The Bible & The Bedouin
Tracing the biblical Exodus through Bedouin traditions.
by Doug Lentz
TABLE OF CONTENTS
-The Bible & the Bedouin © Copyright 2016 Deposit.com number 0033242
-Maps were created with Stepmap software, with permission in exchange for insertion of logo. Figures 1,2,3,6,9,10,13,14,15,16,23,24.
-Figure 4 photo is considered public domain as it was published or registered with the u.s. copyright office before Jan 1, 1923
-Firgure 5 photo is considered public domain as copyright has expired in Israel
-Photos in figures 7,8,17,18,19,20,21,22 are photos belonging to the author.
-Map in Figure 11 is from a 1925 reprint of the 1907 Atlas of Ancient and Classical Geography, published by J.M Dent & Sons Ltd. Considered public domain as the coyright has expired.
-Scripture quotes are King James version and is considered public domain for books published outside the United Kingdom.
I wish to make the following acknowledgments towards the development of this book. To Thomas Sabourin, Valerie Potvin, and my wife Diane Lentz for taking the time to proofread and offer corrections.
Also a special acknowledgement to Sister Mori, who stopped me one day after church to ask the question “Where is Kadesh-Barnea?”
This book is the answer to that question.
Through this book it is my intention to show that Bedouin knowledge of historical places does a much better job of identifying the Exodus route than what has been assumed, and that their accounts line up with, and closely support the biblical narrative.
Many bibles have maps printed in the back showing the various locations of ancient sites. As time goes on, new evidence emerges to show that some of these locations cannot be correct.
When these original maps were created much of the information was based on assumptions. Detective work was based on very limited information. With more discoveries every year and more access to previously unobtainable information, it is now possible to refine the maps to show areas/locations more accurately. Today it is also possible to actually travel to many of these places and see them for ourselves. This was not possible, or at least quite difficult to do, a generation or two ago.
Why is this important? As an avid Bible reader I had a certain understanding of what I read. But once I traveled to many of these places myself, my appreciation for what I was reading was enhanced, because I could now understand where things were in relation to each other. When reading about someone taking a journey in the Bible I could actually visualize it in my mind and see myself there as well. While not everyone has the opportunity to travel, at least studying a good map and directions can help our understanding and give more clarity to certain biblical events. It is my hope that in this book the reader will be able to revisit his/her Bible, and see the names of the obscure places that were never noticed before; consider the importance of their mention, and perhaps “open the eyes” of understanding a little more.
Now about the Bedouin: It is my belief that the Bedouin have been largely overlooked by the academic world as a valid historical source of information regarding biblical events. Their contribution to our understanding of the Bible should not be ignored or discredited without at least careful consideration and validation through other sources.
If successful this book can be used both as a tool to a deeper understanding of the Bible, and serve as a historically accurate guide book for those intrepid adventurers who would actually make a trip to the biblical lands and see these places for themselves.
Before we actually look at the biblical places and the part the Bedouin have played, it’s worth taking a peek into who these people are culturally.
The Bedouin of our day are basically nomadic or semi-nomadic tribes stretched across the desert regions of the Middle East and North Africa. The word “Bedouin” may have its roots from the Arabic word “Bedu” or “Badaw” which means “desert” indicating the desert is their domain. It could also indicate a connection to the ancient land of Midian. There is a book published in 1889 by Cambridge University Press entitled “Book of Judges” by Rev J.J. Lias who explains that in the Arabic language the same letter can be translated “M” or “B” into English, and are interchangeable. He then uses this to make a strong case that the modern word “Bedouin” could be an evolution from the word “Midian”. I have also verified this letter B/M interchange with Arabic speaking friends as well. If there is indeed a connection between the Bedouin and the land of Midian it can be very significant as this was the land where Moses brought the children of Israel to Mt. Horeb.
In the Arab world there can be a separation of two group types: The “Bedouin” and the “Fellahin”. The term “Bedouin” refers to the nomads who wander the desert and traditionally live in tents. The term “Fellahin” is a term the Bedouin use to describe an Arab who has given up the desert wandering to live in towns and cities or fixed farming, basically someone who has decided to stay put. Due to this difference, the Fellahin build mosques and observe customs related to this sedentary condition. The Bedouin on the other hand as a rule do not build mosques because it doesn’t fit with their nomadic lifestyle. This difference does have an effect on the role their religion plays. Both practice Islam with some exceptions, which I will mention shortly.
Times are changing though, and the Bedouin are being forced to settle down. Their lives until recently consisted of living in goat hair tents in the desert, raising, camels, as well as sheep and goats, and trading as they needed. Their entire culture revolved on what it takes to survive in the desert. As a result they developed certain unique rules of hospitality. In the desert the line is so fine between life and death, the simplest kindness of a stranger can save you. For this reason the Bedouin have a rule of hospitality that once a stranger “touches your tent pole” he can stay with you, and receive your hospitality for up to 3 days without requiring any payment. In some cases it may pose a strain on the resources of the host, but the host is also well aware that some day he too may need the hospitality of others. Because of the harsh desert reality, hospitality is certainly more in the category of a “necessity” as opposed to a “privilege” as in our Western culture.
Another unique attitude among the Bedouin is the family priorities. Basically the Bedouin looks after family first then looks outward. There is proverb among them that describes this “I against my brother, my brothers and I against my cousins, then my cousins and I against the strangers”. This describes their order of loyalty.
The Bedouin tribes are each led by a chief or “sheikh” who represents the voice of the clan. To look at the lifestyle and structure of the traditional Bedouin is to take a trip back in time to see the very lifestyles of people like Abraham and the children of Israel as they wandered the desert.
Today the Bedouin are almost entirely Muslim. However, before their conversion to Islam, many tribes were actually Jewish, Christian, or worshipped their own individual gods. There are at least two Christian tribes still living in the country of Jordan today namely the Hijazeen حجازين and the Akasheh عكاشة .
This brings us to some unique biblical knowledge that is present among certain tribes. Despite being Muslim and focusing their attention on the Quran they are also the keepers of a lot of biblical knowledge and traditions that are not founded upon the writings of Islam but rather upon a knowledge that is far older. The specifics of this knowledge will be discussed throughout this book.
But where did the Bedouin actually come from and seemingly acquire this biblical knowledge?
Like any culture today the Bedouin have had their share of mixing and intermarriage with outsiders, but most Bedouin tribes in the Middle East claim a lineage that can be traced to one of three branches. The first branch that some claim decent from is Ishmael who was the first son of Abraham through his relationship with the Egyptian bondwoman Hagar. The story of the birth of Ishmael can be found in Genesis Chapter 16.
1 Now Sarai Abram’s wife bare him no children: and she had an handmaid, an Egyptian, whose name was Hagar.
2 And Sarai said unto Abram, Behold now, the LORD hath restrained me from bearing: I pray thee, go in unto my maid; it may be that I may obtain children by her. And Abram hearkened to the voice of Sarai.
3 And Sarai Abram’s wife took Hagar her maid the Egyptian, after Abram had dwelt ten years in the land of Canaan, and gave her to her husband Abram to be his wife.
4 And he went in unto Hagar, and she conceived: and when she saw that she had conceived, her mistress was despised in her eyes.
5 And Sarai said unto Abram, My wrong be upon thee: I have given my maid into thy bosom; and when she saw that she had conceived, I was despised in her eyes: the LORD judge between me and thee.
6 But Abram said unto Sarai, Behold, thy maid is in thy hand; do to her as it pleaseth thee. And when Sarai dealt hardly with her, she fled from her face.
7 And the angel of the LORD found her by a fountain of water in the wilderness, by the fountain in the way to Shur.
8 And he said, Hagar, Sarai’s maid, whence camest thou? and whither wilt thou go? And she said, I flee from the face of my mistress Sarai.
9 And the angel of the LORD said unto her, Return to thy mistress, and submit thyself under her hands.
10 And the angel of the LORD said unto her, I will multiply thy seed exceedingly, that it shall not be numbered for multitude.
11 And the angel of the LORD said unto her, Behold, thou art with child, and shalt bear a son, and shalt call his name Ishmael; because the LORD hath heard thy affliction.
12 And he will be a wild man; his hand will be against every man, and every man’s hand against him; and he shall dwell in the presence of all his brethren.
13 And she called the name of the LORD that spake unto her, Thou God seest me: for she said, Have I also here looked after him that seeth me?
14 Wherefore the well was called Beer-lahai-roi; behold, it is between Kadesh and Bered.
15 And Hagar bare Abram a son: and Abram called his son’s name, which Hagar bare, Ishmael.
16 And Abram was fourscore and six years old, when Hagar bare Ishmael to Abram.
Continuing in Genesis 21 it explains that Sarah finally gives birth to Isaac and the situation causes Hagar and Ishmael to finally leave Abraham. The Bible continues to say that they went and dwelt in the wilderness of Paran where Ishmael became an archer. Hagar then arranged for an Egyptian wife for him.
1 And the LORD visited Sarah as he had said, and the LORD did unto Sarah as he had spoken.
2 For Sarah conceived, and bare Abraham a son in his old age, at the set time of which God had spoken to him.
3 And Abraham called the name of his son that was born unto him, whom Sarah bare to him, Isaac.
4 And Abraham circumcised his son Isaac being eight days old, as God had commanded him.
5 And Abraham was an hundred years old, when his son Isaac was born unto him.
6 And Sarah said, God hath made me to laugh, so that all that hear will laugh with me.
7 And she said, Who would have said unto Abraham, that Sarah should have given children suck? for I have born him a son in his old age.
8 And the child grew, and was weaned: and Abraham made a great feast the same day that Isaac was weaned.
9 And Sarah saw the son of Hagar the Egyptian, which she had born unto Abraham, mocking.
10 Wherefore she said unto Abraham, Cast out this bondwoman and her son: for the son of this bondwoman shall not be heir with my son, even with Isaac.
11 And the thing was very grievous in Abraham’s sight because of his son.
12 And God said unto Abraham, Let it not be grievous in thy sight because of the lad, and because of thy bondwoman; in all that Sarah hath said unto thee, hearken unto her voice; for in Isaac shall thy seed be called.
13 And also of the son of the bondwoman will I make a nation, because he is thy seed.
14 And Abraham rose up early in the morning, and took bread, and a bottle of water, and gave it unto Hagar, putting it on her shoulder, and the child, and sent her away: and she departed, and wandered in the wilderness of Beer-sheba.
15 And the water was spent in the bottle, and she cast the child under one of the shrubs.
16 And she went, and sat her down over against him a good way off, as it were a bowshot: for she said, Let me not see the death of the child. And she sat over against him, and lift up her voice, and wept.
