On the first place of visit in our journey, we are scheduled to tour the ancient city of Petra (Greek – meaning “the Rock”). As much is as asserted about the origin of the city, much is left unproven at this historical juncture. We know more about it’s existence from the 4thc BC to our time, than prior.
It is clear that the line of the Edomites are intrinsically, connected to Petra. But more specifically, the Nabateans have a deep-rooted history with the city. The Nabateans are descendants from the Arab kingdom of Nabatea and have a significant role in conjunction with the Israelites in the 2ndc BC, by supporting the Maccabeans, Judas and Jonathan. For centuries they were considered nomadic. Later they will be more specific settlers.
There are equal evidences for dispute as to the origin of the Nabatean people being from either southern or northern Arabia. Regardless, we can definitively pick up in 312 BC, when the Nabateans are centered in their capitol city of Petra. This is an impressive period for them, because they successfully defend themselves from an attack of a commander by the name of, “Antigonous the One-Eyed.” While you may have never heard of him, you undoubtedly are familiar with his commander – Alexander the Great.
Petra was important as a part of the trade route (particularly aromatics/spice) from South Arabia to the Mediterranean Sea. They became the principle carriers of frankincense and myrrh. They established several settlements in the caravan routes from the Hijaz (also called, “Hejaz”) and Damascus, and between Petra and Gaza. With Petra not only being located in juxtaposition to the King’s Highway, the Nabateans had also gained control over many of the oases (pl. oasis) along trade routes, giving them more economical advantage in the transportation marketing. This set Petra as the capitol of the greatest commercial kingdom in its region.
The Nabatean’s involvement with Israel becomes even more entrenched with Herod the Great’s son, Herod Antipas (also known as “The Tetrarch”), who marries the Nabatean princess, Phasaelis, daughter of King Aretas IV. The reason this may be of interest in your journey, is because Antipas divorces her to marry his brother’s wife, Herodias (Matthew 14:1ff). John the Baptist had an issue with this, and subsequently, Herodias manages to finagle a plan to have John the Baptist beheaded. As we leave Petra, northward along the King’s Highway to the west there will be hills that border the Dead Sea. This is where the hilltop fortress of Machaerus is located. It is the place where John the Baptist was eventually beheaded.
As is with most ancient cities, Petra has been changed structurally and architecturally through the centuries. When the Romans take the Nabatean stronghold in 106 AD (under Trajan), many architectural changes will be made. By the 3rdc AD, they will carve out the magnificent Roman temple structure, ed-Deir. It towers 175ft high with beautiful colonnades of typical Greco-Roman features.
After Emperor Trajan’s conquest of Petra, the capitol of Provincia Arabia will be moved to another location. During the Byzantine Empire (395-1453 AD), Petra reflects some Christian influence in monastical occupation. The “monks of St. Aaron” remained in the area as late as the dates of the Crusades. Yet Petra declined. For a period of time, even its name was lost and it became referred to as “Kerak.”
During the period of the Crusades, Petra regained relevance for its geographical location as a trade route. During this period, a fortress called “Wâdî Mûsā” (“Valley of Moses”) was built outside of the Sîq (see last paragraph for description). Needing financial support, the Latin Kingdom used the center as a taxing port for caravans. However, after the defeat at the Horns of Hattin in 1187 AD, the Muslims regained control of the entire region and the practice stopped.
J. L. Burckhardt is often credited with discovering Petra in 1812. This is a contemporary “discovery” at best, as Petra is obviously far more ancient. Much more attention to restoration and preservation has been given over the last couple of centuries to the city and its surrounding features. It has been popularized in recent times by the movie, “Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade.” The location where the incredible scenes of people riding through a giant fissure in the red sandstone, is called the Sîq, which we will get to experience firsthand.
Biblical references: “Sela / Selah”; “Seir (“sons of”)”
- 2 Kings 14:7; 2 Chronicles 25”11ff; (Amaziah’s reign in Judah – 796-767 BC;
- Isaiah 16:1; (the Prophet Isaiah – 739-681 BC).
- 2 Corinthians 11:32; King Aretas (Nabatean)