Seir the Horite settled this area

Genesis 14:6, 36:30 tells us that the Seir the Horite lived in Mount Seir (Petra) during the time of Abraham. Seir’s eldest son was known as Lotan, and his name was attached to the area. The Horite name Lotan was difficult for the Egyptian scribes at the time. Dr. G. A. Barton (Archeology and the Bible, 4th edition, 1952, Philadelphia, pg 335, footnote) tells us they substituted “R” for “L” and called it “Rutenu.” This name is found in records of the Twelfth Dynasty of Egypt (2000 B.C. to 1788 B.C.) proving that the name “Lotan” was then in use. Indeed, the name “Upper Rutenu” seems to indicate highlands in Syria, while “Lower Rutenu” appears to apply to some district in the general region which is assigned in the Bible to the Horites, where Lotan, the son of Seir the Horite was a leader. Thus there can be little doubt that “Lower Rutenu” in the Egyptian records refers to the district of the “Lotan” of Genesis 36: 12, 20, 22 and may be a source for the later name Rekem which was attributed to Mr. Seir by the Nabataeans.

Abraham and Lot

Genesis 19:30 tells us: And Lot went up out of Zoar, and dwelt in the mountain, and his two daughters with him; for he feared to dwell in Zoar: and he dwelt in a cave, he and his two daughters. 20:1 And Abraham journeyed from thence toward the south country, and dwelled between Kadesh and Shur, and sojourned in Gerar. This places Abraham near Lot. Zoar is on the coast of the Dead Sea about fifty miles north from Petra. (Mount Seir)
Muslim tradition teaches that Abraham and Lot laid the foundation stones for the Holy House in Becca. At this time, it is possible that Abraham helped Lot, and that together they erected a structure in the Becca Valley where Petra is located today.

Hagar and the Valley of Weeping

Genesis 16:7 tells us: The angel of the LORD found Hagar near a spring in the desert; it was the spring that is beside the road to Shur.  8 And he said, "Hagar, servant of Sarai, where have you come from, and where are you going?" "I'm running away from my mistress Sarai," she answered.  9 Then the angel of the LORD told her, "Go back to your mistress and submit to her."  10 The angel added, "I will so increase your descendants that they will be too numerous to count."  11 The angel of the LORD also said to her: "You are now with child and you will have a son. You shall name him Ishmael, for the LORD has heard of your misery.  12 He will be a wild donkey of a man; his hand will be against everyone and everyone's hand against him, and he will live in hostility toward all his brothers."  13 She gave this name to the LORD who spoke to her: "You are the God who sees me," for she said, "I have now seen the One who sees me."  14 That is why the well was called Beer Lahai Roi; it is still there, between Kadesh and Bered.  15 So Hagar bore Abram a son, and Abram gave the name Ishmael to the son she had borne. The origin of the name Becca may have come from Hagar and baby Ishmael when they were weeping in this valley. For a defense of Becca being on the road between Kadesh and Shur, check Qur’anic Geography pages 51, 236, 309-311.

From Islamic sources: Abraham brought her and her son Ishmael while she was suckling him, to a place near the Ka’ba under a tree on the spot of Zamzam, … so he made them sit over there and placed near them a leather bag containing some dates, and a small water-skin containing some water, and set out homeward. Ishmael’s mother followed him saying, “O Abraham! Where are you going, leaving us in this valley where there is no person whose company we may enjoy, nor is there anything (to enjoy)?” She repeated that to him many times, but he did not look back at her. Then she asked him, “Has Allāh ordered you to do so?” He said, “Yes.” She said, “Then he will not neglect us,” and returned while Abraham proceeded onwards, and on reaching the Thaniya (a crack in the rock) where they could not see him, he faced the Ka’ba, and raising both hands, invoked Allāh saying the following prayers. (Ṣaḥīḥ al-Bukhārī Ḥadīth 4:583)

