Mount Sinai and the Peak of Mount Musa (Mousa)
by Jimmy Dunn
Mount Sinai and the General Area
While there have been a number of other locations suggested as the biblical site of Mount Sinai, also referred to as Mount Horeb, the traditional location is a peak in the central southern Sinai peninsula. This site and the surrounding area are steeped in Biblical tradition. All around Mount Sinai are locations and sites that have been associated with Biblical places named in the Exodus, and there is a long oral tradition of their authenticity. However, there is no proven archaeological evidence that this, or any of the other suggested alternate locations of Mount Sinai, is the actual one referred to in the Bible. Nevertheless, this mountain has drawn pilgrims for over a thousand years in the overwhelming belief that it is the Holy Mountain, and its tradition as the Biblical peak can be directly traced back to the fourth century AD. John Lloyd Stephens said that "Among all the stupendous works of Nature, not a place can be selected more fitting for the exhibition of Almighty power."
The traditional Mount Sinai, located in the Sinai Peninsula, is actually the name of a collection of peaks, sometimes referred to as the Holy Mountains. The mountain was called Sinai, or "the mount of God" possibly before the time of Moses, according to Josephus. On its southern end is Mount Mousa (or Musa), sometimes referred to as Jebel Musa, Gebel Mousa, Mount Moses or the Mountain of Moses (all of which basically means the same thing). This peak is traditionally considered to be biblical place where Moses communicated with God and received the Ten Commandments. It also has considerable religious significance to Islam as the place where Mohammed's horse, Boraq, ascended to heaven.
The Chapel of the Holy Trinity, surrounded by a throng of Brazilian Pilgrims
Mount Musa is 7,495 feet (2,285 meters) high. It is not he highest peak in the Sinai, That distinction, as well as the highest in Egypt, belongs to nearby Mount Catherine, which is 8652 feet (2637 meters) high. Visitors to Mount Musa may climb it using several routes. The shortest route, known as Siket Syidna Musa, is a steep stairway consisting of 3,750 steps, known as the "steps of penitence", that were hewn out of stone by the monks of St. Catherine's Monastery, located at the northeastern foot of the mountain, and enclosing what is traditionally thought to be the Burning Bush. However, this route may not be climbed at night, actually when most people ascend the mountain in order to arrive at the peak for the sunrise.
The longer, less steep track, known as Siket El Bashait, may be climbed at night either on foot or by camel. It takes an average of about two and one half hours to ascend on foot. At a number of locations along the longer route, often referred to as the camel route, there are vendors where one may buy water, food and other items. Both of the routes lead to a natural amphitheater known as the "Seven Elders of Israel", where the wise men are thought to have waited while God spoke to Moses. From there, one must ascend the remaining 750 steps on foot to reach the summit.
The Chapel of the Holy Trinity, built in 1934 (on the location of the original chapel built in 363 and rebuilt by Justinian in 530), is located on the summit, but is not open to the public, though it is said to enclose the rock from which God made the tablets of the Ten Commandments. There is also a small mosque and a cave where Moses is thought to have waited to receive the Tablets. Of course, the summit also provides a breathtaking view of the surrounding mountain ranges and valleys. While the monuments on the peak of Mount Musa are well known, there are a number of other monuments and historical site located on the mountain, many of which are located along the stairway,and on the surrounding mountains.
There are other peaks in this range, some of which have also been contested as the true Mount Sinai. Jebel Serbal is also a candidate. Other peaks in this range include Jebel Megafa and Jebel Moneiga.