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From Goddess to Prophet: 2000 Years of Continuity on the Mountain of Aaron near Petra, Jordan

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The Mountain of Aaron (Jabal Haroun) near the ancient city of Petra, Jordan, is the traditional burial place of the Old Testament prophet and a site considered sacred by the three world religions of Christianity, Judaism and Islam. Since 1997, a Finnish archaeological project has been investigating the mountain through the excavations of a Byzantine pilgrimage complex on its high plateau and an intensive survey of its surroundings. In the course of the excavations, it has become clear that the Byzantine structures were preceded by a monumental building, probably a temple of the Nabataean-Roman period. Moreover, already in the pre-Christian period a pilgrim route probably led from central Petra to Jabal Haroun. The article explores the history and archaeology of Jabal Haroun, which shows a remarkable degree of continuity and opens up the prospect that the local folk tradition may preserve elements of Nabataean religion. Using contemporary rituals and beliefs associated with the mountain as a reference point, we suggest that the pre-Christian 'deity of Jabal Haroun' can be identified as the Nabataean goddess al-'Uzza.
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Temenos Vol. 44 No. 2 (2008), 191–222© The Finnish Society for the Study of Religion
From Goddess to Prophet: 2000 Years of Continuity
on the Mountain of Aaron near Petra, Jordan1
ANTTI LAHELMA & ZBIGNIEW T. FIEMA
University of Helsinki
The Lord said to Moses and Aaron at Mount Hor, on the border of the land of Edom
[...] ‘Take Aaron and Eleazar his son and bring them up to Mount Hor; and strip
Aaron of his garments, and put them upon Eleazar his son; and Aaron shall be
gathered to his people, and shall die there.’ Moses did as the Lord commanded; and
they went up Mount Hor in the sight of all the congregation [...] and Aaron died
there on top of the mountain. (Num. 20: 23–28.)
Abstract
The Mountain of Aaron (Jabal Haroun) near the ancient city of Petra,
Jordan, is the traditional burial place of the Old Testament prophet and
a site considered sacred by the three world religions of Christianity,
Judaism and Islam. Since 1997, a Finnish archaeological project has
been investigating the mountain through the excavations of a Byzan-
tine pilgrimage complex on its high plateau and an intensive survey
of its surroundings. In the course of the excavations, it has become
clear that the Byzantine structures were preceded by a monumental
building, probably a temple of the Nabataean-Roman period. More-
over, already in the pre-Christian period a pilgrim route probably led
from central Petra to Jabal Haroun. The article explores the history
and archaeology of Jabal Haroun, which shows a remarkable degree
of continuity and opens up the prospect that the local folk tradition
may preserve elements of Nabataean religion. Using contemporary
rituals and beliefs associated with the mountain as a reference point,
we suggest that the pre-Christian ‘deity of Jabal Haroun’ can be identi-

Keywords: Petra, Jordan, Nabataean, Byzantine, religion, al-‘Uzza,
Aaron

Research Centre ‘Ancient and Medieval Greek Documents, Archives and Libraries’, directed
by Prof. Jaakko Frösén, which is part of the ‘Centres of Excellence in Research’ program of the
Academy of Finland. We are grateful to Stephan Schmid (University of Basel), Jaakko Frösén

of omission and interpretation are ours.
ANTTI LAHELMA & ZBIGNIEW T. FIEMA
192
Ever since its rediscovery in 1812 by the Swiss explorer Johann Ludwig
Burckhardt (1784–1817), the ruins of the ancient Nabataean city of Petra,
located in the Jordanian desert ca. 200 km south of the capital Amman
(Figure 1), have captured the Western imagination.2 The Nabataeans were a
Semitic people, originally nomadic but later increasingly involved in trading

century . For centuries, the kings of Nabataea successfully resisted Greek
and Roman domination. Petra, the capital of the Nabataean Kingdom, con-
veniently located at the crossroads of ancient caravan routes between East
and West, experienced conspicuous prosperity during the Late Hellenistic

rock-cut royal tombs and temples. Even after eventual Roman annexation
in 106 
In the course of the Late Roman and Byzantine periods, however, a shift
in trade routes led to Petra’s gradual decline (Fiema 2003, 50). The city was

Schmid 2001. For an extensive bibliography on the subject, see Crawford 2003. The ancient
sources concerning the Nabataeans are presented and discussed in Hackl et al. 2003.
Figure 1. Location of Petra (le) and sites discussed in the text. Map: H. Junnilainen, K.
Koistinen, P. Kouki & A. Lahelma.
FROM GODDESS TO PROPHET 193
struck, moreover, by a disastrous earthquake in 363, which left many of
the temples and other monumental structures permanently in ruins. The
city was long thought to have been abandoned soon after the earthquake.
The general scarcity in Byzantine sources of historical references to Petra
has further added to the romantic mystery surrounding the Nabataeans.
Recent archaeological excavations, however, have shown that Petra survived
the disaster of 363, and was in fact able to recover to the extent that in the
sixth century the city boasted several churches adorned with mosaics and
marble decorations (e.g. Fiema et al. 2001; Fiema 2002, 2008).
Following Burckhardt’s visit, the ruins of Petra were subsequently de-
scribed by numerous Western scholars and travellers. Today they form a

