The 363 Earthquake and the End of Public Paganism in the Southern Transjordan
The 363 earthquake caused a large amount of damage throughout the Near East, but in the regions that became Palaestina Salutaris, this earthquake also played an important role in ending public pagan practices. Archaeology has shown that the 363 earthquake destroyed the known important pagan structures in Petra and surrounding areas, such as the Qasr al-Bint, the “Great” Temple, the Small Temple, the Temple of the Winged Lions, and temples at Khirbet et-Tannur and Khirbet edh-Dharih. Investigation at the temples at Khirbet et-Tannur and Khirbet edh-Dharih and at the Temple of the Winged Lions suggest that these sites were functioning as temples until the 363 earthquake. The archaeological evidence contrasts starkly with the triumphal narratives of Christianization, which describe the actions of holy men, the mass conversion of pagans, and the closing of their temples. Archaeological evidence of Christianity appears only in the century after the 363 earthquake, suggesting that Christians did not play a major role in the end of public paganism in the southern Transjordan; rather, the most important factor was the 363 earthquake and the destruction of the pagan temples.
In 293/4 ce in the relatively small town of Oboda (modern Avdat) located in the Negev desert in southern Israel, Eirenaios, Wailos of Petra, and Eutyches constructed a tower. On its dedicatory inscription, Eirenaios sought assistance from Zeus Obodas, who later sources claim was a deified Nabataean king, possibly Obodas I (circa 96–84 bce), buried at Oboda.1 The worship of gods and goddesses [End Page 132] at Oboda in the late third century demonstrates that deities from several regions were worshipped there; in addition to Zeus Obodas, inscriptions attest to the worship of Apis and Aphrodite.2 Little remains of the temples for these deities, for at a later date, two churches had completely effaced previous architecture on the acropolis. In one of the churches, the residents of Oboda appealed to an alternative divine figure—the saint Theodore.3 By the time the churches on the acropolis were constructed, the pagan temples had been destroyed by an earthquake, perhaps in the late fourth or early fifth century. When Christians began to construct their churches at Oboda, therefore, they did not co-opt or replace functioning temples; rather they built them on the ruins of those temples.
The destruction of temples and the construction of churches does not necessarily indicate the end of pagan belief at the site. This is demonstrated by a Nabataean graffito (the latest attestation of the Nabataean language ever discovered) from the late fourth or early fifth century praising the Nabataean god Dushares.4 As the graffito makes clear, the replacement of temples with churches does not demonstrate the end of polytheistic belief. The “triumph” of Christian forms of devotion was not an inevitable process, nor did it proceed at a regular pace, nor was it likely complete when the Muslim armies conquered the Greco–Roman Near East.5 Nevertheless, the evidence, both textual and archaeological, from Oboda is just one example of the dramatic religious transformation that occurred throughout the Levant and the Roman world during Late Antiquity as Christianity slowly displaced or appropriated traditional forms of religious belief.6
Expanding the inquiry beyond Oboda to other sites with a similar cultural history, such as Petra and Elusa in the former territories of the Nabataean [End Page 133] Kingdom and (by the late fourth century) the province of Palaestina Salutaris, reveals a further discrepancy between literary and archaeological evidence. In the various provincial changes beginning in 106 ce, the regions that became Palaestina Salutaris—southern Jordan, the Sinai, and the Negev—always remained together in the same province.7 These regions became more closely related to each other in terms of economic, religious, and cultural life than to the nearby regions of Palaestina Prima or the cities of the Decapolis, and thus constitute a distinct region worthy of attention, which remained heavily indebted to the region’s Nabataean past.8
While literary sources suggest that public paganism continued throughout the fourth and even into the fifth century in numerous locations throughout the southern Transjordan region, cultic activities seem to have ended in all known temples by the time of the 363 earthquake, at the latest.9 This tension between these different types of evidence has often been read in terms of the later literary sources, which uncritically privilege a triumphal Christianity and violent religious confrontation.10
In the regions which became Palaestina Salutaris in the late fourth century, the end of public pagan practices was assisted by natural disasters: an earthquake that shook much of the region on May 19, 363 ce and another from the late fourth or early fifth century. As a result of these earthquakes, archaeological evidence suggests that the province’s pagan temples were shattered. At least three of these temples—the Temple of Winged Lions in Petra, Khirbet et-Tannur, and Khirbet edh-Dharih—were still functioning in some sense as sites of pagan ritual, and several other temples, which may have gone out of use by 363, were also destroyed. None of these temples was restored or repaired. This suggests that a natural event—an earthquake—played a greater role in putting an end to public paganism in the regions that became Palaestina Salutaris than Christians or the imperial authorities.
This meant that Christians here could not re-appropriate pagan structures for their own use, as is known in other regions.11 At Petra, for example, Christians did not use the prior temples or their temenē as the locations of [End Page 134] churches, although the first known church was located in a rock-cut tomb. There are no known temples in the regions of Palaestina Salutaris that were converted directly into churches.12 Instead, Christians, such as those at Oboda, constructed their churches on and sometimes with the rubble of the pagan temples or in locations not previously associated with the sacred, as with the Petra’s churches, which were constructed on the hill overlooking the destroyed remains of Petra’s previous civic center.
These circumstances make this region largely unique in the Mediterranean world. In no other region are earthquakes known to have so thoroughly devastated the remains of pagan temples. Even in places where earthquake damage is known, temples at Sabratha in Libya and Ephesus were purposely dismantled, whereas those in Petra were allowed to lie in rubble.13 There is archaeological evidence (and large volumes of literary evidence) that pagan temples in other areas nearby continued to function well past the fourth century, even temples known to have been damaged by the 363 earthquake. In the heartland of the province of Palaestina, for example, there were a few pagan temples functioning into the middle of the fifth century at Scythopolis (despite earthquake damage from 363) and Caesarea Philippi (Paneas).14 At Bosoa near Bostra in provincia Arabia, a temple to Theondrites was restored in 387 and other inscriptions suggest that worship of local cults continued into the sixth century.15 The regions that became Palaestina Salutaris are therefore unique in the role played by a natural disaster in helping to end the public celebration of pagan rituals.
