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Sinai

Hastings' Dictionary of the Bible

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SINAI (Mountain). A holy mountain in the Sinaitic peninsula (whose name is said to be derived from that of Sin, the moon-god). It is called Horeb by E [Note: Elohist.] and D [Note: Deuteronomist.] , whereas J [Note: Jahwist.] and P [Note: Priestly Narrative.] employ the name ‘Sinai.’ Here Moses was granted the vision of the burning bush ( Exodus 3:1 ), whereby he first received a call to lead the Israelites to adopt Jahweh as their covenanted God; and here took place the tremendous theophany which is the central event of the Pentateuch, wherein the covenant was ratified.

The identification of Mt. Sinai is a matter of some difficulty, and various attempts to discover it have been made from time to time. The traditional site is Jebel Mûsa , ‘the mountain of Moses,’ almost in the centre of the triangle; here there has been a convent ever since at least a.d. 385, about which date it was visited by St. Silvia of Aquitaine whose account of her pilgrimage still survives in part. This identification has therefore the warrant of antiquity. It is not, however, wholly free from difficulty, principally connected with questions of the route of the Exodus; but it is possible that with further study and discovery these difficulties may be found to he evanescent.

In recent years the tradition has been questioned, and two suggestions have been made calling for notice. The first is that originally suggested by Lepsius, who would place Sinai at Mount Serbal , some distance northwest of Jebel Mûsa. This theory has been championed, with a good deal of force, by the latest investigator, Professor Petrie’s assistant, Mr. C. T. Currelly (see Petrle, Researches in Sinai , ch. xvii.). The region appears more suitable for the occupation of a large host than the neighbourhood of Jebel Mûsa, and it accords better with the probable site of Rephidim.

The second view would place the mountain out of the peninsula altogether, unless it can be proved that the Land of Midian included that region. And, indeed, the close connexion evident between Sinai or Horeb and Midian, which appears, for example, in Exodus 3:1-22 , makes this a theory worth consideration. But we are still in the dark as to the limits of Midian: all we can say is that it is not known whether Midian extended west of the Gulf of ‘Akabah, and that therefore it is not known whether Sinai was west of ‘Akabah. It must, however, be freely granted that to place Sinai east or north of ‘Akabah would entirely disjoint all identifications of places along the line of the itinerary of the Exodus.

For the allegorical use of ‘Sinai’ in Galatians 4:25 , see art. Hagar.

R. A. S. Macalister.

SINAI (Peninsula). The triangular tongue of land intercepted between the limestone plateau of the Tih desert in the north, and the Gulfs of Suez and ‘Akabah, at the head of the Red Sea, on the south-west and south-east. It is a rugged and waste region, little watered, and full of wild and impressive mountain scenery. Except at some places on the coast, such as Tor, there is but little of a settled population.

This region was always, and still is, under Egyptian Influence, if not actually in Egyptian territory. From a very early period it was visited by emissaries from Egyptian kings in search of turquoise, which is yielded by the mines of the Wady Magharah. There sculptured steles were left, and scenes engraved in the rock, from the time of Semerkhet of the first dynasty, and Sneferu of the third dated by Professor Petrie in the fifth and sixth millennia b.c. These sculptures remained almost intact till recent years; till a party of English speculators, who came to attempt to re-work the old mines, wantonly destroyed many of them (see Petrie, Researches in Sinai , p. 46). What these vandais left was cut from the rock and removed for safety, under Professor Petrie’s direction, to the Cairo Museum. A remarkable temple, dedicated to Hathor, but adapted, it would appear, rather to Semitic forms of worship, exists at Serabîl el-Khadem , not far from these mines. It was probably erected partly for the benefit of the parties who visited the mines from time to time.

Geologically, Sinai is composed of rocks of the oldest (Archæan) period. These rocks are granite of a red and grey colour, and gneiss, with schists of various kinds hornbiende, talcose, and chioritic overlying them. Many later, but still ancient, dykes of diorite, basalt, etc., penetrate these primeval rocks. Vegetation is practically confined to the valleys, especially in the neighbourhood of water-springs.

R. A. S. Macalister.

Bibliography Information
Hastings, James. Entry for 'Sinai'. Hastings' Dictionary of the Bible. https://www.studylight.org/​dictionaries/​eng/​hdb/​s/sinai.html. 1909.
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