This is the third of three installments in the "Evidence of the Exodus" series, based on the book The Writing of God.
In the previous installment we summarized the evidence that, at Sinai, believers received the alphabetic principle of the writing of God as surely as they received the moral principle of the word of God. They were commanded to become a literate people. The Lord's direct commands to the Hebrews that they read, write, and teach, made it clear they were being prepared to take the word and the writing of God to all nations of the world (Ex. 19:5). Learning and teaching the word and the writing of God was the central purpose of the covenant for believers, their children, and their children's children unto all generations. Sinai was a literacy covenant. Believers were called to take responsibility for their children's education and to "teach them diligently" (Deut. 6:7).
At the Midian site are found inscriptions in the oldest known alphabet of letters, Thamudic-the father script-which bear testimony to events of the Exodus. These inscriptions are written in ancient Hebrew and mention scriptural events which happened at Sinai. The "writing of God" (Ex. 32:16) has been interpreted by Biblical historians as nothing more than a synonym for the message written upon the stone, in short a meaningless redundancy. In light of these discoveries, this interpretation can no longer stand. Believers and theologians alike must look at the evidence for the writing of God as carefully as possible.
Scripturally, the writing of God is not presented as a synonym for the word of God but is distinguished as a separate, highly significant purpose of the Sinai Covenant. This was the only written record ever received by mankind directly from God's hand! Both the message and the medium are supremely important. The evidence at Jabal al-Lawz in Midian, the real Mount Sinai, shows the writing of God was the first alphabet of letters, as do commands of Scripture which direct believers to read and write. The twin goals of the Sinai Covenant were not only to give a system of law to a lawless nation but also to give a system of literacy to an illiterate nation.
The Saudis soon became concerned over all the publicity about the real Mount Sinai being located in their territory. The last thing they want is the hot potato of being guardian of the oldest shrine of both Judaism and Christianity. They quickly sent a team of archaeologists to disprove the notion Jabal al-Lawz was Mount Sinai. This ill-conceived study, entitled Al-Bid History and Archaeology, published in 2002, was to have unforeseen consequences. Before the Saudi survey, the film and photos gotten out of the Midian site by Jim and Penny Caldwell would be considered unprovenanced data, which is to say, not authenticated by discovery through an accepted academic process. Thanks to the academic professionals who did the Al-Bid survey, key parts of the Exodus documentation have now been provenanced by the publication of discoveries that are the same as those in the Caldwells' archives. This makes the evidence of the location of Sinai and the writing of God harder to ignore. The possibility of mistake or fraud is mostly eliminated since key documentation is replicated in the Al-Bid survey. The Saudi survey also included pictures and descriptions not previously available which confirm many of the historical and archaeological claims made in my book, The Writing of God, and in the works of other Exodus documenters. For example, we had photos of only five inscriptions. The Al-Bid survey established there are 155 Thamudic inscriptions around Jabal al-Lawz. The Saudi survey is well worth examining in some detail.
What the Saudis Found
The Al-Bid survey begins with the history of the region. "On ... the Mountain of Moses, God spoke to Moses and he returned with the Ten Commandments and found that his nation returned to worship idols ... The Israelites ... made a gold ox to worship" (p.10). Muslims do not accept Jabel al-Lawz as the Mountain of Moses, according to the authors of the report. "The location of the Mountain of Moses has always been debated in biblical and other theologian literatures, but generally it is accepted that it is located in Sinai, Egypt" (p. 83). The Saudis accept the perspective that the forty years of wandering took place in the Sinai Peninsula. They scratch their heads over the fact that if the Israelites were in the Sinai Peninsula they could not have survived in such close proximity to Egyptian forces. "Surprisingly, the Egyptians did not think to follow Moses and his followers who spent forty years in the desert of Sinai" (p.10). Of course, the Egyptians did follow the Israelites-to their doom in the Red Sea. Most interesting is the logic of the language of the tablets.
What was the language ... which [the] Prophet Moses used to communicate? Was it the language of [the] Midianites? May be it was so; but what was the language [in] which came the Ten Commandments? Certainly it was the language of [the] Midianites. Were the Israelites speak[ing] Hebrew at that time? We do not know, nor [does] the text provide any evidence in this regard. (Al-Bid History and Archaeology, p. 10)
You may have noticed that even though denying that Mount Sinai is in Midian, the Saudis are claiming the Ten Commandments were written in Midianite. Designating the language of the Ten Commandments as Midianite would make it Proto-Arabic rather than Proto-Hebraic. This is patently false as the Israelites came from Egypt, not Midian, and spoke Hebrew not Arabic.
