This is the second of three installments in the "Evidence of the Exodus" series, based on the book The Writing of God.
Scripture relates that Moses had ten encounters with Yahweh at Mount Sinai during which the course of civilization was changed dramatically. What evidence remains of this world-changing drama at the Mountain of God?
Many Biblical archaeologists today would say there is none and call the Bible into question because of it. However, during the past few decades, physical evidence of these events has been found at Jebel al-Lawz in Saudi Arabia exactly where Scripture specifies the Mountain of God is located. In the first installment we outlined the extensive evidence of the location of the real Mount Sinai from the Septuagint, Jubiliees, Demetrius, Josephus, Philo, Origen, Eusebius, Jerome, Paul and both the Jewish and Bedouin oral tradition.
For thousands of years we have been looking for evidence of the Exodus on the wrong mountain due to the dictates of Emperor Constantine and the fact that the true location had been forgotten by all but a few. Establishing the location of the real Mount Sinai is essential in order for the evidence discovered there to be given its due. This is the first physical evidence ever found of the events of Sinai, the central episode of the Old Testament! The inscriptions and archaeological evidence at the Midian site of Mount Sinai confront both believers and unbelievers with credible new proof for the real location of the Mountain of God, the miraculous events of Sinai and, consequently, the truth of the Bible.
Events at Sinai
Even before Sinai, Moses was being prepared by God to communicate in writing to the Hebrews. At Rephidim, Moses received a communication from Yahweh which included the first reference to writing in the Bible outside of Job: "Write this for a memorial in a book ..." (Ex. 17:14). God had clearly revealed to Moses the need for a Hebrew script. Hieroglyphs or cuneiform would not suffice for this task, nor is there any historical indication Moses wrote the Pentateuch in another writing system, although being raised as a member of the royal court of Egypt he was well educated in those systems. The Lord said Moses would receive a "token" (Ex. 3:12) upon returning to Mount Sinai in Midian. A "token" is an object that denotes authority, authenticity, or value. The Word and the writing of God engraved on the tablets by God's own hand was to be the "token" of His promise.
My research is focused on the study of that token, the inscriptions written in the "writing of God" (Ex. 32:16) at Mount Sinai. The effects of this passage are profound. The command to write a book of memorial, or any book for an illiterate nation, entailed a commitment to create a writing system for their language and teach them literacy. "Thou shalt read ... And thou shalt write..." (Deut. 31:11 and 11:20). On a much deeper and more important long-term level it involves far-reaching changes in the way people think, a great divide in human thought. It moves them into a new dynamic of conceptualization, the driving force behind the march of ideas we think of as civilization.
When Moses arrived at the Mountain of God the Lord immediately called out to him from Mount Sinai: the first encounter. God instructed Moses to tell all of Israel His purpose in bringing them to the Mountain of God. God was asking Israel to become a "kingdom of priests." Priests were typically among the elite few that were literate in ancient cultures. They were the keepers of knowledge and jealously guarded that power and privilege. God revealed to Moses and the Israelites His purpose, that if they would obey Him and keep His covenant, He would make of them "a peculiar treasure," a "kingdom of priests,""for all the earth is mine" (Ex. 19:5-6). The Lord was preparing them to learn and teach His Word.
On the third day the Lord descended "in fire" (Ex. 19:18) on Mount Sinai in the sight of all Israel. The appearance of Jebel al-Lawz in Midian is striking. The volcanic basalt of the mountain appears blackened as if it has been burnt by fire. Moses brought the people out of the camp "to meet God" at the mountain (Ex. 19:17). During these encounters with Yahweh, the Lord proclaimed the Ten Commandments. The Israelites recoiled in terror at the presence of God upon the mountain. They backed away and begged Moses to intercede for them. He agreed. "Moses drew near unto the thick darkness where God was" at the top of the mountain (Ex. 20:21). I consider this a third encounter since it only involved Moses and happened at a different place.
