Since posting this review of Humphreys’ book, I have become aware of three other proposed scenarios that are presented in DVDs I have obtained. They all agree with Humphreys in the historicity of the Exodus account and that the traditional site of Mt. Sinai at the southern tip of the Sinai Peninsula is clearly wrong, but they each differ in the locations of both the crossing of the Red Sea and Mt. Sinai as well as the timing.
Two of the DVDs have many points in common, while the third differs radically. “The Exodus Revealed: Search for the Red Sea Crossing” (Produced by Discovery Media Productions, 2002) and “Mountain of Fire: The Discovery of the Real Mount Sinai” (Ardustry Home Entertainment, 2005) both agree with Humphreys that Mt. Sinai is in Saudi Arabia, but they differ with Humphreys as to the specific mountain. Both of these documentaries agree on a 2500 m mountain named Jebel al-Lawz (the highest in that region), which is a good bit closer to where Moses had lived in Midian than Humphreys’ candidate mountain is. For some reason, this unusual mountain appears blackened when compared to everything around it. What’s particularly strange about it is that when a rock from the mountain is broken open, the insides appear the same as the light-colored rocks of the surrounding areas and only the surface has been darkened. They conclude that this is somehow due to the Lord having “descended on it in fire.” Whether the events surrounding Moses meeting God on Mt. Sinai are the reason this mountain is blackened is, of course, an open question, but clearly, it is an unusual phenomenon. I would be very curious to see the results of a geological analysis as to the character of these rocks and the origin of their blackening.
Other facts that they conclude point to this being the real Mt. Sinai include an isolated jumble of large, flat boulders near the base of the mountain that have numerous bulls etched into their sides. Their conclusion is that this is the very spot where the golden calf was made. Exodus 32:4 states that the people said, “These are your gods, O Israel, who brought you out of Egypt.” As there was only one golden idol, the numerous other bovine figures carved into the rocks would make sense of the use of the plural “gods.” (It does, however, beg the question as to why Moses would have left these idolatrous carvings intact when the golden calf was utterly destroyed.)
Another point made in both documentaries to bolster the claim concerns a large vertical rock that is split in two jutting out of the top of a nearby low hill. It is clearly an unusual formation, as the crevice that splits the rock runs vertically from top to bottom, giving it the appearance of two incisor teeth. There is clear evidence of water having flowed out from the base of his elevated rock down into plains below, which is likewise highly unusual. Underground water flowing out of a spring would not likely be forming at the base of a rock on top of a raised hill. It would much more likely find an exit much lower down, near the base of the hill. Anyway, this is taken to be the rock that Moses struck out of which flowed water to quench the thirst of the Israelites (Ex. 17:1-7). The fact that traces of this flowing water still remain today does, however, make me wonder how long it’s been since it dried up. I would think that such traces would be obliterated within a few hundred years by blowing sand, etc., and so if this were indeed the biblical spring of the Exodus, it would have had to remain flowing for many centuries afterwards. Needless to say, while this may be tantalizing circumstantial evidence, only careful archaeological research will be able to tie this unusual rock to any historical event.
The focus of these two DVDs is a bit different, and since the first one (“The Exodus Revealed”) focuses on the Red Sea Crossing, it only briefly discusses the evidence for their joint conclusion that Jebel al-Lawz is the true Mt. Sinai. The “Mountain of Fire” DVD also addresses other evidence, such as the presence of a conspicuous cave high up on the side of the mountain. 1 Kings19 records Elijah as having gone all the way to Horeb (Mt. Sinai) and staying in a cave, but no such cave exists on the traditional Mt. Sinai. Likewise, this DVD claims that places along the route to Jebel al-Lawz, such as a bitter spring of undrinkable water and another oasis with twelve springs and numerous palm trees, match the description in Exodus 15 of what the Israelites encountered along the way.
The “Mountain of Fire” DVD places the crossing of the Rea Sea at the Strait of Tiran, which is the mouth of the Gulf of Aqaba. There are several small islands along the way, and it is relatively shallow when compared to the deep trench that runs up through the gulf and down the main portion of the Rea Sea. This site would fit their proposed Exodus route, but it still involves crossing a deep trench with very steep sides, and the shallow areas are covered with jagged coral. Thus, if the water were miraculously removed, it would indeed be a very difficult route to cross over.
