MemberMarch 25, 2021 at 12:46 am
Here is an excerpt from my diary of the Karkom archaeological survey, dated 11 April 2004.
“We saw many standing stones, rock art and shrines. Some were damaged. The hikers push them over or re-arrange the stones. Anati seems less distressed about this than I thought he would be. We went right across the plateau to the eastern side, to the Paleolithic sanctuary, where there is a great view of Nahal Paran, and the hills of Edom, 75 km away. The Paleolithic sanctuary is at the head of a difficult trail up to the mountain from the eastern (Paran) valley and consists of many large flint cores which have been stood on end to resemble a crowd of people. Flint cores tend to come in strange fluid shapes and have rich rust- and ochre-coloured patina. Many of these stones have been chosen for their human-like form. This site is also now damaged. Some of the flint cores have been toppled, others erected and hikers have built their own figures by balancing stones on top. Anati asked me to take them all down.
“We had a small break and ate our snacks here overlooking the hazy grey deeply grooved wasteland of the Paran Valley. Xxxxxx pointed out the area of the airforce firing range that we drove through with yyyy in ’98. I had some questions and doubts about the mountain which today were mostly cleared. I asked Anati why this mountain was holy when it did not appear to be particularly impressive or prominent. He explained that Indo-European people expect their holy sites to be visible, external and awesome. The Semitic concept of ‘holy’ is hidden, modest and private (like the word harem). Therefore Har Karkom is anomalous to most, including modern Israelis, who doubt that an obscure mountain in their own back yard could be their principal holy site after Mount Zion.
Although Karkom is the major plateau of the southern Negev Heights and can be seen from the southern rim of the Ramon crater and from all along the mountains of Edom, there are other higher peaks nearby. Har Saggi and Jebel Araif en-Naqa (on the Egyptian side, hence the Arabic name) are higher and more ‘compact’, but neither of these is holy to the Arabs and has no ancient cultic remains. It makes sense to me that Karkom has been holy for millennia and yet is tucked away, for the Temple Mount is also nested among other higher hills and is not geographically impressive. I am very relieved at this new perspective. There is no doubt from the archaeology of the area that these two insignificant peaks on top of a flinty wasteland plateau are a major Semitic holy site… but for what reason? It seems it was already a holy site when it was first introduced into the record as “the Mount of God, Horeb” (Ex 3:1), and there are camping remains and sacred rock art here from the dawn of history.”