Esau in Mount Seir

In the Bible, (Genesis 32:3, 33:14-16, 36:8-9) Easu the son of Jacob settled in mount Seir. A people called “Horites” or “Horims” lived in the country of Seir, and Esau’s family, the Edomites, began to intermarry with them. Eliphaz, Esau’s eldest son, married Timna the sister of Lotan and the daughter of Seir (Genesis 36:12, 20, 22). From this marriage to a Horitess, Amalek was born. He grew up to become a sheik of Edom and is considered to be the progenitor of the Amalekites. According to this view, the Amalekites would have originally been a sub-tribe of Edom. The region called “Mount Seir” at that time apparently extended westward as far as El-Paran (possibly “Nakl” near the center of the Sinai Peninsula) beyond which lay the Wilderness of Shur, stretching to the borders of Egypt (Genesis 14:6), although most ancient writers refer to Mount Seir as the mountains of Edom. Later the term is used of both sides of the Arabah Valley, and more recently many have confined it to the east side only. This helps explain how it is that the names “Paran” “Seir” and “Sinai” are synonymous with “Horeb,” the Mount of the Law. (Deuteronomy 33: 2; Habakkuk. 3: 3) The statement that there are eleven days journey from Horeb to Kadesh-barnea “by way of Mount Seir” (Deuteronomy 1:2) is seen to be quite natural, if “Mount Seir” included the ring of mountains along the southern edge of the desert plateau of the Sinai, known to the Arabs as Jebel el Tih.

The Empire of ‘Ad

This was an early nomadic empire led by the Edomite peoples which blossomed early and spread across the Arabian Peninsula. Gibson spends many chapters in his book tracing this nomadic Arabian kingdom, documenting their presence all across the Arabian Peninsula and into Egypt, where the Egyptians called them Hyksos, or shepherd kings.


When the Edomite led alliance (People of ‘Ad) were crushed by Egyptian resistance, the alliance of Arabian tribes broke up, and the Edomites became a small insignificant tribe. The region of Mount Seir was occupied at that time by a group of people know as the Zamzimmims and the Emims (Deuteronomy 2:20, 10, 12). These were destroyed by the descendants of Lot’s children, the Ammonites and Moabites. (Deuteronomy 2:9, 12, 21-22) The ancient well of ZamZam was probably named after the ancient Zamzummims who dug the well.

Ammonite Control

The Ammonites and Moabites were the sons of Lot, and their families grew into small tribes who then allied themselves with the other tribes in Arabia to form the Empire of ‘Ad. (This is defended in chapters 3-8 in Gibson’s Qur’anic Geography. When this alliance was defeated by the Egyptian Pharaoh Ahmose I, it broke up and the tribes each returned to their traditional areas. The Ammonites and Moabites combined their strength at this time and managed to overthrow the Zamzimmims who were living in the mountains of Seir.
(Deuteronomy 2:20)

Moses and Aaron

Moses and the Children of Israel were not allowed to travel up the King's Highway through Edom, so they traveled up the Araba Valley. On this trip, Aaron died and was buried on a mountain top. It is interesting to note that an ancient tomb to Aaron is located near Petra. This would provide the Jewish people a reason to call the area: Bacca, or a place of weeping and of pilgrimage. (Above: photo of Aarons tomb on the mountain top.)


During ther reign of Daid, the Israelite kingdom occupied Edom for a period of time. Since some Jewish people lived in northern Arabia they would have passed down the King's Highway near Petra/Becca on their way to Jerusalem. It is interesting that Psalm 84 was written during this time, and it mentions the Valley of Becca, a place of weeping and pilgrimage, on the road to Jerusalem for the Jews from Arabia.

Solomon and Hiram

The Bible tells us that Solomon and Hiram, King of Tyre built a navy. “For the king had at sea a navy of Tarshish with the navy of Hiram: once in three years came the navy of Tarshish, bringing gold and silver, ivory, apes and peacocks.” (I Kings 10:22) The base for this navy was in "Ezion-geber which is beside Eloth, on the shore of the Red Sea, in the Land of Edom” (I Kings 9:26). The wood for these ships came from the mountains of Edom and Sier. Studies of pollen from ancient graves demonstrate that there were many kinds of trees on the mountains of Edom in ancient times. The last of these forests was cleared by the Turks who ran a railway spur into Shobeck to cut and remove timber. Today it is all desert.

