Has Archaeology "found" Moses' Shattered Ten Commandments on Tables of Stone?

Walter Reinhold Warrtig Mattfeld y de la Torre, M.A. Ed.

09 October 2003

Revisions and Updates through 30 March 2004

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In the Exodus account Moses receives at the hand of God, two tables of stone with the Torah engraved upon their surfaces (Ex31:18). In anger, Moses is portrayed throwing these tables upon the ground, shattering them upon his return to the Israelite encampment at the base of the mountain and witnessing Israel's apostasy in worshipping the Golden Calf (Ex 32:15-16).

The reader is advised that my research "presuppositions" are those of a Secular Humanist. Humanists understand that ALL religions are the product of the human imagination to explain phenomenon not understood by ancient man. So, I do NOT believe that a God "really" made these two tables of stone and personally with his own finger, engraved the Law upon their surfaces. Nor do I believe Moses hurled these tables down shattering them. 

What I do believe is that the biblical account is preserving to some degree real events but transforming and embellishing them for religious polemical purposes.

So, from a Secular Humanist "presupposition" or "methodology" I pose the following questions framed in a secular rationalist mode of enquiry:

1) Is there ANYTHING archaeologically attested in the Southern Sinai that "might" be what is behind the biblical narratives? That is to say, is there ANYTHING "resembling" stone tables or tablets with inscriptions "resembling" some archaic form of Hebrew?

2) As the biblical narratives portray Israel as an Asiatic peoples FROM Egypt, wandering the southern Sinai, ca. 1446 BCE (cf. 1 Kings 6:1) as favored by Conservative scholarship, or ca. 1260 BCE as preferred by Liberal scholarship, is there ANYTHING of these periods archaeologically attested, of an Asiatic peoples FROM Egypt, _IN A MOUNTAINOUS AREA_, and creating inscriptions "resembling" archaic Hebrew on shattered stones from a mountain?

3) Are there ANY inscribed stones found in ASSOCIATION with  _Asiatic ENCAMPMENTS_  of a people FROM EGYPT?

4) The biblical narratives speak of the death of thousands for worshipping the Golden Calf. Allowing for possible embellishments in the numbers of deaths, do _ANY BURIAL TUMULI EXIST_ in the vicinity of camps in a mountainous area, in association with Asiatics from Egypt, and in association with inscribed stones?

5) As Israel is portrayed worshipping a Golden Calf with song and dance, is there ANYTHING suggesting the Asiatics FROM Egypt worshipping "bovine gods" of an Egyptian nature (recalling the biblical phrase "these are your gods O Israel who led you up out of Egypt")?

The answer to ALL the above questions is YES, there does exist archaeologically attested evidence in the Southern Sinai, despite the fact that a number of professional scholars have claimed that archaeological surveys of the southern Sinai have turned up NOTHING to link the Exodus traditions to.

Archaeologists have documented the presence of Proto-Sinaitic inscriptions near mines worked by the Egyptians and their Asiatic work crews in the vicinity of Serabit el Khadim in the Southern Sinai from Middle Kingdom to New Kingdom times. The inscriptions have been found on votives in the Egyptian temple dedicated to the cow-goddess, Hathor, the patroness of the miners. Other Proto-Sinaitic inscriptions have been found near mine entrances and even within the mines. Still others have been found in Asiatic/Egyptian mining encampments in the area, while some have even been found in association with burial tumuli. Two types of bulial tumuli have been found in the Egyptian/Asiatic mining encampments, "large" tumuli associated with the Middle Kingdom and "small" tumuli associated with the New Kingdom (cf. Benjamin Sass's work for the details). I understand that these tumuli became the "motif" of the thousands of Israel perishing in the Golden Calf incident. The Hathor shrine's Asiatic Proto-Sinaitc inscriptions on votives reveal these Asiatics had no trouble assimilating their gods with Egyptian gods. In Egyptian Myths, Hathor the cow-goddess was also the SKY that gave birth every morning to the Sun as the Golden Calf, who at sunset was imagined to be a mature, virile bull who mounted his mother, the cow-sky-goddess, and impregnating her, assured his being reborn the next morning as the dawning sun or Golden Calf for all eternity. Hathor was honored with dancing and singing, sometimes with nude dancers, as noted by various Egyptologists. So, I suspect that Israel's honoring the Golden Calf with singing and dancing recalls various aspects of the Hathor Cult in the southern Sinai at Serabit el Khadim. I note just east of Gebel Serabit el Khadim are two mountains, Gebal Ghorabi/Gharabi, which might be Horeb/Choreb and an adjacent mount, Gebal Saniya which might be Mount Sinai.

A controversy exists on the dating of the Proto-Sinaitic inscriptions, some argue they are of the Middle Kingdom or 12th Dynasty while others favor the New Kingdom and 18th Dynasty. I personally suspect that the "oldest" inscriptions are of the 12th Dynasty, but I "allow" that some could exist into 18th Dynasty times, suspecting that Proto-Sinaitic evolved over a long period of time into Phoenician, Canaanite and Hebrew of the 11th century BCE.

How to ACCOUNT for the "appearance" of "the MOTIF of the shattering of the Ten Commandments" in the Hebrew Bible, from a Secular Humanist perspective?  I understand that Judaeans penetrated the southern Sinai in the 9th-8th centuries BCE, their pottery being found at the ancient tell at the Feiran Oasis. I suspect that they visited the Egyptian mining camps near Serabit el Khadim, and developed a notion of Moses receiving the Torah on two tables of stone from God's hand, upon discovering shattered Proto-Sinaitic inscriptions in or near Asiatic/Egyptian ming encampments found at the base of mountains. At the turn of the 20th century A.D., archaeologists found a number of these inscriptions on shattered stones amongst the scree or debris which fell from the sides of mountains due to the eroding effects of mother nature. A number of these are now in the Cario museum for safe keeping.

Almost everyone is familiar with Jewish and Christian portrayals of Moses coming down the mountain, holding two tables of stone in his hands. These tables are usually portrayed as rectangular with a distincive rounded top. "SOME" of the Proto-Sinaitic inscriptions found shattered and at the base of mountains and in association with the mining encampemts and burial tumuli, ARE PORTRAYED AS RECTANGULAR WITH ROUNDED TOPS, remarkably like the common perception of these stones in Jewish and Christian art.

