The mountain saved its secrets and techniques for hundreds of years, its air of sacred thriller enhanced by a distant location within the Negev desert in southern Israel.
However sooner or later final week, lots of of Israeli adventurers headed deep into the wilderness to achieve Mount Karkom, decided to get nearer to answering a query as intriguing as it’s controversial: Is that this the Mount Sinai of the Bible, the place God is believed to have communicated with Moses?
Mount Sinai’s location has lengthy been disputed by students each spiritual and tutorial, and there are a dozen extra conventional contenders, most of them within the mountainous expanses of the Sinai Peninsula throughout the border in Egypt.
However Mount Karkom’s declare has gained some standard help due to an annual pure phenomenon that an intrepid group of archaeology and nature lovers had come to witness for themselves.
In 2003, a neighborhood Israeli information and ecologist occurred to be atop Karkom’s huge plateau sooner or later in late December across the time of the winter solstice when he stumbled on a marvel.
At noon, with the solar low within the sky on one of many shortest days of the yr, he peered throughout a deep ravine and noticed an odd aura of sunshine, flickering like flames, emanating from a spot on a sheer rock face.
It was daylight mirrored at a specific angle off the edges of a cave, however the discovery quickly made its method to Israeli tv and was fancifully named “the burning bush.” Maybe this, some stated, was the supernatural fireplace that, in keeping with the Guide of Exodus, Moses noticed on the holy mountain when God first spoke to him, and the place he would later obtain the Ten Commandments as he led the Israelites out of Egypt.
The burning bush, by no means consumed by the fireplace, is symbolic in Judaism, Christianity, Islam and different faiths, together with Baha’i.
However many years earlier than this unintentional astronomical discovery, Mount Karkom was already charming some archaeologists with hints that the positioning had performed an necessary religious function hundreds of years in the past.
Greater than a half-century in the past, Emmanuel Anati, a younger Italian archaeologist, discovered a rare focus of hundreds of rock carvings and rock circles as he surveyed the plateau of Mount Karkom, about 2,500 toes above sea stage. Among the many rock drawings are lots of ibexes, but in addition some which have been interpreted as depicting the tablets of the commandments or different references from the Bible.
On the base of Mount Karkom, named in Hebrew for a desert crocus, there may be proof that historic migration trails converged right here and that cultic rituals came about within the space. Anati recognized what he thought was a sacrificial altar with the stays of 12 pillars of stone that might conceivably correspond to the one described in Exodus 24 that Moses constructed, representing the 12 tribes of Israel.
In his writings, Anati stated he had not got down to search for Mount Sinai. However after years of fieldwork and exploration, he proposed within the early Nineteen Eighties that, on the idea of topographical and archaeological proof, Mount Karkom “ought to be recognized with the sacred mountain of the biblical narrations.”
However except for regular difficulties of desert archaeology — nomads have a tendency to go away few everlasting traces — and the entire query of whether or not any archaeology might be tied to the biblical story of the Exodus in any respect, Anati’s idea posed an issue of chronology.
Israel Finkelstein, a professor emeritus of archaeology at Tel Aviv College in Israel and an early critic of Anati’s idea, stated that the majority, if not all, of the datable websites round Mount Karkom are from the third millennium B.C.
The Exodus, if it occurred, is usually dated to round 1600 to 1200 B.C.
“So there may be a couple of millennium hole between the truth at Karkom and the biblical custom,” Finkelstein stated, including that because the proof is imprecise, and figuring out such websites as cultic is a matter of interpretation, “It’s maybe safer to not speculate.”
Nonetheless heated the educational debate, the air was chilly when a convoy of sturdy jeeps with four-wheel drive set out for the mountain by jagged terrain at daybreak on the day of the winter solstice.
Entry to Mount Karkom is normally restricted to weekends and sure holidays as a result of it requires passing by a army firing and coaching zone. A paved highway that helps shorten the hourslong journey, a lot of which takes place on grime tracks, has principally been closed to civilian visitors in recent times due to the concern of cross-border assaults by Islamic militants from Sinai.
This yr, in a midweek first, the army opened the paved highway and allowed passage by the firing zone for the burning-bush seekers.
Because the group arrived within the car parking zone on the foot of Mount Karkom, there was an sudden bonus: Anati, now in his early 90s, was sitting in a deck chair, holding courtroom and selling his books.
Within the seek for Mount Sinai, Anati stated, some insist for political or nationalistic causes that the positioning should be inside the borders of Israel, not in Egypt. Others, for spiritual causes, say it should be exterior the borders, to adjust to the custom of the Israelites wandering within the desert for 40 years earlier than reaching the Promised Land.
“None of those approaches is right; one should search the reality,” Anati stated. “I convey all of the opinions and proof and let the reader resolve for themselves,” he stated, including of the mountain’s treasures, “That is the story of the historical past of humankind.”
After a steep climb up the facet of Karkom to its windy plateau, scores of individuals fanned alongside the ridge and peered throughout the ravine on the distant window within the cliff to spy the “burning bush.”
With out binoculars or biblical imaginative and prescient, it was potential to make out an odd, if faint, glow, though some guests expressed disappointment that the aura across the cave mouth was no more fiery.
However stumbling throughout the rocky plateau, it was thrilling to come back throughout items of historic rock artwork, the photographs chipped into the darkish brown patina of stones, exposing the sunshine limestone beneath.
Shahar Shilo, a researcher who manages the Negev Highlands Tourism cooperative, spoke of the significance for historic peoples of having the ability to measure the seasons for agricultural functions, and the holiness imbued in those that may determine with precision the shortest day of the calendar.
Shilo additionally had a extra prosaic rationalization for why Mount Karkom had drawn folks there within the distant previous: the prepared provide of high quality flint that was essential for something from searching to family instruments. Even after a lot of humanity had superior into the Bronze and Iron ages, he stated, the desert dwellers right here nonetheless trusted stone.
Whether or not that is Mount Sinai and the winter solstice phenomenon the burning bush “is within the eye of the beholder,” Shilo stated.
“However,” he added, “it’s an important fantasy, it’s important to admit.”