The Madaba Map & The Exodus Route

The Madaba Map & The Exodus Route
(mosaic floor)
542 AD
St. George’s Orthodox church
Madaba, Jordan


The Madaba Mosaic Map is a unique piece of art realised in 6th cent. A.D. as a decoration for the pavement of a church in the town of Madaba (Jordan) in the Byzantine Near East. At that time Madaba was part of the so called Provincia Arabia, and was inhabited by Aramaic speaking Christians descendant from the ancient biblical people of the Moabites. The mosaic was discovered accidentally about one hundred years ago (in 1897) while constructing a new church for the Greek-Orthodox Arab community, which was then settling on the very ruins of the ancient town of Madaba.

The mosaic represents the biblical land from Egypt to Lebanon, including Sinai, Israel, Palestine, and Transjordan. Unfortunately the northern sector is almost completely lost, and the rest suffered a lot of damage too. The original panel would have measured about 94 square meter but only 25 are still preserved. What remains is still of the greatest importance for art, history and biblical topography. The city of Jerusalem is depicted with the uppermost care but a total of 156 places or biblical memoirs are present in the preserved portion of the map.

The mosaicist conceived and carried out his masterwork with great topographical skill and biblical knowledge. The Madaba Mosaic map is deemed by some scholars to be the best topographic representation ever done before modern cartography. As a source of biblical topography the map is fully comparable with the well-known treatise on the biblical places written in Greek about 395 A.D. by the historian Eusebius of Caesarea and translated into Latin by Jerome about 490 A.D.

Our aim is to present the richness of this little known masterpiece of art , religion and science to all people interested in the biblical places or just in the best achievements of humanity.

Eugenio Alliata

The Real Geography Of Madaba

Madaba in the Bible:

  1. “”But we have cast them down, Heshbon is ruined as far as Dibon, Then we have laid waste even to Nophah, Which reaches to Medeba.”” Numbers 21:30
  2. “from Aroer, which is on the edge of the valley of the Arnon, with the city which is in the middle of the valley, and all the plain of Medeba, as far as Dibon;” Joshua 13:9
  3. “Their territory was from Aroer, which is on the edge of the valley of the Arnon, with the city which is in the middle of the valley and all the plain by Medeba;” Joshua 13:16
  4. “So they hired for themselves 32,000 chariots, and the king of Maacah and his people, who came and camped before Medeba. And the sons of Ammon gathered together from their cities and came to battle.” 1 Chronicles 19:7
  5. “They have gone up to the temple and to Dibon, even to the high places to weep. Moab wails over Nebo and Medeba; Everyone’s head is bald and every beard is cut off.” Isaiah 15:2

The Mosaic Map of Madaba, Jordan

It was the Christian vision of continuity and completeness that inspired the mosaic artists and craftsmen of the area to make the Mosaic Map of Madaba, which was considered a guideline for establishing geographic regions and borders.

This famous mosaic was designed in around 570 AD to decorate the floor of a Byzantine church in Madaba. Actually, it is more than a geographic text of that era, showing the entire region from Jordan and Palestine in the north, to Egypt in the south, and depicting in picture form: plains, hills, valleys, villages, and many towns and cities, complete with walls and pitched re-roofed houses, while in the Nile huge fish swim.

It includes a fascinating plan of the holy city of Jerusalem placed at the center of the redeemed acumen: on the left is the north gate from which two colonnaded streets run south. On the straight street through the heart of the city stands the domed Holy Sepulcher. Clearly inscribed above the north and east gates is the legend “Holy City of Jerusalem”.

Today this splendid map is housed in the Greek Orthodox Church of St. George, which was built in 1896 over the remains of the original Byzantine Church. Only part of the map has been preserved. It originally measured a staggering 25 x 5 meters and was made of more than 2 million pieces of colored stone tesserae.

Madaba, Jordan

The trip south from Amman along the 5000-year-old King’s Highway is one of the most memorable journeys in the Holy Land, passing through a string of ancient sites. The first city you come upon is Madaba, “The City of Mosaics”.

In many respects Madaba is a typical East Bank town which differs in one major aspect: underneath almost every house lies a fine Byzantine mosaic. Many of these mosaics have been excavated and are on display in the town’s museum, but it is estimated that many more lie hidden waiting to be discovered.

Madaba’s chief attraction – in the contemporary Greek Orthodox church of St. George – is a wonderfully vivid, 6th-century Byzantine mosaic map showing the entire region from Jordan and Palestine in the north, to Egypt in the south.

This map includes a fascinating plan of Jerusalem: on the left is the north gate from which two colonnaded streets run south. On the straight street through the heart of the city stands the domed Holy Sepulcher. Clearly inscribed above the north and east gates is the legend “Holy City of Jerusalem”.

Other mosaic masterpieces found in the church of the Virgin and the Apostles and the Archaeological Museum, depict a rampant profusion of flowers and plants, birds and fish, animals and exotic beasts, as well as scenes from mythology and everyday pursuits of hunting, fishing and farming. Literally, hundreds of other mosaics from the 5th through the 7th centuries are scattered throughout Madaba’s churches and homes.

Madaba has a long history, dating back further than 1300 BC. It was first mentioned in the Bible as Medeba at the time of the Exodus (Numbers: 21,30; Joshua 13:9), it was then an Amorite town close to the Moab border, and it changed hands frequently. It was named in the famous Mesha Stele, or Moabite Stone (exhibited in Jordan Archaeological Museum), which recorded the achievements of Mesha, King of Moab in the mid-9th century BC – one of which was to regain Madaba from the Israelites.