17 And God heard the voice of the lad; and the angel of God called Hagar out of heaven, and said unto her, What aileth thee, Hagar? fear not; for God hath heard the voice of the lad where he is.
18 Arise, lift up the lad, and hold him in thine hand; for I will make him a great nation.
19 And God opened her eyes, and she saw a well of water; and she went, and filled the bottle with water, and gave the lad drink.
20 And God was with the lad; and he grew, and dwelt in the wilderness, and became an archer.
21 And he dwelt in the wilderness of Paran: and his mother took him a wife out of the land of Egypt.
Most Arabs living in Saudi Arabia and the Gulf States attribute their lineage to Ishmael.
Another branch that many Bedouin tribes claim descent from are the Sabeans who are actually mentioned a number of times in the Bible. The oldest reference being in the book of Job, which is actually the oldest book in the Bible and estimates are that the events in it took place in the 2nd millennium B.C. The Sabeans settled in the southern Arabian Peninsula area now known as Yemen. Many traditions say that it was there that the kingdom of “Sheba” was born, which covered Yemen, Oman and Ethiopia during its’ apex in the time of the queen of Sheba, during the era of King Solomon. The ancient city of Ma’rib in Yemen being considered the capital.
The third branch and a strong candidate for much of Bedouin heritage is a decent from Midian, the son of Abraham and Keturah, whom Abraham married after the death of Sarah.
1 Then again Abraham took a wife, and her name was Keturah.
2 And she bare him Zimran, and Jokshan, and Medan, and Midian, and Ishbak, and Shuah. KJV
The descendants of Midian (the Midianites) went on to live along the north – western coast of Arabia. Moses’ father-in-law Jethro and Moses’ wife Zipporah were from among the Midianites. This is explained in the book of Exodus chapter 2:
15 Now when Pharaoh heard this thing, he sought to slay Moses. But Moses fled from the face of Pharaoh, and dwelt in the land of Midian: and he sat down by a well.
16 Now the priest of Midian had seven daughters: and they came and drew water, and filled the troughs to water their father’s flock.
17 And the shepherds came and drove them away: but Moses stood up and helped them, and watered their flock.
[_[18 ] And when they came to Reuel* their father, he said, How is it that ye are come so soon to day? _]
19 And they said, An Egyptian delivered us out of the hand of the shepherds, and also drew water enough for us, and watered the flock.
20 And he said unto his daughters, And where is he? why is it that ye have left the man? call him, that he may eat bread.
21 And Moses was content to dwell with the man: and he gave Moses Zipporah his daughter.
22 And she bare him a son, and he called his name Gershom: for he said, I have been a stranger in a strange land.
23 And it came to pass in process of time, that the king of Egypt died: and the children of Israel sighed by reason of the bondage, and they cried, and their cry came up unto God by reason of the bondage.
24 And God heard their groaning, and God remembered his covenant with Abraham, with Isaac, and with Jacob.
25 And God looked upon the children of Israel, and God had respect unto them. KJV
*Reuel is one of several names for Jethro. It is likely a reference to Jethro’s father Raguel mentioned in the book of Numbers 10:20. An interesting side note is that the names Reuel and Raguel both mean “friend of God”.
This can be compared to the book of Exodus chapter 3:
1] Now Moses kept the flock of his father in law, : and he led the flock to the backside of the desert, and came to the mountain of God, even to Horeb.
Although these three lineages are the ones generally claimed by the Bedouin people, it is by no means exclusive. Cultures have risen and fallen in this area for thousands of years. Where did these cultures go? In fact they have been absorbed over the centuries by whichever culture was dominant at that time.
Let’s have a look at some of these other ancient groups of biblical times. In Genesis the Bible tells us that Abraham’s son Isaac begat Jacob who’s name was changed by God to “Israel” and his twelve sons founded the twelve tribes of Israel. Most Jews in the land of Israel today are the decendants of Jacob. Isaac also had another son named Esau whose descendants became the Edomites and established the land of Edom. This too will be examined in detail as we progress through the book.
Two other important groups in the region are the Ammonites in the land of Ammon and the Moabites in the land of Moab. The Bible tells us that these people are descendant from two sons of Lot, Abrahams nephew. Genesis Chapter 19 describes the events of their birth:
29 And it came to pass, when God destroyed the cities of the plain, that God remembered Abraham, and sent Lot out of the midst of the overthrow, when he overthrew the cities in the which Lot dwelt.
30 And Lot went up out of Zoar, and dwelt in the mountain, and his two daughters with him; for he feared to dwell in Zoar: and he dwelt in a cave, he and his two daughters.
31 And the firstborn said unto the younger, Our father is old, and there is not a man in the earth to come in unto us after the manner of all the earth:
32 Come, let us make our father drink wine, and we will lie with him, that we may preserve seed of our father.
33 And they made their father drink wine that night: and the firstborn went in, and lay with her father; and he perceived not when she lay down, nor when she arose.
34 And it came to pass on the morrow, that the firstborn said unto the younger, Behold, I lay yesternight with my father: let us make him drink wine this night also; and go thou in, and lie with him, that we may preserve seed of our Father.
35 And they made their father drink wine that night also: and the younger arose, and lay with him; and he perceived not when she lay down, nor when she arose.
36 Thus were both the daughters of Lot with child by their father.
37 And the firstborn bare a son, and called his name Moab: the same is the father of the Moabites unto this day.
38 And the younger, she also bare a son, and called his name Benammi: the same is the father of the children of Ammon unto this day. KJV
In relation to modern day geography the ancient Ammonites came to settle in the northern area of the modern day country of Jordan, Moab in central Jordan, Edom in southern Jordan. Midian in North-West Saudi Arabia. (see fig. 3)
Now consider the following. During the times of biblical events these are nations who had various types of contact with Israel. As the children of Israel left Egypt and wandered in the desert they interacted with these nations until settling in Canaan and founding the nation of Israel. Israel and these other nations continued to either trade or fight with each other, and no doubt had continuous contact down through history. The people who had all this contact with the Israelites were the forefathers of much of the population that currently comprises the Middle East. The knowledge of what happened and where it happened has been passed down through the generations to the societies living there today. Over time a lot of information can get lost or distorted, however there are ways in which much has been preserved. Among all the cultures in the Middle East the one culture that has certainly changed the least from biblical times is the Bedouin culture. As a result, certain traditions and oral history have been passed down. This history can have its accuracy tested by cross-referencing with the writings of other credible and well-known historians and geographers that were familiar with the region in their day, such as Flavius Josephus, Eusebius of Caesarea, and others. When compared, their writings should be able to confirm the accuracy of the Bedouin tradition, and consequently the biblical account of the Exodus. This book is intended to do just that.
When producing maps of ancient biblical locations, it is apparent that the scholars and mapmakers either never had the opportunity, or chose not to take advantage of the opportunity to consult in their research the very people who have lived in these areas since biblical times. To be fair though, the Bedouin’s historical distrust of strangers does not make this kind of task very easy in spite of their rules of hospitality. However, I do believe the Bedouin to be one of the last keys to filling in the blanks regarding the discrepancies between the Holy writ and the fragmentary data of the era.
Figure 4: A map of Bedouin tribes in the region.
From the book: “Les coutumes des Arabs au Pays
de Moab” [“Arab customs in the Land of Moab”)
published in Paris in 1908
While it is true that Israel is surrounded by Muslim nations that want it destroyed, and the writings of the Quran are far from being friendly towards Jews and Christians. It is equally true that in spite of being Muslim, the Bedouin for the most part think independently, resulting in behavior that displays an affinity with Israel and a connection that pre-dates the Muslim prophet Mohammed.
In the Bible you will find in the book of Judges the account of the judge Deborah.
Chapter 4 reports the story of a husband and wife living in the land of Israel who were of Midianite decent, of the Kenite tribe (direct decedents Moses father in law Jethro) , dwelling in a tent. (a description of Bedouin life). During a time of threat from the Canaanites; Jael, the Midianite wife, showed her allegiance to Israel and killed a Canaanite General.
11 Now Heber the Kenite, which was of the children of the father in law of Moses, had severed himself from the Kenites, and pitched his tent unto the plain of Zaanaim, which is by Kedesh.
12 And they shewed Sisera that Barak the son of Abinoam was gone up to mount Tabor.
13 And Sisera gathered together all his chariots, even nine hundred chariots of iron, and all the people that were with him, from Harosheth of the Gentiles unto the river of Kishon.
14 And Deborah said unto Barak, Up; for this is the day in which the LORD hath delivered Sisera into thine hand: is not the LORD gone out before thee? So Barak went down from mount Tabor, and ten thousand men after him.
15 And the LORD discomfited Sisera, and all his chariots, and all his host, with the edge of the sword before Barak; so that Sisera lighted down off his chariot, and fled away on his feet.
16 But Barak pursued after the chariots, and after the host, unto Harosheth of the Gentiles: and all the host of Sisera fell upon the edge of the sword; and there was not a man left.
17 Howbeit Sisera fled away on his feet to the tent of Jael the wife of Heber the Kenite: for there was peace between Jabin the king of Hazor and the house of Heber the Kenite.
18 And Jael went out to meet Sisera, and said unto him, Turn in, my lord, turn in to me; fear not. And when he had turned in unto her into the tent, she covered him with a mantle.
19 And he said unto her, Give me, I pray thee, a little water to drink; for I am thirsty. And she opened a bottle of milk, and gave him drink, and covered him.
20 Again he said unto her, Stand in the door of the tent, and it shall be, when any man doth come and inquire of thee, and say, Is there any man here? that thou shalt say, No.
21 Then Jael Heber’s wife took a nail of the tent, and took an hammer in her hand, and went softly unto him, and smote the nail into his temples, and fastened it into the ground: for he was fast asleep and weary. So he died.
22 And, behold, as Barak pursued Sisera, Jael came out to meet him, and said unto him, Come, and I will shew thee the man whom thou seekest. And when he came into her tent, behold, Sisera lay dead, and the nail was in his temples.
23 So God subdued on that day Jabin the king of Canaan before the children of Israel.
24 And the hand of the children of Israel prospered, and prevailed against Jabin the king of Canaan, until they had destroyed Jabin king of Canaan.
29 And Moses said unto Hobab, the son of Raguel the Midianite, Moses’ father in law, We are journeying unto the place of which the LORD said, I will give it you: come thou with us, and we will do thee good: for the LORD hath spoken good concerning Israel.
(We will speak more about Jethro/Hobab and his various names in Chapter 5.)
The preceding account appears to be an early indicator of a certain Israel / Bedouin affinity that keeps cropping up from time to time in history.
