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Evangelicals Flock to Saudi Arabia to See Biblical Sites, Search for Mt. Sinai

  • Michael Foust Crosswalk Headlines Contributor
  • Published Jun 26, 2023
Evangelicals Flock to Saudi Arabia to See Biblical Sites, Search for Mt. Sinai

Saudi Arabia’s decision in 2019 to open its borders to tourists has led to a surprising number of evangelical Christians entering the country in search of biblical sites, according to a New York Times report.

Previously, Saudi Arabia would only grant visas to expatriates, business people and pilgrims, especially to Muslims who were wanting to visit Mecca and Medina. That changed in 2019 when the country’s new leader, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, announced a plan to diversify its economic revenue by opening the nation to tourists. Dress codes were relaxed, the BBC reports.

Moses likely visited present-day Saudi Arabia. The biblical Midianites are thought to have lived in the land. And most significantly to tourists, Mt. Sinai, where Moses received the Ten Commandments from God, may have been located in present-day Saudi Arabia – although the majority view is that its location is in present-day Egypt.

“No one in the conservative Islamic kingdom had planned for” Christians visiting the country en masse, the New York Times reported.

“Yet Christians of many stripes – including Baptists, Mennonites and others who call themselves ‘children of God’ – were among the first people to use the new Saudi tourist visas,” The Times reported. “Since then, they have grown steadily in numbers, drawn by word of mouth and viral YouTube videos arguing that Saudi Arabia, not Egypt, is the site of Mount Sinai, the peak where Jewish and Christian Scriptures describe God revealing the Ten Commandments.”

A reporter and photographer for the New York Times followed a Christian tour group through Saudi Arabia for five days.

“It makes something tangible that you have believed in your whole life,” tourist Kris Gibson, 53, of Idaho, told The Times.

Gibson was impressed with the Saudi landscape.

“I’m just absolutely shocked at how beautiful it is,” she said. “Because, you know, in my head I’m thinking, nothing but sand.”

Joel Richardson led the tour, which cost $5,199 per person. The tourists drank camel milk. They ate dates dipped in goat butter.

“This is such a privilege, that we get to be at the forefront of all this,” he said of the cultural experience and exchange.

Richardson said he is driven by a desire to see sites of biblical events and even to uncover evidence of them.

“In my opinion,” he said, “all the evidence is sitting right out there in the desert.”

Photo courtesy: ©Getty Images/Hanohiki

Michael Foust has covered the intersection of faith and news for 20 years. His stories have appeared in Baptist Press, Christianity Today, The Christian Post, the Leaf-Chronicle, the Toronto Star and the Knoxville News-Sentinel.