Earthquakes and Temples in the Southern Transjordan
On May 19, 363 ce, an earthquake shattered the calm night in a large portion of the Near East.16 As attested in the manuscript Harvard Syriac 99, many cities in the southern Levant region were damaged, including Caesarea, Ascelon, Lydda, and Haifa. The epicenter of the quake was in the Arabah valley or the nearby Negev highlands. The regions that became Palaestina Salutaris were especially hard hit. Harvard Syriac 99 states that more than half of the city of Petra (RQM) was destroyed by the earthquake, and archaeological evidence shows that many buildings in Petra, including the theater and two houses on the Ez-Zantur ridge, [End Page 135] were damaged.17 In addition to the cities listed in Harvard Syriac 99, archaeological evidence shows destruction at many sites throughout Palaestina Salutaris. Recent excavations at Mampsis, ’En Hazeva, and Oboda in the Negev contain extensive earthquake damage layers, though an earthquake in the later fourth century or early fifth century is also suspected.18 At Aila, south of Petra, a monumental structure, interpreted as a possible church, was totally destroyed during this earthquake.19 The quake is also known to have killed three inhabitants of Zoora, at the tip of the Dead Sea, as attested on their tombstones, which confirm the date of the earthquake reported in Harvard Syriac 99.20
Four of the most important structures in Petra—the Qasr al-Bint, the Temple of the Winged Lions, the so-called Great Temple, and the Small Temple—were all destroyed before the late fourth century. A case can be made that all were severely damaged by the 363 earthquake and abandoned, but only the Temple of the Winged Lions is known to have been functioning as a temple at the time of its destruction. As these buildings served as the major civic and religious focal points of the city, their loss must have profoundly changed the city. Another, largely unpublished cultic center located on Jabal Hārūn just outside of Petra might also have suffered damage at this time.21 Two other important sanctuaries near the Wadi al-Hasa, at Khirbet edh-Dharih and Khirbet et-Tannur, were also destroyed and abandoned as a result of the 363 earthquake.22
The Qasr al-Bint’s size, location (at the end of the main street of Petra and the end of a sacred way), and large temenos all suggest that it was a very important, if not the most important temple at Petra (Fig. 1). Most assume [End Page 136]
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that it was dedicated to the Nabataean god Dushares, but because the temple possesses three cellae, three deities may have been worshipped there (Fig. 2).23 One inscription from the interior wall of the Qasr al-Bint might refer to Zeus Hypsistos, while another from just north of the Wadi Musa across from the Qasr al-Bint is dedicated to Zeus Hagios.24 Other inscriptions from the temenos mention the Tyche of Petra and probably the goddess Aphrodite.25 Given that Epiphanius mentioned the worship of Kore and Dusares together at Petra, the team that conducted the most recent analysis of the Qasr al-Bint suggested that the temple was dedicated to Zeus Hypsistos = Baalshamin [End Page 138] = Dushares and Kore = Aphrodite = al-‘Uzza.26 Alpass suggested that this temple was the Temple of Aphrodite mentioned in the Babatha archive, which other scholars have traditionally equated with Petra’s Great Temple.27 One of those gods worshipped in the tripartite cella may have been syncretized with Helios (likely Dushares), as a frieze depicting this god was discovered in the temple (Fig. 3).28 The temple also likely served the imperial cult, as statues of Marcus Aurelius and Lucius Verus were erected in the exedra (Fig. 4).29
The Qasr al-Bint was definitely destroyed before the late fourth century, when a dwelling was constructed on top of the temple’s exedra in the west temenos wall.30 It may have been desecrated and looted at the turn of the third century, possibly during the Palmyrene revolt. While this is hypothetical, [End Page 139] it does not seem to have been functioning as a temple at the time of the 363 earthquake.31 Presumably, earthquake damage prevented Christians from constructing a church in the temenos.32
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Located across from the Qasr al-Bint and connected to it via a causeway, the Temple of the Winged Lions was another of the most important temple complexes in Petra (Fig. 5).33 A well-made eye-idol was discovered in the temple that was dedicated “to the goddess …”, but the name of the goddess has unfortunately not survived (Fig. 6).34 The temenos wall has also produced Petra’s most extensive Nabataean religious inscription, dated to thirty-seventh year of Aretas IV (27/28 ce), but once again it does not specify to whom the temple was dedicated.35
Hammond argues that the Temple of the Winged Lions was dedicated to the goddess al-Allat, who had assimilated a number of features of Isis, but at the present time, no inscriptions have been discovered at Petra that mention the goddess al-Allat. Other scholars insist that the goddess was al-‘Uzza.36 Al-‘Uzza is commonly equated with Aphrodite, as attested on a Nabataean inscription from Cos from the first century ce.37 If the Temple of the Winged Lions was dedicated to Al-‘Uzza, then it may be the temple of Aphrodite referred to in the Babatha archive.38 Al-‘Uzza was also the consort of Dushares, presumed to be worshiped at the Qasr al-Bint that was linked to the Temple of the Winged Lions by a bridge. Alpass points out that there may have been more than one god or goddess worshipped at the temple as at the Qasr al-Bint.39 In sum, there is no conclusive evidence for linking the temple to any of these deities.
Because there was no evidence of abandonment underneath the destruction layers of the Temple of the Winged Lions, the temple was occupied until it was destroyed. Presumably, the temple continued to function, but no cult statue was discovered in the ruins of the temple. This suggests that either the cult statue [End Page 141]
was removed prior to the destruction of the temple or there was never a permanent cult statue in the temple’s cella (perhaps the cult statue was portable, or the head priestess or queen served as the goddess’ image), or worship there was aniconic in form. This is quite different from Khirbet et-Tannur, where the [End Page 142] remains of cult statues were discovered from 363 earthquake levels. This may indicate that the Temple of the Winged Lions had been deconsecrated and was being used for another purpose at the time of the earthquake. On the other hand, the discovery of the eye-idol suggests that the temple was in use for religious purposes, perhaps to house a betyl stone (see below).