Theologians surmise that the commandments are given in order of importance. The first is "Thou shalt have no other gods before me." If one does not accept God's authority first, none of the other commandments matter. The next in importance, probably the most misunderstood, the only commandment God elaborated upon after delivering it, is the second: "Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image ... Thou shalt not bow down thyself to them, nor serve them" (Ex. 20:4-5). God went into detail about idolatry so there could be no mistake about its meaning-including His prohibition against the hewing of stone (smoothing it in preparation for engraving images): "And if thou wilt make me an altar of stone, thou shalt not build it of hewn stone: for if thou lift up thy tool upon it, thou has polluted it" (Ex. 20:23-25).
Thou Shalt Make No Graven Images
In the last passage cited, the Lord was referring to hewn stone smoothed and prepared for monumental writing of graven images. In antiquity, images engraved in stone were routinely worshipped as idols. The prohibition of the second commandment was to prevent the Israelites from worshiping graven images, icons, and idols and to direct them into the new way of thinking, reading, and writing. The Israelites repeatedly backslid into idolatry over the following centuries, demonstrating what a profound challenge it was for them to break away from their pagan habits. Grasping the unseen and the abstract was considerably more difficult than worshiping images. Even now, believers struggle to understand the significance of the second commandment.
Most of us have a vague idea that a graven image referred to the statue of the golden calf. This was the idol the Hebrews made and worshiped while Moses was on Mount Sinai receiving the law. In actuality, "standing images" or statues like the golden calf, were distinguished from "graven images" etched into smoothed stone, even though both were abominations. "You shall make no idols nor graven image, neither rear you up a standing image, neither shall you set up any image of stone in your land to bow down unto it" (Lev. 26:1). So, what exactly was a graven image?
Graven images referred specifically to hieroglyphs. At that time, just before the writing of God was introduced, the only engraved images known by the Hebrews were Egyptian hieroglyphs. There were no other "graven images" in the Israelites' cultural experience. The Greek word for hieroglyphs meant "sacred carvings," while the Egyptian word meant "god markings"-clearly icons of idolatry.
Hieroglyphs were more than just images that stood for words. Central to hieroglyphic writing were graven images of Egyptian deities. They were figures of gods and goddesses, animal fetishes, and many other things, but all were considered magical images. That is why the prohibition extended to any image. Sacrifices of meat and produce were made to them as an offering to sustain and enhance their magical power. Graven images covered Egyptian temples and monuments. One bowed down and worshipped them in superstitious awe. It was this worship of images and icons that constituted idolatry. It represented every evil Yahweh wished His people to renounce, as well as ignorance, superstition, and human sacrifice. Worship of graven icons prevented His people from grasping the unseen God of great ideals. A graven image was such an abomination to God that He commanded "thou shalt utterly detest it, and thou shalt utterly abhor it; for it is a cursed thing" (Deut. 7:26). Idolatry had to go.
The writing of God handed down at Sinai, therefore, could not have been pictographic! Pictographs would have violated God's absolute prohibition against the making of graven images. Although we know the earliest alphabetic pictographs were derived from the Egyptian hieroglyphs, it is certain from both Scripture and the inscriptional evidence at Sinai that the writing of God represented the transformation of those pictographs into symbols. The writing of the Hebrew Torah, the first books of the Bible, was the first step away from pictographic writing to alphabetic symbols.
After his third encounter with Yahweh, Moses descended the mountain and built an altar for burnt offerings to the Lord and raised up columns to the twelve tribes of Israel. "And Moses wrote all the words of the LORD, and rose up early in the morning, and builded an altar under the hill, and twelve pillars, according to the twelve tribes of Israel ..." (Ex. 24:4). At the base of the Mount Sinai site in Midian stand the remnants of an L-shaped altar (see photograph). The altar is surrounded by scattered pieces of cut marble columns: pillars to the twelve tribes. The altar has long stone walls to corral animals waiting to be sacrificed. At its end is a slaughter platform and an earthen pit for burnt offerings. This altar is precisely at the base where a streambed comes from the mountain as noted in Deuteronomy 9:21: "the brook that descended out of the mount."
