3.1ff Now Moses kept the flock of Jethro his father-in-law, the priest of Midian; and he led the flock to the backside of the desert, and came to the mountain of God, even to Horeb.
And the angel of the LORD appeared unto him in a flame of fire out of the midst of a bush; and he looked, and behold the bush burned with fire, and the brush was not consumed.
And Moses said, I will now turn aside and see this sight, why the bush is not burnt.
And when the LORD saw that he turned aside to see, God called to him out of the midst of the bush, and said, Moses, Moses. And he said, Here am I.
And he said, Draw not nigh hither; put off thy shoes from off thy feet, for the place whereon thou standest is holy ground.
8 ...unto a good land and a large, unto a land flowing with milk and honey; unto the place of the Canaanites, and the Amorites, and the Perizzites, and the Hivites, and the Jebusites.
19.1ff. In the third month, when the children of Israel were gone forth out of the land of Egypt, the same day came they into the wilderness of Sinai.
For they were departed from Rephidim, and were come to the desert of Sinai, and had come to the desert of Sinai and had pitched in the wilderness; and there Israel camped before the mount.
And Moses went up unto God, and the LORD called unto him out of the mountain, saying, Thus shalt thou say, etc.
10. And the LORD said unto Moses, Go unto the people, and sanctify them to day and to morrow, and let them wash their clothes.
And be ready against the third day: for the third day the LORD will come down in the sight of all the people upon Mount Sinai...
16. And it came to pass on the third day in the morning, that there were thunders and lightnings, and a thick cloud upon the mount, and the voice of the trumpet exceeding loud; so that all the people that was in the camp trembled
20. And the LORD came down upon mount Sinai, on the top of the mount: and the LORD called Moses up to the tope of the mount; and Moses went up
24. 3f And Moses came and told the people all the words of the LORD and all the judgments; and all the people answered with one voice, and said, all the words which the LORD hath said will we do.
And Moses wrote all the words of the LORD, and rose up early in the morning, and builded and altar under the hill.
9-11. Then went up Moses, and Aaron, Nadab and Abihu, and seveny of the elders of Israel:
And they saw the God of Israel; and there were under his feet as it were a paved work of a sapphire stone, and as it were the body of heaven in his clearness.
And upon the nobles of the children of Israel he laid not his hand: also, they saw God and did eat and drink
15ff. And Moses went up into the mount, and a cloud covered the mount.
And the glory of the LORD abode on mount Sinai, and the cloud covered it six days: and the seventh day he called unto Moses out of the midst of the cloud.
And the sight of the glory of the LORD was like a devouring fire on the top of the mount in the eyes of the children of Israel.
And Moses went into the midst of the cloud, and gat him up into the mount: and Moses was in the mount forty days and forty nights.
25. 2ff Speak unto the children of Israel, that they bring me an offering: of every man that giveth it willingly with his heart ye shall take my offering.
And this is the offering which ye shall take of them: gold and silver and brass,
And blue, and purple and scarlet, and fine linen and goats hair,
And rams skins dyed red, and badgers skins, and shittim wood,
Oils for the light, spices of anointing oil, and for sweet incense,
Onyx stones, and stones to be set in the ephod, and in the breastplate
31. And thou shalt make a candlestick of pure gold: of beaten work shall the candlestick be made: his shaft, and his branches, his bowls, his knops and his flowers, shall be of the same.
31.18. And he gave unto Moses, when he had made an end of communing with him upon mount Sinai, two tables of testimony, tables of stone, written with the finger of God.
32, 1ff.....for as for this Moses that brought us out of the land of Egypt, we wont not what is become of him.
And Aaron said unto them, Break off the golden earrings, which are in the ears of your wives, of your sons and of your daughters, and bring them unto me...
And he received them at their hand, and fashioned it with a graving tool, after he had made it a molten calf: and the said, These be thy gods, O Israel.
32,14. And the LORD repented of the evil which he thought to do unto his people.
15. And Moses turned, and went down from the mount, and the two tablets of the tabernacle were in his hand
19. And it came to pass, as soon as he came nigh unto the camp, that he saw the calf and the dancing: and Moses anger waxed ht, and he took the tables out of his hands, and brake them beneath the mount.
27. And he said unto them, Thus saith the LORD God of Israel, Put every man his sword by his side, and go in the out from gate to gate throughout the camp, and slay every man his brother, and every man his companion, and every man his neighbor.
And the children of Levi did according to the word of Moses: and there fell of the people that day about three thousand men.
33,6 And the children of Israel stripped themselves of their ornaments by the mount Horeb.
11.And the LORD spake unto Moses face to face, as a man speaketh unto his friend.
20. And he said, Thou canst not see my face: for there shall no man see me, and live.
And the LORD said, Behold, there is a place by me, and thou shalt stand upon a rock:
And it shall come to pass, while my glory passeth by, that I will put thee in a clift of the rock, and will cover thee with my hand while I pass by:
And I will take away mine hand, and thou shalt see my back parts: but my face shall not be seen.
(Numbers 14,14, thou Lord art among these people, thou Lord art seen face to face.)
1.46. 603,550 warriors over 20.
12.1. And Miriam and Aaron spake against Moses because of the Ethiopian woman whom he had married; for he had married an Ethiopian woman.
14.32, But as for you, your carcases, they shall fall in this wilderness.
And your children shall wander in the wilderness forty years, and bear your whoredoms, until your carcases be wasted in the wilderness.
34, 10. And there arose not a prophet since in Israel like unteo Moses, whom the LORD knew face to face.
8, 15f Who led thee through that great and terrible wilderness, wherein where fiery serpent and scorpions, and drought where there was no water; who brought thee forth water out of the rock of flint;
Who fed thee in the wilderness with manna
origin of name unknown
Sinai, the Site & the History, NYUniversity Press
11. Bedouin says a place is half an hour away, not a kilometer or two.
They refer to Nile Valley dwellers as Misryeen, Egyptians
Both men and women work from dawn until the shadow of the stick disappears.
22. sands of the Sinai being put to work since they contain 98.7 percent silicon oxide, which can be used to make glass and solar cells that can produce heat and generate electricity.
