Day 8: Petra
Today, we toured one of the places I was most excited about this entire trip: Petra! Our tour guide said it would take months to go through all of Petra—and he was totally right! We were there for only a mere eight hours and we only saw a fraction of the fraction they have uncovered (only seventeen percent of Petra has actually been unearthed).
Traveling down the Sig (the long, narrow entry into Petra), we finally emerged to the Treasury building (which isn’t an actual treasury building, it is a tomb of a very famous lawyer in Petra, but Bedouin legends said that the treasures of the Pharoahs were sealed inside, so they called it the Treasury). I made a video of Petra (here) so you can follow along.
From the Treasury, we went to see various tombs and dwellings, which happened to be the same buildings most of the time. Yes, people back then lived in the same places they buried their dead. Strange, right? But apparently the tradition continues. Our guide was saying that many Coptic Christians in Egypt are the same way. Looking back, it makes sense. The churches in Egypt were right next to the cemeteries, and their tombs looked like houses. Our guide said when he visited, the Coptic man invited him in his house, offered him tea, and told him he could sit anywhere, but not in this one spot because that was where his mother was buried.
Why did people live next to their dead? It is just a culture thing. The people believe they are keeping their families safe and are still close to their families. Might I point out at this point that they are not gross about the dead stuff. They don’t mess around with the dead bodies, they don’t mummify them, they just bury them in stone tombs in or next to their house. Sometimes, they will perform the burial ceremony, place the person on the main floor, and then build a stone floor right on top of the dead family member to form a new floor to the house.
The way people in Petra do their stone work is amazing! They seal everything so well that the people couldn’t smell the dead person beneath their own feet. The way they ran water through their cities was also unbelievable. Our guide said that there were millions of miles of man-made aqueducts that all led into Petra. Considering it only rains on average about seventeen inches per year, they need all the water they can get. In addition, since they shaped the landscape to pour all the water into Petra, flash flooding became a problem. Well, to them it wasn’t a problem, they were ingenious and built series of dams to control the water flow so they would always get what they needed.
Petra was a huge city, supporting up to 100,000 people at a time. For an ancient city, that’s pretty dang big. As we moved through the city, we saw in every rock face dwellings carved. The beautiful stone acted as natural wallpaper.
Some of the most elaborate buildings with some of the most beautiful carvings were the tombs. In Nabatean culture (the people who lived in Petra), it wasn’t your position that was important. Most everyone was equal (well, at least more equal than other ancient cultures). However, they believed that your afterlife was directly related to how much time you put into your tomb and how much stuff you put in your tomb (just like the Egyptians; in fact, the Nabateans were traders and traded with nearly every culture; their architecture and sculptures represent Greek and Roman influence as well as Egyptian). The desire for a good afterlife led to their elaborate tombs.
We ate a small lunch next to the church at the top of one of the hills (I will get to the church later). Afterwards, we hiked 800 steps to get to the Monastery. While early archeologist believed this place to be an actual monastery, it turned out it was more of a political and religious gathering place where people of all different religions and practices could worship their gods.
At the top of this place, we met Mockmood, a ten-year old Bedouin boy who offered to show us around. As payment for his help, one of our group members gave him his sunglasses. Mockmood was thrilled with them and kept wearing them, taking them on and off. Mockmood taught me a lot, I ended up writing about him (here).
While the Monastery was interesting, it wasn’t a cool as the church. After Petra was abandoned by the Nabateans, early Christians who were persecuted hid in Petra to stay safe. While there, they made a church (or possibly churches, we have only uncovered a small section of Petra). At this church were beautiful mosaics all over the floor. Weathered away by sand and sun, the mosaics were dull, but still were clear and beautiful. Near the back of the church was the Baptistery, another thing I found fascinating.
Looking and touching these ancient artifacts took me back in time to see how the early followers of Christ lived out their lives. I felt connected with people who haven’t lived there in thousands of years. The same people who lived in that city and worshiped in that church followed the same Jesus I follow today. Were our rituals and beliefs the same? Most likely not. Yet I still felt connected to these early Christians, those who were not divided by denomination argued over whether or not to change the carpet brown or green. These people were trying to survive, to live, to worship Christ no matter what the cost.
We in America just don’t get it. We argue over whether or not alcohol should be banned or whether or not men should wear hats in church. We argue detailed theology like whether or not someone can lose their salvation. Why does that matter? People back then didn’t argue these issues. Losing their salvation wasn’t even considered because when they accepted Christ, that was it. They left their homes, their families abandoned them sometimes, and they had to flee because they might be put in jail, or in some cases, even death.
I think it’s time we refocus our energies on things that really matter. But that's just my opinion.
Following His Call,