Cf. the below drawn examples of rectangular stone tables, called in scholarly language "Steli-form," with rounded tops. One example is shattered into as many  as nine pieces or ten pieces (the 10th piece apparently missing and never recovered), whilst the other Steli-form example bears only minor damage (cf.  figures 49 and 45 in Benjamin Sass. The Genesis of the Alphabet and Its Development in the 2d Millennium B.C. 1988. Wiesbaden, Germany. Otto Harrassowitz Publisher)

Giveon on Proto-Sinaitic inscribed rocks and their various locations:

"Mines 'L' and 'M' have Proto-Sinaitic inscriptions, many more were found in the huts of the 'camp of the Semites' nearby, and in the debris in and near the mines 'L' and 'M'. In the 'camp of the Egyptians', so named because an Egyptian inscription was found at this cluster of huts near the path to Rod el `Air, there was a single Proto-Sinaitic inscription." (p. 92. Raphael Giveon. The Stones of Sinai Speak. Tokyo. Gakuseisha. 1978)

Giveon, noted that the famous American bible scholar William Foxwell Albright had dated the Proto-Sinaitic inscriptions found in the southern Sinai to between ca. 1550-1450 BCE, but that the eminent British Egyptologist, Sir Alan H. Gardiner, who first successfully translated this script, disagreed. Gardiner argued that the Proto-Sinaitic writing was from the reign of Pharaoh Amenemat III (ca. 1842-1793 BCE, 12th Dynasty). Giveon is in support of Gardiner (cf. the arguments on pp. 140-142. Raphael Giveon. The Stones of Sinai Speak. Tokyo. Gakuseisha. 1978)

It would appear that Gardiner is right after all. In the course of the 1993-1994 work season Egyptologists, Professor John Darnell and wife Debbie (of Yale University) found Proto-Sinaitic inscriptions in Wadi el Hol, in the desert west of  Luxor. These inscriptions have been dated to between ca. 1900-1800 BCE (cf. the following url for more info :

In the Bible, God "makes" two tablets from the sacred mount and then writes upon the front and back sides of them his holy commandments (Ex 32:15-16). Could perhaps the Proto-Sinaitic inscriptions found on the sides of mountains, near mining cave entrances, have caused this motif to enter the Exodus narratives?  Click on the following url for an example of a Proto-Sinaitic inscription on the side of a mountain, next to a 12th Dynasty Egyptian inscription: God's Words?

Elijah fled to a cave near Mount Sinai where God appeared to him in a theopany. Perhaps this cave recalls the Proto-Sinatic inscriptions found in such caves? Click on the followiing url for a cave inscription:  Elijah's Cave?

The viewer is advised that a "comprehensive" series of plates exist illustrating these items via black and white photographs and line drawings for the various Proto-Sinaitic inscriptions in Sass' scholarly work along with an in-depth discussion of the problems facing scholars in attempts at reading these inscriptions (cf. Benjamin Sass. The Genesis of the Alphabet and Its Development in the Second Millennium B.C. Wiesbaden, Germany. Otto Harrassowitz [Publisher]. 1988. [Agypten und Altes Testament, Studien zu Geschichte, Kultur und Religion Agyptens und des Alten Testaments, herausgegeben von Manfred Gorg, Band 13]) Please click on the following url for more illustrations, line drawings and photographs of the inscriptions from Sass' scholarly work Proto-Sinaitic Steliform Examples (which resemble "somewhat" the tablets held by Moses in various 19th century CE Art Forms, the tables possessing ROUNDED tops).

Sass on who wrote the Proto-Sinaitic inscriptions:

"...it is quite certain that it was not local inhabitants who inscribed the Proto-Sinaitic texts. The distribution of the inscriptions, which overlaps with that of the Egyptian texts, bears witness to the fact that the people who wrote them came to the place for the same reason as the Egyptian mining expeditions." (p.143. Sass)

Giveon offered several possibilities as to who the authors were:

"The Asiatics of the inscriptions can therefore not be the Beduin of Sinai. There are two possibilities which can explain the origins of these Asiatic elements which are not mutually exclusive: The Asiatics may have come down from the north, from Palestine, or they may have made their way to Egypt which they reached either as slaves, as prisoners of war, or of their own free will." (p. 132. Giveon)

I have argued that Judaeans penetrated the southern Sinai ca. the 9th-8th century BCE, their pottery debris being found at the Feiran oasis by archaeologists, and that they probably visited the Egyptian mining camps nearby at Serabit el Khadim, and seeing the shattered Proto-Sinatic stones which _may have "resembled" for them_, tablets or tables of stone, in association with the camps, created the story of Moses and Israel at Mount Sinai. That is to say, that the 12th Dynasty Egyptian mining camps associated with the Proto-Sinaitic inscriptions "became" Israel's encampments. The Egyptian Hieroglyphic inscriptions found in proximity with the Proto-Sinaitic inscriptions, "became" evidence of Israel "leaving" Egypt. Moses as an educated and literate "prince of Egypt" might have accounted for the Hieroglyphs, whilst the Proto-Sinaitic was evidence of God's own writing (cf. my article titled: 
"Exodus Memories of Southern Sinai, Linking the Archaeological Evidence to the Biblical Narratives")

Have the Ten Commandments been found, written in Proto-Sinaitic, on any of these Steli-form examples? The answer is No. 

I doubt that the 9th-8th century BCE Judaeans at the Feiran Oasis would have been able to "read" the Proto-Sinaitic inscriptions. They may have "realized" that they were an archaic precursor to their own written Hebrew letter forms, and "_could have imagined_" the Ten Commandments written on the shattered Steli-forms. Today, Scholars are NOT in consensus on "how to read" the Proto-Sinaitic inscriptions; if, for all their learning, they can't agree on how to read them, why would a Judaean of the 9th/8th century be able to?