tradition, however, the holy mountain of Jabal Haroun (the Mountain of
Aaron), located ca. 5 km south-west of the centre of the city, has been far more
-
hardt himself travelled to Petra disguised as a Muslim pilgrim on his way
to pay homage to the Prophet Haroun (Aaron), who according to tradition
lies buried in a subterranean chamber under the fourteenth-century Muslim
shrine (weli)3 built on the highest peak of the mountain (Figure 2).
Until recently, archaeological activity in Petra has been concentrated in
the centre of the ancient city, where several large-scale excavation projects
have taken place (e.g. Hammond 1996; Bignasca et al. 1996; Joukowsky
1998; Fiema et al. 2001; Schmid & Kolb 2000; Ruben 2003). Apart from a
weli is a dialectal form of the Arab word wali, which means ‘friend’ and refers to
both the saint and, in informal language, his shrine. The word maqām, meaning ‘sacred site’
or ‘tomb of a saint’, is also used by the locals.
Figure 2. The cenotaph of Aaron
(Haroun) inside the weli bears
evidence of the long history of reli-
gious observance related to Aaron.
Built partly of reused marble
chancel screen posts from the Early
Byzantine shrine, it is covered with
Hebrew inscriptions left by Jewish
pilgrims. The Arabic inscription
in the central panel in the front
records the building of the grave
monument by Emir Seif-ed-Din in
the fourteenth century . Photo:
Anna Erving/FJHP.
ANTTI LAHELMA & ZBIGNIEW T. FIEMA
194
few brief reports concerning ruined structures on Jabal Haroun (Wiegand
1920, 136–145; Peterman & Schick 1996), no substantial archaeological re-
search had been conducted there until 1997, when the Finnish Jabal Haroun
Project (FJHP) began its investigations. Headed by Professor Jaakko Frösén
and funded by the Academy of Finland and the University of Helsinki, an
international team of archaeologists, conservators, cartographers and other
-
vating a ruined architectural complex (Figure 3) located on a large plateau
below the summit of Jabal Haroun, and surveying its environs. The project

publication has just been published (Fiema & Frösén 2008). The volume

well as on the history of Jabal Haroun in past centuries (Frösén & Miet-

and some of the observations made in this paper – especially with regard to
the pre-Byzantine history and archaeology of Jabal Haroun – are therefore
preliminary and tentative.

i.e. the literary, archaeological and ethnographic evidence for the long-term

Figure 3. A view of the FJHP excavation site (in 2007) from the summit of the mountain. Photo:

FROM GODDESS TO PROPHET 195
well as the intensive survey (Lavento et al. 2006) of its surrounding area,
indicate that some aspects of religious tradition pertaining to the mountain

shed some new light on the Nabataean cult and religion, which due to the

recent study on the subject – John Healey’s The Religion of the Nabataeans:
A Conspectus (2001) – begins by stating the need for ‘a certain creativity
of thinking, [without which] all that we will be left with will be a recital
of epigraphic and archaeological details’ (Healey 2001, 2). While we ac-
knowledge the speculative nature of the subject and the necessity of crea-
tive imagination in reconstructing Nabataean religion, we emphasise the
unexplored potential of the archaeology of Nabataean religion, which can

records. We also wish to explore one particular strand of evidence so far
largely ignored: the beliefs and practices of the contemporary populations
of the Petra region, which – perhaps unexpectedly – appear to shed new
light on the ancient past.
A ‘Direct Historical Approach’ to the Cult of Jabal Haroun
The investigations of the FJHP made it increasingly clear that the roots of

even though the city of Petra gradually became impoverished and was
ultimately abandoned in the Early Islamic period, the mountain of Jabal
Haroun remained in use as a holy site. Indeed, aside from the modern town



great historical trajectory, related to a site considered sacred by Judaism,
Christianity and Islam, is remarkable in itself and worth recounting. On a

of Jabal Haroun, based on aspects of local folklore and ritual in addition to
historical sources.
The direct historical approach – a form of ethnographic analogy – was

Steward 1942), where an abundance of ethnographic research combined with
a lack of ancient historical sources made it natural to apply ethnographic

of the direct historical approach lies in cultural continuity and transmis-
ANTTI LAHELMA & ZBIGNIEW T. FIEMA
196
sion. Quite simply, it is a method by which one works ‘from the known to
the unknown’ (Steward 1942, 337) – from the ethnographic present towards
prehistory. By emphasising the cultural and geographical links between past
and present, the approach provides a rather straightforward solution to the
problem of choosing the most relevant analogies for interpretation. Exactly

to which there is no clear-cut answer; but dramatic changes or breaks in
the archaeological record may also indicate breaks in cultural transmis-
sion. There is also a need to exercise caution in the use of ethnography in
interpreting archaeological remains, as the meanings of ritual practices and
religious symbols may have undergone radical transformations in the course
of time (Trigger 1995). Great care should thus be accorded to establishing
(rather than assuming) the continuity of cultural forms.
 
