WAS MT. SINAI A VOLCANO?  DISCOVERIES AFFECTING THE INTERPRETATION OF EXODUS

Introduction | Early Exploration | GeologyParting Remarks
East Al Jaw | Ash Cones | West Al Jaw | Tadra  

     
There are volcanoes in Northern Arabia and south to the region of Sana'a.  Some of these were active in historic times.  The story of Exodus and Moses may contain a description of a volcanic eruption on Mt. Sinai.  This region is arid and harsh.  Some of the areas where the volcanoes exist are far from towns.  Small bands of nomads have existed there for millennia.  

The area of NW Arabia between Tebuk and Al Oula is a large and terrible wilderness.  Some scholars indicated this part of Arabia may have been the Biblical Midian.  In years before the invention of the steam locomotive, caravans passed between Damascus in the north to Mecca in the south.  These Haj travelers set forth in caravans numbering hundreds to visit Mecca on camel and or walking on foot next to those who rode.  One entire caravan perished in a place called the Wadi of Hell along the eastern edge of the harra(t) (lava field) between the well of Tebuk and the well at Median Salih north of Al Oula.  They failed to locate water in the shallow holes they dug into the canyon floor.  The price of water reached a thousand dinars (per cup?).   Everyone died in the hot dry winds.  Someone scratched the story onto a rock. (Charles Doughty, TRAVELS IN DESERTA ARABIA).  On the north-western coastal side of the long mountain range of the Arabian Hijaz were a few seasonal pastures and palm oasis.  Wallin reported scattered almond trees on the mountains in his 1848 expedition report.  There were acacia trees similar to the mesquite trees of the American SW.  Wild goats (ibex), gazelles, oryx, and small mammals populated the area and were predated by the leopard, jackal, and wolf.  The sand partridge (qata) traveled in small coveys or alone; these flew thirty miles or more in a straight line to open water.  Desert people followed trails to find water.  There was some pasture for the animals of nomads in the desert.  Long journeys have been recorded with nomads traveling 10 miles a day driving their flocks.  Over the course of months or years, they might travel more than a 1000 miles if they liked.  
     
The reported 600,000 soldiers listed in the book of Numbers as taking part in the Exodus was a probable fiction.  Given a family size of five the story would indicate more than 1.5 million camped in the desert and from these were 600,000 fighting men.  The size of the largest cities in the desert and hill country of Israel in the 12th century BC were measured in acres not square miles.  Facts such as people digging a well in a canyon bottom in Jordan from the book of Numbers and people migrating in stages as their livestock consumed the grass, annuals, and perennial bush leaves as they went were true to desert experiences spanning millennia.  Numerous archaeologists and historians have indicated that the campaigns of Joshua could not have occurred as they were described in the Bible as they contradict the archaeological record.  Some scholars might not believe a description of a God who would kill the firstborn sons of all Egyptians with extreme prejudice such as was described in the story of the Passover.  

Some of the laws of Moses, or by the scribe Moses, against murder, adultery, theft, and false testimony are similar to laws and ethics found in Egyptian and Mesopotamian writings from hundreds of years earlier. 

The book of Joshua has been challenged by the archaeological work of Kathleen Kenyon, James B. Pritchard, and others.  As early as 1972 William Dever gave a lecture where he state archaeology could not confirm the Book of Joshua.  In 1990 he published a table showing the archaeological account contradicted the Book of Joshua. The destruction of cities credited to Joshua were not all destroyed in the same generation.  The Bible describes God as having ordered the extermination of living being in Jericho.  Jericho was in ruins since the end of the Middle Bronze Age and not built on the scale of a city until at least the Iron Age.  Many have tried to twist the historical record to make it conform to the first six books of the Bible from Adam and Eve to the sacking of Hazor by Joshua.  Yigael Yadin showed Hazor had been sacked about c. 1230-1200 BC about the time scholars expected an Israeli conquest, but the walled city of Jericho had been sacked about 1550 BC.  

     See: OLD JERICHO

While there were useful laws in the first five books of the Bible and accurate historical descriptions in the books of Kings, Chronicles, the Gospels, and Acts, etc.; not all of the Bible is factual.