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Mountain of God:  Where was the real Mount Sinai, and the Location of the Ark of the Covenant?

Mountain of God: Where was the real Mount Sinai, and the Location of the Ark of the Covenant?


In the late twelfth century, crusader knights of the Templar order, from the county of Warwickshire in central England, were rumored to have found the Ark of the Covenant while stationed at the ancient city of Petra in southern Jordan. Regardless of whether or not they really did find this sacred artifact, my research suggests that they were in the right place to have found it.

The Bible tells us that the Ark of the Covenant was the Ancient Israelites’ holiest relic. A golden chest made to hold the tablets inscribed with the Ten Commandments, it was kept in the Temple of Solomon in Jerusalem until the city was sacked by the Babylonians in 597 BC. According to the Old Testament’s Second Book of Maccabees (still in the Roman Catholic Bible but removed from the King James version), the prophet Jeremiah ordered it to be hidden before Jerusalem fell. In chapter 2, verses 4 and 5 we are told:

[Jeremiah] ordered that the tent and the ark should follow with him, and that he went out to the mountain where Moses had gone up and had seen the inheritance of God.  Jeremiah came and found a cave-dwelling, and he brought there the tent and the ark and the altar of incense; then he sealed up the entrance.

The account goes on to say that the Ark was never recovered. Indeed, it remains lost to this day.

Searching through the Sinai Wilderness

It might seem that the place where Jeremiah is said to have hidden the Ark would be relatively easy to locate. Not so. In the biblical narrative, the mountain where Moses saw “the inheritance of God” could apply to Mount Nebo, where Moses saw the Promised Land, or Mount Sinai, where he saw God himself and received the Ten Commandments. However, as Mount Sinai is where the Ark was originally made, it seems the more likely of the two. The big problem is that the whereabouts of Mount Sinai seems to have been forgotten, and later wrongly located. The site considered to be Mount Sinai by today’s Church is the mountain of Jebel Musa in eastern Egypt, but this tradition only developed in early Christian times and there is no archeological or biblical evidence to support it. In fact, the local geography fails to match Old Testament descriptions of the place it refers to as Mount Sinai. Consequently, biblical scholars have long debated the sacred mountain’s true location.

Although Mount Sinai is the best-known name for the site, the Old Testament actually refers to it by two other names: Horeb and the Mountain of God. Said to be where God revealed himself and his laws to mankind, it is depicted as the most hallowed site on Earth.

According to the Bible, God appeared to the Israelites on top of Mount Sinai. Painting by the nineteenth century-artist Jean-Léon Gérôme.

According to the Bible, God appeared to the Israelites on top of Mount Sinai. Painting by the nineteenth century-artist Jean-Léon Gérôme. (Public domain)

But strangely, although we are told that the sacred mountain was somewhere in the Sinai Wilderness— an area which includes eastern Egypt, together with southern Israel and Jordan— the Bible does not directly reveal its whereabouts. There are hundreds of mountains in the Sinai Wilderness, an area of over fifty thousand square miles of largely inhospitable country, so which one was Mount Sinai? If we examine the Old Testament, we find that it does provide important clues to lead to its location, but they are dispersed throughout different passages. For example, the book of Exodus, chapter 2, verse 1, refers to Moses’ first visit to Mount Sinai while he was living as a nomadic shepherd, having been exiled from Egypt by the pharaoh.

Now Moses kept the flock of Jethro his father-in-law, the priest of Midian: and he led the flock to the backside of the desert, and came to the mountain of God, even to Horeb.

The author places the Mountain of God in the "backside of the desert" with regards to Midian. Midian was at the extreme south of the Sinai Wilderness, the desert in question, and so the mountain would seem to be on its northern side, an area now called the Shara Mountains.

Map showing the locations of Midian, the Sinai Wilderness, and Jebel al-Madhbah.

Map showing the locations of Midian, the Sinai Wilderness, and Jebel al-Madhbah. (Graham Phillips)

It is here that Moses is later said to have performed a miracle. According to the Old Testament book of Numbers, chapter 20, verses 11-14, after he has returned to Egypt and led the Israelites to freedom in the Sinai Wilderness, Moses takes them to a place called Meribah, on the border of the kingdom of Edom. Here, he creates a miraculous spring by striking his staff against a rock. The very same story of the miracle at Meribah is also told in the book of Exodus, chapter 17, verses 5-7, but in this passage we are additionally told that the incident occurs at Horeb – the Mountain of God.  So, taken together, these two passages show that the ancient scribes believed that Mount Sinai rose above a place then called Meribah on Edom’s border.

The valley in which the kingdom of Edom stood during Moses’ time, around 1300 BC, later became the site of the city of Petra in Roman times, and the only way into this once fertile valley, avoiding a gruelling haul over the mountains, was through a narrow rocky gorge known as the Siq (Arabic for canyon). As we are told that, after he created the miraculous stream, Moses sent a messenger to the king of Edom to ask permission to enter his land (Numbers 20: 14 – 17), the account must have located the event at the entrance to the Siq.

