Editor’s note: Last year, WorldNetDaily international correspondent Anthony C. LoBaido traveled to Jordan. He filed several stories on that nation, its culture, new king and strategic relationship with the UK and U.S. LoBaido retraced the trek of Lawrence of Arabia through Trans Jordan, as well. In this update, LoBaido examines the history and possible future significance of this ancient and beautiful place.
“Match me such a marvel, save in Eastern clime
A rose-red city, half as old as time.”
—From “Petra” by Dean Burgen
PETRA, Jordan — Carved from the rock that served as a base for Esau — the father of the Edomites — Petra is a magical and mysterious ancient city that illuminated the imaginations of mankind through the millennia and now serves as a key location for many scholars tracking so-called “end-times” events.
Historians, anthropologists and archaeologists are still fascinated by Petra and continue to travel to Jordan to unearth its many mysteries. Famed director Steven Spielberg came here to film “Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade.” Perhaps most significant, however, is the trend of modern Judeo-Christian believers to increasingly turn to Petra over what some Bible scholars consider its future prophetic significance — the hiding place for the Jewish/Israeli remnant during the biblical events widely known as Armageddon and the Great Tribulation.
What is Petra? Petra is a heavily fortified rock/city situated south of Amman, Jordan. To the south are Aqaba and the Red Sea. It is surrounded by the mountainous deserts of Wadi Rum, which played host to the mobile guerilla camps of Lawrence of Arabia during World War I.
According to official accounts, Petra was established by Nabataean Arabs in the sixth century before Christ. These Arabs were nomads, but their work around Petra provided the impetus for a grand and widespread commercial empire that reached north all the way to Damascus. They worked diligently to carve out temples, burial chambers and other facilities from the yellow, white, red and brown sandstone rocks. King Aretas IV was the most prominent Arab architect.
Herod the Great of New Testament fame lusted after Petra, but was unable to take control of it. Pompey, the Roman general, ordered his legions to literally carve out a military fortress amid the sheer cliffs of Petra. Pompey overturned Nabataean rule around A.D. 99. Even through the Byzantine era, Rome retained some influence in the region, yet the empire was shifting away from Jordan and establishing itself in western Turkey.
The famous face of Petra.
The Crusaders, led by a knight named Baldwin, came in the 12th century and, like the Romans, built military fortifications. During the Crusader era, wild legends about Petra sprang up in the imaginations of the West. The Crusaders, upon examination of Petra’s burial chambers and temples that had been dedicated to the Nabateans’ god Dhushares and goddess Allat, concluded that these represented the Pharaoh of Exodus and the Pharaoh’s daughter.
Since the ancient center of the city was known as the Wadi Musa or “Valley of Moses” and a nearby mountain, Jaal Haroun, was named after Aaron, the Crusaders drew some remarkable conclusions. They claimed that the Pharaoh of Exodus had garrisoned his army at Petra while chasing the fleeing Hebrews, and that Petra was the place where Moses struck the rock in search of water. These stories were propagated by the devout Monks of Saint Aaron, who worked closely with the Crusaders of that era.
After the Crusaders withdrew, the local Arabs had complete control of Petra. In 1812, Swiss adventurer Johann Ludwig Burckhardt traveled to Petra incognito, dressed as an Arab Bedouin. He was fascinated by the royal tombs, sacrificial chambers and obelisks he encountered at Petra. Burckhardt encountered the local Bedouins and tried to learn from them about the history of this wildly rugged place.
The Palestinian connection
What did Burckhardt “discover” at Petra amid the baths, old coins, temples, theaters and water works? It was clear he didn’t have much of an historical record to go on. The entire area had disappeared from Western thought since the Crusades. The only historical document in the Western psyche concerning Petra was the Peutinger Table (an examination of the Roman Empire in what is today the Middle East, compiled in the 12th century). There was also a rare map — drawn by cartographers at the time of the American Revolutionary War — based on the works of the historian Flavius Josephus.
Marianne Roy, a Swiss graduate student from the French canton of Switzerland, came to Petra to research her graduate school thesis on Burckhardt.
Roy told WorldNetDaily, “Burckhardt may well have followed this map to Petra from the Swiss Alps. One can only wonder about the dangers such a journey entailed back in those times.”
Various accounts of Petra from the first century A.D. vary about the inhabitants of Petra. Diodorus, from the island of Sicily, wrote a first century account claiming the inhabitants of the Petra basin were merely “barbarians” and warlike. Yet a contemporary writer of Diodorus, a man named Strabo, wrote of a bustling commercial center.
Could both men have been correct?