Before the nation of Israel was re-born in 1948, Jews had already started settling the land and setting up Kibbutzim (farming collectives). During this time a friendship between the settlers and many of the local Bedouin developed. Israel’s first Bedouin diplomat, Ishmael Khaldi, has mentioned in his autobiography about how the Jews in the Galilee, where he is from, would permit the Bedouin access to their water wells and even hired Bedouin as labour in their shops. This left a deep impression upon the Bedouin because in their desert dwelling consciousness, water has always been more valuable than gold.
In 1948 when Israel gained it’s independence; the Arab nations sent armies to destroy it; Israel was outmanned and outgunned and was not expected to survive.
In spite of the friendship between certain Jews and certain Bedouin it would have been logical to assume that the Bedouin would have joined in the fight against Israel. They could have walked in solidarity with their Arab / Muslim brothers to push the Jews out and then all of the resources such as the water would have been theirs to keep.
This however did not happen. At the risk of their own lives, the Bedouin of the Galilee in particular, rose up in support of Israel and fought along side the Jews, defending them against their fellow Muslims.
As a result, in 1954 the Bedouin living in Israel were granted full citizenship.
To this day many Bedouin join the Israeli army and are even found among the officer ranks. The Bedouin are famous for serving in the Israel Defense Forces elite tracking units.
Figure 5 Bedouin soldiers , Israel, 1949
What about outside of Israel?
My first encounter with a Bedouin was in Cairo, Egypt. I had just left the Egyptian museum and was trying to cross the street at Tahir Square. There were many lanes of traffic, packed with vehicles speeding around where pedestrians apparently have no rights. Those who have been to Cairo can probably attest that some war zones might be safer than crossing the downtown streets.
While I would stick my toe onto the street to get ready to bolt there seemed to be no break in the traffic to cross. Then a man came up behind me, grabbed my arm, and said “follow me”; and we ran together into the chaos. Weaving through the cars and dodging the fenders with horns blaring, I was dragged by this stranger through the valley of death.
As we arrived at the other side with no apparent injuries and with much relief, my traffic guide introduced himself as a “Bedoween” and proceeded to take me to a place where we could have a chat while he served me tea. Immediately asking family questions ….the famous Bedouin hospitality appeared out of the blue.
My second encounter was in the Sinai peninsula. This trip was actually my first time to the peninsula but not my last. I was taking my 14 year old son Zachary on a father & son trip and we wound up in the town of Dahab. A beach area famous for backpackers travelling on a budget who want a Red Sea resort holiday on the cheap. Before we arrived there I was already informed of the attitude toward Israel that was shared by the Bedouin of the region. One day we decided to take a trip to the post office to mail a parcel. I asked the cab driver if he was “Egyptian or Bedouin”. He replied “Bedouin”. I nudged Zack and said “watch this” (I wanted him to have a little educational experience). I then asked the man “What do you think of Israel?”. Now this is not a question that you want to ask just any Arab. Israel is usually a hands-off topic unless you are looking for an argument. Fortunately, I already knew the answer (but my son didn’t. This was for him). The driver paused silently for awhile, then turned around looking straight into my eyes, and said “I love Israel!!!” …he continued. “I would love to live in Israel if they would let me in. Every Bedouin, everywhere, loves Israel. After the 6-day war; Israel came here and they dug us wells, built us hospitals, built us schools, gave us jobs, and treated us like equals. When the Israelis left and the Egyptians came in, they (the Egyptians) have been treating us like dogs ever since”.
Now it can easily be said that the reason for the Bedouin support of Israel is simply out of human kindness, “you wash my hand, I wash yours”. It could even be said that they have come to understand the biblical principle of “if you bless Israel you will be blessed”, However, I believe the Bedouin / Israel connection goes much deeper with a shared history. Now, I want to be clear, history does not always mean a friendly one. If you look at the history of France and England, are they friends or enemies? It depends on what point in hsitory you are referring to. They have not always been friends, they have not always been enemies, but for sure they do share a long history and sometimes what the French historians tell you about the English can be as insightful as what the English say about themselves.
I think the same is true for the route of the Exodus. I hold to the inerrancy of the Bible and therefore freely admit my bias on this subject. It is my opionion that scholars have not done a good job of accurately identifying the locations of the events of the Exodus. They have neglected (or been unable) to visit the areas and talk to the people who’s ancestors have always lived there. Imagine a European trying to draw a map of eastern North America just from reading the book “The Last of the Mohicans” and maybe a few other books. He could do a much better job if he actually went to America to see these places and took time to converse with the locals who live in these regions.
There are a number of books that have cropped up in recent years that challenge the Exodus route as it has been traditionally taught. Men such as Ron Wyatt, Bob Cornuke, Larry Williams, and others, have published works on this subject. They have presented their own arguments within academia. I wish to acknowledge their contribution for raising necessary questions about the Exodus and the location of Mt. Sinai. This book will attempt to address some of those questions from another perspective. I invite the reader to research and examine their point of view for a more detailed understanding of their collective contribution.
The Genesis of this book is the Bedouin account of the Exodus and it’s significance in their oral history. I will let those traditions unfold the route of the Exodus as they see it, and will add any historical or archeological source that will add weight to the Bedouin perspective. My hope is that by brining to light the Bedouin point of view that it could perhaps bring to rest some of the scholarly disagreements.
These disagreements can usually find their root in one main point. That point being that the maps showing the traditionally accepted exodus route have their basis on a presumption, which is the location of Mt. Sinai.
Two main locations for Mt. Sinai that have been suggested: One location is in the southern Sinai Peninsula of Egypt where St. Catherine’s monastery is located, and the other is in Saudi Arabia, the mountain Jebel-El-Lawz. The accuracy of the Exodus route should unfold once you determine the correct mountain.
I wish to make a geographical point here. An obvious question to be asked is: “Doesn’t it make sense that Mt. Sinai be located in the Sinai Peninsula?” This would stand to reason; however, it does need to be pointed out that the Sinai Peninsula and Sinai desert were given their names AFTER the location of the mountain was determined. In other words the peninsula and the desert were named in recognition of the mountain, not the other way around. If Mt. Sinai is to be located in Arabia, then the peninsula and the desert were incorrectly named.
This begs the questions:
1) How did Mt. Sinai in Egypt come to be determined as the location of that very mountain that Moses delivered the commandments of God?
2) Does the location in the Sinai Peninsula fit the profile according to the Bible?
Let me address the first question. There is a traditional explanation for determining the location, and then there is the historical explanation. The traditional explanation, as per the Catholic and Orthodox churches, is that there was a woman named St. Catherine who was martyred and her body carried by angels to Mt. Sinai. Centuries later monks somehow found her remains on this particular mountain in Egypt and built the St. Catherine monastery on it’s location. To accept this is to have faith in the truth of this particular legend. History however has a second version of this, which starts with Emperor Constantine. Constantine I, a Roman emperor who claimed a conversion to Christianity and started the process of creating a Christian state church that went on to develop into the Catholic and Orthodox faiths. Constantine’s mother was a woman named Helena (St. Helena or Empress Helena). Helena wanted to establish locations of Christian pilgrimage, (all of which took place in the 300’s AD), therefore the newly converted Helena made a pilgrimage to the Holy Land to do just that. She and her advisors had a number of difficulties to overcome. One of which was that the Romans had expelled the Jews, who had much of this knowledge, from Palestine, about 150 years earlier, during their efforts to expunge all things Hebrew and non-Roman. As a result a lot of local knowledge had been lost by the time Constantine was crowned emperor. That said, when the mother of the emperor wants something – she gets it! Right?
She is claimed to have found the original cross of Christ, the original nails that nailed Him to the cross, and established the location of the Church of the Holy Sepulcher as being the site of His crucifixion and burial.
She also established the location of Mt. Sinai in Egypt. Her basis for deciding this location was based on a nighttime dream. In my research I have found conflicting stories of who had this dream. Some say that she had the dream of the location; others say that Constantine had the dream and that she picked the place based on his description, I also found an account that said some monks had found the location based on a dream and then approached the empress to confirm it. This later version, according to the official website of St. Catherine’s Monastery, is implied to be the one favored. Even the Catholic Encyclopedia is evasive when looking for St. Helena’s method of determination of Mt. Sinai moreover it also admits that the location of Mt. Sinai is “according to a tradition traceable back to the fourth century”. The decision was clearly a matter of her personal belief and was not based on any detailed research that could be referenced. It became truly a matter of faith. While walking by faith is indeed a Christian requirement, that walk must be based on truth. (I Pet 1:22)
Since the scriptures are the source of truth, we should look into its pages to see what it says about the location of the mountain. Once we know what the Bible says, then whatever theories are proposed should at least match the biblical account.
According to Scripture Mount Sinai (also referred to as Mount Horeb) is:
1) Located in the land of Midian.
Exodus 2:15 Now when Pharaoh heard this thing, he sought to slay Moses. But Moses fled from the face of Pharaoh, and dwelt in the land of Midian: and he sat down by a well . –and- Exodus 3:1 Now Moses kept the flock of Jethro his father in law, the priest of Midian: and he led the flock to the backside of the desert, and came to the mountain of God, even to Horeb. KJV
2) It is located outside of Egypt
Exodus 4:19 And the LORD said unto Moses in Midian, Go, return into Egypt: for all the men are dead which sought thy life. KJV (Note: Moses wrote the book of Exodus)
Midian (and therefore Mt. Sinai) are actually in Arabia according to the apostle Paul : Galatians 4:25 For this Agar is mount Sinai in Arabia, and answereth to Jerusalem which now is, and is in bondage with her children. KJV (Note: The Apostle Paul spent at least a couple of years in Arabia after his conversion. The Bible also states that he was a tent maker, which is not an occupation that one would likely have learned as a religious Pharisee, but certainly something he could have well learned from the Bedouin during his time in Arabia, but admittedly, this is conjecture)
Clearly none of this evidence supports the location of Mt. Sinai/Horeb in the Sinai Peninsula of Egypt. Other evidence that speaks against this location is that prior to the Greek & Roman conquests, the Sinai Peninsula had always been under Egyptian control. The peninsula has ancient Egyptian copper mines, turquoise mines, and well established trade routes dating to the most ancient of times. For example, the turquoise mines at Serabit el-Khadim in South-West Sinai have been dated as early as 3500 BC. If the children of Israel had spent 40 years wandering in this peninsula desert be sure they would have bumped into Egyptians at some point. The Biblical account places them clearly out of Egypt and the people they encountered in their wanderings certainly weren’t Egyptian.
