Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Nabateans and Things

So at the beginning of Spring break week I left with Tyler and Arielle at five in the morning. We were headed off a adventure to Petra, Wadee Ram, and Aqaba.

By 6:30 AM that Friday we were on the JETT Bus, cruising south along the King’s highway towards our first stop. As any decent human being would expect, we were all deliriously tired. But I shared a row with an older Canadian guy, and we spent a good hunk of the ride talking about each other and the whole prospect of tourism in the Middle East from an American (sort of) way of lookin’ at it.

We rode for like four hours. The landscape changed from city, to village-ed hills to scrublands to flat desert, and then abruptly to Mountains. We descended into them and were in Wadee Musa, the modern tourist-town at Petra.

We thought the cost to go in was going to be fifty dollars a day, so instead of going into Petra we hiked the town. We poked our way into an olive orchard and walked the outskirts, the area where everybody thought we must be lost and offered to point us in the direction of town. And when we thanked them but refused, invited us in for tea. It was a cool day, though I spent a good chunk of it missing my Earlhamites, and my Milsonites especially.

This sorta thing went on 'til next morning.

We approached Petra at six in the A.M. and paid our fifty JD’s to get in, and started walking down the path. In retrospect some of the coolest buildings were along that path. The stout sandstone cliffs narrowed in and began to constrict the valley down. Erosion had turned the stone walls into something that looked like it had to be from some planet in science-fiction or fantasy. Into that landscape were carved incredibly nifty buildings.

The valley narrowed down to the Siq. The Siq is a narrow and towering canyon from which all the water was diverted. They put the road to Petra down it. It twists and turns and was gorgeous, and then suddenly BAM there is The Treasury, in an open courtyard of stone. Falling back from its right side were more and more tombs and mausoleums, leading into the cliff-carved city. Lots of it was done in an Assyrian style and looked like this.

So who were the folks that made this City

In ancient, Biblical Israel there were the Edomites, right? They lived sort of to the south, sort of to the east of Judah. They were the tribes that inhabited the land on the edge of the great howling waste that was the Arabian desert. They were Judea's neighbors, buffer state, and kind of sworn-enemy-so-let's-waste-em-all!

Well, the Israelites did not waste 'em all. Instead the top brass of Judah all got taken away into the Babylonian captivity. Their departure left a power vacuum in Judea and the Edomites started to press into that vacuum, being strong and considerably less in-captivity. Besides, all they had to do was wander over with their herds and take the Istaelite grazing lands, then kill anyone who disagreed too loudly.

Well it ain't like there's really a strong and consolidated Edomite kingdom at this time either. There's something of a power struggle there, in fact. Well one group of Aramaic-speaking-Arabs, the Nabateans begins to become predominant among the Edomites. They a bunch of desert-dwellers who are accustomed to a hard life. And they make their living mostly as traders from the lucrative trade in the Sinai region as it heads into Egypt. They build a kingdom and their capital at Petra.

So that's who they are, Edomites turned to their own distinctive Arab culture, building a trade kingdom across the bottom of Israel and the east bank of the Jordan river, and out towards the rough border in the desert. I can't nerd out about this proper right now, but they’re just the next wave of that biblical history.

So they're there for a few hundred years, consolidating the region and making their place in it. They're traders and they build their HUGE capital. They build it half into the sandstone cliffs of Petra and half as regular city buildings in front of the cliffs. All in this badass Assyrian architectural style. They start off as allies with the Hasmonean Kingdom of Judea. But they have a falling out as the Kingdom gets more power and more bull-headed. They have wars, and tend to win.

Too bad for them when the Roman Empire subtly begins to take over Judea, and suddenly they are on the wrong side. Rome tries to destroy them but can’t quite manage it. Eventually they come to peace with Rome by becoming a client-kingdom, a dependency with Roman recognition and military alliance. Well after that sort of thing happens it's only a matter of time before Romanization and annexation. That is exactly what happens.

We walked around the city and the roman city, before hiking up to the Monastery, where we sat around and I started to miss people on this crag overlooking the mountains and the great rift valley and Israel. At that time, around late morning, I start to miss people, and end up making signs like this one, but from all around Petra.

Not much to say after that.

We hiked, we went back home, we ran into the Canadian guy I met on the bus and ate with him, and then we went back to the hotel to miss people and go to sleep in time to wake up for the six AM bus to Wadee Ram.

More about break to come, and then I will flat out steal Anna’s blog idea and show y’all a little about how to write and read Arabic.

Bashuuf!

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