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Petra, Jordan: Biblical Sela

Petra, Jordan: Biblical Sela Tour & Overview


The Ancient City of Petra is one of the most popular tourist destinations in Jordan and even all the Middle East! It's considered one of the "Seven Wonders of the World" and a UNESCO World Heritage Site. With breathtaking buildings carved into deep red rock cliffs, it's a mystic place sought out by many. It also has many biblical events that have happened here and prophesied events that may very well take place here in the future.

In this video, we'll look at the location of Petra, take a trip through time as we behold its history, see its outstanding sites like the famous Treasury carved tomb where Indiana Jones was filmed, other monumental tomb carvings, the amazing Monastery that sits high upon a mountain, the remains of the ancient city, a huge theatre, walk the deep canyon into the city that has breathtaking high walls on each side and more. You will be amazed at this site as we see it unfold. This will be a unique video looking at every aspect of this ancient place that has captured the imagination of millions. So, let's explore this site and behold its wonders. 


1. Petra is located about fifty miles south of the Dead Sea and 170 miles southwest of modern Amman, Jordan. Located in the southwest of Jordan, near the town of Wadi Musa, the landscape surrounding Petra is stunning, with red, rocky mountains at the east of the Arabah Valley.

2. Ancient Petra’s main access is via a narrow crevice called the Siq, which winds for about a mile through mountainous terrain. The Siq provided an excellent natural defense for Petra’s inhabitants. Many moviegoers are familiar with the Siq and the Treasury Tomb of Petra, which were featured in the 1989 film Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade.

3. To support the ancient city’s large population, its inhabitants maintained an extensive water system, including dams, cisterns, rock-carved water channels, and ceramic pipes.


Historical Background

1. The name "Petra," which means "rock" in Greek, replaced the biblical name "Sela," which is Hebrew for "rock."


2. The first inhabitants of Petra were the descendants of Esau, called the Edomites. Esau moved to this area from the Negev region around 1900 BC, according to Genesis 36. Remains from early periods confirm that the Edomites occupied the area as well.

The Edomites raided traveling caravans and then hid in Petra for protection. They became arrogant and abusive. For this reason, God judged them.

Obadiah 3-4: The arrogance of your heart has deceived you, the one who lives in the clefts of the rock, on the height of his dwelling place, who says in his heart, "Who will bring me down to earth?" 4 Though you make your home high like the eagle, though you set your nest among the stars, from there I will bring you down, declares the Lord.

3. Around 400 BC, the Nabataeans, the descendants of Nebaioth, the firstborn of Ishmael, Abraham's firstborn son by Sarah's handmaid, Hagar, occupied Petra and made it the capital of their kingdom. 

The vast majority of what can be seen today was carved into the sheer rock face by the Nabataeans. They became extremely wealthy and turned the city into an important location on a trade route that linked China, India, and southern Arabia with Egypt, Syria, Greece, and Rome.


Petra became so influential that it became the capital of the Nabataean Kingdom that stretched from Damascus to Petra and beyond. 

4. The Nabateans, living and trading in Petra, soon accumulated significant wealth, and an envious Greek Empire attacked the city in 312 BC by Seleucid forces, who failed to seize the city. The Nabateans successfully fought back the Greek invaders by taking advantage of the city's mountainous terrain. The mountains effectively served as a natural wall, buttressing Petra. Under Nabataean rule, Petra prospered as a spice trade center that involved China, Egypt, Greece, and India. The city’s population swelled to around 30,000.

5. Because the Nabataean Kingdom was so prosperous, the Roman Empire set its sites on it. The Romans defeated the Nabataeans in 106 AD, and Petra became part of the Roman province of Arabia. The Romans enlarged and glorified the city even more by building a Cardo, a huge theater that accommodated around 6,000 spectators, and other buildings and improvements.


It appears that in around 200 AD, a flash flood did catastrophic damage to the city, dealing it a major blow.


6. After the Roman Empire was divided in 330 AD, Petra was ruled by the Byzantine (eastern half of the Roman Empire) until Muslim occupation in the 7th century AD. In 363 AD, an earthquake destroyed many of its buildings, dealing Petra another blow. And again, in 551 AD, another earthquake struck, causing significant population reduction.


Christian churches and a large monastery were built here during the Byzantine period. 


7. The Islamic invasion occurred in the 7th century, bringing Muslim reign to Petra.


8. Around 1100 AD, the Crusaders conquered the Muslims and built a fort and outpost at Petra. The Crusaders would occupy Petra until the latter part of the 12th century.