25. It is the home of the Proto-Semitic alphabet, the mother of alphabetic scripts.
Early names: mfkat meaning turquoise, shsmt, meaning malachite, Bia, meaning mines
27, turquoise mines under protection of goddess Hathor
36, way of Horus, worlds most ancient military route. Few remains survived battles, sandstorms, Bedouins
40. Proto-Synatic or Synatic inscriptions made by miners, perhaps ancestor of Phoenician
41. Rhinococura, place of exile for criminals with broken noses
Pompey killed by men of Ptolemy XII
47. Al-Tor mountains in south
Al-Tih tableland in center
El Arish plains in north
51 rarely settled
Population 225000, 1 _ percent of Egypt
55 % Bedu
55 Berko of beads and stone to cover face
Bedu eye for underground water
54 culvert under Suez Canal
3200 km of paved roads
Six civil airports
63 goal of 2 million population
900 fishing boats on Lake Berdawil
76 Hathor -- Mistress of Turquoise 9or Good Color)
Sopd -- Lord of the East
80 only intact monastery
625 Achtiname Testament
81 Church of Sinai is the smallest of the independent churches of the Orthodox communion. It is ruled by the Archbishop of Mount Sinai, the abbot of the monastery of St. Catherine.
88. Procopius: Since these monks have nothing to crave - for they are superior to all human desires and have no interest in possessing anything of caring for their bodies, nor do they seek pleasure in any other thing whatever - the Emperor Justinian built them a church which he dedicated to the Mother of God, so that they might be enabled to pass their lives therein praying and holding services. He built this church, not on the mountainss summit, but much lower down. For it is impossible for a man to pass the night on the summit, since constant crashes of thunder and other terrifying manifestations of divine power are heard at night, striking terror into
mans body and soul.
Walls of granite, in some places 30 meters high
100. More than 4,000 manuscripts, about 3,000 in Greek and several hundred in Arabic, Syriac, Gregorian, Armenian, Coptic, Ethiopian and Slavic.
2000 icons, largest collection in the world
106. Icon of the heavenly ladder. 92 x 64 cm. Thirty rungs represent the 30 virtues that monk must acquire. John Cliamaus, abbot, and Antonius, first bishop of Sinai, first to make it.
110. Church on summit where Moses received the Law.
117 hagan races, 60 km hr
camel value = boy or slave
Aspphalt roads have led to a lack of interest in raising, training and disicplining camels. Now large numbers of free-roaming camels, grazing in the deseert for long months without their owners.
Camels in Sinai are relatively small in size, having a light yellowing color.
Their life span is thirty to forty years.
Camel meat and milk give food; its skin is used to make shoes, belts, gloves and water bottles. Its tail is used as fuel
119 Slaughter! Slaughter!
Marriage dances. Camels also dance, sometimes alone and sometimes with a rider/
Marriage is a word of honor, and there are no documents or contracts, although the local governates have recently begun requesting marital registrations.
128 Bad Ancestors on whom they pour swear words and insults, throwing stones at their graves.
131. Bedouin proverbs. God bless the obedient woman, the fast horse and the big house. The seller is greedy, and the buyer a thief. Organized lies are better than scattered honesty.
133. A man is required to act fairly among his wives, providing each of them with a tent, and coming to each of them one night. If he neglects one of the womens turn, she ties one knot into a long thread. Every night he neglects her, she ties another know until her patience is tried. Then she takes the knotted thread to her family, which will take it to the judge. He will order the husband to pay one camel for every night he abandoned his wife.
April 21, 2001
I assume that you are the HobbsJ who wrote the admirable book about Mount Sinai.
I plan to go to Mount Sinai myself next month to write an article for Smithsonian Magazine which I hope will be a little more than a summary of your astute and scholarly and very human observations, and I wonder if I may impose on your time to ask the following few questions in increasing order of impertinence:
1.Is Father Makarios still at the monastery?
2.Do you know his family name in the secular world? I ask because I once had a friend who was a Greek blackjack dealer in Carson City, Nevada, and if he turned out to be the Fathers brother it would make a pleasant subject of conversation on the slopes of Jebel Musa.
3.Are there any other Fathers, Brothers, or Bedouins to whom you would like me to pass on personal greetings?
4.Was it Doughty who said of the Bedouin that he sits up to his eyes in a cloaca but his brows touch heaven?
5.Do you know of a reliable short-cut for getting permission to see the icons and books in the monastery?
6.If you had a generous expense account, in which of the seaside hotels would you choose to relax?
May St Moses the bandit and St Mary the whore bless you for any words of advice or encouragement you may deign to offer me.
Robert Wernick (currently at 5 rue de Plaisance 75014 Paris, email Wernick6@cs.com, or can be called collect at 331 45 42 81 09)
April 26, 2001
Thank you for your letter. I had a feeling as soon as I read your first chapter, that we would get along.
I have only last bit of practical advice to ask for. Since I am not leaving till May 21, I will have time to write. To whom - Father John, Archbishop Damianos?. What is the correct mailing address? Or, since I have had varying experiences with Mediterranean post offices, do they have an e-mail address? Or fax? Or telephone number? Or a tame raven?
I certainly hope that anything I write will be beneficial to the monastery. The magazines 2.5 million subscribers will never have seen anything like it.
The quote, or misquote, from Doughty, comes from his Travels in Arabia Deserta, an English classic which should be in your and every other library.
Thanks again, and best wishes.
May 2, 2001
Dear Father John,
Joseph Hobbs, author of the admirable book on Mount Sinai, has suggested that I write to you. I will be in Egypt shortly - in Cairo on May 22, and thereafter for several days in Sharm-al-Shayk - and I hope to be able to speak to Archbishop Damianos and other members of your community.
I have been asked to write an article about the mountain and the monastery, and the continual miracle of their existence, for Smithsonian Magazine, which as you probably know is published in Washington by the Smithsonian Institution and has some two and a half million subscribers. I hope to be able, without inconveniencing you, to visit the monastery, to see its unique collection of icons and of books, and to learn how you are surviving through all the turmoils of the twentieth century.