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Hammond argues that the temple was destroyed by the 363 earthquake, but little evidence (ceramic or numismatic) has been published to test this date. The outside walls and some of the columns of the temple complex survived the temple’s destruction, with the outside walls still standing up to a height of 3.32 meters at the beginning of excavations. The interior of the pronaos and cella were not so fortunate, with the main cella area being buried in debris, while the front cella wall and the prostyle columns fell onto the pronaos.
Unlike the Temple of the Winged Lions, Petra’s Great Temple, which despite its (modern) name, may not have served a cultic function (Fig. 7).40 Its monumental entrance (propylaeum) is located just before the temenos gate of the Qasr al-Bint (Fig. 8). There are two temenos levels connected by staircases; both are constructed on an artificial platform. The lower temenos level is surrounded by a double row of columns in the front with triple-columned rows on the east and west sides, while the rear contains two exedrae that flank the staircases to the upper temenos level. Sculpture in the Great Temple reflects both classical, Greco–Roman forms (eight relief panels with the gods and goddesses and a head of Tyche) and Nabataean-style aniconic betyls.41
The excavators think that the upper temenos was originally composed of a cella flanked with columns, but soon after the initial construction, a theatron replaced the cella. Joukowsky believes that the structure had a religious function before and after remodeling, but other scholars have argued that the temple was translated into a bouleuterion or odeum.42 Recently, Kropp has argued that the structure was originally part of the Nabataean royal palace complex with associated bath and garden and that, after the Nabataean kingdom’s annexation in 106, the Great Temple was transformed into the bouleuterion.43 This theory is compelling. As Andrade has recently demonstrated, the expansion of Roman authority led directly to the transformation of local governments and the creation of new civic councils.44 The transformation of the Great Temple would visibly reflect the changed political structure of the city from monarchy to communal and Roman governance. Any meetings of the boulē would have included rituals of a religious nature.45 Alternatively, [End Page 144] the Great Temple may have served as a “ritual theater,” in addition to hosting meetings of Petra’s boulē.46
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Evidence collected by Joukowsky suggests that the Great Temple was abandoned prior the 363 earthquake and then completely destroyed by it (Fig. 9). Later, in the later fourth and fifth centuries, the southern portion of the East Triple Colonnade and exedrae of the Great Temple were used for lime manufacturing. Substantial ash layers were discovered, and drains and other industrial features were constructed.47
Located between the Great Temple and the Qasr al-Bint, the Small Temple has been interpreted as a temple of the imperial cult (Fig. 10).48 Inscriptions discovered inside the temple commemorate the reigns of Trajan, Alexander Severus, Elagabalus, and possibly other emperors.49 This structure was clearly destroyed by an earthquake, quite possibly the 363 earthquake; however, the structure appears to have been looted and the [End Page 146] inscriptions smashed before this date.50 Unfortunately, no dating material from the destruction layers has been published, preventing the establishment of a tight chronology. If the structure was indeed looted prior to the 363 earthquake, then it is probable that the building was damaged at the same time as the neighboring Qasr al-Bint, possibly during Palmyrene revolt.51 The excavators, however, have suggested that Christians were responsible for the damage, arguing that they were offended by the pagan elements of the inscriptions.52 The connection of the small temple with the imperial cult makes this theory seem unlikely, especially if the structure was ransacked before 363. There is also virtually no evidence of Christians in Petra before the fifth century, so it would be surprising if they assaulted a temple of the imperial cult in the early fourth century.
There must have been many important temples located beyond Petra in the regions that became Palaestina Salutaris, but outlying areas have not always [End Page 147]
been extensively excavated or published.53 Two temples, at Khirbet et-Tannur and Khirbet edh-Dharih, however, are fairly well examined and published, and [End Page 148] both were destroyed by the 363 earthquake.54 Khirbet et-Tannur overlooks the Wadi al-Hasa, while Khirbet edh-Dharih is located approximately seven kilometers away in a tributary of the Wadi al-Hasa, the Wadi Laaban. The temple at Khirbet edh-Dharih has a number of associated domestic and agricultural structures, but Khirbet et-Tannur has no associated structures except for a cistern.
In its final phase of development (probably second century ce), the temple at Khirbet et-Tannur was a roughly rectangular complex with an altar (facing east) located inside an open-aired, square structure (Fig. 11). This structure was surrounded by a temenos with a large forecourt.55 The temple at Khirbet et-Tannur seems to have been dedicated to Dushares and Atargatis (possibly al-‘Uzza or Allat) based on the finds of two large anthropomorphic statues at the shrine dating from the second century ce, but other gods and goddesses such as Isis were also included in the sculptural program.56
The temple complex at Khirbet edh-Dharih was built around an earlier (first century ce) free standing temple platform that was oriented to the northeast (Fig. 12). In Phase 2 (which was constructed in the second century), the temple platform was expanded by the addition of a forecourt and the altar precinct was remodeled. In addition, a large courtyard surrounded this temple structure and another courtyard was placed immediately to the south. Fragments of statues with characteristics of Zeus and Tyche, which probably represent Dushara and al-‘Uzza, were discovered inside the temple. A square platform located at the northern end of the temple structure was surrounded on three sides by columns and accessed by a staircase. The excavators have interpreted this as a motab since this platform has three mortises (rectangular cavities) that would have been ideal for the placement of portable betyls.57
These two temples, therefore, appear to have been important locations for the enactment of Nabataean rituals. Deities were portrayed in both ani-conic and anthropomorphic configurations. The temples’ close proximity in [End Page 149]
location and chronology suggest that they were somehow connected with each other. Villeneuve and Muheisen have suggested that priests lived at Khirbet edh-Dharih and performed special festivals at Khirbet et-Tannur with cult objects brought from Khirbet edh-Dharih.58 Both temples appear to have been destroyed by the 363 earthquake and subsequently abandoned.59 The evidence [End Page 150]
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is strongest for Khirbet edh-Dharih since that site was excavated with modern scientific methods, but Khirbet et-Tannur also seems to have been abandoned at the same time.