countries and subdisciplines of archaeology. A search for cult continuity has
been persistently popular in Classical and Near Eastern archaeology, but in
Central and North European archaeology the prehistoric past has often been
viewed as completely disconnected from the present.4 In the United States,
where the use of the direct historical approach had seemed so natural in
the early twentieth century, the method fell into general disrepute with the
New Archaeology of the 1960s (Lyman & O’Brien 2001). This development
is related to what may be seen as the ‘downside’ of the direct historical ap-
proach: its deceptive simplicity and obvious interpretative force can easily
lead to misguided use. As Ann Stahl (1994, 181–2) points out, archaeolo-
gists who use the approach have tended to disregard change and stress the
similarities between past and present, using the method rather freely to
illustrate the less accessible aspects of past lifeways. This has caused some
archaeologists (e.g. Fahlander 2004) to view the approach as essentially
patronizing, branding indigenous cultures as ‘cold’ and stagnant, without

is related to a wider scepticism concerning the use of analogy in archaeol-
ogy (see Orme 1974; Wylie 1985), which has sometimes been erroneously
perceived as somehow optional (e.g. Binford 1967). It is obvious, however,
that if the goal of archaeology is to understand the past rather than merely
describe it, the use of analogy is unavoidable. Critiques of the uses of

archaeologist Gustaf Kossinna, whose notion of Siedlungsarchäologie is essentially a form of
direct historical approach (Trigger 1989, 165).
FROM GODDESS TO PROPHET 197
analogy in archaeology (including those pertaining to the direct historical
approach) should thus be seen as critiques of awed uses of analogy rather
than of analogy as such.
Today, the direct historical approach is regaining popularity in both
American and European archaeology (Lyman & O’Brien 2001; Cunningham
2003), apparently because the New Archaeology failed to deliver on its
promise of universal laws of human behaviour. Another possible reason is
the growing interest in the archaeology of religion; as Bruce Trigger writes,
the direct historical approach is the only technique available to archaeolo-
-
toric ideologies and rituals (Trigger 1989, 342). True, direct continuation
presupposes a causal order, which may be problematic; the development
of religion usually involves multiple interacting causes. Ideally, relational
analogies should be brought in to support direct historical ones. However,
since religion is often culturally conservative and resistant to change, study-
ing it may be particularly well suited to the direct historical approach. Its
potential certainly needs to be explored in the study of Nabataean religion,
where epigraphers and historians of religion are desperately short of use-
ful data.
Jabal Haroun in Wrien Sources

the place where Moses’ brother Aaron died and was buried according to
the Old Testament (Num. 20: 23–28, supra).5
Hor is by no means clear, and Jabal Haroun, while a very strong candidate
for this location, is only one of several potential places. It is noteworthy,
however, that the tradition that places it near Petra is a very old one, going
   
Josephus. As Josephus tells us in ‘Jewish Antiquities’ (Antiquitates Judaicae,
):
[Moses] led his forces away through the desert and came to a place in Arabia
which the Arabs have deemed their metropolis, formerly called Arce, to-day
named Petra. There Aaron ascended a lofty mountain range that encloses the
spot, Moses having revealed to him that he was about to die, and, in the sight
of the whole army – for the ground was steep – he divested himself of his

ANTTI LAHELMA & ZBIGNIEW T. FIEMA
198
high priestly robes and, after delivering them to Eleazar his son, upon whom
by right of age the high priesthood descended, he died with the eyes of the
multitude upon him. (Jewish Antiquities IV, 82–83; Josephus 1991, 516–7.)
   
-

Approximately two centuries later, Eusebius refers to Mount Hor in his
Onomasticon (ca. 295), as ‘the mountain on which Aaron died near the city
of Petra, on which even until today is shown the rock (from which water)

  
near the city of Petra, where even until today the stone is shown which
Moses struck and gave water to the people’ (ibid; translation according to
Frösén 
not mention a tomb or sanctuary associated with the burial, they indicate
that by this time tradition placed not only Aaron’s death but also Moses’
   
was being shown by the locals to pious visitors. This forms an interesting
discrepancy with the Biblical account (Num. 20), certainly well known to
both Eusebius and Jerome, in which it is very clear that these events took

  
Petra. In 536, two members of a ‘Monastery of Aaron’ are mentioned as


but it was probably in Petra, as one of the Petra Papyri (inv. 6a, dated to
573) being studied by a Finnish team of papyrologists refers to ‘the House
of our Lord the Saint High-Priest Aaron’ outside of the city of Petra (Frösén
& Fiema 1994; Gagos & Frösén 1998, 477; Frösén 2001, 491; 2004, 142).6
Despite the Islamic conquest of the region in the early seventh century,
a Christian presence seems to persist for several centuries at Jabal Haroun.
The Vita
Haroun – as a holy site visited by Christian monks of the mid-eighth cen-
tury (Leontios of Damascus 16.2, 1991, 96–7). The site is mentioned again
 et al. 2002; Arjava et al. 
publication of the papyri is still underway. Papyrus inv. 6a will be published in a forthcoming
volume of the Petra Papyri series.
FROM GODDESS TO PROPHET 199

who writes of Jabal Haroun as a Christian holy mountain in the possession

reappears in the accounts of the Crusades. The Crusader leader Baldwin,
just before he became king of the Latin Kingdom, visited Jabal Haroun in
1100. His chaplain, Fulcher of Chartres (b. 1059), describes the visit: ‘Fur-
thermore we found at the top of the mountain the Monastery of St Aaron
where Moses and Aaron were wont to speak with God. We rejoiced very
much to behold a place so holy and to us unknown.’ (Fulcher of Chartres

