Tuesday, April 03, 2007

Religious tourism, then and now

The NYT's Michael Slackman reports today on the doings of Egypt's chief archaeologist in the Sinai peninsula. His team has recently unearthed a military fort which dates to the period of the Exodus, but he doesn't think much of the Exodus itself:
“Really, it’s a myth,” Dr. Hawass said of the story of the Exodus, as he stood at the foot of a wall built during what is called the New Kingdom.
Whatever the official position of the state, local tourism businesses remain happy to capitalize on eager believers:
In Egypt today, visitors to Mount Sinai are sometimes shown a bush by tour guides and told it is the actual bush that burned before Moses.
It's unclear whether Slackman is referring to the bush in Saint Catherine's Monastery, which has enclosed the purported site of Moses' vision since the third century. In any case, pointing out the bush to wide-eyed religious tourists is not a recent innovation.

Egeria, an aristocratic Spanish pilgrim who traveled to the region in the early 380s, describes how her "holy guides" led her to the bush at Saint Catherine's in her Itinerarium Egeriae:
...there were very many cells of holy men there, and a church in the place where the bush is, which same bush is alive to this day and throws out shoots. So having made the whole descent of the mount of God we arrived at the bush about the tenth hour. This is that bush which I mentioned above, out of which the Lord spake in the fire to Moses, and the same is situated at that spot at the head of the valley where there are many cells and a church. There is a very pleasant garden in front of the church, containing excellent and abundant water, and the bush itself is in this garden.

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