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Mount Hor-Jabal Haroun

Jabal Haroun - Mount Hor

{star-snippet} JOSEPHUS the Jewish historian, as well as early Christian and later Muslim traditions associate Jabal Haroun ("Mountain of the Prophet Aaron - or Mount Hor") with the death and burial place of Aaron. Later, these traditions are attested in the Crusader period (nth­rjth centuries AD) and up to recent times (Peterman and Schick 1996: 477)· (This site is located in Petra - Jordan , and can bee seen once you reach Wadi Mousa city, its on the highest mountain on Petra, and can bee seen from far distant if you took Aqaba - Amman Wadi Araba route - more than 45 Miles away )

 

Early twentieth-century archaeological explorations on the peak of Jabal Haroun (fig. n.r) uncovered evidence for the existence of an early Christian church at the place where a Muslim shrine (weli) is presently located (Peterman and Schick 1996: 475-77). Following up on this work, Peterman and Schick also examined the remains of a monastic complex on a plateau just below and to the west of the peak (1996: 473-75). More recently, the Finnish Jabal Haroun Project (FJHP) has excavated this complex and has established that the complex consists of a church, cha­pel, and associated quarters, including a possible hostel. The FJHP found evidence that the church was dedicated to Saint Aaron. All this indicates the pilgrimage character of the site.

AARON IN THE BIBLE - AN OVERVIEW

Aaron is the brother of Moses and Miriam; his association with the for­mer is particularly strong. For example, the expression "Moses and Aaron" appears frequently in the Old Testament/Hebrew Scriptures. However, there are also a few places where the expression "Aaron and Moses" oc­curs.

At the time of the Israelites' sojourn in Egypt and their enslavement there, the LORD appointed Aaron as his spokesperson because of Moses' difficulty in speaking (Exodus 4.10-16). At the beginning of the plague stories, Aaron also played a leading role (Exodus 5-8). Nevertheless, Moses is given the primary position in the departure of the Hebrews from Egypt and in subsequent events.

Aaron is the ancestor of the priestly Aaronites, the priests who claim descent from Levi through him; they are referred to as "the sons of Aaron" (Leviticus 3.8, 2I.I; Numbers 10.8). Aaron is the model for later priests. He and his descendants are the ones who perform the most holy rituals, who handle the holiest of sacred objects, and who enter the holiest of places. They oversee all priestly functions and groups and monitor the activities of the priests at both the temple and the tabernacle (see Exodus 28-29; Leviticus 8-9; 1 Chronicles 6.49, 23.13, 24.19). Aaron is given in­structions from the LORD through Moses as to how he and his sons are to bless the Israelites, which is to be done in the following fashion: "The LORD bless you and keep you; the LORD make his face shine upon you, and be gracious to you; the LORD lift up his countenance upon you and give you peace!" (Numbers 6.24-26).But not all the biblical passages portray Aaron in a positive light. For example, Aaron joins his sister Miriam in opposing Moses because of Moses' marriage to a non-Israelite, challenging his authority. The LORD intervenes, sides with Moses, and is angry with Aaron and Miriam (Numbers 12). According to Numbers, there is no doubt that Aaron is second to Moses.

During the period between the departure from Egypt and the enter­ing of the "Promised Land," Aaron once again was among the group who rebelled against the LORD at the waters of Meribah, the "place of quar­reling," at Rephidim. The people were unhappy with Moses because of the lack of water and asked him why he made them leave Egypt to die of thirst in the desert. The situation is defused when the LORD commands Moses to strike the rock and the thirst of the people is quenched (Exodus q.I-7). The incident at Meribah is cited below as the reason why Aaron must die and is not allowed to enter the land that the LORD has given to the Israelites.