This account proves that the monastery, in whatever form (Fiema 2008),
was still in existence in the twelfth century. Magister Thetmarus, who
visited Petra in 1217 during a truce between the Christians and the Arabs
 
church on its summit was inhabited only by two Greek Christian monks

he did not visit the summit but merely reported what he had heard. Quite
soon after his account, the Christian history of Jabal Haroun seems to have
come to an end.
Islamic records of Jabal Haroun are few in number, suggesting that the
site was mostly of local importance. In 1276, the Mameluke Sultan Baybars
traveled through Petra and ascended the slopes of the mountain on which
was ‘the tomb of Aaron, Prophet of God, the Brother of Moses, Son of ‘Um-
ran’ (Zayadine 1985, 173). The account of Baybars’ journey does not mention

history of the mountain was the construction of the Islamic shrine (weli)
in the fourteenth century. The site is mentioned, once more, by the Arab

but after this all mentions of Jabal Haroun become exceedingly scarce. A few
Jewish writers, including Rabbi Jacob (writing between 1238–1244), and an
anonymous author who visited the site in 1537, refer to Jabal Haroun as a
site of pilgrimage (Peterman & Schick 1996, 478). Thereafter Jabal Haroun
more or less disappears from the historical sources until its ‘rediscovery’,
for the West, by Johann Burckhardt in 1812.

site clearly indicate that the site was frequented in the Islamic period (al-
Salameen & al-Falahat 2007). The oldest inscription, a short plea to Allah,
is fragmentary and contains no date, but is according to Zeyad al-Salameen
and Hani al-Falahat paleographically datable to the eighth or ninth century.
A second, longer inscription refers to the mountain as a ‘blessed and hon-
ANTTI LAHELMA & ZBIGNIEW T. FIEMA
200
oured place’ and asks for Allah’s forgiveness for all Muslims. It includes the
date 690 AH / 1291, thus predating the construction of the weli. Other

date 1019 AH / 1610), complete the evidence for the sanctity of the site
throughout the Islamic period.
Three major events associated with the history of Jabal Haroun took
place in the twentieth century. The German explorations at the summit of
the mountain revealed the remains of a Byzantine Christian church beneath
the Islamic weli, probably also associated with the cult of Aaron (Wiegand
1920, 136–45). A large quadrangular ruin, located on the high plateau of
Jabal Haroun, ca. 70 m below the peak with the Islamic shrine, was visited
in 1991 by Peterman and Schick (1996), who concluded that these ruins

Byzantine sources. Finally, the information derived from the Petra Papyri
(supra), combined with the religious tradition associated with Jabal Haroun
and with the results of the early explorations in the area, would strongly
suggest that the architectural remains on the high plateau of the mountain,

the Byzantine Monastery of Saint Aaron.7
From the Western Building to... the Western Building – The Archaeologi-
cal Sequence at Jabal Haroun
  -
vides evidence for a religious tradition which, although ‘reinvented’ over
the course of centuries, has continued for at least the past two thousand
years. The focus of the FJHP investigations is a ruined building complex on
the high plateau, just below the summit, measuring ca. 62.9 m N-S x 46.7
m E-W.8 Although most of the currently visible structures in their extant
form belong to the Byzantine monastery dedicated to St. Aaron which
 
site contains more Nabataean remains than initially assumed (Figure 4). A
brief description of the site is therefore followed by an account of the spatial
and temporal changes which occurred from the Nabataean until the Early
Islamic periods.

to the mountain from Petra.

2008.
FROM GODDESS TO PROPHET 201
The site in general can be divided into four main components or wings,
situated around three courts (Figure 4). The east-central location is occupied
by the church and the chapel. The former is preceded by an entrance porch
-
sion in the bedrock, which apparently served as a cistern in the Byzantine
period. Directly west of the cistern, there is the long, multi-roomed Western
Building. South and southeast of the central court lies a wing of rooms form-
ing the southernmost part of the complex. Of special interest are two large
rooms spanned by double arches. This area of the site features a particularly
complex architectural history, which must have already begun in Nabataean
times. In front of these rooms, a rock-cut water cistern, of Nabataean date,
has been partially excavated. North of the chapel lies a large, U-shaped wing
of 16 rooms located around the northern court, which may be interpreted
as the accommodation of the monastic community or a hostel.
Figure 4. Simplified plan of the
excavation site, showing the out-
lines of the Nabataean Western
Building and the temenos in grey
and the Byzantine church, chapel
and pilgrim hostel in black. Most
installations and some dividing
walls have been removed for
increased clarity. Map drawn
by A. Lahelma, based on the
top plan of the site created
by Vesa Putkonen and
Katri Koistinen.
ANTTI LAHELMA & ZBIGNIEW T. FIEMA
202
The Nabataean Cultic Complex
-
ent dates and some clearly precede the Byzantine monastery. This so-called
Western Building was built around a cistern formed by a natural cavity in
the bedrock. At present the analysis of the material excavated in the West-
ern Building is still underway and the precise dating and function of the
structure are uncertain, but a Nabataean date is suggested by the building

. The two northernmost rooms, which together with a large stairway form
the core of the Western Building, might have originally been a Nabataean

(Figure 5). The ashlars used are truly massive in size, and fragments of
cornices and other decorative elements, found in reused positions in the
Byzantine structures, suggest that the shrine was of a monumental design
and that the exterior of the building was also decorated. The results of
the 2007 FJHP excavation now permit a tentative reconstruction of what
would have been a Nabataean sacral complex. It must have consisted of a
shrine located in the Western Building, of the Nabataean rock-cut cistern,
of some rooms in the southwestern part of the site, and of the courtyard,
possibly featuring a colonnade. All of these were enclosed in a quadrangular
design (probably a sacred enclosure or temenos), and clearly centred upon


the succeeding Byzantine monastery (N–S).
Figure 5. 
Nabataean temple and the Byzantine ecclesiastic complex. The Western Building is on the left

