The Amazing Story Behind the MOUNT SINAI WORLD PEACE CENTER
Keith W Stump
It was at Mount Sinai that God first revealed himself to Moses. It was there he thundered the Ten Commandments. And it was to Mount Sinai that the prophet Elijah went to seek God. Now, President Anwar Sadat of Egypt is moving ahead with plans to construct a World Peace Center at the base of Mount Sinai.
IN FULL-PAGE newspaper ads seen by millions across the United States and overseas, Plain Truth Editor-in-Chief Herbert W. Armstrong has made known details of an important project soon to get under way at Mount Sinai. The world press has largely ignored this project and its wide-ranging implications. You need to understand, from a biblical perspective, the great significance of this endeavor — occurring in the very shadow of the "mountain of God"!
$70 Million Project
At a meeting at the Gaza Residential Palace in Cairo last November, President Anwar Sadat of Egypt showed Mr. Armstrong an architect's rendering of a projected $70 million World Peace Center he intends to build at the base of Mount Sinai. President Sadat invited Mr. Armstrong to participate in the project, and the offer was gladly accepted. (See Mr. Armstrong's report in the February, 1981, Plain Truth.) Late last December, architects visited Mr. Sadat and presented to him a model of the proposed complex. The model shows a triangular, walled complex in the side of the mountain, with a mosque, a church and a synagogue at the three angles — representing the three major faiths that recognize Moses as a prophet. The architects told the Cairo press that Mr. Sadat was pleased with the designs. They said that he expressed to them his wish to see the complex " as simple and strong as he saw it in the model, so that it would express the majesty and holiness of the mount." The architects are Dr. Abdel Halim EI Rimali, an Egyptian Moslem; Pierre Vago, from France; and Professor Al Mansfeld, from Israel. Mr. Sadat told them that he wants to lay the foundation stone on November 19, 1981 — the third anniversary of his historic peace trip to Jerusalem. Mr. Sadat reportedly intends to invite Pope John Paul II and the President of the United States, among others, to the foundation-stone laying ceremony. Architects estimate that completion of the structure will take up to three years from the day the cornerstone is laid. Underlining the great importance Mr. Sadat places on the project, he reportedly has expressed his wish to be buried there upon his death, and has written this into his will. The grave will probably be near the mosque. "There is one God," Mr. Sadat explained in an interview with People magazine's Mira Avrech last October. "And there is one common mission: the Ten Commandments, which God gave Moses on Mount Sinai. Sinai is part of my country and I am very proud of it. Those commandments are the basis for all three religions. That is why I shall build a temple for all three religions on Mount Sinai — one compound that includes a mosque, a church and a synagogue." What impact, if any, will this peace center have on the volatile situation in the Middle East? What is its significance at this critical juncture in history?
Mountain of Moses
Look for a moment at the amazing history of this special mountain. Mount Sinai, also called Horeb, is known in Hebrew as Har Sinai. In Arabic as Jabel Musa (Mount of Moses). It is located in the rugged south central portion of the triangular Sinai Peninsula, lying between the two northern "horns" or arms of the Red Sea. The Sinai forms a land bridge between Egypt and Palestine. Mount Sinai rises abruptly from the surrounding plain to a height of 7,497 feet (2,285 meters) above sea level. The arid southern area of the Sinai Peninsula consists of rugged granite peaks, sharp ridges and deep rocky gorges. The region is difficult of access — appropriately symbolic of the arduous search for peace in today's world. Sinai is a very ancient name. Though some scholars have suggested that the word is derived from the Akkadian moon-god Sin, it is most likely that it comes from seneh, the Hebrew word for the well-known "burning bush" (Exodus 3). Literally, Sinai means thorny. The word Horeb — the other word for Mount Sinai — is derived from the Hebrew root hrb, indicating dryness or drought. The exact location of the biblical Mount Sinai has presented a problem to some scholars. It is true, as noted by the eminent Israeli archaeologist Benjamin Mazar of Hebrew University, that the exact geographic location was obscure already in the time of the Monarchy, some 500 years after the Exodus of the 15th century B.C. Nevertheless, the imposing granite mass of Jebel Musa has long been accepted as the biblical Mount Sinai in the traditions of Judaism, Christianity and Islam. And it is so considered today by most scholars. Mount Sinai is first mentioned in the Bible when the God of Abraham revealed himself to Moses in the burning bush (Exodus 3). Scripture states that Moses "came to the mountain of God, even to Horeb" (verse 1). Since the mountain was called the "mountain of God" even before God's revelation to Moses there, it is possible that it was a place of worship even before Moses and the Israelites came to it. (Many ancient peoples considered mountains to be holy places.) The first century Jewish historian Flavius Josephus lends support to this theory. He records that until the time that Moses drove his flocks to the mountain to graze, "it had not been before fed upon, because of the opinion men had that God dwelt there, the shepherds not daring to ascend up to it."