The Nabataeans governed the city during the 1st century AD. And in the Hellenistic period, under the Romans, it was a flourishing provincial town with temples and colonnaded streets and surrounded by a strong wall. Under the Byzantines, Madaba became the seat of a bishopric, and in 451 AD, its bishop attended the Council of Chalcedon. During this period, and particularly in the 6th century, mosaics were lavished on churches and public and private buildings.

Madaba was sacked by the Persians in 614, and its ruin was completed by the earthquake of 747. It stood abandoned for over 1000 years until, around 1880, a group of about 2000 Christians from Kerak settled here. It was they, in the process of rebuilding, who found the mosaics buried under the rubble.

Madaba museum has many mosaics that were originally on the site. Also, mosaics from other locations have been housed in the museum to ensure their preservation. A collection of Byzantine churches as well as ancient Roman remnants and mosaics, make up this spectacular museum which is located near the Mosaics School.

The Mosaic Map of Madaba

A. Madaba in the Bible:

  1. “”But we have cast them down, Heshbon is ruined as far as Dibon, Then we have laid waste even to Nophah, Which reaches to Medeba.”” Numbers 21:30
  2. “from Aroer, which is on the edge of the valley of the Arnon, with the city which is in the middle of the valley, and all the plain of Medeba, as far as Dibon;” Joshua 13:9
  3. “Their territory was from Aroer, which is on the edge of the valley of the Arnon, with the city which is in the middle of the valley and all the plain by Medeba;” Joshua 13:16
  4. “So they hired for themselves 32,000 chariots, and the king of Maacah and his people, who came and camped before Medeba. And the sons of Ammon gathered together from their cities and came to battle.” 1 Chronicles 19:7
  5. “They have gone up to the temple and to Dibon, even to the high places to weep. Moab wails over Nebo and Medeba; Everyone’s head is bald and every beard is cut off.” Isaiah 15:2

The exodus route: Border of Egypt

  1. The Wadi el-Arish is the same as the River of Egypt in Gen 15:18
  1. All Bible maps have wrongly located Kadesh Barnea at Ein el-Qudeirat since 1916 AD. Yet Qudeirat, if they thought it was important, would have been located on a section of the map that is fully intact. Qudeirat should be located close to the large red text, “lot of Simeon”. (see above)
  1. The sea port for where the Wadi el-Arish empties into the Mediterranean sea is called el-Arish. The port of Arish is also called Tharu and Rhinocolura. These three names refer to the same place. Rhinocolura gets its name from the fact it was a prison city for criminals of Egypt whom the Pharaoh would literally cut off their noses “Rhino-colura” and force them to live in this sea port on the far edge of Egyptian territory. Arish has been the western border of Egypt since 2000 BC.

Between the towns of Bitylium and Rhinocolura are the following red words in the Madaba Map: Border of Egypt and Palestine “Horoi Aigyptou kai Paleaistines”.

One of the most important things the Madaba map shows is that the border of Egypt was at the Wadi al-Arish. This is the historic border between Egypt and Israel from 1440 BC, the time of the exodus , to 70 AD, when Israel was destroyed. In modern times the border has been moved 44 km north east to Raphia at the eastern edge of the Gaza Strip. You can see from the Madaba map that the border is between Bitylium and Rhinoculura (Arish).
Raphia at the eastern edge of the Gaza Strip. You can see from the Madaba map that the border is between Bitylium and Rhinoculura (Arish).

  1. The Bible clearly shows that the border between Egypt and Israel was just north of the Wadi al-Arish: Genesis 15:18; Joshua 15:4,47. The Wadi al-Arish is the southern/eastern border of the promised land.
  2. This proves that the modern Sinai Peninsula was under the control of Egypt and considered Egyptian territory, just as it is today. Since we can prove the Sinai Peninsula was “Egyptian” this proves that Mt. Sinai cannot be where Queen Helena chose it to be in a dream in 325 AD, at Mt. Musa, beside the St. Catherine’s monastery. Mt. Sinai was not in Egypt. The Bible says that Mt. Sinai was located in Arabia, not Egypt. (Gal 4:25)
  3. The Onomasticon tells us that Bitylium was 20 km south of Raphia. “Bēthphou (Bathaffu). (In) tribe of Juda. A village fourteen miles beyond Raphia on the road to Egypt. It is the border of Palestine.” The Onomasticon and the Exodus route. by Eusebius (325AD)

C. The exodus route: Red Sea, Mt. Sinai, Kadesh/Petra

  1. Missing entirely from the Madaba Map is the Red Sea, Mt. Sinai and Petra/Kadesh Barnea. It would certainly be on the map, but was vandalized by the Muslims in 700 AD. Since we know these locations would be on the map, they must have been the primary targets of defacement. Most notably, however, is that the modern choice for the location of Kadesh Barnea at Ein el-Qudeirat, should be in a section of the map that is fully intact. Qudeirat should be located close to the large red text, “lot of Simeon”.
  2. Petra is not on the Madaba map and it most certainly would have been. Petra is where Eusebius located Kadesh Barnea, the Mt. Hor, the rock Moses struck, the place Miriam died. It would have been located in a section that is missing. We would expect it to be directly above Praesidium, Thamara, Moa and above and to the left of “The desert where the Serpent of brass saved the Israelites

  1. There is one reference in the Bible to the “Wilderness of Kadesh” and this is also marked on the Madaba Map as the “Desert of”, just south of the dead sea: “The voice of the Lord shakes the wilderness; The Lord shakes the wilderness of Kadesh.” Psalm 29:8
  2. Kadesh Barnea, if located at Qudeirat, as most today wrongly believe, should be located on the map in a section that is not damaged. It is not located there. No where on the Madaba map is Kadesh Barnea located. However, if it was, there is absolute certainly that the church from the time of Christ down to 600 AD believed Kadesh Barnea was located at Petra.

