipices, and the scanty
herbage of the adjacent valleys, can as easily imagine the
camp to have been placed in AYadi Firan, or at any other
station. Wadi Firan besides, as far down as El Hessue,
even if we only take its most fertile portion (more inviting
as a settlement than any other spot), would offer, in combina-
tion with the broad Wadi Aleyat, just as large, and at all
events a far more habitable space, for a combined encamp-
ment than the plain of Eaha. Indeed, if it be true that we
can gain anything from such single facts, such an encamp-
ment would render it still more comprehensible Avhy the
people were led out of the camp towards God at the foot of
the mountain in the upper portion of AYadi Aleyat, in order
to have a complete survey of the mountain. To obtain such
a view would be impossible at Gebel Musa, and unnecessary
at Gebel Sefsaf. Eiually, the command not to ascend the
mountain, which is expressed still more imperatively, that no
one "should touch the border of the mountain," applies to
every mountain, which rises simply before the eyes, and
whose means of access can be shut out by a fence. Imme-
diately beyond the fence lies the border of the mountain.

With reference to this last point, Eobinson appeals to my
own map of Serbal, and the description of AVadi Aleyat, by
Bartlett (Forty Days in the Desert, p. 54,59). It would
be difficult, however, to prove from my map that the people
could not have spread themselves out at the foot of the moun-
tain, and Bartlett seems to me rather to share my opinion.
As this traveller is so well known by his descriptions of couu-


tries, whicli are both beautifully illustrated and clearly and
graphically described, and as be is just one of the few who
have examined the localities with his own eyes in reference
to the question started by me without holding any previous
views on the subject, it may not be inappropriate to insert
here those words relating to it, from a book cited by Eobin-
son in favour of his own view ; so much the rather, as I could
not possibly have placed the chief heads of the question in
a more convincing point of view.

He says, p. 55^ : " If we endeavour to reconcile ourselves
to the received but questionable system which seeks to accom-
modate the miraculous with the natural, it is impossible, I think,
not to close with the reasoning advanced in favour of the Serial.
There can be no doubt that Moses was personally well ac-
quainted with the Peninsula, and had even probably dwelt in
the vicinity of "Wadi Feu-an during his banishment from Egypt;
but even common report as to the present day, would point
to this favoured locality as the only eit spot in the whole
ra/nge of tJie desert for the supply, either ivith 'water or such
provisions as the country afforded, of the Israelitish host : on
this ground alone, then, he would be led irresistibly to fix
upon it, when meditating a long sojourn for the purpose of
compiling the law. This consideration derives additional
force when we consider the supply of wood and other articles
requisite for the construction of the tabernacles, and which
can only be found readily at "Wadi Eeiran, and of its being
also, in all probability, from early times a place visited by
trading caravans. But if Moses were even unacquainted
previously with the resources of the place, he must have
passed it on his way from the sea-coast through the interior
of the mountains, and it is inconceivable that he should have
refused to avail himself of its singular advantages for his
'purpose, or that the host would have consented, without a
murmur, to quit, after so much privation, this fertile and
well- watered oasis for new perils in the barren desert, or

* The italics in the above quotation are thus diBtinguished by Dr.
Lepsius, the capitals by the author himself.


