The real Mount Sinai is in Saudi Arabia and is not the Egyptian mountain Jebel Musa visited by thousands of pilgrims and tourists every year, according to a respected scientist.
Colin Humphreys, professor of materials science at the University of Cambridge, also claims in a new book that "wind set-down" could have allowed the Israelites to cross the Red Sea.
The book, Miracles of Exodus: A Scientist's Discovery of the Extraordinary Natural Causes of the Biblical Stories, bases the Mount Sinai theory on the idea that the mountain must have been an active volcano. This explains the pillar of cloud that led the Israelites by day and the fire by night.
Professor Humphreys replotted the route of the Exodus, arguing that the Israelites followed trade routes from Egypt across the Sinai peninsula to northwest Saudi Arabia, where he suggests the real Mount Sinai is present-day Mount Bedr. This locates an important Jewish site in the home of Islam.
However, Graham Davies, professor of Old Testament studies at Cambridge, questioned the theory. "Questions about Exodus are historical ones and there is a limit to what science can do," he said.
John Barton, professor of the interpretation of Holy Scripture at Oxford University, said alternative theories failed to take account of the literary and legendary nature of the Biblical stories. He said: "It is like asking what would be the tensile strength of Cinderella's glass slipper.
Scientists are taking these stories terribly literally."