There have been suggestions that when the apostle Paul said that Sinai was in Arabia (Galatians 4:25) that it could have still been in the Sinai Peninsula because the Romans considered Sinai as part of Arabia. It is true that the Sinai Peninsula was part of the Roman province of Arabia, however this was quite some time after the life of the apostle Paul. The Roman creation of the province of Arabia, which they called “Arabia Petrea” wasn’t established until after AD106, after the Nabatean king Rabbel II died, and the Romans began their annexation of his territory. It was not until this time that documents referring to the Sinai Peninsula places it in the Roman Arabia.
This is why ancient historians like Jerome (AD 347 – 420), and Eusebius of Caesarea (AD 260/265 – AD 339/340), in their writings do certainly refer to the Sinai peninsula region as being in Arabia, but this is referring to the Roman province, not the geographical area.
However the Apostle Paul (AD 5 – AD 67?) and the Jewish Historian Josephus (AD 37 – AD 100) (I will refer to Josephus later) both lived well before the Roman establishment of Arabia Petrea and therefore when they speak about Arabia it would have been the geographical area that did not include the Sinai Peninsula.
There are many forces that have an interest in resisting a Mt. Sinai located in modern day Saudi Arabia.
From the scholarly point of view the “pursuit of truth” is a nice catch phrase but not a realistic one. Many things constantly influence the academic world. Academics and scholars are human beings with the same needs, desires, and temptations as everyone else. This brings in the issue of funding; the much needed paycheque. Many academics will deliberately publish books and articles that favour the source of their funding. To take a deliberate stand on an unpopular issue can pose a risk to academia and affect one’s livelihood and reputation.
Organizations or groups who would have a stake in resisting an Arabian Mt. Sinai are as follows:
1) The Catholic/Orthodox church: The church gave its support to Helena’s interpretation of biblical locations. If you accept the infallibility of the church or Helena, then an Arabian Mt. Sinai must be rejected.
2) The Bedouin living near St. Catherine’s Monastery: For them St. Catherine’s means gainful employment. Bedouin guides charge people for tours of the mountain and monastery visits. It should also be noted that the Bedouin in the immediate vicinity of St. Catherine’s are not of the same stock of Bedouin as mentioned in Chapter 1. According to official website of St. Catherine’s Monastery, the Patriarch of Alexandria stated their “Bedouin” were actually the decedents of some 200 families that were brought there from Anatolia (in modern day Turkey) and Alexandria, by Emperor Justinian to guard and protect the Monastery. Therefore these particular Bedouin would have no traditions directly relating to the Exodus that could assist in our research.
3) The Egyptian government: The Government of Egypt makes huge amounts of money from tourism. The Sinai attracts many pilgrims to visit St. Catherine’s monastery and climb their way to the top of the mountain to view the sunrise. Why should they want to risk losing this important source of revenue?
4) The Saudi Arabian government: In Saudi Arabia, religion and state are intertwined. The country is home to the two most holy sites of Islam: Mecca and Medina. They have a tremendous industry of Muslim pilgrims to these places and basically see their country as the Muslim holy land. They do not like having many infidels (unbelievers) on their soil. This is why foreign workers predominantly live in compound conditions. This keeps contact with the rest of Saudi society to a minimum. It is also why Saudi Arabia does not, as a rule, grant tourist entry visas except for Muslim pilgrimage or family visits. For them the idea of Mt. Sinai in their country would be very unwelcome. Such a thing, if confirmed, would surely attract Jewish and Christian visitors and pilgrims who want to see the mountain. This is something the Saudi Arabian government would have a difficult time to overcome. Although it should be noted that at the time of writing this book, the Saudi government had recently started experimenting with allowing tourist visas for groups of 4 or more but with all arrangements pre-booked and under strict control.
Figure 6 : Sample map of traditional exodus route based on assumption
of locations of Mt. Sinai (Horeb), Kadesh-Barnea, wilderness of
Paran based on traditional interpretaion with St. Catherines
considered as the Mt. Sinai location.
We have examined the “traditional” route, now lets see where the Bible and Bedouin will lead us.
Exodus chapter 13:
17 And it came to pass, when Pharaoh had let the people go, that God led them not through the way of the land of the Philistines, although that was near; for God said, Lest peradventure the people repent when they see war, and they return to Egypt:
18 But God led the people about, through the way of the wilderness of the Red sea: and the children of Israel went up harnessed out of the land of Egypt KJV
Exodus chapter 14:
15 And the LORD said unto Moses, Wherefore criest thou unto me? speak unto the children of Israel, that they go forward:
16 But lift thou up thy rod, and stretch out thine hand over the sea, and divide it: and the children of Israel shall go on dry ground through the midst of the sea.
17 And I, behold, I will harden the hearts of the Egyptians, and they shall follow them: and I will get me honour upon Pharaoh, and upon all his host, upon his chariots, and upon his horsemen.
18 And the Egyptians shall know that I am the LORD, when I have gotten me honour upon Pharaoh, upon his chariots, and upon his horsemen.
19 And the angel of God, which went before the camp of Israel, removed and went behind them; and the pillar of the cloud went from before their face, and stood behind them:
20 And it came between the camp of the Egyptians and the camp of Israel; and it was a cloud and darkness to them, but it gave light by night to these: so that the one came not near the other all the night.
21 And Moses stretched out his hand over the sea; and the LORD caused the sea to go back by a strong east wind all that night, and made the sea dry land, and the waters were divided.
22 And the children of Israel went into the midst of the sea upon the dry ground: and the waters were a wall unto them on their right hand, and on their left.
23 And the Egyptians pursued, and went in after them to the midst of the sea, even all Pharaoh’s horses, his chariots, and his horsemen.
24 And it came to pass, that in the morning watch the LORD looked unto the host of the Egyptians through the pillar of fire and of the cloud, and troubled the host of the Egyptians,
25 And took off their chariot wheels, that they drave them heavily: so that the Egyptians said, Let us flee from the face of Israel; for the LORD fighteth for them against the Egyptians.
26 And the LORD said unto Moses, Stretch out thine hand over the sea, that the waters may come again upon the Egyptians, upon their chariots, and upon their horsemen.
27 And Moses stretched forth his hand over the sea, and the sea returned to his strength when the morning appeared; and the Egyptians fled against it; and the LORD overthrew the Egyptians in the midst of the sea.
28 And the waters returned, and covered the chariots, and the horsemen, and all the host of Pharaoh that came into the sea after them; there remained not so much as one of them.
29 But the children of Israel walked upon dry land in the midst of the sea; and the waters were a wall unto them on their right hand, and on their left.
30 Thus the LORD saved Israel that day out of the hand of the Egyptians; and Israel saw the Egyptians dead upon the sea shore.
31 And Israel saw that great work which the LORD did upon the Egyptians: and the people feared the LORD, and believed the LORD, and his servant Moses. KJV
To understand the Bedouin contribution to the Exodus narrative we need to follow this in stages. Each stage will involve about one chapter.
Those stages are:
-The Red Sea crossing site
-The land of Midian
- The wilderness of Paran
- The campsite at Kadesh Barnea
- The crossing into the land of Canaan
First, let’s look at the Red Sea crossing site. The Bible is clear that when the children of Israel made their remarkable crossing through the Red Sea it was at the point where it took them out of the land of Egypt and into the land of Midian.
Along the coast of the Red Sea on the Sinai Peninsula, directly across from Saudi Arabia, is a territory that borders two Bedouin tribes; the Tarbin tribe and the Muziena tribe. At this place is Nuweiba beach, a dry delta of about 40 square kilometers. It has a gradual shallow slope into the Red Sea which forms a plateau under the water leading to the Saudi Arabian side. I have been there myself and you can wade out very far before the water goes over your head.
The local Bedouin who have been there for many generations named this place; the full name is actually called “Nuweiba-El-Muziena”. When I was there I asked my Egyptian friend that was with us to confirm the Arabic meaning of the name in English. The translation: “Waters of Moses Opening”. Did the Bedouin actually know the location of the Red Sea crossing?
In the 1970’s, during the Israeli occupation of the Sinai, a pillar was found on the beach at Nuweiba (see fig. 7). It has since been set in concrete just off the main road. This pillar was claimed to have been found by a man named Ron Wyatt who also claims to have found another pillar directly across on the Saudi Arabian side. The one in Saudi Arabia was said to have had Hebrew inscriptions on it that would indicate that they were both erected by King Solomon sometime during his reign around 970-930 BC as a memorial that this indeed was the site of the Red Sea Crossing. Ron Wyatt is also said to have found coral encrusted chariot wheels, human bones, and even a horses’ hoof. This information can be verified with a simple Internet search.
I did see this pillar myself during my time Nuweiba; and one of the SCUBA dive shops there did admit to knowing the location where the chariot wheels were found. This location has been designated as “off limits” and the story used to keep divers away is that a large ferry had caught fire and sunk in that area and the wreckage is too dangerous.
I did manage to do some off-shore diving though in the same general area and I must admit a lot of the coral formations do look like chariot wheels….but maybe it’s just my imagination.
Of course, some scholars have tried to discredit Ron Wyatts discoveries. Personally I can only confirm what I’ve seen myself. In light of this it would appear that there is one very important point to make, perhaps even the most important point of all. The Bedouin named this place centuries BEFORE any of these artifacts were found. This strongly suggests that they were keepers of a prior knowledge and that this was indeed the legitimate crossing site. So who told the Bedouin?
Figure 7: The pillar at Nuweiba with ferry port in background,
Saudi Arabia on the horizon. Our little expedition team from left to right
Joel Michaud, Rachel Snow, myself, Jean-Loic Trudeau,
Aldege Michaud, and Peter Snow (crouching).
Figure 8: Diving the plateau between Nuweiba and Saudi Arabia with
Jean-Loic and Peter. Could that coral formation be a chariot axel?
Probably not, but it can easily be imagined as such, besides it’s not a good
idea to break the coral. Keeping the reef pristine is a divers mantra.
Figure 9: Crossing site based on Bedouin name “Nuweiba-El-Muziena”
(waters of Moses opening)
If we accept the Red Sea crossing site as Nuweiba, then that would mean that directly on the other side in Saudi Arabia should be the land of Midian. The destination of the children of Israel after all was Mt. Horeb (Mt. Sinai), which was located in the land of Midian.
Exodus 2: 15 Now when Pharaoh heard this thing, he sought to slay Moses. But Moses fled from the face of Pharaoh, : and he sat down by a well.
1 Now Moses kept the flock of Jethro his father in law, the priest of Midian: and he led the flock to the backside of the desert, and came to the mountain of God, even to Horeb.
The Saudi Arabian province directly across from Nuweiba is Tabuk, with the city of Tabuk as it’s capital. The region is still called Midian or Madyan by the local people to this day. Madyan is officially labeled on current maps and many older and ancient map resources of this area continually establish it as Midian.