Micah Mohammed, WorldNetDaily’s Arab-speaking driver and guide on the trip said: “Long ago, according to the Koran and Islamic folklore, the area around Wadi Rum was much different, tropical with lakes and game, like Uganda. The most esteemed scientists and climatologists of today accept this as a fact. The Koran also says that this area was changed into a barren desert as a punishment from Allah. This happened when men turned their backs on God and claimed that it was man himself who had created such a paradise.”
Real scientific investigation of Petra was not undertaken until 1897. A book called, “The Sepulcher of an Ancient Civilization” was finally published in 1930. The book claimed that Petra had existed through the millennia as a “dead city,” mostly uninhabited and used for burials and other similar ceremonies.
Yet the Roman Senate had dubbed Petra as a “metropolis.” Certainly, the Roman Empire — which had expanded into Syria, Lebanon, Turkey, Jordan, Palestine and north Africa — would not have adopted a dead city, drawn it on their official maps, fought over it, quartered a garrison there and defended Petra all for naught. These actions suggest that someone had resisted Roman rule.
A cart carries people through the trails of Petra.
Today, the mystery of the discrepancy of the accounts of Diodorus and Strabo are easily explained. And this is where the Palestinian connection comes into play.
The modern-day Palestinians, according to historians and archaeologists, came into Petra via a migration from the west. They were known as the Edomites. Once they arrived at Petra, they became known as the Idumeans. Some confusion exists over the Semitic to Hellenistic name change.
Through the careful analysis of Petra’s ancient metal works, coins, art, burial rights and water works, archaeologists and historians have presented a fusion of two cultures. They are the Arab Nabateans and the Edomites/Idumeans. The two peoples combined to create a strong culture, featuring a vast commercial infrastructure and war-making capabilities.
Concerning the significance of Petra and the biblical end times, Pastor Noah Hutchings of the Southwest Radio Church, an expert on Petra, offers this account:
“Jacob and Esau were twins. Jacob got the best of the deal in trading for Esau’s birthright, and then he stole Esau’s blessing. The blessing was far more valuable than the birthright. Esau took his minor share of Isaac’s cattle and goods and went to Petra, which in the Bible is called Mount Seir, Mount Hor, Selah and Edom’s strong city. Esau chased the Horites (cave dwellers) out of Mount Hor and established Petra and the capital city of his kingdom, Edom.
“Five hundred years later, when Moses tried to pass through Petra to the Promised Land, the Edomites refused passage and even fought the children of Israel. After the Israelites finally got into the land, the Edomites continually tried to kill them. The wars between Edom and Israel are recorded in the Old Testament in great detail. It was the inherited mission of the Edomites to exterminate the entire population of Israel to the last man.
“In 600 B.C., when Babylon invaded Israel, thousands of Israelis were moved to Babylon (today’s Iraq) and the Edomites were moved into Israel. The Edomites even helped the Babylonians destroy Jerusalem and the temple (Psalm 137). When a remnant of Israel returned after the Babylonian captivity, the Edomites were there to wage war against them while the city and the temple were being rebuilt.
“While the scriptures are silent for the 400 years between the book of Malachi and the birth of Jesus, Josephus records the struggle between the Edomeans and the Israelites. This racial division and strife in the land prevented Israel from regaining any semblance of its former glory. The nation was easy prey for the Roman Empire on its march to world conquest.
“The Romans favored the Edomeans over the Jews because Jews would not compromise their religion and worship Caesar or allow idols in the Temple. The Romans placed Edomean stooges like the Herods in places of authority. Josephus recorded an endless list of the most heinous crimes committed by the Herods against the Jews.
“In A.D. 70, the Romans destroyed the temple and Jerusalem. Over 1 million Jews were either killed or died of starvation in Jerusalem alone. The vast majority of the Jews left alive were sold as slaves to other nations. The balance fled to other countries to save their lives.”
Of course, there are those who doubt the connection between Esau and the modern Palestinians. This line of reasoning says that Esau was the father of the Philistines and that there is, in fact, no connection between these two peoples other than the similarity in name, which was assigned to the people of “Palestine” by the Romans.
“The Talmud states that Sennacherib the Assyrian despot conquered the Middle East and transferred entire populations. Thererfore, the Edomites, Amonites, Egyptians, etc. who lived after Sennacherib [about 2,500 years ago] are not the real ones, they are transferred populations. The Talmud uses the term Esau to mean a Jew who took Jewish ideas but denied Judaism, and it generally refers to Rome. Because Esau was the twin brother of Jacob, indeed, the older brother, the greatest converts, who became the greatest rabbis, are from the Edomite line. Two of the most famous ones are Unkelus, in the time of Hillel, who authored the accepted Aramaic translation of the bible, and Akilas. Both were from the family of the Roman emperor,” Rabbi David Eidensohn told WorldNetDaily. Eidensohn serves as a consultant to the Knight Ridder news service on Jewish issues.