9Due to changes in trade routes, earthquakes, and more, by the 14th century, Petra was completely lost to the West, and so it remained for around 400 years. Only a few nomads and locals inhabited the area.


10. Then, in 1812, a Swiss traveler, Johann Ludwig Burckhardt, persuaded his guide to take him to the site of the rumored lost city. Secretly making notes and sketches, he wrote: “It seems very probable that the ruins at Wadi Musa are those of the ancient Petra.”

11. Excavations in 1993 revealed several more temples and monuments that provide insight into the ancient city's political, social, and religious traditions. In 1985, Petra was designated a UNESCO World Heritage site.


Sites of Interest

There is so much to see at this site as it's so rich in history and places. We'll look at the 18 top sites that are the most visited and important.

1. Moses Spring

Nearby to the town of Wadi Musa, which means Valley of Moses in Arabic, is Moses' Spring. According to tradition, this is the rock Moses struck in anger when the Israelites wanted water (Numbers 20:1-13). This act prohibited Moses from entering the Promised Land.

2. Petra Visitor Center

It is located at the entrance to the park and has a museum where you can see the history and artifacts of ancient Petra.

3. Djinn Blocks

Not far from the Petra Visitor Center, there are three enormous, squat monuments known as Djinn Blocks or God Blocks. Many visitors miss the blocks in their hurry to reach the Siq, but they are worth a pause to speculate about their purpose. Some suggest they represent the start of tombs or were associated with funerary dedications or the worship of water and fertility.

4. Obelisk Tomb & Bab As Siq Triclinium

Nearby to the Djinn Blocks is a tomb with four pyramidal obelisks, built as funerary symbols by the Nabataeans in the 1st century BC. The four obelisks, together with the eroded human figure in the center, probably represent the five people buried in the tomb.

5. Al-Siq (Siq)

This is a long road (1 mile, 1.2 km.) with breathtaking high walls on each side that leads to the ancient city. It served as protection to the city in ancient times. Its narrow, vertical walls are undeniably one of the highlights of Petra. Along this road is a water channel once used for transporting water into the ancient city. The walk through this magical corridor, as it snakes its way towards the hidden city, is one full of anticipation for the wonders ahead – a point not wasted on the Nabataeans, who made the passage into a sacred way, punctuated with sites of spiritual significance.

​6. The Treasury (Khazneh)

Among the first sites viewed from the Siq is the Khaznah (“Treasury”), which is actually a large tomb. Known locally as Al Khazneh, this tomb is where most visitors fall in love with Petra. The Hellenistic facade is an astonishing piece of craftsmanship. Although carved out of iron-laden sandstone to serve as a tomb for the Nabataean King Aretas III (100 BC–200 AD), the Treasury derives its name from the story that an Egyptian pharaoh hid his treasure here (in the facade urn) while pursuing the Israelites.

7. Street of Facades

Just beyond the Treasury Tomb and on the way to the main area of the ancient city of Petra lies many large facades. These line the street in a majestic manner, giving prestige to the city. Some of these buildings have large carved-out rooms in them.

8. High Place of Sacrifice

It's a hike from the valley floor up to the high place, but is well worth it. The summit has a table for sacrificial ceremonies and is reached up a few hundred steps, working through the cliffs and ravines of the hill. This place has spectacular views of the ancient city below and gives you a great view of everything below. It's the most accessible of Petra’s High Places. This well-preserved site was built atop Jebel Madbah with drains to channel the blood of sacrificial animals. The area was mainly used to sacrifice animals to the Nabatean God Dushara. It provides a sober and sad reality that false worship took place here. Many were misguided in believing that the worship of false gods helped them. 

9. Theatre

Originally built by the Nabataeans more than 2000 years ago, the Theatre was chiseled out of rock, slicing through many caves and tombs in the process. The Romans enlarged it in around 106 AD to hold about 8500 (around 30% of the population of Petra) soon after they arrived. Badly damaged by an earthquake in 363 AD, the Theatre was partially dismantled to build other structures, but it remains a Petra highlight to this day.

10. Royal Tombs

Downhill from the Theatre, the wadi widens to create a larger thoroughfare. To the right, the Royals Tombs loom over the valley. Within its west-facing cliffs are carved some of the most impressive burial places in Petra, known collectively as the ‘Royal Tombs.’ They look particularly stunning, bathed in the golden light of sunset.


Among these tombs is the famous Urn Tomb, known as such by a large urn above the tomb.


