Historical Odyssey: The Early History of God

Historical Odyssey: The Early History of God

With guest speaker Francesca Stavrakopoulou, Professor of Hebrew Bible and Ancient Religion

Our guest speaker is Professor of Hebrew Bible and Ancient Religion at the University of Exeter. Alongside her research Francesca has made many media appearances (including Bible’s Buried Secrets, a BBC documentary series) and she regularly speaks on the roles of the Bible, religion, and atheism in ancient and contemporary societies. She first visited Sinai on a school trip with Wind Sand & Stars in the 1990s, an experience that inspired her curiosity in biblical traditions and she went on to study Theology at the University of Oxford.

Journey overview

Our journey will track the story of God in the Hebrew Bible / Old Testament, from his early life as a wilderness warrior, to his vaunted role as patron deity of ancient Israel, to his heady position as the solitary God of the universe. As we travel, we’ll learn how the social and religious realities of life and death in the ancient Near East shaped and reshaped key events in the story of God, from the exodus out of Egypt, his meeting with Moses on a mountain-top, to the destruction of his temple in Jerusalem.

The itinerary will involve riding camels under the expert guidance of local Bedouin, with optional trekking. Each day we will explore themes around the sites and scenery that we encounter. Back-up from 4-wheel drive vehicles will carry main luggage from camp to camp.


Day 1: Arrive in Cairo

We fly from London Heathrow to Cairo where we are met on arrival and transfer to our hotel for the night.
O/n 4* hotel, Cairo

Day 2: Cairo

Humans and Gods: We start the day with a tour of the spectacular Pyramids and Sphinx at Giza, where our guest speaker Francesca will give an overview and introduction to the religious cultures of the ancient Near East, setting the context for the week ahead.

Akhenaton, Moses, and the invention of monotheism: the famous Egyptian Museum holds a unique collection of Pharaonic antiquities including statues of King Akhenaton, held by some to be the first monotheist. It is the perfect setting to explore the notion of monotheism, asking how, when – and even if – the idea of one God emerged.
O/n 4* hotel, Cairo

Day 3: To Sharm el Sheikh and into the desert

Escaping Egypt with the divine warrior: Our modern journey into the Sinai wilderness is a 1-hour internal flight to Sharm el Sheikh. From here we head into the desert and we are welcomed by Suleiman of the Muzeina tribe, he is an old friend of Wind Sand & Stars and his family has hosted our groups for over 25 years. During the afternoon we have time to acclimatise, as our guest speaker Francesca delves further into the story of Moses and the Exodus, and explains God’s early role as a Divine Warrior. In the evening we have dinner around the camp fire, enjoying sweet Bedouin tea and taking in the spectacular desert night sky.
O/n sleeping under the stars

Days 4-5: Journey through the desert

Late evening and early morning, members of the local Bedouin tribe and their camels arrive at our camp for the start of our camel trek. This is a unique opportunity to travel with the Bedouin through their land, experiencing at first hand the slow pace of traditional desert travel, the ever-changing scenery and their warm hospitality.

Death in the wilderness and life in the Promised Land: Along the way we will pass interesting sites and features such as the Nawamis, remarkable tombs dating from the Bronze Age. We will also encounter rock inscriptions carved by early pilgrims travelling from Jerusalem to Mt Sinai. We’ll see why the Bible portrays this landscape as a mysterious place in between death and life, and how it has shaped Jewish and Christian traditions about God.

Ancestors, Gods, and Landscapes: As we trek in the footsteps of people who have travelled across Sinai through the centuries, we pass scattered Bedouin encampments and oases and also a Bedouin cemetery, where Francesca will talk about the continuity of beliefs and rituals in the desert.

The route is flexible, there will be regular breaks and a long rest for lunch with plenty of shade from the sun. You will each have your own trekking camel. Saddles are well padded and comfortable. In the evenings we make camp and relax around the fire, enjoying the remarkable night skies and cups of hot, sweet tea with the Bedouin.
O/n each night sleeping under the stars

Days 6 & 7: St Catherine’s Monastery & Mount Sinai

Sacred space at the Burning Bush: In the morning we travel by vehicle to Mount Sinai in the heart of Sinai’s rugged mountains. We will be based at St Catherine’s Monastery which lies in the shadow of Mount Sinai and inside its walls is a living bush said to be the same burning bush that Moses saw. Founded in the sixth century by the Emperor Justinian, the monastery contains a Basilica church and mosque, as well as a unique collection of ancient manuscripts and art.
O/n St Catherine’s Monastery guesthouse

What did Moses see on the Mountain? The ascent of Mount Sinai is a steady walk for 2-3 hours, with the option of hiring camels until the final steps to the summit. The top is marked by a small chapel and mosque, with magnificent views of the surrounding desert and mountains. Francesca will unpack the complex biblical traditions about Moses’ encounter with God on Mount Sinai, and explain why the story of Sinai marks an important transition in the early history of God.
O/n St Catherine’s Monastery guesthouse

Day 8: Depart

From Mount Sinai to Mount Zion: Our journey concludes with a final lecture from Francesca and in the morning we depart for Sharm el Sheikh for our flight home via Cairo.

All desert itineraries are subject to change. The final programme for the two days at the Monastery will depend upon the group, local conditions and also Monastery opening times.


Land arrangements £1,250

Flight £500 – £600 approximately, London to Sharm el Sheikh via Cairo

Minimum number 12

 Cost Includes

  • All local transport and accommodation
  • Full board (two cooked meals & picnic lunch in the desert including bottled drinking water)
  • Qualified Wind Sand & Stars desert leader
  • English speaking Egyptian guide
  • Local Bedouin guides and camels
  • St Catherine’s NP fee and Museum entrance fee
  • Comprehensive travel insurance

Cost Excludes

  • Egyptian Visa (US$25)
  • Gratuities £50 (invoiced)
  • Single Supplement £125 per person (invoiced)
  • Soft drinks and any other personal expenses
  • Camel up Mt Sinai approximately £20 one way (optional, payable on site in Egyptian pounds)


Please note a visa is required for this itinerary and can be obtained on arrival in Cairo. If you do not hold a British or EU passport please refer to the Egyptian Consulate www.egyptianconsulate.co.uk/Visas.php for guidance.

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A unique experience and a privilege to share the Bedouin’s way of life, for a short time.

Guest, Sinai Summits, April 2019

It was the most wonderful trip, so glad I took up this opportunity. All beautifully organised – well done.

Icons of St Catherine’s Guest November 2022

Enthralling and beyond my hopes, it was a deeply spiritual experience at many levels. I am still raving about it all to anyone who crosses my path!

Icons of St Catherine’s Guest November 2022

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Francis Burkitt, St Catherine tailor made, August 2017

We got more out of our adventure than we had ever hoped for, thanks to a country of huge diversity and historical interest and to a very special guide.

Cunningham family, Jordan, April 2017

So many thoughts about our wonderful trip to St Catherine’s; the fantastic warmth of welcome from the Egyptians, Fathers Justin and Nilus, and the unique history which we felt privileged to be given access to. In my book, how could one not enjoy and be inspired!

Julia Palmer, St Catherine’s Retreat, February 2017

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