The Sinai desert is one of the most barren places on Earth. The wilderness where Moses led the Israelites after the Exodus is a giant peninsula wedged between Africa and Asia that is sometimes referred to as 23,500 square miles of nothing. Crossing into the Sinai recently on a journey to revisit biblical sites, I was reminded that Moses tells the Israelites that God sent them into the wilderness to "learn what is in your hearts."
But at the southern tip, hundreds of miles from civilization, comes unexpected relief: a 1700-year-old monastery that monks believe contains the actual Burning Bush where Moses heard the voice of God. Scholars dismiss the bush as a curiosity, but recently they've begun turning to its desert hideaway for a different reason.
Today, St. Catherine's Monastery is at the center of a high-tech global effort to shore up its priceless heritage--considered the second most valuable collection of religious manuscripts in the world, after that of the Vatican--for the Internet Age. The unlikely spearhead of that movement is a 56-year-old native of El Paso, Tex., who was raised a Baptist, converted to the Greek Orthodox Church and nine years ago became the first American monk in St. Catherine's fabled history.
"It's amazing to live in a place that is so historical," said Father Justin Sinaites ("of Sinai"), "yet be involved in something so modern. I can sit at my computer, look out my window, and there's Mount Sinai to my left, a 6th-century basilica to my right, and it's 33 centuries between me and Moses."
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