Article: Renegade Explorers and The Search for the Real Mt. Sinai

God's Word, Renegade Explorers and The Search for the Real Mt. Sinai

By Thomas Beard

By the late afternoon light of a Saudi sun, Bob Cornuke could barely make out the cinder block walls stained with the sweat of previous prisoners. He had only a scrap of rug to separate him from the dirt floor of this makeshift cell, and he had never felt more alone in his entire life. Just hours ago, he and a friend were, literally, on top of the world-adventurers fresh from a startling discovery that would rock the foundations of biblical archaeology. Now he was a captive of Saudi Arabia's Frontier Forces, swaggering Bedouins with goatees, dark faces, and billowing robes. He was never more convinced of his mortality, and that his destiny now consisted of a few final breaths and an unmarked grave of sand.

Since about 350 AD, Christians and Jews from all over the world have trekked to a craggy mountain in the southern part of Egypt's Sinai Peninsula, just west and across the Gulf of Aqaba from Saudi Arabia. They have been drawn, if not compelled, to this arid, rocky landscape to view and experience one of the holiest sites ever immortalized in the Old Testament. These pilgrims have spent enormous amounts of money to see with their own eyes what they have believed to be the exact location where, according to the biblical account, God gave to Moses the Ten Commandments: Mt. Sinai. There is only one small, seemingly insignificant problem: there is no physical evidence. No cave where Elijah took refuge from a murderous Queen Jezebel in 1 Kings 19. No altar upon which the Israelites raised a golden calf, dancing around it in drunken abandon in Exodus 32. No split rock where miraculous water gushed forth and saved the Israelite nation in Exodus 17, and no remains of a ferocious battle with the Amalekites in that same chapter. Nothing. If this is, indeed, the true location of the holy mountain, up to two million people on a trans-desert venture with families, flocks, and the riches of the ancient Egyptians in tow left absolutely no trace of their stay at the foot of Mt. Sinai.

"You must release us immediately!" shouted Cornuke into the leering face of the Frontier Forces' commander. "We are here by invitation of the son of the king!" Cornuke hastily produced the documents that he and a friend, successful market trader Larry Williams, had forged with a London fax machine, hoping to convince his accusers. The explorers were under arrest on suspicion of being Israeli spies, and their jailers were in no mood to examine the veracity of the worthless paper that Cornuke waved at them. They would see that justice was carried out swiftly on the barren desert of the Saudi frontier.

At precisely 8:41 a.m. on June 12, 1988, explorer Bob Cornuke stood on the highest peak of a mountain called Jabal al Lawz in a land that the Bible calls Midian, now a part of modern-day Saudi Arabia. The entire summit was blackened, its silica melted by such an intense heat that it appeared to be black plastic. When shattered, however, the solid granite revealed an interior that was ivory in color. Cornuke recalled that the Bible states that God descended on Mt. Sinai in a cloud of smoke and flames like a furnace. Under an already searing sun, Bob wrote in his Bible as he realized that life would never again be the same. "When I stood on those scorched rocks, it was like a floodgate opening in my life. My life was changed at that moment," Cornuke remembers from his office at the Bible Archaeology Search and Exploration (B.A.S.E.) Institute in Colorado Springs. "I could almost see the fires of the campsites as the children of Israel waited for Moses to return from his time with God on the top of the mountain. I knew in my heart that this was the place."

He had spent years preparing for this moment, and had spent torturous hours climbing Jabal al Lawz, the highest mountain for hundreds of miles around. Cornuke and Williams had reached the pinnacle of an exhausting journey as they followed the literal directions in their dog-eared copy of the New King James Bible. They were searching for the real Mt. Sinai... and they believed they had finally found it. But as the partners drove away from their discoveries, full of themselves and drunk with adventure, they found themselves dead-ended in a box canyon and surrounded by armed warriors shouting and cursing them in Arabic.

The demeanor of the armed guards became more threatening and they began to taunt the imprisoned explorers. If there was any time to make a decisive move, it was now. "Wait.. we are doctors!" implored Williams, as Cornuke drew out a bottle of Visine from a bag, and "healed" the red and swollen eye of one guard. On another guard's arm, a cut stopped bleeding as Williams applied the unlikely salve of Ban antiperspirant roll-on. Then, seizing the opportunity, Cornuke roundly distributed some sleeping pills to the newly impressed soldiers.

As the partners correlated geography to the biblical text and traced the escape route of the Israelites "out of" Egypt, they soon realized that the traditional sites didn't line up with the biblical account. They were further shocked to discover that, when they relocated the crossing of the Red Sea to the tip of the Sinai Peninsula and across the Gulf of Aqaba (as opposed to the traditional site), their biblical directions led them directly to the bitter springs of Marah. Their quest led them also to the separate sites of 12 springs and 70 palms, the location of the battle with the Amalekites, and ultimately to Jabal al Lawz, that they are convinced is the veritable and definable Mt. Sinai.

As they looked around, they found caves that the local Bedouins told them were full of ancient writings telling of a multitude, led by Mussa (Moses) that came through the region. They also discovered a large V-shaped, sacrificial altar with ancient ash more than eight feet deep (Muslims don't offer burnt sacrifices). Another altar, manmade and of immense size, towered over them with petroglyphs of an Egyptian bull god engraved into the sides of the massive stones. Since cattle are not indigenous to the area, Cornuke and Williams concluded that this could have been the altar on which Aaron, the brother of Moses, erected the infamous golden calf. A former law enforcement officer, Cornuke observes, "From a policeman's viewpoint, it was logical. It made sense and the evidence backed it up."