When Moses read from the "book of the covenant" directly to the Israelites in their own language, it was the first reference to reading in the Bible. The inescapable fact is that the Israelites were illiterate and would hardly have been considered a civilization. Yet, by the hand of God, they were starting down a road that was to change the entire world. The spread of literacy and Judeo-Christian values carried by the Word and the writing of God was destined to form the framework of Western civilization.
When Moses wrote the law in the Hebrew language, it was the first step in that journey. Heretofore, only a few semi-literates, such as craftsmen, had used the alphabet for little more than scribbling a name upon a possession or a funeral stone. The previous alphabetic writing had been primarily pictographic, a crude and complex way of writing too unwieldy to survive. The alphabet is considered the most important innovation in human history. Sinai was the crest of a wave that was to engulf the entire world.
After the building of the altar and the reading of the book of the covenant to the assembled nation of Israel, seventy of the elders of Israel went up the mountain with Moses. This was the fourth encounter. They went midway up the mountain where they saw the glory of God. Their vision was so striking it defies elaboration: "And they saw the God of Israel: and there was under his feet as it were a paved work of a sapphire stone, and as it were the body of heaven in his clearnesss" (Ex. 24:10).
On the seventh day God called Moses up onto the mount for his fifth encounter. This time "Moses was in the mount forty days and forty nights" (Ex. 24:18) and Yahweh gave him "tables of stone, and a law, and commandments which I have written; that thou mayest teach them" (Ex. 24:12).
The Writing of God
The importance of Exodus 24:12 is that God personally communicated to humanity in writing by His own hand, the only time this ever occurred! The Lord bestowed upon the world both the Word and the writing of God (Ex. 32:16) and established the Sinai Covenant as a teaching covenant. Scripture makes it clear the Lord intended all believers to learn these things. He gave the Hebrews not only a standard of law for a lawless nation but also a standard of literacy for an illiterate nation. This was an instruction manual for the new nation, complete with bylaws, an education system, and a blueprint of the tabernacle.
And he gave unto Moses, when he had made an end of communing with him upon mount Sinai, two tables of testimony, tables of stone, written with the finger of God. (Ex. 31:18)
For the third time the writing of God is cited alongside the word of God not only as distinct from it but also as of equal importance to it! The message and the medium are mentioned with equal frequency and relevance. The Lord's writing, written by His own finger, is of enormous import or He would not have emphasized it so much and so often. "And the tables were the work of God, and the writing was the writing of God, graven upon the tables" (Ex. 32:16).
Despite the Israelites' initial eagerness to obey the Word of God, they immediately fell back into the practice of putting celebration and idolatry before their relationship with the Lord. Even before Moses descended from Mount Sinai, many of the Israelites had already fallen into licentious and idolatrous behavior. The Israelites demanded that Aaron make them gods so they could worship them. Aaron relented and told them to bring their gold jewelry "and fashioned it with a graving tool after he had made it a molten calf: and they said, These be thy gods, O Israel, which brought thee up out of the land of Egypt" (Ex. 32:4). Apparently Aaron was as ignorant of the new mode of worship as were the rest of the people.
The words of those demanding pagan worship were very instructive. They said, "These be thy gods"-but there was only one golden calf. Why did the idolaters say "gods" in the plural? A quarter mile from the base of Mount Sinai in Midian, in the plain before the mountain, is a large tabletop of huge stones. It bears evidence of having been used as an altar to the golden calf because there are graven images of cattle worship all over the rocks. It was because of the numerous graven images that the Israelites said, "These be thy gods." The photos show that these images depict icons of the Egyptian Apis bull and the cow goddess Hathor.
