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Is {That a} Burning Bush? Is This Mt. Sinai? Solstice Bolsters a Declare

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.

However sooner or later final week, a whole lot 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 fanatics had come to witness for themselves.

In 2003,an area 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 came across 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 wierd 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 strategy to Israeli tv and was fancifully named “the burning bush.” Maybe this, some stated, was the supernatural hearth that, in line with the E-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 hearth, is symbolic in Judaism, Christianity, Islam and different faiths together with Baha’i.

However many years earlier than this unintended astronomical discovery, Mount Karkom was already charming some archaeologists with hints that the positioning had performed an necessary non secular position hundreds of years in the past.

Greater than half a 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 ft above sea stage. Among the many rock drawings are a lot of ibexes, but in addition some which were 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 historical migration trails converged right here and that cultic rituals happened 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. However after years of fieldwork and exploration, he proposed within the early Eighties that, on the premise of topographical and archaeological proof, Mount Karkom “needs to be recognized with the sacred mountain of the biblical narrations.”

However apart from normal 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 idea posed an issue of chronology.

Israel Finkelstein, a professor emeritus of archaeology at Tel Aviv College and an early critic of Professor Anati’s idea, 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 usually dated to someday round 1600-1200 B.C.

“So there may be multiple millennium hole between the truth at Karkom and the biblical custom,” 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’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 way of 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 way of 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 largely been closed to civilian site visitors lately due to the fear of cross-border attacks by Islamic militants from the Sinai.

This 12 months, in a midweek first, the army opened the paved highway and allowed passage by way of the firing zone for the Burning Bush seekers.

Because the group arrived within the parking zone on the foot of Mount Karkom, there was an sudden bonus: Professor Anati, now in his early 90s, was sitting in a deck chair, holding court docket and selling his books.

Within the seek for Mount Sinai, Professor 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 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 those approaches is appropriate; one should search the reality,” Professor 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 doable to make out a wierd, if faint, glow, although 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 return throughout items of historical rock artwork, the pictures 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 historical peoples of having the ability to measure the seasons for agricultural functions, and the holiness imbued in those that might establish with precision the shortest day of the calendar.

Mr. 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 relied on stone.

Whether or not that is Mount Sinai and the winter solstice phenomenon the burning bush “is within the eye of the beholder,” Mr. Shilo stated.

“However,” he added, “it’s a terrific fantasy, it’s important to admit.”

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