To complicate matters, it is well documented that geographers from the time of Herodotus (450 BC) right up to the 17th century AD, had almost no concept of the Gulf of Aqaba. The Madaba map, in fact, looks exactly like the map of Herodotus below. Even Strabo in 15 AD had no idea of the Gulf of Aqaba. Compare the map of Herodotus with the Madaba map as they are based upon the same common misunderstanding of the “V” shaped Red Sea that branches into the Gulf of Suez and the Gulf of Aqaba.

  1. It is truly sad that this portion of the Madaba map is missing that shows Mt. Sinai and the shape of the Red Sea.
  2. We must keep in mind that in 545 AD, the prevailing view of the Western/Latin church (Rome/Roman Catholic) was that Mt. Sinai was located at Mt. Musa in the modern Sinai peninsula. The Madaba Map is located deep into Eastern/Greek (Constantinople/Orthodox) territory of the church. It is entirely possible that there was a rift between east and west as to the real location of Mt. Sinai. Perhaps the Madaba map located Mt. Sinai on the eastern side of the Gulf of Suez. All this is speculation of course. On the other hand, with their misunderstanding of the existence of the Gulf of Aqaba, it may have been mapped the same way on the Madaba map even if it was located in the traditional location west of the Gulf of Aqaba, or where the Bible says it is: in Saudi Arabia (Gal 4:25) on the east side of the Gulf of Aqaba.
  3. Two little letters “ME” on the top of the Madaba map just right of Zered Wadi, simply cannot be Kadesh Barnea. Both Eusebius and Jerome believed Kadesh was at Petra. Petra was such a major center that many of their references were based upon distances from Petra/Kadesh.

D. The exodus route: Wilderness of Sin and Rephidim

  1. Some translated maps of the Madaba map show the Wilderness of Sin as the Wilderness of Zin. These are two very different places and wildernesses. The wilderness of Sin is when Israel got the Sabbath revealed for the first time. it is also the place they first got Manna and also quail for food. (Ex 16:13) The wilderness of Zin is north of Kadesh, but includes Kadesh. (Num 27:14) Zin is transjordan and north of Petra in Modern Jordan. Twice during the Exodus God gave Israel quail. First at Sin and second at Kibroth-hattaavah (Num 11:34) and is one stop after Mt. Sinai. (Num 33:16) Therefore the Madaba map says, “Wilderness of Zin: The desert where the Serpent of brass saved the Israelites”, it translated incorrectly and should be the Wilderness of Sin. We are certain that the makers of the map knew the difference. Of course if it was the wilderness of Zin, that would directly locate Kadesh Barnea, but then we would not make sense of it because the story of the Manna and quails did not happen there. So it is the wilderness of Sin before Sinai, not Zin at Kadesh.
  2. Petra is not on the Madaba map. It would have been located in a section that is missing. We would expect it to be directly above Praesidium, Thamara, Moa and above and to the left of “The desert where the Serpent of brass saved the Israelites”.(see below).
  3. The placement of the Wilderness of Sin and Rephidim on the Madaba map is a problem for those who place Mt. Sinai in the mountainous area directly below both. We believe that Mt. Sinai, if it was on the map, would in the missing section at the right of this mountain range.
  4. Both the “Desert of Sin where were sent down the manna and the quails” (Ex 16:13) AND “Rephidim, where Israel fought against Amalek who attacked them” (Ex 17:1-8) is a problem for those who believe Mt. Sinai is located in the mountain range directly below this text. This mountain range, they believe, represents the modern Sinai mountain range where Mt. Musa is located. The problem is that Israel entered the wilderness of Sin and Rephidim BEFORE they reached Mt. Sinai not after.
  5. But even if Mt. Sinai was located on the other side of this Mt. range the order is still reversed: The map has them entering Rephidim first, then the wilderness of Sin second, then Mt. Sinai, so even the sequential order is backwards in addition to the major distortions of distance typical of this kind of “devotional map”.
  6. Then we need to figure out how the section of the map that says, “desert where the serpent of brass saved the Israelites” fits into all this. We know that this event happened east of Kadesh/Petra. This means we would expect to find Petra somewhere directly below this text that highlights the events of Num 21:4-9.

What we do learn from all this, is that their understanding of the Gulf of Aqaba was as bad as their understanding of the Bible geography as the scriptures revealed.