Thamudic ... inscriptions were found in addition to ... foot prints. In one ... composition of cattle and human figures located at al-Bid' (Jabal al-Lawz), one can see a couple of human figures depicted in an attitude of performing rituals around an ox. (Al-Bid History and Archaeology, pp. 47-49)
The Saudi survey states there are numerous "footprints" traced upon stones as well as many Thamudic inscriptions at the mountain. Their examination of the altar sites is critical as is the description of cattle worship.
What the Saudis called "stonewall foundations" we have described as the altar at the base of the mountain which Moses built to offer burnt sacrifices to the Lord. The Al-Bid survey did some cursory "trial diggings" in the chamber at the end of the enclosure. The digging found "a layer of ash, charcoal and bones found mixed with other organic materials ... and animal waste" (p. 65). This is exactly what one would expect to find at an altar for burnt offerings. "Attached to this room is a 35 m. long corridor. This corridor is divided in the middle into two sections" (p. 65). Note these "rooms" and "corridors" are spaces about three to four feet across. "The floor consisted of a well beaten compact soil." These spaces are useless for habitation but perfect for corralling animals about to be sacrificed. The angle prevented animals from panicking while other animals are slaughtered and burned.
The site of the altar to the golden calf is easily recognizable by the plentiful images of cattle worship. These petroglyphs are key to authentication of the Midian site of Mount Sinai, since they are some of the only surviving archeological evidence.
There is no correlation between the cattle figures located on and near Jabal al-Lawz and those worshipped in Egypt during Prophet Moses' time ... The figures of cattle located on Jabal al-Lawz and in the Tabuk area have absolutely no similarity to the Apis and Hathor bulls which were worshipped in Egypt during the Pharaonic period. (Al-Bid History & Archaeology, p. 78)
The Saudis' denial of any similarity to Apis and Hathor imagery is simply not credible. Years ago I conducted a study tracing the origin of bull ritual motifs, which included the opportunity to do field research of original sources in Egypt and also in Yemen in the Arabian Peninsula.
The catalyst for this study was the captivating mosaics of Crete that depicted the bull dance. The mosaics pictured the bull dancers nimbly leaping over the enormous bull in an incredible feat of athleticism and courage. Young men and women of many races were trained to dance with the bulls. The ritual of the bull dance in the public arena was a fascinating spectacle. By constant training, the bull dancers learned the death-defying feat of being thrown by the bull's horns into the air to vault over the bull's body. Unlike the bloody spectacle of gladiators, the point was not to kill either the dancers or the bull. Nonetheless, it is certain many young bull dancers died in the dangerous dance. An example of how the bull ritual passed from culture to culture was found at Tiryns in Greece. Schliemann, the discoverer of Troy, also excavated at the Greek palace in Tiryns. He uncovered a beautiful fresco depicting a ritual formerly known only in Crete (see illustration on previous page).
One of these frescoes was exceptionally striking. Upon a blue ground it showed a powerful red-spotted bull in mid-career, with an upraised whiplash tail, and a perfectly circular eye suggesting his ferocity. Upon this bull a man was poised in a dancer's leap, one hand clutching the bull's horn. (Ceram, 1994: p. 59)
It was relatively easy to trace the later development of the ritual by examining the bull rituals of other seagoing tribes of the era which came into contact with the bull dancers of Crete or Egypt. The Iberian Punic cultures of Spain and Portugal turned the ritual into the bullfight in which the acrobatics are gone but the grace and daring are as riveting as ever. In Spain the bull was killed unless the bull killed the matador first. In Portugal the bull was not killed at the end of the bullfight yet the Portuguese version is still a dance with death for the bullfighter. Like the Cretan bull dance, however, it concentrated more on the courage and beauty of the act rather than the blood sacrifice. The bull ritual passed via Spanish colonialism to the Americas. The rodeo bull ride is a dynamic re-enactment of a bull ritual that stretches all the way back to the bull dancers of Crete and the Apis bull rituals of Egypt.