Before tracing the subsequent history of the mountain, it will be helpful to consider the interrelations between the three faiths that hold Mount Sinai to be sacred. An understanding of these ancient links will reveal clearly the reasoning behind President Sadat's choice of Mount Sinai for his trifaith World Peace Center. Judaism, Christianity and Islam all trace the ultimate beginnings of their faiths to the patriarch Abraham, who lived in the 20th and 19th centuries B.C. Abraham was the physical progenitor of several ancient nations. From his son Isaac and grandson Jacob descended the twelve tribes of Israel. From one of these tribes, the tribe of Levi, came Moses — the central figure in Judaism. From another of these tribes, that of Judah, came Jesus — the central figure of Christianity. Few in the West understand that Mohammed, the founder and prophet of the Islamic faith, was likewise a descendant of Abraham! From Ishmael, Abraham's son by Hagar the Egyptian (Genesis 16:15), sprang twelve princes, the progenitors of the majority of the Arab peoples (Genesis 25:13-16). It was from Ishmael's son Kedar (Qaidar in Arabic) that Mohammed's family traces its descent. Interestingly, Islamic tradition states that the Kaaba — the Islamic holy place in Mecca, Saudi Arabia — was built anciently by Abraham and Ishmael for the worship of the One God. But over the centuries, tradition has it, it had become a house of idol worship. During Mohammed's time, the Kaaba was said to have contained 365 idols, one for each day of the year! In the days of Mohammed, a handful of Arabs — including Mohammed himself — withdrew from idol worship. They longed for the faith of their father Abraham and tried to discover what had been its teaching. These individuals within the Arab community became known as Hunafa, meaning "those who turn away (from idolatry)." Exemplary of these monotheists was the old man Zaid ibn Amr ibn Tufail, who sat in the courtyard of the Kaaba and was heard to pray, "O God, if I knew how you wished to be worshiped, I would so worship you; but I do not know." It was Mohammed who came forward with an answer. He declared that the religion of Abraham was the only true religion. That faith, Mohammed said, had been revealed through a succession of prophets through the ages — including Adam, Noah, Moses and Jesus — and lastly, he announced, through himself. Mohammed succeeded in abolishing the idolatry of the Arabs. He gave them a new faith, Islam, meaning "submission." Mohammed regarded Moses as his predecessor and model. The Koran refers to Moses as "a messenger of Allah, a Prophet." Thus, in all three faiths, Moses is recognized as a genuine prophet through whom God spoke. And Mount Sinai, on which Moses received the Ten Commandments, is held sacred by Jews, Christians and Moslems alike. President Sadat's choice of Sinai as a symbol of peace and unity among faiths and nations is thus eminently suitable — a "common denominator" acceptable to all three religions.
Place of Worship
Sinai has been a place of worship — both true and pagan — for millennia. God declared to Moses out of the burning bush, "When thou hast brought forth the people out of Egypt, ye shall serve God upon this mountain" (Exodus 3:12). Following the Exodus, the Israelites, as God foretold, came to Mount Sinai. It was there, according to Hebrew tradition, on the very day that later would be called the Feast of Weeks or Pentecost, that God uttered the words of the Ten Commandments to some two million assembled Israelites (Exodus 19-20), accompanied by spectacular supernatural signs. Moses subsequently built an altar at the foot of the mountain, and set up twelve stones representing the twelve tribes of Israel (Exodus 24:4). Offerings were made to God upon the altar. Not many days afterwards, however, Sinai became a site of pagan worship. It was in the shadow of the sacred mountain that the idolatrous Golden Calf was made (Exodus 32) and "worshiped" in an orgy. After the sin of the Golden Calf, Moses pitched a large meeting tent, called the Tabernacle of the Congregation, outside the camp of Israel at Sinai (Exodus 33:7). "And it came to pass, as Moses entered into the tabernacle, the cloudy pillar descended, and stood at the door of the tabernacle.... And the Lord spake to Moses face to face, as a man speaketh unto his friend..." (Exodus 33:9, 11). Later, a much more elaborate Tabernacle was erected at Sinai, but this time placed at the very center of the Israelite camp. This Tabernacle — a portable sanctuary replete with ritual and a priesthood — was constructed in accordance with instructions given to Moses by God atop Mount Sinai. It was ultimately superseded by the building of the Temple in Jerusalem by King Solomon. The Bible records still another, later event at Sinai. Some six hundred years after Moses, another prophet — Elijah — journeyed to Sinai to seek God. Fleeing from the wicked queen Jezebel, Elijah 'fled' "unto Horeb the mount of God" (I Kings 19:8), and lodged in a cave in the side of the mountain. There, amid a fierce wind, a strong earthquake and a blazing fire, God spoke to Elijah and gave him numerous instructions to carry out.