Sass on the "problems" of reading Proto-Sinaitic inscriptions:

"Scholarly disagreement concerning the Proto-Sinaitic inscriptions begins not with the phonetic values of the letters, but with the letter shapes." (p. 11. Benjamin Sass. The Genesis of the Alphabet and Its Development in the 2d Millennium B.C. 1988. Wiesbaden. Otto Harrassowitz) 

"Any attempt to deal with the Proto-Sinaitic inscriptions necessitates some degree of reconstruction, but one must ask where the border between reconstruction and imagination really lies. A case in point is inscription 349; Albright's reading includes 58 letters, but only 27 -less than half- actually exist." (p. 49. Sass)

"Albright's 1966 study [William Foxwell Albright. The Proto-Sinaitic Inscriptions And Their Decipherment. Cambridge. Harvard Univerity Press. 1966] cannot be regarded as a decipherment of Proto-Sinaitic inscriptions...and in many cases not even a correct record of the forms of the letters...This does not mean that decipherment is completely impossible (some of Albright's readings are probably correct, see also Cross's and Rainey's amendments to inscriptions 357, 358 and 376)..." (p. 50. Sass)

"One of the most comprehensive attempts at deciphering the Proto-Sinaitic inscriptions was made by Albright (1966). However,about half of his phonological and morphological observations are founded, to my mind, on incorrect identifications of the individual letters. Inevitably, the remaining half cannot be free of errors. Clearly, too little Proto-Sinaitic material survives to permit a reconstruction of the structure of the language, its date and exact place among Northwest Semitic languages." (pp. 158-159. Sass)

Sass on the Proto-Sinaitic corpus:

"All the inscriptions are incised on local sandstone.Those at Bir en-Nasb and perhaps at Wadi Maghara are inscribed on the mountain face...of the Serabit el Khadim inscriptions, five are carved on mine walls (two inside and three outside), and the others are engraved on detached stones. Most of the latter were almost certainly rock inscriptions which split off from the mountain when the mine entrance collapsed...Four of the originally movable inscriptions- those from the temple- are engraved on statuettes, while of the others, one or two are on stelae, ten are within steli-form panels, and seven or eight are on stone slabs...several of which are undoubtedly fragments of stelae or panels...There is some reason to believe that the inscriptions on the statues from the temple are votive in character, and that the inscriptions from the tumuli are funerary (Albright 1948. 11-12)." (pp.10-11. Sass)

Sass on dating Proto-Sinaitic:

"In short, there is no unambiguous evidence for the date of the Proto-Sinaitic inscriptions, either in the 12th Dynasty or in the 18th; both dates are possible from the archaeological and paleographic (and linguistic) points of view..." (p. 144. Sass)

Sass on the burial tumuli at Serabit el Khadim, which I understand to be what is behind the notion of Yahweh's slaying the worshippers of the Golden Calf at Mount Sinai:

"There are three types of early tomb structures in Sinai -the Nawamis, the large tumuli at Serabit el Khadim (smaller than the Nawamis), and small tumuli, also at Serabit el Khadim. The Nawamis have been dated to the end of the 3rd millennia BC, the large tumuli at Serabit el Khadim are dated on the basis of Egyptian inscriptions to the Middle Kingdom, while the smaller tumuli must be of New Kingdom date following this "the smaller, the later" line of thought...It is to Albright's credit (1948: 11-12) that it was he who identified the small tumuli as tombs, and identification which had been disputed until then." (p. 138. Sass)

Giveon thinks Albright's "burial cairns" are merely Beduin built storage huts:

"To the west of the temple, on a hill just beyond this quarry, there are numerous stelae, mostly of the 12th Dynasty...Part of these stelae stand within a circle of rough stones, as if the workers had constructed primitive huts around these stelae. Petrie thought that these huts were erected for visitors to the temple who slept in them to have dreams which would reveal to them where the best turquoise was to be found...Albright suggested that the 30 or so "sleeping shelters" were burial cairns. Having seen the modest windbreakers which our Beduin helpers "built" at day's end, we are inclined to see in these constructions primitive huts meant neither for the Egyptians nor for the few Asiatics...but meant for and built by the local Beduins. They stored their supplies in these huts, which could be more easily roofed by leaning the upper parts of the wall on a stela. These stelae were erected before the huts came into being, and the Beduins exploited the stelae as an element of construction..." (pp. 89-90. Raphael Giveon. The Stones of Sinai Speak. Tokyo. Gakuseisha. 1978)

 When the European explorer Carsten Niebuhr beheld the ruins of the temple in 1762, he thought the stelae were tombstones (they do resemble European tombstones), and accordingly associated the location with biblical Kibroth-hatta`avah (Nu 11:34), "the graves of the lusting" where Yahweh struck down his ungrateful people with plague while eating the quail he had sent them (cf. pp.42-45. "Niebuhr's Account of Serabit el Khadim." Raphael Giveon. The Stones of Sinai Speak. Tokyo. Gakuseisha. 1985). Did later generations come to see the stelae of Serabit el Khadim as Gravestones, thus the notion of thousands being slaughtered for adoring the Golden Calf ?

Gardiner, Peet and Cerny understood that "some of the stelae" erected at the Hathor Temple were of a funerary nature.

"The lower portion of the stela is an implicit appeal for funerary offerings on behalf of certain minor officials who took part in the expedition:

"A thousand of bread and beer, oxen and geeses, alabaster and cloth, to the ka [soul] of the petty official Nakht, conceived of Sithepy. A thousand of bread and beer, oxen and geese, alabaster and cloth, to the ka of the scorpion-charmer, Iti, conceived of Eset, true of voice." (pp. 66-67. Vol.2. No. 23. Ammenemes III. Yr.2. 12th Dynasty. Alan H. Gardiner, T. Eric Peet & Jaroslav Cerny. 1955. The Inscriptions of Sinai. London. Egypt Exploration Society)

Hathor also admitted ALL the dead into the underworld. The dead hoped to be born of her after death to rise as a calf like the Golden Horus Bull or Sun-god. Thus I understand that ceratin elements from the Hathor Cult of the Dead are being preserved and transformed in Exodus account of the worship of the Golden Calf. The smashing of the Calf by Moses and his feeding it to Israel may recall the shattered bovines visages found at Serabit el Khadim including sacral funerary meals by the dead of hornless bovines, (perhaps Calves?).

