Why don’t we know the exact location of Mount Sinai, after all if millions of people were there, surely they would have handed down the tradition of the location just like Kivrey Avos or Har Hamoriyah (Bais Hamikdash).

For example, in Pirkei Avos 6,2 Rabbi Yehoshua ben Levi said, “Every day a Heavenly voice goes out from Mount Horeb proclaiming and saying, ‘Woe to humanity for disdaining the Torah!”

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    After the Shechinah left Mt. Sinai, it was no longer holy. It became just another mountain. As it says in the Torah, sheep could graze on it. Jews generally hand down traditions about places with lasting sanctity, like the ones cited in the question, but not places with mere historical significance. – shmu Jan 27 '19 at 17:36
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    But surely there is some significance because it says in Chapter 6, Mishnah 2 Rabbi Yehoshua ben Levi said, “Every day a Heavenly voice goes out from Mount Horeb proclaiming and saying, ‘Woe to humanity for disdaining the Torah!’ – Daniel Ross Jan 27 '19 at 17:42
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    Not only that, Eliyahu Hanavi was commanded to go to Mt. Sinai, and receive G-d's Word there. Nevertheless, although it is a significant place, as you say, it has no inherent kedushah. Jews flock to places of kedushah, such as kivrei avos, so they remember where they are. I am not aware of any minhag at any time in history to visit Mt. Sinai. – shmu Jan 27 '19 at 17:53
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    I recommend you edit your comment into your question post to strengthen it. – msh210 Jan 27 '19 at 17:57
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    @Double AA from Bava Basra it could be from 57b “R. Bana’a used to mark caves of the deceased rabbis. When he came to the cave of Abraham he found Eliezer his servant standing outside etc”. I don’t know whether Rabi Bana’a was at the time of Herod are you able to comment on this time line? – Daniel Ross Jan 28 '19 at 16:12

Mount Sinai location was known for hundreds of years after Matan-Tora:

מלכים א יט ח

וַיָּ֖קָם וַיֹּ֣אכַל וַיִּשְׁתֶּ֑ה וַיֵּ֜לֶךְ בְּכֹ֣חַ ׀ הָאֲכִילָ֣ה הַהִ֗יא אַרְבָּעִ֥ים יוֹם֙ וְאַרְבָּעִ֣ים לַ֔יְלָה עַ֛ד הַ֥ר הָאֱלֹהִ֖ים חֹרֵֽב׃

Kings a 19:8

He arose and ate and drank; and with the strength from that meal he walked forty days and forty nights as far as the mountain of God at Horeb.

But, after we go through exile, how would you expect that a location of a mountain, in the desert, with no special features will be remembered?

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    Eliyahu winding up there on a miraculous journey doesn't really prove it was well known, or known at all. God made sure he'd get there, even if he didn't have a tradition where to go – Double AA Dec 25 '19 at 13:53
  • @DoubleAA You expand the miracle (Not just the food, also the journey), I narrow it. I'm not saying you are wrong, It's just that I was thought,that the default should be narrowing miracles, not expending them. – Alaychem goes to Codidact Dec 26 '19 at 8:28
  • I'm not sure positing that the Jews maintained an unnecessary oral tradition about this mountain far away in a different land is that much less miraculous. Also I'm not sure the principle of minimizing miracles applies during openly miraculous events. – Double AA Dec 26 '19 at 15:02

This is probably due to purely practical limitations - with almost no maps or written descriptions of foreign areas people had no way to pass down the tradition except by going there and pointing out the mountain.

Josephus apparently still had a tradition, as he gives a description of the mountain, but note how even with is description it can be hard to identify the mountain:

Josephus wrote that "Moses went up to a mountain that lay between Egypt and Arabia, which was called Sinai." Josephus says that Sinai is "the highest of all the mountains thereabout," and is "the highest of all the mountains that are in that country, and is not only very difficult to be ascended by men, on account of its vast altitude but because of the sharpness of its precipices".

This was still at a time when it was a few days walk for most Jews to go see the mountain, and it seems like the tradition was there but already unclear. After the destruction of the Temple there would really be no way to pass down the trasition.

