Our guide Mohammed scored big points by suggesting a 9am start time (I was holding out for 6:30). But he was right, a visit to Petra is all about timing. Arriving at the Treasury in the morning is best since the sun hits the facade just right and brings out the color and detail. I cannot understand big groups arriving at two in the afternoon, the hottest part of the day and the time when the colors are not as vibrant.
The walk down the Siq was pleasant and cool, if not chilly in the shade. A few moments in the sun reminded you that you were in the desert. Mohammed did a serviceable with the explanations, but I thought he did not do a very good job pointing to the (rather thin) connections to the New Testament period. Perhaps he did not fully understand the audience, but the students could have been better informed. I tried to do this more privately as we walked along.
The Treasury, which is really just the most ornate tomb in the necropolis, was as crowded as usual. It does not look like much has been done with the lower tombs other than to shore up the barrier keeping the tourists back from the steps. I noticed several areas with new barriers, such as the cult site in the Siq, the Byzantine chapel, and quite a few tombs which used to be open. My first time at Petra there were no barriers at all, even at the theater. But with increased tourism comes an increase in wear and tear on the soft sandstone monuments.
Mohammed walked us up to the Royal tombs, specifically to the large tomb usually referred to as the Byzantine chapel. Tis is a long climb up stairs, past a bewildering array of Bedouins trying to be you to “stop and have a look.” The chapel itself is in remarkable, although the large chamber shows off the rose colors of the sandstone nicely. The main reason for hiking up the steps is the views of the rest of the valley. From up at the top you can see just how many tombs are in the necropolis at Petra.
After a quick “box lunch” we gave the kids free time to explore and haggle. I walked with the Shaws to the Temple of Zeus. The is the first time I have visited this location, and it was a rewarding visit. The temple was excavated by Brown University and they have done an excellent job restoring much of the Temple while preserving some things as found. We spent an hour climbing to the top of the temple complex, but at least another hour would be necessary to really see the whole complex.
Are there any biblical connections in Petra? Petra is a fantastic site and everyone should visit it if you have the chance. But why put it on a biblical studies tour? First, the wife who was divorced by Herod Antipas was a Nabatean princess. Second, Nabatean king Aretas IV is sometimes described as the Herod the Great of the Nabateans. He expanded the kingdom to its largest extent. Third, Paul mentions in 2 Cor. 11:22-23 as the King who ordered that Paul be arrested. While there is little direct reference to the Nabateans, the do lurk in the background of the New Testament.
After the long uphill hike back to the bus, all people wanted to do was to return to the hotel and hit the pool. I cannot blame them, as wonderful as Petra is, this was an exhausting day.
We are back to Israel tomorrow, spending a bit of time at the Red Sea and sleeping at Tamar before our big day in the Negev.