Testimony #10: The Traditional Location of Mecca at Pharan and Medina at Midian (Moabite Rabbath, Areopolis, modern Er-Rabba) in Arabia Petraea

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Testimony #10: The Traditional Location of Mecca at Pharan and Medina at Midian (Moabite Rabbath, Areopolis, modern Er-Rabba) in Arabia Petraea



Please read as an introduction to the following account the Chapter titled “Some Major Geographical Alterations Made in the Quran”, above, >>. According to Thomas Artzruni, Mecca was the later name for the city called Pharan in the days of Muhammad himself: “At that time {the era of Muhammad} there were some despotic brothers in the regions of Arabia Petraea in the place (called) P’aran {Pharan}, which is now called Mak’a {Mecca} — warlike chieftains, worshipers of the temple of the Ammonites of the image called Samam and K’abar.” Pharan, also spelled Paran, was a small city in Wadi Feiran (Feiran = Pharan) at the foot of Mount Serbal, that is, in the far west of the Sinai Peninsula, somewhat to the north of the port of Tor on the Gulf of Suez. Mount Serbal, according to the 6th-century Coptic monk Cosmas Indicopleustes, was the Mount Sinai of the Hebrew Scriptures where Moses received the Law. Note the statement of Thomas Artzruni that Pharan was in the territory which the Romans called Arabia Petraea. The metropolis of this province was Petra, a little south of the Dead Sea in modern-day Jordan.

The connection of Mecca with the city-state of Petra passed down into Medieval and Renaissance times. From J. H. Hottinger, Historia Orientalis, Zürich, 1660, p. 215: “‘The capital of Arabia Petraea is the City of Petra’, according to the account of Lud. Godof. page 230, ‘which the Holy Scriptures call Petra Deserti {Petra of the Desert}, and there are many who consider this to be the same Mecca in which Muhammad was born.’” He cites Alessandro Sardi, the Renaissance scholar, ibid. p. 214f., as calling Mecca “Arach”, in spite of the fact Mecca in Saudi Arabia never had this name. Hottinger argues that the appellative “Arach” became attached wrongly to the Saudi Arabian Mecca because of the widespread tradition that the Mecca or Bekka where Muhammad was born was Petra, as Petra was indeed called “Arach” (also “Archam”) in the Middle Ages. Hottinger (p. 215) quotes Adrianus Romanus in Theatro Urbium in this regard: “Arach was formerly called Petra.”

There is a little confusion in the nomenclature because the ancient names had specific meanings, and the later names more general ones. The name Arach and Archam was derived from the ancient Midianite chief Rekem of Numbers 31, who inhabited the rock-caves of Petra before the Exodus, hence the Greeks knew this place as Arkem or Arekeme (from Rekem, producing the later Medieval form Archam) and Arke (whence the Medieval Arach). At the time of the Exodus, the Israelites inhabited the site some time themselves under the name of Kadesh, the “Sanctuary” (so-called on account of the second miracle of water from the rock performed there). Later still the location was known in Hebrew as Sela, the “Rock, Cliff-face”, which is nowadays denominated the Sik. The Sik is a huge rock-face, split by a chasm along its length, which was formed, according to the Bedouin account, by the smiting of Moses’ rod, when he brought forth the water. The chasm is the entrance, and a very magnificent entrance, to the ancient cave-city. The Hebrew term “Sela” for this rock-face translates into Greek as “Petra”, the “Rock”.