The Midian region contains 3 notable sites that I wish to point out:
1) The mountain, Jabel-El Lawz
2) The caves of Al-Bad
3) The well at Al-Bad
I will do my best to demonstrate the biblical connection to each of these particular features.
Firstly, In regard to Jabel-El-Lawz , the name basically means “mountain of almonds” in
Arabic. This could have significance as a supporting detail as the rod that was used by
Moses and Aaron to perform miracles was in fact an almond rod. The first mention of
this rod is on Mt. Sinai itself and is found in Exodus chapter 4:
1 And Moses answered and said, But, behold, they will not believe me, nor hearken unto my voice: for they will say, The LORD hath not appeared unto thee.
2 And the LORD said unto him, What is that in thine hand? And he said, A rod.
3 And he said, Cast it on the ground. And he cast it on the ground, and it became a serpent; and Moses fled from before it.
4 And the LORD said unto Moses, Put forth thine hand, and take it by the tail. And he put forth his hand, and caught it, and it became a rod in his hand:
The fact that it was a rod from an almond tree is found in the book of Numbers Chapter 17.
8 And it came to pass, that on the morrow Moses went into the tabernacle of witness; and, behold, the rod of Aaron for the house of Levi was budded, and brought forth buds, and bloomed blossoms, and yielded *almond*s. KJV (Note: the Rod of Aaron is the same one used by Moses, it was passed to Aaron as he was head of Levites.)
This indeed is an interesting connection, but by no means definitive proof that Jabel-El-Lawz is actually Mt. Sinai.
The Jewish historian Flavius Josephus (born 37AD, died 100AD) had noted something that does a better job at confirming Jabel-El-Lawz as the real Mt. Sinai.
He notes in his book:
Antiquities of the Jews – Book III, Chapter 5
1. NOW Moses called the multitude together, and told them that he was going from them unto mount Sinai to converse with God; to receive from him, and to bring back with him, a certain oracle; but he enjoined them to pitch their tents near the mountain, and prefer the habitation that was nearest to God, before one more remote. When he had said this, he ascended up to Mount Sinai
So if Josephus is correct then all we need to do is find the highest mountain in Midian, and that would be Mt. Sinai.
The 3 highest peaks in all of Saudi Arabia are as follows:
3) Jebel Shar at 1990 meters
2) Jebel Jar at 2300 meters
1) Jebel el Lawz at 2580 meters
It should be noted that Mount Sinai in Egypt is 2285 meters in height, which still would not qualify it, according to the Josephus description.
At 2,580 meters, Jebel-El-Lawz is the highest mountain not just in the Midian region but in the entire nation of Saudi Arabia (and the Sinai peninsula). If Josephus had gone looking for Mt. Sinai himself, Jebel-El-Lawz is where he would have wound up.
Writing this chapter has been a particular challenge for me because I would certainly prefer to report what I have seen for myself. Since Saudi Arabia is off limits, please allow me to introduce you to someone who has a far better understanding of the area than I do. His name is Harry St. John Bridger Philby. Born 03 April 1885, died 30 September 1960.
Philby was an Englishman who served as a British Intelligence officer and advisor for Ibn Saud, the first monarch of Saudi Arabia. Philby also spoke fluent Arabic and explored Saudi Arabia in great detail and is very likely the most knowledgeable European regarding the geography of the region.
As Philby explored the kingdom he spent much time in Midian and had frequent help from the Bedouin. He eventually wrote a booked called “The land of Midian” which gives a detailed geographical account of the region with local Bedouin identifications.
It should be noted that near Jabel El Lawz (Lauz as Philby writes it), there is an area containing a couple of peaks and a large gorge, basically a wadi. ….the name that the Bedouin gave to the wadi ….Hurab (Horeb). This reference can be found in his book: The Land of Midian. Ernest Benn Ltd., London. 1957, p224.
This little fact could explain why the Bible sometimes says Sinai and other times Horeb when referring to the same mountain. One term referring to the specific mountain, while the other referring to the larger geographical area, the wadi, of which the mountain was the main feature.
Another interesting characteristic of Midian that Philby recognized was the Bedouin & Arab oral history.
The whole area of Madyan/Midian is rife with stories and legends regarding a certain man named “Shu’yab” شعيب in Arabic, and his interaction with Moses. Shu’ayb is the name the Arabs gave to Jethro, Moses father-in-law, the priest of Midian. It should also be noted, that in the Bible Jethro is also called “Hobab” which would have been pronounced very similar to “Shu’yab”. In Hebrew the letter H in Hobab is pronounced more like a CH (like you’re clearing your throat).
The book of Numbers, Chapter 10:
29 And Moses said unto Hobab, the son of Raguel the Midianite, Moses’ father in law, We are journeying unto the place of which the LORD said, I will give it you: come thou with us, and we will do thee good: for the LORD hath spoken good concerning Israel KJV
The book of Judges, Chapter 4
11 Now Heber the Kenite, which was of the children of Hobab the father in law of Moses, had severed himself from the Kenites, and pitched his tent unto the plain of Zaanaim, which is by Kedesh. KJV
Although the Saudi government doesn’t want to associate Jebel-Al-Lawz with Mt. Sinai, the region of Midian doesn’t hold back when talking about the exploits of Jethro in the area. In particular the town of Al-Bad near Tabuk has two features attributed to Jethro. The first is a well, which goes by two names. The “Midian Well” (Bir Madayan
مديان بئر ) and the “Well of Moses (Bir Musa موسى بئر)” which the locals identify with the well in Exodus 2: 15 Now when Pharaoh heard this thing, he sought to slay Moses. But Moses fled from the face of Pharaoh, and dwelt in the land of Midian: and he sat down by a well. KJV
The second feature at Al-Bad is a set of caves whose entrances are carved with Nabatean architecture. The Nabateans were a famous Arab people who built an empire on the trade of frankincense between 37AD and 100 AD. Their domain extended from the land of Midian up into Jordan and southern Israel with Petra as their assumed capital city. The above mentioned, carved entrances only date from the time of the 1st century AD, but the caves themselves could be much older. Although these caves are not listed in the Bible, the locals do call them the “Caves of Jethro (Mughayir Shu’ayb)” and associate them to him. This local claim was also confirmed by H. St. John Philby (Land of Midian Page 212)
Of interest to note: Al-Bad is in the valley below Jabel El Lawz, less than 20 kilometers away.
Another interesting fact that Philby noted was how detailed some of the local knowledge was regarding Moses and Jethro specifically. He interviewed a local Bedouin named Sa’d Ibrahim of al Hariq in the Tuwaiq range, who told him that the Midian country had five dynasties since Jethro whom he called “Jethro of the Bani Abjad”, whose daughter had married Moses, then continues to list the Hawaz tribe, the Hati, then the Kalaman, and the Sa’fas and Qarishat, for a total of six dynasties including Jethros’. You can find the actual quotation in Philby’s book The Land of Midian. Ernest Benn Ltd., London. 1957, p216.
If you were to go to Jabel El Lawz today you would find according to actual eyewitnesses:
- A mountain top burned black with no evidence of there ever having been any trees (Exodus 24:17). And the sight of the glory of the LORD was like devouring fire on the top of the mount in the eyes of the children of Israel. KJV
- A cave (I Kings 19: 8-9) And he arose, and did eat and drink, and went in the strength
of that meat forty days and forty nights unto Horeb the mount of God.
And he came thither unto a cave, and lodged there; and, behold, the word of the LORD came to him, and he said unto him, What doest thou here, Elijah? KJV
- Small rock markers around the circumference of the mountain (Exodus 19:12) And thou shalt set bounds unto the people round about, saying, Take heed to yourselves, that ye go not up into the mount, or touch the border of it: whosoever toucheth the mount shall be surely put to death KJV
- Twelve stone pillars (Exodus 24:4) And Moses wrote all the words of the LORD, and rose up early in the morning, and builded an altar under the hill, and twelve pillars, according to the twelve tribes of Israel. KJV
- A large rock with signs of water erosion coming from it (Exodus 17:6) Behold, I will stand before thee there upon the rock in Horeb; and thou shalt smite the rock, and there shall come water out of it, that the people may drink. And Moses did so in the sight of the elders of Israel. KJV
- A large stone slab with a depiction of the Egyptian cow god Apis (the golden calf?) (Exodus 32: 4-5). And he received them at their hand, and fashioned it with a graving tool, after he had made it a molten calf: and they said, These be thy gods, O Israel, which brought thee up out of the land of Egypt.
And when Aaron saw it, he built an altar before it; and Aaron made proclamation, and said, To morrow is a feast to the LORD. KJV
(Would it not make sense that the golden calf should represent a deity that many of the children of Israel would have already worshiped over the generations that they had been in Egypt?)
These are all features that can be found in the Bible and found at Jabel El Laws, yet no such distinctive features can be found in traditional Mt. Sinai/St Catherines in Egypt.
While I have not seen Jabel El Laws with my own eyes due to visitor restrictions, there are plenty of photographs to be found on-line by people who have been there.
Since the 1970’s when Ron Wyatt and others first made the public claims regarding Jebel El Lawz, the Saudi department of Antiquities have closed off the mountain by putting a chain link fence around the perimeter and a guard house.
I have been to many archeological sites around the world and never seen one that required this kind of security, especially since the Saudi government doesn’t even officially recognize it as Mt. Sinai. ??
In the next stage of the journey, God instructs Moses to take the children of Israel out of the area of Mt. Sinai into an area called Paran.
The book of Numbers chapter 10 verse 12
And the children of Israel took their journeys out of the wilderness of Sinai; and the cloud rested in the wilderness of Paran. KJV
Determining the location of Paran will help to confirm or refute the traditionally accepted route of the Exodus.
One of the first indicators of where Paran can be found is in the book of Genesis. When Abrahams’ bond woman, Hagar, left with their son Ishmael, and went to dwell in a place called Paran. Genesis 21: 20-21
And God was with the lad; and he grew, and dwelt in the wilderness, and became an archer.
And he dwelt in the wilderness of Paran: and his mother took him a wife out of the land of Egypt. KJV
As I mentioned previously, the Arab population in most of the Arabian Peninsula claims Ishmael as it’s forefather. Therefore it would stand to reason that this is the area in which to look for Paran.
To narrow down the search it is necessary to refer to some ancient historians.
Hippolytus of Rome (170AD – 235AD) mentions in his writings three groups of people in Arabia during the first half of the third century[_:_] The Saraceni, the Taeni, and the Arabes. The Taeni living near the Khaybar oasis north of Medina and the Saraceni located further north in the northern Hejaz.
The location of the Saraceni (also called Saracens) is important for locating the area of Paran.