Also in this area is the Palace Tomb. It's distinctive among the Royal Tombs for its rock-hewn facade, the largest in Petra. 


11. Nymphaeum

At the start of the Colonnaded Street, or Cardo, is the Nymphaeum, a public fountain built in the 2nd century AD and fed by water channeled from the Siq. Little can be seen today, although it’s recognizable by the huge 450-year-old pistachio tree, giving welcome shade in summer.


12. Byzantine Church

The Byzantine Church at Petra, also known as The Petra Church, is a prime example of monumental architecture in the Byzantine era of Petra. It sits on elevated ground in the city center, north of Cardo Street. It's one of three Byzantine churches on the hillside, the other two being the Ridge Church, or Red Church, and the Blue Chapel Church, from the 5th - 6th century. The Byzantine Church is notable for its lavish and well-preserved mosaic decoration. Found within its ruins were 140 papyri, which have provided scholars with valuable information about life in Byzantine Petra and its rural surroundings. An awning covers the remains of the church. Inside are some exquisite Byzantine floor mosaics, some of the best in the region. The mosaics originally continued up the walls. The Nabataeans originally built the structure, which was redesigned and expanded by the Byzantines in around 530 AD.

13. Temple of the Winged Lions

The Temple of the Winged Lions is a large Nabatean temple complex that dates to the reign of King Aretas IV in around 9 BC–40 AD. The temple is located in Petra's so-called Sacred Quarter, where other temples are located as well. The temple was likely dedicated to the supreme goddess figure of the Nabateans, but the exact identity of this goddess is uncertain. The temple was ultimately destroyed in the massive earthquake of 363 AD.

14. Colonnaded Street (Roman Cardo)

Downhill from the Byzantine Church, the Colonnaded Street marks the center of ancient Petra. The street was built around 106 AD by the Romans. Columns of marble-clad sandstone originally lined the wide road and covered porticoes on each side, giving access to shops. You can still see remains of the original stones of the road.

At the end of the Cardo is a massive gate built by Roman Emperor Hadrian in around 135 AD. It's called the "Temenos-Tor Gate." It was one of the main entrances to Ancient Petra at this time.


15. Great Temple

The "Great Temple" occupied a prime spot in ancient Petra: from its ruins, you can see the Siq to the southeast, the Qasr al-Bint to the west, and the Lower Market/Petra Pool Complex to the east. It appears to have been a major Nabataean temple of the 1st century BC. It was badly damaged by an earthquake not long after being built but remained in use until the late Byzantine period. It also appears that it might have been used as an administrative building at different points in its history. It's also somewhat unclear as to what deity it was dedicated. It is certainly one of Petra's most distinguished buildings, located at a key place in the city. As you can see, it was located directly to the right just after entering Petra through the western main gate. This means it held prominent value to the city.

16. Qasr Al Bint

Just after leaving the Cardo through the Temenos-Tor Gate, it's a short walk down the road to Qasr Al Bint. This road would have been the main access to Petra during most of its existence.


Qsar Al Bint is one of the few free-standing structures in Petra, Qasr Al Bint was built in around 30 BC by the Nabataeans. It was later adapted to the cult of Roman emperors and destroyed around the 3rd century AD. Despite the name given to it by the local Bedouin – Castle of the Pharaoh’s Daughter – the temple was originally built as a dedication to Nabataean gods and was one of the most important temples in Petra.


17. The Monastery (Ad-Deir)

The Monastery is one of Petra's remarkable rock-hewn buildings, standing at 160 feet tall and 148 feet wide (50 meters tall and 45 meters wide), making it the tallest facade in Petra. Its original purpose is uncertain, but it is believed to have been a temple dedicated to a Nabatean king, Obodas I, although it may have also served other functions. It was likely built in the middle of the first century AD.


To visit 'The Monastery,' visitors must take an 800-step path from the Basin and can enjoy views of the Wadi Araba valley. It's quite the hike, but well worth seeing this amazing monument.

It's certainly one of Petra’s best-known rock-cut monuments. It has an unfinished tomb facade that, during Byzantine times, was used as a church. Hidden high in the hills, the Monastery is one of the legendary monuments of Petra. It's similar in design to the Treasury but bigger. Its name comes from the crosses carved on the inside walls, suggesting its use as a church in Byzantine times. 

18. Mount Hor

This site is about 3 miles or 5 km. from ancient Petra and is reached by vehicle and climbing. Crowning the top of Jebel Haroun, this tomb encased in a 14th-century, whitewashed shrine is thought to be the last resting place of Aaron, Moses' brother, according to Jewish, Christian, and local Muslim tradition. Christians have adopted this site as the authentic place since the Byzantine period and built a monastery here serving as a pilgrimage center. The local Muslim tradition places Aaron's tomb at the same site.