E. The exodus route: Arabah Valley, Zoar, Tamara and Moa

  1. The words “desert of” are likely a reference to either the Arabah Valley or possibly the “Desert of Cades/Kadesh” frequently referenced by Eusebius in his Onomasticon. The Arabah valley is easy to distinguish on a visual basis, since it would be to the right of the Dead Sea and above the three mountain ranges that Mampsis is located in the middle of. Perhaps Eusebius and the Madaba map were inspired by this verse to located the Desert of Kadesh: “The voice of the Lord shakes the wilderness; The Lord shakes the wilderness of Kadesh.” Psalm 29:8
  2. The fort at Zoar is exactly where we would expect to find it: just above the right end of the Dead sea.
  3. The series of three forts directly to the right of the Dead sea are known locations. First is Praesidium thought to be at al-Fayfa. Second is Thamara is mentioned in the Onomasticon and is located at Tamara. The third is Moa, perhaps located at near Nahal ‘Omer.
  4. In 1910, Schmidt viewed Kadesh as being at Qedeis and viewed Ein El Weibeh as being the location for Thamara: “Edward Robinson, on his visit to ‘Ain el Webeh, June 2, 1838, was so strongly impressed with this most important watering place in the ‘Arabah that he identified it with Kadesh Barnea. His description of it was quite accurate. On the assumption that ” Mount Seir ” and “the land of Edom ” had the ‘Arabah for its western border, and that all Biblical statements are equally reliable and must at any price be harmonized, he could scarcely reach a different conclusion. When I visited the place in June, 1905, I was particularly impressed with the large number of palm trees and the excellence of the water in one of the springs. The references to Thamara in Ptolemy, the Peutinger Tables, the Notitia, the Onomasticon, the Madeba mosaic, and the recently discovered Beersheba rescript have convinced me that this place is to be looked for at ‘Ain el Webeh.” (Kadesh Barnea, Nathan Schmidt, 1910 AD)
  5. Tamara: For a full discussion of Tamara/Thamara, see: Tamar.
  6. Tamara: Eusebius says in the Onomasticon: “Asasan Thamar (Asasonthamar). Where the Amorrites dwelled whom Chodollagomor destroyed is located near the wilderness of Cades. It is said there is a village Tharmara (a fort Thamara) one day journey from Mapsis on the road from Hebron to Ailam. [Elat on the Red Sea, see Ailam] Today there is a garrison (Roman fort) of soldiers there.” Footnote #: 8: Asasan Thamar (Asasonthamar). Genesis 14:7; K. 8:6; L. 234:84. On the Madaba Map there is a Thamara located as suggested by Eusebius here. Tabula Peutinger has a Thamaro 52 or 53 miles from Jerusalem while Ptolemy’s list (V, 15, 5f) has a Thamaro about 55 miles distant. The Notitia Dignitatum (74:40) has a Tarba and (74:46) a Thamarra both of which have a garrison. Alt found a fort at Qasr el Juheiniye and he is followed by many locating the fort there and the village at ‘ain el ‘Arus. Aharoni more recently (TEJ, 1963, p.30ff) suggests ‘Ain Husb which is about a day’s walk (32 km) from Kurnub which is generally identified with Mapsis (cf. also Avi-Yonah) and has a large Roman fort as well as Nabatean and Iron II sherds. The Madaba Map using Jerome’s spelling has located properly Mampsis. Many Nabatean, Roman-Byzantine levels excavated at Kuroub. It shows a revival in the fourth century A.D. as also does Oboda (Avdat, ‘Abda, and K. 176:9).This may be indicated by “village” in Greek and “oppidum” in Latin (cf. K. 10:25). II Chronicles 20:2 identified Thamar with En Gedi or at least locates it in the district of En Gedi (86:16). Jerome in Hebrew Questions says, “his city which we now call Engaddi, is rich in balsam and palms since Asason Thamar translated into our language is city of the palms'” (18) (cf. Judges 1: 16, Ezekiel 47: 29).
  7. Tamar is was identified by Rudolph Cohen to be En Haseva. “In an article last year (BA 57:4119941), we outlined the Roman, Nabatean, and Iron Age remains at (and presented arguments for the identification of the site with the biblical Tamar and the Tamara mentioned in Roman and Byzantine sources. (En Haseva, Rudolph Cohen, The Biblical Archaeologist, Vol. 58, No. 4, Pots & People. (Dec., 1995), pp. 223-235., 1995 AD) This identification of Tamar with En Haseva is quite uncertain. For full discussion see: Tamar
  8. Moa: Rudolph Cohen says that, Moa unknown to Eusebius, is located at Nahal ‘Omer in the central Arabah: “Mo’a (Arabic: Kh. Maiyat ‘Awad) is situated near Nahal ‘Omer in the central ‘Arabah (map ref. 1654 9947). It was first surveyed in 1933 by F. Frank. He distinguished the exact ground plan of the principal building, which he described as a Roman castellum, and noted additional structures on hills to the east and west. He proposed the identification of the site with Asuada, referred to in the Notitia Dignitatum (early fourth century C.E.). Abel and Avi-Yonah proposed the identification of Maiyat ‘Awad with Mo’a, which appears on the Madaba map… Mo’a was clearly an important way-station on the road from Petra to Gaza, and consisted of a number of building units. Agricultural terraces were surveyed over a wide area in its neighborhood. The finds indicate that it was founded in the third-second centuries B.C.E., reached its zenith during the reign of Aretas IV, and continued to exist even after the Roman annexation of the Nabatean kingdom in 106 C.E., until the end of the third century. In recent years the site has been surveyed by numerous scholars. In 1980, in the framework of the Negev Emergency Survey, Mo’a was examined by a team directed by D. Nahlieli. … Mo’a was clearly an important way-station on the road from Petra to Gaza, and consisted of a number of building units. Agricultural terraces were surveyed over a wide area in its neighbourhood. The finds indicate that it was founded in the third-second centuries B.C.E., reached its zenith during the reign of Aretas IV, and continued to exist even after the Roman annexation of the Nabatean kingdom in 106 C.E., until the end of the third century.” (Rudolph Cohen, Notes and News, Israel Exploration Journal 32, 1982 AD, p164-165)

E. The exodus route: Shechem (Nabulus) Mt. Gerizim and Mt. Ebal.

The Madaba map places the two mountains twice, in two different locations: On the Madaba map, the mountains of Ebal and Gerizim are in two different locations. One is at Shechem (Modern Nabulus) and one near Jericho and Gilgal. This is because the Orthodox Jews had created a new location near Jericho in their longstanding dispute with the Samaritans. Eusebius, Jerome and the creators of the Madaba map were fully aware of the two traditions and chose to represent both on the map.

