National Geographic : 1964 Jan
MOUNT SINAI stands, stark and forbidding, amid landscape as wild as the surface of the moon. Yet people of three faiths -Christianity, Judaism, and Islam-call it holy ground. Near Mount Sinai, God called to Moses, the Old Testament records (Exodus 3:1-10), charging him with delivering the children of Israel out of Egypt; His voice issued miraculously from a bush which "burned with fire, and the bush was not consumed." Later, on Sinai's summit, Moses received the Ten Commandments: "tables of stone, written with the finger of God" (Exodus 20:1-17, 31:18, and 34:1, 28, 29). Generations of pious pilgrims had journeyed to this sacred peak on Egypt's scorched Sinai peninsula, as we were doing now. But ours was a pilgrimage of science, its destination the Monastery of St. Catherine, near the foot of the brooding mountain. The Byzantine Emperor Justinian the Great erected the monastery in the sixth century as a combination fortress and shrine on the tradi tional site of the burning bush. Now, after 14 turbulent centuries, St. Catherine's stands as Christendom's most vivid link with the past. Ancient manuscripts in its library and works of art blazing on its walls form a continuous bridge from its founding to the present. Our desert truck, wallowing in deep sand or pounding on bare rock, lurched along the 250-mile route from Cairo, skirting the Gulf of Suez as far as Abu Rudeis, then plunging into ragged mountain ranges. With the truck's gears grinding, we jounced among ridges of red granite heaved in tumultuous waves against the sky. The three of us-Dr. Kurt Weitzmann of Princeton University, Fred Anderegg, Supervisor of Photographic Services for the University of Michigan, and I-searched the horizon for a glimpse of our goal. The truck rounded a spur, and suddenly the Monastery of St. Cath Within the monastery gate, American scholars measure the white washed dome covering a chapel of the sixth-century church at Mount Sinai. Bare granite walls and corrugated iron roof give no hint of the rich interior (page 90). Robert Van Nice (right) helped the author in his study of St. Catherine's architectural history. St. Catherine's nestles beneath Mount Sinai, where Moses received the Ten Commandments. Moslems, who also revere the prophet, know the peak as Gebel Mfsa-Mount of Moses. It lies 250 miles from Cairo, the last 70 across rock and sand. As these articles were edited, authors Forsyth and Weitzmann (page 109) were once again at work in Sinai. Camel-borne couriers brought their final corrections 84 across the desert to a message relay station beside the Gulf of Suez. MAPS BY ISAAC ORTIZAND JOHN P. WOOD;KODACHROMEBY ROBERTF.