“The Exodus Revealed” DVD places the crossing at a place called Nuweiba, about halfway up the gulf from its mouth. There is a wide, sandy peninsula that continues out as a wide ridge all the way across to the Arabian side. The slope is gradual all the way (though significantly steeper coming up the Saudi side), and the surface is smooth, which would be fairly easy to walk across if the water were removed. Nevertheless, it is still about 800 m deep at its lowest point, and herein lies the major problem with it or any other scenario that involves such depths. The text clearly says that God sent a strong east wind blowing all night to drive back the waters, and any such scenario as this would require a fiat miracle involving God superseding his natural laws to accomplish. This would mean that the wind would be superfluous, as no amount of wind from any direction could hold back 800 meters of water (or even 8 meters, if you wanted to be able to survive the gales)! Of the two types of miracles God uses (namely supernatural control of the timing and magnitude of natural phenomena that does not involve the violation of any natural laws, and fiat miracles that do require temporary suspension of natural law), the text certainly seems to indicate the first type, whereas scenarios such as this require the second type.
As evidence to back up this location for the crossing, “The Exodus Revealed” does include some fascinating pictures that could plausibly be the remains of Egyptian chariots strewn across the underwater ridge. Coral will only grow when it can attach itself to solid objects, and since the seafloor there is covered with silt, the only coral formations are some unusual looking ones that include several rounded formations with narrow pillars at right angles to them. The DVD claims that metal detectors confirm metal within those coral formations, and thus they claim that these are the remains of Egyptian chariots. There is even the fragile shell of a gold-plated wheel lying in the sand. As the wood that presumably was originally there has rotted away (and as the unauthorized removal any such object in either Egyptian or Saudi waters is illegal), it was simply left in place.
Formal archaeological research on these objects would go a long ways towards confirming whether they are indeed the remains of Egyptian chariots, and if true, this would certainly be powerful evidence that this is indeed the sight of the crossing and that God did transcendently hold up the walls of water by a fiat miracle. If that were the case, then I suppose the strong wind driving back the waters would refer to drying out the seafloor to make it easier to walk on and keep their wagons from getting bogged down. (But if one is going to appeal to fiat miracle to explain vertical walls of water perhaps hundreds of meters high, why would God use ordinary wind to dry out the ocean floor?) Thus, I will remain skeptical of this unless it can be confirmed.
While I have no direct evidence to prove that these pictures (taken from the website http://users.netconnect.com.au/~leedas/redsea.html but also used in the DVD) are faked, there are unscrupulous operators who are clearly less than honest in their presentations. Ron Wyatt, who is not mentioned in the “The Exodus Revealed” DVD, was the one who originally publicized these supposed findings, and some of his other “findings,” such as Noah’s Ark, are clearly suspect. Likewise, the following websites paint Robert Cornuke and Larry Williams, who are featured in the “Mountain of Fire” DVD, as being less than candid in answering inquiries about their work. http://www.ldolphin.org/sinai.html, http://www.ldolphin.org/franz-ellawz.html, http://www.ldolphin.org/franz-sinai.html
Likewise, the articles on these websites do raise some significant objections to the Gulf of Aqaba crossing and locating Mount Sinai in present-day Saudi Arabia. Franz and others point to Ex. 18:27, which states, “Then Moses sent his father-in-law on his way, and Jethro returned to his own country.” They interpret this as meaning that Mt. Sinai could not be in Midian since Jethro returned to his own country (Midian) from Mt. Sinai. Nevertheless, it is important to note that in Hebrew, the word translated as “country” is “erets”, which can apply to a wide range of meanings, anywhere from one’s field to the entire earth, depending on context. Thus, by itself, I don’t think this verse decides the issue. It could simply be referring to Jethro returning to his own land in the narrow sense.
Other objections, however, do carry more weight in my opinion, and that is something that applies to Humphreys’ scenario as well. If the Red Sea crossing takes place one week after they leave Goshen, they would have to average about 50 km per day to cross at some point on the Gulf of Aqaba. While young men could keep up that pace, it is a bit of a stretch to have a large group of people, young and old, set such a pace. Even with the weak riding in wagons, the animals would need to spend time grazing, and so this is definitely a weak point in the argument. Likewise, being able to get from Mt. Sinai to Kadesh Barnea in 11 days (Deut. 1:2) would also require a very fast pace if Mt. Sinai were in present-day Saudi Arabia. Another point is that it doesn’t make much sense as why the Amalekites, whose territory was near Kadesh Barnea, would feel threatened enough by the Israelites to attack them near Mt. Sinai (Ex. 17:8-16) if Mt. Sinai were located so far away from their territory. (This also applies to the traditional Mt. Sinai sight as well.)