I am currently in France, at 5 rue de Plaisance 75014 Paris. If you wish you can call me collect at 331 45428109. Or you can send a Fax to a friend of mine Carla Bonomi at 331 43067862. Or if you have email, my number is Wernick6@cs.com..
I am looking forward to my trip with great anticipation
May 16, 2001
I wish I had more definite news for you about your Malagasy proposal. Unfortunately the Smithsonian is going through a period of turmoil right now, with changes at the higher echelons and an editor who is on the verge of retiring or going blind or both, and it appears at least temporarily impossible to get a firm commitment about anything. I have something like four suggestions of my own hanging fire, and there are younger writers with somewhat fewer resources than I who are biting the ends of their fingers off. I do hope that you get a nod one of these days, it sounds like a fabulous idea and I would like to join you in one of those caves. The editor I deal with mostly there, Kathleen Burke, is very keen on the idea, and if there is anything you want to add to your original suggestion you can get in touch directly with her
I will be heading off to Jebel Musa next week. I called Father John at your suggestion, and he suggested I send him a fax with the request to the Archbishop. So far, no reply
Goodbye to All That
324. TELawrence to Graves: The climate is good, the country beautiful, the things admirable, the beings curious and disgusting.
Sinai (a jolly desert)
May 20, 2001
Dear John Grainger,
Joe Hobbs has told me about you, and says I must see you, and I am sure he is right.
I am heading for Egypt with two friends tomorrow. Unfortunately circumstances dictate that this will have to be a lightning visit, but it should be an interesting one at all events. We will be staying a day in Cairo (at the Marriott Palace) then on to Sharm-el-Shayk at dawn on Wednesday, hope to see Archbishop Damianos at the monastery and take a quick look at the mosaics and icons. Also see Mahmoud Mansur. And in the next couple of days take in the maximum of local sites and local color (and maybe even a swim). No fixed details or itinerary as yet, maybe we can talk on the phone when we are in Cairo, and see if you have any time to spare or advice to give.. I will be taking my computer with me, so you can reach me any time at Wernick6@cs.com.
Looking forward to meeting you.
June 11, 2001
Dear John Grainger,
Sorry to have missed you. I wish I could have had time to see in more detail some of the brave and imaginative things you seem to be doing.
However, I was very well received by your colleague, whose name I have somehow misplaced, and he gave me plenty of valuable information. Will you please thank him for me and tell him that I greatly enjoyed my brief conversation with him. And, incidentally, that I maintain my position about the River of Egypt, of which my Bible Dictionary in the Cambridge edition of the King James version says: The word translated River is really brook, consequently the name denotes, not the Nile, but the Wady elArish, a desert stream on the border of Egypt.
I was very pleased to be received at the home of Mahmoud Mansur, he is both an impressive and a delightful man, and I was doubly delighted to be acquainted with a Bedouin who is also, in a certain sense, a bureaucrat. I forgot to ask him if his work as Guardian continues full time when he takes his sheep up to the high pastures in summertime.
Repeating earlier query: when and where was expense advance sent?
Life in Egypt:
RW to Dahab Hilton telephone operator: Can you tell me the number of the Saint Katherine Natural Protectorate?
Telephone operator: Is she registered in this hotel?
Sinai, a jolly desert, said Lawrence of Arabia.
How could he possibly have thought so, I wondered, bumping along the endless miles of pot-holed road curling through dried-up river beds from the Red Sea coast up to the Mountain of the Lord, passing through all this majestic desolation, this hot empty hostile land, all these huge lowering red-granite rocks streaked with black volcanic dikes. They are among the oldest of all rocks, formed half a billion years go, thrust up from the bowels of the earth four hundred ninety years later, to be intermittenlty scratched and wrinkled and fantastically shaped ever since by the rare floods that follow the rare desert rains. There seems to be nothing here that might not have been here ten million years ago, except the road itself and the high-tension wires running alongside it, and these are less than a third of a century old. The road It is bordered here and there by clumps of colorless brush. Every mile of so there is an anemic acacia tree, a lizard sun-bathing on a rock. At much greater intervals there may be a Bedouin hut with a camel (or sometimes, in these degenerate modern days, a Toyota) tethered in front of it. At three or four places there are empty oil drums fornming road blocks where white-uniformed Egyptian soldiers leav e off their card games long enough to check for drug dealers or Israeli spies.
No wonder that for almost all the thousands of years of human history no civilized people regarded the Sinai Peninsula, the triangular chunk of land between Africa and Asia, as anything but a disagreeable nuisance. a barren wasteland, a refuge for wild beasts and wild lawless Bedouin tribes like the Midianites, Moabites, Israelites, Amalekites, Edomites, a nomansland between rival empires, sometimes crossed by invading armies from the north like those of Cambyses of Persia or Alexander the Great of Macedon or Moshe Dayan of Israel, sometimes from the south like those of the pharaoh Rameses II or or of Pompey the Great of Rome or by Napoleon Bonaparte of revolutionary France or General Allenby of Imperial England. The ancient Egyptians exploited turquoise mines in the south under the guidance of the Goddess Hathor for some centuries till they exhausted them. The ancient Romans had a penal colony in the north called Rhinococura or City of Broken Noses after a peculiar feature of their jurisprudence.[S, 41] For the ancient Hebrews who according to the Bible spent forty years in it when they fled from bondage in Egypt, it was a great and terrible wilderness, wherein were fiery serpents and scorpions, and drought where there was no water, a place of endless dearth and enmity and strife, which, once Moses had led them to the Promised Land of Canaan flowing with milk and honey, they had no desire to look on again, however holy it might be.
For Jews and Christians and Moslems alike it has always ranked among the holiest ground on, for it was in the middle of this barren windblown waste that God had chosen to appear to Moses and speak to him face to face as a man speaketh unto a friend, here that He revealed His name I AM THAT I AM, here that He traced with His own finger on two tablets of stone the commandments which would remain the primary code for the three great monotheistic religions of the world, . And all around there are places which tradition has touched with divinity: the pool where that Moses struck living water from a rock when his people was dying of thirst, the spot on the summit (now covered by a small church kept lock because of the overwhelming rush of visitors) where the feet of Moses sank into the rock when he took the full weight of the Ten Comnanments on his shoulders, the imprint in the rock made by the camel of the prophet Mohammed when he visited the monstery, the spot at the bottom of the mountain where three thousand Israelites were slaughtered at the command of Moses because they had worshiped a golden calf cast by his brother Aaron; the cave where the prophet Elijah hid when he was fleeing the wrath of Queen Jezebel of Israel after he had slaughtered four hundred prophets of her god Baal. [1Kings 18:40l.