Eusebius of Caesarea, a Roman historian (263AD-339AD) also helps to pin-point this location. He is responsible for writing a geographical dictionary of the region called the “Onomasiticon”. It is extremely important to note that when he refers to “Arabia” in his writings, it is not within the same geographical limits that the Apostle Paul understood them to be 200 years prior. In Eusebius time “Arabia” meant the Roman province of “Arabia Petrea” which was only established in the 2nd century, and covered the area of most of modern day Jordan, the Sinai Peninsula and the northern area of Midian, with Petra as its capital. This term for Arabia did not include the areas beyond that were not controlled by Rome. Eusebius was writing from this particular understanding for his generation. In the time of the apostle Paul, Arabia would have been considered more the geographical region of Arabia, not an area of administration. It is important to be aware of these differences when studying the writings from those eras.
Figure 11: The above map shows the Roman province of Arabia
as understood by Eusebius (in orange).
In the Onomasticon, Eusebius has an entry for Paran (Pharan, Faran, remember these texts are translated from Hebrew, Greek or Latin therefore spellings for Paran may differ). The exact quote is as follows:
Pharan. (Now) a city beyond Arabia adjoining the desert of the Saracens [who wander in the desert] through which the children of Israel went moving (camp) from Sinai. Located (we say) beyond Arabia on the south, three days journey to the east of Aila (in the desert Pharan) where Scripture affirms Ismael dwelled, whence the Ishmaelites [who are not the Saracens]. It is said (we read) also that (king) Chodollagomor cut to pieces those in “Pharan which is in the desert.”
This entry identifies some key details about the location of Paran:
1) It is beyond the Roman administered Arabia.
2) It is located 3 days journey east of Aila. Aila (sometimes called Aelana) is in fact one of the ancient names for the port of Aqaba at the northern tip of the Red Sea, located in the modern day country of Jordan.
When we add the account of Hippolytus from a few paragraphs ago, we can also add:
3) The Saracens are located in the northern Hejaz and therefore associated with Paran according to Eusebius.
There is one more piece of the puzzle to tell us where Paran is located. This is in another entry of the Onomasticon regarding Horeb:
Chōrēb. Mountain of God in the territory of Moab. Near Mt.Sinai beyond Arabia in the desert . It seems to me that the two names are for the same mountain which is now called Sinai and now Choreb.]
I have underlined in the above paragraph the main point being:
“The place where the mountain and the desert of the Saracens called Faran meet”.
With these clues we can pinpoint the region of Paran.
In the following map (fig 13) you can see:
-The location of Aila (Paran being 3 days journey east)
-The green line indicating roughly the border of the Hijaz region, which has always been accepted as such (placing the Saracens and Paran in the northern area)
-The mountain chain extending from eastern Midian down into the Hejaz separating the coast from the desert “where the mountain and desert of the Saracens meet”
This information confirms the location of Paran and it does make sense that this location would be the next stop for Moses and the children of Israel if indeed Mt. Sinai is Jabel el Lawz. The historical facts and biblical references regarding Paran also clearly indicate that it is not located in the Sinai Peninsula as church tradition teaches regarding the Exodus.
Here I would like to point out something else regarding Paran. In the book of I Samuel chapter 25 verse 1 we read:
And Samuel died; and all the Israelites were gathered together, and lamented him, and buried him in his house at Ramah. And David arose, and went down to the wilderness of Paran. KJV
The “David” mentioned in this verse is king David (before he actually became king). I find it interesting that he went to Paran after Samuel died. Why would he head into a desert that is so far from Israel where he was living at the time? Based on what I pointed out in chapter 5, that Elijah had made a trip to Mt. Horeb, it makes me wonder if Horeb isn’t also where David was headed. If it was an important place where men of God in ancient times were called to, it could also account for the reason Paul went to Arabia after his road to Damascus experience. Of course, this is only speculation, as the Bible does not clearly state this as a fact.
Now, back to the children of Israel.
After entering Paran there isn’t much of a record of events. We do know according to scripture that it was from there that the children of Israel sent spies who went into the land of Canaan and returned via Kadesh with a report, that caused much fear among the people and consequently caused the Lord to punish their lack of faith with forty more years in the wilderness. This account can be found in the book of Numbers chapter 33.
The book of Numbers chapter 33 from verses 16 to 35 gives the list of sites where they pitched their camps, presumably all in the wilderness of Paran.
(16] And they removed from the desert of Sinai, and pitched at Kibroth-hattaavah.
17 And they departed from Kibroth-hattaavah, and encamped at Hazeroth.
18 And they departed from Hazeroth, and pitched in Rithmah.
19 And they departed from Rithmah, and pitched at Rimmon-parez.
20 And they departed from Rimmon-parez, and pitched in Libnah.
21 And they removed from Libnah, and pitched at Rissah.
22 And they journeyed from Rissah, and pitched in Kehelathah.
23 And they went from Kehelathah, and pitched in mount Shapher.
24 And they removed from mount Shapher, and encamped in Haradah.
25 And they removed from Haradah, and pitched in Makheloth.
26 And they removed from Makheloth, and encamped at Tahath.
27 And they departed from Tahath, and pitched at Tarah.
28 And they removed from Tarah, and pitched in Mithcah.
29 And they went from Mithcah, and pitched in Hashmonah.
30 And they departed from Hashmonah, and encamped at Moseroth.
31 And they departed from Moseroth, and pitched in Bene-jaakan.
32 And they removed from Bene-jaakan, and encamped at Hor-hagidgad.
33 And they went from Hor-hagidgad, and pitched in Jotbathah.
34 And they removed from Jotbathah, and encamped at Ebronah.
35 And they departed from Ebronah, and encamped at Ezion-gaber. KJV
In verse 36 we see the children of Israel finally enter a new area called the wilderness of Zin, Kadesh in particular.
36 And they removed from Ezion-gaber, and pitched in the wilderness of Zin, which is Kadesh. KJV
There were a lot of events in and around Kadesh and it is there that we will pick-up the Bedouin traditions once again.
In the next couple of chapters we will continue looking at the events that occurred in, and around, Kadesh according to the Bible, making the usual comparisons to Bedouin oral history, and established historians.
And they removed from Ezion-gaber, and pitched in the wilderness of Zin, which is Kadesh. KJV Numbers 33:36
In determining the location of Kadesh, we will closely examine the events that happened in and around it. Then we can compare those events with the locations indicated by the Bedouin today.
We will begin by looking at the scriptures to determine as precisely as possible the location of Kadesh by piecing together the given clues from within its pages.
The book of Numbers, chapter 20, verses 14 – 21 states the following:
14 And Moses sent messengers from Kadesh , Thus saith thy brother Israel, Thou knowest all the travail that hath befallen us:
15 How our fathers went down into Egypt, and we have dwelt in Egypt a long time; and the Egyptians vexed us, and our fathers:
[_*16* And when we cried unto the LORD, he heard our voice, and sent an angel, and hath brought us forth out of Egypt: and, behold _]
17 Let us pass, I pray thee, through thy country: we will not pass through the fields, or through the vineyards, neither will we drink of the water of the wells: we will go by the king’s highway, we will not turn to the right hand nor to the left, until we have passed thy borders.
18 And Edom said unto him, Thou shalt not pass by me, lest I come out against thee with the sword.
19 And the children of Israel said unto him, We will go by the high way: and if I and my cattle drink of thy water, then I will pay for it: I will only, without doing any thing else, go through on my feet.
20 And he said, Thou shalt not go through. And Edom came out against him with much people, and with a strong hand.
21 Thus Edom refused to give Israel passage through his border: wherefore Israel turned away from him. KJV
According to verse 16; Kadesh is a city, and it’s on the border of Edom. Which brings us to the next question: Where is Edom?
To locate Edom it helps to know WHO Edom was; for before it was a nation, it was a person. In fact Edom was none other than Esau, the brother of Jacob, grandson of Abraham. In the book of Genesis both of these brothers had their names changed. The name of Jacob was changed to “Israel” by the Lord after a wrestling match between them, and then went on to became the father of the nation of Israel. The complete story of his name change is in Genesis chapter 32. Esau on the other hand had his name changed when he sold his birthright to Jacob over a bowl of stew. The event is given in Genesis chapter 25, from verses 29 to 34:
29 And Jacob sod pottage: and Esau came from the field, and he was faint:
30 And Esau said to Jacob, Feed me, I pray thee, with that same red pottage; for I am faint: . (Edom mean “red” in the Hebrew language)
31 And Jacob said, Sell me this day thy birthright.
32 And Esau said, Behold, I am at the point to die: and what profit shall this birthright do to me?
33 And Jacob said, Swear to me this day; and he sware unto him: and he sold his birthright unto Jacob.
34 Then Jacob gave Esau bread and pottage of lentiles; and he did eat and drink, and rose up, and went his way: thus Esau despised his birthright. KJV
So the name Edom is listed for the first time in verse 30.
Esau eventually went to live in a land called Seir and founded the nation of Edom, which we find in Genesis chapter 36
 And Esau took his wives, and his sons, and his daughters, and all the persons of his house, and his cattle, and all his beasts, and all his substance, which he had got in the land of Canaan; and went into the country from the face of his brother Jacob.
7 For their riches were more than that they might dwell together; and the land wherein they were strangers could not bear them because of their cattle.
8 Thus dwelt Esau in mount Seir: Esau is Edom. KJV
This is also the reason why Moses wrote to the king of Edom on behalf of Israel “thy brother” in Numbers chapter 20 vs.14, which I quoted a few paragraphs ago. Esau and Israel (Jacob) were indeed brothers.
You will find in the Bible the area of Edom sometimes being referred to as Seir and vice-versa. This is because the region was known as Seir long before Esau went there. The first record of mount Seir is in Genesis chapter 14 where it gives us the first glimpse of its location.
1] And it came to pass in the days of Amraphel king of Shinar, Arioch king of Ellasar, Chedorlaomer king of Elam, and Tidal king of nations;
2 That these made war with Bera king of Sodom, and with Birsha king of Gomorrah, Shinab king of Admah, and Shemeber king of Zeboiim, and the king of Bela, which is Zoar.
3 All these were joined together in the vale of Siddim, which is the salt sea.
4 Twelve years they served Chedorlaomer, and in the thirteenth year they rebelled.
5 And in the fourteenth year came Chedorlaomer, and the kings that were with him, and smote the Rephaims in Ashteroth Karnaim, and the Zuzims in Ham, and the Emims in Shaveh Kiriathaim,
6 And , unto El-paran, which is by the wilderness.
7 , and smote all the country of the Amalekites, and also the Amorites that dwelt in Hazezon-tamar.
8 And there went out the king of Sodom, and the king of Gomorrah, and the king of Admah, and the king of Zeboiim, and the king of Bela (the same is Zoar;) and they joined battle with them in the vale of Siddim;
9 With Chedorlaomer the king of Elam, and with Tidal king of nations, and Amraphel king of Shinar, and Arioch king of Ellasar; four kings with five.