“No other nation, other than Edom, produces outstanding converts. In Cabala, the greatest souls — period — were in the soul of Esau, and when the Jews and the world merits, they reveal incredible light that even Jews cannot reveal. Rabbi Mayer, whose name means ‘light’ was so brilliant that ‘none of his colleagues could follow his thoughts,’ and he descends from a Roman emperor. Again, the Palestinians are not Edom,” stated Eidensohn.
Petra: The ultimate defensive position
WorldNetDaily traveled to Petra with the Amman-based Mossad intelligence agent Avi Rubin — a former airborne commando in the Israel Defense Force. Rubin explained that Petra might be the ultimate defensive position in a regional war.
“It is an outstanding defensive position. Airborne assault would be most difficult. It is what I would call a natural defensive position. The Roman legions, the Crusaders, the Arabs and now the IDF, Iraq and the Jordanian army all recognized this,” said Rubin.
“The most important defensive feature is called ‘the Shiq,’ which is about 2,000 meters long. [Today, the passage is marked by the ‘Indiana Jones’ souvenir shop.] It is a narrow passageway which leads into the city. It has very high, sheer walls which will protect the Israeli population as they enter the city from the west. The rocks of Petra can help protect from gunfire, bombing, artillery and perhaps even absorb some radiation.”
Bible fundamentalists point to Old Testament passages they claim to be speaking about a war between Israel and the Palestinians. These include Ezekiel 35:2-5 and Ezekiel 36:5. Also, Amos 9:11-12 says, “In that day will I raise up the tabernacle of David that is fallen. … That they may possess the remnant of Edom. …”
Ezekiel 36:5 says, “Therefore thus saith the Lord God; Surely in the fire of my jealousy have I spoken against the residue of the heathen and against all Idumea, which have appointed my land into their possession with the joy of all their heart, with despiteful minds, to cast it out for a prey.”
Ezekiel 35:2-5 says, “Son of man, set thy face against mount Seir, and prophesy against it. … Because thou hast had a perpetual hatred, and hast shed the blood of the children of Israel by the force of the sword in the time of their calamity, in the time that their iniquity had an end.”
Rubin said that both the IDF and the Mossad had examined Petra from a strategic and military perspective.
“The Old Testament speaks of a coming war between Israel and the Palestinians. Any fool can see the Palestinians do not want peace with Israel. We would all be wise to keep an eye on Petra in regard to future events in world history,” Rubin concluded.
Speaking of what Jewish writings include about the end times, Eidensohn told WorldNetDaily, “As a Jew — who has divinely imparted secrets about the affairs of earth, especially the family of Abraham, Ishmael and Esau, Israel, Moslems and Christians — we see the world heading away from secular [conflicts] to religious ones. The Moslems are pushing up into Russia, and as they gain nuclear weapons, they will not be afraid of China, either. This is the war of the jihad people against America. It is a war against not the U.S., but Christianity.
“The mystical books stress that in the end of days the secular Jews will battle the authority of the rabbis, attempt to make peace with Ishmael, fail, and after that will be the Messianic Era. Zionism was founded to create solutions for the ‘Jewish problem,’ and the Orthodox opposed this, saying that there will never be a solution for the ‘Jewish problem’ until Jews behave so honestly and so correctly that Messiah came. As Israelis realize that the Arabs will never make peace, the Orthodox movement is exploding. When Rabbi Amnon Yitschok speaks (he is a former secularist, as are the major movers in the ‘Return movement’) tens of thousands of people crowd the stadium. Outside, people hawk tickets for ridiculous prices. Once inside, hundreds of people come forward with their gold and silver nose and earrings, and promise to Return. Israel is now a land pulsing with the Messiah and a large amount of people who are coming to grips with the realities opposed to their fervent secular beliefs.”
Eindensohn told WorldNetDaily that he believes end-times prophecy has been unfolding over the past decade.
“You remember, of course, that Iraq rained down Scud missiles on Israel, 39 huge containers of explosives, and almost nobody was killed, despite the fact that the Jews were penned up in their apartments and could not go to bomb shelters for fear of poison gas. This was in the Gulf War and was one of the first major public miracles that will herald in the Messianic Era,” he added.
“The Orthodox community can take the constant saber rattling because they believe that Arafat and Hussein are harbingers of the Messiah, but the secular community cannot take it. They seek solutions, and there are none. This is the major issue in modern Israel today: whether to seek solutions at any price, or to forget about them and await the Messiah. More and more people realize that there are no secular solutions. Nobody wants peace; they want peace without Jews.”
As interest in the end times and the Great Tribulation continues to grow in Western culture, Petra will most likely continue its mysterious hold on those who look to the scriptures for clues to future events.