The writers of the Bible were not preparing a geographic manual and left no precise indication of just where these wonders had occurred, which are variously located in the Books of Exodus Numbers and Deuteronomy as Mount Sinai, Mount Horeb and the Mountain of the Lord.. Local Bedouin tradition pointed to the 6000-foot peak known as Jebel Musa, or Mountain of Moses, and though learned men through the centuries have argued that the biblical text is better fitted to other heights in a wilderness which does not lack for them, such as Mount St Catherine, a few miles to the north, which is a thousand feet higher and has a still more spectacular view, it is Jebel Musa which is now marked Mount Sinai on the maps, it is here to which pilgrims have been beating a long and weary way from the ends of the earth for almost two thousand years.
Small accretions of holiness have been added to this ground by every pair of pilgrim feet that has found its way up here for almost two thousand years.
Here the long empty road suddenly becomes animated, there are camels and buses and shops and a filling station, green shoots out from behind the walls of the orchards surrounding the monastery of St. Catherine. There is always a crowd of people starting to climb the 750 steps carved out of the rock - The Stairway of Repentance, it is called, the hardier can start it about 2500 steps further down (no two authorities agree on exactly how many steps there, a French pilgrim in 1848 counted fourteen thousand), the more infirm can hire a camel with a Bedouin guide. Or they are coming down the steps, having gone up at two in the morning to see the sun rise over an endless landscape of corruscating emptiness.
The pilgrim feet began coming not because of the historical and religious implications of the spot as because of its very desolation, its hostility to life, its challenge. It challenged early Christians, at first in the province of Egypt, later from all over the Roman world, to prove that, like the first martyrs who had proudly defied wild beasts and bloody-handed executioners, they could face the worst privations, live naked and alone amid barren rocksl defy the world and the devil and all their temptations, achieve salvation through utter devotion and abstinence and abnegation. The first of these holy ones were hermits who lived along in caves or inside rings of stone they piled up with their hands. When asked why they lived alone, they would reply that he who receives visits from men cannot expect to be visited by angels.A wealthy man from Constantiople named Nilus went to lose and find himself there about the year 420 because Nilus, 420 AD: A powerful longing towards Sinai seized me, and neither with my bodily eyes nor with those of the spirit could I find joy in anything, so strongly was I attracted to that place of solitude. Indeed, when love of a thing lays hold of the heart, it distracts the heart from even the dearest persons, and leads it so powerfully away that neither sorrow nor grief nor disgrace form any obstacle.
Later they began to congregate, to pray and worship together, to form monasteries. In the middle of the 6th century, the emperor Justinian in the last great age of Roman magnificence magnificent gifts to found a great monastery under a cliff on the north flank of Mount Sinai, one of the few places in the peninsula where winter snows guarantee a stable water tables and things on grow on spare patches of earth scattered among the rocks.
Among the things growing here was a sturdy specimen of Rubus Sanctus a very rare and very hardy (it can live for thousands of years) non-fruit-bearing relative of the blackberry bramble which is believed to have emigrated from central Asia millions of years ago when the climate was more equable [H, 195]. This particular bush, protected now from tourists by a fench and wall, was believed then, and is believed by the monks who tend it and water it from the well where Moses met his first wife Zipporah the daughter of Jethro the Priest of Midian, who had come with her fathers sheep as Bedouin maidens do to this day, and prune it to this day. to be the original Burning Bush, the Bush burned with fire but was not consumed and out of which God spoke to Moses when he was tending his father-in-laws sheep, saying put off thy shoes from off thy feet, for the place whereon thou standest is holy ground.
On this spot the Emperor Justinian since these monks have nothing to crave - for they are superior to all human desires and have no interest in possessing anything of caring for their bodies, nor do they seek pleasure in any other thing whatever - built them a church which he dedicated to the Mother of God, so that they might be enabled to pass their lives therein praying and holding services. [S, 88]He had strategic ends in view, too. Mount Sinai was at the outermost frontier of the Roman Empire, looking down on savage wastes out of which savage bands might burst at any moment to ravage the peaceful lands of Egypt and Syria They had already been known to murder solitary anchorites out of sheer rage at not finding anything to rob in their possession. So he made his monks a house which also be a fortress, with walls up to thirty meters and over two thick, with slit windows for shooting out arrows or pouring boiling oil on any attJune 9, 2001ackers. And he manned it with a formidable garrison recruited among Slavic tribes in the Balkans.
He also filled it with magnificent works of art, masterpieces of mosaic from the imperial workshops in Constantinople to rival those he sent to Ravenna (Smithsonian, date koming) at the other end of the empire, and the first of what has grown over the centuries to be the greatest collection of religious icons in the world.
. For two centuries the monastery of the Burning Bush remained one of the glories of the
man world. At the extremities of the Empire, far from the capital at Constantinople, its walls flashed all the color of Byzantine art at its height of glory. When the Iconoclast emperors, foreshadowing the Taleban of today by taking literally the Second Commandment, destroyed all the masterpieces of Byzantine painting and sculpture, their reach did not extend to frontier provinces like Ravenna and Mount Sinai. Their decrees that all art must be abstract destroyed a glorious tradition, from it which took Byznatine art a couple of centuries to recover, by which time the Byzantine Empire was on its last legs.
Nothing was the same at Mount Sinai either. In the early years of the 8th century, the Arab armies of Islam burst out of Arabia and if a few years had conquered most of the heartland of Christianity in the Middle East and North Africa. The monastery on Mount Sinai, from being the crown jewel of an Orthodox Christian empire, had become a tiny island in an islamic sea.
