The scope of the project is to make a mountain of the Negev (Israel) a “can’t miss” archaeological site for whomever is interested in history and religion, through the creation of a self-sustainable enterprise, which will preserve this unique site and make it enjoyable to everybody.
The site is in the area of Har Karkom, a mountain south of Mispč Ramon, that Prof. Emmanuel Anati has identified as the mountain where Moses has created his new religion, thus giving origin to a chain of events which more than any other have determined the course of the western civilization. It is therefore, from a historical and religious point of view, one of the most important sites in the world.
Prof. Anati did discover and illustrate a great number of sites very important from a scientific point of view, like rock art and archaeological sites of various epochs, in particular Paleolithic, Bronze Age and Roman-Byzantine. But in my opinion he did not sufficiently pointed out elements tied in a spectacular way to the biblical narrative. These elements, if properly valorized, could be an irresistible attraction for a large number of people, potentially the whole Jewish and Christian world
The author is, since more than 30 years, a close cooperator of prof Anati and has participated to several archeological campaigns at Har Karkom. His main interest, however, was focused on the archaeological sites specifically connected to the biblical narrative. His research, although in the frame of Anati’s expeditions and under his control, has followed an autonomous approach, with the aim to identify the places where the events narrated by the Bible happened and to demonstrate that they took place exactly as reported in the account.
Its conclusions diverge from those of prof. Anati on some points, like the interpretation of a few archeological structures, and both the dates and the actual places where some of the biblical events have happened. But in the end they confirm in a conclusive way the identification made by Anati of Har Karkom as the biblical Sinai.
The outline of the project has been designed following the indication given in the journal of Egeria, a Spanish pilgrim who, on 384 c.e., made a three-days visit to mount Karkom, writing a very accurate and detailed description of what she had done and seen, to the point that her dairy is the best possible and the more complete guide for visiting all the places somehow related to the Bible on that area (see: Egeria to Har Karkom).
Egeria was escorted by monks living on that area, who had already identified since long time all the places that had some relation with the biblical account. On each of them Egeria used to read the corresponding verses of the Bible, and she was the first to verify that they perfectly matched with the account. She describes all the archaeological structures that she sees on her way, recording the distances and the time to go from one site to another.
Amongst the elements described in her diary, there is the Refidim’s well, the tombs of greedy, settlements of monks with their orchards, Mount Sinai, with Moses’ grotto, Mount Horeb, with Elias’ grotto, the altar of the golden calf, the place of the burning bush, the encampments of the Jews and finally the print of the Tabernacle (mishkan).
The visit to the biblical sites will not necessarily be proposed to the visitors in the same order of Egeria’s diary; they should be proposed separately according to their interest and time.
· The strong point of the visit will be the mishkan, that is the tabernacle built by Moses during the first year of the exodus at the feet of the Holy Mountain (see: Moses' Tabernacle ). It should be reconstructed exactly as described in the Bible, and as it results from the imprint on the ground left on the area of Har Karkom. (see: Tabernacle's imprint on the ground )
· The second strong point would be Mount Horeb (see: Mount Horeb), a real acropolis in the desert, that was certainly a sacred mountain since the chalcolithic times. All the events narrated in the Bible can be reenacted perfectly on that mountain down to the smallest detail. The view of that acropolis can transmit very strong emotions on the visitors/pilgrims and convince them that they are in a really sacred place.
· A third point of interest is Egeria’s itinerary itself, which has to be performed with her diary on hand , in order to verify its correspondence with the places visited. ( see: Egeria - a Roman pilgrim to Har Karkom)
· Finally we cannot underestimate elements of great fascination, like the rock art of which Har Karkom is very rich, and that of reviving a unique ancient experience in one of the most beautiful deserts in Israel.
The characteristics of these places are such as to make almost certain that they are the real ones where the biblical events happened; but in any case this is an irrelevant issue. The important think is that they are credible, spectacular and perfectly matching the biblical stories.
If thinks will be done in a proper manner, all the pilgrims/visitors will be deeply impressed and happy with their experience.
The owner of the archaeological concession in the area of Har Karkom is Prof. Emmanuel Anati, who has the right/duty to survey the archaeological sites of all of it. His activities, however, are subject to the rules and authorizations of a number of authorities, precisely:
Military – the area is near the Egyptian border and was a fire zone for the army –The military authorities only allow people to enter the area on holidays (weekends and major religious festivities)
Natural Park – Har Karkom is included in a Natural Park and is therefore subject to strict rules, aimed to preserve the nature. Visitors can only move along specific tracks and set camp on two very limited areas.