In Roman Imperial and early Byzantine times the Nabataeans ruled the whole of Arabia Petraea, along with some adjoining districts, from the aforesaid cave-city. It was called in that era Petra. Thus what might be termed the city-state of Petra (as opposed to the cave-city itself) included at the time parts of what was anciently termed the Desert of Paran or Pharan, which stretched from the notable city of Pharan in Wadi Feiran in Sinai eastwards and northwards to within a few miles of the cave-city of Petra. The city of Pharan in Wadi Feiran was itself the center of an important Late Roman and Byzantine Saracen state. The term Paran or Pharan denoted both the city of Pharan in Wadi Feiran and the adjoining desert, the eastern portion of which was included in the territory of Petra. Hence, no doubt, the belief arose in Medieval times that Mecca where Muhammad was reared, originally the city of Pharan, according to Thomas Artzruni, was “Petra” or “Arach”, Pharan in this case being understood to be a geographical name referring to that portion of the desert of Pharan included within the territory of the city-state of Petra, rather than as the name of the city in Wadi Feiran. This belief would have acquired a stronger hold on the Medieval historical consciousness on account of the fact that the city of Pharan by that time had been reduced to a heap of ruins, and had ceased to be permanently inhabited. Petra, though deserted too in Medieval times, had a more prominent name than the city of Pharan in the ancient history of the East, and would naturally be adopted by preference as a geographical anchor-point for the traditions about Muhammad’s early life. Thus, the name of the metropolis itself, “Arach”, came to be used as an alternative name for the whole of Arabia Petraea, including the city of Pharan at the base of Mount Sinai. An example of this usage is found in the commentary of J. W. Goebelius to the Works of H. Conringius (ed. Brunsvigae, 1730, p. 451 note [g]): “[Arabia] Petraea, which took its name from the city of Petra, and was the Nabathaea of the ancients, nowadays called Herac and Arach, in which are the mountains Sinai and Horeb, likewise the deserts of Sin, Zur, Kedar, Kades, and the notable cities Bussereth, Herath, Eltor, Eilan, Havarra and Median.” (Latin: “[Arabia] Petraea, quae ab urbe Petra nomen tulit veterumque Nabathaea fuit, nunc Herac & Arach appellata, in qua sunt montes Sinai & Horeb, item deserta Sin, Zur, Kedar, Kades, urbes praecipuae Bussereth, Herath, Eltor, Eilan, Havarra & Median.”)

Even in the earliest stages of the textual corruption of the Evangelical Quran, traditions of the Subba, or Mandaeans of Iraq, were inveigled into the text. The Mandaeans were classed as Nabataeans by the Muslims, and the Nabataeans were traced from Nebajoth, the firstborn of Ishmael. There was, therefore, an ethnological connection between the Subba and the Ishmaelite family of Muhammad who were geographically located in the regions of Sinai inhabited by the Nabataeans.

The Subba derived their religious traditions from the Samaritans. It would be no surprise to find Subba, “Nabataean”, or early Muhammadan traditions in general, preserved by the Samaritans. And, in fact, we find unique traditions relating to the geography of the Nabataean Ishmaelites of Muhammad’s era preserved in the Samaritan chronicle known as the Asatir. (Asatir, ed. trans. Gaster, [Pitron, or, Commentary] VIII. 3f., p. 243, and [Asatir text] VIII. 3, and footnote 3 ibid., p. 262.) This chronicle states that the people of Nebajoth son of Ishmael built Mecca or Beccah within thirty years of the death of Ishmael, and it identifies the famous Arabian city with the place-name mentioned in Genesis 25. 18: This reads as follows, according to the original Hebrew text: Gen. 25. 17f.: “17. And these are the years of the life of Ishmael, an hundred and thirty and seven years: and he gave up the ghost and died; and was gathered unto his people. 18 And they [the Ishmaelites] dwelt from Havilah unto Shur, which happened to be located [naphal, lit. “fell”] opposite Egypt at Boachah Ashur [Heb. Boachah Ashurah], in the presence of [or, “east of”, or “overlooking”] all his brethren.” We shall leave what we take to be the place-name Boachah Ashur for discussion infra. The relative clause “which happened to be located …” clearly relates to the land of Shur, where the Ishmaelites inhabited a place located opposite Ishmael’s Egyptian kinsmen, thus fulfilling the prophecy relating to Ishmael in Gen. 16. 12, that he would dwell “opposite”, “east of”, or “in the face of” all his brethren. This was taken to mean, as Gen. 25. 18 indicates, “opposite”, “east of”, or “in the face of” his Egyptian brethren, the kinfolk of his Egyptian mother Hagar. However, the word translated “happened to be located”, Hebrew naphal, occurs at the end of the sentence in verse 18, and is thus commonly understood to mean “he (viz. Ishmael) happened to be located”, literally “fell”, that is, encamped, or, perhaps even, “fell in death”. The two verses might now be read in a different sense, thus: “17. And these are the years of the life of Ishmael, an hundred and thirty and seven years: and he gave up the ghost and died; and was gathered unto his people. 18 And they [his people] dwelt from Havilah unto Shur, which (is) opposite Egypt at Boachah Ashur; he [viz. Ishmael, or, the Ishmaelite people] encamped, or he [Ishmael] fell dead, in the presence of [or, “east of”, or “overlooking”] all his brethren.” This is an awkward and unlikely translation, for the reason that it contains either a reference to the death (“falling dead”) of Ishmael a second time in verse 18b, after its first mention in verse 17b, and after an intervening clause which changes the subject to the dwelling-place of his Ishmaelite descendants (verse 18a); or, alternatively, it improbably alters the plural verb “they [the Ishmaelites] dwelt” (verse 18a) to a singular “he [the Ishmaelite people] was located, or, encamped” (verse 18b). The Samaritans understood verse 18 in the latter sense, nevertheless, and took it to refer principally to the Ishmaelite people of the family of Nebajoth. They also split the verse at the word “Egypt” and identified the Hebrew word boachah in the second half of the verse as the place-name Becca/Bakkah/Mecca and the following word ashur as a reference to Assyria (Heb. Ashur). Asatir’s text reads (trans. Gaster): “And all the children of Nebaot [Nebajoth] ruled for one year in the lifetime of Ishmael, and for thirty years after his death, from the river of Egypt to the river Euphrates; and they built Mecca. For thus it is said: ‘Boachah [Heb. boachah, understood to mean “at Bakh/Mecca” see the Pitron (Commentary) infra] towards Ashur [Heb. Ashurah] before all his brethren he lay.’” (Ed. trans. Gaster VIII. 2-4, p. 262, the Pitron on the same passage reads the last verses thus: “from the river of Egypt to the great river, the river Euphrates. And they built Bakh. As it is written: at Bakh [Boachah, interpreted to mean “at Bakh”, Boach, Bakh/Bekka/Mecca, followed by a locative -h] towards Assyria [Ashurah, interpreted to mean “toward Assyria”, Ashur, Assyria, followed by a locative -h,]: he abode in the presence of all his brethren.” Ibid. p. 243.) The word is read Baka in Samaritan Hebrew. The common Muslim tradition, accordingly, holds that Ishmael lived and died (understanding the reference in verse 18 to be to the “falling dead” of Ishmael) in “Mecca”.