It took years before the origin of the bull dance became clear to me. My studies of Egyptian rituals did not yield a clear answer. Then I spent time in the Emirates and Yemen, and one day university business took me to Cairo and I had the opportunity to visit the Serapeum at Memphis, the center of the Apis bull cult. As soon as I entered the tomb I saw on the wall, beautifully carved in bas relief, a depiction of the ritual of subduing the bull. In this ritual, the bull was restrained by hand for sacrifice when a pharaoh died. The ritual called for the bull to be subdued without the use of weapons. According to Egyptian magical tradition, the display of bravery in subduing the bull without weapons permitted the courage of the bull, and the bull dancers, to be transferred to the deceased pharaoh. The bull's heart, which symbolized its strength and courage, was put in a canopic jar to impart courage to the pharaoh for his journey into the afterlife. The bull dancers of the pharaoh would dance with death to subdue the bull by hand for sacrifice. No doubt many were killed in the process. It is from this Apis bull ritual that the Cretan bull dance originated. The images from the altar of the golden calf at Mount Sinai in Midian clearly identify it as the Apis bull ritual. The engraving is of a man taking the bull by the horns and being thrown into the air while another dancer has just landed on the bull's back. Compare this with the picture of the Cretan bull dance.
These drawings are quite similar to those of the Apis bull ritual at the Serapeum of Memphis. There is also a depiction of the Hathor myth at the Midian site. According to Egyptian myth, the child god Horus, son of Isis and Osiris, was nurtured by suckling the cow goddess Hathor. In the illustrations, you see a small figure beneath a cow with the youth's hands and face touching her underbelly. This is an often used glyph in Egyptian iconography. The authors of the Al-Bid survey confirm these petroglyphs represent cattle worship. The Al-Bid survey describes "human figures depicted in an attitude of performing rituals around an ox." The Saudis simply claim the glyphs are not Egyptian and "have absolutely no similarity to the Apis and Hathor bulls which were worshipped in Egypt." Their denial of these Apis and Hathor images is intentionally deceptive.
The conclusion of the Al-Bid survey was that the mountain served as a marble quarry around 100 B.C. during the Nabatean period. The only evidence offered to support this date consisted of "minute" shards of clay pottery found by digging four small holes at the site of the L-shaped altar. The "preliminary analysis" of the "minute" shards of pottery gave no detail to substantiate that claim. The whole exercise exhibited a pronounced superficiality.
"The cattle figures in al-Bid area either belong to the Nabataean or to the Neolithic period" (p. 78). Dating the site in this way is a handy conclusion since it places the archaeological finds millennia away from the time of the Exodus. The Neolithic period is at the end of the Stone Age around 9,000 B.C. The Nabatean period did not begin until 1,600 years after the Exodus about A.D. 100. The Saudis offer these widely disparate dates even while claiming that "no archaeological material that may help to date the stone structures at Jabal al-Lawz was found" (p. 81). That statement is demonstrably false, given there are Thamudic inscriptions adjacent to the archaeological remains, some of the earliest alphabetic writings in existence, circa fifteenth century B.C. These inscriptions were made at the same time and place Scripture says the Israelites made the Exodus to Mount Sinai in Midian. By including them in the Al-Bid survey, the Saudis inadvertently provenance the existence and validity of the Thamudic inscriptions found at Jabal al-Lawz and give the lie to their own dating of the site.
Finding the name of God on artifacts of the period in the Midian region equates to finding a "smoking gun" in the case for the Exodus. When photos of the artifacts brought out of Arabia by Dr. Sung Hak Kim were forwarded to me, I studied one of them with profound excitement. The letters YHWH were carved onto the votive stone alongside a figure of Moses. This votive stone came from the collection of the Saudi National Museum. For almost twenty years Dr. Kim was physician to the royal family of the governor of Mecca, who gave these artifacts and allowed him to take them out of the country. No one knew the meaning of the YHWH inscription until I translated it. The Yahweh stone, or Moses stone, would never have been allowed to leave Saudi Arabia if the translation had been known. Some of the other votive stones and artifacts obtained by Dr. Kim were also inscribed with the short form of Yahweh, "Yah" (written YH- used forty-nine times in the Bible). The Yahweh stone was written in south Semitic Thamudic, circa fourteenth century B.C. This artifact bears the oldest inscription of the sacred name of Yahweh that will probably ever be found.
