Mount Sinai: Orientalist Images of the Mountain of God

Journal of Social and Political

Sciences

ISSN 2615-3718 (Online)

ISSN 2621-5675 (Print)

Published: 26 June 2020

Mount Sinai: Orientalist Images of the Mountain of God

James Ellis

Case Western Reserve University

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10.31014/aior.1991.03.02.187

Pages: 506-522

Keywords: Egypt, Landscape Painting, Mount Sinai, Orientalism

Abstract

The remote, stony peaks of the southern Sinai Peninsula played an inordinate role in history. They lie at a distance from the ancient overland trade routes that once linked Africa and Asia. However, one of these peaks, Mount Sinai, was critical to the development of the Abrahamic religions, particularly Judaism and Christianity. The Hebrew Bible says that God gave the Israelites their secular and spiritual law at Mount Sinai. Since the earliest centuries CE, Europeans exhibited special reverence for the site. Rome’s Empress Consort Helena commissioned a chapel at Mount Sinai and the Byzantine Emperor Justinian built a monastery around Saint Helena’s chapel. As international transportation improved in the nineteenth century, a steady stream of British and French explorers, intellectuals, and pilgrims poured into the Holy Land, Egypt, and Sinai. Some were artists, intent on seeing and recording historic locations. They had various motives: cultural curiosity, pecuniary reward, and spiritual quest. These artists left to posterity a fascinating visual record of Mount Sinai: the Mountain of Moses, the Mountain of God. This essay explores the life stories and motives of a select few of these artists and their relevant artworks. The purpose is to inform students and scholars about a significant cross-cultural intersection of religious history and art.

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