The Lord informed Moses of the debauchery of the idolaters going on below. Moses descended the mountain holding the precious gift of God in his hands. He saw how unworthy the people were to understand or appreciate God's gift, since many were already lost in pagan celebration and licentiousness. In his anger, he broke the tablets as his testimony to the unworthiness of the Israelites. As the tablets broke, a great earthquake engulfed the camp. Moses gathered the sons of Levi and commanded them to slay all of the idolaters, be they brothers, companions, or neighbors, "and there fell of the people that day about three thousand men" (Ex. 32:28). The Caldwells investigated and photographed an ancient graveyard two kilometers from the base of Jebel al-Lawz. It contains thousands of graves in an area where there has never been a significant population except during the Exodus. Moses ascended the mountain again, the sixth encounter, to seek the Lord's forgiveness for the sins of his people.
Moses descended and moved the tabernacle away from the main camp as the Lord had commanded. After he did so a cloud descended upon the tabernacle and the Lord spoke to Moses from out of the cloud, the seventh encounter: He "spake unto Moses face to face, as a man speaketh unto his friend" (Ex. 33:11). Moses beseeched Yahweh to show him His glory. The Lord agreed, excepting that "Thou canst not see my face: for there shall no man see me, and live... I will put thee in a cleft of the rock ... while I pass by ... and thou shalt see my back" (Ex. 33:20-23). Moses was instructed by the Lord to "be ready in the morning" (Ex. 34:2) and to come up into the mount. "And the LORD said unto Moses, Hew thee two tables of stone like unto the first: and I will write upon these tables the words that were in the first tables, which thou brakest" (Ex. 34:1).
Moses hewed the tablets and "rose up early in the morning, and went up unto mount Sinai, as the Lord had commanded him, and took in his hand the two tables of stone" (Ex. 34:4). At the initial peak of Jebel al-Lawz in Midian, there is a prominent cleft in the rock just above a cave. In the story of Elijah, after an encounter with an angel of the Lord, he traveled for forty days and nights until he arrived "unto Horeb the mount of God ... and he came thither unto a cave, and lodged there ..." (1 Kings 19:8). Elijah encountered God on that peak and on that same peak Moses had his eighth encounter with God and witnessed His glory. "And the Lord descended in the cloud, and stood with him there, and proclaimed the name of the Lord ... and ... passed by before him" (Ex. 34:5-6).
For the second time Moses passed forty days and nights with the Lord and when he descended from communing with Yahweh his face radiated brilliance so intense the Israelites could not look upon him. There, guided by the hand of God, Moses "wrote upon the tables the words of the covenant, the ten commandments" (Ex. 34:28).
"And the LORD said unto Moses, Write these words, For after the purpose and character of these words I have made a covenant with you and with Israel" (Ex. 34:27). When Moses returned from his eighth encounter he told Aaron to gather all the people in order to convey God's word written upon the tablets of stone. Because his face shown with such intensity, Moses wore a veil while he spoke to the people and reiterated the commandments God had given him. However, when "Moses went in before the Lord to speak with him, he took the veil off, until he came out. And he came out, and spake unto the children of Israel that which he was commanded" (Ex. 34:34). That was Moses' ninth encounter with Yahweh at Sinai.
Sinai-The Teaching Covenant
Moses' interaction with Yahweh highlights the nature of the teaching covenant. Not only did the Lord guide Moses to learn the word and writing of God but He chose others to train as well for the building of the new tabernacle that would travel with them. It is very important to put these gifts of learning and teaching in their proper context. They were initially building a tabernacle, but the Sinai Covenant is not a tabernacle-building covenant, it is a teaching covenant. "And He has filled him with the Spirit of God, in wisdom, in understanding, and in knowledge, and in all manner of workmanship ... and he hath put in his heart that he may teach ... " (Ex. 35:31-35). This blessing of Exodus 35:31 will be repeated for Daniel and his cohort: "God gave them knowledge and skill in all learning and wisdom" (Dan. 1:17).