that lie should, humanly speaking, have been able either to
compel them to do so, or afterwards to fix them in the inhos-
pitable, unsheltered position of the monkish Mount Sinai, with
the fertile Feiran hut one day's long march in their rear.
Supplies of i^ood, and perhaps of water, must, in that case,
have heen hr ought of necessity from the very spot they had hut
just ahandoned. We must suppose that the Amalekites would
oppose the onward march of the Israelites, where they alone
had a fertile territory worthy of being disputed, and from
which Moses must, of necessity, have sought to expel them.
If it be so, then in this vicinity, and no other, we must look
for Eaphidim, from whence the Mount of Grod was at a very
short distance. We seem thus to have a comhination of cir-
cumstances, which are met idth nowhere else, to certify that
it was here that Moses halted for the great work he had in
view, and that the scene of the lawgiving is here before our
eyes in its wild and lonely majesty. The principal objection
to this is on the following ground, that there is no open
space in the immediate neighbourhood of the Serbal suitable
for the encampment of the vast multitude, and from which
they could all of them at once have had a view of the
mountain, as is the case at the plain Er Eahah at Mount
Sinai, where Eobinson supposes, principally for that reason,
the law to have been given. But is this ohjection conclusive ?
We read, indeed, that Israel ' camped befoee the mount,'
and that ' the Lord came down in sight of aU the people ;'
moreover, that bounds were set to prevent the people from
breaking through and violating even the precincts of the
holy solitude. Although these conditions are more lite-.
EALLT fulfilled at Er Eahah, yet, if we understand them aa
couched in general terms, they apply perhaps icell enough to
the vicinity of the Serial. A glance at the view, and a re-
ference to this small rough map^, will show the reader that
the main encampment of the host must have been in Wadi
Eeiran itself, from which the summit of the Serbal is only
here and there visible, and that it is by the lateral Wadi
* Here follows a sketch of the plan.


Aleyat that the base of the mountain itself, by a walk of
about an hour, is to be reached. It certainly struck me, in
passing up this valley, as a very unfit, if not impracticable
spot for the encampment of any great number of people, if
they loere all in tents', though well supplied with pure water,
the ground is rugged and rocky — towards the base of the
mountain aAvfully so ; but still it is quite possible that a cer-
tain nuniber might have established themselves there, as the
Arabs do at present, while, as on other occasions, the princi-
pal masses were distributed in the surrounding valleys. I
do not know that there is any adequate ground for believing,
as Eobinson does, that because the people were warned not
to invade the seclusion of the mount, and a guard was placed
to prevent them from doing so, that theeefoee the en-
CAMPMETS"! ITSELE prcsscd closcly ou its borders. Curiosity
might possibly enough lead many to attempt this even from
a distance, to say nothing of those already supposed to he
located in the Wadi Aleyat, near the base of the mountain,
to whom the injunction would more especially apply. Those,
however, who press closely the literal sense of one or two
passages, should bear in mind all the difficulties previously
cited, and the absolute destitution of verdure, cultivation, run-
ning streams, and even of abundant springs, tvhich characterise
thefeatfullg barren vicinity of the monhish Si7iai, where there
is indeed room and verge enough for encampment, but no
EESOTJRCES WHATEVEE. If we take up the ground of a
CONTINUAL AND MiEACULOUS PEOYisiON /br all the tvants of
two millions of people, doubtless they may have been sub-
sisted there as well as in any other place ; otherwise it seems
incredible that Moses should ever have abandoned a spot,
offering such unique advantages as Feiran, to select instead
the most dreary and sterile spot in its neighbourhood.^''

This was the distinct impression, and one frankly offered,
after comparing those localities with the Biblical narration,
by a man who nevertheless finally remains doubtful whether,
in spite of all the reasons cited, it would not be more ad-
visable to follow " the other system," in accordance with


which we must assume it to be an uninterrupted miracle
from the beginning to the end, even though this is not ex-
pressed in the Bible (see p. 19 of the work cited), wherebj,
assuredly, all considerations about the most probable liuman
course of that great historical event become worthless. The
author then passes to some individual points, which he him-
self only calls attention to as such ; in which he deviates
from my mode of comprehension, since, for instance, he feels
himself obliged to place the attack of the Amalekites some-
what farther down the valley towards El Hessue. The
various possibilities in the explanation of the shorter marches
oblige us always to point out again, that it is only by taking
a view of the most essential points of the question, as a
whole, that we can arrive at a positive conviction; this would
necessarily drive those objections into the background, which
might arise from regarding it only from any individual