Shrunken in size, from hundreds and even thousands in Justinians day to a single starving monk in 1699, hovering around twentyfive today, the monks who form the totality of what is now the smallest of the independent churches of the Orthodox communion, consisting of the 25 monks of St Katherines, ruled by their Abbot, Archbishop Damianos.have remained faithful to their God and their order, following the traditional daily ritual of eight hours of work, eight hours of prayer, eight hours of sleep. The land over which they have authority has drastically shrunk two, from a three-and-a-third-days camel ride in all directions from the monastery, to a narrow strip around the building, but the building itself has remained inviolate, its walls never breached though they had to be repaired by one of Napoleons generals in 1788. From 1600 till about 1920 , people and supplies were drawn in on a basket suspended on a 10meter long, 6-centimeter thick rope from a windlass on the north wall. This first passenger elevator in the world was put to use again in the 1954 film, The Valley of the Kings.
There have been raids by hostile Bedoui ns, there have been difficulty with fanatic sultans and pashas, but generally, some would say miraculously they have lived in peace with their Moslem neighbors for the last thirteen hundred years.
( The original garrison has, through intermarriage with neighboring tribes and conversion to Islam (the last Christian among them died in the 18th century), has evolved into a Bedouin tribe of its own, the Jabilya, which has maintained a symbiotic relationship with the community of monks through all the centuries, working for them, being fed by them, teaching them the ways of the desert while learning from them such details of Mediterranean life as growing , grafting and irrigating olive trees, walnut trees, fruit trees. There are tomatoes, squash, wheat, oranges, walnuts, peaches, apricots, figs, mulberry and a struggling guava. The men care for a number of olive trees...Spires of dark green cypress trees, some brought form Mount Athos and Cyprus more than a thousand years ago, tower incongruously against the native red rock. The monastery complex appears, says Joe Hobbs, like a Mediterranean isle in a Saharan sea.
To this day the monks watch each little Jabaliya growing up, the Jabaliya come to the Archbishop to settle their internal quarrels.
And so it has been for the last 1300 years. The community has survived, it has prospered, richly endowed by pious rulers all over the Christian world, and some impious ones as well, like Louis XI of France and Ivan IV, the Terrible, of Russia. Its collections of icons, a living blazing history of religious art through the centuries, is the largest in the world, numbering over 2000. [S, 100]. The 12th century icon of The Heavenly Ladder is a vivid illustration of how the monks viewed the magnitude of their task: the ladders thirty rungs represent the thirty virtues the monks must acquire on their way to Heaven, and little black devils are waiting everywhere for a false footstep [S, 82-3]Its library contains more precious ancient manuscripts, in Greek, Arabic, Syriac, Aermenian, Coptic, Ethiopian Slavic Persian, Russian etc than any other besides the Vaticans. Perhaps the most valuable of all ancient manuscripts, the 4th century Codex Sinaiticus, the oldest complete ms of the Greek New Testament, subsists in the form of sixteen pages left behind for some reason when a German con man named Constantin vonTischendorff in 1859 borrowed or stole the rest on the promise of saving them for posterity, and gave or sold them to the Tsar of Russia, whose Bolshevik successors in their endless need of cash sold them in turn for one hundred thousand pounds in 1933 to form the prime jewel in the collection of the British Museum in London.
The monks have hung in the entrance corridor of the monastery a copy (the original was taken off by Sultan Selim I to Constantinople in 15xx) of a decree said to have been dictated by the Prophet Mohammed to his son-in-law Ali and signed with his own hand-print, enjoining all his followers to do no harm to the inhabitants of this monastery, where he was hospitably received in his caaml-trading youth. Scholars suspect that this document was actually created in the 11th century, when the monastery was in danger of attack from moslem fundamentalists, but for all the years of the Ottoman empire it was successively re-issued by each new Sultan coming to the throne.
The monks have many other stories to tell, of Moses and others, but especially of Saint Catherine, after whom the monastery took its new name in the 11th century when her bones were miraculously discovered on the top of the nearby Jebel Katerina. Catherine who had been condemned to be publicly broken on a spiked wheel (but the wheel miraculously broke loose and killed masses of the spectators) and was later beheaded by the emperor Maxentius, Whereupon, within that hour, her revered and precious relics were devoutly translated by holy angels and deposited on Mount Sinai in a secret place, later identified as the top of what is now Jebel Katriin, Mount St. Catherine, She became one of the favorite saints of the Middle Ages,
Her popularity - not only for her saintliness but for the ability of her bones to cure a wide variety of diseases, about 1025 a monk from Sicily named Simeon, collecting healing oil from the saints body, also collected three of her fingers, which cured Abbot Isembart of Rouen of the toothache. Relics became the most popular in Europe, she became the patron saint of the univesities of Paris and Padua. Relics removed to a golden casket in the monastery, renamed after her in 12th century, te become,along with Santiago da Campostella in Spain, one of the two most prestigious goals of pilgrimage in the middle ages. Perhaps the most presitigious because it was the most dangerous because it was the most difficult and dangerous, taxing the physical and spiritual resources of the pilgrims to their utmost degree. Taxing their pocket-books too, for to make the long journey on foot to some port like Marseilles or Genoa, then the still longer journey by rat-infested ship that might take six weeks over stormy pirate-infested seas to a port like Alexandria, then a long journey on camel-back through waterless Bedouin-infested deserts to St Catherines, with taxes and doctors fees and the ever-present demand for baksheesh, came to far more than the average mans yearly income. [H, 227]. As the saying went, it took good intentions, a stout heart, ready tongue and fat purse to go on a pilgrimage. [H, 227]
As in all great spiritual endeavors there was a constant con founding of the sacred and profane. Materialism and consumerism and even globalism haunted the Ages of Faith as wthey haunt our own. Poor pilgrims could eke out part of their passage money by trafficking with the caravans of the spice trade which fed the insatiable European hunger for pepper and cardamon and eventually led to the discovery of America (Smihtsonian, date koming). For every pilgrim seeking the renewal of his soul, there was at least another expecting material gain of some sortwhether it was a few days or years off from the torments of Purgatory, or a cash payment from some sinner to do the pilgirmage for him, or a quick cure for his bodily aches and pains, or as spies for the invading gangster-barons of the Crusades, or simply to boast when he came back that he had been to Sinai. Criminals of all stripes preyed on the pilgrims or were pilgrims themselves. The long painful voyage to Sinai might be a voluntary penance or a mandatory sentence of crimes such as adultery, incest, bestiality, murder, arson and sacrilege (H,224]
. St Nilus might say in the 5th century A powerful longing towards Sinsai seized me, and neither with my bodily eyes nor with those of the spirit could I find joy in anything, so strongly was I attracted to that place of solitude. Indeed, when love of a thing lays hold of the heart, it distracts the heart from even the dearest persons, and leads it so powerfully away that neither sorrow nor grief nor disgrace form any obstacle. But few of the tens of thousands of pilgrims who made the arduous journey were saints, though they might become saints on the way against all expectation. Saint Moses of Egypt started his career as a bandit preying on the pilgrims camel trains. St Mary of Egypt started hers as a prostitute working the pilgrim ships between Alexandria and Joppa before running off into the desert to start and afflict herself for forty years.