Moses' tenth encounter with Yahweh also took place in the tabernacle. The beginning of the Exodus changed the Hebrew calendar. It had been one year now since the Passover in Egypt and the beginning of the Exodus that reset the Hebrew calendar. "This month shall be unto you the beginning of months: it shall be the first month of the year to you" (Ex. 12:2). Yahweh prescribed a ceremony to enclose the things that were to go into the Ark of the Covenant. "Thou shalt set up the tabernacle of the tent of the congregation. And thou shalt put therein the ark of the testimony" (Ex. 40:2-3). At the end of the ceremony at Sinai a cloud covered the tabernacle tent and "the glory of the Lord filled the tabernacle. And when the cloud was taken up from over the tabernacle, the children of Israel went onward in all their journeys" (Ex. 40:35-36).
There is no more lucid symbolism of the "great divide in human thought" than these first passages in Exodus that refer to the birth of literacy. In Genesis, God spoke of the "tree of life" (Gen. 3:22), a natural symbol of His creation and His spirit. At Sinai that symbolism changed to the "book of life" (Ex. 32:32). The most important truth of Sinai was that God guided humankind across the great divide from paganism to worship of the one true God by gifting us with the law and literacy. At the time (unfortunately) literacy meant little to the Israelites, but God had also promised them land. Land was something the Israelites could understand. Every single book of the Old Testament mentions the importance of territory. The Lord had bid them place and trace their footprints as a sacred act of claiming God's promise of territory (Deut. 11:24).
Footprints of the Israelites
God spoke of the promise of land to Abraham, Moses, and Joshua. They were commanded to go on a pilgrimage to claim it. To Abraham, the Lord said "Arise, walk through the land, in the length of it and in the breadth of it; for I will give it unto thee" (Gen. 13:17). "Unto thy seed have I given this land, From the river of Egypt unto the great river, The river Euphrates ..." (Gen. 15:18). The command to the same pilgrimage is repeated to Moses: "Every place whereon the soles of your feet shall tread shall be yours: from the wilderness and Lebanon, from the river, the river Euphrates even unto the uttermost sea shall your coast be" (Deut. 11:24). When Joshua began the conquest of Canaan after forty years in the wilderness, he reiterated God's pledge of land to the Israelites if they obeyed the covenant, "Every place that the sole of your feet shall tread ... that have I given unto you as I said to Moses" (Josh. 1:3).
At Rephidim, near the split rock at Horeb, the footprints of the Israelites are found. The Caldwells took photos at Rephidim that document this ritual tracing of the feet. Those photographs show numerous pairs of footprints etched into the rocks. It is hard to determine how many footprints there may be. Rephidim is a huge area and the footprints recorded are within a few yards of each other. The Caldwells managed to return to Rephidim and confirmed with new photographs that there were still more footprints than the ones they first recorded. A thorough search of the surrounding area would probably reveal many more. The inscriptions are identical. They are all etched with a triple hash mark beside the soles of the feet.
The triple hash mark is an alphabetic symbol for the letter K. It developed from the Proto-Semitic image of the palm of the hand. The Egyptian word for it was Kep, meaning the cup of the hand or the instep of the foot. The Hebrew word for it was Kaph. The word represented by this single letter had three precise meanings: 1) the palm (or cup) of the hand, 2) the sole (or cup/instep) of the foot, and 3) the name of the letter K. As the Hebrews were ritually placing and tracing their feet they always wrote the K besides their footsteps. The triple hash mark was an alphabetic symbol meaning "soles of the feet." They probably surmised that the use of the "writing of God" sanctified the likeness of their footprints marked into the stone. This ritual placing and tracing of the soles of the feet and writing of the letter K was the Israelites' first literate act. It came to constitute their tribal sign, called a wasum, which they used to mark their territory. The footprints of the Israelites, as simple as they are, unlock many doors. For example, the evidence suggests the Israelites were wandering in Arabia rather than the Sinai Peninsula. Their historical journey will now need to be re-examined. The footprints of the Israelites and the writing of God in Thamudic script now give us a means to trace their wandering.
