Holyland Tour in Focus: Jordan
The “rose-red city” of Petra in southern Jordan, famous for its rock-cut monumental buildings, was once the setting for a thriving Christian community with several significant churches. An early account tells of Christians in Petra being martyred during the persecution of emperor Diocletian at the beginning of the 4th century, for refusing to offer sacrifice to Roman gods. Nevertheless, a Christian presence persisted. Bishops from Petra attended Church synods and councils from AD 343, indicating that the city had become a significant Christian centre.
In biblical times Petra was a city of the Edomites, whose ancestor Esau settled there after he was tricked out of his rightful inheritance by his twin brother Jacob. Scholars believe Petra was then called Sela.
By the middle of the second century BC, the Edomites had been displaced by the Nabataeans. These former nomad herdsmen made Petra their multicoloured sandstone capital city, transforming it into a desert oasis by using ingenious aqueducts and cisterns to conserve water from flash floods.
The Nabataeans also controlled trade routes from Arabia to Mesopotamia and Syria, exacting high tolls from caravans which passed their way.
One tradition has the Three Wise Men buying their gold, myrrh and frankincense at Petra on their way to Bethlehem.
The Treasury Monument
Al Khazneh, also known as the Treasury, is one of the most impressive sites of ancient Petra in Jordan. Al Khazneh, along with the other architectural sites of Petra, was hand carved from the beautiful red sandstone mountain. The Treasury suddenly comes into view at the end of a twisting, narrow 1.5 kilometer path. Petra is a natural fortress that today attracts millions of tourists.
The Street of Facades
It is a name given to the row of monumental Nabataean tombs carved in the southern cliff face that lies past the Treasury and adjacent to the outer Siq., that when you pass the Treasury, the Siq begins to widen gradually as it reaches into an open area. On both sides, there are a number of Nabataean burial interfaces decorated with grindstones along with other decorations; and some of these interfaces were destroyed by natural factors, it is believed that these interfaces represents some of the senior officials in the city or princes.
The tomb Anesho is located in the far south of this group and overlooks the external Siq. Anesho was the Minister of Queen Nabatiyeh Shaqilh II, who ruled between 70 and 76 AD as guardians of the throne of her son, Rabil II. These tombs represent courtier in the middle of the first century AD.
The first of the so called Royal Tombs is the Urn Tomb. This tomb is built high on the mountain side, and requires climbing up a number of flights of stairs. Abbe’ Starcky has suggested that this is the tomb of Nabataean King Malchus II who died in 70 AD. Dr. Schmidt-Colinet on the other hand has proposed that this is the tomb of Aretas IV.
Along the side of the front courtyard are a line of columns. The door to the main chamber is rather eroded on the bottom, but the lines are still quite visible. Far above the door are three burial chambers.
Beside the Urn Tomb is a small tomb known as the Silk Tomb. This name comes from the rich color of the sandstone. It is one of the most dramatically colored tombs in Petra.
The Corinthian Tomb comes next. It is very worn, but if one stops to examine it, it is very ornate and similar to the Treasury.
The Palace Tomb is very wide, and has three distinct stories in it’s facade. Supposedly, it is similar to the Roman palace design of the Golden House of Nero. In front of the tomb is a large stage and in front of this a large courtyard. It is almost as if the Palace Tomb was designed as a backdrop for State funerals.
From across the valley, one can see the Royal Tombs standing beside each other, overlooking the city.
The Theatre in Petra, originally Hellenistic in design and dating from the 1st century AD was refurbished by the Romans after they annexed Nabatea in 106AD. The seating extended to the orchestra’s floor level, typical of Hellenistic design. It was capable of seating 8500, even more than the great theatre at Amman. (Where did they all come from?). The entire seating, except for the extreme ends was carved out of the mountain and one whole street of facades was wiped out to form the back wall. The holes seen in the back wall are the interiors of the tombs destroyed when this was done. The stage backdrop was built up in stone but this was destroyed in the earthquake of 363. Much work has been done to reconstruct the stage area and the high back wall which would have sealed the theatre from the street outside.
