Monday, August 22, 2011

Religious significance of Mount Sinai

The biblical Mount Sinai was one of the most important sacred places in the Abrahamic religions.

According to Bedouin tradition, it was the mountain where God gave laws to the Israelites. However, the earliest Christian traditions place this event at the nearby Mount Serbal, at the foot of which a monastery was founded in the 4th century; it was only in the 6th century that the monastery moved to the foot of Mount Catherine, following the guidance of Josephus's earlier claim that Sinai was the highest mountain in the area. Jebel Musa, which is adjacent to Mount Catherine, was equated with Sinai, by Christians, only after the 15th century.

Christian orthodoxies settled upon this mountain in the third century, Georgians from the Caucasus moved to the Sinai Peninsula in the fifth century, and a Georgian colony was formed there in the ninth century. Georgians erected their own temples in the area of the modern Mount Sinai. The construction of one such temple was connected with the name of David The Builder, who contributed to the erecting of temples in Georgia and abroad as well. There were political, cultural and religious motives for locating the temple on Mount Sinai. Georgian monks living there were deeply connected with their motherland. The temple had its own plots in Kartli. Some of the Georgian manuscripts of Sinai remain there, but others are kept in Tbilisi, St. Petersburg, Prague, New York, Paris and in private collections.


Many modern biblical scholars now believe that the Israelites would have crossed the Sinai peninsula in a direct route, rather than detouring to the southern tip (assuming that they did not cross the eastern branch of the Red Sea/Reed Sea in boats or on a sandbar), and therefore look for the biblical Mount Sinai elsewhere.

The Song of Deborah, which textual scholars consider to be one of the oldest parts of the bible, suggests that Yahweh dwelt at Mount Seir, so many scholars favour a location in Nabatea (modern Arabia). Alternatively, the biblical descriptions of Sinai can be interpreted as describing a volcano, and so a small number of scholars have considered equating Sinai with locations in northwestern Saudi Arabia; there are no volcanoes in the Sinai Peninsula.

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