Lahelma/FJHP.
FROM GODDESS TO PROPHET 203
One should note the presence of the third room, directly south of the
    
the Western Building already in the pre-Byzantine times. It is a room with
three arches spanning the interior, also featuring three wide benches along
the walls. This design clearly resembles a triclinium, i.e. a banquet room,
characteristic of the domestic architecture of the Classical period. Triclinia
are also known in Nabataean architecture; they are typically associated with
ancestor cults and tombs, as a site where ritual and commemorative meals
were held by family or a religious fraternity, but also sometimes occurred in
temples (Healey 2001, 165–9). As this triclinium is structurally a component
of the Western Building, the entire design might at least structurally be

et al. 2002). That complex, located ca. 70 km north of Petra, features a small

leading to an altar platform on the roof. A rectangular courtyard in front
of the temple is enclosed by a colonnaded temenos wall, and there are three
triclinia
regular and its façades far more sumptuously decorated than those of the
Jabal Haroun building, but the similarities are obvious. Notably, like the
Nabataean complex at Jabal Haroun, the sanctuary is located on the peak

The Western Building and other structures are not the only evidence for

the FJHP site and on the summit of the mountain, suggesting that in ad-
dition to the monastery, the weli and the Christian shrine underneath may
have been preceded by Nabataean cultic installations. At the foot of the
summit, where a path begins to ascend towards the weli, there is a large (ca.

dating is uncertain but its architecture suggests the Nabataean period. A
small Nabataean cultic site (FJHP site 4), featuring a rock-cut niche and a
semi-circular enclosure, is found close to the cistern (Frösén et al. 1998, 493).
In its vicinity, abandoned and worn rock-cut staircases – again, probably
Nabataean – ascend towards the summit. A second cistern (FJHP site 182),
accompanied by elaborate rock-cut water channels, lies at a distance of ca.

In this context, the postulated Nabataean cultic centre at Jabal Haroun,
and especially the Nabataean ‘infrastructure’ located around the site, bear

among the most characteristic archaeological remains associated with Na-
ANTTI LAHELMA & ZBIGNIEW T. FIEMA
204
bataean religion (Healey 2001, 48–9). The best known high place in Petra,
Zibb ‘Atuf, is located on a ridge ca. 200 m above the city. It consists of an
altar (size 3 m x 2 m), preceded by two steps, on which a ‘block idol’ (betyl)
may have stood. Rock-cut reservoirs, channels and basins indicate that both


with this and other Nabataean high places. Although Jabal Haroun is rarely
mentioned in treatises on Nabataean religion or interpreted as a high place,
the idea is not new. George Robinson (1908) suggested already at the begin-
ning of the twentieth century that Jabal Haroun, towards which a number of
other high places appear to be oriented, may have been the chief mountain
sanctuary of the city. Stewart Crawford (1930, 296) echoed the same idea in
his survey of the high places of Petra, maintaining that the smaller altars were
directed towards the larger ones (thus ‘borrowing’ their sanctity), and that
the focus of the larger altars was Jabal Haroun. With a distinctively shaped
peak rising 1330 m above sea level Jabal Haroun is indeed the highest peak

place of Zibb ‘Atuf, the Nabataean ‘Western Building’ is associated with
water reservoirs and a triclinium.
The Byzantine Monastery
At any rate, possibly as a result of the earthquake of 363, the Western
Building and presumably the entire Nabataean sacral complex seems to have
been severely damaged and temporarily abandoned. When the Byzantine

rebuilt structures of the original Nabataean complex were incorporated into
the monastery as its western part, but the function of these structures was

The major Byzantine structures at the site – the church and the chapel
– exhibit several phases of occupation interspersed by episodes of destruc-
tion and remodelling.9 Generally, only a few monastic churches in the
region can be compared with the Jabal Haroun church, and most of these

person and/or clearly associated with pilgrimages.10 This also implies that,
et al.
2008.

FROM GODDESS TO PROPHET 205
despite its location in a relatively remote area, the Jabal Haroun church was
not intended to be used only by the monastic community. A large tripartite,
monoapsidal basilica associated with a chapel with a baptismal font would
have provided much more space than required for the liturgical services
for such a community. Taken together with the traditional association with

structures at Jabal Haroun thus strongly support the idea of their memorial

With regard to the memorial/pilgrimage-oriented character at the site
in the Byzantine period, the presence of sixteen rooms arranged around
the northern court is meaningful. This arrangement recalls a typical Near
Eastern caravanserai. It is highly relevant that these rooms appear to be rela-
tively large in size: almost twice the size of known cells in some Judaean
Desert coenobia (Hirschfeld 1992, 176–7). While some of these rooms might
have served as monks’ cells, they could thus also be interpreted as pilgrim
hostel rooms.
The Site in the Early Islamic Period
Following one of the several destructive episodes in the history of the site,
the church appears to have been ecclesiastically abandoned by the ninth

time, although presumably not later than the Crusader period. The evidence
of human presence on the mountain in the Middle Ages is found in surface
   
-


associated with the monks mentioned by medieval chroniclers, although
it is not unlikely that pilgrims might occasionally have brought some food
in pots as well. Characteristically, the sherds come from the summit rather
than the plateau. From a stratigraphic point of view, however, the Western
Building, and probably the triclinium, appear to have been used until the
very end of occupation at the monastery, sometime during the Crusader/
Ayyubid/Mamluk period. Any permanent Christian presence must have
ended at the latest when the weli was built in the fourteenth century, and
the remains of the Christian chapel on its site were dismantled.
ANTTI LAHELMA & ZBIGNIEW T. FIEMA
206
Jabal Haroun in the Local Ethnographic Record
Given the historical and archaeological evidence for long-term continuity,
the possibility that the local ethnographic record may preserve elements
of the pre-Islamic and even pre-Christian cult of the mountain has to be
seriously considered. The ethnographic record – evidence of pilgrimages,
 


has been associated with the cult of Jabal Haroun since time immemorial.