The other recent DVD is entitled “The Exodus Decoded” and is produced by the History Channel. Featuring James Cameron and Simcha Jacobovici, the same duo who put out the highly dubious “Jesus Family Tomb” production, I was quite skeptical about what to expect. I was, however, quite impressed with this production. Jacobovici, who is a Jew, obviously has a strong bias towards the historicity of the Exodus (and against Christianity, which partially explains his “Jesus Family Tomb” distortions), and so, like any of us, he tends to put the best light on various facts to bolster his particular bias. That being said, he is able to tie together an impressive list of evidences into a cohesive account of what he thinks actually happened.
Jacobovici takes a similar approach to that of Humphreys, except that he places the Exodus considerably earlier and ties the plagues to natural phenomena connected with the eruption of Santorini in about 1500 BC. (To distance himself from anything “Christian”, he scrupulously uses the term “BCE” – “Before Common Era”). There is, however, a problem with the timing of this cataclysmic eruption, as he must place it some 150 years later than it is generally believed to have occurred in order to fit with his scenario. The exact timing of the eruption, however, can be determined from the ash grains it would have left in the annual layers of the Greenland ice sheet. While I wasn’t able to locate any such report, other such large eruptions, such as Vesuvius in 79 AD, have been directly linked to dust grains found at that yearly layer of ice, which can be directly counted from the present, just like tree rings. Other sources list the Santorini eruption as being in 1650 BC, and presumably this has been corroborated by such techniques. At any rate, this is a claim that is easily testable.
Even if his connection with Santorini is not accurate, other archaeological evidence Jacobovici introduces is of great importance. These include direct evidence of a large, Semitic presence in the region corresponding to Goshen during the time of Joseph. He ties this together with what is known as the “Hyksos Expulsion,” which took place around 1500 BC. The Hyksos people were clearly Semitic, and they had been enslaved in Egypt for a long time. Jacobovici makes a convincing case that these people are indeed the Hebrews of the Exodus.
In addition to the somewhat dubious connection with Santorini, the primary problem I have with his scenario is the location of the Red Sea crossing. Like numerous other scholars, Jacobovici puts it in a shallow inland lake of reeds, several of which existed along what is now the Suez Canal. If scenarios placing the crossing in the Gulf of Aqaba require a pace that seems unreasonably high to get there in the allotted time, crossing locations that are so close to their starting point seem to suffer from the opposite problem. Of course, assumptions about how long it took for Pharaoh to change his mind and then to catch up with the fleeing Israelites can be adjusted to make more sense of the timing, and so such scenarios are not necessarily implausible.
Jacobovici uses a figure of 15 km per day for the pace of travel. Given the logistical nightmare the Exodus must have been, that certainly is not unreasonably low. He uses this figure to triangulate from three known locations from which travel times in days are listed to Mt. Sinai, and with this, he narrows it down to a small area of northeastern Sinai. There are no towering peaks and certainly no historically active volcanoes in the area, but one mountain that rises a couple of hundred meters above the plains fits the bill for him. It even has the remains of a large spring coming out of some rocks near the summit, and so while it is not an impressive looking mountain, the true Mount Sinai may very well not have been such an imposing place.
My conclusion after having reviewed these various scenarios is that each one has its weak points that don’t easily correlate with the biblical data. I am convinced that the Exodus really took place just as the Bible describes, but our problem today is not having enough archaeological evidence to connect the various place names mentioned in the biblical text with present-day locations, and thus so far, this has stymied efforts to really nail down either the Red Sea crossing point or the particular mountain that is the true Mt. Sinai. I look forward to further corroboration (or falsification) of the various tantalizing bits of evidence presented in these productions. But with the tense political climate of the region and the certainty that any such advancement towards the definitive identifications of these locations would be used for political ends by one’s adversaries, I’m not very hopeful that we will anytime soon be able to do the kind of archaeological work needed to test these scenarios out and reach firm conclusions as to the truth of what happened and when and where it happened.