10 And the vale of Siddim was full of slimepits; and the kings of Sodom and Gomorrah fled, and fell there; and they that remained fled to the mountain.
11 And they took all the goods of Sodom and Gomorrah, and all their victuals, and went their way.
12 And they took Lot, Abram’s brother’s son, who dwelt in Sodom, and his goods, and departed.
13 And there came one that had escaped, and told Abram the Hebrew; for he dwelt in the plain of Mamre the Amorite, brother of Eschol, and brother of Aner: and these were confederate with Abram. KJV
We can see by this account that in the time of Abraham there were a group of people called Horites living in mount Seir (vs 6), and that it is close to Kadesh (vs 7) and that it was somewhere close enough to be involved in a war with Sodom and Gomorrah which were both by the Dead Sea (salt sea) (vs 3)
In Genesis 36, verse 20 we find that the Horites named the place Seir after one particular person:
“These are the sons of Seir the Horite, who inhabited the land; Lotan, and Shobal, and Zibeon, and Anah” KJV
So we can see chronologically that wherever Mt. Seir is; it was first inhabited by people called Horites, and then later on by Esau and his people. In fact Esau apparently displaced the Horites completely according to the book of Deuteronomy chapter 2:
12] The Horims also dwelt in Seir beforetime; but the children of Esau succeeded them, when they had destroyed them from before them, and dwelt in their stead; as Israel did unto the land of his possession, which the LORD gave unto them. KJV
So far, based on the previous scripture, all we know is that its location is outside of Canaan and likely somewhere close enough to be associated with the Dead Sea.
Another key to the location of Edom is given in the book of I Kings chapter 9, verse 26:
26 And king Solomon made a navy of ships in Ezion-geber, which is beside Eloth, on the shore of the Red sea. KJV
Eloth today is called Eilat. Ezion-geber was the name of the port city across from Eloth before it was changed to Aila in Roman times and then finally became Aqaba, as we know it today.
Whether known as Edom, Seir, or Hor the location is well documented by other ancient cultures. The Assyrians knew Edom as “Udumi”; the Egyptians as “Aduma”; the Greeks as “Idoumaia”; and the Romans as “Idumaea”. It is in fact the southern area of the modern day country of Jordan, with it’s mountain range called the Edomite mountain range to this day.
Figure 15: Edmonite mountain range within modern day national borders
Having established Edom in the southern area of modern day Jordan we still have not determined where Kadesh is to be found, but we are getting closer.
In the time of King Solomon, Edom extended from just south of the Dead Sea all the way to modern day Aqaba. However this was not the case in Moses day. King Solomon is believed to have lived around 970-931 BC. Moses on the other hand is estimated to have lived between 1391-1271 BC according to Rabbinic Judaism, or as far back as 1592 BC according to another well known historian, Jerome (347-420 AD). This means that Moses lived close to 500-800 before Solomon. As such, Edom was a lot smaller in Moses day.
Archaeologists have figured that the Edomite society didn’t become a centralized kingdom until around the 12th to 10th century BC (Just before Moses showed up), being centralized around a large copper-mining site at Khirbat en-Nahas in Jordan, about fifty kilometers north of Petra. Near Khirbat en-Nauas is the Jordanian town of Busayra (Busaira) which archaeology determined was the Edomite capital of Bozrah. About 23 kilometers north of Bozrah is modern day Jordanian town of Tafila which contains the ruins of the ancient Edomite city of Tophel. Although Bozrah was known as the Edomite capital it was not mentioned as a city in the Bible until the time of the prophet Isaiah who lived about 400 -500 years after Moses. Tophel, on the other hand, was mentioned by Moses himself in the book of Deuteronomy, chapter one. Based on this, it would be most likely that the king of Edom was dwelling in Tophel when Moses sent his message to him, despite the Bible not actually specifying where the king was at the time.
Based on this available body of facts and our last known location of the children of Israel during the Exodus, we are getting closer to identifying the possible location of Kadesh.
And they removed from Ezion-gaber, and pitched in the wilderness of Zin, which is Kadesh. KJV Numbers 33:36
As we have already determined Ezion-gaber is modern day Aqaba. With this knowledge of where Edom was in Moses day, it narrows down the search pattern to find Kadesh.
The next thing we need to do before pinning down the location is to examine the notable events that happened in and around Kadesh.
I wish to point out 2 main events.
1) Kadesh is the place where Moses struck the rock on the second occasion (the first being at Mt. Sinai) to bring forth water. Book of Numbers chapter 20:
 And the LORD spake unto Moses, saying,
8 Take the rod, and gather thou the assembly together, thou, and Aaron thy brother, and speak ye unto the rock before their eyes; and it shall give forth his water, and thou shalt bring forth to them water out of the rock: so thou shalt give the congregation and their beasts drink.
9 And Moses took the rod from before the LORD, as he commanded him.
10 And Moses and Aaron gathered the congregation together before the rock, and he said unto them, Hear now, ye rebels; must we fetch you water out of this rock?
11 And Moses lifted up his hand, and with his rod he smote the rock twice: and the water came out abundantly, and the congregation drank, and their beasts also.
12 And the LORD spake unto Moses and Aaron, Because ye believed me not, to sanctify me in the eyes of the children of Israel, therefore ye shall not bring this congregation into the land which I have given them.
13 ; because the children of Israel strove with the LORD, and he was sanctified in them KJV
2) Kadesh is within close proximity to Mt. Hor where Aaron, Moses brother died and was buried. Numbers 20:
21] Thus Edom refused to give Israel passage through his border: wherefore Israel turned away from him.
22 And the children of Israel, even the whole congregation, journeyed from Kadesh, and came unto mount Hor.
23 And the LORD spake unto Moses and Aaron , [_ _]
24 Aaron shall be gathered unto his people: for he shall not enter into the land which I have given unto the children of Israel, because ye rebelled against my word at the water of Meribah.
25 Take Aaron and Eleazar his son, and bring them up unto mount Hor:
26 And strip Aaron of his garments, and put them upon Eleazar his son: and Aaron shall be gathered unto his people, and shall die there.
27 And Moses did as the LORD commanded: and they went up into mount Hor in the sight of all the congregation.
28 And Moses stripped Aaron of his garments, and put them upon Eleazar his son; and Aaron died there in the top of the mount: and Moses and Eleazar came down from the mount.
29 And when all the congregation saw that Aaron was dead, they mourned for Aaron thirty days, even all the house of Israel. KJV
It should be noted that verse 23 where it says “mount Hor, by the coast of the land of Edom” in King James English “coast” refers to any border, not necessarily a seacoast border. The word “coast” in Hebrew is gĕbuwl and according to Strongs’ Concordance H1366, refers to any type of border; other Bible translations do use the term “border”.
I would also like to draw your attention to the event when Moses struck the rock. Numbers 20: 13 names the place where the water came out as “the water of Meribah”. The Hebrew word “Meribah” actually means strife or contention.
In the book of Ezekiel there is a prophecy regarding the time that the Messiah will come to earth to establish his kingdom. What the Christian world commonly calls the Millennium. During this future period Ezekiel gives a list of the border areas that are to comprise the nation of Israel at that time. A blueprint, if you, will for future generations to map out the region. Ezekiel 47 mentions the waters of Meribah or rather the translated name “waters of strife” by the literal name:
 And the east side ye shall measure from Hauran, and from Damascus, and from Gilead, and from the land of Israel by Jordan, from the border unto the east sea. And this is the east side.
19 And the south side southward, from Tamar , the river to the great sea. And this is the south side southward.
What I find interesting is that he is using the “ at Kadesh as a place to mark the border. Therefore implying that the water that flowed from the Rock that Moses stuck would still be flowing at that time, and therefore today as well, because this prophecy of Ezekiel, has yet to be fulfilled. This is an important point to keep in mind.
These two points, the death of Aaron, and the waters of strife are what I want to address in the next chapter in order to pin down the location of Kadesh.
Which brings us to………
If you visit the nation of Jordan today and start your trip in the southern city of Aqaba on the Red Sea coast, you can drive the section of the Exodus that was explained in chapter 7. Driving north from Aqaba along the Kings Highway, through the Edmonite mountain range, after about 120km you will see a mountain from the road that the Bedouin have named “Jebel Haroun”. Translated it means “mountain of Aaron”. On the top of this mountain the Bedouin have built a shrine to honour it as the burial place of Moses brother Aaron. This is quite a permanent and peculiar thing for a nomadic people to do.
A trek to the shrine takes about 6 hours. It is about 500m high and a donkey can be taken for all but about the last 20 minutes.
Figure 17 Mt. Haroun with Bedouin shrine on top.
If the Bedouin have the location of Mt Hor (Mt. Haroun) correct then Kadesh can’t be far away.
Let’s continue the journey and see what turns up. If you continue driving north from Mt. Haroun within minutes you will come to the ancient city of Petra. A wonder of the ancient world that was at its peak 2000 years ago as a Nabatean city, but disappeared from history and was all but forgotten until a Swiss explorer named Johann Ludwig Burckhardt brought it back to world attention in 1812. Burckhardt studied Arabic at Cambridge University. He then went to the Middle East and disguised himself as a Muslim and even gave himself the name Sheikh Ibrahim Ibn Abdallah. Burckhardt knew the historical references to Petra and wanted to find its actual location. He had an idea where it should be and set out for the Wadi Musa area. He approached the local Bedouin using the excuse that he wanted to go make a pilgrimage to Mt. Haroun. It was then that the Bedouin showed him Petra, and he was able to make his “discovery” known to the world, (sounds like a plot for a good movie).
Figure 18: Ruins at Petra
The reason for the location of Petra in this wilderness is simple…water. Petra was built because of its access to water. An important point, that will be explained more fully, shortly.
Located in front of the entrance to Petra today is the modern village of Wadi Musa, with a population of around 20,000 and most of its area residents being Bedouin. There are several different Bedouin tribes in the area that are mostly connected to a root tribe called Bani Leith: the tribe of the lion. But there is one tribe among them that stands out with an interesting history. They are called the Bdul and are set apart and looked down upon by other Bedouin due to their poverty and small numbers. However, their incomes have been doing much better of late, having taken up guiding tourists visiting Petra. What’s interesting is that their name is likely derived from the Arabic word badal, meaning to swap, switch, or to change. This name was given because they claim to descend from survivors of a massacre at the hands of the Israelites during the time of the Exodus. They converted to Judaism and remained this way until adopting Islam during the Muslim conquest. Often they will only point to the “switch” as being from pagan Nabateans into Muslims to avoid a connection to Judaism in front of other Arabs.