Contrary to the Samaritan understanding of the verse, in one respect, and agreeing with it in another, the Hebrew phrase “boachah ashurah” is usually translated: “as thou goest [boachah] to Assyria [Ashurah]”. Grammatically there is no objection to that translation. But it has always remained a mystery why the rather limited territory occupied by the Ishmaelites in their earliest days, around Shur in the zone immediately east of Egypt in the Sinai peninsula (“before Egypt” as the text states), should be extended in that same text as far as Assyria, which was hundreds of miles away to the north and east. The Egyptian road known as the “Way of Horus” did run eastwards through Shur and onwards through Palestine and Syria as far as Assyria, but there is no Scriptural or historical evidence, and, indeed it is inherently improbable, that the Ishmaelites inhabited those vast intervening territories in their early days. The sensible translation of the two verses, as given supra, shows Ishmael himself, fulfilling the prophecy in Gen. 16, inhabited the region “from Havilah to Shur” and the latter was “opposite” (lit. “against the face of”) Egypt. Assyria is not included within these bounds. Furthermore it is a semantic-cum-logical impossibility that the complementary phrase boachah ashurah means “as thou goest to Assyria”. The reason is that in Hebrew the viewpoint in the preceding word “opposite”, literally “against the face of”, is from Shur looking towards Egypt. Shur, the abode of the Ishmaelites, “happened to be located” (lit. “fell”), as prophesied of Ishmael earlier in Genesis, “against the face of the Egyptians [or, Egypt]”. In English the word “opposite” has no specific direction as between subject and object, but the Hebrew phrase for “opposite” used here, “against the face of”, means the subject is looking, as it were, at the face of the person before him. Here the Ishmaelites of Shur look at “the face” of the Egyptians and therefore west across the Gulf of Suez. It could not be said of such a location and direction, described by such a phrase, that it was “as thou goest to Assyria,” since Assyria was east of Shur, behind the Ishmaelites’ backs, as they looked towards Egypt. If one thought the meaning intended was that Shur itself was east of Egypt (“as thou goest to Assyria”, that is, to the east, when looked at from Egypt), it could only be truly said in this way in Hebrew, with the Egyptians as subject, not the Ishmaelites of Shur: “The Egyptians dwelt against the face of Shur, as thou goest to Assyria”. Therefore “Boachah Ashur” does not mean “as thou goest to Assyria”, but is a place-name in its own right. Boachah would be a Poal participle of the verb bk (for bwk, as q’m for qwm), meaning “disturbed/agitated/frantic”, and ashur (which can be feminine in gender) means “step”. The final -h is locative, Boachah Ashurah = “at (-h) Boachah Ashur”. Boachah Ashur could be translated “Frantic Step”. Since Mecca (and therefore Boachah [Ashur], according to the Samaritans) was traditionally, and specifically, the place Hagar frantically ran backwards and forwards searching for water for her dying son Ishmael, the place-name “Frantic Step” is highly appropriate. From the early Armenian sources we know Mecca was located at Pharan in Wadi Feiran, and more precisely, on Mount Sinai, where a small fountain supplied water. According to Muslim tradition the fountain at “Mecca” was the well Zamzam, miraculously opened up for Hagar by an angel, thus supplying her and her son with life-giving water. It is a notable fact that the strand along the Gulf of Suez where the stream from Wadi Feiran and the watershed of the original Mount Sinai (Serbal) debouches, is known to this day as the plain of “Markah”. In Semitic dialects, and in Arabic, as in Hebrew, an “r” is commonly inserted in place of a doubled consonant, so “Markah” could also be pronounced “Makkah” — viz. Mecca. In other words, the early place-name Mecca, Bekkah, etc. is still preserved as a name for Feiran, but attached only in modern times, like a fossilized relic, to the exit of Wadi Feiran at the sea.