As stated earlier (above), I understand that Judaeans penetrating the Southern Sinai in the 9th-8th century BCE, leaving their sherds at the ancient tell in the Feiran Oasis, possibly visited the Egyptian mining camps at Serabit el Khadim and seeing the Egyptian Stelae and Proto-Sinaitic inscriptions, developed a notion of Moses coming from Egypt and shattering the Ten Commandments and Yahweh killing thousands for worshipping the Golden Calf. Of interest here is an observation made by the prominent Egyptologist, T. Eric Peet (1923), to the effect that he understood that the Exodus traditions in their written form were no earlier than the 9th century BCE, the same century that Judaean sherds appear at Feiran (Paran?) :

Peet is citing the JEDP theory (Jahwist, Elohist, Deuteronomist, Priestly redactors) which postulates the earliest author wrote in the 9th century BCE:

"The chief documents from which the first five books of the Old Testament were compiled were three in number. The two oldest of these are known as J and E respectively, J having been composed in Judah during the ninth century B.C. and E in the Northern Kingdom during the eighth century B.C....Document P was written at some period during the Babylonian Exile..." (pp. 31-32. T. Eric Peet. Egypt and the Old Testament. 1923. Boston. Small, Maynard & Company)

The late Israeli scholar Aharoni on the Judaean presence at the Feiran Oasis in the 9th/8th century BCE (Emphasis mine):

"However, an extremely important archaeological discovery made during the last survey of Sinai now compels us to re-examine all our previous assumptions. An expedition headed by Professor Mazar examined the tell of the desert oasis of Feiran. This is the principal oasis, stretching for a few miles , of southern Sinai. It lies at the foot of the lofty Mount Serbal and is fed by the melting snow that covers the summits of the high granite mountains in winter. A purling stream provides water for graceful date-palms, orchards and flourishing vegetable-gardens. Rising prominently in the middle of the oasis is a tell on top of which many interesting remains of a large monastery of the Byzantine period have been preserved, and scattered all about the tell, over an area of about ten acres, the remains of buildings and walls are discernable. A careful examination by the Mazar expedition of the sherds they collected revealed that, apart from numerous Roman-Byzantine and early Arab sherds, the site abounded in Nabatean sherds. In addition, the site produced sherds of the Hellenistic period, Persian serds and some wheel-burnished sherds typical of the kingdom of Judah, belonging to Iron Age II, i.e., the period of the kings of Judah during the time of the First Temple. This, then, is the only tell discovered so far in Sinai -perhaps the only tell there at all- displaying a fairly prolonged continuity of settlement; at the very least, from the Iron Age, ca. 9th-8th centuries B.C., through the Persian-Hellenistic and Roman-Byzantine periods up to the early Arab period." (p.166, Yohanan Aharoni, "Kadesh-Barnea and Mount Sinai." Beno Rothenberg. God's Wilderness, Discoveries in Sinai. New York. Thomas Nelson & Sons.1961, 1962)

Professor Aharoni suggested that the Feiran Oasis might be the source name for the wilderness of Paran and that the Iron II Judaean sherds found here suggest this is the Paran of the Exodus narratives:

"Surprisingly enough this tell, now known as Feiran, at an earlier stage in its history bore the name of Paran, identical with the biblical name. In the Byzantine period it was an important city, frequently mentioned in the sources, with its own cathedral and bishop. The Roman geographer Ptolemaeus, who lived in the first half of the second century A.D., mentions Paran in his Geography as being situated here. Hence it is clear that the name preceeded the advent of Christianity and could not have been introduced by Christian monks. Archaeological investigation, as we have already said, has now shown that the settlement of Feiran existed without any significant gap in continuity from the time of the Judaean kings to that of Ptolemaeus...it is clear that Paran is an ancient Semitic-biblical name belonging to the wilderness of the South...I venture to suggest...based on the ancient sources and supported by the Bible: Paran, not Sinai, was the original name by which the whole of the Sinai peninsula was known in biblical times. The wilderness of Paran was not confined to the desert of Et Tih or its northern part, but was the ancient name for the whole of the vast triangle we now call the wilderness of Sinai or the Sinai peninsula." (pp. 167-168. Yohanan Aharoni. "Kadesh-Barnea and Mount Sinai." Beno Rothenberg & Yohanan Aharoni. God's Wilderness, Discoveries in Sinai. 1961, 1962. Thomas Nelson & Sons. New York & Toronto)

The biblical account mentions Moses breaking into pieces the Golden Calf to the fineness of dust and making Isael drink of it in punishment. Could the finding a broken portion of a bas-relief of the Hathor cow  wearing its menant necklace, have been noted by 9th century BCE Israelite/Judaean visitors, and later ages transformed this shattered visage into Moses destroying the Golden Calf?

If I am correct in assuming that the shattered steli-form tables bearing Proto-Sinaitic inscriptions in the vicinity of Serabit el Khadim are what "is lurking behind" the Exodus traditions, are there any Asiatic names at Serabit el Khadim that also appear in the Exodus narratives?

We are informed that Aaron, who made the Golden Calf is a descendant of Levi. Does "Levi" appear at Serabit el Khadim? "Possibly," according to the Israeli Egyptologist/archaeologist, Professor Raphael Giveon (Note: The Egyptians did not have the letter L so they transliterated Semitic L with R). :

"An interesting name is Rua, because it could represent an Egyptian form of the biblical Levi, which is the name of the tribe which was responsible for service in the sanctuary. In ancient Arabic, the word means "pledged person;" this region may be the origin of the biblical institution of the Levites devoted to the service of the temple." (p. 134. Raphael Giveon. 
The Stones of Sinai Speak)

Another name associated with the Exodus is Phineas, the grandson of Aaron. According to Spencer, Phineas is the Hebrew form of Egyptian P'nhsj. I note the appearance of a Pinhasy in the inscriptions of Serabit el Khadim.


