Sunday, February 26, 2012


Elsewhere I have reported the discovery of an ancient Hebrew document that gives an eyewitness report on the encounter between David the shepherd-boy and Goliath the giant of Gath (1 Samuel 17 in the Bible).  It was found in a fortress overlooking the Valley of Elah. There are five lines of writing on a piece of a broken pot (an ostracon), and they record that the giant Goliath cursed David the servant of God, but he has been judged, and executed.

I have now realized that the name of God is hiding up in the top right hand corner, in the form YH (there are no vowels in the Hebrew text, only letters for consonants). YH is a short form of YHWH (Yahweh), and it is the same as Yah in Hallelu-Yah (“Praise Yahweh”), and Yahu in modern Israeli names, such as Netanyahu and Eliyahu. This name Eliyahu means “Yahweh is my God” (it is mangled in English as Elijah), and it originally belonged to a famous prophet in ancient Israel (1 Kings 17–18).

In the story of Eliyahu, after this man of God had defeated the prophets of Baal on Mount Carmel, Queen Jezebel sought to kill him; and so he fled into the wilderness, “to Horeb, the mountain of God”, which would be the Mount Horeb or Mount Sinai where Moses met Yahweh (Exodus 3). In this cave Eliyahu had an epiphany, with earthquake, wind, fire, and the voice of Yahweh speaking to him in the ensuing stillness (1 Kings 19:9-13).

Through the ages, Christians have gone to Gebel Musa, or Jabal Musa (Moses Mountain) in the south of the Sinai Peninsula, in the belief that this is the holy Horeb. The famous Greek monastery of Saint Catherine stands below it. I myself have climbed that mountain, but I can not recall seeing a cave on top of it, though a chapel has been built there for “Elias”. Nevertheless, in his book containing a new proposal for identifying Mount Sinai, Robert Feather (Where Moses Stood, London 2014, p. 92) reports that there is a Moses cave on the summit. In Chapter 10, "Alternative Mount Sinais" (90-111) he examines several possible places for the holy mount, and dismisses them all in favour of Har Timna in the copper mining region of the Wadi Arabah, near the Gulf of Aqaba.

However, there is a mountain in the desert inside the borders of Israel, which does have a cave on top. Its Hebrew name is Har Karkom (“Mount Saffron”); it has obviously been a sacred site since the Stone Age, as is shown by thousands of petroglyphs on its rocks. Emmanuel Anati of Milan has devoted his life to studying this area, and he is convinced that this is the Biblical Mount Sinai, also known as Mount Horeb. His first book on the subject was published in Italian in 1984, followed by a French translation in 1986, and best of all the large English version, THE MOUNTAIN OF GOD (1986) with the addition of a couple of hundred coloured pictures. He announced his theory in the press all round the world in 1986. The most recent publication on the subject is: La riscoperta del Monte Sinai (2010), "The rediscovery of Mount Sinai". 

Besides the cave on the summit, there are other possible indications that it is the mountain where Moses took the children of Israel to meet Yahweh and to make their covenant (Exodus 19–24): a cleared space (for the Tabernacle?); an altar (site HK52) with twelve standing stones  (Exodus 24:4, twelve pillars representing the tribes); a drawing of the two tablets (HK126b, Exodus 24:12-18). But what confirms it for me (as a mountain where Yahu was worshiped) is the sequence of stones along the trail leading to the mountain, which have a human stick figure and a stick inscribed on them. This is usually understood as a person worshiping a pillar (a forbidden practice!). No, it is writing, and in fact the original alphabet (or the proto-alphabet) from the Bronze Age: the stick represents a human arm (Hebrew yad, hence Y); the person is rejoicing, and the word for jubilating and praising is hallel (as in Hallelu-Yah) hence H.  

This is the example (from site 2) that Emmanuel Anati showed on the cover of his book in 1984:

The arms and head (which will become E in the Greek and Roman alphabets, when the body has been discarded) are at the bottom, and so it probably should be inverted when viewing, though the H figure is sometimes found upside down (standing on his hands) in other places, in Egypt and Canaan in the  Bronze Age.

Here is an another example (HK3b) situated on the trail; it does not have upraised forearms, and is simplified:-

 And another from the same place (HK3c):-

 The next one (HK3d) apparently has the same word YH, with the person's arms raised, showing the E part of the figure (which will be all that survives in the Greek and Roman alphabets, as the letter E):-

Here is yet another from the same sequence of marker-stones (HK3a), which would also  say YH (the arm has a hand but the H is not tidy, having one arm up and the other down):-

 From a different site (HK15b) the lowest mark might be Y (arm with hand), or the stroke above it might be Y and it represents a hook (waw) and thus W, and taken together YHW (Yahwe):-

The context of this inscription (HK15a) includes a camel:-

A few such inscriptions have an additional H, and this could stand for the masculine pronoun "he" (hu), hence "He is Yahu"; or it could be functioning as the whole word HLL (without the vowels); thus it would be saying Hallelu Yah! However, YHH is known as a form of the divine name in the Aramaic documents of the Jewish community of Elephantine in southern Egypt, in the 5th century BCE. We find YH and YHW and YHWH in the Bible, but not YHH.

There are other candidates for Mount Horeb, most notably Jebel el-Lawz in Saudi Arabia (Feather, 99-102); this has the enticing feature of being volcanic, to go with the smoke and fire in the Exodus story (Exodus 19:17-19); but it is somewhat difficult to apply the name Sinai to it.

This Saffron Mountain, Har Karkom,  is certainly a mountain of Yahweh, since his name YH is written all over it! But is it Mount Horeb? Is it the true Mount Sinai? If we have to make a choice, I would sugest that the children of Israel could have visited all three or four of these possible mountains at some time (apologies to anyone who thinks they never set foot in Sinai or made an exodus from Egypt). But which one did the prophet Eliyahu go to?

For more information and pictures of Har Karkom, go to

If you would like to go there and see it all for yourself, Yehuda Rotblum will take you on a tour of the site and explain the petroglyphs.

Brian Colless

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