Saudi Government Opening Up Archaeological Sites
Access to forbidden areas may settle debates about the Pentateuch.
The “real Mount Sinai” debate has raged for decades. The majority view, that Sinai is Jebel Musa in the southern Sinai Peninsula, was long unquestioned and taught as fact. A few decades ago, several explorers, armed with Bibles and bribes, began investigating a site in ancient Midian (now within Saudi Arabia) called Jebel el-Lawz. It seemed to fit Biblical descriptions of the mountain, and had several features that could fit fit with the Exodus story: an oasis that could have been Elim, a split rock that could have been where water flowed, and a blackened top that appeared to have been scorched by fire. The site was promoted by Ron Wyatt (a man with highly questionable credentials but lots of enthusiasm), Bob Cornuke and others who were able to sneak past fences and climb the mountain. They also claimed to see coral-encrusted chariot parts on a shallow land bridge across the Gulf of Aqaba. This site was earlier investigated by Apollo 15 astronaut Jim Irwin.
Illustra Media’s film The Exodus Revealed (2002) presented this view without relying on Wyatt or Cornuke, but independent investigator Lennart Moller and some others. The film did not make a dogmatic case, but tried to put pieces of the puzzle together considering timing of pharoahs, archaeological evidence in Egypt and ancient Israel, and other evidences. They were the first to film the land bridge under the Gulf of Aqaba, looking for possible wreckage of Pharoah’s chariots. Most recently, filmmaker Tim Mahoney, producer of Patterns of Evidence, and The Moses Controversy, is putting together a third documentary, The Red Sea Miracle, about the crossing site for showing in theaters in 2020.
Opponents of the Arabian Sinai argued that it was too far for the company of Israelites to travel, would have required an arduous crossing of the Gulf of Aqaba for children and elderly people even with a proposed land bridge, and cannot be known from Biblical place names that have not been confirmed by archaeological evidence (e.g., Pi-Hahiroth, Migdol, etc.). Among the critics are renowned Biblical archaeologists Bryant Wood and James K. Hoffmeier. But like frustrated hunters for Noah’s Ark on Mt Ararat well know, governments can make it extremely difficult to gather data. And so the debate over the “real Mt. Sinai” has not been resolved due in part to lack of access to prime sites. Notably, Jebel el-Lawz has been off limits for many years, fenced off and patrolled by soldiers.
Now, according to a Fox News report, the Saudi government has had a change of heart. They’re seeing some of these Biblical sites as less of a security risk and more of a financial windfall. “The atmosphere is changing,” writes Caleb Parke. A tour guide in favor of the Arabian Sinai, Joel Richardson (author of a book on the subject), will be leading parties to this and other sites with the blessing of the government. He describes his plans in a video clip in the article.
“This portends to be the most significant new archaeological site in modern history,” Richardson told Fox News. “We’re tremendously blessed that the Saudi government is allowing us to visit the kingdom to see some of its rich historical and geographic treasures.”….
Beyond the historic sites, the kingdom is hoping to increase international tourism with new museums and first-class hotels — and even a smart city in the northwest called Neom, set to be fully functional by 2025.
The travel website Living Passages is advertising tours of the areas in Sinai of interest to the Exodus story. One of them is underway as of October 14; more are planned for 2020.
If the new transparency for the site comes to pass, it will be a great blessing to have new data for the debate. Evidence should be collected by experts with open minds. There has been resistance to the Arabian site by some leading experts for a long time. There’s nothing like sunshine to make things clear.
The traditional site in the southern Sinai Peninsula lacks any evidence of a large Israelite company being there at the time of the proposed Pharoahs of the Exodus. Plus, it was occupied and patrolled by the Egyptian army, so it would not have been an “exodus” from Egypt at all. Jebel Musa was never considered Mt. Sinai until after the time of Christ. Some pilgrims merely went there and thought it “looked” like the kind of mountain described in the Bible. The Bible is very clear that Mt Sinai was in Arabia (Galatians 4:25), and was in the Old Testament land of Midian, which was in Arabia.
If the evidence doesn’t pan out for el-Lawz, that will be good to know. If evidence supports the Arabian site, though, the extent of the miracle God did by opening the Gulf of Aqaba for a crossing would become truly awe-inspiring. Instead of imagining natural winds opening up some shallow lakes at the Egyptian border, God would have truly led the Israelites through the mighty waters of the great deep.