Over a millennium later, in A.D. 342, Queen Helena, mother of the Emperor Constantine, visited Mount Sinai and had a church built by a spring — the supposed site of the burning bush observed by Moses on the lower slopes of the mountain. Nearly 200 years later, in the days of the Byzantine emperor Justinian I, the Monastery of St. Catherine was constructed at the same location, in the shady northern flank of the mountain. This isolated Greek Orthodox monastery — still in use today — is the world's oldest continuously inhabited Christian monastery. Its library is world famous. It was at this monastery that a famous Greek manuscript of the Bible, the Codex Sinaiticus, was discovered in a trash can by the German biblical scholar Tischendorf in 1844. This 4th-century Greek text of the Bible — one of the oldest biblical manuscripts extant — is now in the British Museum in London. The Greek Orthodox community of monks at St. Catherine's has dominated the Mount Sinai region for centuries. Not surprisingly, the monks reportedly expressed certain objections to the proposed World Peace Center when they received President Sadat last November 19, on the second anniversary of his historic journey to Jerusalem. On that occasion, Mr. Sadat ordered the Egyptian flag hoisted over the region (returned to Egypt after twelve years of Israeli occupation) and prayed on the soil of Sinai. He called on the world to adopt the idea of a Sinai peace shrine and asked for donations toward it. A month after his return to Cairo, Sadat commented to architects that he was pleased with the site finally chosen for the project, an appropriate distance from the monastery. "I am very happy to hear that the site does not compete with the monastery," Mr. Sadat is quoted as telling them.
A Harbinger of Peace
What will be the impact of President Sadat's World Peace Center on the war-torn, battle-scarred Middle East? President Sadat's bold decision to make peace with Israel — symbolized by his soon-to-be-built peace shrine — has effectively quenched, for the moment at least, one potential spark that might otherwise have set off yet another round of Mideast fighting. "If they incline to peace," the Koran admonishes, "incline thou also to it, and trust in Allah." President Sadat certainly cannot be faulted for seeking to fulfill this tenet of his faith. Yet, sadly, despite continuing peacemaking efforts in the region, Bible prophecy indicates that the future holds war, not peace, for the Middle East. But understand this: the Bible also reveals that the major military threat to the region will not come from within the Middle East itself, but from the outside! The prophetic book of Daniel reveals that the ultimate threat will come from the "king of the north" — a great end-time military power that will become enmeshed in the Middle East imbroglio, possibly under the pretext of "peacekeeping." In the New Testament, this power is referred to as the Beast (Revelation 17), revealed as a ten nation revival of the ancient Roman Empire. This revived Roman Empire will intrude upon many nations and peoples of the Middle East through military intervention. Among these nations will be Israel and Egypt! "He [the Beast] shall come into. the glorious land [the Holy Land]," declares Daniel 11:41 (Revised Standard Version). Verse 42 further reveals: "He shall stretch out his hand against the countries, and the land of Egypt shall not escape...." A great military crisis is yet to occur in the Middle East — one last cataclysmic upheaval just prior to the end of this age and the dawn of a new and better one.