Shortly after Eobinson, in the year 1843, Dr. John
"Wilson travelled through Palestine and the Peninsula of
Arabia Petrgsa ; he published his extensive travels {The
Lands of the Bible, 2 vols. Edinburgh, 1847), but did not by
any means attain the high standing point held by his learned
predecessor. Nevertheless, I cannot but accord with some of
the objections which (vol. i. p. 222, &c.) he makes to Eobin-
son's assumption that Sefsaf is the Mount of the Law. He
coincides with the tradition in recognising the Mount of the
Law in Grebel MAsa. In Serbal, on the contrary, he believes
that he recognises the Mount Paran of the Bible (p. 199),
which we could only suppose, if we admit Mount Paran to
be another expression for Sinai, and if we identify the last
with Serbal. At the close of the second volume (p. 764, &c.)
the author adds a note in the Appendix, in which he guards
himself against my different view as to the position of Sinai.
He does not, however, here touch upon the most essential
arguments which I have everywhere placed in the foregroimd,
but only speaks of individual points, some of which can be
easily overcome, and of others which have no influence on


the chief question. He places Daphka., which is not once
mentioned in the principal account, and therefore assuredly
must have been a subordinate spot, in "Wadi Tiran, and
Eaphidim, "the places for rest," in the barren sandy Wadi
e' Scheikh, because there was no water there. But, that I
may use his own weapons, what has become of the spring of
Moses ? " Few in tlie hingdom of Great Britain at least,"
says the author, " will be disposed to substitute the Wadi
Feiran, with clear running water, for BepMdim, where there
was no water for the people to drtak." I think he wrongs his
countrymen in making them deviate so universally from the
almost unanimous tradition, and reject as a rationalistic expla-
nation what is admitted even by the learned Fathers of the
Church, who place Eaphidim inFiran, and consequently regard
the spring there as belonging to Moses; besides, independently
of H. Eaetlett, many others of his countrymen have dis-
tinctly declared themselves in favour of my view, which in-
cludes this point, among whom I may mention Mr. Hogg
(see below, concerning his pamphlet about this particular
point), the Eev. Dr. Ceolt, and the author of the Pictorial
Bible. If he is of opinion that I had overlooked the fact
that the "Wilderness of Sin and the Wilderness of Sinai had .
different meanings, I refer hhn to my pamphlet, p. 47, where
precisely the opposite occurs ; I have not either left unno-
ticed the words " out of the Wilderness of Sin" (p. 39), which
has not either been done by Eusebius nor St. Jerome, who
equally make the Wilderness of Sin extend as far as the Wil-
derness of Sinai. The fight with Amalek, as it is related in
Exodus, presupposes a universal, obstinate, and probably a pre-
pared contest ; that the principal attack of the front was im-
mediately supported by an attack of the rear-guard is not
excepted, as it is added besides in Deuteron. xxv. 18 ; the
double attack besides appeared distinctly indicated m the

words i2T"^.1 '^Tl?.^ ^*??P ^VT^(^T~n ^°'- ^^ ''^ °^^5 KoieKoyp-e o-ovrfiv

ovpayiau. At Elim, certainly, twelve springs nb'^V not wells
are mentioned ; but this does not alter the case, as neverthe-
less we cannot imagine twelve rushing springs like those in


the Wadi Firan, but as the author (vol. i, p. 175) himself
observes, only standing water undergrouud, which must be
specially dug for — therefore, in fact, wells. Their great
number alone remains worthy of consideration, from which
we may conclude that it was an important place. I knew
the Sheikh Abu Zelimeh very well ; but that would not pre-
vent the existence of a connection between the name and
the locality, although I do not lay the slightest weight on
such accordance of names.

The author omits some other reasons, which he believes
he can prove in opposition to my views ; these might per-
haps have referred precisely to the chief points of the whole
question, which had hitherto remained uncontested. The
author now perhaps feels himself obliged to repeat his argu-