Another role Aaron played during the wilderness wandering of the Israelites after their departure from Egypt is in the battle against the Amalekites, a people of southern Palestine and the Sinai Peninsula. The Israelites, led by Joshua, were victorious against the Amalekites as long as Moses, who had climbed to the top of a hill with Aaron and Hur, held the staff of God in his hand and kept it raised. As he tired and was no longer able to hold his hands high, the Israelites began to lose the battle. The solution was for Moses to sit on a rock while Aaron and Hur, one on each side, supported his hands. Moses' hands remained steady till sunset and Joshua and his followers defeated the Amalekites (Exodus q.8-13). When Moses was up the mountain of Sinai speaking with God and receiving the two tablets of the covenant, he delayed in coming down. The people became restless, since they did not know what had happened to him. They gathered around Aaron and asked him to "make gods for us, who shall go before us." Aaron "took the gold from them, formed it in a mold, and cast an image of a cal£" He next built an altar before the im­age, and the people "offered burnt offerings and brought sacrifices of well being; and the people sat down to eat and drink, and rose up to revel." When Moses came down from the mountain with the two tablets of the covenant in his hands, he heard the sounds of the revelers and found that the Israelites had sinned against God by making for themselves an image of a calf (the "Golden Calf") (Exodus 32). The LORD was angry with Aaron for his leadership in the affair and would have destroyed him except for the intercessory prayer of Moses and the complete destruction of the image (Deuteronomy 9.15-20). In the New Testament, the Letter to the Hebrews speaks of Jesus being called to the priesthood by God, just like Aaron (p-6). However, to distinguish Jesus' priesthood from that of other contemporary priests, the author of Hebrews writes that Jesus is a priest "according to the order of Melchizedek," not to that of Aaron or Levi (Hebrews 7 04-22). From the above, it is evident that Aaron appears in both a positive and negative light in the Bible. Despite the negative portrayal, he is re­membered by Jews, Christians, and Muslims as a prophet and priest.

 

BIBLICAL TEXTS AND COMMENTARY ON THE DEATH OF AARON

There are three biblical texts that deal with the death of Aaron, but there is no general agreement about the place where it took place. Two of the pas­sages place Aaron's death at Mount Hor (Numbers 20.22-29; Deuteronomy 32048-51), while the third places it at Moserah (Deuteronomy 10.6). It is only this third passage that provides the explicit information that Aaron was buried where he died.

OTHER ANCIENT TEXTS

Despite the above, Josephus places the death of Aaron on one of the high mountains that encompass Petra: Now when this purification, which their leader made upon the mourning for his sister, as it has been now described, was over, he caused the army to remove and to march through the wilder­ness and through Arabia; and when he came to a place which the Arabians esteem their metropolis, which was formerly called Arce, but has now the name of Petra, at this place, which was encompassed with high mountains, Aaron went up one of them in the sight of the whole army, Moses having before told him that he was to die, for this place was over against them. He put off his pontifical garments, and delivered them to Eleazar his son, to whom the high priesthood belonged, because he was the elder brother; and died while the multitude looked upon him. He died in the same year wherein he lost his sister, having lived in all a hundred twenty and three years ... (Antiquities 4-4.7). Josephus clearly locates the death of Aaron on one of the high moun­tains in the vicinity of Petra, a place he describes as a "metropolis" of the Arabians. But, as indicated previously, neither Arce nor Petra is cited in the biblical texts as the place of Aaron's death (and burial). Both Eusebius, Onomasticon, and Jerome, Book on the Sites and Names of Places of the Hebrews, place the death of Aaron at Or, a mountain near Petra: Or (Num 20: 22, 28) A mountain in which Aaron died near the city of Petra, in which even until today the rock is shown that Moses struck. (176); and Or. The mountain where Aaron died, near the city of Petra, where even until today the stone is shown which Moses struck and gave water to the people (177) (Taylor et al. 2003: 98). Eusebius and Jerome's location of the death of Aaron at Mount Hor would appear to fit Jabal Haroun, since this is where later Islamic tradi­tion located both Aaron's death and burial. 1

