For centuries the location of Mount Sinai has been proclaimed to be on a small section of Peninsula stuck between the two branches of the Red Sea. This region, commonly called the Sinai Peninsula, can be found on every Biblical map in Bibles and research books today: but is it correct? Do we really know where Mount Sinai is, or do we simply believe a bunch of tradition dating back to around the fifth century A.D.? Please consider some Biblical and secular reasons why the traditional location for this important Old Testament mountain do not fit.
The Sinai Peninsula was under Egyptian control during the time of Moses. One of the first, and most influential, reasons why Mount Sinai is not in the forked peninsula of the Red Sea is because that region was under Egyptian control. There are two sources of archaeological findings in the last few years that have uncovered Egyptian control of the Sinai Peninsula during the time of Moses and the Exodus. One shows an Egyptian temple in the Sinai region dating back to 1500 B.C., the link to the USA Today article is here. The other article is from National Geographic, reporting the finding of the largest Egyptian fortress in the region of Sinai dating back, again, to the time of Moses, and being used to guard entry into Egypt. It can be found here.
The evidence abounds that the “Sinai Peninsula” was a part of Egyptian territory, not just in the time of Moses, but all the way up to the time of Christ. Therefore, if Mount Sinai were in the Sinai Peninsula, the Israelites were not even out of Egypt when they stopped travelling for a year to receive the Law of God.
Biblical geography will not allow for Mount Sinai to be in the Sinai Peninsula. A close examination of the Scriptures will readily relate that God did not stop his people in the Sinai Peninsula. The first evidence of this is that the Lord appears to Moses on Mount Sinai in Exodus 3 while he is in the land of Midian tending the flocks of Jethro (Exo. 3:1). Midian was on the east side of the Red Sea, south of the lands of the Edomites and the Moabites. Their territory did not extend to the Sinai Peninsula. In fact, they would have had to travel through Edomite territory to get to the Sinai Peninsula. Something they never would have done with flocks and herds. Additionally, once the children of Israel are going through the land of Midian on their way to Sinai, Jethro brings Moses’ wife and children out to him because they are close enough to easily make the trip (Exo. 18:1-5).
The second evidence is found in the New Testament. Paul would relate the allegory of Sarah and Hagar in Galatians 4. In the midst of that allegory he writes by inspiration that, “Agar (Hagar) is Mount Sinai in Arabia” (Gal. 4:25). The problem this poses is that the Sinai Peninsula has never been known as a part of Arabia. Arabia has always been considered to end at the eastern edge of the Red Sea. Therefore, either Paul doesn’t know what he is talking about, or he is giving evidence to show that Sinai is not where we think it is.
The third evidence is found in Exodus 13. God states the route that would be used in the exodus from Egypt. He states that they will be brought out, “through the way of the wilderness of the Red Sea” (Vs. 18). Their trip out of Egypt would take them through the “Sinai Peninsula” (better called the Wilderness of the Red Sea), but that would not be their destination. It would only be the opening path of their journey.
If Mount Sinai is in the Sinai Peninsula, the math doesn’t add up. As the children of Israel leave Egypt, they take with them provisions of unleavened bread for seven days (Exo. 12:1-20, 33-34). It would be this provision that would be remembered with the “feast of unleavened bread” for generations. This would allow them to travel without having to stop and cook along the route. As they leave Egypt, they travel day and night (Exo. 13:20-22) to clear the land of Egypt and therefore the unleavened bread was necessary to their trip.
However, if the children of Israel went to a Mount Sinai in the Sinai Peninsula, their travels were ridiculously slow. For example, the distance from the land of Goshen to where they traditionally “crossed” the Red Sea is only 90 miles. But they have already stopped and camped at the coast by the time Pharaoh catches up to them (as God had planned – Exo. 14:1-4). Therefore, they travelled night and day to go a maximum of about 12 miles per day. Though arguments could be made for the legitimacy of that, it doesn’t make a lot of sense when they were travelling day and night. But the other problem is worse. It takes them three months to make it to Sinai (Exo. 19:1), yet the traditional Sinai is only 180 miles from Goshen. For them to take three months to travel 180 miles they would have averaged 3 miles per day. A miserable amount for people in the peak physical condition they must have been in from their labor under the hands of the Egyptians.
However, if they had to travel some 200 miles to get out of the land of Egypt, and they had to do it quickly; the need for a day/night march over multiple days would make sense. As would the reason for their 3 month trip to get to Sinai if they were having to travel into Arabia to accomplish the journey.
Conclusion: The overwhelming evidence is that Mount Sinai is not in the “Sinai Peninsula” but is, instead, on the eastern side of the Red Sea. Where is its exact location? We don’t know, and may never know, but we can honestly rule out the patch of land between the two forks of the Red Sea.
My desire is not to try to stir up trouble or empty discussions of no value. But I do hope this will pique your curiosity to study it further, make you consider things in the book of Exodus from a different perspective, and help all of us to remember to check things out for ourselves and not to take another man’s word as final when it comes to God’s Word.