Willy-nilly, the monks were forced to be at least marginally part of the world they had
deliberately renounced with all its goods. As Father Justin, who was once a Southern Baptist boy from Texas, told me, Men flee to the ends of the earth seeking peace and quiet, and they destroy peace and quiet as they go. Somebody had to see to greeting the pilgrims, providing them with shelter and food and guides to the holy places. Like their pagan predecessors the priests of the shrine of Aphrodite at Paphos in Cyprus where the goddess came each spring to renew her virginity in the Mediterranean waves, these incarnators of spirituality had to turn themselves into creators of what is now called the tourist business.
And as in any modern Holiday Inn, there were conflicts and misunderstandings. The monks begrudged the time they had take off from their devotions to cater to the material needs of their guests. The guests complained, often bitterly, that the monks were charging too much for their services. Von Tischendorff noted in 1844 that he had to pay a hundred piastres day for his accommodation at the monastery while the far for his ten-day return trip to Cairo was only a hundred and twenty.
Nevertheless, life went on a pretty much its usual pace, century after century. even this all-changing 20th century In any year Up through the mid-1960's, visitors who made it to the monastery by rugged car or camel in any one year rarely numbered more than thirty. (H, 254]
Then, in 1967 everything changed. The modern world came blasting into the Sinai. It came in the form of the Israeli army which, taking advantage of colossal errors in judgment on the part of the Egyptian leader Abdul Gamal Nasser, who blundered into a war for which he was not prepared, crushed the Egyptian army in six days and occupied the whole of the Sinai peninsula up to the Suez Canal. For the first time in its long history the Sinai burst out of its timeless traditional world of ritual and myth into the noisy nervous present tense. The Israelis built brand-new phenomena like paved roads and airports. Just as important in the long run, they went swimming and sunbathing on the magnificent beaches of the Gulf of Akaba, they dived down to the coral reefs, and they built rudimentary summer resorts with banks, post offices, mosques, souvenir shops and telephone exchanges, which were soon receiving fifty thousand visitors a year [H, 263].
After another war and the Camp David Accords between Egypt and Israel in 1979 which inaugurated the first reasonably durable peace in the Middle East since Richard the Lion Heart and Saladin agreed to a truce in 1183 (Smithsonian, date koming), Sinai was totally changed in Egyptian eyes. Instead of being an empty frontier zone, it was an integral part of the country, a monument to patriotic fervor, as Alsace-Lorraine had once been to France. The Bedouins, widely accused at first of having collaborated with the Israeli invaders, were no longer considered sand fleas as they had been since the Book of Genesis [46, 34] noted that for the Egyptians shepherds have always been an abomination. (The Bedouins returned the compliment by calling the dwellers of the Nile Valley Misryeen, meaning Egyptians.[S, 11]) They were part of a new dynamic province which hopefully would help the nation solve its terrifying demographic and economic problems.
The plans sometimes outstripped practical reality, like the plan to increase the population of the Sinai form 200,000 to 2 million virtually overnight. But enormous changes have taken place.
There was a plan to build a 972-meter cable car to the top of Mount Sinai to handle an estimated 339,000 visitors a year, a plan that foundered on such practical problems as how to provide drinking water to those million, and the outcry from upholders of traditional values like Time Magazine against what as described as a sacrilegious assault on the one of the foundations of religion. [H. 289ff] Oddly enough, some of those who expressed the most outrage, like Egypts small but vocal ecological constituency, have been swinging around to the position that a cable car, on the unvisited side of the mountain and touching the ground only at the points of departure and arrival, would have a less destructive effect on the environment than the thousands of pairs of human feet daily trudging up the slopes of the mountain.
It does not seem likely now that the cable-car will be built in the near future, but there has been enough building in the Sinai to satisfy any friend of material progress. There are now 3200 kilometers of paved roads, you can drive to Mount Sinai from Cairo using a tunnel under the Suez Canal, and you can use a Visa card anywhere. St Catherines Village planted in the Plain of ar-Raaha where it is claimed the Israelites camped when the watched they behld the thunder-and-lightning display of Gods meeting with Moses on the mountain top, has grown from a ramshackle collection of Bedouin huts and tents to a bustling town containing shops and restaurants and a bank and a helicopter pad,, a microwave trasnmission tower and a luxury hotel which the monks have nick-named The Golden Calf.
And the coast of the Gulf of Aqaba, all the way from Sharm-elSheik at its tip to the Israeli border in the north, has become virtually a wall of cement, with every form of shelter from hovel to five-star hotels with bungalows and pools and palm trees and saunas and Japanese restaurants and Harrys Bars and CNN, which in high tourist season (September to March for Europeans, June to August when schools are out for the Egyptians) are full of people come to snorkel or scuba-dive or take glass-bottomed boats to see the wondrous flash of colors of the sea-life on the coral reefs, or swim or wind-surf or simply to lie in the sand to admire the meeting-place of sea and mountain, or to sample the night-life of stuffy Sharm-el-Sheikh or hippie-heaven Dahab, or to pay a respectful pilgrimage to the Mountain of God. There are no precise statistics, but they number in the hundreds of thousands every year, and they put more money in the pockets of the Egyptian tax-collectors than does all the global commerce that flows through the Suez Canal.