Other examples of temples in the region include those from Oboda. There is little evidence of the 363 earthquake damage at the site, but an earthquake in the later fourth or early fifth century heavily damaged the residential area. Neither earthquake knocked down the temenos wall on the acropolis.60 Support walls were constructed to shore up the temenos, possibly after the later fourth- or early fifth-century earthquake (see Fig. 13).61 Blocks and columns from the pagan temples were reused in a haphazard fashion to construct the two churches on the acropolis, suggesting that the architectural pieces were discovered in earthquake rubble.62
Evidence of Paganism in the Fourth-Century Southern Transjordan
Despite the fact that there is no archaeological evidence that attests to the survival of pagan architecture in the southern Transjordan, several literary sources from the fourth and later centuries purport to describe the confrontation between Christians and pagans in the region. Among these are Jerome’s description of Hilarion’s visit to Elusa, Epiphanius’s Panarion, the Syriac Life of Barsauma, and the description of nomads in Pseudo-Nilus’s Narrationes.63
Jerome’s well known description of Hilarion’s actions at Elusa suggests that Nabataean practices continued into the fourth century. Jerome described how the “Saracens” of Elusa worshiped “stones” (lapides colerent) at a Temple of Venus.64 Venus likely stands for al-Allat, as attested as far back as Herodotus.65 Nabataean religion clearly had elements of worship of ani-conic stone blocks, which Jerome likely rendered as “stones.” According to the tenth-century lexicon the Suda, a god Theus Ares was worshiped in Petra. The cult image was a square unshaped black stone four feet in height and two feet wide. This stone was placed on a base of beaten gold, and the inhabitants of Petra honored this image with blood libations.66 [End Page 152]
While the particular details in the Suda may be suspect, archaeological and epigraphic evidence shows that stone blocks (betyls) were frequently used as Nabataean cult images, especially at Petra. These blocks are typically rectangular or stele in shape. While the majority of the betyls are aniconic, almost thirty betyl blocks have been discovered with facial features, most famously with eyes and a nose (known as “eye-idols”; Fig. 6).67 These betyl blocks have invariably been dated prior to the fourth century.
Epiphanius also suggests the continuation of Nabataean worship into the fourth century when he describes the goddess Kore (whom the Arabs called Chaamou), who was worshipped in Petra, Elusa, and Alexandria. Although a virgin goddess, she gave birth to the god Dusares.68 Epiphanius [End Page 153] interpreted this as a corruption of orthodox Christian belief, but there is some debate between modern scholars whether this was a Nabataean custom or an invention of late antique paganism. Bowersock, for example, argued that the customs discussed by Epiphanius were created under the influence of Christianity. At the very least, it shows how Hellenism shaped the description and perhaps also the expression of local cults.69 According to Zayadine, on the other hand, “the conviction that Dusares, like Jesus Christ, was born of a virgin is conceivable in the religious context of that period, and Chaamou is most probably a corruption of Aramaic ‘almou, meaning ‘virgin’.”70 If this text correctly presents Nabataean customs, then it is the only indication of the worship of the mother of Dusares, who perhaps should be connected to the worship of the goddess Allat.71
Epiphanius seems to imply that by the fourth century the representation of Dusares had transitioned from the aniconic form typically seen in Nabataean religion to an anthropomorphic expression. This process was already underway during the Nabataean period when Syllaeus made a bilingual dedication to Zeus Dusares at Miletus.72 Under influence from Greco–Roman religions, Dusares became associated with Zeus, Acra, Dionysus, and Helios.73 By the fifth century, according to the lexicographer Hesychius, Dusares was a Nabataean god equated with Dionysus.74 As Bowersock points out, however, the anthropomorphic depiction of Dusares never entirely replaced the aniconic images, at least as long evidence is available.75
That Epiphanius connected the worship of Kore with Elusa in addition to Petra may help corroborate Jerome’s account of Elusa as a place where pagan, indigenous rituals still occurred in the late fourth and early fifth centuries. At the present time, however, Elusa’s remains have not been adequately explored, and the possible sites of the temples of Venus or Kore are unknown.76 [End Page 154]
The only epigraphic evidence of paganism in the entire region of Palaestina Salutaris from the fourth century is the Nabataean inscription at Oboda.77 Sources in the Sinai suggest that some pagan beliefs continued into the fifth and sixth centuries at least amongst “Saracens” and nomads. Pseudo-Nilus for example, describes how the nomads were planning to sacrifice a young man, Theodoulos, to the Morning Star.78 The boy had witnessed another youth being sacrificed on rocks (λίϑοι), possibly a reference to betyl stones. Nevertheless, the accuracy of Pseudo-Nilus’s account has been questioned because it copies descriptions, events, and sentences from other ancient works, such as Achilles Tatius’s Leucippe and Clitophon and Fourth Maccabees.79
All of these accounts provoke skepticism. Jerome’s account, while supplying details which seem to indicate the continuation of Nabataean religious practices, is clearly intended to demonstrate Hilarion’s power over the pagans of Elusa. Epiphanius mentions the practices at Elusa and Petra only as a means of insulting the pagans of Alexandria by suggesting that they had corrupted orthodox Christian practices. Pseudo-Nilus’s account offers a novelistic rendering of the sufferings of Christian monks and travelers in the Sinai. For each of these accounts, therefore, there seems to be ample reason to be skeptical, or at least critical, of the information they provide about pagan practices in the region.