Inscriptions at Sinai
Scripts are not dated by physical means; they are dated by the characteristic forms of the letters that have changed over time to give us an etymology, or history, of the letters. For example, two classic Proto-Semitic pictographs were found right alongside the Kaliya inscription found at Rephidim. There were two ox heads flanking the inscription. These are pictographs of the letter Aleph. This discovery of Proto-Semitic pictographs in Midian is an important find in the study of the origin of the alphabet. The Alephs support the analysis that these alphabetic inscriptions were written right at the time when pictographic writing was still used, the earliest possible date for alphabetic writing.
The other alphabetic inscriptions are found on the eastern side of the Sinai site in Midian. They were made in an area so remote that few people have been there even over the course of thousands of years. That has certainly contributed to the preservation of the archaeological and inscriptional data. These inscriptions are dated to the 15th century B. C. and are written in ancient Thamudic, the oldest alphabetic script composed of letter-symbols rather than pictographs. To whom did they belong? Scripture recorded the Israelites were there during the 15th century B.C. engaged in alphabetic writing.
The inscriptions are simple and brief, like most done on undressed stone. They were not made by scribes, but rather by semi-literate ordinary people who had begun to learn the alphabet. These inscriptions had a single purpose, as did most of the earliest alphabetic inscriptions on undressed stone: they marked the place where someone died. The ancient Semitic tradition was to mark the place of a person's death even if they were buried elsewhere. These early inscriptions generally gave little more than the word /zn/ and the name of the individual. The word /zn/ had a clear and simple meaning: it meant "died."
Jamme, the renowned Thamudic scholar, made a definitive case that /zn/ was the funerary notation meaning "died." His analysis is conclusive. Two-thirds of all early alphabetic inscriptions are unequivocally of a funerary nature, marking where someone died (although some marked actual gravesites as well). Many phonetic components of the earliest alphabetic inscriptions are unknown. Even when all the letters are known, the words they form may not be. Errors on the part of the writer were also common. In these particular inscriptions, however, there is no doubt about their meaning: they are funerary markings, although some parts of the inscriptions so far remain untranslated.
The inscription found at Rephidim, published in our first installment, is translated "died Kaliya." This is significant for two reasons. First, the triple hash mark was used in this group of letters in an unmistakably alphabetic context. This eliminates the argument that the triple hash mark of the footprints was a random symbol that had no meaning. The Israelites used the tracing of their footprints as the first alphabetic wasum, a tribal sign. After the introduction of the alphabet into the region, alphabetic wasums rapidly became common to mark boundaries of tribal territory.
The Kaliya inscription is important because it is flanked by the two Alephs mentioned earlier. These pictographic images of an ox head came from Proto-Semitic pictographs. Having this connection between Proto-Semitic and Thamudic script is significant evidence that the writing of God was the first step into symbolic script developed from the Proto-Semitic pictographs. The Alephs suggest the earliest possible date (15th century B. C.) for these writings, on the cusp of the creation of the symbolic alphabet. There are many other Thamudic inscriptions in and around the area of Jabel al-Lawz-evidence of prolific alphabetic activity.
The first inscription at Sinai reads "Died Hagar." Analyzing and specifying the phonemes, or ranges of sound, that are represented by each letter was a critical development in writing. It seems the /k/ and /g/ sounds were phonemic in many dialects of the region, often interchangeable or indistinguishable since there is no symbol for /g/ in their scripts. However, in the specific variety of script in the area around Mount Horeb (Tabuki Thamudic) there was a separate /g/ phoneme and letter as in Hebrew-an indication of their common roots. If the /k/ and /g/ sounds were considered the same phoneme, the name would be pronounced either Hagar or Hakir. If they are separate sounds, the symbol used here must stand for the /g/ sound since we know the symbol for the letter K.