"Phineas...[Hebrew pinehas] variant Phineas. The name most likely derives from Egyptian nhsj "southerner" (the preformative p' adds the definite article "the"). "The southerner" was a term which referred to those people from south of ancient Egypt, such as the Nubians, and hence it implied those of "dark skin." The association of Phinehas #2 with Hophni, another name of Egyptian origin, supports the contention of the Egyptian origin of Phineas." (p. 346. Vol. 5. John R. Spencer. "Phineas." David Noel Freedman, editor. The Anchor Bible Dictionary. 1992. Doubleday-Anchor. New York)

"---Lord of Khmun in the likeness of the great Shepsi who is in Khmun. They abide and are useful to the king's scribe Pinhasy, true of voice...the name of the overseer of the treasury, Pinhasy, true of voice many, many [times]." (p. 168. No. 217. Amenophis III. Alan H. Gardiner & T. Eric Peet (Jaroslav Cerny, editor). The Inscriptions of Sinai. [Part 2, Translations and Commentary], 1955. London. Egypt Exploration Society)

Giveon's notion that Levi's name, Rua, possibly appears in the southern Sinai at Serabit el Khadim, is rendered in the below transcription:

"The good god, lord of the two lands, king of Upper and Lower Egypt, Kha'kaure, son of Re, Senwosret, living for ever, beloved of Hathor, lady of the turquoise. May she give to him life, stability and dominion like Re for ever...[Overseer] of the cabinet of Kheper[ka]re, Mereru, possessor of honour; the serving man] 'Ankhu, possessor of honour; the serving man Senwosret, possessor of honour; the scribe of the cattle Akhtoy, possessor of honour; The Asiatic Rua, possessor of honour." (p. 90. No. 81. Sesostris III. 1955. Gardiner, Peet & Cerny. 1955. The Inscriptions of Sinai)

In the Exodus narratives Moses is portrayed as asking a Midianite, Hobab (Nu 10:29-33), to act as a guide or "eye" and "lead" Israel to their destination, Kadesh Barnea in the Negev. Some have suggested that the Kenites might be a sub-clan of Midianites, and the Exodus narratives have some Kenites settling near Arad under Joshua. Of interest here, is the possible appearance of the word Keni/Kenite in association with the mines of Serabit el Khadim. Gardiner, Peet and Cerny have noted an Asiatic bearing the name Keni, could this name be in part, what is behind the Exodus account ? Could Egyptian Iasi, who is an Asiatic, be recalling Ya, or Yah an alternate rendering of Yahweh (as in English Hezekiah) ?

"The names are not Egyptian and the determinative of the bearded man carrying two peculiar objects is clearly meant to indicate foreigners, possibly man of Retjenu [Syria-Palestine]."

"---Iasi; his beloved son Keni; his beloved son Ihenem." (p.147. Vol. 2. No. 163. Middle Kingdom.  Alan H. Gardiner, T. Eric Peet & Jaroslav Cerny. 1955. The Inscriptions of Sinai. London. Egypt Exploration Society)

The Exodus narratives have the shattering of the 10 Commandments or Decalogue at a location called Horeb/Choreb or Mount Sinai. Although I have argued (above) that Gebels Ghorabi/Gharabi and Saniya possibly preserve these names, there is another observation that needs to be made. The mining expeditions understood that these mountains were Hathor's, they prayed to her, beseeching her favor in helping them find the minerals and ores they were seeking. I note that she bore several epithets, one of which was hrt ib, "She who is in the midst of the land of Djadja."  Allowing the Egyptian t to be lost in a Hebrew transliteration, as in the case of the Hebrew ye'or, or Nile river, a Hebrew transliteration of Egyptian itru, meaning river, could Hathor's epithet hrt ib, have become hr ib (?), or Horeb?

Gardiner, Peet and Cerny on Hathor's titles or epithets:

"The only other titles at Serabit are 'lady of Atfih' (313), which merely refers to her local cult at Aphrodtopolis in Egypt, and hrt ib, 'she who is in the midst of the land of Djadja (120)." (p.42. Vol. 2. Gardiner, Peet & Cerny. The Inscriptions of Sinai. 1955)

Huddleston on the Nile:

"Nile. (Place) [Hebrew ye'or, nahar, yam]. The river that essentially defines Egypt...The term used to refer to the Nile River or its tributaries (particularly the Delta region) in the Hebrew Bible is ye'or. This Hebrew word is generally thought to be a loan word from Egyptian i(t)rw, "river, Nile, a river/stream [of the Nile] (WbAS 1:146-147; Lesko 1982-89 1:60; de Buck 1948: 1...." (p. 1108. Vol. 4. John R. Huddlestun. "Nile." David Noel Freedman, editor. The Anchor Bible Dictionary. 1992. Doubleday-Anchor. New York)

Wilson (1985) noted that Hans Goedicke, PhD, then Chairman of the Department of Near Eastern Studies, Johns Hopkins University, Baltimore, argued that the 15th century BCE Proto-Sinaitic inscriptions of Serabit el-Khadim had been made by Israel, and that this site was one of Israel's encampments of the Exodus wanderings:

"But theories concerning the routes and stopping places used by the Israelites in the Sinai are as diverse as the scholars who put them forward. For Dr Goedicke, one particularly plausible site as an Israelite halt is the ancient Egyptian turquoise-mining centre known today as Serabit al-Khadim...Because the work was unpleasant, Asiatic labour was often used, a fact which has led some scholars to assume that the Israelites would have sought out Serabit al-Khadim as a place they would find allies, while others have thought it would have been avoided because it would bring them once more into confrontation with Egyptian troops...Were these Canaanites attracted this far south into the Sinai by high Egyptian wages ? Could they have been Asiatic slaves brought over to work the mines under guard? Is it possible even that they were the Biblical Israelites themselves, those still attached to Canaanite deities recording their allegiance as they passed through? With Hathor as a cow goddess it might even be tempting to attribute the 'golden calf' incident of Exodus 32:1-6 to a spontaneous act of Hathor worship by this faction. Goedicke believes emphatically, although he has yet to makes his reasons clear, that the Proto-Sinaitic inscriptions were made by the Biblical Israelites." (pp. 152-153. "Forty years in the Wilderness." Ian Wilson. The Exodus Enigma. 1985. London. Weidenfeld & Nicolson)


Despite claims by a number of scholars that there is NOTHING  -archaeologically speaking-  to link to the Exodus traditions to in the Southern Sinai, I maintain that there is. I have attempted to "link" various elements and motifs appearing in the Exodus narratives with archaeological findings in the Southern Sinai left by Asiatics FROM Egypt. 

