Cashing in on Christian credulity

It’s embarrassing when people are ready to believe pseudoscientific garbage. Evangelical/Fundamental Christians seem particularly susceptible to this. The idea that you belong to a special group of people who hold the secret knowledge can be attractive and feeds the ego.

I believe that the Christian faith is generally a shining beacon of Truth in a dark world. But then you get these snake oil merchants passing through, trying to sell their latest theory of why only they have the ‘secret truth’, and 300 years of Western science is wrong.

A certain Bob Cornuke, ‘adventurer’ is in Christchurch this weekend. I think he is going to visit my church. He lays no claim to being a scientist or archaeologist of any standing in the scientific community, yet he purveys outlandish theories of discovering the Ark, Mt Sinai, the altar of the golden calf, etc etc.

I expressed these concerns in an email to the church. Details are in the rest of this article.

—–Original Message—–
From: r p
Sent: Friday, 25 June 2004 11:47
To: ‘’
Subject: Bob Cornuke?

I heard that Mr. Bob Cornuke is visiting Grace this weekend. What services will he speak at?
I am concerned about his teachings: it looks like poor science, and cashing in on people’s gullibility.
Here’s what “Christianity Today” says about him:
Archaeologists are also raising their profile to take on amateur pretenders who promote bizarre theories on websites or publicize adventures that are more akin to those of 19th-century treasure hunters than 21st-century scientists.
“They make fantastic and sensational claims, like finding chariot wheels in the Red Sea or finding the tablets of the Ten Commandments, or the Ark of the Covenant,” says Wood, a member and former vice president of the evangelical Near East Archaeological Society. “They’re just sensational claims with absolutely no evidence or basis. But these people get a very large and fanatical following. I encounter [their followers] all the time.”
One of the most notorious is the late Ron Wyatt, who claimed to have found the Ark of the Covenant in a cave beneath modern Jerusalem.
Another, Bob Cornuke, wrote a book claiming to have identified the real Mt. Sinai in Saudi Arabia. In his latest book, he says he’s discovered the real location where the apostle Paul shipwrecked off Malta.
Cornuke says he’s only an investigator, not a real archaeologist. “I investigate the Bible as an investigator would,” he says. “I try to find lost locations in the Bible because I really want to inspire people to look at the Word of God as historically true and get inspired to [read it].”
While Cornuke sets himself apart from Wyatt, evangelical archaeologists worry that their unsophisticated, faith-based approach casts a bad light on all who take a professional approach to archaeology and still have a biblical faith. Secular archaeologists tend to lump all literalists, including creation science advocates, with those who believe in ancient astronauts and similar theories.
And yet secular archaeologists sometimes cannot resist cashing in on “fundamentalism.” This summer Robert Ballard, who discovered the remains of the Titanic under the waves of the Atlantic in 1985, set off on an underwater expedition to document evidence of Noah’s flood in the Black Sea. Ballard received $5 million in funding and lots of publicity for the project.
The Black Sea was originally a freshwater lake that in ancient times became inundated by the salty Mediterranean. Ballard believes this was a cataclysmic event that occurred about 7,500 years ago, and was possibly the deluge described in the Bible and other ancient literature. Skeptics accuse Ballard of using Noah to hype his material for maximum publicity.
“It bugs me a little bit, because I like the Noah story as much as anybody,” archaeologist Fredrik Hiebert told USA Today. “I think we shouldn’t try and peg what we’re doing to either prove or disprove it. We’re never going to get there.”

A point-by-point critique of Cornuke’s theories can be found here:
A few of the points:

PROBLEM 1: The Bible Puts Mt. Sinai in the Sinai
What they mean by “Arabia” is modern Saudi Arabia and there is no statement in the Bible or any other ancient source that places Mt. Sinai in Saudi Arabia by whatever ancient name (in this case Midian). In fact, it is quite the reverse, Mt. Sinai is clearly placed outside of Saudi Arabia and right on the Sinai Peninsula as we would expect.
Exodus 18:27 states that, while the Israelites were camped near Mt. Sinai,3 Moses sent his Midianite (Saudi Arabian) father-in-law Jethro back to”his own country” of Midian (NIV, emphasis added). Clearly, Mt. Sinai and northwestern Saudi Arabia (Midian) were in two different locations. The making of the statement signals the importance of the action, it was not a trivial event or insignificant journey for Jethro to go back to Midian from Mt. Sinai.

