MOUNT KARKOM, Israel — The mountain stored 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.
But someday final week, a whole bunch 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 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 non secular and educational, and there are a dozen extra conventional contenders, most of them within the mountainous expanses of the Sinai Peninsula throughout the border in Egypt.
But Mount Karkom’s declare has gained some in style help due to an annual pure phenomenon that an intrepid group of archaeology and nature fanatics had come to witness for themselves.
In 2003,a native Israeli information and ecologist occurred to be atop Karkom’s huge plateau someday 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 12 months, he peered throughout a deep ravine and noticed a unusual 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 perimeters of a cave, however the discovery quickly made its solution to Israeli tv and was fancifully named “the burning bush.” Perhaps this, some stated, was the supernatural hearth that, in keeping with the Book 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.
But a long time earlier than this unintentional astronomical discovery, Mount Karkom was already charming some archaeologists with hints that the location had performed an essential religious position hundreds of years in the past.
More than half a century in the past, Emmanuel Anati, a younger Italian archaeologist, discovered a unprecedented focus of hundreds of rock carvings and rock circles as he surveyed the plateau of Mount Karkom, about 2,500 ft above sea stage. Among the rock drawings are a lot of ibexes, but additionally some which were interpreted as depicting the tablets of the commandments or different references from the Bible.
At the bottom of Mount Karkom, named in Hebrew for a desert crocus, there may be proof that historical migration trails converged right here and that cultic rituals came about within the space. Mr. 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, Professor Anati stated he had not got down to search for Mount Sinai. But after years of fieldwork and exploration, he proposed within the early Nineteen Eighties that, on the premise of topographical and archaeological proof, Mount Karkom “should be identified with the sacred mountain of the biblical narrations.”
But apart from 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 may very well be tied to the biblical story of the Exodus in any respect, Professor Anati’s concept posed a drawback of chronology.
Israel Finkelstein, a professor emeritus of archaeology at Tel Aviv University and an early critic of Professor Anati’s concept, stated that almost all, if not all, of the datable websites round Mount Karkom are from the third millennium B.C.
The Exodus, if it occurred, is mostly dated to someday round 1600-1200 B.C.
“So there is more than one millennium gap between the reality at Karkom and the biblical tradition,” Professor Finkelstein stated, including that for the reason that proof is obscure, and figuring out such websites as cultic is a matter of interpretation, “It is perhaps safer not to speculate.”
However heated the tutorial 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.
Access to Mount Karkom is normally restricted to weekends and sure holidays as a result of it requires passing by a navy firing and coaching zone. A paved highway that helps shorten the hourslong journey, a lot of which takes place on dust tracks, has largely been closed to civilian visitors lately due to the worry of cross-border assaults by Islamic militants from the Sinai.
This 12 months, in a midweek first, the navy opened the paved highway and allowed passage by the firing zone for the Burning Bush seekers.
As the group arrived within the parking zone on the foot of Mount Karkom, there was an surprising bonus: Professor Anati, now in his early 90s, was sitting in a deck chair, holding courtroom and selling his books.
In the seek for Mount Sinai, Professor Anati stated, some insist for political or nationalistic causes that the location should be inside the borders of Israel, not in Egypt. Others, for non secular causes, say it should be outdoors 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 these approaches is correct; one must seek the truth,” Professor Anati stated. “I bring all the opinions and evidence and let the reader decide for themselves,” he stated, including of the mountain’s treasures, “This is the story of the history of humankind.”
After a steep climb up the aspect 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.”
Without binoculars or biblical imaginative and prescient, it was attainable to make out a unusual, if faint, glow, although some guests expressed disappointment that the aura across the cave mouth was no more fiery.
But stumbling throughout the rocky plateau, it was thrilling to come back throughout items of historical rock artwork, the photographs chipped into the darkish brown patina of stones, exposing the sunshine limestone under.
Shahar Shilo, a researcher who manages the Negev Highlands Tourism cooperative, spoke of the significance for historical peoples of with the ability to measure the seasons for agricultural functions, and the holiness imbued in those that might determine with precision the shortest day of the calendar.
Mr. Shilo additionally had a extra prosaic rationalization for why Mount Karkom had drawn individuals 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 that is Mount Sinai and the winter solstice phenomenon the burning bush “is in the eye of the beholder,” Mr. Shilo stated.
“But,” he added, “it’s a great myth, you have to admit.”