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Anatomy of a Discovery.

"And the Lord went before them by day in a pillar of cloud to lead the way, and by night in a pillar of fire to give them light, so as to go by day and night." Exodus 13:21

In recent years there has been much discussion as to whether Mt. Sinai was actually located in the Sinai peninsula or in Midian which is in modern day Saudi Arabia.

The idea is not a new one; Beke1 first published (posthumously) the possibility in 1878 more importantly Lucas of "Ancient Egyptian Materials and Industry" fame in a wonderful book published in 19382 made a compelling argument for the thesis.

Along comes Ron Wyatt who takes the thesis and goes on an adventure to Jebel Al-Lauz in the Tobuk area of North Western Saudi Arabia and finds a mountain with a black top and a few artifacts which is enough for him to claim that he has found Mt. Sinai. He was followed by two other adventurers, Larry Williams and Bob Cornuke who without citing Wyatt (plagerism???? Its difficult to tell as none of the books published have an index) go to the same site and come to the same conclusion. They have found Mt. Sinai3.

A number of critiques have been published on the thesis but only one criticism resonated with me and that was the suggestion that it was more than 11 days away from Kadesh Barnea according to the Biblical account. That of course presupposes that we knew where Kadesh Barnea is and that the present identification in the Negev at Ain el Qudeirat4 is the correct one.

I had already decided to do a television special on "The Exodus" including the Wyatt thesis and I knew a little of the Exodus and therefore whilst I was sympathetic to the notion that Mt. Sinai was in Saudi Arabia, I believed that it must have been a volcano and Jebel Al Lawz whilst it had a black top, was not one. It also seemed likely from the quote that starts this piece, that there was at least one and probably a string of volcanoes on the route of the Exodus. How else to explain the phenomenon described?


I therefore started to search for two things.

  1. A high mountain in Arabia that was a volcano and that fit the specifications of Mt. Sinai.
  2. Another location for Kadesh Barnea

How did we work before the internet. Within a few minutes…………. Bingo, I had found this map which seemed to be a promising start. There was an almost straight tectonic line from Yemen to "Canaan".

Now to find Mt. Sinai or Mt. Horeb as it is also known in the Bible5.

Those who understand linguistics know that both Hebrew and Arabic words are based on three letter roots (without vowels), thus hrb for Horeb and that there is a process known as metathesis where occasionally translations from one language to another involve changing the order of the letters say to rbh, or brh etc.

17 volcanic sites are listed in Arabia only two with an elevation above 3,000.

  1. Harras (the Arabic word for Volcano) of Dhamar at 3,500
  2. Harra of Arhab at 3,100.

Not for the first time in my career of investigating was I speechless. "RHB" "HRB". The same. A tall volcano that fit the physical requirements of Mt. Horeb perfectly but where was it………. IN YEMEN.

My skepticism was increased by the fact that I knew of no way the Israelites could have arrived there and eleven days journey to Kadesh Barnea seemed utterly impossible.

I then remembered a book by Professor Kamal Salibi6 which I had read when it first came out and dismissed as being totally unrealistic. I had been in touch with Kamal over the years and I unearthed the book from my library to see if there were other identifications between the Hebrew and the Arabic along the tectonic plate. On page 41 is a map of the area in which Professor Salibi believes the whole Biblical story of the children of Israel originates. The area of Asir (Seir) is in Western Saudi Arabia. Two things immediately stood out.

  1. There was a place "Rofiydan" in the South near the Yemeni border on the route north running parallel to the tectonic line. That immediately brought to mind the Hebrew "Rephidim" one of the camping stops along the route of the Exodus.

Much further north, again on the tectonic line was a place called "Bani Amr" (the tribe of Amr). This in Asir (Seir). That immediately brought to mind the attack by the Ammorite in the vicinity of Mt. Seir an event that also took place during the Exodus.

Now we were getting somewhere, albeit with the aid of a book that has been totally discounted by the academic community.

It gets even stranger.

I needed to find another location for Kadesh Barnea.

Whilst Kadesh is a common Hebrew word meaning "holy" the word Barnea is totally unknown. Salibi suggests that it could be referring to a god "rn" so the site could be one dedicated to that god. Hebrew scholars have no thoughts on the subject.

Back to "Google". Another shock. I get referred to a site containing papers from my old friend Velikovsky who I have spent 30 years criticising. I suppose Salibi could have been the Velikovsky of the 80s. Here I was relying on the scholarship of two men who have been more reviled than any two others in the modern age J

Where does Velikovsky place Kadesh Barnea, in the most unlikely place of all for a Jewish biblical scholar? MECCA!!! For him (and perhaps for me) it made perfect sense. What was the holiest site in Western Arabia, Mecca?