The history of the current building dates back to the Mamluk era during the beginning of the 14th century AD. The mausoleum (burial place) consists of a room and a small courtyard. It has a white dome covering the entirety of the main room. Above the shrine's door is the date of its last renewal. The shrine of the Prophet Aaron is located at the highest point in Petra at an altitude of 3,281 feet or 1,350 meters. The locals record the stories of its construction.  It is visible from afar, catching the first and last of the day's light above the Petra hilltops.

Petra in the Bible

1. The city of Petra is called by its Hebrew name, Sela, in the Bible. Both Petra and Sela mean “rock,” an appropriate name since much of the city is carved into sandstone cliffs. 

Isaiah 16:1: Send the tribute lamb to the ruler of the land, from Sela by way of the wilderness to the mountain of the daughter of Zion.


2 Kings 14:7: He killed ten thousand of the Edomites in the Valley of Salt, and took Sela by war, and named it Joktheel, as it is to this day.


2. Petra was in the land of the Edomites, who were descendants of Esau. Israel and Edom constantly had conflicts, starting with Edom’s refusal to allow Moses and the Israelites to pass through their land on their way to Canaan.

Numbers 20:18-21: Edom, however, said to him, “You shall not pass through us, or I will come out with the sword against you.” 19 Again, the sons of Israel said to him, “We will go up by the road, and if I and my livestock do drink any of your water, then I will pay its price. Let me only pass through on my feet, nothing more.” 20 But he said, “You shall not pass through.” And Edom came out against him with a heavy force and a strong hand. 21 So Edom refused to allow Israel to pass through his territory; then Israel turned away from him. 

3. According to tradition, Moses and the Israelites passed through the Petra area in Edom. Local tradition says that the spring at Wadi Musa (Valley of Moses), just outside Petra, is where Moses struck the rock and brought forth water (Numbers 20:10-11).

This could be true if Petra was outside the border of Edom at this time and not inside of Edom. The Bible is clear in Numbers that the King of Edom refused the Israelites entry into his country as the Israelites journeyed to the Promised Land.

4. Also, according to tradition, Jebel Haroun, located at Petra, is Mt. Hor,  where Moses’ brother Aaron was buried. 

Numbers 20:23-24: Then the Lord spoke to Moses and Aaron at Mount Hor by the border of the land of Edom, saying, 24 “Aaron will be gathered to his people. 


5. King Saul and King David both fought the Edomites.

1 Samuel 14:47: Now when Saul had taken control of the kingdom over Israel, he fought against all his enemies on every side, against Moab, the sons of Ammon, Edom, the kings of Zobah, and the Philistines; and wherever he turned, he inflicted punishment.


2 Samuel 8:13-14: So David made a name for himself when he returned from killing eighteen thousand Arameans in the Valley of Salt. 14 He also put garrisons in Edom. In all Edom he put garrisons, and all the Edomites became servants to David. And the Lord helped David wherever he went.


6. During the reign of King Jehoshaphat, Edom invaded Judah but failed, and Israel was victorious in battle (2 Chronicles 20).


7. Later, King Amaziah fought against Edom and took control of Petra, renaming it “Joktheel.”

2 Kings 14:7: He killed ten thousand of the Edomites in the Valley of Salt, and took Sela by war, and named it Joktheel, as it is to this day.


8. When King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon destroyed Jerusalem in 586 BC, the Edomites gave aid and comfort to the enemy (Psalm 137:7). For this, they were strongly condemned by the prophets Isaiah, Jeremiah, and Obadiah (Isaiah 34:5-8; Jeremiah 49:16-18).

9. The Edomites raided traveling caravans and then hid in Petra for protection. They became arrogant and abusive. For this reason, God judged them.

Obadiah 3-4: The arrogance of your heart has deceived you, the one who lives in the clefts of the rock, on the height of his dwelling place, who says in his heart, "Who will bring me down to earth?" 4 Though you make your home high like the eagle, though you set your nest among the stars, from there I will bring you down, declares the Lord.


10. Petra seemed secure in its unpenetrable fortress of rock for centuries, but today, its ruins lie uninhabited, fulfilling Scripture.

Jeremiah 49:18: As Sodom and Gomorrah were overthrown, along with their neighboring towns, says the LORD, so no one will live there; no people will dwell in it.