  1. In 325 AD, Eusebius believed that the Samaritan’s choice for Mt. Gerizim was wrong and said so in his Onomasticon which he wrote in 325 AD. He likely based this on the Bible verse that said it was opposite Gilgal: “Are they [Mt. Ebal and Gerizim] not across the Jordan, west of the way toward the sunset, in the land of the Canaanites who live in the Arabah, opposite Gilgal, beside the oaks of Moreh?” Deuteronomy 11:30
    From the Onomasticon of 325 AD:
    Mt. Ebal: “Gaibal (Gebal). Mountain in the Promised Land where Moses commanded an altar to be built (at the command of Moses an alter was built). They say (there are) two neighboring mountains facing each other located at (near) Jericho, one of which (is said) to be Garizin [Gerizim], the other Gaibal [Ebal]. But the Samaritans erroneously point out two others near Neapolis (argue for two mountains near Neapolis but they err greatly) since the great distance of one from the other there shows that they are not able to hear one another when calling out from one (hear the voices calling out in turn blessing or cursing as Scripture records).” (Eusebius, Onomasticon 325 AD)
    Mt. Gerizim: “Garizein (Garizin). Mountain where those calling out the blessing (curse) stood. Read the above mentioned Gaibal (Gebal).” (Eusebius, Onomasticon 325 AD)
    Gilgal: “Golgol or Galgal. The Scriptures teach this is near Mt. Garisein and Mt.Gaibal. The place of Galgal is in the Jericho region (near Jericho). [Therefore the Samaritans err who would point out Mt.Gairsin and Mt.Gebal near Neapolis which Scripture testifies are near Galgal.]” (Eusebius, Onomasticon 325 AD)
    Footnote from Onomasticon : This and the following entry can be treated together. The Onomasticon begins by recording the simple biblical information here. The generally accepted tradition is to follow the Samaritan tradition as given here. The two mountains are on either side of Neapolis (K. 4:28) and are Jebel es-Slamiyeh and Jebel et Tur. The Madaba Map reflects this tradition by having them near Shechem (K. 150:1) called Garizin and Gōbel. The pilgrims also recognize this identity. “At Neapolis is Mt Gazaren where the Samaritans say Abraham brought the sacrifice. And to ascend up to the summit are 300 steps. At the foot of the mountain is located a place by the name of Shechem” (Itin. Bourd. PPT I, 18). Zeno and Justinian built churches on Garizein according to Procopius Buildings V, vii, 5-17. Excavation of this area is going on. But Eusebius and Jerome prefer to follow an anti-Samaritan location. The Madaba map hesitates between the two opinions and so locates Gebal Garizeini near Ierichō [Jericho] (K. 104:25). The use of the LXX names in Ierichō region and the Aramaic in the Neapolis area may signify some preference. Since Josephus and the later Byzantines had the correct tradition, this rabbinic tradition must have developed in the late first and early second centuries. Procopius 905C is also confused: “This is situated at the Eastern part of Ierichō beyond Galgal” and he continues by denying the Samaritan tradition. Yet in 908A he seems to accept the Samaritan location and tradition. The two mountains near Jericho are probably those above Aqaba jabr sometimes called Tyros and Thrax. The Roman road to Jerusalem passed between them. In Interpretation of Hebrew Names “Gebal, ancient abyss or stone building” (87). (Eusebius, Onomasticon 325 AD)
  2. Herbert Donner comments on this: “The mountains Gerizim and Ebal are represented twice on the Madaba Map: near Jericho and near Neapolis. What has happened here? The problem can be solved on the basis of Eus. On. 64:9-14 where, strangely enough, both mountains are indeed located near Jericho. Eusebius, however, does not fail to add: “The Samaritans show other ones near Neapolis, but they are wrong, for the mountains shown by them are too far from each other, so that it is impossible to hear one´s voice when calling to each other.” Although this seems to be entirely intelligible and is confirmed by Deut. 27, the Samaritans were by no means wrong. Eusebius was wrong, and everybody knew it, perhaps he himself included. The Samaritans laid claim to the mountains, considering them to be their own holy mountains. Hostility to the Samaritans forced the orthodox Jews in Jerusalem to locate both mountains at another spot, for the Samaritans were not allowed to be right. Eusebius followed the orthodox Jewish tradition. The mosaicist, however, being well informed, preferred a Solomonic solution: he listed the mountains twice, indicating by larger letters that he regarded the location near Nablus as being correct.” (Herbert Donner, The Mosaic Map of Madaba, Kampen 1992, 24.48)
  3. Here is a detailed study of the Samaritans and why they chose Mt. Gerizim as “their Jerusalem”.

Below is a correction and comment from :

Author : Rob (IP: ,
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It must be noted, that Eusebius calls Mt Hermon
the :Mount of the Amorites” of Deut 1:19, 20
Not the “southern Slopes of Judea” which  was occupied by the Hittites and Jebusites, not Amorites. We all recall from whom Abraham bought
a grave for Sarah, a Hittite.

Eusebius would appear to be correct as Aphek, north of Sidon, is
called the “border of the Amorites” by Joshua 13:4
Historians and the Amarna Letters locate the land of the Amorites in
the north.
If we add Joshua 24:8 we get, from the bible itself, a completely
different picture of where Kadesh may have been

“‘I brought you to the land of the Amorites who lived east of the Jordan. ”

The bible seems to indicate a Kadesh Barnea in what is now Syria. Something to think about.


Excursion to Jordan:

Visit to Mount Nebo,  specifically to the Memorial of Moses (Ras Siyagha) and to the Town of Nebo (Khirbet el-Mukhayyet).