It is only natural that life should change as a result. Population has doubled as immigrants pour in from the densely packed valley of the Nile, the Bedouins now account for less than half of the population. And Bedouin life has changed utterly too. The family and tribal traditions that have ruled every moment of their lives for untold centuries have had to adjust to a motorized money economy. The camel, around which the life of every family evolved - in traditional tribal law a camel had the same value as a boy or a slave - is becoming a picturesque remnant of the old days, something for tourists to gawk at and occasionally ride. There are actually herds of untended camels wandering through the deserts looking for stray clumps of grass, a situation that would have led to bloody warfare in the old days. Bedouin marriages which have always been affairs of honor, never documented, now must be registered in government offices. The Egyptian criminal code and court system are gradually replacing traditional laws such as the one providing that rape of a virgin from the males same tribe calls for a fine of six camels, while the rape of the widow of anothers tribe is only two camels, provided thwidow files an immediate complaint. If she does not, the fine is a small camel.
Another example of the old system of justice: A man is required to act fairly among his wives, providing each of them with a tent, and coming to each of them one night. If he neglects one of the womens turn, she ties one knot into a long thread. Every night he neglects her, she ties another know until her patience is tried. Then she takes the knotted thread to her family, which will take it to the judge. He will order the husband to pay one camel for every night he abandoned his wife. [SSH, 133]
For the first time in their history, the Bedouins have schools, they have a
hospital as good as any in Cairo.
The monks have noticed the change, even in the Jabliya with whom their lives have been so long intertwined. Only the grandfathers, they say, continue to lovingly cultivate the fruit trees as the monks taught their ancestors to do a millennium ago. In the old days they could make a little money selling the fruit to parched and weary travelers. But now trucks bring in the produce to be sold at a fraction of the old price. Only the old men wear the traditional dark ankle-length robes. The young men wear jeans, they want jobs, they want good times which are not precisely the camel dances and the camel races of the ancestors.
The monks themselves have been forced, it not to change, at least to trim their sails to the new winds. They are after all running a business operation providing some kind of services for up to a thousand travelers day in the high season [J]. They run a hostel with 150beds. They still get up to commence prayers unde starlight at four in the morning, but when the four-hour service is over they must get ready for the stream of visitors, they must open the church to them, even if only from nine to noon and closed Fridays and Sundays, show them the mosaics and the icons and the brass chandeliers and the carved doors, show them the way to the summit, introduce them to Jabaliya guides, answer their questions. They have to worry about labor relations and government regulations, about visiting scholars. about correspondence with theologians and church officials throughout the world. Their monasteery may be, as one observer put it the most perfect relict of the 4th century left in the world but Joseph Hobbs, the author of the best modern book on Mount Sinai adds his own observation: not without a diesel generator, a telephone, a fax machine, a photocopy machine, tape cassette stereos and short-wave radios.
But the waves of the modern world have not had it all their own way, they have not quite drowned out all the deep primitive colors and the holiness of the past.
And there are times when it can seem as if the fourth and the twenty-first centuries can co-exist tolerantly if not altogether happily, breathing the same unpolluted mountain air far from the clutter and the crowds and the frantic taxis of Cairo. In the morning of my last day on Sinai I heard the monks singing their joyous hymns of praise to the God from whose ways they have never deviated in 1700 years. In the afternoon I visited Mahmoud Mansur, a Jabaliya still imbued with the customs and wisdoms of his people. He know every cranny in all these moutains where there is enough crushed volcanic rock to provide enough earth for grass or vegetables or bushes to grow on and feed his sheep. He knows by sight every one of the 419 plant species, 31 of them found nowhere else in the world, which can turn up at flood time in the massif of Jebel Musa, including the colutea istria or Moses stick, which is popularly believed to have provided the staff with which Moses struck the rock to provide water. [Exodus ]. He gave me some of the first apricots off the trees in the rock-walled gardens he has created around the sturdy modest stone house he has built up the mountain-side to get away into the suburbs far from the village of Saint Katherine where there are too many hotels and stores and the population has grown to a gigantic figure of 3000 people. His black-veiled wife served us tea, his children showed off phrases in English, he proudly showed the well he is digging to make sure his fruit trees will not die in years of drought , he digs a couple of hours every day, he is down about eighteen meters, and figures he has four more to go to hit the water table. In the summer he takes his thirty sheep up the mountain to pasutres above the snow line, and sleeps in a cave, as any of his forebears might have done. He also has something none of his forebears would have dreamed of, he has a job, he is a government bureaucrat. Every day he mounts his camel and goes off as one of the thirty-five guards to patrol the Saint Katherine Natural Protectorate which opened two years ago and covers some 000 square miles of wadis and jebels (which trhe Egyptians pronounce Gebels). He know every inch of that soil, he knows every crack and pool where tiny colonies of an amazingly diverse vegetation can burst out when there is a rain or a flood of melting snow. He can show back-packing tourists many of the 00 plants that grow no place else in the world than here, he can show them chucka partridges, black wool Bedouin tents, the spoor of species of predators that were thought to be extinct in the area, hyenas and Arabian wolves. He explains to his fellow-shepherds that the occasional sheep killed by one of these beasts would bring in less cash than the tourists who spend days in the countryside looking for a glimpse of the predators. He chides tourists for painting graffiti on immemorial rocks, he shows them how to dispose of their garbage. He told Joe Hobbs once that there are two bad things you can do in life. One is to be atheistic. the other is to mistreat the Earth. [H, 290]. He looks with a kindly eye on the efforts of the Protectorate to preserve at least the appearance of the old days, planting acacias, subsidizing with the help of money from the European Union Bedouin crafts like making the colorful robes and beaded masks of the women, turning camel tracks into roads to reduse the isolation of the people and let enterprising members of the outer world get a look at the travails and joys of life in unforgiving desert.
