Moab and Edom
31. Petra in the land of Edom, also Iechtoel, also Rekem,where Amasias defeated Edom in Gemela- (Petra ?)
The ruins of the 'rose-red city' of Petra, capital of the Nabatean kingdom, were discovered and identified in 1812 by J.L. Burckhardt. It is generally accepted that 'ha-sela' ('the rock'), the Edomite town (2 Kgs. 14:7; Authorized Version: 'Selah'; 2 Chr. 25:12), should be sought at Umm el-Biyara, one of the highest rocks rising above Wadi Musa. Petra is the Greek form of this Semitic name. The ancient Nabatean name of the town was Rekem, or Rekmu, as it is rendered in a Nabatean inscription. Except for some remains of the Upper Paleolithic period and the Iron Age there is little at Petra that is earlier than the Hellenistic period.
There are about 750 monuments of all types at Petra. The various tombs were initially dated to the period from the 4th century BC to the 2nd century AD), but it is now clear that the earlier forms are not earlier than the second half of the 1st century BC. The more elaborate designs are not necessarily a development of the simple ones and some of them were constructed at the same time.
Avraham Negev (Ed.), The Archaeological Encyclopedia of the Holy Land, ad v. "Petra"
Herbert Donner ("Transjordan and Egypt in the Mosaic Map of Madaba", Annual of the Department of Antiquities of Jordan 28 (1984) 252-254. (extract)
At the edge of the preserved part of the mosaic, south of river [Z]ARED (Wadi al-Hasa), one can see two and a half black letters which are not represented on the plates of Palmer and Guthe and in the reprint of these plates by Avi-Yonah. They appeared during the restoration work in 1965. We read ME, the third letter could be Alpha, Lambda, or Delta. Undoubtedly, these letters are the traces of a longer inscription, but of an inscription of which kind? A place name or the last line of an inscription not belonging to a town or a village? Is it a biblical reminiscence or a profane representation? Was there a symbol for a locality of the usual type with walls, towers and roofs, and if there was such a symbol was it represented above the inscription or right of it or below? Does the inscription refer to the land of Edom or to the gulf of Aqaba or even to the peninsula of Sinai? We don't know. The fact that only two and a half letters are preserved doesn't make the attempts for completion totally hopeless. I am reminded of another case on the same mosaic map: two and a half letters at the edge of the mosaic underneath the city of Neapolis could indeed be restored to an inscription of forty-one letters, namely the legend of "Dothaim where Joseph found his brothers pasturing". Is there any chance to get an inscription merely based on the letters MEA, MEL or MED ?
It seems to be impossible, especially if we have to suppose a profane representation or an inscription like Aia and Tharais being not far from our traces; for the number of literary references about the land east and southeast of the Dead Sea is small. The chances, however, increase if the inscription referred to is from the Bible. In this case we can trace back to the main sources from which the mosaic artist borrowed his information: the Greek Bible (Septuagint) and the "Onomasticon of Biblical Place Names" written by the bishop Eusebius of Caesarea and translated into Latin by St. Jerome. We have to take into consideration: either the remnant letters belong to an inscription which described one of the events mentioned in the Bible or to a place name or to the name of a region known from the Bible. In order to illustrate what I mean, I will call attention to three biblical reminiscences on the southern or south-eastern part of the mosaic map. They are of that kind which could be expected here:
1. "Raphidim where Israel fought against the coming Amalek"; cf. Ex. 17: 8-16.
2. "The wilderness of Sin where the manna and the quails were sent down"; cf. Ex. 16: 1-36 and Num. 11: 4-34.
3. "The wilderness where the serpent of hrass saved the Israelites"; cf. Num. 21: 4-9.