Mount Nebo, Ras Siyagha

View from Ras Siyagha on the Plains of Moab. And Moses went up from the plains of Moab to Mount Nebo, to the top of Pisgah, which is opposite Jericho. And the LORD showed him all the land, Gilead as far as Dan, all Naphtali, the land of Ephraim and Manasseh, all the land of Judah as far as the Western Sea, the Negeb, and the Plain, that is, the valley of Jericho the city of palm trees, as far as Zoar (Dt 34:1-3).
View from the retaining wall of the Byzantine Monastery of Mount Nebo on the west side.
To the right is the Ayoun Musa valley (“the Springs of Moses,” better seen in the following photo). The spring were made famous by the pilgrim Egeria: Between the church and the cells was a plentiful spring which flowed fro the rock, beautifully clear and witn an excellent taste… This is the water which holy Moses gave the children of Israel in this desert (Egeria’s Travel ,11).
Panoramic view on the North side towards the Ascent from the Plains of Moab to Esbus. In the foreground, two Roman milestones from the same road (displaced). Pilgrims like Egeria or Petrus the Iberer were following this route which starts from Livias, in the plain. At the sixth mile, they did a turn southwards to the Spring of Moses and Mount Nebo.
A symbolic landmark on the top of Mount Nebo: the snake which Moses put up in the desert (Num 21,4-9) makes us think of the cross upon which Jesus itself was lifted (Gv 3,14).
Atrium, narthex, and façade of the Memorial of Moses as it is today.
Celebration of the Holy Mass in the basilica of the Memorial of Moses.
Plan of the basilica on Mount Nebo.
1. Early sanctuary (4th cent. A.D.)
2. Cella trichora (5th cent. A.D.)
3. North Baptistry (531 A.D.)
4. South Baptistry (597 d.C.)
5. Chapel of the Theotokos (7th cent. A.D.)
6. Narthex and Basilica (6th-7th cent. A.D.)


Interior of the Memorial of Moses. Archaeological and restoration works were carried out by the

Franciscans S. Saller

and B. Bagatti (in the

thirties), V. Corbo (in the sixties), and M. Piccirillo

(up to the present).

A large, braided cross, drafted in black on a white background. This mosaic decoration was laid on the floor of a side hall in the first Memorial of Moses (5th cent. A.D.)
The South Baptistry, built when Martyrius was abbot of the monastery

and Sergius was bishop of Madaba in the year 597 A.D.

The diakonikon-baptistry found in excavations under the Norh Hall. The hunting and pastoral scenes in the mosaic carpet are the work of Elias, Soelus, and Kaiomus done in the years 530-1 A.D.
Right: A column marking the VI milestone mentioned in sources from the Byzantine Period: Nabau, in Hebrew Nebo, a mountain beyond the Jordan facing Jericho in the land of Moab, where Moses died; up to today it is shown at the VIth Mile of the city of Esbus from the east (Eusebius of Caesarea, Onomasticon 136,7.11-13).

Left: Detail of the mosaic floor of el-Keniseh in the

wadi el-Afrit.

Khirbet el-Mukhayyet, the City of Nebo

View of the hill of Khirbet el-Mukhayyet, identified with the City of Nebo of Moabite Period (defensive walls and tombs of the Iron Age II), Roman Period (Herodian tombs), and Byzantine Period (the churches).
The Hill of Mukhayyet
1: Church of Sts. Lot and Procopius
2: Church of Amos and Casiseos
with the annexed Chapel of the Priest John
3: Church of St. George
4: Towards the ‘Ain Jedidah Valley


Left: A young boy poses willingly with a newly born baby-goat.
Below: The mosaic decorating the sanctuary of the Church

of Sts. Lot and Procopius.

Zooming towards south on the acropolis of

Mukhayyet. The ruins

 of the Church of

 St. George

 are visible on the


of the mount.

Copy of the Mesha Stele displayed on the Visitor’s Center at Mount Nebo. From the 14th to the 18th line, the conquest of the City of Nebo is narrated:

Kemosh said to me, “Go, take Nebo from Israel.” And I went in the night and fought against it from the daybreak until midday, and I took it and I killed the whole population: seven thousand male subjects and aliens, and female subjects, aliens, and servant girls. For I had put it to the ban for Ashtar Kemosh. And from there I took the vessels of Yahweh, and I presented them before the face of Kemosh.

Click on the photos to enlarge.


This article is about the Jordanian site of Petra. For other uses, see Petra (disambiguation).


The Treasury at Petra

Location: Ma’an Governorate, Jordan
Coordinates: 30°19′43″N 35°26′31″E / 30.32861°N 35.44194°E / 30.32861; 35.44194Coordinates: 30°19′43″N 35°26′31″E / 30.32861°N 35.44194°E / 30.32861; 35.44194
Elevation: 810m (2,700 ft)
Settled: 7000 B.C.[1]
Built: 1200 B.C.[2]
UNESCO World Heritage Site
Type: Cultural
Criteria: i, iii, iv
Designated: 1985 (9th session)
Reference #: 326
State Party:  Jordan
Region: Arab States

Location of Petra in Jordan

Petra (Greek “πέτρα” (petra), meaning rock; Arabic: البتراء, Al-Batrāʾ) is a historic and archaeological city in the Jordanian governorate of Ma’an that has rock cut architecture and a water conduits system. Established sometime around the 6th century BC as the capital city of the Nabataeans,[3] it is a symbol of Jordan as well as its most visited tourism attraction.[3] It lies on the slope of Mount Hor[4] in a basin among the mountains which form the eastern flank of Arabah (Wadi Araba), the large valley running from the Dead Sea to the Gulf of Aqaba. Petra has been a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1985.