The motif of Moses' shattering two tables of stone with the Torah or Ten Commandments upon their surface, I have identified with the shattered Steli-form Proto-Sinaitic rock inscriptions associated with Egyptian mining encampments in the vicinity of Serabit el Khadim made by the Asiatics who accompanied their Egyptian overlords. 

The "motif" of Hebrews FROM Egypt, worshipping "bovine gods" I have linked with the Asiatic miner's votives to Hathor, the patroness of miners, the cow-sky-goddess who gave birth to Sun each day as the Golden Calf. The dancing and singing of Israel in honoring the Golden Calf, I have identified with aspects of the Hathor Cult in the Southern Sinai, at the Egyptian Hathor shrine of Serabit el Khadim. The "death of Israelites" for worshipping Egyptian gods, I have associated with the burial tumuli found near the Asiatic mining encampments as well as the stelae, some of which according to Peet, bore funerary scenes and inscriptions. If Carsten Niebuhr erred in seeing these steale as tombstones, perhaps the 9th-8th century Judeans did the same?

The "_mechanism_" by which these Egyptian mining encampments "came to enter the Hebrew Bible," is understood by myself to be the presence of Judaeans in the Southern Sinai at the Feiran Oasis, they leaving their sherds there in the 9th-8th centuries BCE, and possibly visiting the nearby mining encampments at Serabit el Khadim. 

Noting T. Eric Peet's observation (1923) that the Jahwist traditions preserved in the Hebrew Bible are the oldest and possibly of the 9th century BCE, I have accordingly "linked" the Jahwist tradition of the 9th century BCE with 9th century BCE Judaean presence in the Southern Sinai.

30 March 2004 Update:

I must note here, that _in addition to_ "the activities" of the 9-8th century BCE Judaeans, there is another "earlier strand or source" for the Exodus traditions in the southern Sinai. That source is the Canaanite peoples of south Canaan and the Shephelah. The Israeli scholar and archaeologist Itzhaq Beit-Arieh, who has excavated at Serabit el Khadim, has suggested that some of the Egyptian New Kingdom Asiatic miners at that location were from south Canaan, their ancestors in the Chalcolthic and Early Bronze Age II having been miners in the southern Sinai working the copper mines at Wadi Reqeita, east of Gebel Musa, their Early Bronze II camps being near Nebi Saleh, and excavated by Professor Itzhaq Beit-Arieh of Tel Aviv University. Proto-Sinatic inscriptions have been found on votives associated with locations in the Shephelah at Gezer and Lachish, as well as mining paraphanalia at Tell Beit Mirsim and Lachish. Elsewhere I have proposed that Kadesh Barnea has been misidentified, its NOT Ain el Quderiat which I propose is Hazar Addar, but Tel Masos. Tel Masos has Iron IA pottery (I understand that the sudden appearance of hundreds of Iron IA hamlets in the Hill Country is Israel's settlement of theland under Joshua), Qudeirat is NO earlier than Iron II, so it is DISQUALIFIED as being Kadesh Barnea. Of interest here is that the excavators of Tel Masos, Kempinsky and Fritz, have noted that the pottery in the Iron IA settlement appears to be that of south Canaan and the Shephelah- the very area Beit-Arieh has his New Kingdom Serabit el Khadim miners coming from in New Kingdom times (he having found a Late Bronze sherd from Canaan in one of the mines at Serabit el Khadim). I understand, then, that Iron II Judaeans, wanting to preserve the "origins traditions" of BOTH their ancestors, invading Iron IA Arameans from Syria and Shephelah-dwelling Canaanites who intermarried with their descendants, took the stories of their ancestors wandering the Sinai and Arabah as "miners" and transformed them into Israel escaping Egypt, fusing Late Bronze Age Canaanite traditions with Aramean traditions (an invasion from Transjordan being correctly recalled).


"Since our primary goal was to determine the date of the Proto-Sinaiti inscriptions,it is worthwhile to deal with this aspect of the research in some detail...The archaeological evidence, which falls into three categories, points to a date in the New Kingdom.

1) Ceramic: Although very little pottery was recovered, a sherd of Bichrome ware, which is typical of the Late Bronze Age cramic repertoire in Canaan, was found in mine L, while a faience vessel decorated in a geometric pattern common in Egypt in the New Kingdom came form mine G.

2) Metallic: One of the casting molds from ie L is for a type of axe that was known in Egypt mainly during the New Kingdom...

3) Stone bellows: Depictions of foot-operated bellows similar to those discovered in the mines are known from several wall paintings in the tombs of Theban nobles, all of which are dated to the New Kingdom (fig.2). Similar objects were found in Late Middle Bronze Age contexts in Canaan, two in stratum D at Tell Beit Mirsim and another from the same period at Lachish (Albright 1938:53-54; Ussishkin 1983:108-109)...Significantly, the only mines in the Serabit el Khadim region in which both Proto-Sinaitic and metallurgical equipment were found are mines G, L and M, which is a good indication that the equipment and inscriptions are contemporaneous. Obviously, if the metallurgical equipment can be dated to the final period of Egyptian activity at the site (the New Kingdom) this is strong evidence for assigning the Proto-Sinaitic inscriptions to thesame period. It should be remembered that several of the inscribed slabs [bearing Proto-Sinaitic] found at the beginning of the century [20th CE] were strewn on the surface outside mine shafts, additional evidence that they belong to the final phase of Egyptian presence at the site. (pp. 63-65. Itzhaq Beit-Arieh. "Canaanites and Egyptians at Serabit el Khadim," in Anson F. Rainey, editor. Egypt, Israel, Sinai: Archaeological and Historical Relationships in the Biblical Period. Tel Aviv 1987))

