Hajar al-Maktub (Arabic for Rock of Inscriptions) stands at the site of what was once an important camping ground on one of the Sinai’s major pilgrimage routes between Jerusalem and Mount Sinai. It takes its name from the graffiti of early travelers that can still be seen scrawled across its face. The rock is covered with Armenian, Syriac and Greek writing; most of these inscriptions are records of pilgrims’ names and etchings of a variety of traditional Christian symbols. One of the Armenian language inscriptions from around one thousand years ago even records the name Abraham. Hajar al-Maktub is located in Wadi Hajjaj (Arabic for Wadi of the Pilgrims) and is one of many rocks decorated with graffiti in the area. Wander the wadi more widely and you’ll discover other inscriptions, many of which predate this early pilgrim graffiti.
The most common inscriptions in the Sinai – including in Wadi Hajjaj – are Nabatean. Thousands of Nabatean inscriptions have been recorded across the peninsula, from lowland desert wadis like Wadi Hajjaj to the Sinai’s highest mountaintops; and it’s likely that many more remain undocumented. The Nabateans traded through the Sinai around 2000 years ago, and historians believe that their script remained in use in the region until the second or third century CE.
Often, Nabatean and pilgrim graffiti are found juxtaposed or written near one another on the very same rocks; this is no coincidence. Most early Christians made their marks by older Nabatean script, mistakenly believing it to be the marks Moses and the Israelites left during their wanderings. The script was only identified as Nabatean in recent centuries.