One of the mountain peaks Hagar ran between during the episode referred to was Mount Arafat (traditionally also located near “Mecca”). Arafat features in the same Samaritan chronicle and a parallel source exchanges “Paran” for “Arafat”. (Gaster, Asatir, p. 190, Asatir I. 17, and ibid. note.) Here too, evidently, the real geographical setting is Wadi Feiran. In Asatir it is Adam and Eve who are associated with Arafat, and the same association has been transferred from the original Paran in Sinai to the Saudi Arabian “Paran” and “Mecca” in post-Othmanic Muslim mythology: Adam and Eve are thus represented as having frequented the same sites in the vicinity of the Saudi Arabian Mecca as Abraham, Hagar and Ishmael. The original association of Adam with Paran (and hence, secondarily with Mecca) arose from a midrash on Joshua 14. 15. The ancient name of Hebron, Kiryath-Arba, is explained in that verse by the phrase: “He [Arba] is Adam the Great [thus interpreted, rather than, “the great man”, Hebrew ha-adam ha-gadol] amongst the Anakites.” Kiryath-Arba and the dependent Anakite territories as far as El-Paran (“the terebinth of Paran”), which are referred to in Genesis 14 as the scene of the war between Amraphel and the Anakites of Kiryath-Arba, were now understood to be the home-territory of Adam (“Arba”): the location, that is, outside Paradise where he was formed from the dust, and whither he returned after the Fall. (This region is called “Campus Damascenus” in Medieval literature, meaning, the scene of the battle between the Anakites allied with Abraham and Amraphel, which was terminated by the victory of Abraham near Damascus.) Asatir locates Adam accordingly in Arafat (Paran) after the Fall.

The text in Genesis 25. 18 locates Boachah Ashur by implication in Shur, just east of Egypt. Wadi Feiran and Mount Serbal-Sinai do indeed communicate directly with the wilderness of Shur at its southern end, this being the zone known nowadays as the Plain of Markah (Mecca), through a series of intervening wadis, which include Wadi Mukatteb. The wilderness of Shur stretches from the region immediately east of Lake Timsah, east of the Nile Delta, and runs southwards along the western Sinaitic seaboard. The name Shur means “Wall” and this word appropriately describes the characteristic feature of this region, viz. the wall of mountains which separate the coastal strip from the mountainous zone of the hinterland. The location of Boachah Ashur at Mount Serbal overlooking, and eastward of Egypt in the land of Shur, the most northerly section of the Ishmaelite homeland, explains the statement in the text that Ishmaelites (or Ishmael himself) encamped there al pene, that is “overlooking/east of/in the presence of”, their brethren.

