In 1984 I had the incredible opportunity of visiting Europe for two weeks and then crossing the Mediterranean and spending about six weeks in the nations of Israel and Egypt. I was 22 years old and ready to climb the mountain.
I was a part of a few dozen college students and archaeological tourists that were given the distinct honour to visit various biblically mentioned archaeological and historical sites from the far north of Israel to the southern expanse known as the Sinai peninsula. This included some recreation like snorkeling in the Gulf of Aqaba, floating in the Dead Sea and, more theologically, climbing what many have claimed was the holy mountain called Sinai.
Our greatest honour was to dig at the site of the ancient City of David. But that’s another story.
This is a story of climbing Mount Sinai during the dark hours just before sunrise and ascending to the very top of this reportedly hallowed venue. I was only a year and a half into my newborn resolution to a faith/cult and the passionate fire that burned in my belly was reaching a climax with the excitement of rising to the top of this holy mountain, watching Old Sol rise and begin bathing us in the illuminating rays of the Middle East’s summer heat.
The climb to the top of this famous mount is not as arduous as one might think. There are two paths that may be taken to reach the peak…we chose the steeper route that takes approximately an hour to ascend. The 3,750 steps are a more direct route called The Path of Moses (Siket Sayidna Musa.) This path is also called the steps of penitence and is located in the ravine near the St. Catherine monastery with beginnings in the 4th Century A. C. E. by none other than St. Helena, the mother of Constantine the Great. The monastery’s true name is The Monastery of the Transfiguration connecting itself to the Burning Bush incident that Moses reports in the Old Testament. The proclaimed descendent of the burning tree is growing in the courtyard of the monastery. This bush is a unique member of the rose family called Rubus Sanctus, which grows in the Sinai thereby lending a certain credence to the claim of this burning legend to believers.
The photo above shows the almost moon-like landscape of the course of The Path of Moses as one nears the top the mountain.
This is what our group saw when the sun rose upon us as we stood atop what could be the ancient Mount Sinai of the Old Testament.
And so to my point of the cube grenade at the top of this entry. During the course of our climb in the dark to the top of the holy mount a young woman who was to become my sister-in-law injured her knee. I took it upon myself to almost carry her to the top…no one was going to miss this encounter with destiny. Many a young man asked to assist us because they could see the sweat trickling down my face as step by step we climbed while the young woman nursed her knee. We tried every means of transport from piggy-backing to crossing hands with another young fellow to allow her to sit on our human arm chair…nothing worked but to wrap her left arm around my neck and establish each stone stair with care. Her pain seemed alleviated by this method to a greater degree…and we made it to the top.
As we stood on top of the darkened monolith, I waited.
I looked for some sort of sign. I had climbed the steps of penitence with another human being depending on my inspired strength and now it was time for contact…verification of the chosen…evidence.
There was no burning bush, no still small voice. There was only Old Sol rising through the haze that covers the landscape above and below and then evaporates into oblivion as the temperature rises. For me, I had climbed the mountain. I couldn’t scream to an eternal spirit to show his existence, I couldn’t wait for 40 days and 40 nights to hope for some sort of enlightenment. There shining beneath the ever-increasing heat of the sun stood seven peaks surrounding the sacred mount and the Wilderness of Sin where the ancient tribes of Israel are reported to have wandered for 40 years.