The exact location of Mt. Sinai—also called Mt. Horeb in the biblical text—has eluded scholars for centuries. Following Christian traditions dating as early as the fourth century C.E., most consider the mountainous region of southern Sinai as the most likely setting of Yahweh’s theophany (visible manifestation of a deity), with two neighboring mountains attracting most of the attention: Jebel Serbal and Jebel Musa. St. Catherine’s Monastery rests at the foot of the latter.

Other, more easterly locations have also been proposed, including the Kadesh Barnea area in northeastern Sinai, Har Karkom in the southwestern Negev, and the Petra region in southern Jordan. In addition, a long tradition in scholarship, originating with Jewish-Hellenistic and early Christian authors but popularized by modern Western scholars traveling to northwestern Arabia, has suggested that Mt. Sinai was located in Midian. According to these claims, Mt. Sinai should be located in the Jebel al-Lawz mountain range east of the Gulf of Aqaba or the Hallat al-Badr, west of Tayma, both in northwest Saudi Arabia.

Wherever one locates Mt. Sinai, however, it is clear that the biblical writers understood Yahweh to be a “mountain god,” similar to the Canaanite gods known from the Ugaritic texts. At Ugarit, along Syria’s northern coast, the gods are depicted as having their own residences, often atop mountain peaks, from where they moved freely to do their businesses. Most famous was Baal, who built his palace at Sapan, biblical Mt. Zaphon. It is likely that the biblical authors adapted the Canaanite tradition of the march of the divine warrior Baal, in the midst of storms from his palace, to depict Yahweh’s march from his southern sanctuary (Judges 5).