The original site of Hagar’s fountain on Mount Sinai, Boachah Ashur (Baka, Bakka, Mecca), became a shrine of the Ishmaelites in later times. The Ishmaelites here drifted into idolatry and idols were set up in the shrine. Muhammad is said to have cleared the idols out of the shrine at Bakka, including pictures of Abraham and Ishmael carrying games of chance in their hand. Only Ishmaelites (“Saracens”) and exiled Jews frequented the shrine in Christian times, the latter presumably because of its association with Abraham. The Christian ascetics lived in caves or other dwellings around the mountain, and in greater numbers in the town of Pharan in Wadi Feiran. Occasionally gangs of outlaw Saracens raided the Christian sanctuaries, which is why Justinian built a guard-post at the mountain, and a fortress (the present-day monastery at Saint Catherine’s) a short distance away to the east, to prevent their conducting raids eastward of Pharan into Palestine. The relationship between Saracens and Christians, therefore, was uneasy, as it was also between the Jews who frequented the shrine and the Christians, on account of the religious conflict between them. That is why Muhammad only found Jews and idolaters at Bakka when he introduced them to Sergius’ Christian revelation, and was at first rejected. By Bakka in the earliest days was meant the local shrine on the mountain. Later, as aforesaid, the name Bakka was extended to Pharan, when it was conquered by Muhammad, and Wadi Feiran. As Thomas Artzruni says of the Pharan in Arabia Petraea, it “is now called Mak’a {Mecca}”, that is, following the spread of Islam, as described in that work, but prior to the beginning of the 10th century AD when Artzruni was writing.

Christians in pre-Islamic times rarely visited the pagan shrine at Bakka for the reasons mentioned, as well as for the more obvious reason of the idolatry practiced there. Providentially, however, a record of one such visit has survived from the mid-sixth century AD just before the rise of Islam. It shows the separation in those days between the Coptic Christians in Wadi Feiran and the environs and the pagan Saracens at their shrine. It also provides details about the sacred (idolatrous) stone in the shrine, which was adopted by the later Muslims as the Black stone of Mecca. The shrine is said to have been located on Mount Horeb, which in these early Christian accounts is treated as one of the seven peaks of Serbal adjoining the central and highest peak, called Sinai. The name Sinai was also extended at this period to the seven-peaked mountain as a whole. Thus, the shrine is said to have been located on Sinai, though strictly it was on the peak called Horeb. The following account is from the Itinerary of the Pilgrim of Placentia c. AD 550-570 (ed. Geyer, recensio prima, 37ff., my additional notes in braces {}) reads as follows:

“37. Traveling on foot through the desert, on the eighteenth day we arrived at the place where Moses brought forth water from the rock. Passing on from there the next day, we came to the Mount of God, Horeb, and pressing forward with the aim of ascending Sinai, there met us an innumerable multitude of monks and hermits, carrying crosses and singing psalms. They prostrated themselves on the ground at our feet, and we at theirs, with tears in our eyes. They then conducted us to the valley separating Horeb from Sinai, at the foot of which latter mountain is the spring where Moses caught sight of the miraculous burning bush, when he was watering his flocks in the place. This spring is enclosed within a monastery and the monastery itself surrounded by fortified walls. There are three abbots within it who speak several languages, namely Latin, Greek, Syriac, Egyptian and Persian [Persian: from a variant in the second recension], as well as many interpreters of individual languages. There are monastic establishments inside it. We then proceeded on up the mountain without halt for three [Roman] miles, until we came to the location of the cave in which Elijah hid, when he fled from Jezebel. A spring bubbles forth in front of this cave, providing water for the mountain. We then proceeded on upwards three [Roman] miles to the peak of the mountain. There is a place of prayer there of modest proportions, about six feet long in both directions. No-one is presumptuous enough to stay there permanently, but at first light the monks make their way up to it and perform divine service. The custom is for all visitors to clip their beards and hair and deposit the clippings there, and I accordingly cut my beard. 38. Mount Sinai is wholly composed of rock, and hardly any gravel. There are many cells of God’s servants around its circumference, and similarly on Mount Horeb, and they say Horeb is clean gravel. On this mountain, in a certain part of the mountain, the Saracens have set up their idol, made of marble, as white as snow. Here they have a priest on permanent duty, arrayed in a long woolen inner robe and a linen outer robe. So when the time of their festival comes round, with the revolution of the moon, before the moon moves out of its phase, on their feast day the color of that marble begins to change: presently the moon enters its phase, and when they begin to worship the idol, the marble becomes black as pitch. When their festival is over, it resumes its original color, at which we were all amazed.