Archaeology – All archaeological activities have to be authorized and reported
Local Councils (Mispč Ramon and Beersheba).
The ideal way to preserve the archeological sites of Har Karkom and make them enjoyable by everybody, should be that of creating an Archaeological Park, accessible only to guided visits (something on the kind of Timnah Park).
All the attempts made so far by Prof. Anati to this purpose have failed, maybe because of the difficulty to conciliate all the scopes and exigencies of the different authorities.
There is a way, however, quite realistic, to attract a great number of visitors and allow them to see all the sites of major biblical interest, with only very negligible adjustments of the Natural Park’s rules in force today.
Let’s see how.
A preliminary condition is to build the mishkan, that is the Tabernacle made by Moses at the feet of the Holy Mountain.
Of course it has to be made in strict adherence to Exodus’ description (the traditional views do not comply with it – see Tentative reconstructions of the Tabernacle) and to perfectly fit the print on the ground found in the area of Har Karkom (see The print of the Tabernacle in Har Karkom)
We cannot dream to put it right away on its print at Har Karkom, but nothing prevents to build the mishkan at Sede Boqer, (a place with clear links with the desert and in particular with Har Karkom).
This inevitably will start a discussion between scholars and rabbis, with the expected result of confirming the validity of the new design and stimulating the interest for Har Karkom..
Once realized the miskan, the visitors/pilgrims will be offered three different programs:
1) A visit to the mishkan in Sde Boqer. Together with the memorial to Ben Gurion and the nearby natural site of Ein Avdat it will be a formidable attraction for a one-day visit.
2) A visit to the mishkan in Sde Boqer and a trip to Har Karkom the following day (this option will require a night in Sde Boqer or in the nearby Mispé Ramon). The visitors/pilgrims will be taken to Har Karkom by authorized guides, to visit the most spectacular sites related to the biblical narrative: the print on the ground of the mishkan, the well of Refidim (Beer Karkom), the throne of Moses (from where he looked at the battle against the Amalekites), large encampments and living structures of the Jews, the altar of the golden calf, the acropolis of mount Horeb (the very highlight of the visit), the place of the burning bush, settlements of Christian monks, agricultural terraces etc.
Back to Sde Boqer in the afternoon.
A complete package. It will comprise the visit
to the miskan and the complete itinerary of Egeria on the holy mountain. The
visitors will have to spend a night in Har Karkom (in a tent raised on the
place dedicated now to this purpose, at the feet of the sphinx). The tour will start
from Beer Karkom (Refidim) around mid-day, and will strictly follow the
indications of Egeria’s journal. Along the path to the plateau of Har Karkom
there are an impressive amount of spectacular archaeological sites, in all
evidence related to the biblical narrative (like the throne of Moses, the print
of the mishkan, the toms of greedy, some large gal-ed etc). Egeria’s itinerary on
the plateau should be prolonged just a little bit to include some of the most
impressive sites of rock art and possibly some Paleolithic sites. After the
climbing to the central top of Har Karkom (Egeria’s Sinai), the day will end at
the camp, to spend the night in the desert. The day after will be dedicated to
visit the encampments of the Jews, the altar of the golden calf, Egeria’s Mount
Horeb (highlight of the visit) etc.
Back to Sde Boqer in the afternoon.
Once realized the Mishkan in Sde Boqer, the tours of packages 2 and 3 can be made even today with no problems, just with some very minor adjustments to today’s rules of the Natural Park, precisely:
· Authorization to climb to Har Karkom’s plateau directly from Beer Karkom. The path is routinely trailed by hikers and caravans of camels taking tourists from the plateau directly to Beer Karkom. So this authorization de facto already exists.
· To consent the access to ancient encampments, to the altar of the golden calf, to Mount Horeb (top 788 in the middle of the valley) and to the agricultural terraces. All these sites are along the roads already open to the visitors, so the deviations will be of no more than 100 meters from them.
· In future, another important facilitation should be that of allowing the access to Karkom Valley through Beer Karkom (now the road is closed there with some boulders). This would shorten the access time to the valley and would make packages 2 and 3 more consequential, as they both start from Beer Karkom
As of today, the mountain can be visited only during the week ends and the major festivities (Pessach, succot, annukah)
In future perspective we can hope that there will be the possibility to build a permanent camp and to erect the mishkan exactly on its ancient imprint. At that time the area could be transformed in a proper archaeological park.
a) The starting point, absolutely necessary, is the making of the mishkan.
