09 March 2012

Biblical Zoar

Biblical Zoar
No country in the Middle East, except Palestine/Israel has nearly as many Biblical associations as Jordan. Prophet Lot and his daughters escaped Sodom and Gomorrah and lived in a cave near Dead Sea, Prophet Moses looked across the Jordan Valley from Mount Nebo at the ‘Promised Land’ he would never see. Prophet Jesus was baptized in River Jordan at Bethany and not far from there Prophet Elijah ascended in a fiery chariot. I always tell visitors that in any place you put your foot in this country, the chances are very good that one of the holy men and women of the Bible and Qur’an walked in that very same spot.

South of Amman, all the way down at the southeastern tip of the Dead Sea lies Biblical Zoar. It was here that Prophet Lot and his daughters lived after the Destruction. For the past thirty years archaeologists have been digging in that area and have discovered an astonishing array of religions and cultures, some dating back as far as the Early Bronze Age. Nabataeans, Jews, Christians are all represented there.

Author Konstantinos Politis has published Death at the Dead Sea that what is quite possibly the largest graveyard in the ancient world is here at Zoar. So far, he has discovered that burials in Zoar go back as far as Early Bronze Age I-II (3100-2600 BCE).  The Nabaetaeans came to the area around 2500 years later, burying their dead at Khirbet Qazone, about 25 km north of Zoar. Ancient burials, more than 5000 in all, have been found dating between 1st century BCE and 4th century CE. Jewish families began to inhabit the area then and set about farming and raising dates. A great many Jewish tombstones demonstrate their presence there.

Jewish Tombstone

The Byzantine era (4th – 6th centuries CE) saw the rise of Christianity in the region of Zoar. They built a monastery near Lot’s cave and eventually the town became a major Bishopric. Literally hundreds of Greek-inscribed tombstones from the Byzantine era have been discovered. Sadly, a great many of the graves have been robbed and destroyed, but quite a large number have been found intact. More than 400 Greek and Aramaic that had been looted have been recovered by Politis and his team.

Christian Tombstone

You can learn a great deal more about the ancient tombstones from Zoar at Biblical Archaeology Review's articles written by Steven Fine and Kalliope I Kritikakou-Nikolaropoulou's Tales From Tombstones in the March/April 2012 issue.

*All photographs in this blogpost are from Biblical Archaeology Review

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