PROBLEM 2: Josephus Puts Mt. Sinai Between Egypt and Arabia
Placing Mt. Sinai somewhere in Arabia is not new, contrary to what has been implied by Williams and Cornuke, but the specification of a particular mountain is relatively recent. The general idea goes back to about 1225 AD, when Muslim geographers began to arbitrarily shift Biblical place names — largely because they had been identified by Christians — from the Sinai to Arabia, as a kind of polemic against the Crusades. But this Mt. Sinai-in-Arabia concept was purely a product of scholarly theories and propaganda, not of long-standing local traditions which often can preserve genuine information about ancient geography and Biblical sites. (10) Nor does not compare in antiquity with the traditions attached to the southern Sinai Peninsula, which can be traced back to about 100 A.D.

PROBLEM 3: The theory of Mt. Sinai-in-Arabia Started as a Muslim Polemic
Nearly 1,700 years ago it was Constantine’s devout Christian mother, Empress Helena, ca. 330 A.D., who chose the site for a church. She did not do it to set up a “tourist scam” but for humanitarian reasons — to build the church to protect monks from murderous raids by nomads. (16) According to the tradition, the church was built at the place where the local monks pointed out what they believed was the Burning Bush. (17) Hence the site was already well known as Mt. Sinai by that time. About 550 A.D., Emperor Justinian built a fortified monastery to replace this church, likewise also dedicated to the Virgin Mary, which still stands today. (18) Much later, the monastery took on the name of St. Catherine, the earliest mentions perhaps about 1244. (19) Contrary to the claim that prior to about 1740 “numerous other mountains were claimed” to be Mt. Sinai, it was not until Lepsius’ proposal in 1845 that any other specific mountain but the traditional Jebel Musa was ever suggested for Mt. Sinai. (20) (Earlier, when Muslim scholars arbitrarily placed Mt. Sinai in Arabia, they did not single out a particular mountain.)

PROBLEM NO. 4: Traditional Southern Sinai Site is Ancient
The Williams-Cornuke book is unclear as to when and how the traditional Mt. Sinai was supposedly picked, and this of course has a bearing on how substantial and legitimate a geographic tradition it is. An unnamed “psychic or seer” is said to be responsible for choosing the traditional Sinai site for Emperor Constantine (plate 7 caption of the book). But elsewhere their book says this “myth” has arisen only within the last “almost 250 years” as a long-running “tourist scam,” and “prior to that time [about 1740], numerous other mountains were claimed” to be Mt. Sinai though no example is given (pp. 17, 50) and the claim is patently false.

PROBLEM NO. 5: In Paul’s Time “Arabia” Included Sinai Peninsula
PROBLEM NO. 6: Too Much Reliance on Strange Methods or Devices
PROBLEM NO. 8: Climate was Wetter in the Past – Sinai Covered in Forests
PROBLEM NO. 11: Melted or Burned Rocks From Jebel al-Lawz are Volcanic
PROBLEM NO. 13: Altar at Mt. Sinai was EARTHEN NOT STONE
The book insists that when Moses built an altar for BURNT OFFERINGS and FELLOWSHIP OFFERINGS, at Mt. Sinai (Exodus 24:4) it was made of STONE.
The Bible states that God instructed Moses ON MT. SINAI to make an altar of EARTH, NOT STONE (Exodus 20:24, 24:4), for burnt offerings and fellowship offerings:

The Catholic Encyclopedia mentions the genuine scholarly research and traditions:

The name is now given to the triangular peninsula lying between the desert of Southern Palestine, the Red Sea, and the gulfs of Akabah and Suez, with an area of about 10,000 square miles, which was the scene of the forty years’ wandering of the Israelites after the Exodus from Egypt.
The principal topographical features are two. North of the Jabal et-Tih (3200 to 3950 feet) stretches an arid plateau, the desert of Tih, marked by numerous Wadis, notably El-Arish, the “River of Egypt”, which formed the southern boundary of the Promised Land (Gen., xv, 18; Num., xxxiv, 5). South of Jabal et-Tih rises a mountainous mass of granite streaked with porphyry, dividing into three principal groups: the western, Jabal Serbal (6750 feet); the central, Jabal Musa (7380 feet), Jabal Catherine (8560 feet), and Jabal Um Schomer (8470 feet); the eastern, Jabal Thebt (7906 feet) and Jabal Tarfa, which terminates in Ras Mohammed. It is among these mountains that Jewish and Christian tradition places the Sinai of the Bible, but the precise location is uncertain. It is Jabal Musa, according to a tradition traceable back to the fourth century, when St. Silvia of Aquitaine was there. Jabal Musa is defended by E.H. and H.S. Palmer, Vigouroux, Lagrange, and others. However, the difficulty of applying Ex., xix, 12, to Jabal Musa and the inscriptions found near Jabal Serbal have led some to favour Serbal. This was the opinion of St. Jerome […]

Some more resources: (half-way down the page)

With warmest regards,
& respect for Science

your brother in Christ,

r p


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