The site remained unknown to the Western world until 1812, when it was introduced by Swiss explorer Johann Ludwig Burckhardt. It was described as “a rose-red city half as old as time” in a Newdigate Prize-winning sonnet by John William Burgon. UNESCO has described it as “one of the most precious cultural properties of man’s cultural heritage.”[5] Petra was chosen by the BBC as one of “the 40 places you have to see before you die”.[6]


Pliny the Elder and other writers identify Petra as the capital of the Nabataeans and the centre of their caravan trade. Enclosed by towering rocks and watered by a perennial stream, Petra not only possessed the advantages of a fortress, but controlled the main commercial routes which passed through it to Gaza in the west, to Bosra and Damascus in the north, to Aqaba and Leuce Come on the Red Sea, and across the desert to the Persian Gulf.

Map of Petra

The end of the Siq, with its dramatic view of Al Khazneh (“The Treasury”)

Excavations have demonstrated that it was the ability of the Nabataeans to control the water supply that led to the rise of the desert city, creating an artificial oasis. The area is visited by flash floods and archaeological evidence demonstrates the Nabataeans controlled these floods by the use of dams, cisterns and water conduits. These innovations stored water for prolonged periods of drought, and enabled the city to prosper from its sale.[7][8]

The Theatre

The narrow passage (Siq) that leads to Petra

Petra is known as the Rose-Red City for the colour of the rocks in which Petra is carved

Although in ancient times Petra might have been approached from the south via Saudi Arabia on a track leading around Jabal Haroun (“Aaron’s Mountain”), across the plain of Petra, or possibly from the high plateau to the north, most modern visitors approach the site from the east. The impressive eastern entrance leads steeply down through a dark, narrow gorge (in places only 3–4 m (9.8–13 ft) wide) called the Siq (“the shaft”), a natural geological feature formed from a deep split in the sandstone rocks and serving as a waterway flowing into Wadi Musa. At the end of the narrow gorge stands Petra’s most elaborate ruin, Al Khazneh (popularly known as “the Treasury”), hewn into the sandstone cliff.

El Deir (“The Monastery”)

A little further from the Treasury, at the foot of the mountain called en-Nejr, is a massive theatre, so placed as to bring the greatest number of tombs within view. At the point where the valley opens out into the plain, the site of the city is revealed with striking effect. The amphitheatre has been cut into the hillside and into several of the tombs during its construction. Rectangular gaps in the seating are still visible. Almost enclosing it on three sides are rose-coloured mountain walls, divided into groups by deep fissures, and lined with knobs cut from the rock in the form of towers.


Evidence suggests that settlements had begun in and around Petra in the eighteenth dynasty of Egypt (1550-1292 BCE). It is listed in Egyptian campaign accounts and the Amarna letters as Pel, Sela or Seir. Though the city was founded relatively late, a sanctuary existed there since very ancient times. Stations 19 through 26 of the stations list of Exodus are places associated with Petra.[9] This part of the country was Biblically assigned to the Horites, the predecessors of the Edomites.[10] The habits of the original natives may have influenced the Nabataean custom of burying the dead and offering worship in half-excavated caves. Although Petra is usually identified with Sela which means a rock, the Biblical references[11] refer to it as “the cleft in the rock”, referring to its entrance. 2 Kings xiv. 7 seems to be more specific. In the parallel passage, however, Sela is understood to mean simply “the rock” (2 Chr. xxv. 12, see LXX).

On the authority of Josephus (Antiquities of the Jews iv. 7, 1~ 4, 7) Eusebius and Jerome (Onom. sacr. 286, 71. 145, 9; 228, 55. 287, 94) assert that Rekem was the native name and Rekem appears in the Dead Sea scrolls[12] as a prominent Edom site most closely describing Petra and associated with Mount Seir. But in the Aramaic versions Rekem is the name of Kadesh, implying that Josephus may have confused the two places. Sometimes the Aramaic versions give the form Rekem-Geya which recalls the name of the village El-ji, southeast of Petra.[citation needed] The Semitic name of the city, if not Sela, remains unknown. The passage in Diodorus Siculus (xix. 94–97) which describes the expeditions which Antigonus sent against the Nabataeans in 312 BCE is understood to throw some light upon the history of Petra, but the “petra” referred to as a natural fortress and place of refuge cannot be a proper name and the description implies that the town was not yet in existence.

The Rekem Inscription in 1976

The only place in Petra where the name “Rekem” occurs was in the rock wall of the Wadi Musa opposite the entrance to the Siq. About twenty years ago the Jordanians built a bridge over the wadi and this inscription was buried beneath tons of concrete.[13]

More satisfactory evidence of the date of the earliest Nabataean settlement may be obtained from an examination of the tombs. Two types have been distinguished: the Nabataean and the Greco-Roman. The Nabataean type starts from the simple pylon-tomb with a door set in a tower crowned by a parapet ornament, in imitation of the front of a dwelling-house. Then, after passing through various stages, the full Nabataean type is reached, retaining all the native features and at the same time exhibiting characteristics which are partly Egyptian and partly Greek. Of this type there exist close parallels in the tomb-towers at el-I~ejr in north Arabia, which bear long Nabataean inscriptions and supply a date for the corresponding monuments at Petra. Then comes a series of tombfronts which terminate in a semicircular arch, a feature derived from north Syria. Finally come the elaborate façades copied from the front of a Roman temple; however, all traces of native style have vanished. The exact dates of the stages in this development cannot be fixed. Strangely, few inscriptions of any length have been found at Petra, perhaps because they have perished with the stucco or cement which was used upon many of the buildings. The simple pylon-tombs which belong to the pre-Hellenic age serve as evidence for the earliest period. It is not known how far back in this stage the Nabataean settlement goes, but it does not go back farther than the 6th century BCE.