From Temples to Churches in the Christianization of Palaestina Salutaris
There is ample archaeological evidence of Christianization in the regions that became Palaestina Salutaris, much of it from the later fifth and sixth centuries, which has been the focus of other studies and need not be discussed here.80 Other than the putative church at Aila, also destroyed in the 363 earthquake and some limited evidence from church councils, the only tangible Christian evidence from the fourth century occurs on tombstones at Zoora (modern Ghor es-Safi) from 342/343.81 [End Page 155]
In Petra, every known temple (or putative temple) had been destroyed before or during the 363 earthquake and shows signs of subsequent abandonment. Literary sources mention that pagan temples continued to function in Petra after this date, though these sources should be treated with caution. Sozomen, for example, connects the destruction of temples in Petra with the closing of the Serapeum in Alexandria, which enhanced his theme of Christian triumph.82 The Life of Barsauma describes how the wandering monk Barsauma caused a miraculous flood that destroyed the city wall of a site called RQM DGAIA (presumably Petra with reference to its suburb Gaia) and then forced the pagans there to convert.83 Such descriptions might reflect historical incidents, but as Gaddis quipped, “[t]he degree of obvious dramatic exaggeration in the Barsauma stories … does little to inspire the researcher’s confidence.”84
Tangible Christian evidence from Petra is dated much later. For example, the Bishop Jason converted the Urn Tomb (Fig. 14) into a church in 446, as attested by an inscription.85 It also appears that the ed-Deir above Petra, which likely originally served as a royal tomb, might have been converted into a monastery at an unknown date.86 As both of these tombs were carved out of the mountainside, they could not be destroyed by earthquakes. Whether they were selected because of their structural soundness, prominence overlooking the city, or a perceived connection with the pagan past is unknown. The famous church at Petra was constructed in the mid to late fifth century and continued in use until the end of the sixth century, as the Petra Papyri indicate.87 Two other churches were later constructed on the same promontory.88 These churches overlooked the ruined remains of the temples described earlier in this paper. Additionally, the first church at the monastic complex on Jabal Hārūn appears to have been constructed in the later fifth century.89 [End Page 156]
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Sometime during this same period, monks based at Petra consciously effaced Nabataean betyls to demonstrate symbolically that Christianity had defeated the Nabataean gods.90 Images of Isis, carved into the rock beneath Jabal Hārūn, were also desecrated by using hammers to smash the image’s head.91 In Egypt, monks believed that pagan images were imbued with power and the act of defacement diffused those powers, but those images are generally anthropomorphic.92 It remains unknown how the monks at Petra may have interpreted the aniconic betyl blocks, but the defacement of the blocks and image of Isis implies that those objects were thought still to have power, or the defacements were meant to demonstrate Christianity’s triumph over pagan cults.
Returning to the theme of converting temples to churches, the churches at Oboda have already been mentioned. Two churches replaced an unknown number of pagan temples, but these lay in ruins.93 As stated in the introduction of this paper, inscriptions discovered in building rubble or reused attest the worship of Zeus Obodas, Apis, and Aphrodite.94 The reused inscriptions might indicate that the Christians viewed those inscriptions as evidence of the superiority of their religion over the pagan cults, as Moralee has argued for the citizens of Jerash.95 At Khirbet edh-Dharih, the temple remains were transformed into a church dedicated to Mary Theotokos, possibly in the late sixth century. The ruins of the vestibule of the temple were rebuilt into a baptistery, and the cella was reconstructed into a small church. Here too the earthquake damage had been extensive and Christians had to conduct extensive restorations to create a standing structure.
Surely archaeological exploration will continue to produce evidence of the transition from paganism to Christianity, including possible post-363 evidence, but at this point, the regions that became Palaestina Salutaris would seem to be the only area in the entire Mediterranean World where a natural disaster played a major role in the end of public paganism. Why, after the earthquake, were some of these structures not rebuilt as pagan temples or restored and repurposed?
The fact that these temples were all destroyed by May 363, just a month prior to the death of the last pagan emperor, is one possible explanation. In [End Page 158] Julian’s short reign, steps were taken to reverse the spread of Christianity and restore the pagan cults to preeminence.96 One feature of this was the reconstruction of some temples, such as those at Bostra.97 He also had planned to reconstruct the Temple of Solomon at Jerusalem, but the 363 earthquake terminated this.98 Christians later believed that the earthquake was a divine punishment for Julian’s attempt to revitalize Judaism, but had he not died while on campaign in the east, it is conceivable that reconstruction projects, both pagan and Jewish, would have continued.
After the death of Julian, paganism lost its last powerful benefactor. Although a twenty-year period of de facto toleration between Christians and pagans followed, Christian action against pagans and their temples is known from this time.99 Increasing Christian intolerance ensured that the pagan temples in the region that became Palaestina Salutaris would not be reconstructed.100 This intolerance is reflected in the laws issued by the emperors throughout the fourth century, which, although for specific incidents, must have created a climate of increased hostility towards pagan structures.101
In 385 Theodosius issued a law to the Praetorian Prefect of the East, Cynegius (384–388), which, on the surface, only reiterated previous laws against divination directed towards the emperor, but led Cynegius to embark on an extensive anti-pagan campaign.102 Although it is hard to pinpoint the temples that he personally attacked, many were destroyed during his prefecture.103 In addition, monks operated with immunity throughout the Near East at this [End Page 159] time and are depicted by the pagan Libanius as wandering through the countryside, destroying rural shrines, pulling down the walls of estate temples, robbing from peasants, and stealing land owned by pagans and their temples. The Roman authorities feared antagonizing these groups and wished to avoid creating martyrs by enforcing the laws that protected temple structures.104
The culmination of the laws against public paganism and Christian violence was the closure of a number of spectacular pagan temples during the late fourth and early fifth centuries. The most important of these temples, the Serapeum in Alexandria, was closed in 391 or perhaps 392.105 A few years later, imperial officials destroyed pagan temples at Carthage.106 The temple of Zeus Marnas at Gaza could provide a further example of violent temple destruction on the part of Christian zealots, but the lone source on the matter—Mark the Deacon’s Life of Porphyry of Gaza—is highly disputed and cannot easily be enlisted as solid proof for late antique religious conflict.”107
The preceding discussion assumes that pagans actually cared whether or not public temples were functioning. Plenty of research has shown that support for public cults had already declined by the fourth century.108 Libanius himself, perhaps the most well-known supporter of the temples, argued that temples could be desacralized and converted into administrative or other types of non-religious uses as a way to keep the city beautiful.109 There is evidence that many of the public religious spaces in Petra had already gone out of use, including the Small Temple, the Great Temple, and the Qasr al-Bint before the 363 earthquake. In the region, only the Temple of the Winged Lions in Petra [End Page 160] and temples at Khirbet et-Tannur and Khirbet edh-Dharih are known to have been functioning as temples at the time of their destruction. If it was the case that the inhabitants of Petra and the region lost interest in public paganism, Julian’s possible benefactions would be rendered potentially irrelevant. However, it would be hard to argue that the region had become overwhelmingly Christian by 363, since the first churches in the region (other than the putative one at Aila) were not constructed for almost another century.