Jabal Haroun:
While I was in the act of slaying the animal, my guide exclaimed aloud,
‘O Haroun, look upon us! It is for you we slaughter this victim. O Haroun,
protect us and forgive us! O Haroun, be content with our good intentions,
for it is but a lean goat! O Haroun, smooth our paths; and praise be to
the Lord of all creatures!’ This he repeated several times, after which he
covered the blood that had fallen on the ground with a heap of stones; we


hither some robbers.
Burckhardt also reports that there were three copper vessels housed in a
room adjoining the tomb of Haroun, to be used by those who performed the

him, was used for boiling camel meat (Burckhardt 2007, 410). However, this
is based on hearsay, as he in fact never reached the summit of the mountain.

  
part of a living tradition (Figure 6).

of the folklore and traditions relating to Jabal Haroun. According to her,
the main reason for the autumnal pilgrimage (ziyara) to Jabal Haroun was
-
lore abounds in tales of miraculous rains that fall down immediately after
the pilgrimage. However, if the rains did not start in time or were slight, a
ritual procession, the Amm al-ghēth or ‘Mother of Rain’, was organized by
the women of the community. The ‘Mother of Rain’ was a crude female doll,
FROM GODDESS TO PROPHET 207
carried by a virgin in a procession of women that went around a village or
camp, visiting local shrines and singing special songs for the ritual (Figure

but in the vicinity of Petra it was associated with the cult of Haroun. Local
women traditionally did not climb all the way up the mountain, but gathered
at a place from which the mountain could be seen. Today the association


Figure 7. An early-
twentieth-century
procession of the ‘Rain
Mother’ among the
Rwala Bedouin in the
Syrian Desert. From
Musil (1928, 13).
ANTTI LAHELMA & ZBIGNIEW T. FIEMA
208
with Prophet Haroun is more pronounced and the songs for Amm al-ghēth
are sung during the autumn pilgrimage to Jabal Haroun, even within the
shrine itself. Some of the songs are addressed directly to Allah, while others
are prayers to the Mother of Rain, such as the following:
O Mother of the rain, O eternal Yā-amm al-ghēth yā dāym
wet our withering seeds Balli zrā’īna-l-nāym
O Mother of the rain [of the slopes?] Yā-amm al-ghēth yā hadrij
 Khalli siyālha yidrij

Although the Amm al-ghēth prayers are still sung, the identity of the ‘Mother
of Rain’ was unknown to the locals already in the early twentieth century.


of deities were carried were common in the ancient Near East. Haroun’s
association with agriculture – rather surprising in view of the Biblical Aaron

saden (custodians of the weli) of Jabal Haroun would go to the local peas-
ants and collect a share of the grain and olive oil for Haroun. Al-Salameen
and al-Falahat (2007, 259) view this as a continuation of ancient pagan and
Jewish custom.
In many of the local legends concerning Haroun, he is, curiously enough,
said to dislike camels, an animal of paramount importance to the Bedouin.

in 2002 that Haroun refused to be buried in the place where he died, as it
was an oasis where passing camel caravans used to stop and rest (Frösén &

a mountain, where no camel would climb and disturb him. Another reason
for choosing Jabal Haroun as his tomb was that no other mountain could
endure the weight of the prophet, but all shook heavily and crumbled. Only

mountain. Haroun’s aversion towards camels is an intriguing detail; one
wonders if it might not be related to his association with agriculture and
-
ists and farmers, but also most probably the survival of some other, much
more ancient tradition associated with Jabal Haroun.
FROM GODDESS TO PROPHET 209
The Nabataean Cult of Jabal Haroun: a Hypothesis

Nabataean cultic complex, one question which remains to be addressed

  
2001, 72). Such a way may also have led to Jabal Haroun. There is a small




where a small waterfall brings water to the wadi in the rainy season. A small
temple or peristyle in front of the niche was noted by Manfred Lindner (1997,
286–92), who connected the site with a pilgrim way from central Petra to
Jabal Haroun. There is some evidence suggesting that pilgrimages were an
important part of Nabataean religion (El-Khouri 2007); even today, a pil-