The second inscription reads "Died Amiah bat Hagar" (Amiah daughter of Hagar). The phrase "daughter of" would typically be followed by the mother's name. Hagar is a female name whereas Hakir is male, another indication Hagar is the correct translation. More importantly, the language of the Amiah inscription is Hebrew. "Amiah bat Hagar": bat is the Hebrew word for daughter. Some claim this writing was Proto-Arabic, but this inscription clearly identifies the language as ancient Hebrew. The Hagar and Amiah inscriptions appear to have been done with the same hand because the comparison of the letters meaning Hagar on both inscriptions shows them to be strikingly similar.
The last inscription reads "Died Amalek." Some of the letters following this have not been deciphered. They may be a short attribute of the deceased, perhaps saying how he died. This inscription marked the death of an Amalekite; "Then came Amalek and fought with Israel" (Ex. 17:8). These three inscriptions were found on the periphery of the campsites where Scripture says the attacks of the Amalekites happened. Recording the death of a defeated enemy would be completely in keeping with custom. These three inscriptions of Hagar, Amiah, and Amalek were found close together and they tell a story straight from the pages of Exodus. The two females were family, isolated on the edge of the campsite. They were attacked and killed by one or more of the predatory Amalekites, taking advantage of their isolation and vulnerability. Other Israelites arrived in time to slay their murderer but not in time to save them from their fate.
Remember what Amalek did unto thee by the way, when ye were come forth out of Egypt; How he met thee by the way, and smote
the hindmost of thee, even all that were feeble behind thee, when thou wast faint and weary; and he feared not God. (Deuteronomy 25:17-18)
Moses and Writing
Regardless of when he began to elaborate a Hebrew script, Moses received direct guidance upon the Mountain of God and thus was able to write in Hebrew to record the words of the Lord. Moses was called up to the mountain where he stayed for forty days and nights, time to learn what he was being commanded to teach (Ex. 24:18). When Moses came down from Sinai he brought the alphabet carved into stone. Nonetheless, there is a quantum leap between knowing the alphabet enough to scratch your name into a stone and the work attributed to Moses (or his scribes) in writing the first five books of the Old Testament. Having the sounds of a language in letters is not yet a complete writing system. At the time of the Exodus no consensus of spelling, vocabulary, grammar, punctuation, or sentence structure had been determined. No form for verse, paragraph, chapter or book had been specified. A myriad of codified forms and conventions that we take for granted simply did not exist. There were no spaces between words nor punctuation at the beginning and end of sentences, paragraphs, or chapters. There was no capitalization. Letters of the alphabet might point in any direction, or develop variant forms, and not all the sounds were represented yet. These conventions took centuries to perfect.
Did Moses adapt the Proto-Semitic pictographs into the letters of the Hebrew alphabet or did God directly hand him the alphabet on the tablets of stone? The answer, as far as we know it from Scripture and our recently revealed evidence, would be both. To many theologians, all of man's innovations are planned and predestined by God. Secularists, however, require a human inventor of the alphabet. One could not find a better candidate than Moses for that innovation. Moses was educated in "all of the wisdom of the Egyptians" (Acts 7:22). Members of the Egyptian court learned hieroglyphs and cuneiform. As a Semite, he would have been knowledgeable of the Hebrew language and of the alphabetic pictographs used to write phonetically in Semitic. Scripture sets both facts before us: Yahweh gave Moses the writing of God (Ex. 32:15-16) written with His own finger (Ex. 31:18) and after the first tablets were destroyed He guided Moses to write it himself (Ex. 34:27). Conclusion: Moses was divinely inspired to create the alphabet. This implies both the guiding hand of God and a role for human innovation.