The engraver probably first carved the figure of the face on the side of the stone, then began the inscription on the back where there was more room. He made the most common error of beginning writers; he did not plan his space. He wrote across the stone YH from left to right where it allowed him the most space to write. Then he turned the stone over and had to write across the vertical axis of the other side on the cheeks of the Moses figure because that was the only place left to put the other letters. He seemed to want to write in a circle rotating around the votive stone but the change of direction was evidently confusing and he ended up writing the letters WH from right to left on the front of the stone. This is a votive stone, a small figurine or inscription left as a devotional offering at a sacred place, most likely buried in the ground so it would not be stolen. The name inscribed would be that of a deity. The letters on the back of the stone are the short form of the Hebrew name of God YH (Yah).These two letters all by themselves mean "Yahweh." The fact the other two letters of YHWH are on the other side of the stone makes it a foregone conclusion. The only reason critics would choose a nonsense translation over one that makes sense is to disavow the name of God.
The Yahweh stone is on display at the newly opened History of Christianity Museum in Seoul, Korea. It was given to the Prince of Mecca by Bedouin tribesmen from Tabuk near the region of Jabal al-Lawz, close enough to be on the pilgrimage path to the Mountain of God in Midian. One should always carefully consider authenticity, but having done so, the possibility this artifact is fake is almost nil.
Who Originated the Alphabet?
Joseph Naveh, the most prominent expert on the origin of the alphabet, stated that "in inscriptions of the tenth century [B.C.], Phoenician, Hebrew and Aramaic scripts are indistinguishable" (1982: p. 89). In short, the alphabet used across Canaan was identical until after 900 B.C. During the early stage of the alphabet (1400-1100 B.C.), we had a relatively simple linguistic situation. There was one alphabet in Canaan. It was used by Hebrews, Canaanites, Arameans, Moabites, Edomites, and others-but there was only one alphabet. Nevertheless, scholars seem intent on specifying scripts during this early period as the Aramaic alphabet, the Moabite alphabet, the Edomite alphabet and even the Phoenician alphabet although Phoenicia did not yet exist. This manipulation of the data muddies the waters. The only relevant question is who originated the alphabet.
The mainstream theory states that it was invented by the Phoenicians, who adapted it from the Proto-Semitic pictographs. The first monuments did appear in Phoenicia much later, but the earliest alphabetic inscriptions (of letter symbols not pictographs) appeared in Midian, Sheba and Israel. The Israelites, who had a scriptural injunction against writing on monumental stone (Ex. 20:25, Lev. 26:1), did nonetheless produce the earliest alphabetic inscriptions in Canaan; the Lachish ewer and Negev ostraka (both thirteenth century B.C.), the Beth-Shemesh bowl, Izbet-Sartah abecedary, and the al-Khader arrowheads (all twelfth century B.C.), the Khirbet Queiyafa ostraka (eleventh century B.C.), Gezer calendar (tenth century B.C.), and the Tell Dan inscription which cites "the king of Israel...king of the House of David" (ninth century B.C.). Nonetheless, historians do not want to credit the Hebrews for these inscriptions and few researchers are honest enough to admit anti-religious bias or anti-Semitic prejudice. "Bernal exposed the anti-Semitism that pervaded Orientalism at least until the mid twentieth century. It is shocking to find it operative forty years later..." (Daniels & Bright, 1996: p. 27). However, scholars are now backing away from the Phoenician origin of the alphabet. There is no longer a consensus among experts. The new evidence just does not fit the old theory.
The Hebrew alphabet was adapted to cuneiform by the scholars of Ugarit in the fourteenth century B.C., shortly after it is recorded in Scripture that Joshua brought the writing of God into the promised land (Jos. 8:32 and 24:26). Much of what we know of the first phonetic alphabet is from the cuneiform of north Canaan. Because the north Canaan city-states were already a well-established literate culture, evidence of their recently adapted cuneiform alphabet was much more prevalent during that era than the writing of the unsophisticated Hebrews still emerging from their quasi-literate kindergarten period. Clay tablets last indefinitely whereas much of the media of alphabetic script, parchment or papyrus, degrade rapidly. The Israelites entered into Canaan about 1400 B.C., at the very beginning of the fourteenth century. The cuneiform alphabet is proof the alphabet of letters was already formed and functioning by the fourteenth century B.C. It is well accepted by experts that the cuneiform alphabet was copied from the Semitic alphabet. The shapes of several of the cuneiform letters were clearly copied from the letters of the Semitic alphabet. The order of the cuneiform alphabet was also the same as that of Hebrew.