Standing like a solitary sentinel on the west side of Jabal al Lawz was a rock, 54 feet high with a nineteen-inch split down the middle. The granite hillside at the base of this obelisk was worn smooth by what would seem to be millions of gallons of water rushing over it and down into a granite floored reservoir...all in an area of the world that gets one half-inch of rain every 10 years. Could this be the rock at Horeb that Moses struck as his anger lashed out toward the Israelites?

"Scholars and skeptics say, 'Show me and I'll believe.' But God says, 'Believe and I'll show you,'" says Cornuke. His unorthodox methodology of looking to the Bible for specific archaeological clues has made him a few enemies in the hallowed halls of academia. Cornuke disdains the research practices of scholars who refer to and rely on other published scholarly works that result in what he calls "a steady layering of misinformation. Most scholars have an anti-supernatural bias and believe that history has moved the Bible. I say that the Bible has molded and shaped history." In an interview with the Denver Post, Cornuke exclaims, "It's absolutely stunning that we found all these things...(and) no one has called to ask to sit down and look at the material. I've had a lot of people pass judgment on what I've found without seeing it. To me, that's a very interesting expose' on scholarship..."

In spite of the teeth-grinding of some archaeologists toward these amateur adventurers (they were called "destructive scoundrels" by one religion writer), Ken Durham, professor of Old Testament history at Colorado Christian University, states, "I feel Bob Cornuke's work concerning the locale of Mount Sinai is right on the money. I hold a very high view of the veracity of the biblical text, and Scripture speaks for itself as to the correct Exodus route." Durham goes on to note that Cornuke's theory "fits the physical description throughout the Bible; it fits ancient Bedouin tradition."

Even pedigreed researchers are getting in on the debate. Dr. Allen Kerkeslager, professor of theology at Saint Joseph's Jesuit University in Philadelphia, journals, "There is not a single piece of solid evidence that any Jew in the pre-Christian period ever located Mt. Sinai in the Sinai Peninsula." He also asserts that, "Jabal al Lawz is probably the most convincing option for identifying the mountain with which Jews identified Mt. Sinai in the Hellenistic and early Roman periods. (It) is associated with local traditions 600 years older than the traditions locating Mt. Sinai in the southern Sinai Peninsula." (Jewish Pilgrimage and Jewish Identity in Hellenistic and Early Roman Egypt," Religions In The Graeco-Roman World: Pilgrimage and Holy Space In Late Antique Egypt)

When documentary producer Steve Greisen, president of Reel Productions, first saw Cornuke's Mt. Sinai presentation several years ago, he was intrigued. It wasn't until 1997, however, that he actually met Cornuke through Jim Fitzgerald, a Monument Pictures partner, and began production work on a video, "The Search For The Real Mt. Sinai." "We were excited to bring Bob and Larry back together and tell the story," says Greisen. " Although their evidence was very strong and worth presenting, we had very little to work from, maybe two dozen still photographs."

Reel Productions gathered extra footage from independent sources, and also got an unexpected surprise last year when Cornuke and videographer David Stotts were detained and questioned by Mosaad, the Israeli Secret Service, during a recent trip to shoot video footage in Israel and Egypt. The delay caused the team to miss their flight to Cairo, and they were re-routed on another airline that flew directly over the exact spot in the Gulf of Aqaba that Cornuke insists is the correct crossing site. Stotts shot footage through the window of the airplane and caught on tape what Cornuke has known and talked about since his adventure: an extensive underwater land bridge, clearly visible, connecting the southern tip of the Sinai Peninsula with Saudi Arabia (Midian).

Cornuke continues to tell of his amazing discovery at churches, schools, synagogues, universities, and corporate events across North America, sometimes sharing the stage with other evangelical orators like Josh McDowell and Frank Peretti. With a schedule that more resembles a touring concert artist than a lecturer, Bob spoke almost 200 times last year and has been featured on national television networks like CBS and NBC. Vanity Fair, People, Newsweek, and Parade magazines and national newspapers such as The New York Times, The Washington Times, and The Salt Lake Tribune have also featured stories about the adventures of Cornuke and Williams.

Recently, he gave 10 live presentations, did two radio interviews, and five television interviews in four and a half days. Vice President Dan Quayle and Gary Bauer of the Family Research Council, have given Cornuke's presentation rave reviews, and Jack Hayford, pastor of The Church On The Way in Van Nuys, California, has shown the video to his congregation on a Sunday night. Coach Bill McCartney, the founder of Promise Keepers, calls Cornuke's Sinai video "the most powerful thing I've ever seen." Greisen is equally impressed. He exclaims, "It's amazing that what we have is the only existing footage that documents this impressive find."

"I'm thankful for the great job that Reel Productions did on the video," says Cornuke. "It has helped tremendously with my live presentations because it's hard to convey the sheer magnitude of the evidence without the visual elements. People write to me and say, "Your story was interesting, but the video was compelling and overwhelming.'" Folks are encouraged by this video, and it's making a difference in people's lives. It's not just's inspiring, and it's pulling families together as they examine the Bible for themselves."

With their captors dreaming the windswept visions of Arabian nights, the youngest soldier who had refused the sleeping pills decided to turn Cornuke and Williams over to a higher authority. At gunpoint for 150 miles of desert, he drove them to Tabuk, the nearest city with a law enforcement station. While the young officer's superiors checked the adventurers' story, they were left at a hotel with orders to stay put until further notice. So, naturally, they immediately hailed a cab to the airport, bought two tickets with Williams' platinum card and were homeward bound within the hour. Hardly an unmarked grave in the Saudi sand, Cornuke's destiny is becoming clearer all the time: to share his incredible discoveries, the authenticity of Scripture, and his renewed faith in God with anyone who will listen with a willing heart and an open mind.

Thomas Beard is a husband/father/writer who lives in Colorado Springs, Colorado - 1999 Monument Pictures

Article: Renegade Explorers and The Search for the Real Mt. Sinai