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Just watched this glorious video. In watching it, the similarity of the imagery to the description of God's presence as fire and smoke in the wilderness of Exodus and especially on Mt. Sinai was striking.

Mount Sinai was covered with smoke, because the LORD descended on it in fire. The smoke billowed up from it like smoke from a furnace, and the whole mountain trembled violently. (Exodus 19:18, NIV)

I'm wondering if any research has been done into whether Ancient Israel, and in particular the author of Exodus would have had knowledge, experience, or read descriptions of volcanoes to have influenced his choice of language.

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    This is a common assertion. Several issues arise. We don't know for certain where Mt Sinai is nor when (granting that it may not be historical) the giving of the law occurred. There is also the objection that the presence of God is often described as fire and smoke in clearly non-volcanic situations.
    – bradimus
    Jan 22, 2022 at 20:23
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    @bradimus I'm aware of some of these facts already, just wondering if anyone can shed more light on it than I can find on my own. At least I'm wondering if work has been done comparing the descriptions to volcanoes. Maybe the language is in fact metaphorical? Maybe the mountain was a volcano that erupted (or was rumored to have been a volcano)? I'm just looking for sources that spent some time with the issue in question.
    – ninthamigo
    Jan 22, 2022 at 21:33
  • Sorry. I meant for my comment to imply that the question needs to be better scoped. There has been a great deal of work, both research and speculation. Historical, geological, and theological opinions vary. Some Christians will say that it happened just as the Bible decides. Some will say that it may be describing a natural event. Others will say it is standard ANE mythology. Still others will say.... The question will need to be narrowed down.
    – bradimus
    Jan 22, 2022 at 21:48
  • Hmm... I guess I will have to narrow it down then, thanks for the input
    – ninthamigo
    Jan 23, 2022 at 1:57
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    @bradimus Those who have been, like Paul, made alive to the Law, do not doubt the historicity of its inception. Law is the immense strength of sin. Denying the geography and the history of scripture denies the words that God spoke.
    – Nigel J
    Jan 23, 2022 at 11:42

2 Answers 2

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Was Mt. Sinai a volcano?

The mountain that is commonly called Mt. Sinai is not of volcanic origin. But then again serious scholars are not in agreement of the actual location of the Mountain of God where God manifested himself to Moses. Some of these others locations may be of volcanic origin.

Where is the real Mount Sinai? No one really knows for sure. For centuries, scholars, explorers, and pilgrims have sought the location of the real Mount Sinai—the mountain where God gave the law to Moses and the people of Israel. To this day, several sites have been proposed, but no one site has been confirmed by archaeology as the place where God met with Moses.

The Bible gives us some general clues about the location of Mount Sinai. We know it was outside of Egypt, because the Israelites came to Mount Sinai after leaving Egypt (Exodus 19:1). Scripture also hints that Sinai was not in Midian, based on Moses’ Midianite in-laws leaving Sinai to return to their own land (Exodus 18:27; Numbers 10:29–31).

The traditional site of Mount Sinai is in the south central part of the Sinai Peninsula. The mountain, today called Jebel Musa (“the mountain of Moses”), has an elevation of 7,497 feet above sea level. In AD 530, St. Catherine’s Monastery was constructed at the northern foot of Mount Sinai. At the peak are a Christian chapel and an Islamic mosque. The ancient library at Jebel Musa was the source of Codex Sinaiticus, one of the major Greek texts used to aid Bible translation.

Other locations proposed for Mount Sinai include sites in the western, central, and northern parts of the Sinai Peninsula. One theory identifies Mount Sinai as the modern Mount Yeroham in the northern Negev Desert. Others see Sinai as being in southern Edom, or Seir (Deuteronomy 33:2). Another view places Mount Sinai in northwestern Saudi Arabia, associating it with the mountain called Jabal Maqla or Jebel el-Lawz today.

In Galatians 4:25, Paul mentions “Mount Sinai in Arabia.” It’s good to keep in mind that “Arabia” in the ancient world is not to be equated with “Saudi Arabia” in the modern world. The biblical term Arabia covers a vast area, including what we now call Saudi Arabia and the Sinai Peninsula.

Charles Beke in 1873 suggested that Mount Sinai was actually a volcano, but only a minority of scholars hold this opinion.

The location of the Mount Sinai described in the Bible remains disputed. The high point of the dispute was in the mid-nineteenth century. Hebrew Bible texts describe the theophany at Mount Sinai in terms which a minority of scholars, following Charles Beke (1873), have suggested may literally describe the mountain as a volcano.

Mount Sinai is one of the most sacred locations in Judaism, Christianity and Islam.