Moses creates the miraculous stream. Painting by the seventeenth-century artist François Perrier.

Moses creates the miraculous stream. Painting by the seventeenth-century artist François Perrier.  (Public Domain)

Astonishingly, although biblical scholars seem to have completely overlooked these giveaway clues to pinpoint the Mountain of God, the local people certainly haven’t. At the entrance to the Siq there is a Bedouin shine built over a sacred pool called Ain Musa – the Spring of Moses – said to be the very place where the miracle occurred. Rising above Ain Musa is a mountain today called Jebel al-Madhbah, so was this the sacred site the Old Testament authors referred to as Mount Sinai, Horeb, and The Mountain of God?

Ain Musa – the Spring of Moses – at the entrance to the Siq at Petra. (

Ain Musa – the Spring of Moses – at the entrance to the Siq at Petra. (Photography by Andrew Collins)

The Valley of Moses

Remarkably, even the name of the valley in which Petra is situated has long been associated with Moses by the local people. It is called Wadi Musa, meaning the Valley of Moses. The ruins of many ancient tombs line the cliffs of Wadi Musa, dating from the Roman period around two thousand years ago, but on top of Jebel al-Madhbah there are the remains of a much older religious complex. Possibly dating from as early as the period in which the story of Moses is set, it consists of an open air temple at the summit, and two twenty-foot-high obelisks either side of a flat, stone terrace cut from the mountainside below it. Here, archaeologists have discovered pieces slate originally used to pave the area that were once polished to create a shiny blue surface.

The rock-cut temple at the summit of Jebel al-Madhbah.

The rock-cut temple at the summit of Jebel al-Madhbah. (Photography by Andrew Collins)

The local Bedouin still regard this concourse as hallowed ground, and call the obelisks “the feet of God.” It certainly matches the description of Mount Sinai in the Old Testament. According to Exodus, chapter 19, verse 17:

And Moses brought forth the people out of the camp to meet with God; and they stood at the nether part of the mount.

“Nether” means “lower,” so the Israelites were said to be on some lower precinct to the sacred mountain top where Moses ultimately went alone to commune with God. If Jebel al-Madhbah was the Mountain of God, then the “nether part” could have been the paved terrace with its obelisks. It is further described in Exodus, chapter 24, verse 10:

And they saw the God of Israel: and there was under his feet as it were a paved work of a sapphire stone.

Surely the Jebel al-Madhbah concourse, known as Obelisk Terrace, has to be the “nether part of the mount” referred to in the biblical narrative. Archaeologists have determined that it had once been paved with polished blue slate that may well have glimmered like sapphire in the sunlight, and the Bedouin tradition calls the obelisks the feet of God; the biblical account specifically refers to God’s feet.

Obelisk Terrace, once covered with polished blue slate.

Obelisk Terrace, once covered with polished blue slate. (Photography by Andrew Collins)

Jebel al-Madhbah, showing the location of the summit shrine and the terrace below it.

Jebel al-Madhbah, showing the location of the summit shrine and the terrace below it. (Photography by Jane Taylor)

If Jebel al-Madhbah, rising high above the ancient city of Petra, was the biblical Mountain of God, then it might have been in one of its many caves that Jeremiah hid the Ark of the Covenant – precisely where the Templars are said to have found it many centuries later.

A fuller account of this investigation can be found on Graham Phillips’ website:

And in his book The Templars and the Ark of the Covenant.

See also Graham’s interview with Natalie-Marie Hart.


Join Ancient Origins Premium to see author and researcher Graham Phillips’s exclusive webinar. In The Templars and the Ark of the Covenant - Following Ancient Clues, Graham presents evidence that this remarkable relic really existed and was discovered by the crusader knights, the Templars, during the Middle Ages and brought back to Europe. From the war-torn Middle East to the quiet British countryside, Graham follows an ancient trail of clues in search of the mysterious lost Ark!


Top Image: Mount Sinai, or Mount Moses (CC BY-SA 3.0)

By Graham Phillips



It makes sense that Mount Sinai (Horeb) was in Saudi Arabia. That’s why the Israelites had to cross the Jordan River (westwards) to get to the Promised Land. If they had come via the Sinai Peninsula, they would already be on the west side of the Jordan.

Mario Maloccu's picture

The Ark of the Covenant has been kept for about 3,000 years in Axum, northern Ethiopia, in the church of Our Lady Mary of Zion in Ethiopia and none of us know how long. Only God knows. Everything found in the ark is perfectly described in the Bible. Years ago, RAI Radio Television Italiana shot a documentary in that place and obtained authorization to enter the church mentioned above by the priest who guards it, who has the order not to leave the chapel where the artifact is located for any reason in the world. On that occasion, the Ark of the Covenant was filmed and millions of viewers saw it all over the world. Find out from RAI in Rome and ask for a copy of the video. All this I write is not fake news but it is all true.

