National Geographic : 1948 Dec
Sinai Sheds New Light on the Bible BY HENRY FIELD Physical Anthropologist, University of California African Expedition * Photographs by William B. and Gladys Terry, Expedition Photographers " AND, deep sand, ahead. Keep the wheels turning. Never mind which track you follow." So said our desert guide, one-eyed, one armed Selman, known to every Bedouin in Sinai. For all his physical infirmities-he was injured while dynamiting sharks in the Red Sea-he knew every inch of Sinai's rock and sand. We were approaching St. Catherine's Mon astery on Christmas night. The date was Jan uary 12, 1947, for its Greek Orthodox monks still followed the Julian calendar. First we crept through deep sand, then over rough cobblestones which paved hairpin bends on low but steep hills. Then, towering above us against the stars, we could see the ramparts watched over by the monks for 1,400 years. Mount of the Ten Commandments The two trucks stood nose to nose against the dark, shadowy wall. Their panting and gear-grinding over for the day, they seemed glad to have reached this religious haven at the foot of Mount Sinai. They could not have been parked very far from the spot where the children of Israel awaited the return of Moses with the tablets of stone bearing the Ten Commandments.t A huge wooden gate swung open near by. A dozen figures streamed toward us. In the center, their beards silhouetted by the swing ing lanterns, strode two monks. Suddenly we were confronted by a language difficulty, for none of us spoke Greek. Then out of the night came these reassuring words: "That's O.K. right there. Welcome all to St. Catherine's. Merry Christmas!" Father Nile, master of five languages, greeted us (page 809). We echoed his cheer ful salutations. Unloading the trucks began. Many willing hands, guided by Arabic words, assisted us. Our helpers were Jebeliyeh (Men of the Moun tains), hereditary servants of the monastery. We were led through the gate, across paved courtyards, and up stone staircases to a wooden balcony off which opened guest rooms. The night was cold and clear, for St. Cath erine's stands 5,000 feet above the level of the Red Sea. Father Nile, who was to be our guide and companion for the next five days, served us a hot meal before retiring. (Inci dentally, he is named for St. Nilus, not for the River Nile.) "Where the Sun Rises in the West" About 200 airline miles from Cairo and Jerusalem, this isolated monastery is in the south-central part of the Sinai Peninsula, which forms the land bridge between Africa and Asia (page 797 and map, page 799). As we stood on the cold balcony early the next morning, Father Nile commented that this was one of the few places in the world "where the sun rises in the west." Indeed, this did seem to be true. St. Catherine's nestles against the shady northern flank of 7,497-foot Gebel Musa, the traditional Mount Sinai, which blocks the early-morning rays. They are reflected onto the monastery from a rocky flank on the west. During breakfast we explained to Father Nile that we were the Sinai phase of the Uni versity of California African Expedition. Wendell Phillips, 26-year-old leader of this expedition, described how on lonely watches during his five years in the merchant marine he had dreamed of hunting for fossil man and apes in Africa. We were part of that dream come true. Scientific research was then in progress in Sinai, in the Faiyum of Egypt, in South Africa near Johannesburg, and in the great Kalahari Desert. The dream of a Cairo-Capetown expedition with a fleet of 22 automobiles, an airplane, and a motorboat was becoming a reality. Every branch of natural history was repre sented in some phase of the work. There were searchers for primate remains and cultural traces of ancient man, recorders of measure ments and observations on the modern peoples, fossil hunters, collectors of animals and plants, researchers in tropical medicine, and several photographers. * Dr. Field was Curator of Physical Anthropology. Field Museum of Natural History, Chicago (now Chicago Natural History Museum), until he entered United States Government service in 1941, doing research on the Near East. He has led or participated in nine archeological expeditions to Europe, Africa, and southwestern Asia. t See "East of Suez to the Mount of the Decalogue," by Maynard Owen Williams, NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC MAGAZINE, December, 1927.