EVIDENCE OF EARLY CHRISTIAN PRESENCE AT PETRA AND JABAL HAROUN

There is no lack of evidence for Christian presence within ancient Petra itself. Indeed, immediately following his conversion, Paul claims, "but I went away at once into Arabia" (Galatians 1.17). The Arabia of Paul's time would have been the Nabataean kingdom, of which Petra was the capital. Early zorh-century explorers speak of churches at Petra. Excavations on the part of the American Center of Oriental Research, Amman, with­in the city proper in the 1990S and early years of the present century have resulted in the uncovering of three ecclesiastical structures: the Church of Saint Mary or "Petra Church" (late fifth-early seventh cen­tury; figs. 1I.2-3), the Ridge Church (sixth century; proba­bly destroyed in the earthquake of AD 551), and the Blue Chapel (late fifth or early sixth century). Moreover, the Ad-Dayr ("the monastery") monument also indicates Christian presence. Bishops are attested at Petra beginning in the fourth century. The names of a number of them are known, since some attended church councils in that and subsequent centuries. An inscription in the Urn Tomb within Petra commemorates its conversion into a church in AD 446. A number of references also provide information to the effect that Petra was a place of banishment for exiled ecclesiastical leaders in the fifth and sixth centuries. John Moschus (late sixth-early seventh century) recounts the "say­ing" of Abba John of Petra to him and Sophronios (Moschus 1992: 94, ch. Il3) and also mentions Abba Athenogenes, Bishop of Petra (chs, 127-29; Moschus 1992: 103-7). On one or more of his various sojourns, John Moschus could have visited Petra. The Petra Papyrus Inventory 6, dated to June 15, AD 573 (or earlier), mentions the existence of "the Monastery (Holy House) of our Lord the Saint High- Priest Aaron" outside the city of Petra (Gagos and Frosen 1998: 477; Frosen and Fiema 2004: 7). The best candidate for this "monastery" is the ruins of a Byzantine monastery on Jabal Haroun. The Life of Saint Stephen the Sabaite mentions that the monks who walked around the Dead Sea during Lent in the mid-eighth century stopped, among other places, at the caves of Mar Aaronis, which could be at Jabal Haroun: "He was living with them ( ... ) in the caves of the Arnon, or of Saint Lot, or of Saint Aaron, or beyond the Dead Sea" (Vita S. Stephani Sabaitae 17:3). However, a detour to this mountain while walk­ing around the Dead Sea would be a significant one. Al-Mas'udi, an Arab historian and traveler writing in 955-956, lists Jabal Haroun as a holy mountain of the Christians. He reports that it was in the possession of Melkite Christians (Peterman and Schick 1996: 477)· The monastery on Jabal Haroun was still in existence when the Crusaders arrived in Transjordan. Fulcher of Chartes mentions it during Baldwin's expedition in IlOO: "Furthermore we found at the top of the mountain the Monastery of Saint Aaron where Moses and Aaron were wont to speak with God. We rejoiced very much to behold a place so holy and to us unknown" (see Peterman and Schick 1996: 477). Gilbert the Abbot mentions an oratory there, while Master Thetmarus mentions it during his visit to Petra in 1217: "At length I came to Mount Or, where Aaron died, on whose summit is built a church in which live two Greek Christian monks. The place is called Muscera" (see Peterman and Schick 1996: 477).

Islamic Tradition on jabal Haroun

Jabal Haroun, sometimes referred to in modern Arabic as Jabal Nebi Haroun ("Mountain of the Prophet Aaron"), is today the location of a Muslim shrine (weli) (fig. Il-4; UTM coordinates: 0731420 £/3356530 N; elev. 1340 m). The construction of the shrine is recorded by an Arabic in­scription above its entrance. There are different versions as to what the inscription reads. According to E. H. Palmer, it states: "the building was restored by esh-Shim' ani, the son of Mohammed Calaon, sultan of Egypt by his father's orders, in the year 739 of the Hirjah" (AH 739 = AD 1338­1339). Others, however, read that it was built AH 728 (AD 1327-1328) or ca. AH 900 (AD 1495). The Muslim shrine was built reusing materials from the monastery. Within it, there is another Arabic inscription that re­cords the construction of the tomb to an-Nasir Muhammad ibn Qalaun (for all the above see Peterman and Schick 1996: 477-78).

Evidence from Medieval Jewish Literature

Medieval Jewish pilgrims also record Jabal Haroun. In a list of Jewish tombs outside the Holy Land, Rabbi Jacob (1238-1244) notes: "It is three days journey on the road thence (from Sodom and Gomorrah) to Mount Hor where Aaron is buried." Moreover, an anonymous author in 1537 included it in a list of places where Jewish patriarchs are buried outside the Holy Land. Rabbi Yehezkel came to the site in 1851 and in his diary he refers to earlier visits by Jewish pilgrims in 1624 and 1732. However, none of these writers mention any Christian presence there (see Peterman and Schick 1996).

The Bilingual Sign at the Bottom of the Stairs leading to the Muslim Shrine

A modern, bilingual sign - in Arabic and in English - near the bottom of the stairs leading up to the Muslim shrine reads: The Shrine of Prophet Aaron: Prophet Aaron is the brother of Moses, peace be upon him. Aaron died in the Sinai (Deut. 10:6) but his tomb was later moved to Mount Hor, south of Petra. Sultan ai-Nasir Muhammad son of Qalawun re­stored the shrine in AD 1320. The shrine is surmounted by a white dome and a crypt is located under the prayer hall. Aaron is vener­ated by the local people of Wadi Musa and the Bdul Bedouins and is commemorated by an annual festival in autumn.