The story gets even stranger. As usual for Velikovsky, his writings are always meticulously (if not always accurately) footnoted. Kadesh Barnea in the Biblical account7 is located in the desert of Pharan (Paran)……. (note the "rn" again). Velikovsky states that "according to the old Arabian sources" Pharan is in the mountainous area of the Hijaz. There is a reference to a footnote 17. The problem is in his paper, footnote 17 is missing. What to do?

I remembered meeting Velikovsky’s research assistant when I visited the old man many years ago at his house in Princeton. I tried to contact him, Jan Sammer, now living in Czechoslovakia. What he sent me back was even more remarkable than Velikovsky’s original suggestion. The medieval Arab geographer actually identifies Pharan with Mecca itself.8

Where is Mecca on our grand scheme of things, again very near the fault line on the way from Yemen to Canaan?

I contacted Salibi again. He dismissed my ideas about Mt. Horeb in Yemen and Kadesh Barnea as Mecca (on the grounds that it was too arid, but in fact there are fresh springs in the area and 2,500 years ago, the area could well have been lush) but did identify the 12 camping spots mentioned in Numbers 33 as being the exact equivalents of sites in Asir.

Had I stumbled on the real route of the Exodus? What did the route that I had mapped out look like? Bigger mysteries remain. How did the Israelites get to Yemen and how did the idea that it took 11 days from Mt. Sinai to Kadesh Barnea get sorted out.

With the help of our wonderful cartographer Linda, we will show you in the next few weeks.

Michael S. Sanders
Monday, July 29, 2002

p.s. The ultimate irony?   

Al Quds (qds in both Arabic and Hebrew means Holy) is Jerusalem in Arabic:

Now Mecca (Islam's Holiest City) may very well turn out to be the long lost city of Kadesh (qds) Barnea. A major Jewish holy City, lost for 3,500 years.



1.    Beke, Charles Tilstone, The late Dr. Charles Beke's discoveries of Sinai in Arabia and of Midian : with portrait, geological, botanical, and conchological reports,. plans, map, and thirteen wood engravings : Trubner & Co., 1878

2.    A. Lucas: The Route of the Exodus of the Israelites from Egypt, Edward Arnold & Co. 1938

3.    Larry Williams: The Mount Sinai Myth formerly The Mountain of Moses" Wynwood Press 1990, Robert Cornuke and David Halbrook: In Search of The Mountain of God, Broadman and Holman, 2000

Howard Blum: "The Gold of Exodus. The Discovery of the True Mount Sinai" Simon & Schuster 1998

4.    Anchor Bible Dictionary

5.    Exodus 3:1 "Now Moses was tending the flock of Jethro his father-in-law, the priest of Midian. And he led the flock to the back of the desert, and came to Horeb, the mountain of God."

6.    Kamal Salibi "The Bible Came from Arabia, Jonathan Cape 1985

7.    Numbers 13:3

8.    Medieval Arab geographer Yaqut al-Hamawi (d. 1229). Volume III on p. 834 of the edition published in Leipzig in the 1860s contains the following entry (transl.):
    Faaraan: After the alif there is a raa' and it ends in a nun. An Arabicized Hebrew word. It is one of the names for Mekkah mentioned in the Torah. It has been said that it is a name for the mountains of Mekkah. Ibn Makulan Abu Bakr Nasr Ibn al-Qaasim Ibn Qudaa`ah al-Qudaa`i al-Faaraani al-Iskandari said "I have heard it is a reference to the mountains of Faaraan, that is to say, the mountains of the Hijaaz. In the Torah God came from Sinaa' [Sinai] and dawned from Saa`iir [Seir] and became known [or brought to light, revealed] from Faaraan"; they are the mountains of Filastiin [Palestine], and it is His sending down of the Injiil upon Isa, peace be upon him, and His revealing from Mount Faaraan the fact of His sending down the Qur'an upon Muhammad, peace be upon him. It is said Faaraan is the mountain of Mekkah; Faaraan is also a village in the region of Sughd, one of the provinces of Samarqand, to whom Abu Mansuur Muhammad Ibn Bakr Ibn Isma`iil al-Samarqandi al-Faaraani traces his origins. This was transmitted from Muhammad Ibn al-Fadl al-Larmaani and Nasr Ibn Ahmad al-Kindi the Qur'anic scholar from whom Abu al-Hasan Muhammad Ibn Abd Allah Ibn Muhammad al-Kaaghidhi al-Samarqandi transmitted. Abu Abd Allah al-Qudaa`i said, "Faaraan and al-Tur [literally, the mountain] are two districts in southern Egypt."


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