Regardless of why, the temples were not rebuilt after the earthquakes of the fourth century. Traditional religious beliefs must have continued in the region, even if they left so little trace that they are much harder to detect archeologically. In the fifth century, the Christian communities, which previously were virtually invisible to archaeology, become clear, but the Christian structures were constructed from the ground up, with the remains of destroyed temples (at Oboda and Khirbet edh-Dharih, for example), demonstrating the “triumph” of Christian belief.
Initial research for this paper was conducted at the American Center of Oriental Research in 2007, while I held the Kress Fellowship in the History and Archaeology of Jordan. I was able to complete this paper thanks to a UAB Faculty Development Grant in 2014.
1. Negev 1981, 26–27 no. 13: ᾿Αγαθῇ τύχῃ Ζεῦ Ὄβοδα βοήθει Εἰρηναιῳ οἰκοδομούντι ἐπ’ αἰσίοις τὸν πύργον ἔτ(ους) ΡΠΗ διὰ Οὐαέλου οἰκοδόμου Πετρέου καὶ Εὐτύχους; Uranius fr. 16 (from Steph. Byz., edited by Meineke 1849): Ὄβοδα, χωρίον Ναβαταίων, Οὐράνιος Ἀραβικῶν τετάρτῳ, ὅπου Ὀβόδης ὁ βασιλεὺς, ὃν θεοποιοῦσι, τέθαπται. Τὸ ἐθνικὸν Ὀβοδηνὸς, ὡς ∆αχαρηνός. Many inscriptions honor Zeus Obodas at the site, including Negev 1981, 15–20, nos. 3, 4, 6. The relationship between indigenous and Hellenic deities is complex (see for example the discussion of the deity Zeus Betylos in Millar 1993, 1–23). For more on Obodas as a god, see Alpass 2013, 156–59; Graf and Smith, forthcoming. Recent excavations have demonstrated that Obodas was worshipped inside Petra and in the nearby settlement of Gaia, see Nehmé 2002; Tholbecq and Durand 2013; Al-Salameen and Falahat 2014, 293–307.
5. On the survival of paganism in the Near East in the fifth and sixth centuries, see Harl 1990, esp. 14, n. 28. For example, Hahn 2004 has argued that religious violence between Christians and pagans was not the norm throughout the Near East in Late Antiquity but was sparked by specific, underlying conditions.
6. Trombley 1993. This paper will periodically use the terms “pagan” and “traditional religion” to describe the pre-Christian beliefs in the region. These labels are too restrictive, since they encompass many forms of religious piety, including but not limited to: civic religion; various ruler cults, both Hellenistic and Roman; philosophical movements; “mystery” cults; the worship of Greco–Roman deities; and of indigenous gods and goddesses.
9. On the problems of comparing literary and archaeological evidence for the conversion of pagan temples to Christian churches using Heliopolis as an example, see Emmel, Gotter, and Hahn 2008, esp. 1–4.
11. Emmel, Gotter, and Hahn 2008, especially 1–4, and Hanson 1978. It should also be pointed out that there were many fates for an abandoned temple. Some could be completely robbed out over time, or repurposed for other uses, such as the “Great Temple” at Petra, see Emmel, Gotter, and Hahn 2008, 9–11; Grossman 2008; Hahn 2008a and 2008b; see also Bayliss 2004, 14–16. Christian destruction of pagan structures seems much rarer than previously argued. for example, at Fowden 1978; cf. Lavan 2011, xx–xxx.
16. Russell 1980; Levenson 2013. Earthquakes are quite common in the regions of Palaestina Salutaris; see Korjenkov and Erickson-Gini 2004; Korjenkov and E. Mazor 2004; Thomas, Niemi, and Parker 2007.
17. Brock 1997, 276; Russell 1980, 51. Earthquake damage at Ez-Zantur is reported in almost every article about the site. For a summary of the excavations, see Kolb 2002; 2003. Specifically, a skeleton of a woman and a child were discovered along with a hoard of sixty five bronze coins dating from 226–363 (Stucky et al., 1990). Gerber has published pottery that helps date the earthquake to 363 (see Kolb 1998, 272–75). It is clear that the house on EZIV was also destroyed by the earthquake, and some glass has been published to support this date, Kolb and Keller 2002, especially 290–92. That Reqem refers to Petra is confirmed by Eus. On. 144 (ed. Klostermann 1904).
18. Erickson-Gini 2010, 91–95 and 129–90. Excavations in the residential quarter near the acropolis at Oboda have suggested that there was an additional earthquake dated to the late fourth or early fifth century, and evidence of a later earthquake dated to the seventh century has also been found, see Korjenkov and Mazor 1998.
20. Meimaris and Kritikakou-Nikolaropoulou 2005, 116–21 nos. 22, 23, and 24.
22. It is unknown when an additional temple, located in Wadi Ramm (Savignac and Horsfield 1935; Tholbecq 1997b and 1998), probably dedicated to Allat, was abandoned, but Kirkbride 1960, 92, suggested the fourth century. It was still functioning in the early third century ce, according to inscriptions, Sartre 1993, 173–82. Parallels to Egyptian temples are discussed in Tholbecq 1998, 116–19. Another small temple has recently been discovered in the vicinity of Petra, but it has not been excavated, Linder and Gunsam 1995. Finally, three buildings identified as temples have been discovered at Dhat Ras northeast of Khirbet et-Tannur, but not yet excavated; Alpass 2013, 214–17.
