National Geographic : 1976 Jan
Near the granite apex of the Sinai penin sula rises a 7,497-foot pink-and-purple crag that Arabs call Jabal Musa, the Mount of Moses. Ancient tradition has given it another name-Mount Sinai. Monks Maintain Holy Place It is a gaunt, wind-tortured peak shoul dered roughly about by a massed army of other peaks all similarly wild in aspect. From remote times this soaring mountain has been venerated as a spiritual pole of the universe, a height where man and God have met, talked, and come to terms with each other. No one knows when Jabal Musa was first identified as the peak of the lawgiving. But we do know that by about A.D. 400 Christian monks were taking refuge from temptation in the mountain's caves. To them, Jabal Musa was unmistakably the Mount Sinai-a belief emphatically shared by Greek Orthodox monks, who for centuries have maintained the Monastery of St. Catherine near the foot of the holy mountain, purportedly on the site where God called out to Moses from the Burning Bush. "But, of course, this is Mount Sinai!" in sisted one of the monks when I mentioned that a number of other mountains in Sinai and Arabia had also been so dubbed. "If you spent some time up on the mountain, as I have, you would know!" Marking the way, stone cairns erected by the Bedouin (above) flank established routes through Sinai's trackless wilds. Without them the inexpert traveler might soon be hopelessly lost amid the stone and sand. For many years Moses dwelt with the Bedouin-like Midianites, who taught him the desert wisdom he would later put to use in leading a rabble of former slaves through Sinai's awesome wilderness. Soothing strains of a Bedouin's simple lyre waft on the desert air. Among similar Israelite instruments of Biblical times was the kinnor, whose liquid tones could break the impact of Sinai's overwhelming silences. After Moses' time, King David raised the lyre player's art to new heights of expressiveness, composing psalms whose words often recall the wondrous events of the Exodus.