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Petra: Atlas archeologique et epigraphique, vol. 1: De Bab as-Siq au Wadi al-Farasah.

Petra: Atlas archeologique et epigraphique, vol. 1: De Bab as-Siq au Wadi al-Farasah. By LAILA NEHME. Paris: ACADEMIE DES INSCRIPTIONS ET BELLES-LETTRES, 2012. Pp. 266, 51 pits., maps. 50 [euro].

This highly anticipated volume is the first fruit of a long period of exploration and research of the vast and varied landscape of Petra, representing the initial fascicule of a projected three volumes of the French "Petra Atlas Project." The project involves the coordination of aerial photography of the region with a detailed survey of the landscape on the ground. On the basis of her dissertation (L'Espace urbain de Petra, 1994), L. Nehme was placed in charge of the Atlas Project initiated by Jean-Marie Dentzer in 1973. Previously, a number of initiatives contributed to the Atlas project, including the RAF aerial photographs of the region in the 1950s and the launching of a French-Jordanian mission in 1969 by Jean Starcky and Fawzi Zayadine, the continuation of J. Starcky and J. T. Milik's epigraphic project that began in 1960 that was designed to be the basis of a projected supplementary volume of the CIS. As the years progressed, it became clear this earlier work was incomplete and inadequate. New aerial photographs were taken by Maurice Gory of IGN in 1974 and a new map of Petra was produced by the Royal Jordanian Geographic Center in 1988. These formed the basis of the late Rene Saupin's 1/2000 scale maps in the volume, representing fifteen contiguous topographical regions of Petra, stretching from Bab as-Siq to Jabal al-Khubthah. Regions 1-4 are the focus of this first fascicule, with regions 5-9 (Atlas II) and 10-12 (Atlas III) to follow. It was also clear that a new investigation was required on the ground, resulting in a new survey of Petra conducted by Nehme in 2002/3 to systematically photograph all the newly discovered Aramaic and Greek texts that have emerged in recent decades and relocate the earlier texts to substantiate their readings.

The focus of the first volume is the southeastern part of the Petra region, divided into eight areas: Bab es-Siq, the Siq (with Wadi Umm Dfaylah and Wadi al-Hraymiyah), the opening of the Siq, the Theater, Jebel al-Madhbah, Wadi al-Farasah, the base of Jabal al-Khubthab, and the summit of Jabal al-Khubthab. Each of the over 600 listings is provided with a brief description of the particular monument and the relevant bibliography. The ultimate objective of the Atlas is to catalogue all the 628 monumental rock-cut tombs, plus the 730 non-monumental tombs, with the well over a thousand betyls, niches, and rock carvings, and the hundreds of inscriptions in the region.

After a brief introduction (pp. 17-26), the catalogue follows with a listing of the monuments (pp. 27-159) and inscriptions (pp. 161-202). The main objective is to provide a photographic survey and analysis of "monuments" in the 24 sq. km that comprise the Petra National Park. The maps of central Petra are in four plates of 1/1000 scale that cover the area between the Theater and Qasr al-Bint. The monuments are located on the maps with different symbols and colors. They designate funerary monuments, domestic, cultural, and hydraulic installations, banquet halls, defensive structures, and agricultural areas. Pictograms designate the location of the inscriptions, betyls, and tombs. The catalogue numbers utilized begin with those of Brunnow and Domaszewski and Dalman from over a century ago, with recent additions listed by three letters (e.g., Bab es-Siq 1 = BS 1), rather than a sequential topographical listing irrespective of the date of discovery.

This is followed by an illuminating summary of the listings and commentary on each region (pp. 203-30). Each sector is provided with an analysis of the monumental finds, including the basic bibliography, a discussion of the corresponding map, the inscriptions in the area, with important chronological data and an interpretative analysis of the region. The index of the monuments provides a listing of the monuments coordinated with those of previous works, including those of Marie-Jeanne Roche (whose Ph.D. dissertation on the Niches a betyles et monuments apparente's a Petra at Paris X Nanterre [1985] provided a catalogue of 809 monuments). Next is an index of the vocabulary of the inscriptions, followed by a comprehensive bibliography and fifty-one color plates, with the four relevant maps in a casing pocket in the inside back cover.

This valuable catalogue of the Atlas provides a comprehensive guide to the numerous monuments and inscriptions of Petra, with a photo and detailed description and bibliography for each listing. Almost all the monumental tombs are included (except ed-Deir), from the entrance of the Siq west to Wadi Farasa and north to the tomb of Sextus Florentinus, and are assigned a date to the first century A.D., perhaps too confining, given the contentious debate about the chronology that places some in the first century B.C. and others as late as the second century A.D. The color photos of the tombs are excellent, but those of the inscriptions are mainly so miniscule (5.5 x 3.5 cm as a rule) as frequently to make it impossible to verify Nehme's reading or confirm the accuracy of her drawing of the text. Plate LI (20 x 12 cm of MP 77-82 and 85-87 is the exception, but some of the texts therein are still very small). Far more useful for epigraphers would have been a DVD of the inscriptions enclosed in a pocket of the Atlas, as is now done with similar archaeological projects with substantial data.