THE ARCHAEOLOGY OF THE MUSLIM SHRINE AND THE MONASTERY OF SAINT AARON

The peak of Jabal Haroun is ca. 1340 m above sea level. From it, facing westward, one is able to look down on Wadi Arabah and across it to the eastern Negev desert. Looking to the northeast, one looks over the site of Petra.

History of Exploration

As mentioned previously, the peak is oc­cupied today by the 14th-century Muslim shrine. Within the shrine is a tomb believed to contain the remains of Aaron. However, early zoth-century visitors to the area report­ed the remains of a centrally planned church at the peak of the mountain, built over by the Muslim shrine. They also report Jewish graffiti, marble fragments, mosaic cubes, and a multi-colored marble floor beneath the carpet that now covers the floor of the Muslim shrine. Also on the peak, Peterman and Schick (1996) reported five pieces of marble colonnettes, which could have once been part of a chancel screen. More recently, the Finnish Jabal Haroun Project (FJHP) dis­covered fragments of marble floor tiles and limestone tesserae also on the summit of the Muslim shrine. Project team members also found a cache of carved and inscribed marble fragments on the bedrock ledge southeast of and below the Muslim shrine and two large pieces of a round, well­ made, polished black granite vessel on a lower ledge to the east of the Muslim shrine. Thus, it is probable that a Christian structure existed at the peak before the Muslim shrine was built there. The shrine may, indeed, be a refurbished Byzantine church which was originally built in the time of Justinian I (reigned AD 527-565). Peterman and Schick (1996) provided the first detailed description of an extensive ruined archi­tectural complex located at ca. 1270 m elevation on a wide plateau of the mountain, ca. 70 m below and 150 m to the west of the peak with the Muslim shrine. At that time, they suggested that it represented the ruins of a Byzantine monastery (UTM coordinates: 0731209 £/3356542 N; elev. 1268 m), most likely dedicated to Saint Aaron. Investigations on the part of the FJHP, with an archaeological re­connaissance season in 1997 and excavations beginning in 1998, have uncovered the monastic complex that Peterman and Schick described in the I990S. The complex included a large church and a chapel, along with some auxiliary structures and rooms. An uncovered mo­saic floor dates to the sixth century. The excavators conclude "that the complex, in addition to its monastic function, had most probably also served as a pilgrimage center dedicated to the veneration of Saint Aaron, between the late 5th and the 8th centuries AD, possibly continuing up to the Crusader times (12th Century AD)" (Frosen and Fiema 2004: 6).

Monastic Complex

According to the FJHP, the monastic complex measures ca. 62 (N-S) x 48 (E-W) m. Its various structures are located along the perimeter or inside this area. Back walls of all external rooms served as an enclosure of the entire complex, which may be divided into four main components and is situated around three courts. The components are: the church and cha­pel, which occupy the central location; the western and northern areas; the southwestern quarter; the central court.

Church and Chapel

Of all the structures comprising the complex, the church and chapel are the most significant. The church, which was most probably built in the late fifth century AD, was originally a large, rectangular basilica, internally measuring ca. 22.6 x 13.6 m. It was divided by two east-west rows of columns - with seven columns in each row - into the nave and two side aisles. The columns supported large horizontal beams, which in turn supported the roof construction. The sanctuary or altar area, which consisted of the apse and the rectangular low platform (bema), was locat­ed at the eastern end of the structure. The apse had a two-tiered, curving installation built against it. The Liturgy of the church would have been performed in this area and, thus, the altar was located here. Rectangular sacristy rooms were located on both sides of the apse. The church was decorated with marble furnishing; it had a marble floor and the bema had marble enclosures. The church's three doors were located in its western wall (Frosen and Fiema 2004: 9-10). The chapel was built at the same time as the church and shared a wall with it. Its eastern end featured an apse flanked on both sides by high cupboards or cabinets. It is probable that marble once covered the floor of the chapel. At the western end of the chapel are the remains of an octagonal pit chiseled out of the bedrock. This was the area where a small baptismal font, cruciform in shape, was located. Close by were found the fragmented remnants of plaster. One of the fragments contained a Greek inscription that read Prodromos (IIPO▲P.POMOC), "the Forerunner," a ref­erence to John the Baptist. Would pilgrims have been baptized here? An earthquake is probably responsible for the destruction of the en­tire complex sometime in the sixth century. The church was restored but divided by a wall into eastern and western parts. The former continued to function as a church, but only two of the original columns were retained. Inside the apse, a throne for the bishop was installed in the middle of the two-tiered, curving installation. The western part of the original church was turned into an open court with two porches and probably served as a gathering place for the monks and pilgrims before and after liturgical ceremonies. A formal porch, with a colorful mosaic floor, was erected to the west of this open court. It was an enclosed space with a portico of four columns in the front. After the destruction, some changes also occurred in the chapel. However, the baptismal font continued to fulfill its original function. Sometime in the seventh century, destruction occurred at the site. Again, major changes were made to the church. In the chapel, the baptismal font was abandoned and filled in. In its place, a new but also cruciform font was erected in the northern side of the chapel's rect­angular low platform, on which was also placed the masonry base of a large altar or pedestal. An inscription, reading [A}aron, was found on a marble fragment in front of the pedestal. Further changes to the church and chapel occurred in the eighth century. These may have been initiated by another destruction and/or to reinforce the structure against future earthquakes. The church still functioned in this century, but, as Byzantine iconoclasm targeted sacred images, stone tesserae forming mosaic faces of humans and animals were removed and replaced with large plain ones