The scholarly class of the northern Canaan city-states continued to prefer writing in alphabetic cuneiform rather than alphabetic script. This may account for the complete lack of literature written in the Phoenician alphabet. However, over one thousand tablets have been discovered written in Ugaritic (alphabetic) cuneiform. They are not only administrative and commercial records but also religious and literary texts. The stories bear striking resemblance to parts of the Old Testament, so much so that many claim the Hebrews took their stories from the Phoenicians. Our evidence indicates the opposite. The Hebrews introduced the alphabet to Canaan along with their rich history. We think of the Torah exclusively as the history of the Hebrews but it is, in fact, the history of the eastern Mediterranean. The word and the writing of God spread outward from Canaan.
Scripture points out a surprising clue to the spread of the alphabet from Canaan to Greece. Greek legend tells us the letters of the alphabet were brought to Greece by Kadmos (or Cadmus) of Tyre, near Sidon in northern Canaan, and his clan of Kadmonites about 1300 B.C. In Genesis 15:18-19, God prophesied the Kadmonites were among the inhabitants of Canaan who are to be driven out, "Unto thy seed have I given this land...[of] the Kadmonites." This scriptural connection, between the Kadmonites of the Bible and the legendary tribe of Kadmos who brought the alphabet to Greece, is critically important. Because the writing of God has been ignored, this connection too has never been cited in the literature of Biblical analysis. Both Greek legend and Scripture cite the Kadmonites as living in Canaan during the fourteenth century B.C. The ancient Greek teller of tales, Herodotus, relates in The Histories the Kadmonites departed Canaan passing from island to island on their return to Greece where Kadmos founded the city of Thebes. According to Herodotus, Kadmos took the alphabet with him to Greece. The facts are that the names of the Greek letters are the same as the names of the Hebrew letters and the order of the Greek alphabet is the same as the Hebrew alphabet
Eventually, the Israelites lost their literate tradition but only after bequeathing their alphabet to the region. During the ninth century B.C., the Aramaic and Phoenician scripts began to differentiate from Hebrew. Aramaic would soon rise to the level of an international standard, as the official alphabet in turn of the Assyrian, Babylonian and Persian empires. The Phoenician alphabet disappeared entirely by the second or third century B.C., sent on its way by the Romans who destroyed their colonies. In the fifth century B.C. the Israelites returned from captivity in Babylonia speaking the Aramaic language and using the Aramaic script. By the time of Christ, many Israelites probably spoke Aramaic as well as Hebrew, two closely related Semitic dialects. The Aramaic script was adapted into the square cursive Hebrew alphabet, the ancestor of the script used today in Israel
The Rise of Literacy
Although the alphabet originated with the Hebrews, they never achieved a broadly literate culture until much later. It was in Greece where the alphabet first sparked a literate society which catalyzed Greek thought, creating the Western model of civilization and science. Alphabetic literacy changed the mentality of mankind so profoundly I refer to it as the "great divide in human thought." Experts such as Robert Logan, Eric Havelock, Marshall McLuhan, and Leonard Shlain have analyzed the effect of alphabetic writing and literacy on the course of civilization. To ancient peoples who had primarily a subjective right-brain type of thinking in pictures (mythological thinking), now would be added a left-brain ability to examine objectively, reason analytically, and categorize logically-the basis of scientific thinking.
"The magic of the phonetic alphabet is that it is more than a writing system; it is also a system for organizing information of all mankind's inventions" (Logan, 1986:17). Alphabetical and numerical order are still the mainstays of organizing information. Alphabetic writing provided a rudimentary numbering system as well as a conceptual framework for analytical thought. It restructured our perceptions of reality and acted as a springboard for new ideas. One could capture ideas on paper and return to them to refine and expand one's thinking, then pass them on to other thinkers to build upon, even though they may be far distant in place and time. "Using the alphabet ... entails the ability to code and decode phonetically, convert auditory signals or sounds into visual symbols, think deductively, classify information, and order words through the process of alphabetization" (Logan, 1986:21). Each seemed a small step in itself but led mankind irrevocably to major mileposts of accomplishment. Alphabetic literacy shaped an all-important group of conceptual innovations, including monotheism, rule of law, formal logic, theoretical science, individual expression, democratic idealism, and mathematics.
