Map of Kibroth-hatta'avah (Erweis el Ebeirig?)
(Numbers 11:34-35, 33:16-17; Deuteronomy 9:22)
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17 August 2006 (Revisions through 21 January 2007)
Nu 10:33; 11:3-4, 34; 12:16 (RSV)
"So they set out from the mount of the Lord three days journey...the name of that place was called Taberah, because the fire of the Lord burned among them. Now the rabble that was among them had a strong craving; and the people of Israel also wept again, and said, "O that we had meat to eat!"...Therefore the name of that place was called Kibroth-hatta'avah, because there they buried the people who had the craving. From Kibroth-hatta'avah the people journeyed to Hazeroth; and they remained at Hazeroth...After that the people set out from Hazeroth and encamped in the wilderness of Paran."
Palmer suggested (1872) that Kibroth-hatta'avah might be Erweis el Ebeirig:
"A little farther on, upon the water-shed of Wady el Hebeibeh, we came to some remains which, although they had hitherto escaped even a passing notice from previous travelers, proved to be among the most interesting in the country. The piece of elevated ground which forms this water-shed is called by the Arabs Erweis el Ebeirig, and is covered with small inclosures of stones. These are evidently the remains of a large encampment, but they differ essentially in their arrangement from any others which I have seen in Sinai or elsewhere in Arabia; and on the summit of a small hill on the right is an erection of rough stones surmounted by a conspicuous white block of pyramidal shape. The remains extend for miles around, and, on examining them more carefully during a second visit to the Peninsula with Mr. Drake, we found our first impression fully confirmed, and collected abundant proofs that it was in reality a deserted camp. The small stones which formerly served, as they do in the present day, for hearths, in many places still showed signs of the action of fire, and on digging beneath the surface we found pieces of charcoal in great abundance. Here and there were larger inclosures marking the encampment of some person more important than the rest, and just outside the camp were a number of stone heaps, which from their shape and position, could be nothing else but graves. The site is a most commanding one, and admirably suited for the assembling of a large concourse of people...For various reasons I am inclined to believe...that we have in the scattered stones of Erweis el Ebeirig real traces of the Exodus...the distance -exactly a day's journey- from 'Ain Huderah, and those mysterious graves outside the camp, to my mind prove conclusively the identity of this spot with the scene of that awful plague by which the Lord punished the greed and discontent of His people...And he called the name of that place Kibroth-hattaavah, because there they buried the people that lusted. And the people journeyed from Kibroth-hattavah unto Hazeroth, and abode at Hazeroth (Numbers 11:33-35)."
(pp. 212-214. E. H. Palmer. The Desert of the Exodus: Journeys on Foot in the Wilderness of the Forty Years' Wanderings. New York. Harper & Brothers, Publishers. 1872)
I am unaware of any archaeological survey being done of Erweis el Ebeirig. Palmer's description suggests the site could be a seasonable encampment of either the Pre-Pottery Neolithic (ca. 8300-5500 BCE) or the Early Bronze Age II period (ca. 3000-2700 BCE), similarly dated sites do exist in this area (cf. Itzhaq Beit-Arieh. Archaeology of Sinai, The Ophir Expedition. Tell Aviv. Tel Aviv University. 2003. ISBN 965-266-018-3). Large circles of stone would serve as pens for goats or sheep and smaller circles as rude huts for the shepherds.
The Early Bronze II stone circles at Sheikh Awad near Naqb el Hawah (Naqb el-Hauwa, "ascent of the wind") and Sheikh Nabi Salah have been excavated. If Mount Sinai is to be identified with Gebel Musa or Ras Safsafeh near Saint Catherine's Monastery, Israel would have most likely marched past either Awad or Salah to arrive and encamp on the plain of el Raha. To date (2006) no Late Bronze Age (ca. 1540-1200 BCE) encampments have been found in the Sinai or Negev (Some scholars suggesting an Exodus ca. 1512 BCE, 1445 BCE or 1260 BCE).