Wadi Musa itself basically means “Canyon of Moses”. With a name like that you can expect some sort of tradition connected to him… and there is.
Just above the town on the side of the road leading in from the north is another small Bedouin shrine, again, a peculiar thing for them to build. The tour buses bringing in the many tourists from Amman, pass right by it on the way to Petra. It goes un-noticed and there is no sign on the outside to explain what it is. It’s an open secret of the Bedouin. While visiting Petra on the other side of town can set you back $75 for the entrance fee, this anonymous little shrine charges no admission. It is a special place for the Bedouin to visit, but openly shared with any guest who wants to see it. The inside walls are bare, and set in the tile floor is a large rock with a spring of water coming out from it. The Bedouin tradition is that this is in fact the rock of Kadesh that Moses struck in anger. The spring that is underneath was one of the main sources of water for the ancient city of Petra as it is today for the town of Wadi Musa. Rain collection during occasional seasonal storms being a supplement. The main spring itself apparently branches into seven separate smaller springs according to local tradition and is called the “Seven Springs of Moses”.
This little shrine is very unassuming and its legend could easily be dismissed as a work of fiction concocted by the locals. I must admit that upon my first visit to this shrine I certainly had my doubts that it could be the real deal. I was on another father and son trip with my youngest son, Jesse, when a local Arab came in wearing a leather jacket, scooped up a handful of water and drank it down, smiled, and said with a tease “drink this and you will live for ever!” (By the way I’ve also travelled there on a separate occasion with my wife Diane in case you thought she was left out of these trips). Could this possibly be an important piece of history, yet completely ignored by everyone who passes by? The local Bedouin certainly believe it. By following the route of the Exodus up to this point we can certainly expect that somewhere in this area should be Kadesh, but after all these thousands of years could the actual rock that Moses struck still be identified and still produce water? A big stretch to believe indeed, yet, perhaps less of a stretch when we examine more carefully what history and scripture says about Kadesh and Petra.
Figure 20 The rock that Moses struck?
Figure 21 Spring water bubbling up from under the rock.
The first item I want to address is the issue of water. If this is indeed Kadesh, should we expect the water to still be flowing? As mentioned at the end of chapter 7, regarding the prophet Ezekiel’s vision of the biblical millennium (Ezekiel 47 vs 19), the waters would need to survive thousands of years to be ready for a future event that has not happened yet. In this case the answer should be yes, the water should still be flowing today. This location could very well be the “waters of strife”, as it is the only flowing spring of water in the region.
Next I would like to address the burial of Aaron. As mentioned previously it was located not too far from Kadesh according to the Bible. The Bedouin locations of Moses spring and Mt. Haroun today are certainly within reasonable distance to match the biblical account, but there is another source that also attests to this location. It is the historian Eusebius of Caesarea (263AD-339AD) whom I already introduced in chapter 6. Again, in his guide book, the Onomasticon he lists the location of Mt. Hor:
ōr. Mountain on which Aaron died near the city of Petra. There is now pointed out the rock which flowed for Moses (which Moses struck and gave water to the people). eusebius-onomasticon
So, according to Eusebius, in his time, about 1,700 years ago, it was clearly established that Mt. Hor was close to Petra and that Petra was where you could find the rock that Moses struck and that this rock was known and identified in his day. Therefore Eusebius confirms the location, which has quietly existed in the Bedouin tradition until today.
The Bible also indicates that Kadesh is where Miriam (Moses’ sister) also died: Numbers 20, verse 1. Then came the children of Israel, even the whole congregation, into the desert of Zin in the first month: and the people abode in Kadesh; and Miriam died there, and was buried there. KJV
In the Onomasticon, Eusebius also gives this entry for biblical Kadesh:
Kadēa Barnē. The desert which extends to (the city of) Petra a city of Arabia. There Mariam went up and died, and there the doubting Moses struck the rock to give water to the thirsty people. The tomb of Mariam herself is pointed out there even now. There also Chodollagomor beat the chiefs of the Amalakites. eusebius-onomasticon
Again, Eusebius states that Petra is Kadesh. The location Miriam’s tomb is today is unknown today. There were many tombs in the rocks from Greek, Nabataean, and even Roman times as well, but most have lost any identity markers. Perhaps there are Bedouin who know the location who I haven’t met yet, or are keeping this one a more closely guarded secret. I hope some day to get to the bottom of this little mystery.
There is also an interesting etymology regarding the name Petra, which is the Greek word: Πέτρα meaning “rock”. This can easily be assumed to be associated to the rock-cut structures of the Nabataeans. However, this name applied long before the Nabataeans did their great works of architecture.
Before the Greeks named it Petra, it had a Hebrew name “Sela” which means “the rock” (Strong’s Concordance H5554).
Ancient Egyptian references to Petra during their campaigns often refer to it by the name Sela. It is mentioned in the Bible with this name in Isaiah 16:1 and Isaiah 42:11.
Therefore, if we look closely we can see a progression from the original name given by the Hebrews. Before the children of Israel showed up, according to the Bible, it was called Kadesh, which means “Holy”. When the children of Israel showed up the first time during the Exodus, it took the name Kadesh-Barneah, which means “Holy Wandering”, because that’s when God brought judgment on them to wander for forty years. Then, yet another name change after the forty years of wandering when they returned back to the same spot and it became known as Meribah-Kadesh (Deuteronomy 32:51) meaning “Strife at Kadesh” referring to the water that came from the rock that Moses struck in anger due to the peoples strife. But sometime after that event it also becomes known as Sela “the rock”, and then under Greek occupation, becomes Petra “rock”. It is therefore likely that the “rock” may not be referring to the rock-cut city but rather THE rock, that Moses struck.
Fig.22 Wadi Musa, a town built according to tradition, upon seven springs
that eminate from one main spring. Called the “Seven Springs of Moses”.
In Jordan today there is a modern highway, designated route 65. It is paved over, and follows, the original route of an ancient highway from biblical times called the “Kings Highway”. A major trade route that started in Egypt and ran through Edom, Moab, Ammon, and on into Syria.
Figure 23: The ancient route of the Kings Highway
with mondern place names.
This Kings Highway was the very route that Moses was intending to take the children of Israel but was denied access. In Numbers 20:17 he asks the king of Edom:
17 Let us pass, I pray thee, through thy country: we will not pass through the fields, or through the vineyards, neither will we drink of the water of the wells: we will go by the king’s highway, we will not turn to the right hand nor to the left, until we have passed thy borders. KJV
The consequence of the king of Edoms’ refusal caused the children of Israel to go back into the wilderness, around Edom and Moab. They entered into the land of Ammon after defeating the Amorites who were a people that had conquered Ammon and were occupying it when the children of Israel showed up. Once established there, Moses went to Mt. Nebo where he looked across into the Promised Land and died there. Today, it is possible to stand on Mt. Nebo (see Fig. 24) and look across the Israeli border and see Jericho in the distance.
A small piece of trivia regarding modern Jordan is that the capital city of Amman has its name because it rests on the location of ancient Ammon. Jordan is filled with many cities, towns, and locations that have kept variations of their original names as Jordan has done a lot to preserve its connection to the ancient roots.
We can now update our route map using the Bedouin places that we have mentioned and get a better idea of what the actual passage might have looked like.
Figure 24: Generalized map of the Exodus based on the Bedouin traditions,
with modern day borders for reference.
Could my interpretation of the evidence be incorrect? Certainly, I am a fallible person and no one has access to the complete story of the past thousands of years. We can only glean from the existing sources, maintaining an eagle eye to catch and connect the minute details of scripture with secular history. The only thing infallible in any of this is the Bible itself. The research I’ve done is only fragmentary for sure. Is it possible that any of the Bedouin traditions could be wrong? Certainly. If someone made the mistake in antiquity of identifying a wrong location, then that same mistake could have been transmitted down through Josephus, and through Eusebius, and of course through the Bedouin traditions as well. What I do believe is that the locations identified by the Bedouin make much more sense when identifying the Exodus route. There is much more physical evidence via this track. It does not contradict the Bible, and is simply a better fit than the accepted direction of the mainstream church as discussed at the beginning of this book.
I would address any scholar who would still defend the traditional teaching of the church regarding the Exodus route. Let me reaffirm certain points that indicate the Bedouin have a better understanding of this topic.
1) The Bedouin named the Red Sea crossing site long before any physical evidence was found.
2) The Bedouin place names in Midian explain why the mountain of Moses is called Sinai in some scripture verses and Horeb in others.
3) Bedouin/Arab history confirms Paran in the northern Arabian Peninsula, not in northern Sinai as taught by the church.
4) Bedouin traditions regarding Mt. Hor and Kadesh, are supported by well-known, accepted, historians from almost 2,000 years ago and are consistent with the biblical account.
To support the traditionally accepted route with a Mt. Sinai in Egypt, it would be necessary to address and overcome the above points.
The Bedouin are a people who have lived in this part of the world back into the earliest antiquity. They have seen the rise and fall of empires and participated in the historical events of the region. Nobody knows these places better than they do; it’s their home. However, it’s only today, with modern means of transport, and language barriers being overcome, that this hidden knowledge is now able to come to light. If you, the reader, ever have the opportunity; take a trip into the desert with a Bedouin guide, either by jeep or camel, let them feed you with the best barbecue on the planet, drink the tea they offer, and if you are very fortunate, perhaps they will sing to you, or tell you about their ancestors. They have much to offer us as individuals, and certain tribes have much to teach the church about the importance of supporting Israel.
My background for writing this manuscript comes from my two occupations. On one hand I have thirty years in the travel industry with the last twenty at an international expedition company. The Middle East (Red Sea region in particular) is my destination specialty. I have guided trips in the region and am a certified travel planner with the Israel Ministry of Tourism. It has been in this capacity that I came in contact with the Bedouin. On the other hand, I am also an ordained evangelical Christian minister, with a teaching ministry at a non-denominational church near Montreal. Both occupations require the ability to research in detail the topic this book deals with.
“The Bible & the Bedouin” is a non-fiction manuscript that deals with the Exodus of the Israelites from Egypt to the land of Canaan, but through the eyes of the Bedouin tribes surrounding the Red Sea area. The local Bedouin tribes have traditions about Moses, his father-in-law, and the children of Israel having travelled through their various regions. I found this very curious, and took the opportunity to research and catalogue those traditions, map them out in a simple format, and compare their stories with the place names mentioned in the Bible and ancient historians. I was astonished to find that their accounts not only match the biblical account, but also answers curious questions that arise in the Bible but are not explained within it’s pages. For example: Why is the same mountain sometimes called Sinai and other times Horeb? …the Bedouin have the answer.