The “city of Midian” to which Muhammad fled from Pharan, and where he joined forces with 12,000 Jews, was defined by Thomas as one of the Midianite cities destroyed in ancient times by the Exodus Israelites, according to the Book of Numbers, chapter 31. “They {the 12,000 Jews who fled from Edessa} took the desert road and went to Arabia to the sons of Ishmael, to the city called Madiam {Midian}, which Israel had destroyed on leaving Egypt in its war with Balak, king of Moab. {For the account see Numbers ch. 31.} And because the Persian power had become very weak, they fearlessly entered the city of Madiam and dwelt in it.” The particular city named “Midian” referred to in Numbers, — the one associated with the daughters of Moab and the feast of Baal-Peor initiated by Balak king of Moab, — was that which was situated just south of the River Arnon adjoining Areopolis on the borders of Moab, as described in Jerome’s Latin version of the Onomasticon of Eusebius. The entry in Jerome’s version of the Onomasticon, s.v. Madian, reads: “Madian {the later form of the name Midian. Jerome proceeds to describes the first city of this name on the coast of the Red Sea} …. There is another city of the same name as this, adjoining the Arnon and Areopolis, the ruins of which only remain as evidence in our days.” Areopolis is the Hebrew Ar Moab, the Byzantine Rabbathmoba, the modern Er-Rabba in Jordan. The ancient city of Midian had been supplanted in Byzantine times by the more recent city of Areopolis, known locally as Rabbathmoba, the “Rabbath [Great City] of Moab” or “Moabite Rabbath”.

That this was indeed the city of Midian referred to is demonstrated by a comparison of the accounts of “Sebeos” (the contemporary account of the rise of Islam) and of Thomas Artzruni. Thomas tells us Muhammad enlisted the help of 12,000 Jews at the city of Midian, campaigned successfully against the unbelievers at Pharan, then returned in triumph to the city of Midian, from which he launched his invasion of Palestine. “Sebeos” tells us Muhammad traveled from Pharan to “Moabite Rabbath”, and launched from the latter site his invasion of Palestine. The “Moabite Rabbath” of the account of “Sebeos” corresponds to the “city of Midian” of the account of Thomas Artzruni, confirming the identity of the one with the other. Jerome in the Onomasticon more precisely identified the city of Midian with what were in his day (late 4th century AD) ruins “adjoining” (Latin iuxta) Areopolis, Areopolis being also termed Rabbathmoba or “Moabite Rabbath”. The older site, evidently, was abandoned, and, as commonly in such cases, the population transferred to the newer city immediately adjoining. The Onomasticon, by the by, differentiated this city of Midian from the identically named “city of Midian” near Tabuk further south, on the east coast of the Gulf of Akaba, which was where Jethro welcomed Moses in his flight from Pharaoh.

Accordingly, in Muhammad’s day, as inferred from the account of Thomas Artzruni, the Arabic name for Moabite Rabbath or Areopolis was “Medina”, viz. “the city of Midian”. In Arabic legend Muhammad fled from the unbelievers of Mecca to Medina, where he was received. In Thomas Artzruni’s account, based on contemporary sources related to “Sebeos”, Muhammad fled from Pharan (later called Mecca), to the city of Midian (corresponding grammatically and otherwise to the Arabic Medina). Thus, in the early account of Al Kindi, Muhammad is said to have fled from Mecca to Medina “which was in ruins”, and “where resided only enervated people, mostly Jews without purpose” (ed. French trans. Tartar, Dialogue islamo-chrétien, p. 140, translation into English mine). This accurately describes the state of the old city of Midian adjoining Areopolis, where the Jews who accepted Muhammad’s prophecy were located.

Cf. also H, Schaevius, Sceleton Geographicum, 1662, p. 14: Arabia Petraea “Where is Arach and Medina. Likewise Petra.” Medina here is likely to be, as in Thomas Artzruni, the city of Midian, viz Moabite Rabbath, Areopolis, in Arabia Petraea. The “Petra” referred to in Schaevius, being differentiated specifically from Arach (the city we know as Petra) can only be the city of Kerak in Arabia Petraea, as that was also called “Petra” by the Crusaders. Kerak is the Hebrew Kir Moab, the Byzantine Caracmoba, south of the Arnon, on the borders of Moab, located in Roman Imperial times within the territory of Arabia Petraea. This entry in Schaevius is listed separately from Arabia Felix (Saudi Arabia). It is a reflection of the widespread belief in Renaissance times that Medina, the site of Muhammad’s death, as well as Mecca, the site of his birth, was in Arabia Petraea.