Two important objectives of our research at Serabit el Khadim were to establish the ethnic identity of the writers of the Proto-Sinaitic inscriptions and the geographical origin of the coppersmiths mentioned in the Egyptian hieroglyphic inscriptions in the temple...the general consensus (Albright 1969) is that the Proto-Sinaitic inscriptions were the work of the same Asiatics that are mentioned on the temple stelae. The fact that identical alphabetic symbols were already used in Canaan in the 19th century BCE not only points to the specific locale of their origin but completely eleiminates the possibility (as has been suggested in the past) that the alphabet was invented in the southern Sinai (Cross 1967). (p.65. Itzhaq Beit-Arieh. "Canaanites and Egyptians at Serabit el Khadim," in Anson F. Rainey, editor. Egypt, Israel, Sinai: Archaeological and Historical Relationships in the Biblical Period. Tel Aviv 1987)

To return to the subject of this article: What was the status of these Canaanites and their relation to the Egyptian officials of the expeditions? Since workers with Semitic names are mentioned in several of the hieroglyphic stelae of the Middle and New Kingdoms, including a "brother of the governor of Retjenu," it seems very likely that these Asiatics were of independent status (Cerny 1935:385), artisans who arrived at this mining center deep in the heart of Sinai of their own free will and intiative (and not slaves or forced laborers, as sometimes suggested in the past). This would not be a new phenomenon in the history of the Canaanites. There is evidence of population movements to Sinai from the 4th millennium onwards, including miners and metal-smiths (Beit-Arieh 1980; 1983). Since it is natural for metal-smiths to migrate to mining centers, it seems to us that of all the possible professions of the Canaanites in the Sinai, the most logical would be metal working, a craft of ancient tradition amongst the peoples that populated the land of Israel in various periods of history." (pp. 65-66. Itzhaq Beit-Arieh. "Canaanites and Egyptians at Serabit el Khadim," in Anson F. Rainey, editor. Egypt, Israel, Sinai: Archaeological and Historical Relationships in the Biblical Period. Tel Aviv 1987)

Albright on Proto-Sinaitic found at Gezer, Lachish and Shechem, locations in south Canaan and the Shephelah:

"Bronze Age Lachish IV (Olga Tufnell, 1958) shows a prism with Sinaitic inscription LDGT corresponding to the divine appellations DGNT (ginti or winepress, "god or el of the winepress"?) (p.4. William Foxwell Albright. The Proto-Sinaitic Inscriptions and Their Decipherment. 1966. Cambridge. University of Harvard Press)

"...meanwhile, the Proto-Sinaitic texts, which had been rather isolated, were joined by early alphabetic inscriptions from Syro-Palestine which were clearly earlier or later than the Proto-Sinaitic forms. Since these new finds could be dated archaeologically to the Late Middle Bronze (GezerLachish) or the Late Bronze Age (ShechemLachish, etc.), they served to confirm Petrie's dating of the Proto-Sinaitic material in the 15th century BC, on the basis of Egyptian finds at Serabit el Khadim...Since the Proto-Sinaitic texts are not themselves homogeneous palaeographically, but show marked evolution in their script, we may tentatively date them between ca. 1550-1450 BC- probably between ca. 1525 and ca. 1475...This general date is confirmed by the Lachish prism as shown above." (pp. 5-7. Albright. 1966. The Proto-Sinaitic Inscriptions)

Albright thought that Hyksos slaves were responsible for the Proto-Sinaitic inscriptions at Serabit el Kahdim, a concept "contested" by Cerny, Beit-Arieh, and Sass (I note that Professor Gary D. Mumford, an archaeologist with experience in the southern Sinai, has noted the presence of Hyksos sherds and scarabs at Serabit el Kahdim suggesting their presence at that site):

"...it seems unlikely that Hyksos captives (see below) should have been sent to the Sinai to work under extraordinairly difficult conditions until after Amosis had occupied the Hyksos fortress at the southern fringe of Palestine toward the end of his reign; i.e., after about 1550-40 at the earliest...A date between ca. 1525 and 1475 appears resonable, with a maximum range of a century, ca. 1550-1450." (p.12. Albright. 1966)

"...it appears certain that the miners came to Sinai from Egypt...we may safely infer that they belonged to the recently conquered Hyksos elements of the population. The bearing of the new documents on biblical tradition is considerable, though indirect..Many Hebrew words, idioms and personal names appear already at Serabit...Our Serabit vocabulary throws light on the background of patriarchal religious tradition..." (pp. 12-13. Albright. 1966)

Albright suggested that the expression that God had delivered Israel from the "Iron Furnace" (a euphemism for the Egyptian Oppression) might recall Israelite slavery in the mines of Serabit el Khadim:

"It is quite possible that the reference to Egypt as the 'iron smeltry' (kur barzel) in passages...actually goes back to traditions of state slavery in the mines of the New Kingdom." (p. 14. Albright. 1966)

Kempinsky and Fritz on Iron IA Tel Masos pottery ("my" Kadesh-Barnea) resembling south Canaanite and Shephelah pottery typologies:

"The pottery assemblage is typical of that found in the south and southern Shephelah at the end of the 13th and beginning of the 12th centuries BCE. The stratum's earlier phase IIIB is characterized by the absence of Philistine pottery, suggesting a date of pre-1150 BCE, and perhaps as early as the end of the 13th centruy BCE...Most of the stratum IIB finds come from area H and include Midianite pottery from the 12th to 11th centuries BCE." (p. 988. Vol. 3. Aharon Kempinski. "Masos, Tel." Ephraim Stern. editor. The New Encyclopedia of Archaeological Excavations in the Holy Land. 1993. Simon & Schuster. New York)


Yohanan Aharoni, "Kadesh-Barnea and Mount Sinai." pp. 115-126. Beno Rothenberg, Yohanan Aharoni & Avia Hashimshoni. God's Wilderness, Discoveries in Sinai. New York. Thomas Nelson & Sons.1961, 1962.