11. Evidence of the Nabateans in the Gospels.

Nabatean King Aretas IV’s daughter married Herod Antipas, the son of Herod the Great (Herod’s mother was Nabatean). Aretas had a good relationship with Antipas until he divorced Aretas’ daughter to marry his brother’s wife, Herodias. Antipas’ marital decision caused John the Baptist to condemn him, to which Herodias got her revenge when she persuaded her daughter to ask for John’s head as a birthday present (Matthew 14:6-12; Mark 6:21-29).

12. The Apostle Paul and the Nabateans

We later see evidence of the Nabateans in both the books of Acts and 2 Corinthians.

When Paul met Jesus on the road to Damascus, the city was under its second Nabatean control. King Aretas I gained control after Antiochus Epiphanes was assassinated in 164 B.C. His grandson, Aretas III, regained control of the city after Antiochus XII of Cele-Syria was defeated in the battle of Cana (Josephus, Antiquities, 13.15.1-2).

After Paul converted to Christianity in Damascus, the Bible says he immediately went out to preach the Gospel. Those who heard him were astounded that the same guy they had heard was killing Christians was now preaching that Jesus is the Christ. Paul’s enthusiasm greatly upset the Jews in Damascus, and they set out to kill him, causing Paul to go into hiding.

Acts 9:23-25: Now, after many days were past, the Jews plotted to kill him. But their plot became known to Saul. And they watched the gates day and night to kill him. Then the disciples took him by night and let him down through the wall in a large basket.


Paul recalls the incident in 2 Corinthians 11:32:  In Damascus, the governor, under Aretas the king, was guarding the city of Damascus with a garrison, desiring to arrest me. But I was let down in a basket through a window in the wall and escaped from his hands.


Acts 9 says it was the Jews who were after Paul, but Paul says it was Aretas who wanted him. The indication is that the Jews had stirred up the Nabatean authorities against him. They continued to do so several more times as they made repeated attempts on Paul’s life (Acts 13:50).

13. In his letter to the Galatians, while describing his conversion to Christianity, Paul mentions his time in Arabia.

Galatians 1:15–17: When God, who had set me apart before I was born and called me through his grace, was pleased to reveal his Son to me, so that I might proclaim him among the Gentiles, I did not confer with any human being, nor did I go up to Jerusalem to those who were already apostles before me, but I went away at once into Arabia, and afterwards I returned to Damascus. 

Many believe that Arabia, at this time, included Petra.


14. It is believed to be where the Israelites will flee and be protected by God during the second half of the Great Tribulation Period.

Revelation 12:5-6: And she gave birth to a Son, a male, who is going to rule all the nations with a rod of iron; and her Child was caught up to God and to His throne. 6 Then the woman fled into the wilderness [Petra]where she had a place prepared by God, so that there she would be nourished for 1,260 days.

Micah 2:12: I will surely assemble, O Jacob, all of thee; I will surely gather the remnant of Israel; I will put them together as the sheep of Bozrah, as the flock in the midst of their fold: they shall make great noise by reason of the multitude of men (KJV). Bozrah is in the area where Petra is located. It is also the Hebrew word for sheepfold.

Psalm 60:8-12: Moab is My washbowl; I will throw My sandal over Edom; Shout loud, Philistia, because of Me!” 9 Who will bring me into the besieged city? Who will lead me to Edom? 10 Have You Yourself not rejected us, God? And will You not go out with our armies, God? 11 Oh give us help against the enemy, for rescue by man is worthless. 12 Through God we will do valiantly, and it is He who will trample down our enemies.


Faith Lesson from Petra


1. Petra is where many biblical events took place that were prophesied and where it's very likely more biblical prophecies will take place. Prophecy proves the Bible is true. Do we believe and trust the Bible as our guide and source of truth?

2. Petra is a witness to the rising and fall of its inhabitants. It reveals how short our time on earth is and how God blesses and curses those who follow Him or don't. What about us? Do we realize our time on earth is short and that what matters most in life is that we are right with our Creator and prepared for eternity?

3. Pride and arrogance are an ever-present danger to our souls. It's something with which we can all battle. The Edomites and Nabateans certainly fell to this temptation and fell as a result.

Obadiah 3-4: The arrogance of your heart has deceived you, the one who lives in the clefts of the rock, on the height of his dwelling place, who says in his heart, "Who will bring me down to earth?" 4 Though you make your home high like the eagle, though you set your nest among the stars, from there I will bring you down, declares the Lord.


James 4:6: God gives grace to the humble but resists the proud. 

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