23. Nehmé 1997, 1045; Tholbecq 1997a, 1081; Larché and Zayadine 2003, 199; Zayadine, Larché, and Dentzer-Feydy 2003, 105 concluded that Baalshamin and al-’Uzza were the chief deities, but reviewers have called into question this hypothesis, see esp. Patrich 2006; Graf 2006, 449.
25. IGLS 21.4.22 = Sartre 1993, 55–56, Τύχῃ Ἁδριανϛῆς Πέ[τ]ρας μ̣ητροπό[λεως]; IGLS 21.4.24 = Sartre 1993, 56–57; Nehmé 1997, 1045; Tholbecq 1997a, 1081; Healey 2001, 40; Larché and Zayadine 2003, 199. The inscription that mentions Aphrodite is heavily reconstructed. Without supplements, it reads ---]Σ̣ΕΒΑ[--- / ---]Δ̣ΕΙΤΗ[--- / ---]Ο̣ΚΟΛΩ[---. Line 2 is thought to read [Ἀφρο] δ̣είτῃ.
33. On the Temple of the Winged Lions, see Hammond 1987; 1988; 1996; 2003; Hammond and Johnson 1994; Tuttle and Erickson-Gini 2012. To date, very little of the ceramic, numismatic, and stratigraphic evidence has been published; however, the recent ACOR initiative to understand the site will hopefully correct this, see Erickson-Gini and Tuttle, forthcoming.
36. Hammond 1990; Hammond 1996, 101–16; Starckey 1982, 196. For reasons why al-‘Uzza seems more likely, even though the Nabataeans may have seen Allat and al-‘Uzza as different manifestations of the same goddess, see Healey 2001, 44, 119.
37. Levi della Vida 1938. The inscription reads, “to the goddess al-‘Uzza // to the goddess Aphrodite” (ll‘z’ ’lht’ // θεᾶι Ἀφροδίτῃ). See Zayadine 1981 for a fuller discussion of al-‘Uzza’s association with Aphrodite. Healey 2001, 117, suggests that this dedication may not indicate that al-‘Uzza and Aphrodite were associated with each other, but rather it may have been a personal attribution, “without implying anything about how al-‘Uzza was regarded at Petra.” Later (119) he concludes that al-‘Uzza probably was equated with Aphrodite. In the Surat an-Najm (“the star”) in the Koran, al-Allat and al-‘Uzza are mentioned together with Manat. This Sura is often believed to refer to reproduction, perhaps enhancing the connection of these goddesses with Venus/Aphrodite.
38. P. Yadin 12.
49. Bodel and Reid 2002; Reid 2005, 125–32. Few of the inscriptions have actually been published, and the final excavation report focuses largely on stratigraphy and the history of the excavation rather than epigraphy.
53. Two of the most important and relatively well known temples were located at Qasr Rabbah on the Kerak Plataeau (Glueck 1939) and at Wadi Ramm near Aila (Kirkbride 1960; Savignac and Horsfield 1935; Tholbecq 1997b; 1998). There is currently little evidence to determine when the temples were abandoned. A small Nabataean sanctuary in the al-Mujib Nature Reserve has also been excavated but appears to have been abandoned long before the 363 earthquake, see Atiat 2005. Finally, a temple discovered at Humayma, between Petra and Aila, was abandoned by the late third century, Oleson 2008, 313. Also see note 22, above.
54. Khirbet et-Tannur was originally excavated in 1937, Glueck 1937a, 1937b, 1938, 1952, 1965; Starckey 1968. Many of Glueck’s theories have since been proven incorrect; see for example McKenzie 2001, 108–9, which argues that Glueck misunderstood the Zodiac sculptures at Tannur. An impressive re-evaluation of the Khirbet et-Tannur complex has recently appeared; see McKenzie, Gibson, and Reyes 2002 and their final report McKenzie et al. 2013. Khirbet edh-Dharih has been excavated since 1984 by a joint Jordanian–French team, Waliszewski 2001; al–Muheisen and Villeneuve 1994, 2005; Villeneuve and al-Muheisen 1988, 2003. The ruins at Khirbet edh-Dharih were more disturbed by modern activity, but modern scientific methods have provided comparative evidence for understanding the ruins at Khirbet et-Tannur.
65. Hdt. 1.131–32: καλέουσι δὲ Ἀσσύριοι τὴν Ἀφροδίτην Μύλιττα, Ἀράβιοι δὲ Ἀλιλάτ, Πέρσαι δὲ Μίτραν. Later Herodotus equates Alilat to Urania and associates this goddess with Dionysus (Hdt. 3.8): Ὀνομάζουσι δὲ τὸν μὲν ∆ιόνυσον Ὀροτάλτ, τὴν δὲ Οὐρανίην Ἀλιλάτ.
66. Suda Θ 302 (Teubner) Θεὺς Ἄρης: τουτέστι θεὸς Ἄρης, ἐν Πέτρᾳ τῆς Ἀραβίας. σέβεται δὲ θεὸς Ἄρης παρ’ αὐτοῖς· τόνδε γὰρ μάλιστα τιμῶσι. τὸ δὲ ἄγαλμα λίθος ἐστὶ μέλας, τετράγωνος, ἀτύπωτος, ὕψος ποδῶν τεσσάρων, εὖρος δύο· ἀνάκειται δὲ ἐπὶ βάσεως χρυσηλάτου. τούτῳ θύουσι καὶ τὸ αἷμα τῶν ἱερείων προχέουσι· καὶ τοῦτό ἐστιν αὐτοῖς ἡ σπονδή. ὁ δὲ οἶκος ἅπας ἐστὶ πολύχρυσος, καὶ ἀναθήματα πολλά. See Zayadine, Larché, and Dentzer-Feydy 2003, 84–85, 199.
