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History of Petra

QUESTION: What is the history of Petra?


The history of Petra is a remarkable study. Petra, which lies in the southern area of Jordan, is rich in history and beauty. Petra was a settlement primarily inhabited by an ancient people called Nabataens. These people grew rich from taking advantage of Petra’s location because it was along a major trade route. Petra’s earliest name was Sela, meaning “rock” and later from the Latin word “petrae” meaning rock.

Petra’s fame is attributed to its beautiful sandstone, ‘rose-red rock’ facades and the natural fortress it provides. It is believed that around 1200 BC, the region was occupied by descendants of Ishmael called Edomites.

There were many times other empires fought for and gained control (temporarily) of Petra as you can see in the timeline below.1

History of Petra – A Timeline

1420-587 BC Edomites inhabit Petra
312 BC Antigonus (Seleucid Asian ruler) attacks Petra’s Nabataens, later the Greek are defeated there by the Nabataens
168 BC Antiochus IV sentences High Priest Jason to exile who is then imprisoned by Nabataen’s first priest, King Aretas
70 BC Jerusalem fall under control of Aretas; Roman General Scaurus (commissioned by Pompey) forces Nabataen to retreat
70 AD The Nabataen king Malichus IV sends 5,000 horsemen and 1,000 soldiers to aid Titus to squelch the Jewish uprising, this left Jerusalem and the temple destroyed.
105 AD The Roman emperor Trajan adds the Nabataen territory to the Roman ruled region of Arabia.
326 AD With Christianity the official religion of Rome, Petra becomes Byzantine; 4 churches are built.
638 AD Byzantine armies are defeated by Muhammad’s forces; Petra’s Christians are given religious freedom. Petra is abandoned by the end of the 7th century AD.
1099 AD 1st the Crusader king, Baldwin, builds a succession of castles the length of Jordon, (2 of them in Petra) attempting to gain control over the gulf of Eilat, the gateway to the Indian Ocean.
1187 AD Well-known Muslim leader Saladin wipes outs the crusader fortresses and then moves on; Petra was a ‘lost city’ until rediscovered in 1812 by Swiss explorer, Johan Burckhardt (1784-1817).

Many believe the Bible’s Old Testament is referring to Petra with the name Sela but that has not been clearly stated. 2 Kings 14:7 seems to be a bit more specific than other biblical verses. In some scriptures it is taken that Sela simply means ‘rock’. But could it be that Petra is the place spoken of in Revelation where Israel will flee to and take refuge during the Great Tribulation?


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