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Kitto's Popular Cyclopedia of Biblial Literature


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Si´nai. The Hebrew name, denoting a district of broken or cleft rocks, is descriptive of the region to which it is applied. That region, according to ; ; ; , is a wild mountainous country in Arabia Petraea, whither the Israelites went from Rephidim, after they had been out of Egypt for the space of three months. Here the law was given to Moses, which fact renders this spot one of special and lasting interest. From the magnitude and prominence of the Sinaitic group of mountains, the entire district of which it forms a part has received the name of the peninsula of Sinai. This peninsula may be roughly described as formed by a line running from Suez to Ailah, all that lies on the south of this line falling within the peninsula. In the present-day the name Sinai is given by Christians to the cluster of mountains to which we have referred; but the Arabs have no other name for this group than Jebel et-Tur, sometimes adding the distinctive epithet Sina. In a stricter sense the name Sinai is applied to a very lofty ridge which lies between the two parallel valleys of Shu'eib and el-Leja. Of this ridge the northern end is termed Horeb, the southern Sinai, now called Jebel Mûsa, or Moses' Mount. The entire district is a heap of lofty granite rocks, with steep gorges and deep valleys. The Sinai ridge, including Horeb, is at least three miles in length. It rises boldly and majestically from the southern end of the plain Rahah, which is two geographical miles long, and ranges in breadth from one-third to two-thirds of a mile, making at least one square mile. This space is nearly doubled by extensions of the valley on the west and east. 'The examination convinced us,' says Robinson (Biblical Researches, i. 141), 'that here was space enough to satisfy all the requisitions of the Scriptural narrative, so far as it relates to the assembling of the congregation to receive the law.' Water is abundant in this mountainous region, to which the Bedouins betake themselves when oppressed by drought in the lower lands. As there is water, so also is there in the valleys great fruitfulness and sometimes luxuriance of vegetation, as well as beauty. What was the exact locality from which the law was given, it may not be easy to ascertain. The book of Deuteronomy (; , etc.) makes it to be Horeb, which seems most probable; for this, the north end of the range, rises immediately from the plain of which we have just spoken as the head-quarters of the Israelites. Sinai is, indeed, generally reputed to be the spot, and, as we have seen, the southern extremity of the range is denominated Moses' Mount; but this may have arisen from confounding together two meanings of Sinai, inasmuch as it denotes, 1, a district; 2, a particular part of that district. It was no doubt on Horeb, in the region of Sinai, that the law was promulgated. Robinson imputes the common error to tradition, and declares that 'there is not the slightest reason for supposing that Moses had anything to do with the summit which now bears his name. It is three miles distant from the plain on which the Israelites must have stood, and hidden from it by the intervening peaks of modern Horeb. No part of the plain is visible from the summit, nor are the bottoms of the adjacent valleys, nor is any spot to be seen around it where the people could have been assembled.' Robinson also ascended the northern extremity of the ridge, and had there a prospect which he thus describes:—'The whole plain, er-Râhah, lay spread out beneath our feet with the adjacent Wadys and mountains. Our conviction was strengthened that here, or on someone of the adjacent cliffs, was the spot where the Lord “descended in fire,” and proclaimed the law. Here lay the plain where the whole congregation might be assembled; here was the mount that could be approached and touched, if not forbidden; and here the mountain brow where alone the lightnings and the thick cloud would be visible, and the thunders and the voice of the trump be heard when “the Lord came down in the sight of all the people upon Mount Sinai.” We gave ourselves up to the impressions of the awful scene, and read, with a feeling that will never be forgotten, the sublime account of the transaction and the commandment there promulgated.'

Having thus given a general view of Sinai, we shall now briefly trace the Israelites in their journey to the mountain. Another article [WANDERING] will follow their course into the Land of Promise. When safe on the eastern shore, the Israelites, had they taken the shortest route into Palestine, would have struck at once across the desert in a south-easterly direction to el-Arish or Gaza. But this route would have brought them into direct collision with the Philistines, with whom they were as yet quite unable to cope. Or they might have traversed the desert of Paran, following the pilgrim road of the present-day to Elath, and, turning to the north, have made for Palestine. In order to accomplish this, however, hostile hordes and nations would have to be encountered, whose superior skill and experience in war might have proved fatal to the newly liberated tribes of Israel. They were, therefore, wisely directed to take a course which necessitated the lapse of time, and gave promise of affording intellectual and moral discipline of the highest value.