Hobbs has noted that a Neolithic (New Stoneage circa 5,500 to 4,500 BCE) settlement was found on a slight rise abutting the south western edge of the plain of er Raha (el Raha, ar-Raaha). Please click here for a map of the el Raha plain. On the map this "banana-shaped" rise is west of elevation number 4875, north of Ras Solaf and east of Jebel el Ghabsheh. I wonder if perhaps as early as Neolithic times some of the nearby mountains may have been regarded as "sacred" ? If Neolithic folk could dwell long enough here to build a settlement in stone, perhaps a tent-dwelling Israel could have survived here as well ? The banana-shaped rise would protect the settlement being destroyed by sudden flood torrents in the wadies descending Ras esh-Safsaf and Gebel Musa during the winter rains. The Bible has Israel encamped at Mt. Sinai/Horeb for one year, which would mean she would have to contend with possible winter flooding from the wadies emptying on to the er Raha plain. It would make sense to me that the banana-shaped rise would be the "safest" area for Israel to camp upon to avoid floods which could possibly destroy the encampment and the flocks of animals she had with her. When the 5th century AD Christian Pilgrimess Egeria (Etheria) visited this area she described the stone circles found in the area and stated that her guides, who were Christian Holy Men, informed her these were the remains of huts built by Israel when she camped beofre the Holy Mount for one year (cf. pp. 56-57. George E. Gingras [Translator and Annotator]. Egeria: Diary of a Pilgrimage. New York. The Newman Press. 1970)
"I returned to Mount Sinai last week. I spent the first afternoon walking across the Plain of ar-Raaha, taking stock of the growth that has occurred there since my last visit in 1989...I spent the night in a two-year-old, one-hundred-bed hotel called Daniella Village. It reportedly sits directly atop a Neolithic period settlement on the banana-shaped rise at the southern end of the plain." (p. 306. "Conclusion." Joseph J. Hobbs. Mount Sinai. Austin, Texas. University of Texas Press. 1995. ISBN 0-292-73091-8)
Below, Palmer's Map (1872) showing the location of Erweis el Ebeirig and 'Ain Huderah (rendered a Ain Hudra on some 20th century maps), sites he associated with Kibroth-hatta'avah and Hazeroth. He said it was a day's journey between the two sites via camels. As a day's journey is usually 8 hours, and a camel's pace is about two or two and a half miles an hour, the distance would be roughly 16-18 miles between the two sites.
At Kibroth hata'avah which means "graves of the craving" in allusion to Israel craving flesh to eat, Yahweh gave them quail. However, many died after eating the quail. As to why they died please click here for my article on "The Poisonous Quail of Kibroth-hatta-av'ah", which explains that medical science has clinically documented cases of people dying after eating quail.
The European explorer Carsten Niebuhr (1762) thought KIbroth-hatta-av'ah was the Egyptian mining temple at Serabit el Khadim in the Sinai because its stelae resembled for him European gravestones.
"We were not a little surprised when we found in the middle of the desert on such a high mountain...a magnificent Egyptian cemetery; because that is what every European will call it...There are a great many stones, partly standing upright, partly fallen down or broken. They are five to seven feet long, one and a half feet broad and covered with Egyptian hieroglyphs. They can hardly be anything else but tombstones...Perhaps this is where one should place the "Graves of the Greed", Numbers 31:34..."
(cf. p. 45. "Niebuhr's Account of Serabit el-Khadim." Raphael Giveon. The Stones of Sinai Speak. Tokyo. Gakuseisha. 1978)
However, Egeria, a Christian pilgrimess who visited Gebel Musa (Mt. Sinai) in the 5th century AD understood Kibroth-hatta'avah was to be associated with the stone-circle huts at the north end of Wadi er-Raha, today's Sheikh Awad, because her guides identified Paran with the Feiran Oasis and convent.