Edomite Settlement

An Edomite stronghold or place of refuge was developed on the top of Um Al Beara mountain. Edomite tombs in the valley indicate that it was a place of burial and weeping for many centuries.


This Babylonian king invaded Israel in 597 BC and captured Jerusalem deposing King Jehoiakim. In 587 BC, due to rebellion, he returned and destroyed both the city and the temple, and deported many of the prominent citizens along with a sizable portion of the Jewish population to Babylon. Around this time, the Edomites began to emigrate north, out of the Petra area into the rich and empty lands of Israel. As they left, the Thamudic people of Arabia began to move north in large numbers and eventually they occupied the area, and are known to us today as the Nabataeans. Visit for more information on this fascinating empire.

Sela and Antigonus

The place called Sela was beside Busheira (Bozrah), the Edomite capital city. Sela was not a name for the Petra valley, although some people have applied this name to Petra. Sela means "rock" and so it was the large rock photographed above that bore this name. There is even an Assyrian inscription at Sela. This rock is described by Diodorus Siculus (xix. 94–97) when Antigonus the One Eyed sent expeditions against the Nabataeans in Sela around 312 BC. Sela is a natural fortress and place of refuge and was used by the Nabataeans as a base of operation before any city was built in Petra. (Above: A view of Sela from a nearby mountain. Notice how it is separated from the rest of the land by canyons.) The attack of Antigonus is investigated in detail in Dan Gibson's book: The Nabataeans, Builders of Petra.

The Thamudic Nabataean Kingdom

As the Edomites migrated north, the Thamudic people from northern Arabia began to arrive in greater numbers. Sometime after 600 BC they began to use the Petra vally as a place for burial tombs. By 100 BC a city of priests and burial workers had developed in the Becca Valley. Today there are over 1000 major tombs in Petra, plus countless graves in common burial grounds.


The Nabataean merchants used the valley as a place to bury their dead. It is not known how far back Nabataean tombs go, but they do not go back farther than the 6th century BC. This valley would have been known as a place of weeping, as this was where the Nabataeans came on pilgrimage twice a year. There are many graffiti inscriptions made by people on pilgrimage to Rekem. Eventually the presence of Nabataean priests and those serving the tombs and temples initiated the development of a city, possibly known as Rekem in Bacca. The name "Rekem" is inscribed in the rock wall of the wadi opposite the dam at the entrance to the Siq. About twenty years ago the Jordanians built a bridge over the wadi and this inscription was buried beneath tons of concrete. Above: The Rekem inscription before it was buried by the bridge abutments. (Photo from 1976, courtesy of Kendall K. Down)


On the authority of Josephus (Antiquities of the Jews iv. 7, 1-4, 7) Eusebius and Jerome (Onom. sacr. 286, 71. 145, 9; 228, 55. 287, 94) assert that Rekem was the native name for Petra and Rekem appears in the Dead Sea Scrolls as a prominent Edom site most closely describing Petra and associated with Mount Seir. But in the Aramaic versions Rekem is also used of Kadesh, implying that Josephus may have confused the two places. Sometimes the Aramaic versions give the form Rekem-Geya which recalls the name of the village El-ji, (Gayn) southeast of Petra. (Gayn)


Romans and Petra

When the Romans aquired the Nabataean Kingdom, Rekem (later Petra) was of great eminence and was an important administrative center, being the only city in the province to which Trajan gave the title metropolis. However, it was Hadrian, who visited Rekem in 130 AD on his grand tour of the eastern Roman Empire, who gave the city his name Petra Hadriane. The Romans continued the practice of creating large tombs at Petra. Photo: Tomb of a Roman soldier in Petra.