Moses did not begin his arduous journey till, with a piety and a warmth of gratitude which well befitted the signal deliverance that his people had just been favored with, he celebrated the power, majesty, and goodness of God in a triumphal ode, full of the most appropriate, striking, and splendid images; in which commemorative festivity he was assisted by 'Miriam the prophetess, the sister of Aaron,' and her associated female band, with poetry, music, and dancing. The spot where these rejoicings were held, could not have been far from that which still bears the name of Ayûn Mûsa, 'the fountains of Moses,' the situation of which is even now marked by a few palm-trees. This was a suitable place for the encampment, because well supplied with water. Here Robinson counted seven fountains, near which he saw a patch of barley, and a few cabbage plants. Hence the Israelites proceeded along the coast, three days' journey, into what is termed the wilderness of Shur. During this march they found no water. The district is hilly and sandy, with a few watercourses running into the Red Sea, which, failing rain, are dry. At the end of three days the Israelites reached the fountain Marah, but the waters were bitter, and could not be drunk. The stock which they had brought with them being now exhausted, they began to utter murmurings on finding themselves disappointed at Marah. Moses appealed to God, who directed him to a tree, which, being thrown into the waters, sweetened them. The people were satisfied and admonished. About this station authorities are agreed. It is identified with the fountain Hawârah. The basin is six or eight feet in diameter, and the water Robinson found about two feet deep. Its taste is unpleasant, saltish, and somewhat bitter.

The next station mentioned in Scripture is Elim, where were twelve wells of water, and three score and ten palm-trees. As is customary with travelers in these regions, 'they encamped there by the waters' (). This place is generally admitted to be Wady Ghurundel, lying about half a day's journey south-east from Marah. The way from Egypt to Sinai lies through this valley; and, on account of its water and verdure, it is a chief caravan station at the present-day. From Elim the Israelites marched, encamping on the shore of the Red Sea, for which purpose they must have kept the high ground for sometime, since the precipices of Jebel Hûmmâin—a lofty and precipitous mountain of chalky limestone—run down to the brink of the sea. They, therefore, went on the land side of this mountain to the head of Wady Taiyikeh, which passes down south-west through the mountains to the shore. On the plain at the mouth of this valley was the encampment 'by the Red Sea' ().

According to , the Israelites removed from the Red Sea, and encamped next in the wilderness of Sin. This Robinson identifies with 'the great plain which, beginning near el-Mûrkháh, extends with greater or less breadth almost to the extremity of the peninsula. In its broadest part it is called el-Kâa' (i. 106). Thus they kept along the shore, and did not yet ascend any of the fruitful valleys which run up towards the center of the district. They arrived in the wilderness of Sin on the fifteenth day of the second month after their departure out of the land of Egypt; and being now wearied with their journey, and tired of their scanty fare, they began again to murmur. The contrast between the scant supply of the desert and the abundance of Egypt, furnished the immediate occasion of the outbreak of dissatisfaction. Bread and flesh were the chief demand; bread and flesh were miraculously supplied; the former by manna, the latter by quails.

The next station mentioned in Exodus is Rephidim; but in Numbers 33, Dophkah and Alush are added. The two latter were reached after the people had taken 'their journey out of the wilderness of Sin.' Dophkah is probably to be found near the spot where Wady Feirán runs into the gulf of Suez. Alush may have lain on the shore near Ras Jehan. From this point a range of calcareous rocks, termed Jebal Hemam, stretches along the shore, near the southern end of which the Hebrews took a sudden turn to the north-east, and, going up Wady Hibrân, reached the central Sinaitic district.

This was the last station before Sinai itself was reached. Naturally enough is it recorded, that 'there was no water for the people to drink.' The road was an arid gravelly plain; on either side were barren rocks. A natural supply was impossible. A miracle was wrought, and water was given. The Scripture makes it clear that it was from the Sinaitic group that the water was produced (). The plain received two descriptive names—Massah, 'Temptation;' and Meribah, 'Strife.' It appears that the congregation was not allowed to pursue their way to Sinai unmolested. The Arabs thought the Israelites suitable for plunder, and fell upon them. These hordes are termed Amalekites. It appears that the conflict was a severe and doubtful one, which, by some extraordinary aid, ended in favor of the children of Israel. This aggression on the part of Amalek gave occasion to a permanent national hatred, which ended only in the extermination of the tribe (; ). In commemoration of this victory Moses was commanded to write an account of it in a book: he also erected there an altar to Jehovah, and called the name of it 'Jehovah, my banner.'





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Bibliography Information
Kitto, John, ed. Entry for 'Sinai'. "Kitto's Popular Cyclopedia of Biblial Literature".

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