A period follows in which the dominant civilization combines Greek, Egyptian and Syrian elements, clearly pointing to the age of the Ptolemies. Towards the close of the 2nd century BCE, when the Ptolemaic and Seleucid kingdoms were equally depressed, the Nabataean kingdom came to the front. Under Aretas III Philhellene, (c.85–60 BCE), the royal coins begin. The theatre was probably excavated at that time, and Petra must have assumed the aspect of a Hellenistic city. In the reign of Aretas IV Philopatris, (9 BCE–40 CE), the fine tombs of the el-I~ejr [?] type may be dated, and perhaps also the great High-place.

Urn Tomb

Roman rule

In 106 CE, when Cornelius Palma was governor of Syria, that part of Arabia under the rule of Petra was absorbed into the Roman Empire as part of Arabia Petraea, becoming capital. The native dynasty came to an end. But the city continued to flourish. A century later, in the time of Alexander Severus, when the city was at the height of its splendor, the issue of coinage comes to an end. There is no more building of sumptuous tombs, owing apparently to some sudden catastrophe, such as an invasion by the neo-Persian power under the Sassanid Empire. Meanwhile, as Palmyra (fl. 130–270) grew in importance and attracted the Arabian trade away from Petra, the latter declined. It seems, however, to have lingered on as a religious centre. A Roman road was constructed at the site. Epiphanius of Salamis (c.315–403) writes that in his time a feast was held there on December 25 in honor of the virgin Khaabou (Chaabou) and her offspring Dushara (Haer. 51).[citation needed]


The Nabataeans worshipped the Arab gods and goddesses of the pre-Islamic times as well as a few of their deified kings. One, Obodas I, was deified after his death. Dushara was the main male god accompanied by his female trinity: Al-‘Uzzá, Allat and Manāt. Many statues carved in the rock depict these gods and goddesses.

The Monastery, Petra’s largest monument, dates from the 1st century BCE. It was dedicated to Obodas I and is believed to be the symposium of Obodas the god. This information is inscribed on the ruins of the Monastery (the name is the translation of the Arabic “Ad Deir“).

Christianity found its way to Petra in the 4th century CE, nearly 500 years after the establishment of Petra as a trade center. Athanasius mentions a bishop of Petra (Anhioch. 10) named Asterius. At least one of the tombs (the “tomb with the urn”?) was used as a church. An inscription in red paint records its consecration “in the time of the most holy bishop Jason” (447). After the Islamic conquest of 629–632 Christianity in Petra, as of most of Arabia, gave way to Islam. During the First Crusade Petra was occupied by Baldwin I of the Kingdom of Jerusalem and formed the second fief of the barony of Al Karak (in the lordship of Oultrejordain) with the title Château de la Valée de Moyse or Sela. It remained in the hands of the Franks until 1189. It is still a titular see of the Catholic Church.[14]

According to Arab tradition, Petra is the spot where Moses struck a rock with his staff and water came forth, and where Moses’ brother, Aaron, is buried, at Mount Hor, known today as Jabal Haroun or Mount Aaron. The Wadi Musa or “Wadi of Moses” is the Arab name for the narrow valley at the head of which Petra is sited. A mountaintop shrine of Moses’ sister Miriam was still shown to pilgrims at the time of Jerome in the 4th century, but its location has not been identified since.[15]


Ad Deir (“The Monastery”) in 1839, by David Roberts.

Petra declined rapidly under Roman rule, in large part from the revision of sea-based trade routes. In 363 an earthquake destroyed many buildings, and crippled the vital water management system.[16] The ruins of Petra were an object of curiosity in the Middle Ages and were visited by Sultan Baibars of Egypt towards the end of the 13th century. The first European to describe them was Johann Ludwig Burckhardt in 1812.

Because the structures weakened with age, many of the tombs became vulnerable to thieves, and many treasures were stolen.

Threats to Petra

The site suffers from a host of threats, including collapse of ancient structures, erosion due to flooding and improper rainwater drainage, weathering from salt upwelling, improper restoration of ancient structures, and unsustainable tourism.[17] The latter has increased substantially ever since the site received widespread media coverage in 2007 during the controversial New Seven Wonders of the World Internet and cell phone campaign, started by a private corporation.[18]

Petra today

The Petra Visitors Center in Wadi Musa, the closest town to the historic site

On December 6, 1985, Petra was designated a World Heritage Site.

In 2006 the design of a Visitor Centre began. The Jordan Times reported in December 2006 that 59,000 people visited in the two months October and November 2006, 25% fewer than the same period in the previous year.[19]

In popular culture

Petra was the main topic in John William Burgon‘s Poem Petra. Referring to it as the inaccessible city which he had heard described but had never seen. The Poem was awarded the Newdigate Prize in 1845 :

It seems no work of Man’s creative hand,

by labour wrought as wavering fancy planned;

But from the rock as if by magic grown,

eternal, silent, beautiful, alone!

Not virgin-white like that old Doric shrine,

where erst Athena held her rites divine;

Not saintly-grey, like many a minster fane,

that crowns the hill and consecrates the plain;

But rose-red as if the blush of dawn,

that first beheld them were not yet withdrawn;

The hues of youth upon a brow of woe,

which Man deemed old two thousand years ago,

match me such marvel save in Eastern clime,

a rose-red city half as old as time.