Byzantines and Petra

In 285 AD Emperor Diocletian split the Roman empire's administration into two parts, east and west. Over the next 100 years the empire slowly developed into two. In 395 AD after the death of Emperor Theodosius I the Byzantine Empire (or Eastern Roman Empire) is looked upon as completely separated from the west. The Eastern Empire was largely Christianized, and several churches were built in Petra. (Photo: Church mosaic floor in Petra).


Earthquake 363 AD

The word “bacca” is an ancient Semitic word that means to weep or lament. If a location was assigned the title “Bacca” it would mean the place of weeping. There are now a number of Bacca valleys in the Middle East today remembering some tragedy that existed there in the past. The Petra Valley could also bear this title, as there were a number of tragic events that took place at Petra including a major earthquakes in 363 AD. A fourth century Syriac letter attributed to Bishop Cyril of Jerusalem discusses major earthquake destruction at Petra on May 19, 363 AD. Some parts of the city continued afterwards, but it seems that many of the civic buildings ceased to function for a while. (Brock, 1977)

Earthquake, July 9, 551 AD

Another devastating earthquake reduced more of the city to rubble. It appears the bishops departed, bringing to an end all historical records as far as have been discovered to date. (Darawcheh, Sbeinati, Margottini, & Paolini, 2000; Russell, 1985) This is 19 years before Muhammad is born. After the earthquake the people dug themselves out of the rubble and the holy relics were brought into the centre of the city in front of the temple to Dushares where they would be safe. (Photo: Temple of Dushares with the altar in the foreground). Ibn Ishaq describes the people digging up artifacts and rocks from the rubble and then building the Ka'ba. (Ibn Ishaq 124, pg 85)

Black Rock Moved to Mecca

In this year, Ibn Zubayer rebeled agains the rulers in Damascus. He destroyed the Ka'ba and moved the Black Rock to Mecca in Saudi Arabia to keep it from the Umayyad rulers. After this time, mosques slowly began to change their qibla direction away from Petra toward Mecca.

Earthquake of 713 AD

The final destruction came from an earthquake in 713 AD. Petra was never rebuilt after this and it passed from history. (Hinds, 1990, 1256, page 204) All record of Petra stops here, the city lay in ruins and stays that way until Johann Burckhardt discovered it in 1812. (Photo: A column of the treasury laying on its side in Petra before it was restored.)

The Birth of Muhammad

Al Ṭabarī relates the story (The History of Al-Ṭabarī, Volume VI, 1079, pg 6) of how ’Abdallāh, the father of Muḥammad visited a wife whom he had in addition to Aminah. He had been working in the field and traces of soil were still on him. When he invited her to lie with him she made him wait because of this, so he went out, performed his ablutions, washed off the clay and went to Aminah’s quarters instead. In this way the prophet Muḥammad was conceived.

R.B. Serjeant, in his comments on Alfred Guillaume’s translation of this story in the Sirah (Bulletin of the School of Oriental and African Studies, xxi,1958, pages 1-14) explains that the Arabic word used here for soil means a cultivated plot or field, and notes that there is no cultivatable land near Mecca. (See Isḥāq, pg 69 for the parallel account) While there is only sand and rock at the current Mecca site with no evidence of ancient cultivation, the city of Petra/Becca had fields and soil in the various places. There were private and public gardens, as well as running water brought to the city through aqueducts and clay pipes. Archeologists have described fruit trees, and gardens existing in ancient Petra. If the ancient name for Petra was Becca, then this is the birthplace of Muhammad.

Holy City of Islam known as Becca

This is mentioned in several places. Ibn Ishaq 124 tells of a stone beng uncovered in the rubble near the Ka'ba which states: " I am the Lord of Bacca, I created it on the day that I created heaven and earth." The Qur'an mentions in Sura 3:96 "The first house of worship for mankind was established at Becca." Becca is also mentioned in Ibn Ishaq 73. Hadith: Fiqh usSunna 5:1 repeats: The first house of worship appointed for men was that at Bakka.


Timeline of the Becca Mecaa Petra valley