When Pharaoh let the people go, God did not lead them on the road through the Philistine country, though that was shorter. For God said, “If they face war, they might change their minds and return to Egypt.”So God led the people around by the desert road toward the Red Sea. The Israelites went up out of Egypt ready for battle.
Thus began the most arduous detour in the history of travel. Avoiding the busier, breezier Via Maris along the coastline, Moses led two million Israelites on a protracted, inter-generational journey through Sinai Peninsula, a tiny wedge of land between Africa and Asia on the map but an endless, barren desert on the road, much more on foot. It was a circuitous exodus to the Promised Land that took 40 years of wandering in the wilderness. Myth, history, or a bit of both, this tale of freedom from slavery and covenant with Yahweh defined the faith and identity of the Jewish people.
…Truly I tell you, if you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move. Nothing will be impossible for you.
Mokattam Mountain in Cairo had been moved by mustard seed faith. Jesus may have meant His statement metaphorically – He spoke in parables after all – but the Copts took it literally. This mountain’s solid rock face had been heavily quarried, either for practical reasons or mystical qualities, to become building blocks of pyramids and temples. The miraculous geologic movement was not the only astounding aspect of this mountain. Mokattam stood over a city of trash. Coming from a developing country, our group was familiar with landfill slums, but we had not expected to find ourselves in the middle of one in Cairo.
As a third generation Aniano in my family, I had ancestral legacy for my name. But I didn’t always appreciate this heritage from my father and grandfather. Even in the 70s, it was an unusual and antiquated name compared with all the Michaels and Anthonys in grade school. It got me bullied from day one’s roll call. When I hit high school, I masked it with a cool yet common nickname – AJ. But the etymology of my name intrigued me for much of the 50 years of my life. Why did my great grandparents christen their son Aniano? Dad had no explanation either.