The western and Northern Areas

The so-called western wing of the monastic complex is located to the west of the church. It is a monumental structure consisting of separate rooms. It appears that the entire western structure preceded the Byzantine mon­astery at the site, as it was built in the Nabataean-Roman period (first century Be-third century AD). Its function is unknown but it could have been a large residence. Once the monastery was built, this structure seems to have been incorporated into it, possibly as living quarters or a meet­ing place. A sloping wall, located directly west of the early monumental structure, could have served defensive purposes and/or as a reinforcement against potential earthquakes. It may date to the Crusader-Ayyubid pe­riod (rzth-rjth centuries AD). Relative to this later structure, the excava­tors think that even after the church and monastery were no longer in use, pilgrimages to the tomb of Saint Aaron would have continued. In their opinion, the reinforced western building would have provided safety and protection for visitors (Frosen and Fiema 2004: 13). A large court, surrounded on three sides by 14 rooms of substantial size, is located to the north of the chapel. The excavators posit that this part of the monastery complex is reminiscent of a caravanserai - a typi­c::ll Nf'::Ir F::I~tf'rn hostel For travelers or pilgrims .One of the excavated rooms is primarily dated to the fifth-sixth centuries and has multi-phased occupation. It is possible that the courtyard was used by visitors/pilgrims to prepare food and/or house their pack animals (Frosen and Fiema 2004: 13).

Southwestern Quarter

The southwestern quarter, located to the south of the church, consists of another court that is bordered by a series of rooms on its southern side. One of the rooms excavated in this area was spanned by two arches and probably occupied during the Byzantine and Islamic periods. The room could have served an industrial function, for example, as a grain mill.

Central Court

The central court with a cistern appears to have been the main commu­nication hub of the entire complex (fig. 1LII). Through it, one could pro­ceed from the southern to the northern court. The area around the cis­tern was paved with large flagstones. Three channels carried water from the area of the church into the cistern. There is evidence for very late temporary or casual occupation here (Frose:n and Fierna 2004:14-15)

CONCLUSIONS

The complex on the plateau below and to the west of the peak of Jabal Haroun was a monastery, built next to a memorial church to Aaron at the peak. This church is possibly dated to the late fifth century of the early Christian era and most probably coexisted with the monastery complex with its own church and chapel. The type of monastery could have been similar to Late Roman agri­cultural estates, which were self-sufficient complexes. Thus, by means of its gardens and orchards, it would have served some of the needs of the pilgrims visiting the holy place associated with the Prophet Aaron's death and burial. The thought of agricultural activity in such a presently barren region is not fanciful, since local informants have told the excavators that dams and associated cultivation fields were in use around Jabal Haroun as late as the early 20th century. However, as to this date there is very little archaeological support for such a conclusion (Laven to , et al. 2006).

SUGGESTIONS FOR GETTING TO THE SITE

The site of the Muslim shrine at the peak of Jabal Haroun and the monas­tery on a plateau to the west of the peak are not easily accessed. Although there are roads, general vehicular traffic is prohibited from the area. One dirt road, used by licensed archaeologists, leads to it; other roads in the area lead to Bedouin encampments in the region to the southwest of Petra. Those who wish to visit Jabal Haroun can do so by foot, donkey, and/or camel. If you go by foot, doing so with a guide is strongly advised. Of course, if you do so by donkey or camel, the owner of the animal will accompany you. Guide prices are negotiable! It is a distance of around 15 km from the ticket office at the entrance to Petra to the site. The walking is at times difficult and steep. Be sure to take plenty of water and some food. Allow a day for a leisurely visit. Thus, begin early.