It has taken him more than a decade, but Italian-Israeli archeologist Prof. Emmanuel Anati now believes his controversial view that the biblical Mount Sinai is in Israel’s Negev desert rather than Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula will soon be adopted by the Vatican.
On Friday, he presented his theory in the form of a new book at a seminar at the Theological Seminary in the northeastern Italian city of Vicenza.
“Actually it’s not a theory, it’s a reality. I’m sure of it, Anati told The Jerusalem Post
by telephone from his home in Capo di Ponte. “My archeological discoveries at Har Karkom over many years and my close reading of the Bible leave me with no doubt that it is the real Mount Sinai. I’m now sure that Karkom is the real mountain of God.”
In 2001, Anati published the English edition of a book that was first issued in Italian two years earlier and titled The Riddle of Mount Sinai – Archaeological Discoveries at Har Karkom
. In the book, he postulated that Karkom, 25 km. from the Ramon Crater, was probably the peak at which Moses received the Ten Commandments – and not the summit in southern Sinai where Santa Catarina (Saint Catherine’s Monastery) stands.
“I know this is revolutionary,” he conceded. “I’m not only changing the location, but I’m moving Mount Sinai to Israel, and I’m sure it will anger the Egyptians. But Israel should be proud of this. The Negev is empty and should be developed.”
“I’m also changing the date of the Exodus from Egypt to some 1,000 years earlier than previously thought,” he added. “I know this will drive everyone crazy. But I am right. I’m sure of it.”
Anati reasoned that if the account in the Book of Exodus
was historically accurate, it must refer to the third millennium BCE – and more precisely to the period between 2200 and 2000 BCE.
Jewish tradition puts the Exodus around the year
1313 BCE. According to Catholic tradition, Helena of Constantinople – the mother of Emperor Constantine credited with finding the relics of Jesus’s cross – determined the location of Mount Sinai and ordered the construction of a chapel at the site (sometimes referred to as the Chapel of Saint Helen) in about 330 CE.
According to Anati, however, an abundance of archeological evidence showed that Mount Karkom had been a holy place for all desert peoples, and not just the Jews, which substantiated his case.
He said more than 1,200 finds at Karkom – including sanctuaries, altars, rock paintings and a large tablet resembling the Ten Commandments – indicated that it had been considered a sacred mountain in the Middle Bronze Age. In addition, he said, the topography of its plateau perfectly reflected that of the biblical Mount Sinai.
Finally, he concluded, the biblical tale clearly
backed up his geographic argument.
“When the Children of Israel left Egypt, they reached the Arava. They couldn’t have been in Santa [Catarina], because it says in the Bible that they reached Nahal Tzin, and moved on to Hebron,” Anati said. “The whole story of receiving the Torah must have taken place in the Negev. The Children of Israel wandered in the north and not the south, in the Negev and not the Sinai.”
He was just as certain that the Holy See would officially sanction his stance, and that millions of Catholic pilgrims could soon be visiting Mount Karkom instead of Mount Sinai.
“Actually, they have already accepted my theory,” he said. “They are already organizing pilgrimages. There is already a plan, and I have meetings scheduled with theologians and others, including the Vatican pilgrimage office. They want to start pilgrimages to Karkom as soon as next year.”
Anati said he was aware that he had his detractors, especially among archeologists in Israel, several of whom were interviewed refuting his claims on a Channel 1 Mabat Sheni
documentary aired on Wednesday night.
“I know there are all kinds of people – including professors – who resist my theory, and it’s natural that this occurs,” he said. “I urge them all to read my book and study the evidence before criticizing me.”
Tel Aviv University’s Prof. Israel Finkelstein, a world-renowned expert on the subject, said he could not accept Anati’s hypothesis.
“I do not see any connection between the third millennium BCE finds at Har Karkom and the Exodus story. The latter was put in writing not before the 7th or 6th centuries BCE, and as such depicts realities which are many centuries later than the finds of Har Karkom,” Finkelstein told the Post
. “Roaming the desert with the Bible in one hand and the spade in the other is a 19th-century endeavor which has no place in modern scholarship.”
Anati said it had taken the Catholic Church several years to be persuaded by his argument, and recognition had been a slow process.
“About three-and-a-half years ago, I had a telephone call from the Vatican that a priest of high standing wanted to meet with me, and he arrived here with a driver. I live 500 km. from Rome, and he sat with me for a whole day and asked me a lot of questions,” Anati recalled.
“Then he disappeared, and after about a year, a group of theologians from the Catholic Church appeared and wanted to investigate the matter more deeply. Seven theologians sat here for the whole day, and I later met with them four times.
“Six months ago they spent four days with me at Karkom, and as a result of this, the Vatican publisher – Edizioni Messaggero Padova – asked me to write up my findings. I revised and updated my book, and they have now published it in Italian, changing the title to The Rediscovery of Mount Sinai
“Twenty years ago, I had a hunch that Har
Karkom was the real Mount Sinai,” Anati said.
“Three years ago I was convinced I was correct. Today I know I’m right.”
There was no official Vatican response to Anati’s claims, nor was there an immediate reaction from the Egyptians.
Anati was born in Florence in 1930 to Jewish
parents, and soon after the establishment of Israel, he moved to
Jerusalem and received a bachelor’s degree in archeology from the
Hebrew University. He later became a Fulbright Scholar at Harvard and
was awarded a doctorate at the Sorbonne.
Fluent in Hebrew, he taught prehistory at Tel Aviv University and conducted extensive research in the Negev.
Upon his return to Italy, he founded the Centro Camuno di Studi
Preistorici in Capo di Ponte in 1964, and he remains its executive
director today. It is believed to be the only institute in the world
that specializes in prehistoric art.
Anati’s study of rock paintings in Valcamonica
spurred UNESCO to include the alpine valley in its list of World Cultural Heritage sites.
Tal Gottesman contributed to this report.