Exact Dating of the Exodus


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Khashm el Tarif


Where is the Mountain of God, Horeb, where Moses received the 10 Commandments? If we start with the Exodus and pick Mount Sinai first, we are 40 years late. Scripture, geography, and archaeology can narrow Moses’ first journey to the Mountain near Midian.


Moses saw an Egyptian beating one of his Hebrew people and killed the abuser. “When Pharaoh heard of this, he tried to kill Moses, but Moses fled from Pharaoh and went to live in Midian, where he sat down by a well.” (Exodus 2:15) Midian was not controlled by the Egyptians so Moses would have trailed into the ancient Sinai trade route to the seaport and copper mines. He crossed the Wilderness of Paran just before reaching a well at Midian. He stopped to catch his breath, a sip of water, and to smile back at Zipporah.


When Moses encountered the Burning Bush “Moses was tending the flock of Jethro his father-in-law, the priest of Midian, and he led the flock to the far side of the wilderness and came to Horeb, the mountain of God.” (Exodus 3:1) How far from Midian might Moses have taken Jethro’s flock? In grazing the flock might cover 6-9 miles around the fields, but the area near Midian would have been well-chewed. Travelling further afield for fresh fodder might extend the distance and require a night or two in the open. However, “Jethro, Moses’ father-in-law, together with Moses’ sons and wife, came to him in the wilderness, where he was camped near the mountain of God.” (Exodus 18:5) Without the flock this suggests the distance to Horeb was likely a family’s long day’s journey, within a 25-mile range[1] From Midian.


Midian was a son of Abraham and the place where he settled became known as Midian, with regular water and grazing. The village would have grown when Moses lived there about 1,600 years later. Over 300 years after Moses “the Israelites did evil in the eyes of the LORD, and for seven years he gave them into the hands of the Midianites.” (Judges 6:1) Midian had become large with an army. Continuing in local knowledge was “Midian, which lay upon the Red Sea.” (Josephus, Antiquities 2:11:1) Over the millennia Midian became an important city and must leave a large archaeological footprint.


At the head of the Red Sea lies the ancient town of Aqaba which dates its founding from 4,000 BC. It lies on the first fringe of the area known as Midian today. On the outskirts of town is Tell Hujayrat al-Ghuzlan,[2] which covers occupation during the Bronze and Iron Ages. A building whose walls were inscribed with human and animal drawings suggests this was a religious site. The people who inhabited the area had developed an extensive water system for irrigating their crops (mostly grapes and wheat). Searchers also uncovered several different-sized clay pots used in copper production, a major industry in the region. The location fits Moses’ travels and geography. Aqaba qualifies as downtown Midian.[3]


Horeb is from the root “waste” or “desolate.” At Midian “the Lord said to Aaron, ‘Go into the wilderness to meet Moses.’ So he met Moses at the mountain of God and kissed him.” (Exodus 4:27) This suggests a nearby location west of Aqaba in the Wilderness of Paran. Aaron is not travelling with a flock. Within that 25-mile loop from Midian lies the only candidate for Horeb: Khashm el Tarif.




Khashm el Tarif is a flat-topped mountain along the trans-Sinai trade route.[4] Besides proximity to Midian it has the open space to accommodate hundreds of thousands to hear Moses speak from the mountain. Local ancient symbols and burials are yet to be verified. But there was once water.


God said to Moses, “I will stand there before you by the rock at Horeb. Strike the rock, and water will come out of it for the people to drink.” (Exodus 17:6) Calcium deposit on the top of the mountain provide evidence of an ancient spring.



Khashm el Tarif is also a reasonable location to confirm It takes eleven days to go from Horeb to Kadesh Barnea by the Mount Seir road.” (Deuteronomy 1:2) Moses spoke this in the nearby Arabah, the valley at the head of the Gulf of Aqaba. He turned the peoples of the Exodus loose up the valley past Mount Seir and across the hills to Kadesh Barnea. They speeded up the level valley toward the Promised Land and exceeded 10 miles per day.[5]


Khashm el Tarif[6] was proposed as Mount Sinai in the James Cameron 2006 documentary The Exodus Decoded[7] with a limited examination of the mountain by filmmaker Simcha Jacobovici. It was resurveyed in 2007 by Bryant G. Wood.[8] Jacobovici visited again with a bit of drama.[9]


In searching for Mount Sinai start with Midian where Moses stopped at the well. Horeb is nearby. The Exodus wanderings came later must end up back by Midian.



The Exodus dating can also shift expectations by hundreds of years. It is more exciting with Charleton Heston leading his people away from Ramses II about 1250 BC. Wood is at a “scriptural” date of 1440. Cameron moves back to 1500 to line up events with the eruption of Thera. Slide a bit more to 1552 and scripture and Thera line up.


[1] A day’s journey 20-25 miles per day.

[2] Excavations at Tall Hujayrat al-Ghuzlan and Tall al-Magass near Aqaba, Jordan, Florian Klimscha, 2011.

[3] Nearby copper-mining Timna has been suggested as Midian and would support Horeb’s location, but it does not exhibit a settlement that grew sufficient to dominate Israel. Settlements further into Saudi Arabia are beyond earlier good wells and lack large settlement patterns.

[5] The more direct route from Khasm el Tarif to Kadesh Barnea is about 66 miles or 6 miles per day.

[7] The Exodus Decoded full documentary.

[9] Discovering the Real Mount Sinai