How Peace Will Come
As President Sadat has observed, the way to peace is the Ten Commandments, given to Israel on that first Pentecost more than 3,400 years ago at Mount Sinai. On another Pentecost nearly 1,500 years later, the Holy Spirit of God entered into the disciples of Jesus (Acts 2), enabling them to keep the Ten Commandments according to their spirit and intent, as well as in the letter. Only when the entire world is obeying not just the letter but the spirit of the Ten Commandments — the way of LOVING, GIVING and SHARING — will world peace at last become reality. The good news is that this is going to happen! Peace will come — with the establishment of the Kingdom of God on this earth by the soon-coming Messiah! President Sadat's World Peace Center is designed to point the way — to underline the overriding importance of the Ten Commandments given at Mount Sinai. It will serve as a kind of window through which we may glimpse the future, a future when the peoples of the entire world will come together in peace and harmony to seek the God of Abraham. In the words of Mr. Armstrong: "This Peace Center at Mount Sinai's base will stand as a prelude to soon-coming world peace. It is symbolic of the way to world peace between nations and religions. It will not, of itself, bring that peace.... But it is emblematic of it... foreshadowing the world peace that is as sure as the rising of tomorrow's sun." Aside from their often wide differences in theology, the three faiths that will jointly occupy the Sinai Peace Center will symbolize this coming time of international cooperation under the overall direction of the Ten Commandments. President Sadat's Mount Sinai peace shrine might well be considered a type or forerunner of the monument of witness in the Egyptian-Israeli frontier foretold in Isaiah 19:19-20: "In that day shall there be an altar to the Lord in the midst of the land of Egypt, and a pillar [or monument] at the border thereof to the LORD. And it shall be for a sign and for a witness unto the Lord of hosts in the land of Egypt...."
Messiah to Rule
Today's world at large, however, is not going to voluntarily submit to and obey the Ten Commandments. It will require a "Strong Hand from Someplace" to intervene in man's civilization and compel humanity to find peace, joy and universal abundance. This "Strong Hand from Someplace" is, of course, the long-awaited Messiah, expected by many Jews, Christians and Moslems alike. This Messiah is prophesied to subdue all military opposition and impose global peace and prosperity. "He shall speak peace unto the heathen," the Bible declares, "and his dominion shall be from sea even to sea, and from the river even to the ends of the earth" (Zechariah 9:10). For thousands of years, Jews have awaited a Redeemer or great Deliverer foretold by the prophets of old. The word Messiah comes from the Hebrew word mashiah. meaning "anointed." (The Greek equivalent is Christos.) Many Christians likewise await a Messiah-Jesus the Christ — who promised his disciples that he would come again (John 14:3). The New Testament book of Revelation pictures Jesus Christ returning with a heavenly army to "smite the nations and... rule them with a rod of iron" (Revelation 19:15). At that time, voices in heaven are prophesied to declare: "The kingdoms of this world are become the kingdoms of our Lord and of his Christ; and he shall reign for ever and ever" (Revelation 11:15). Moslems also expect a Messiah or Mahdi ("divinely guided one") from the family of Mohammed, who will restore pure religion and usher in a golden age. Since the Moslem Mahdi will be exercising functions not unlike those prophesied for the Christian Messiah, there has arisen some confusion among Moslems regarding the Mahdi's role with respect to that of Jesus (whom they call Isa), whom Moslems accept as the sinless, though not divine, prophet. Some Moslems believe that Jesus will descend with their Mahdi and together kill the infamous "Antichrist." Others say that following the Mahdi's appearance the Antichrist will rise to oppose him, but Jesus will descend from heaven and kill the Antichrist. Still others feel Jesus will return as Mahdi, citing a hadith (traditional saying of Mohammed) that asserts, "There is no Mahdi save Isa ibn Maryam [Jesus the son of Mary]" — a declaration with which Christians would readily agree. With the coming of this messianic "Prince of Peace" (Isaiah 9:6) — the "desire of all nations" (Haggai 2:7) — the great dream symbolized by President Sadat's World Peace Center will be achieved on this earth. That coming is fast approaching! Just beyond our troublous times lies the utopian World Tomorrow. God's Government will be restored to this earth. At that time "the law shall go forth of Zion... and they shall beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruninghooks: nation shall not lift up a sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more" (Micah 4:2-3). World peace will become reality. It will not be based on fragile treaties, tenuous compromise or a precarious "balance of power," but on obedience to the eternal Law of God — the Ten Commandments. Former antagonists will join hands in international cooperation. "In that day," declares the prophet Isaiah, "shall Israel be the third with Egypt and with Assyria, even a blessing in the midst of the land: whom the LORD of hosts shall bless, saying, Blessed be Egypt my people, and Assyria the work of my hands, and Israel mine inheritance" (Isaiah 19:24-25). President Sadat's World Peace Center points forward to that wonderful time! Three centuries ago, the English poet John Milton wrote, "Peace hath her victories, no less renowned than war." Certainly the Mount Sinai World Peace Center is one of these victories on man's arduous, 6,000-year road toward global peace.