Petra is home to many other fascinating archeological remains, the theatre being just one of them.
Monastery Al Deir
The Monestary is one of the largest monuments in Petra. (It is also one of the farthest from the main gate.) The Deir recieved this name from the cave that is known as the Hermit’s Cell. No one knows where this name came from, and it may have only come into use after the Middle Ages.
On the far side there is a wide niche with steps leading up to it on either side, and an arch over it. Apparently there was plaster on the walls here. The stairs seem to indicate that there was once an altar here, similar to Al Uzza and Dushares Temples. Later, Christian crosses were carved into the walls.
Infront of the monument, a huge area was leveled, and seems to have been used for great congregations of people. The surrounding hills form a great natural amphitheater.
The remains of the oldest known map of the Holy Land, painstakingly assembled from more than a million pieces of coloured stone, lie on the floor of a church in the Jordanian city of Madaba. This unique art treasure was designed by an unknown artist and constructed in a Byzantine cathedral in the middle of the 6th century.
The discovery of the Madaba Mosaic Map, and mosaics in the remains of five more churches and other locations in the town, led to Madaba, 30km south of Amman, becoming known as “the City of Mosaics”.
The map originally covered an area of more than 15.5 metres by 5.5 metres with a geographic sweep from Lebanon in the north to the Nile delta in the south. Less than a third of the map has survived.
In spite of some inaccuracies, it is regarded as the most exact map of the Holy Land before modern cartography was developed.
After 40 years leading the headstrong Israelites in the desert, Moses stood on the windswept summit of Mount Nebo and viewed the Promised Land of Canaan — after having been told by God “you shall not cross over there”.
As Deuteronomy 34:5-6 recounts, Moses died there in the land of Moab “but no one knows his burial place to this day”. Moses did, however, eventually reach the Promised Land. He and Elijah were seen with Jesus at the latter’s Transfiguration (Luke 9:28-36).
Jerash lies on a plain surrounded by hilly wooded areas and fertile basins. Conquered by General Pompey in 63 BC, it came under Roman rule and was one of the ten great Roman cities of the Decapolis League.
The city’s golden age came under Roman rule, during which time it was known as Gerasa, and the site is now generally acknowledged to be one of the best-preserved Roman provincial towns in the world. Hidden for centuries in sand before being excavated and restored over the past 70 years, Jerash reveals a fine example of the grand, formal provincial Roman urbanism that is found throughout the Middle East, comprising paved and colonnaded streets, soaring hilltop temples, handsome theatres, spacious public squares and plazas, baths, fountains and city walls pierced by towers and gates.
The modern city of Jerash can be found to the east of the ruins. While the old and new share a city wall, careful preservation and planning has seen the city itself develop well away from the ruins so there is no encroachment on the sites of old.
Gilead is in the central region east of the Jordan, approximately between the river Yarmuk in the north and the northern end of the Dead Sea in the south. The name Gilead is explained in the Bible as deriving from Gal-ed, in Aramaic Yegar-Sahadutha (Gen. 31:47), and there are some scholars who relate its meaning to the Arabic Jalʿad, meaning “harsh,” “rude,” because of the mountainous and rocky nature of the region.
According to the Bible, Israelite Transjordan was divided in three main regions: the plain, Gilead, and the Bashan (Deut. 3:10; Josh. 20:8; II Kings 10:33). The plain is the flat height north of the Arnon which was the scene of constant battle between Israel and Moab. The Bashan is the northern part of Transjordan north of the Yarmuk, for which Israel competed with the Arameans. Gilead is the clearly Israelite section of Transjordan and, therefore, in its broad meaning, encompassed central Transjordan, on both sides of the Jabbok, from the Sea of Galilee to the Dead Sea (Gen. 37:25; Josh. 22:9, 15; II Sam. 2:9; II Kings 10:33; Ezek. 47:18; Amos 1:3; etc.). Different parts of the Bible mention the two halves of Gilead, north and south of the Jabbok (Deut. 3:12; Josh. 12:2, 5; 13:31).
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