As Lindner (1997, 291–2) suggests, it is likely that Nabataean pilgrims to the

on the mountaintop. This theory
is supported by a second niche at
Wadi es-Siyyagh, which features
an image of Isis that appears to sit
on a stylized mountaintop (Donner
1995, 12–3).
Notably, the association of the
mountain in recent folklore with
crop fertility and the mysterious
‘Mother of Rain’, as discussed
above, would fit well with the
interpretation featuring Isis as the
‘deity of Jabal Haroun’. In Egyptian
mythology, Isis represents the fertile
banks of the River Nile, which in
Figure 8. 
-
tral Petra to Jabal Haroun. Scale 1 meter.
Photo: Paula Kouki/FJHP.
ANTTI LAHELMA & ZBIGNIEW T. FIEMA
210
turn was formed from the tears of the goddess falling from the heavens as

aspects, especially in later Hellenistic religion, but her role in agriculture
and fertility is pronounced. The cult of Isis was characterized by large and
colourful ritual processions (pompae), in which a statue or symbol of the
goddess was carried – recalling the Amm al-ghēth
Interestingly, the Isis sanctuaries of the Roman world almost without ex-
ception included a ‘crypt’ as part of their design (e.g. Wild 1981, appendix
2). One wonders if the crypt of Aaron, located under the weli, might thus
derive already from the Nabataean-Roman period. Perhaps it was originally

inventiones) of
pagan sacred sites as the tombs of Biblical characters or Christian martyrs
– typically involving a dream, in which the location of the tomb was revealed
to a monk, and an ‘excavation’, in which the existence of a burial was con-
11
Inventiones seem to have been especially common between the late fourth

concern among some Christian writers that the Church was in a danger of
losing its credibility among contemporaries (Di Segni 2007, 381–2).

Healey 2001, 137–40), one needs to identify the native strand of that cult
and the religio-cultural assimilation of the foreign deity to the native one.
There seems to be a common consensus that in many cases the images and

All-Powerful’), a pre-Islamic Arabian deity who apparently was the supreme
goddess of the Nabataeans (Healey 2001, 114–9). Her nature is unclear (Mac-



agriculture and fertility. She appears on the façade of the el-Khazneh – the
-



of the Prophet’s body appears to follow the characteristic formula of inventiones: shining lights
from Jabal Haroun signalled the burial place to the local inhabitants, who proceeded to dig
into the mountain until they found the dead saint, who was then ceremoniously buried in a

FROM GODDESS TO PROPHET 211
sanctuary in Petra may have been the ‘Temple of Winged Lions’ excavated
by Phillip Hammond (1996), where Isiac iconography and architectural

in the earthquake of 363 and never rebuilt, but a Church dedicated to Virgin
Mary was built next to it in the Byzantine period.12 There may be an element
of cult continuity here as well; it is well known that the Virgin Mary took

may be noted, too, that the Church Father Epiphanius (ca. 310–402) was
distressed by what he perceived as a deceitful mimicry of Christian faith
at Petra, in his reference to a temple in Petra which was dedicated to a vir-
gin goddess – possibly Isis/al-‘Uzza – who gave birth to the god Dushares
(Epiphanius 1990, 51).13
The goddess Isis/Al-‘Uzza, as she was worshipped by the Nabataeans,
appears to have been closely linked with springs, water reservoirs and
grain. Here we have to emphasize the presence, on the high plateau of Jabal

point of the Nabataean Western Building and its temenos, and therefore



   
may have been thought of as a sacred spring. A second, possibly related
structure was found in the FJHP survey at the foot of the path leading up
to the mountain (Frösén et al. 2000, 420–1). The structure is probably of
Nabataean date and features a masonry-built ‘well’ (which could not have
kept water), a channel, and a surrounding semicircular wall. Small-scale
excavations conducted at the site failed to clarify the function of these
features, but they seem to be related to the processing of a liquid, which is
surprising given the arid surroundings. Perhaps the structure is related to
some form of ritual display of water luxury – a symbolic spring? – which
 
American team in the 1990s (Fiema et al.
dedicated to Virgin Mary is based on thus far unpublished papyri (inv. 6a, 49 and 82.5) found
in the church (see Gagos & Frösén 1998, 477; Frösén 2001, 491; 2004, 142).

273). Interestingly, Epiphanius also writes that the people of Petra were so in awe of Moses’
miracles that ‘they made an image of him and mistakenly undertook to worship it’ (Epipha-
nius 1990, 78). All this indicates that the religion of Late Antique Petra was characterized
by highly syncretistic combinations based both on the ancient Nabataean religion and on
Judaeo-Christian ideas.
ANTTI LAHELMA & ZBIGNIEW T. FIEMA
212
might then associate the structure with al-‘Uzza and the pilgrim route from
Petra towards Jabal Haroun.
Moreover, an extensive system of barrages and terrace walls on the
slopes of the mountain has been documented in the survey. Their dating is

found particularly in the western foothills of the mountain, the earliest phase
of their construction probably dates to the Nabataean period (Lavento et
al. 2006, 26). These agricultural installations represent a huge investment
of labor, in a semi-arid area which appears to have been almost devoid
of human occupation between the Neolithic and the Nabataean period.
Furthermore, these extensive installations form a clearly meaningful water
conservation and distribution system, which would have been built and

may have belonged to an estate administered by a temple at the top of the
mountain, dedicated to a goddess of fertility and agriculture. The above-
mentioned historical tradition that accords Haroun a share of the grain and
olive oil may have its roots in antiquity.




  
and accompanying meal to the ‘Morning Star’14
as al-‘Uzza – by a raiding band of Arabs in the Sinai, while sixth-century

kings (Macdonald & Nehmé 2000, 968). The historical veracity of such
sources may be open to question,15

821/822) suggested in his ‘Book of Idols’ (Kitāb al-Asnām) that
  

 

967). It is therefore worth noting that prayers sung in early-twentieth-century pilgrimages to
Jabal Haroun used astral epithets of Haroun, such as ‘Haroun the great star’ or ‘the father of