Similarly, since (1) Medina is the Arabic term for the “city of Midian”, (2) the “city of Midian” in Thomas Artzruni’s account is the site referred to in Numbers 31, viz. Moabite Rabbath or Areopolis (Er-Rabba) south of the River Arnon, and (3) Muhammad was buried in Medina, then the original tomb of Muhammad must have been in Moabite Rabbath or Areopolis (Er-Rabba) in modern-day Jordan. His remains may have been removed subsequently to the Medina in Saudi Arabia. The later Muslim era, that of the Hejira, was, and still is, based on the date of Muhammad’s flight from Pharan (Mecca) to Moabite Rabbath, the city of Midian (Medina, Er-Rabba), as described by Thomas Atrzruni.

Speaking of the flight of Muhammad in Muslim tradition from Mecca to Medina, and comparing it with the Biblical Exodus traditions, Crone and Cook, Hagarism, p. 24, say: “The Islamic tradition operates with two basic categories: the exodus takes the Prophet to the ‘province’, the madina {= Medina}, whence he prepares the recovery of the ‘metropolis’, the umm al-qura {= Mecca}.” The madina is Midian in the Khuzistan chronicle (ibid. and endnote). Indeed the city of Midian was commonly referred to by the Arabs as “madinat qaum Shuaib”, that is, the “Province/city of the tribe of Jethro”. (Golius, al-Fargani p. 143; al-Kazwini, obit AD 1255, Kitab Asar al-Bitad, p. 173, ed. Wüstenfeld, 1848: “Madyan [Midian] is a city of the tribe of Shuaib [madinat qaum Shuaib], upon whom be peace! It was founded by Madyan son of Ibrahim [Abraham], the Friend (of Allah), the grandfather of Shuaib”.) The post-Othmanic Muslim writers generally never associated the Quranic Medina with the more famous city of Midian on the Red Sea, as indeed, it was never so associated: they transferred the site instead to the city in Saudi Arabia. But in this case, specifically, the province/city [madina = Medina] to which Muhammad fled was Moabite Midian, Rabbath Moab, as in Sebeos and Thomas Artzruni, not the other Midian on the coast of the Red Sea.

The archaeological facts showing the direction of Muslim prayer marked in the earliest mosques was towards the general direction of the Sinai peninsula, not Mecca in Saudi Arabia:

P. Crone and M. Cook, Hagarism: The Making Of The Islamic World, 1977, Cambridge University

Press, pp. 23-24.

“But the importance of the targumic north-west in the sacred geography of the Hagarenes is most dramatically confirmed by what we know of early history of the qibla {that is, the direction of Muslim prayer ed}: it is towards somewhere in north-west Arabia that they appear to have turned in prayer. In the first place, we have the archaeological evidence of two Umayyad mosques in Iraq, that of Hajjaj in Wasit and another attributed to roughly the same period near Baghdad. These mosques are oriented far too north by 33 degrees and 30 degrees respectively; and with this we may compare the literary testimony to the effect that the Iraqi qibla lay to the west. Secondly, we have the literary evidence relating to Egypt. From the Islamic side there is a tradition that the mosque of ʿAmr b. al-ʿAs in Fustat pointed too far north, and had to be corrected under the governership of Qurra b. Sharik.”

Cook: “According to archaeological research carried out by Creswell and Fehervari on ancient mosques in the Middle East, two floor-plans from two Umayyad mosques in Iraq, one built by the governor Hajjaj in Wasit (noted by Creswell as, “the oldest mosque in Islam of which remains have come down to us” Creswell 1989: 41), and the other attributed to roughly the same period near Baghdad, have qiblahs (the direction which these mosques are facing) which do not face Mecca, but are oriented too far north (Creswell 1969: 137ff. and 1989: 40; Fehervari 1961: 89; Crone-Cook 1977: 23, 173). The Wasit mosque is off by 33 degrees, and the Baghdad mosque is off by 30 degrees.”



Maps of the Qiblas of the three early mosques mentioned supra.