The sequence of these biblical events marks the horizon of the Old Testament narratives, to which an allusion could be expected here. The chronological and geographical dead-line, so to speak, is given in Num. 21: 12: because in this text the arrival of the Israelites at river Zared (= Wadi al-Hasa) is reported. Therefore, three traditions come into question: 1. the stay of the Israelites at Kadesh Barnea, the death of Miryam, and the water brought forth by Moses out of the rock (Num. 20: 1-13; mentioned by Eusebius, Onom. 112: 8-12); 2. how Edom refused passage to Israel (Num. 20: 14-21; not mentioned by Eusebius); 3. how Aaron died on mount Hor (Num. 20; 22-29; mentioned three times by Eusebius, Onom. 46, 14-16/126, 19s./176,7s.). Only the items no. 2 and 3 are on the short list, because item no. 1- Kadesh Barnea-is located much more to the south. But we need not care about this matter, for there is no account in the Septuagint and no item in Eusebius' Onomasticon concerning those events, the remnant letters MEA, MEL or MED could really fit in.
After having tried to find out the supposed inscription in this way, but without any success, we may examine all the items in the Greek Bible and in Eusebius' Onomasticon referring to places, towns and villages in the land of Edom, in the southern desert regions and in Moab as well, the latter because topographical mistakes on the mosaic map cannot be excluded. All research, however, doesn't give any result, as far as I can see.
Should not we regard it as hopeless? Or should we say: nothing ventured, nothing gained? Let us step back and look at the mosaic map on the whole and state a simple question: A traveller, a modern tourist for instance, is going from north to south on the east bank of Jordan and east of the Dead Sea, passing Wadi al-Mugib and Wadi al-Hasa, to what place does he want to go? He wants to go to Petra, of course. Did travellers in the sixth century A.D. as well? In all probability, they did not. The Christian pilgrims, for example, did not go to Petra, as far as we know. The splendour of Petra had been diminished, its political rank was lost, it had become a provincial town. But it was still situated near the famous ancient royal road, the via Traiana from Bostra to Aila; it was the residence of a Christian archbishop, and it is still mentioned in Byzantine literature after the decline of its political power: seventeen times in Eusebius' Onomasticon, in the Descriptio Orbis Romani by Georgius Cyprius, on the Tabulae Peutingerianae and elsewhere. Should not it have been represented on the mosaic map of Madaba as well?
The items on the subject from Eusebius' Onomasticon are as follows:
1. 1"Petra, a city in the land of Edom, province of Arabia, which was called Joktheel, which is also named Rekem by the Syrians."
2. "Rekem, that is Petra, a city of the province of Arabia, which was ruled by Rokom whom defeated the Israelites. The king himself is also called Madiam."
The place name Iechtoel is mentioned in II Kings 14: 7: "He (king Amaziah of Judah) slew Edom in the Valley of Salt, ten thousands, and took Sela by war, and called the name of it Joktheel, unto this day." Eusebius explains this text on Onom. 110: 22: "Jekthoel, (that is) Petra in the Books of Kings." He adds in Onom. 72: 28-29, misinterpreting the "Valley of Salt" (in Hebrew ge hammelah as if it be a place name: "Gemela land of Edom, but according to Aquila and to Symmachus valley of salt." Gemela or , in the Septuagint, Gaimele is a mere transcription of Hebrew ge hammelah which is treated as a place name, although it is no place name, but the name of a valley.
From all these items we are able to combine or to reconstruct the texts of two inscriptions, both referring to Petra:
1. Petra in the land of Edom, province of Arabia, also Joktheel, also Rekem, where slew Amaziah Edom in GeMELa.
2. Rekem, also Joktheel, now Petra, where slew Amaziah Edom in GeMELa.
Of course, the exact wording cannot be reconstructed; other slightly varying approaches remain possible. Someone will perhaps prefer other forms of some Greek words: Iektoel instead of Iechtoel, Amesis instead of Amessias;, Gamele instead of Gemela. As far as the phraseology is concerned, the reconstruction should be as close as possible to similar inscriptions on the mosaic map of Madaba. Indeed, the mosaic artist preferred an arrangement of longer inscriptions in four or five lines. There are lots of examples for division of words, for short lines at the end and for abbreviations K(ai).
lf Petra was represented on the mosaic map of Madaba, its inscription approximately looked like one of the two suggested reconstructions. But was it represented on the map? I don't know. If anyone has other and better explanations for the two and a half letters MEA. MED or MEL, he is kindly requested to let me know.
For more sources and bibliography see:
F.-M. Abel, Géographie de la Palestine. II (Paris 1938), s.v. "Petra", 407-409; "Reqem", 436.
Map Section 4 Place Sources