Roman numerals are a survival from ancient times when letters were used as numbers. The Hebrew letters were the first to be used as numbers. These numerals provided mankind with the initial framework needed for mathematical thinking and calculation. Numerical thinking is the core of science and, along with literacy, provided the structure of thought for the modern mind. There can be no science without measurement. Measurement and calculation are the domain of numbers. The book of Numbers was a crash course in counting, calculation and measurement. Numbers describes how the Israelites took their first steps on the road to literacy and numeracy.
Literacy requires the use of deductive and inductive logic. To read, one must use deductive reasoning-from the specific to the general, decoding the specific letters and their sounds, putting them together into words, and grasping the meaning of those individual words and the concepts expressed by the discourse as a whole. It is hard to imagine a better exercise to develop deductive reasoning. Much the same can be said of the process of writing, except that it develops inductive reasoning-from the general to the particular. We can all remember laboring over a term paper, trying to mentally generate and capture concepts, then putting them through the gristmill of language and onto the page in letters, words, and phrases that hopefully made sense. This is an ideal process for developing inductive reasoning. Literacy necessitates developing deductive and inductive reasoning-the cornerstones of logical thinking.
It is hard to overemphasize the effect formal logic had on Western thought. It marked the beginning of scientific method-proving a hypothesis through reason and objective observation. Most scholars agree that Greek analysis of the fields of human knowledge initiated the model of Western civilization. That incredible flowering of Greek civilization was catalyzed by the alphabet. Consequently, the ability of the Greeks to record those advances in writing made it possible for the Western world to build upon them.
A revolution of literacy and logical thinking was brought about by the writing of God providing the reasoning requisite for the Word of God to take hold in the mind of man. Historically the Word and the writing of God appeared as a package, and paganism, idolatry and human sacrifice declined as they rose. All these advances were rooted in that brilliant innovation of the Hebrews, the alphabet-the writing of God. The Israelites began the journey of literacy and logic that would gain speed with the Greeks.
Evidence continues to surface indicating the writing of God was the original alphabet of letters. The acceptance of this crucial fact will require an in-depth reorientation of Biblical perspectives of the Exodus. In ancient times the word and writing of God guided believers to abandon the superstition of their pagan gods and take on the challenge of educating themselves in literacy, mathematics and abstract, analytical thinking-the search for truth. The Sinai Covenant was the opening salvo in an ideological struggle never before seen and which has never ceased.
See Part 1 Evidence of the Exodus
See Part 2 The Stones Will Cry Out
Al-Ansary, Adbul-Rahman & Majeed Khan et al., Al-Bid History and Archaeology, Saudi Arabia Ministries of Education, Antiquities & Museums, 2002.
Caldwell, Jim and Penny, God of the Mountain (Alachua, FL: Bridge Logos Publisher, 2008).
Ceram, C. W., Gods, Graves and Scholars (Avenel, NJ: Random House, 1967).
Daniels, Peter and William Bright, The World's Writing Systems, (Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press, 1966).
Havelock, Eric A., The Literate Revolution in Greece and Its Cultural Consequences (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1982).
Herodotus, The Histories, 5th century B.C.
Jones, Miles, The Writing of God (Dallas, TX: Johnson Publishers, 2010). Available at writingofgod.com.
Kim, Sung Hak, The Burning Bush (in Korean), 2006. [email protected] ISBN 978-89-531-0839-4.
Logan, Robert K., The Alphabet Effect (New York: William Morrow & Co., 1986); McLuhan, Marshall and Robert Logan, "Alphabet Mother of Invention," Et Cetera, Vol. 34, Dec. 1977;
Naveh, Joseph, Early History of the Alphabet, (Jerusalem: Magnes Press, Hebrew University, 1982).
Shlain, Leonard, The Alphabet versus the Goddess: Conflict between Word and Image, 1998. Penguin, NY.