Fascinating Biblical Considerations About Mount Sinai

Several factors point to a mountain called Ras es Safsafeh as the most reasonable and plausible candidate for Mount Sinai

The Monastery of St. Catherine in Sinai, Egypt
The Monastery of St. Catherine in Sinai, Egypt (photo: Stefan Sutka / Shutterstock)

Most Christians seem to think that the location and identity of this mountain is certain — that there is a Mount Sinai in the Sinai Peninsula, and that’s that!

In fact, it’s not absolutely certain. But 7,497-foot Jebel Musa (“Mount Moses”) is the leading candidate.

Archaeologist and evangelical Protestant James Hoffmeier, in his book, Ancient Israel in Sinai: The Evidence for the Authenticity of the Wilderness Tradition, devotes a long chapter to the question. He holds that “no one today can be certain of its location” and that it “has never been identified with certainty.” Theories have even been bandied about that it’s in Saudi Arabia, rather than the Sinai Peninsula, south of Israel, where Jebel Musa sits.

In any event, anyone can make arguments for the plausibility of a particular mountain being Mount Sinai, and I will now do so myself. 

Holman Bible Dictionary (“Mount Sinai”) states:

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.

Jebel Musa and Ras es-Safsafeh sit at opposite ends of a three-mile long ridge: the former on the southern end and the latter to the north. Hoffmeier agrees with the above statement, noting that it “has areas for the Israelite encampment.”

The website Adventist Discovery Centre raises a very interesting biblical consideration:

Some scholars have rejected Jebel Musa as being the real Mount Sinai on the grounds that there is no suitable place at the foot of the mount where a large number of people could camp within sight of the summit. The Bible ... says: ‘On the third day the LORD will come down upon Mount Sinai in the sight of all the people’ (Exodus 19:11, NKJV).

Four Bible passages strongly imply that the topographical aspects of Ras es-Safsafeh are more in harmony with the biblical data regarding Mount Sinai, over against Jebel Musa, since:

The top of Jebel Musa can’t be seen from the plain, as the Bible requires (Exodus 24:17 [RSV]: “the appearance of the glory of the LORD was like a devouring fire on the top of the mountain in the sight of the people of Israel”; cf. 19:11).
Jebel Musa has an indistinct border at its base, making it difficult to determine where it begins, so as to not touch it, as a matter of ritual impurity (Exodus 19:12 [RSV]: “whoever touches the mountain shall be put to death”).
The er-Rahah plain is adjacent to Ras es Safsafeh, not Jebel Musa. The Bible states that “Israel camped there in front of the mountain” (Exodus 19:2, NRSV; cf. NIV, NASB, Moffatt, REB, Confraternity, NAB, Goodspeed: “in front of”; Amplified: “at the base of”; Knox: “in full view of”; NEB: “opposite the mountain”).

Hence, Ellicott’s Commentary for English Readers comments on Exodus 19:12:

Moses was required to “set bounds to the people,” i.e., to make a substantial fence between the camp and the base of Sinai, which should prevent both animals and men from coming in contact with the mountain. Modern travellers generally observe how abruptly the rocky precipice of Ras Sufsafeh rises from the plain in front of it, so that in many places it is quite possible to stand on the plain and yet touch the mountain.

The first of the three factors above led Hoffmeier to express his preference for Ras es Safsafeh as Mount Sinai:

The summit of Gebel Musa is actually not visible from the valley below, where St. Catherine’s Monastery is located, nor can it be seen from er-Rahah plain, thought by many to be the campsite of the Israelites. ... [E]r-Rahah plain begins at the northwestern side of Ras Safsafah …
It is not surprising, then, that many early explorers reacted with skepticism, even disappointment, when first encountering Gebel Musa. …
The Reverend D. A. Randall, who traveled the Holy Lands in 1862, was likewise impressed with er-Rahah plain and Ras Safsafeh, stating, “The bold and frowning front of Horeb was directly before us, rising up from the plain in an almost perpendicular wall from two to three thousand feet into the air. The site was grand and majestic beyond description. ... ” 
In the spring of 1882, Dr. Henry Fields traveled to southern Sinai. ... He climbed Ras-Safsafeh and was immediately converted. He said: “when I reached the summit and looked down into the plain of Er-Rahah, I saw the conditions were met, and no longer doubted that I was standing on the holy mount.”

Hoffmeier then recounts his own concurring experiences:

Clearly there is no suitably sized wadi or plain adjacent to Gebel Musa to fit this description [of Exodus 19:2]. This factor troubled me the three times I have stood atop Gebel Musa and studied the surroundings. I do, however, resonate with the reaction of these nineteenth-century explorers when viewing Ras-Safsafeh from er-Rahah plain. It is a spectacular sight, and the association between the plain and the mountain makes Gebel Safsafeh a plausible candidate for the biblical Mount Sinai.

I agree. These three arguments considered together clinch it for me. The Bible has proven that it is accurate time and again, and as far as I am able to determine, the above factors point to Ras es Safsafeh as the most reasonable and plausible candidate for Mount Sinai (i.e., one peak as opposed to a range of several mountains).