Note: the orientation circles superimposed on the following maps are taken from a Muslim study, http://www.islamic-awareness.org/History/Islam/Dome_Of_The_Rock/qibla.html, which argues against the findings of Crone, Cook et al., and may therefore be taken as an independent, unbiased, confirmation of the orientations illustrated here. The principal argument employed on the islamic-awareness website, that the direction of prayer was based solely on astronomical considerations, is not realistic in the earliest phase of the Muslim advance, when these mosques were built. Then, as pointed out by the adherents of the Crone-Crook position, the direction of prayer was the simple geographical orientation towards the site held sacred by Muhammad, as commanded in the Quran. And that, as the argument outlined supra, and the following maps, illustrate, was towards Mount Sinai. However, the location of Sinai itself doubtless was computed by its astronomical orientation, viz. from Cairo, the direction of sunrise at the winter solstice, and in Iraq, the direction of sunset at the winter solstice, from which in each case the qibla is only a few degrees off, as shown at that link. The following reference is found in External References to Islam at http://www.christianorigins.com/​islamrefs.html. The following passage is from the Syrian Christian Jacob of Edessa (Jacob of Edessa, Letter to John the Stylite no. 14, fol. 124a; summarized by Wright, Catalogue, 2.604, and translated by Crone and Cook, Hagarism, 173 n. 30 [pp. 565-566].). Jacob of Edessa died in AD 708, and states he was an eyewitness of the direction of prayer of the Muslims, viz. in the first century of the Muslim conquest. He states the Muslims prayed “towards the Kaaba”, but also “towards the east” (if the Muslims were in Egypt), or “towards the Kaaba” and “towards the west” (if the Muslims were in Babylon). The term “east” in Syriac indicates the direction of sunrise, and “west” the direction of sunset. Evidently in this case, more precisely, as shown by the alignments of the early mosques, the direction was towards midwinter sunrise and midwinter sunset respectively. Jacob emphasizes that the direction of prayer was not towards the compass direction itself, marked by the position of the sun, but towards the physical sacred site, that is, for Muslims, the Kaaba. Thus, he says, in Syria the Muslims prayed towards the south, only because the Kaaba was in that direction, and not because they were praying “towards the south”. In other words, the position of the sacred site was worked out by its position in relation to the sun, then the mosque was pointed towards the sacred site by reference to the position of the sun. Presumably Jews and/or Christians in the pre-Muslim era had already computed the location of Mount Sinai from Cairo (that is Old Cairo, called Babylon in the later Roman Empire) and from Babylon in Mesopotamia, and had found it coincided with the direction of midwinter sunrise and midwinter sunset respectively. This knowledge will have passed down to the Muslim conquerors when they emerged out of Sinai and overwhelmed the Near East. The relevant passage of Jacob of Edessa reads: “Your question is vain . . . for it is not to the south that the Jews pray, nor either do the Muslims (mhaggraye). The Jews who live in Egypt, and also the Muslims there, as I saw with my own eyes and will now set out for you, prayed to the east, and still do, both peoples—the Jews towards Jerusalem and the Muslims towards the Kaaba. And those Jews who are to the south of Jerusalem pray to the north; and those in the land of Babel, in Hira and in Basra, pray to the west. And also the Muslims who are there pray to the west, towards the Kaaba; and those who are to the south of the Kaaba pray to the north, towards that place. So from all this that has been said, it is clear that it is not to the south that the Jews and Muslims here in the regions of Syria pray, but towards Jerusalem or the Kaaba, the patriarchal places of their races.”



Map 1. Fustat Cairo





Map: A = Fustat, Cairo Egypt, the site of the ancient mosque, B = Wadi Feiran, C = Mecca, Saudi Arabia. The Blue arrow is the orientation of the earliest mosque (pointing to Wadi Feiran, the original Bekka or Mecca). The black arrow Q marks the direction to Mecca, and the Red arrow J marks the direction to Jerusalem.







Map 2. Baghdad, Iraq





A = Baghdad, the site of the ancient mosque, B = Wadi Feiran, Sinai, C = Mecca, Saudi Arabia

The Blue arrow marks the orientation of the ancient mosque (to somewhere near the tip of the Sinai peninsula, viz. not as accurate as the nearer situated mosque in Cairo of the first map), the Black arrow marked Q is the direction to Mecca and the Red arrow marked J is the direction to Jerusalem.









3. Wasit mosque, Iraq





A = Wasit, Iraq, the site of the ancient mosque, B = Wadi Feiran, C = Mecca, Saudi Arabia

The Blue arrow marks the orientation of the mosque (to roughly the tip of the Sinai peninsula, again not as accurate as the nearer situated mosque in Cairo of the first map), the Black arrow marked Q points to Mecca, and the Red arrow marked J to Jerusalem.



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