In the evening, I was in the full mid-eastern bustle of Dahab where crowds of foreigners and Egyptians smkiling jostle their way through offers of taxi rides and camel rides, visits to stores selling traditional Bedouin robes and stores selling traditional Bedouin T-shirts reading
CAMELS CAN GO FIFTEEN DAYS WITHOUT DRINKING BUT I CANT, stores selling spicy foods, selling pirated copies of best-selling CDs by Amiri Ben Who Sting, tattoo parlors, belly dancers, fax-sending parlors, restaurants jutting out on the water where the waves murmur and clatter beneath the tables loaded with fresh fish and octopus from the Red Sea and sometimes a wave in the historically unpredictable way of the Red Sea will rise out of nowhere and spatter the customes, and women will sing a song of rejoicing as they did after still greater waves despised of Pharaoh and Miriam the sister of Moses took a timbrel in her hand; and all the women went out after her with timbrels and with dances.
Perhaps for this fleeting moment of time the desert can be jolly after all.
If you have the time and the stamina the best way to get to Mount Sinai is to go to Cairo first, and get a quick look at and a quick smell of all the fleshpots of Egypt, and the crowds and the muddy air and the unbridled taxi drivers (think of what it must have been like when they drove camels!) and everything else that Moses wanted to get his people away from. And then rent a car and follow the route of the Exodus (assuming that there was an Exodus and that any one knows the route it might ha ve taken) which in six hours will take you through a panorama, broken only by a tunnel under the Suez Canal, of empty sands and empty rocks to the place where Moses is said to have received the Ten Commandments from the hands of God.
The Egyptian government is doing its best to develop a varied economy in the Sinai, there are farms and fisheries in the north, there are offshore oil wells in the Gulf of Suez, But from the point of view of tourism, which is now the biggest business in the country, the interest is centered in the mountainous southern third of the peninsula.
It is simpler of course to take a plane directly, from Cairo or from a variety of European airports (the schedules change frequently, so be sure to consult a travel agent) to one of the three airports in the Sinai You can also drive into the Sinai from the Israeli town of Eilat, with more or less delay at the border depending on current developments in the Middle East
The biggest airport, and the closest to the Mountain of God, is at Sharm-el-Shayk, at the southern tip of the peninsula. and while there are bus services available, it is more comfortable to rent a car or take a taxi to the hotel of your choice, and there are hundreds of them, from Bedouin huts and campgrounds to five-star palaces with bungalows and private beaches. There will never be any lack of people offering to help you get a ride from one place to another in Egypy, bvut since there are no meters in the cabs, it calls for some expert negotiation. Egyptians are on the whole a gentle accomodating people, but their attitude toward time is somewhat different from that of the bustling western tourist. A little patient firmness will generally reach a mutually satisfactory conclusion. The most common Arabic phrase you will hear in these discussions is something that sounds like Mafeesh mashallek (conjectural transliteration, please check with an Egyptian-speaking source as other nations use a different form of Arabic: it means, No Problem. The favorite phrase in English, used in answer to any question on the order of, When will you be coming back? or, When will everything be ready? or, When do we see the belly dancer? is, After five minutes.
After a day in Cairo traffic, driving in the Sinai will seem like a fairly simple civilized affair.
With plenty of room to move around, with fresh sea breezes and mountain air, with wages higher than in the Nile valley, people are generally more relaxed.
The whole coast of the Gulf of Aqaba, some 200 kilometers from Sharm-el-Shayk to Taba at the Israeli frontier, is dotted with towns offering room and food and shopping. This is not quite the hyperdevelopment you will find on most Medterranean resort coasts because the amount of land available for development is little more than a very narrow strip of coastal plain and a small scattering of sandy plains among the mountains. Head due west of any hotel on the coast and you are soon in eternal desert, the eternal mountains of Sinai. The most spectacular spots have been closed off from further development by being turned into national parks - Ras Muhammad containing the coral reefs at the southern tip of the peninsula and the Saint Katherine Natural Protectorate centered on Mount Sinai.
The coral reefs offer the surefooted (never walk barefoot on coral, in fact keep off of coral entirely) and the daring a superb look down into the depths of the Red Sea, where some 000 species of fish, turtles, etc pass in perpetually dazzling array. There is nothing quite like it anywhere in the world, except places like the Seychelles and the Great Barrier Reef of Australia, which cost a good deal more to get to.
For all the lure of beach and surf, the main call of the Sinai is to the little level plot on top of the mountain.
What a great spiritual experience! cries a typical tourist from Minnesota or Switzerland, stretching out her arms to take in all that immensity.
She means, what a beautiful view, grumbles a monk who climbs the mountain at least once a month, and cant help showing his distress at all the crowd, and all the noise..When Moses came here, he did not come to see a pretty view. He came to see God. And he came alone.
Solitude is something you are not going to find on top of Mount Sinai in our time.. It is a fairly small space, which can hold about eighty people in sleeping bags (it can get quite chilly up there) waiting for the dawn, or two or three hundred standing up, and the overflow as to find cracks and crannes and ledges on the upper slopes. They all have their own forms of going through a spiritual experience. Some of them pray, some of them sing hymns, some of them shout, some of them practice more modern forms of communion like love-ins, be-ins, smoke-ins. The problem of litter and waste is enormous, the United Nations forces overseeing the peace lines between Egypt and Israel used to send in helicopters occasionally to clean up the mess. But things have been considerably improved since my friend Mahmoud Mansur installed a circle of waterless compost toilets around the upper slopes.
Climbing Mount Sinai can indeed be a trying experience. But it was always meant to be, and most people when the swellings in their feet have gone down feel better for the experience. And they have hot baths and massage parlors and surf boards to look forward to afterwards. As the tourist from Minnesota or Switzerland explained to her companions, How much worse it must have bave been for the people of Israel, camped there in the middle of wild beasts and firey serpents and forty years of drought.
Jules Guiffrey, Les Inventaires de Jean duc de Berry, Paris 1880-1890
Antoine Schnapper, La Tulipe et lEléphant, Paris 1980
Faksimile Verlag, Luzern
François Lehoux, Jean de France, duc de Berry. Paris, Picard 1970, 3 vos
Millard Meiss. Phaidon, Braziller