Narrationes is surrounded by a degree of
controversy, but as Caner (2004, 136) writes, this does not diminish its value as a description

FROM GODDESS TO PROPHET 213

and Burckhardt’s note that camels were cooked (and presumably eaten in
communal meals) at the weli, may carry an echo from distant times.
Conclusions
Archaeological approaches to Near Eastern religion, especially of the Greco-

sources are a double-edged sword: they are a great asset to the archaeology
of the region, but at the same time their very existence has led to a certain loss
of independence for archaeology as a discipline, which is often reduced to

and protohistoric religion has been much more ‘archaeological’ in nature,
but here a dependence largely on general (comparative) analogy typically
only allows the exploration of a frustratingly wide spectrum of interpretative
possibilities. The great advantage of the direct historical approach is that it

analogy. Although it is itself a form of analogy (and does not, as such, con-


insights into ancient religion.
-

but evidence is now beginning to mount that the mountain was the site of
an important sanctuary – probably dedicated to the goddess al-‘Uzza/Isis
– already in the Nabataean-Roman period. The hypothesis presented here

  

from the Nabataean period until recent times. It is conceivable, for exam-
ple, that the mountain was sacred to more than one deity (as seems to have

and archaeological data, coupled with ethnographic information, seem to
largely suggest that one of the religious phenomena associated with the
rise of Early Christianity in the Near East – the transformation of a pagan
cultic place into a sacred, Biblical location – has indeed taken place at Jabal
Haroun.


Although much of the evidence of pre-Christian use of the mountain was
ANTTI LAHELMA & ZBIGNIEW T. FIEMA
214
eradicated (perhaps intentionally) in the Byzantine period, it is conceiv-
able that it was the site of a shrine or even a small temple dedicated to the
chief female deity of the Nabataeans. As opposed to the monumental sacral
structures in the city centre, built in fashionable Hellenistic-Roman styles,
the shrine at Jabal Haroun would have retained a traditional, local character,
both in location (exemplifying a ‘high place’ type) and in architectural ap-
pearance. The location was spectacular, even for Petra, and the presence of

water, would well coincide with Nabataean beliefs and cultic observances.
In a wider frame, Jabal Haroun as the main elevation in the direction of the
Wadi Araba and as the site of the main ‘high place’ of the supreme female
deity would correspond to the opposite Shara mountains, associated with
Dushara (‘The Lord of the Shara’), the main male god of the Nabataeans.
Furthermore, the Nabataean holy mountain would most probably have
had an economic component, in the form of an associated large-scale, inten-
sive-production agricultural estate. This estate would have continued in the
post-annexation period, although certain changes could have taken place.

mountain is notable. Perhaps in the Roman period the ownership changed
   
less intensive. Whether the temple was destroyed in the 363 earthquake or
intentionally abandoned is unknown. It seems, however, that at least the
traditional association of the mountain with this deity may have survived
until Byzantine times.
This is also the period of the second major shift in the cultural history
of Jabal Haroun. The persistence of pagan cults at Petra, and the struggle

century, even if only through certain apocryphal sources. According to one
such story, a Syrian monk called Barsauma encountered pagan temples at
Petra as late as around 419–23; when he urged the citizens to abandon their
idols, they closed the city gates against him (Nau 1927, 186–7). It is thus
evident that the process of Christianization of locations with pagan asso-
ciations would have been much in the interest of the ascending religious
elite. Already in the fourth century the association of the Petra area with the
Israelite wanderings in the desert was well established, and the assimilation
of the Biblical Mount Hor to the highest peak in the area would be most
natural and imaginative. A further ‘bonus’ in the process of eradicating the
cult of the female deity would be her replacement with a well-known Biblical

FROM GODDESS TO PROPHET 215
may have achieved a new meaning: that of the rock which upon Moses’
intervention miraculously produced water (cf. the account by Eusebius,
mentioned earlier). A natural end-result of this process could have been the
foundation of the monastery for pilgrimages to the mountain.

Petra are easily forthcoming. The monumental Urn Tomb in the centre of

Petra, was converted into a church in 447 (Brünnow & Domaszewski 1909,
345). Another Nabataean monumental tomb known as Ed-Deir (‘the Mon-
astery’), the area of which in the Nabataean period appears to have been
used as a high place type of ritual place (Healey 2001, 47–50), seems to have
been adopted to Christian use (as indicated by the inscriptions published
in Sartre 1993, 109–10), possibly with the laura-type monastic cells located

features a Nabataean temple that was later turned into a Christian church
(Villeneuve & al-Muheisen 2000).
Despite the lack of clear historical references, the monastic establishment
at Jabal Haroun must have been quite successful in terms of longevity and

Christian monasticism at Jabal Haroun came to an end, the revering of the
Prophet Haroun continued. But the curious mixture of folklore related to
-
trine a strand of much older religious observance continued, and that some
of the most ancient elements of Petra religion may not have been entirely

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... Obviously, people's lives in the region depended mostly on agriculture because most of them were agropastoralists. When heaven held back its blessing of rain, people would try to get the help of the awliā' to intercede for them with Allāh [7,33,[68][69][70]. One way of doing this was by a special prayer rite called "Amm el-Geith". ...
... Archaeological surveys point to the conversion of the royal tomb in Petra, known as the ed-Deir, into a Christian monastery at an unspecified time 96 . This monastery had been used by the Nabataeans as a place for holding their religious rites 97 . ...
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