William Foxwell Albright. The Proto-Sinaitic Inscriptions And Their Decipherment. Cambridge. Harvard Univerity Press. 1966.

Itzhaq Beit-Arieh. "Canaanites and Egyptians at Serabit el Khadim," in Anson F. Rainey, editor. Egypt, Israel, Sinai: Archaeological and Historical Relationships in the Biblical Period. Tel Aviv 1987.

Alan H. Gardiner & T. Eric Peet (Jaroslav Cerny, editor). The Inscriptions of Sinai. [Part 2, Translations and Commentary]. London. Egypt Exploration Society. 1955.

Raphael Giveon. The Stones of Sinai Speak. Tokyo. Gakuseisha. 1978.

John R. Huddlestun. "Nile." p. 1108. Vol. 4. David Noel Freedman. Editor. The Anchor Bible Dictionary. New York. Doubleday-Anchor. 1992. 

Aharon Kempinski. "Masos, Tel." p. 988. Vol. 3. Ephraim Stern. Editor. The New Encyclopedia of Archaeological Excavations in the Holy Land. New York. Simon & Schuster. 1993.
T. Eric Peet. Egypt and the Old Testament. Boston. Small, Maynard & Company. 1923, 1924.

Benjamin Sass. The Genesis of the Alphabet and Its Development in the Second Millennium B.C. Wiesbaden, Germany. Otto Harrassowitz [Publisher]. [Agypten und Altes Testament, Studien zu Geschichte, Kultur und Religion Agyptens und des Alten Testaments, herausgegeben von Manfred Gorg, Band 13]. 1988.

John R. Spencer. "Phineas." p. 346. Vol. 5. David Noel Freedman. Editor. The Anchor Bible Dictionary. New York. Doubleday-Anchor. 1992. 

Ian Wilson. The Exodus Enigma. London. Weidenfeld & Nicolson. 1985. 


 Abu Zenima. Sheet 5. Egypt 1:100,000. Southern Sinai. Survey of Egypt 1936.

p.33. Alberto Siliotti. Sinai, Geschichte, Kunst, Touristik. [Sinai, History, Art, Tourism]. Karl Muller Verlag. Erlangen, Deutschland. 1994. ISBN 3-86070-503-2).

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On the below map, the Egyptian miner's Hathor Temple appears as "Temple." To the WSW of the "Temple" lies Gebal Serabit el Khadim; to the east of Serabit el Khadim lies Gebal Ghorabi (which appears on other maps as Gharabi); to the south of Gebal Ghorabi lies Gebal Saniya (cf. map titled Abu Zenima. Sheet 5. Egypt 1:100,000. Southern Sinai. Survey of Egypt 1936)

I understand that Rephidim is preserved in Serabit el Khadim, perhaps p becoming b in Arabic and the "Se-," and "-it" possibly being an Arabic prefix and sufformative? Alternately, Reph- might be preserved in Wadi Agraf  whose headwaters begin south of the temple and end at Bir Umm Agraf SW of Gebel Saniya. The "rock in Horeb" associated with Rephidim in Exodus 17:6 (Hebrew/Aramaic: Choreb) I understand to be one of the smaller elevations in the high plain bounded by the Temple, Serabit el Khadim and Ghorabi (Ghorabi possibly preserving in Arabic the Hebrew Choreb/Horeb?). 

I understand that Mount Sinai is Gebal Saniya. By locating Israel in this plain, we have her to the west of Gebals Ghorabi (Choreb/Horeb?) and Saniya (Mount Sinai?), and in a position to witness the rising Sun in the east each day. In scripture Yahweh is metaphorically said to have DAWNED from Sinai, Seir and Paran (De 33:2 RSV), suggesting Israel is encamped to the west of all these locations. I identify Paran and its wilderness with the Feiran Oasis and Wadi Feiran, to ESE of Serabit el Khadim (not shown on this map).

To the degree that Egyptian myths have Hathor the sky-cow-goddess giving birth to the Sun each morning as the Golden Calf, Israel is also ideally situated to viewing the rising Sun as either Yahew or the Golden Calf or possibly a
fusion/assimilation of both.

In this plain (south of the Hathor Shrine), have been found Egyptian Turquoise and Malachite mines, along with Miner's encampments, Proto-Sinaitic inscriptions on shattered steli-form rocks and burial tumuli, all of which I understand "became" Israel's encampments at Rephidim, Horeb and Sinai. The area has not only Egyptian Hieroglyphic inscriptions, but pottery debris of the Middle Kingdom (2040-1782 BCE)  through New Kingdom (ca. 1560-1200 BCE), as late as ca. 1133 BCE and the reign of Pharaoh Ramesses VI (ca. 1141-1133BCE).

I understand that Judeans at the Feiran Oasis (their 9th/8th century BCE pottery being found there) possibly visited the area of Serabit el Khadim and finding the Egyptian inscriptions, and shattered Proto-Sinaitic steli-form inscriptions, incorporated these elements into the Exodus story.
The below German map shows the Hathor Temple as "Tempel" and the locations of Egyptian mines (German: bergwerk) and inscriptions (German: "inschriften"), both Hieroglyphic and Proto-Sinaitic (p.33. Alberto Siliotti. Sinai, Geschichte, Kunst, Touristik. [Sinai, History, Art, Tourism]. Karl Muller Verlag.Erlangen, Deutschland. 1994. ISBN 3-86070-503-2).
The below map, shows Djebel Serabit el Khadim WSW of the Hathor Temple and Djebel Ghorabi to the east of Djebel Serabit el Khadim (p. 33. Silotti)
Below, an old woodcut print showing the shattered tablets at the feet of a "horned" Moses accompanied by Joshua who points to Israel dancing about the Golden Calf.  In viewer's upper left corner, God appears in a cloud, recalling his manifestation to Israel at Mount Sinai in a Thunder-cloud. In front of Moses, Aaron casts Israelite gold jewelery into a fire to make the calf.
Below, a modern interpretation of the Ten Commandments in Paleo-Hebrew.
(cf. http://www.valeriewiker.com/archives/ten_commandments.jpg)
Below, an old engraving showing Moses with two tables of stone bearing the Ten Commandments.