68. Epiph. adv. Haeres. 2.286–287 (GCS). ἐρωτώμενοι δὲ ὅτι τί ἐστι τοῦτο τὸ μυστήριον ἀποκρίνονται καὶ λέγουσιν ὅτι ταύτῃ τῇ ὥρᾳ σήμερον ἡ Κόρη (τουτέστιν ἡ παρθένος) ἐγέννησε τὸν Αἰῶνα. τοῦτο δὲ καὶ ἐν Πέτρᾳ τῇ πόλει (μητρόπολις δέ ἐστι τῆς Ἀραβίας, ἥτις ἐστὶν Ἐδὼμ ἡ ἐν ταῖς γραφαῖς γεγραμμένη) ἐν τῷ ἐκεῖσε εἰδωλείῳ οὕτως γίνεται, καὶ Ἀραβικῇ διαλέκτῳ ἐξυμνοῦσι τὴν παρθένον, καλοῦντες αὐτὴν Ἀραβιστὶ Χααμοῦ τουτέστιν Κόρην εἴτ’ οὖν παρθένον καὶ τὸν ἐξ αὐτῆς γεγεννημένον ∆ουσάρην τουτέστιν μονογενῆ τοῦ δεσπότου. τοῦτο δὲ καὶ ἐν Ἐλούσῃ γίνεται τῇ πόλει κατ’ ἐκείνην τὴν νύκτα, ὡς ἐκεῖ ἐν τῇ Πέτρᾳ καὶ ἐν Ἀλεξανδρείᾳ. For a discussion of the goddess Kore in Palestine, see Bartlett 2007, 71–73; Belayche 2001, 212–14.
77. Inscriptions from outside the regions of Palestine Salutarius, but areas of Nabataean influence do indicate the possible continuation of the imperial cult in the reign of Maximin Daia, the erection of an altar to Phoebus-Sol during Diocletian’s reign, and the continuation of pagan burial customs in the late third and early fourth century. See Merkelback and Stauber 2002, 4: 397, no. 22/22/02; 4: 427–28, no. 22/44/01; and 4: 433, no. 22/51/01. Also see above note 15 for some evidence of pagan cults around Bostra from the fourth century.
82. Soz. 7.15.11–12: Εἰσέτι δὲ κατὰ πόλεις τινὰς προθύμως ὑπερεμάχοντο τῶν ναῶν οἱ Ἑλληνισταί, παρὰ μὲν Ἀραβίοις Πετραῖοι καὶ Ἀρεοπολῖται, παρὰ δὲ Παλαιστίνοις Ῥαφεῶται καὶ Γαζαῖοι, παρὰ δὲ Φοίνιξιν οἱ τὴν Ἡλιούπολιν οἰκοῦντες, Σύρων δὲ μάλιστα οἱ τοῦ νομοῦ Ἀπαμείας τῆς πρὸς τῷ Ἀξίῳ ποταμῷ.
83. His life has never been fully published. Nau (1913–1914) published a summary of the document with selected portions of the Syriac text with translation. The text is available in British Library manuscripts add. 14732 and 12174. Selections about the Petra incident were translated without the Syriac text in Nau 1927. On Petra as RQM, see Eus. On. 144: Ῥεκέμ. αὕτη ἐστὶν Πέτρα πόλις τῆς Ἀραβίας; 62, Γαί. ἐπὶ τῆς ἐρήμου σταθμὸς τῶν υἱῶν Ἰσραήλ. καὶ ἔστιν εἰς ἔτι νῦν Γαῖα πόλις τῇ Πέτρᾳ παρακειμένη.
99. Fowden 1978, 62. The columns from the temple of Asclepius at Aegeae were again looted for a church after being replaced under Julian, Zon. 13.12.34. The prefect of the city of Rome, Furius Maecius Gracchus, destroyed a shrine to Mithra and converted to Christianity, but this might have been his own private shrine, Matthews 1975, 23. Finally, Gregory of Nazianzus converted a temple into a church in his see, Greg. Naz. carm. 30.
102. CTh 16.10.9. This law followed two related laws, CTh 16.10.7, which banned private sacrifices, and CTh 16.10.8, which allowed temples to remain open so that traditional civic festivals could be continued.
103. Fowden 1978, 63, see also 64, n. 6. It is likely that Cynegius was involved in the destruction of a pagan temple near the Persian border mentioned by Libanius and attacks at Beroea on cult statues, Lib. Or. 30.22–23, 44–45; Fowden 1978, 63. See Fowden 1978, 63–64 n.7; Chuvin 1990, 61. Fowden argues that Cynegius was not involved in the destruction of the temple of Zeus at Apamea, but rather suggests that the soldiers were led by Deinias, comes orientis in 386, who worked closely with Cynegius, cf. Theod. HE, 5.21; Fowden 1978, 64, following the argument of Petit 1951, 301–2.
105. Soc. 5.16; Soz. 7.15; Ruf. h.e. 11.22–30 with Haas 1997, 158–68; Hahn 2004, 15–120; 2008b; cf. Watts 2010, 191–215 for the role and legacy of the bishop responsible for the destruction of the Serapeum, Theophilus.
106. Aug. Civ. Dei. 18.54.
107. Mark the Deacon’s Vita Porphyrii, the only source that mentions the closing of this temple, survives in two forms: a Greek life of unknown date and a Georgian manuscript perhaps based on a Syriac one. (The Greek text was edited by Grégoire and Kugener 1930, while the Georgian life is published by Peeters 1941.) Peeters argued that the Greek copy is later and less accurate than a hypothetical Syriac document, which later was translated into Georgian. Therefore, he suggests that the Georgian life is more accurate (Peeters 1941, 68–99; followed by MacMullen 1984, 86–90); however, Trombley, who instead argued that the Greek text is the closest to the original intentions of its author, has successfully refuted Peeters’s arguments (Trombley 1993, 1: 246–82). He argues that the Vita Porphyrii is an archetypical account; it completely reflects the time period in which it was written and accurately depicts the process of the destruction of pagan temples. Nevertheless, it does not describe events as they actually occurred, but “as they might well have happened” (combining the ideas of MacMullen 1984, 86–89 and Fowden 1978, 72). MacMullen argues that most of the account is fictitious and mentions a number of figures such as a governor, who did not exist.