Located in the Edomite Mountains, Petra (Arabic Batra) lies in a narrow, winding valley called Wadi Musa (Valley of Moses), which breaks through the rugged hills flanking the eastern side of the Wadi Arabah, south of the Dead Sea. Petra was the home of the cave-dwelling Horites (Horim; cave-dwellers; Genesis 14:6) driven out by the Edomites (Deuteronomy 2:12). The site became an Edomite stronghold, or capital, called Sela (or Selah), meaning "rock" (see Genesis 36: 8). This was the region known as Mt. Seir.
Amaziah, king of Judah, sent a 300,000-man army for the recovery of Edom (see Josephus, Antiquities, IX, ix, 1). Following a great battle in the Valley of Salt he had 10,000 Edomites hurled to death from the cliffs of Selah (II Chronicles 25:11-13, II Kings 14:7, Isaiah 16:1). This occurred in the 12th year of his reign (7943 BCE). Josephus writes of these victims as those: "whom he brought to the great rock which is in Arabia, and threw them down from it headlong." Amaziah renamed the city Joktheel -- "subdued by God" -- to commemorate his victory. Edomites later re-took the city.
About 300 BCE nomadic Arabs called the Nabatu, or Nabataeans, drove the Edomites out of the region of Mt. Seir. The Nabataeans captured Sela and made it their capital and the religious center of the Nabatean Kingdom. They renamed it Rekumu from rekem ("rock"). In the second century BCE, Hellenistic culture swept the Near East, and the Nabataeans slowly accepted it. It was the Greeks who called the city Petra (meaning, "rock").
The Nabataeans were the first to settle and to develop a significantly distinctive type of architecture, pottery, sculpture and stone dressing at Petra. The monumental caves served as Nabatean tombs. Some believe that the tomb Arabs refer to as the Al-Khaznah ("the Treasury") was likely the tomb of the Nabatean king Aretas IV [Harithat IV] (8 BCECE 40). A representative of Aretas served as governor in Damascus when the apostle Paul (then the recent convert Saul) escaped arrest by being let down in a basket through an opening in the city wall (Acts 9:25; II Corinthians 11:32-33). The Romans defeated the Nabataeans in CE 106 and the region became part of the Roman province of Arabia.
A lingering fascination of some Christians with Petra comes from speculation of a few Christian groups that the site will someday become a "place of safety" where a small number of end-time Christians will escape the Great Tribulation (Revelation 3:10; 12:14-17 when taken with Daniel 11:31-12:1; Matthew 24:16-21; Luke 21:21-23; Mark 12:14-17). Some confuse Petra with Pella. The latter apparently served as a refuge for Jerusalem Christians in the 66-70 CE Roman war with Jewish zealots in the Holy Land.
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