  • A Christian document from around 50 CE, written by the Pharisee Paul (aka Saul), non-ambiguously refers to "mount Sinai in Arabia" (Galatians 4:25 (KJV)). More recently, "The Gold of Exodus: The Discovery of the True Mount Sinai (1998) New York: Simon & Schuster, ISBN 0684809184" gives a compelling argument that the Red Sea crossing was at Sharm El Sheikh, with Mount Sinai being in Arabia. – Ray Butterworth Nov 24 '19 at 14:18
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    @RayButterworth The suggestion that Mt. Sinai is in Arabia is interesting, and I do not rule it out, but this question was specifically about a tradition (or lack thereof) identifying the location. I believe that Josephus was recording a tradition, and it is the only such record I have come across. If you are aware of any traditions saying that Mt. Sinai is in Arabia, please share. – simyou Nov 24 '19 at 20:20
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    The only reliable tradition I was aware of was the one I just gave: that in 50CE, a well educated Jew (actually Benjaminite) casually referred to "mount Sinai in Arabia" as if it were common knowledge. 300 years later, Roman Emperor Constantine's mother declared that it was a specific mountain in the Sinai desert, and that's what most of the world has believed since. – Ray Butterworth Nov 24 '19 at 20:59
  • @RayButterworth sorry, I misread your first comment. However, there does not seem to be agreement that Paul's Arabia excluded today's Sinai (just like its unclear that Sinai did not include today's Arabia.) e.g. hermeneutics.stackexchange.com/a/17443, so this does not prove that Sinai was in Saudi Arabia. (Again, I do not reject that theory.) – simyou Nov 25 '19 at 11:33

You might be interested in an intriguing YouTube video, Finding the Mountain of Moses: The Real Mount Sinai in Saudi Arabia.

It presents compelling evidence (but certainly not proof) that the real Mt. Sinai is Jabal al-Lawz - Google Maps, in Arabia.

enter image description here

The video is respectful to the subject, and other than references to the Hebrew Scriptures and Josephus, does not have any religious content.

Even if you don't accept it as true, its stunning scenery alone makes it worth watching.

  • Actually it has been shown that Mt. Sinai is not Jabal al-Lawz. That is an Islamic tradition anyway. As for MS, we just don’t know and will never know. – Turk Hill Apr 8 '20 at 19:35
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    @TurkHill, That something is an Islamic tradition doesn't necessarily mean it is wrong. Islam teaches Noah and Abraham for instance. Local Arabs could have preserved the knowledge from times when Jews knew about it too. I'm not saying it is, only that it could be, and that Muslims believe it isn't an argument against it. – Ray Butterworth Apr 8 '20 at 20:50
  • You are correct to say that we should not reject it because it comes from an outside source. Rambam wrote that we should accept the truth no matter the source. I still think the mountain has been shown not to be Sinai where the Israelites stayed, but this is not certain. Thus, I think we may never know, but it's always healthy to speculate. – Turk Hill Apr 8 '20 at 22:33

Living Torah, Exodus 3.1

Horeb area

(Ramban on Deuteronomy 1:6). This was the area around Sinai (Exodus 17:6, Deuteronomy 1:6, 4:10, cf. Ben Sirah 48:7). Sinai is thus sometimes referred to as 'the mountain of Horeb' (Exodus 33:6). Others, however, say that Horeb was the lower of the two peaks of Sinai (cf. Ibn Ezra on Deuteronomy 1:6). Most early sources identify Mount Sinai with Jebel Musa or Mount Catherine on the southern Sinai peninsula, a five day journey (200 miles) from Egypt, and some 40 miles from the Red Sea (Ma'asoth Binyamin 24; Masa Rabbi Obadiah Bertenoro 3). According to this, Moses had traveled approximately 100 miles along the west coast of the Gulf of Aqaba. There are some difficulties, with this, however, since this 'Mountain of God' seems to have been on a direct route between Midian and Egypt (Exodus 4:27), and not more than a three day journey (some 120 miles) from where the Israelites lived (Exodus 3:18). On the basis of this, it may be conjectured that Mount Sinai was Jebel Ya'llaq (some 32 miles from the northern end of the Gulf of Suez) or Jebel Sinn Bishr (60 miles due east of Bitter Lakes). Obviously, this question is very important in determining the route of the Exodus.

The area was called Horeb (Chorebh) because of its dryness (Ibn Ezra). See note on Exodus 3:2.

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    The question is about why there is no traditional identification, not asking where it is based on scholarly research. – רבות מחשבות Jan 27 '19 at 20:45
  • @רבותמחשבות The question is also based on scholarly research. – Turk Hill Jul 27 '19 at 2:27
  • @turk I'm not sure what you mean by that. – רבות מחשבות Jul 28 '19 at 2:11
  • @רבותמחשבות The question was why don’t we know were Sinai is traditionally which implies that we do not know it generally. Maybe G-d made the mountain for that purpose and when the Jews were done with it, he simply allowed the wind to blow it away like sand? – Turk Hill Jul 28 '19 at 5:41
  • There is no source for this; just my speculation. – Turk Hill Jul 28 '19 at 5:41

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