Sde Boqer looks a good location for it, because of its relations with Har Karkom and the presence of a University that can provide support and consultancy for what concerns the dwellings and ways of life of the ancient populations of that area. But any other location in the Negev could be as well appropriate.
The reconstruction must rigorously follow the indications given in the Bible (10 chapters are dedicated to this item) and of course has to completely match the imprint left on the ground at Har Karkom. Every step has to be put in writing and presented to the visitors, to give them the possibility to judge the correctness of that reconstruction.
b) The project should be financed by supporters and/or sponsors
c) The total amount necessary to build the mishkan cannot be calculated without an accurate evaluation of the cost of every single part, which cannot be found in commerce, but has to be made by specialized artisans. Besides it is difficult to evaluate the cost of consultancies by the University and other experts. To be safe, we can estimate that something well below the order of one million dollars should be enough to make a product of very good quality.
d) Advantages.- Sde Boqer can be reached easily and quickly from everywhere in Israel and it offers other notable attractions (Ben Gurion’s memorial, Ein Avdat etc.) Together with the mishkan it could be a very attractive site for Israeli and foreign visitors.
The making of the mishkan is fundamental for this project, not only because it is a very spectacular object, but mainly because it will spur a discussion and reexamination of the traditional views about it, which inevitably will lead to confirm the validity of the proposed reconstruction. It will bring also decisive new elements in favor of the identification of Har Karkom with the biblical mount Sinai, and in the same time evidence of the historical content of the biblical account of Exodus.
The acropolis is extraordinarily suggestive also in its present miserable conditions, after two millennia of neglect and abuses. In any case it should be desirable to make some works of restauration, to restitute it to its primitive splendor and also to facilitate the access to visitors.
The works to do are:
a) To complete a sort of natural stairs in front of the acropolis, in order to facilitate the access for the visitors (a few natural stones collected in the surroundings would do the job)
b) To repair the wall on the northern side of the acropolis, that was damaged by somebody for making the transport of materials more easy (a few natural stones already in place would do the job also in this case)
c) To restore the flooring of the acropolis to its previous ancient conditions; several stones of the natural floor have been moved sometimes in the past and never put in place again. As it is now the floor looks spectacular, but once restored it would look breathtaking.
d) Rebuild the small temple on top of the acropolis as it was 60 years ago, according to the aerial pictures taken by the English army, with the walls still standing. After the six-days war the temple was used by the Air Force as a target for training the pilots, and demolished. Then it was excavated by an equip (amongst them the author) lead by the archaeologist Valerio Manfredi, under the supervision of Prof. Anati; all the fallen stones of the walls have been gathered outside the temple, near the southern side, forming a hip still in place, while the soil taken away from the floor has been discharged on a small terrace aside. All the materials needed to restore the temple, therefore, are still available on the spot.
An equip of 4 to 6 persons could do a quality work in no more than two months.
a) The road from Har Karkom to Beer Karkom a few years ago was in very good conditions; now it’s a real mess, difficult to transit. It should be restored to its previous state
The well of Beer Karkom is particularly
important from a biblical point of view, because it matches all the
characteristics of the well of Refidim, around which many significant biblical
events happened (Moses met his wife Sephora there, defending her against
Amalekites shepherds; arriving to the God’s Valley, at the beginning of Exodus,
the Jews complained because that well couldn’t give enough water for all of
them; the Amalekites contended the well from the Jews and attacked them on a
plain around it, but were exterminated by Joshua, while Moses watched the
battle from the top of a small hill, seating on a stone, with Aaron and Hur
keeping upright his arms - a large seat of stones is up there in the right
place to dominate all the surroundings -; the Mishkan was erected near the well
of Refidim, and its print is still there, together with the dwellings of the
Levites charged with the task of maintaining and defending it).
It is a typical Bronze Age well, but some recent work has changed its characteristics. It should be restored to its previous state.
c) The path that Egeria trailed along on her mount from Beer Karkom to the plateau has collapsed in a critical point for a few meters and needs to be repaired.
d) On the central top of Har Karkom somebody has recently raised a hip of stones, taken away from an ancient structure nearby. The hip should be dismantled and the old structure restored, according to the pictures taken in the years 80s by Prof. Anati.