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So where were we actually given the Torah?

Perhaps Sinai is not where everyone thought it was

At the moment, Israel and the entire Jewish people are preparing for Shavuot – the holiday of the giving of the Torah, which according to the text took place by Mount Sinai. But the question as to where Mount Sinai actually is continues to be one of the greatest mysteries of world history. According to the standpoint that is widespread in the Christian world (and official accepted by the Vatican), Mount Sinai is identified with Mount Catherine on the Sinai Peninsula.

But for several decades, the paleo-archeologist Emmanuel Anati has claimed that in fact the events described in the Torah did not take place on the Sinai Peninsula, but on Mount Har-Karkom, which is situated in the desert of Negev, 40 km from the modern Israeli city of Mitzpe-Ramon.

Anati not only wrote a letter to the Pope asking form his to change the traditional viewpoint, but also provides a large amount of evidence in favor of his theory. And his arguments at least deserve to be heard.

…If we believe the photographs posted on the Internet, Professor Anati is a tall man who is incredibly robust for his 85 years. At present he lives in Italy, but the Internet allows us to overcome distances easily and conduct correspondence which differs little from direct contact.

The Jewish tradition, as a rule, forbids looking for the location of Mount Sinai,” says Emmanuel Anati. “But in this case I was not looking for Mount Sinai, it found me. In the early 1950s I repatriated to Israel from Italy and enrolled at the Jewish University in Jerusalem. I was sent to Negev for summer work. Where else could they send a new repatriate, who no one needed, who had no connections?! Only to some dump which interested no one and where there was nothing to find. I stayed at Sde-Boker. Every morning, Paula Ben-Gurion, the wife of the first Prime Minister of Israel David Ben-Gurion, who had retired by that time, made me a sandwich, I took a supply of water and went off to wander around the environs. Once I went to Har-Karkrom, sat on a rock to eat my sandwich and… suddenly I saw a clear drawing on the rock.,

It turned out that there were many rock drawings on Har-Karkom, and so every day, from morning to evening, the student Emmanuel Anati went to Karkom, and made sketches and took photographs. Then, when he looked closer, he discovered: what initially seemed to him to be a simple accumulation of rocks in fact resembled the altars described in the Torah…

The outstanding discovery made by Anati determined his entire future scientific career. He brilliantly defended a doctoral dissertation at the Sorbonne, then did his post-graduate studies at Harvard, and was later in charge of digs in Mexico, Australia and Tanzania, becoming one of the most important specialists in the world on rock painting.

In this field, Professor Anati taught for a time at Tel-Aviv University, and then went to his native Italy – to lead a dig at Val Camonica, where the largest collection of petroglyphs in Europe was found, some of which are dated to the upper Paleolithic (around 6,000 BCE).

In the end, the professor stayed in Italy, becoming the director of the Institute of Paleohistory studies. But from the 1980s, the veteran scientist began increasingly to think about his first discovery, and as he did so he came to completely paradoxical conclusions.

In order to test them, Professor Anati went to Israel, and for almost 30 years now he has been coming here during the days of Passover, in order to continue digs and studies on Mount Har-Karkom.

He has gathered a considerable number of his findings at the apartment that he rents in Mizpa-Ramon, which is now open to visitors.

Emmanuel Anati first publicized his paradoxical idea that Har-Karkom was Mount Sinai in 1986, with the English-language book “The Mountain of God” in English, published by Rizzoli. Over the past decades, he has gained many enthusiastic supporters, who are led by the amateur archeologists Dror Amiram and Eren Barnea.

Amiram, an architect by profession, now lives in Herzliya. Barnea, an animation artist, lives and works in Hollywood. Friends since childhood, from the age of 13 they began to make expeditions to Negev, which they kept a secret from their parents. Then their lives took them to different countries, and both had families, but like true romantics, they remained faithful to their childhood friendship.