The summary of each sector reveals the disparity in the location of inscriptions. The Bab es-Siq has only a few texts, but three important Nabataean and Greek dated inscriptions. There are only four Nabataean graffiti in the Siq, which is rather dominated by Greek inscriptions, including the post-annexation texts of the panegyriarch from Der'a and several of the Third Cyrenaica Legion. In the Siq opening, there also are few texts, but four of them are in an "unknown alphabet" (MP 99-100, 102-103), and unfortunately are not described or illustrated in the volume. The Theater has few texts, except for the blocks with Nabataean and Greek letters (MP 693-733). In contrast, more than a hundred texts are found in "inner" Petra, on the summit of Jebel Madhbah, Wadi al-Farasah, and Jebel al-Khubthah. But there is no dated Nabataean Aramaic inscription after the Roman annexation of Nabataea in A.D. 106.

During the more than half a century that has elapsed in compiling the French Atlas effort, a number of other complementary projects have been initiated by other scholars in Germany, Britain, and the USA, not all of which have been absorbed by the Atlas (pp. 13-14). The most serious omission is the "Petra Niche Project" launched by Robert Wenning and the late H. Merklein in 1997, which has already documented 840 votive niches in the eastern half of Petra alone, two-thirds of which were previously unrecorded, with an estimated total of over 1200 in the Petra region (see for the latest report "Nabataean Niches and Early Petra," in Men on the Rocks: The Formation of Early Petra, ed. M. Mouton and S. G. Schmid [Berlin: Logos, 2013], 343-50). For example, there are sixty-nine niches now known in the Siq (Wenning, ADAJ 54 [2010]: 279), whereas the Atlas lists but sixty-two. And the disparity grows as we enter "inner" Petra. Since we are dealing with over a thousand betyls, the difference is not insignificant.

In regard to the catalogue of inscriptions, there are also problems. More than forty-five of Milik's earlier readings are questioned in the several hundred inscriptions, but the overwhelming number of these occur in texts where the letters of his proposed reading are not visible and cannot be substantiated. It should be emphasized that in the course of the past half century, the sandstone surfaces of Petra have deteriorated dramatically, which should be taken into account. Moreover, some of Nehme's re-readings and corrections of Milik seem arbitrary and pedantic. For example, in MP 4, Milik read twenty-four letters of a presumably coherent text, but this is replaced by Nehme's re-reading based on a new photo that provides a succession of thirty letters without any apparent meaning!!); the small photo in the Atlas is of little help in determining what is legible. In MP 50, Nehme reads rhhw instead of Milk's rbtr ("cette lecture nous semble improbable"), where surely rhtw was meant. Neither the upper domed crossbar nor the horns of Nehme's proposed h are visible in the photo, where the stone surface appears damaged and the leftward curvature of the right leg of the third radical suggests the letter is actually a t. The personal name rbt also is attested in Safaitic, Thamudic, and Palmyrene, where it is clearly a masculine personal name, not a feminine personal name. Admittedly, neither reading is attested in Nabataean Aramaic, but Milik's reading remains plausible. MP + MP 55 were separated by Milik into two texts, but Nehme indicates that that "ne peut pas etre retenue," in spite of the fact that this means an unusual three or four generations in the text (the miniature photo is of poor quality). On the other hand, some of the revisions of Milik's other readings are so obvious that one wonders if his readings were dependent on poor photos and not autopsy.

There also are indications that the catalogue of inscriptions in the Atlas has failed to keep pace with the recent exploration of Petra. MP 17.1 is based on a reading by Suleiman Farajat in 2005, but this is an exception. During the clearing of the Siq in 1996 to 2001, fourteen inscriptions were discovered, twelve of which were claimed as new and one other in which the cleaning disclosed a fuller reading (The Petra Siq: Nabataean Hydrology Revealed [Amman: Petra National Trust, 2003], 99-101). Only a half dozen of these are addressed in the Atlas. One of these represents MP 15.5, a "Germanos" (although to identify him as a "legionnaire de la IIP legion cyrenaique" is just a good guess, as the name was particularly popular in Syria and the Near East, where 49 of the 127 known occurrences of the name appear in a variety of contexts). Others are Nabataean, three of which, MP 744.2 and 744.5-6, are mainly illegible and another, MP 744.3, originally read as the toponym Raqmw, is re-read as Sly[m]w, but the y appears questionable (the photo is poor). What is seriously omitted is the new reading of IGLS 21/4, 14A-B (p. 202), in which five more lines of an inscription known since 1979 were revealed and the first line partially restored. The first two lines were reread by P.-L. Gatier as a dedication to "Zeus Ouran[ios] Beel[phegor]," by two soldiers from Motho, probably to be identified with Imtan in the Syrian Hauran ("Decapolitana," Syria 84 [2007]: 169-84, in "Annex: Un inscription de Petra," at 180-82). But the Atlas edition of the text provides a photo that appears to be prior to the Siq project a decade ago and the discussion fails to mention Gatier's analysis. In regard to his reading, one might expect rather a reference to Baal-Shamin (cf. J.-P. Rey Coquais, JRS 68 [1978]: 49 n. 59, for a reference to the deity at Qanawat), the dominant cult in the Hauran (D. Sourdel, Les cuites du Hauran [Paris, 1952], 19-31), or perhaps Beelbaros known from an inscription in Batanea and associated with the Madaba region (Sourdel, p. 45), not Beelphegor.

In spite of these blemishes, the Atlas will be a fundamental resource for all future exploration and research at Petra. It will be an indispensable guide for anyone investigating the remains and ruins of this important World Heritage site in the future.

David F. Graf

University of Miami
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Author:Graf, David F.
Publication:The Journal of the American Oriental Society
Article Type:Book review
Date:Apr 1, 2016
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