Walter Mattfeld's picture

Graham Phillips has argued that perhaps Jebel al-Madhbah is Mount Sinai. The books on the subject (1970-2019) that I have read suggest that this area was understood to be Mount Hor, where Moses' brother Aaron was buried, on the border of Edom. This notion goes back to the Jewish historian Flavius Josephus who wrote a History of the Jews circa 70-80 AD, paraphrasing events in the Torah. Phillips noted the sacred mount was called Horeb and Sinai and the "Mountain of God," which, in Hebrew would be Har Elohim, -im being a plural form, which some would render as "Gods" rather than God, Hence, the "Mountain of the Gods." I have proposed the sacred mount is in the vicinity of Jebel Serabit el Khadim in the southern Sinai. Highly detailed maps made by the British in the 1930s reveal two mounts just east of Jebel Serabit el Khadim, Jebel Ghorabi and Jebel Saniya, for me, a possible Horeb and Sinai, in corrupted Arabic forms. The Septuaginta Bible, written in Greek renders Horeb as Choreb, which seems to be preserved in Arabic as Ghorabi (today rendered Gharab on modern maps of the area). When Aaron makes the Golden Calf for Israel to worship, he speaks of it as "Here are your GODS, O Israel, who have lead you to this sacred mount." I note that the Egyptian shrine at Serabit el Khadim was dedicated to several Egyptian gods, Horus the Hawk-god, Harmachis the Sphinx (lion body with human head), a Baboon (Thoth), Hat-Hor (a cow goddess), Pharaoh, the Asiatic warrior god called Sopdu, smiter of the Menti nomads of the Sinai, and the Canaanite god El (inscriptions found in the mining caves). So, truly, the area about Jebels Serabit el Khadim, Ghorabi and Saniya could be construed as "the Mountain of the Gods."
The various mining expeditions, sponsored by the pharaohs, left inscriptions identifying the Pharaoh who sent the miners, the date range is from circa 1900 BC to 1130 BC which covers the various Exodus dates of 1540 BC, 1446 BC, 1260 BC, 1174 BC, proposed by various scholars. Pharaoh Rameses' name is at this mining center and at Har Timnah, another Egyptian mining center in the eastern Sinai, near the Arabah. Phillips suggested that Meribah-Kadesh of the Bible might be a corrupted Jebel al-Madhbah. My research suggests Meribah-Kadesh is incorrectly identified by scholars at today's Ain Qudeirat in the Negeb or nearby Ain Qadeis. I have proposed it is at today's Tel Masos in the Negeb. For me Mount Hor is misidentified too. I locate it adjacent to Tel Masos, todays' Har Ira on modern Israeli maps. For me Arabic has preserved Hor as GHUR, an ancient Iron Age site atop Har Ira. The wilderness of Zin for me is nearby Khasim Zannah, a height, west of Tel Masos, the wilderness of Paran is Sahel Farah east of Tel Masos. I go into all this in greater detail at my website, Why Tel Masos for Kadeh-Barnea/ Meribah-Kadesh? I agree with those archaeologists who understand that Iron Age I is Israel settling down in the Promised Land following the Exodus. Ain Qudeirat and Qadeis possess no Iron Age I artifacts, but Tel Masos does. In fact, Tel Masos is the largest Iron Age I settlement in the Negeb. It makes sense to me that Moses' camp at Meribah/Kadesh would be the largest, earliest, site of Iron Age I occupation in the Negeb. Excavations revealed some buildings were made in the Egyptian fashion for the occupation of Egyptians living there to control the trade in Copper in the area (Egyptian run copper mines at Har Timnah). Egyptian pottery was also found there and scarabs.

Walter R. Mattfeld

Walter Mattfeld's picture

Santiago claims the Biblical accounts are true, not fiction. His proof? Nothing! Only that he believes the Bible to be true, because he was taught to believe it to be so, since his youth, by his Christian teachers. He has NOT investigated the most recent archaeological evidence to prove anything about the Exodus to be true. I, on the other hand, have investigated the archaeological evidence, proving that the Exodus is unsupported by archaeological findings. I am aware that spurious claims are made by Christian Apologists claiming archaeology supports the Bible's veracity, but I know these claims are false based on my in-depth studies of archaeological reports by trained archaeologists instead of spurious claims by pseudo-scholars who have no training in archaeology.
I can sympathize with Santiago, for I once believed, like him, the Bible was true (1943-1980) but when I investigated the archaeological reports for myself I realized I had been fed falsehoods about the Bible's veracity by the Bible's defenders. Santiago should visit my website, to see for himself why the Bible cannot be the word of God. Then, the blindfold will drop from his eyes, and he will become a non-believer, like myself.

Walter R. Mattfeld

“Although I understand that the Exodus is fiction based on the findings of archaeology”

Your position is “fiction”; we have Moses’ accounts of what happened and their preservation by his contemporaries who lived through the events he detailed and considered them the Word of God.


Graham Phillips's picture

Graham Phillips

Graham Phillips is a British non-fiction author who has investigated historical mysteries for over three decades, and has appeared in many documentaries broadcast worldwide. His fifteen published books include investigations into the truth behind the legendary figures of King Arthur... Read More

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