“By chance I happened to acquire the book by Professor Anati, and it made an incredible impression on me,” says Dror Amiram. “It was so convincing that the story in the Torah about the revelation on Mount Sinai seemed to take on a new meaning. As a completely secular person, for a while I began to believe in God, I began to wear tefillin and observe kashrut. Eren took the wind out of my sails, however, saying that even if Mount Sinai really did exist, this was not proof of God’s existence. That summer, he came to visit me in Israel, and together we went to Har-Karkom. Of course, if we hadn’t had Professor Anati’s book, we would have simply been blind. But with the book we identified without difficulty the ancient altars and other monuments described by the professor. I should note that the question as to whether Har-Karom is Mount Sinai rests on the question as to whether the exodus of the Jews from Egypt really took place. Many historians deny this. In their opinion, the Torah in its present form was written not early than the 8th century BCE. Anati believes that the Torah was written in the period that maximalist historians date it at, 3,200 years ago. But in his opinion, the actual exodus of the Jews took place 1,000 years earlier, when important geological upheavals occurred in the Middle East. And this is a truly revolutionary idea!”

To back up his hypothesis, Professor Anati draws attention to the Arabic name of Mount Karkom – Jabal Ideid (“Festive Mountain” or “Mountain of Witness”). And the surrounding landscape allows for a huge amount of people to gather around this mountain.

He goes on to note that according to the Torah, Mount Sinai is located 11 days’ walk from Kadesh-Barnea, where the Jews led by Moses ran out of water. But from Har-Karkom to Kadesh Barnea there are 10 wells, each of which is located approximately at a distance of one day’s walk. Therefore, Anati believes, it is not surprising that during 10 days of walking, the Jews had water, and on the 11th day they ran out!

In the numerous rock paintings discovered by Anati on Mount Har-Karkom, mountain goats are depicted – one of the symbols of the ancient Semitic God of the moon, Sin. This is where Mount Sinai gets its name, Anati continues. Here we should look for an explanation of the enormous role that goats played in the system of Jewish sacrifice, the use of goat hides in building the movable temple, and also the story about the sin of the golden calf. According to the actual rock paintings, Anati claims, we can trace how the idea of monotheism crystallized slowly among the ancient Jews, over many years.

One of the drawings in stone has a form that surprisingly resembles the tables of the covenant, and additionally this drawing is divided into 10 parts. There are also 12 altars arranged in two rows, which involuntarily evoke associations with the 12 tribes, each of which brought their gifts to the Almighty.

In short, there are many associations, and perhaps there are even very many of them, but all of them… completely fail to convince historians that Professor Anati is right.

“There is no doubt that Professor Anati discovered an important historical monument of antiquity on Mount Har-Karkom, a place where some Semitic tribes celebrated their religious cults,” said a renowned “minimalist” historian, professor at Tel-Aviv University Israel Finkelshtein. “But there are plenty of sites like this in Negev and on the Sinai Peninsula. This cannot be considered evidence that Har-Karkom is Mount Sinai. I would even go so far as to say that today we have practically no chance of establishing for certain where Mount Sinai was located, if it even existed. Unless we find an ancient inscription somewhere that reads “This is Mount Sinai!”

A similar opinion is held by “maximalist” historians, i.e. those who believe that the events described in the TANAKH really did happen. Har-Karkom, in their opinion, is a site of the pagan cults of ancient Edomites or Moabites – peoples closely related to the Jews, but nevertheless not actually Jews.

However, Emmanuel Anati and his followers still insist on their point of view. In 2013, Dror Amiram and Eren Barnea even held a scholarly conference in Mizpa-Ramon entitled “Har-Karkom is Mount Sinai”. The time will come, they believe, when the world will admit this truth.

In any case, undoubtedly this is another interesting scientific hypothesis which should increase interest in Mount Har-Karkom both in the scientific community and among the wider public. One thing is certain: it definitely lay on the path of the Jews when they came out of Egypt, and thus it is part of our history in some way.

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