(God said) “An altar of earth you shall make for Me, and you shall sacrifice on it your burnt offerings and your peace offerings, your sheep and your oxen. In every place where I [d]record My name I will come to you, and I will bless you. 25 And if you make Me an altar of stone, you shall not build it of hewn stone; for if you use your tool on it, you have profaned it. 26 Nor shall you go up by steps to My altar, that your nakedness may not be exposed on it.” Exodus 20:24-26
So far we’ve learned of evidence of a campsite and an Egyptian style mill stone at the foot of Jebel Musa/Moses’ Mountain in Saudi Arabia. But that could be the encampment of any very large group. There is more, though, that points to this being where the Children of Israel camped at the foot of Mt. Sinai.
God commanded them to construct an altar for burnt offerings in recognition of their deliverance. There would have been a lot of animals sacrificed, so it would have to have been built with that in mind. It was to be made of earth and uncut stone. As you might have guessed, I’m leading up to the discovery of just such a structure at Jebel Musa.
In the artist’s sketch below you can see two corridors to the right that lead up to the alter area in yellow. The corridor on the right has an entrance at the end leading directly in. The corridor on the left has a less visible entrance on the left, also at the far end. This arrangement is a practical solution to handling a long procession of animals being led toward the alter to be sacrificed. It could be that one side is for cattle and the other for sheep and goats or perhaps all animal were brought in along one path and their handlers exited through the other path. Either way, it represents an efficient “traffic pattern” to deal with a lot of animals to be sacrificed. Also notice the 12 white pillars, which we’ll get to further on.
The yellow area still has a mix of sand and gravel, the earthen alter called for in the text. This would help deal with the volume of blood to be spilled. Indeed, there is a high degree of biological matter still detectable within this particular section.
The whole arrangement was built without the elevation normally associated with an altar. Essentially, it was a concession to modesty as related in verse 26 above. This is before the Levites were appointed as priests and made to wear special ceremonial robes.
Below are several photos of the site as it lies today taken from different angles and distances.
And Moses wrote all the words of the Lord. And he rose early in the morning, and built an altar at the foot of the mountain, and twelve pillars according to the twelve tribes of Israel. 5 Then he sent young men of the children of Israel, who offered burnt offerings and sacrificed peace offerings of oxen to the Lord. 6 And Moses took half the blood and put it in basins, and half the blood he sprinkled on the altar… And Moses took the blood, sprinkled it on the people, and said, “This is the blood of the covenant which the Lord has made with you according to all these words.” Exodus 24:4-6 & 8
Now let’s talk about those pillars. There are twelve marble pillars, each built in section. You can see the sections lying on the ground in the upper right photo. The theory behind those being there was for Moses to symbolically sprinkle sacrificial blood on the twelve tribes of Israel. Remember that the conservative estimate is over 2 million people. It was hardly likely that Moses could actually sprinkle blood on every individual person in the population, but he could sprinkle it on those pillars.
You might be wondering, as I did, just where they got marble in this wilderness. As it turns out, there is a sizeable vein of marble in Jebel Musa. Imperfect pillar sections still lie there to this day.
The entire area around Jebel Musa/Mt. Sinai starts looking more and more to be just what Moses described to us in Exodus with each archeological find. This mountain and its entire range known to the locals as “Jebel Musa” or Moses’ Mountain looks more and more like God’s own Mt. Sinai.
NEXT – The Golden Calf was destroyed by Moses, so we can’t expect to find that, but…
(All images reproduced from The Exodus Case)