The Lord had just gifted the Hebrews with His writing as a medium for learning, preserving, and spreading His Word. The Sinai Covenant had a stated purpose. It was a teaching covenant commanding believers to learn to read and write and to use those skills to spread the knowledge of God's word to others. In antiquity, priests were the primary practitioners and teachers of literacy, a distinction that is lost on us today. The Lord called the Israelites to become "priests" of His Word (Ex. 19:6), which included literacy: "Thou shalt read this law ... (Deut. 31:11). And thou shalt write them upon the posts of thy house, and on thy gates" (Deut. 6:9). Moses first fulfilled this command by reading the law to the people. The Levitical priesthood was charged with teaching the heads of households. Eventually, all Israelites were to teach their children the Word and the writing of God.
The writing of God exemplified the alphabetic principle of one symbol for each consonant sound of the language. 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 command 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. Sinai was a literacy covenant. Learning the word and the writing of God was a central purpose of the covenant for believers, their children, and their children's children unto all generations. Believers were called to take responsibility for their children and to "teach them diligently" (Deut. 6:7). "Behold, I set before you this day a blessing and a curse; A blessing, if ye obey ... and a curse if ye will not obey ..." (Deut. 11:26-28).
At the Midian site we find inscriptions in the oldest known alphabet of letters (Thamudic, the father script) that bear testimony to events happening at Sinai. These inscriptions are written in the ancient Hebrew language and mention events of the Exodus. The term "the writing of God" has been interpreted by Biblical historians as a mere synonym for the message written upon the stone, rendering it a meaningless redundancy. That interpretation can no longer stand. Believers and theologians alike must look at the evidence for the writing of God as carefully as possible.
Scripture articulates the distinction and importance of both the word and the writing of God in several verses. In Exodus 24:12, God specified the law "which I have written." In Exodus 31:18, God promised "tables of testimony ... written with the finger of God." Exodus 32:16 emphasizes the distinction: "And the tables were the work of God, and the writing was the writing of God." The writing of God is not presented as a synonym for the word of God but as a separate, equally relevant, highly significant part 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 Jebel al-Lawz proves this point as do the commands of Scripture which direct believers to read and write. The goal of the Sinai Covenant was not only to engrave the law on the tablets of stone but also to engrave the law upon the hearts of man. "Saith the Lord, I will put my law in their inward parts, and write it in their hearts; and will be their God, and they shall be my people" (Jer. 31:33).
At the turn of the millennium the Saudis became concerned at all the publicity about the real Mount Sinai being located in their territory. They do not want 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 Jabel al-Lawz was Mount Sinai. This ill-conceived study, entitled Al-Bid History and Archaeology and published in 2002, was to have unforeseen consequences. Before the Saudi survey of Jabel al-Lawz, much of our evidence would be considered unprovenanced data, which is to say, not authenticated by discovery through an accepted academic process. The academic professionals who did the Al-Bid survey have provenanced key parts of our documentation by publishing photographs of the evidence that match those in the Caldwells' archives. This now makes the evidence for the writing of God harder to ignore. The possibility of mistake or fraud is essentially eliminated since key documentation is duplicated in the Al-Bid survey. The Saudi survey included pictures not previously available that confirm many of the historical and archaeological claims made in this article. For example, the Al-Bid survey documented that there are 155 Thamudic inscriptions around Jebel al-Lawz.
We will examine the evidence of the Al-Bid History and Archaeology survey in detail in the next installment. We will also investigate the Moses stone, a fourteenth-century votive stone found on the pilgrimage path to Jebel al-Lawz, which is probably the oldest artifact that will ever be found bearing the name of God, YHWH. We will look at an in-depth analysis of the cattle worship motifs and outline some of the amazing historical evidence of the "writing of God" and how it shaped Western civilization.
See Part 3 The Call from Sinai
See Part 1 Evidence of the Exodus
1. Al-Ansary, Adbul-Rahman and Majeed Khan, et al., Al-Bid History and Archaeology, Saudi Arabia Ministries of Education, Antiquities & Museums, 2002.
2. Jim and Penny Caldwell, God of the Mountain (Alachua, FL: Bridge Logos Publisher, 2008).
3. Miles Jones, The Writing of God (Dallas, TX: Johnson Publishers, 2010). Available at writingofgod.com.