Other possible locations of the Mountain of Moses are Mount Helal (Jabal al-Halāl), Mount Gabal Sin Bishar, Mount Hashem El Tarif, Mount Catherine, Mount Serbal, Mount Sinai, Mount Jebel al-Madhbah, Mount Jabal Ahmad al Baqir, Mount Jabal al-Lawz, Mount Jabal Maqla and Mount Hala-'l Badr.

It is impossible to determine if the actual Mountain of Moses was volcanic at one time, but Mount Jabal Maqlā is believed to be by some as the ”Burnt Mountain”.

In discussions about the location of biblical Mount Sinai, Jabal Maqlā ('Burnt Mountain') is often believed to be Jabal al-Lawz by various authors such as Bob Cornuke, Ron Wyatt, and Lennart Möller as shown by local and regional maps and noted by other investigators. In contrast to the real Jabal al-Lawz, the summit of Jabal Maqlā consists mainly of dark-colored hornfels derived from metamorphosed volcanic rocks that originally were silicic and mafic lava flows, tuff breccias, and fragmental greenstones. The middle and lower slopes of Jabal Maqlā consist of light-colored granite, which has intruded into the overlying hornfels. This is the same granite that comprises Jabal al-Lawz. Jabal Maqla is about 7 kilometers to the south, and a few hundred meters lower.

Claims made by some writers, including Bob Cornuke, Ron Wyatt, and Lennart Moller, that Jabal Maqlā, possibly identified as Jabal al-Lawz, is the real biblical Mount Sinai have been rejected by such scholars as James Karl Hoffmeier (Professor of Old Testament and Ancient Near Eastern History and Archaeology), who details what he calls Cornuke's "monumental blunders". Creationist Gordon Franz has also argued against this identification.

Remains both of pillars and cairns at the site have been described as "similar to rock cairns of uncertain use and often uncertain date found at other sites throughout northern and western Arabia."

Jabal al-Lawz

Saudi Arabia's Jabal Maqula (The Sun)

A biblical archaeologist organization claims that Saudi Arabia's Jabal Maqula mountain may be Mount Sinai from the Bible. (The Sun)

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  • Thanks for this, I'm interested a little more in interpretation of the text than archeology (I edited the question) but what you said about Charles Beke was interesting, and it at least seems plausible that volcanic activity occurred around that area.
    – ninthamigo
    Jan 23, 2022 at 19:27
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    Given that "serious scholars are not in agreement of the actual location of [that] Mountain of God ", anyone claiming this or that mountain is the one, and that it was volcanic, is on shaky ground! Surely the biblical 'clue' that "the Lord descended on it in fire" (Ex.19:18) caused the smoking, shaking, thunder/lightning, means it need not have been events arising from underground we should consider, but the awesome glory of God descending from above? Psalm 104:32 says God just looks at the earth, and it trembles; he touches the mountains and they smoke". Good point about ancient Arabia.
    – Anne
    Jan 24, 2022 at 14:17
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    @Anne I am in total agreement with you there. The OP desired another take on the subject matter, which I get. Many try to explain away God’s marvellous deeds by natural ends.
    – Ken Graham
    Jan 24, 2022 at 14:28
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    Yes, that's the modern trend but even if some natural events were involved, that in no way mitigates against God's sovereign decree and action, and timing! That's what is miraculous in all his dealings with humanity. Awesome. +1
    – Anne
    Jan 24, 2022 at 14:37
  • One thing we can be almost certain of is that it is not in the currently accepted location. Constantine's mother Helena became obsessed with Christianity and sent expeditions to find relics. They returned with wood from the cross, nails, the crown of thorns, Jesus's robe and crib (including the hay he lay in), etc. When asked to retrieve these relics or to locate various sites, such as Mount Sinai, no one in their right mind would have returned empty handed. Can you imagine what would happen when Constantine found that you had failed his mother? The find was guaranteed, the truth not so much. Apr 17 at 14:36
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The fire and smoke are of the supernatural realm, they do not work as natural fire. The fire of God does not burn anything, and it should not be confused with natural fire, as though the mountain was a volcano or the fire of God descended on it like a celestial meteorite. This is why the theories of the Jabal Maqlā ('Burnt Mountain') being that holy site is also misguided, as I doubt that it has been attested by real archaeologists, but it is only being pushed by fringe people.

NCB Exodus 3:2

The angel of the Lord appeared to him in the flames of a fire burning in the midst of a bush. He observed it and, behold, the bush glowed with fire but was not consumed. 3 Moses said, “I wish to draw near to observe this wondrous thing and see why this bush does not burn up.

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