Scaling Mt. Sinai: An Act of Faith
January 23, 2010 — Sinai Desert, Egypt
I was excited to check out the Sinai. Here we were in the cradle of Judeo-Christian-Islamic civilization. I was going to get educated and get some exercise – a great day! Let’s go on a quickie tour of the Sinai Peninsula:
The desert itself is described by the guidebook as craggy, barren and rugged, which is a pretty apt description. And while in my mind the Sinai wasn’t as beautiful as the Sahara, there’s a lot of history here, starting with the Suez Canal.
The Suez Canal links Asia and Europe by providing passage between the Red Sea and the Mediterranean Sea. Owned and operated by Egypt, the canal was built between 1854-1869, employed more than 30,000 people, and is 192 km (119 miles) long. I was looking forward to seeing the Suez Canal, only problem is you can’t see it. You cross the canal via a 1.63 km (5,347 ft) long tunnel, emerging a ways away so you never get a good look. If you squint you might be able to see a few container ships in the distance, but that’s as close as you can get.
Founded in AD 330, St. Katherine’s is considered the oldest continually functioning monastery in the world. St. Katherine herself was a martyr who was tortured on a spiked wheel and beheaded. Supposedly the spiked wheel spun out of control and killed all the spectators and her body was carried by the angels to Egypt’s highest peak, subsequently named Mt. Katherine. (Nice bible story!) Inside St. Katherine’s is the Church of Transfiguration and the Well of Moses. Inside the church is a relic: St. Katherine’s hand. Now, it would be both impolite and impolitic to say that the hand looked like a dried up drummette. But there you have it. It was kind of gross.
Concerning the Well of Moses, if you drink from it, you’ll be blessed with marital happiness. However, if I recall correctly, the well was dry, which pretty much sums up my view of marriage anyway.
The Burning Bush
Also inside St. Katherine’s is the famous burning bush. Because I’m not so religiously inclined (as I’m sure you’ve surmised by now), I needed to look up its significance.
Here’s the story for all you fellow Sunday school dropouts: The Angel of Yahweh spoke God’s wish to Moses at the site of the burning bush, which was alight with fire, but not consumed by flames. God’s instructions were for Moses to lead the Israelites out of Egypt and into Canaan, also known as the “land of milk and honey.”
So there’s a picture of the burning bush. Not quite what you imagined, eh?
Seriously this thing was like an overgrown bougainvillea.
I don’t know what I expected, but I didn’t imagine it to look like a shrub growing in my own backyard.
The mountain itself is only 2,285 meters tall (just shy of 7,500 feet). Muslims, Jews and Christian all believe that Moses received the 10 Commandments from God on the summit.
There are 2 routes:
The first is via the 3,750 Steps of Repentance. Upon reflection, I decided I wasn’t that bad and elected to take route #2:
the camel trail. The camel trail, however, might have been the greater of the two evils since I had several Bedouin following me with their camels dangerously close to my head for the first third of the climb.
At this point, I was going on a full 4 weeks in the Arab region and I had developed an understanding of camels:
- • Camels stink, and
- • Camels spit
I admit, I felt the need to voice my displeasure with a fairly stern warning for the camel trailers to back off. When I finally made it to the summit of Mt. Sinai, the sunset was gorgeous. Very peaceful and the view was spectacular.
In the end, I was moved by my trip to the Sinai. And I might venture to say it was a close as I’m likely to get to a true religious experience.
This entry was posted on Saturday, March 13th, 2010 and is filed under Arab Region.