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The Second Granite Arch

Pilgrims who climb the traditional steps to the peak of Sinai will pass through two granite arches. A short distance beyond the second arch is the basin of the Prophet Elias, from where they begin the final ascent to the summit.

In the early morning, the arch is still in shadow, with the mountain ranges to the east disappearing in the distance.

In the afternoon, the arch comes into full sun. When Professor Ihor Ševčenko studied the earliest Sinai inscriptions, he felt that he could read on the keystone,

+ Ὑπὲρ σωτηρίας τοῦ / ἀββᾶ Ἰωάν[ν]ου τοῦ / ἡγουμένου καὶ

The Alexandria-Michigan-Princeton Expedition to Mount Sinai, which I joined in 1960, was the first to reveal an inscription on the second arch over the steep path leading toward the summit of Sinai. I read it: ‘For the salvation of Abba Iohannes the Abbot and . . .’ Assuming the reading to be correct, could not the Abbot Iohannes, who had this arch erected, be John of the Ladder himself, the most famous abbot in Sinai’s history? Positive proof is simply not there, but the date of the inscription (sixth or seventh century) does not exclude the possibility.

Igor Ševčenko, ‘The Early Period of the Sinai Monastery in the Light of Its Inscriptions’, Dumbarton Oaks Papers, vol. 20 (1966), p. 257.

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