Wednesday, July 04, 2007

Biblical Archaeology in a Day, Site VII~Um Ar Rasas, Burj Sa'man

Biblical Archaeology in a Day, Site I~ Tell Al'Umeiri
Biblical Archaeology in a Day, Site II~ Ataroth
Biblical Archaeology in a Day, Site III~Machaerus
Biblical Archaeology in a Day, Site IV~ Khirbet Iskander
Biblical Archaeology in a Day, Site V~Dibon
Biblical Archaeology in a Day, Site VI~Aroer

The ruins we visited in the vicinity of the village, Um Ar 'Rasas, are not actually biblical sites as they date from the Byzantine and Umayyad periods, the fifth to the eighth century AD. Before visiting the ruins of the Byzantine town, Kestron Mefaa, we stopped about one km away to see an usual tower--unusual in that the 15 meter tower is solid and has no internal stairs, though it appears to have had a room at the top of the tower with four windows, once facing each directions. Rough crosses are hewn into three sides of the tower, with finer carving at the top.

The peculiar architecture of this tower, Burj Sam'am in Arabic, seems to indicate that it is a Stylite tower of the fifth century, used by a Christian holy man.

During the pre-Constantine rule of the Roman Empire Christians were persecuted and many were martyred for their faith. Once Christianity became the official religion of the Empire and intense persecution ceased, a movement sometimes known as "white martyrdom" rose up, with holy men and monks demonstrating their piety by undertaking such ascetic feats as living atop pillars or towers. One of the most famous, Simon Stylites, a Syrian ascetic, lived atop a pillar in Aleppo, Syria for 37 years. Pilgrims came from miles around to visit this holy man and to listen to him preach God's Word. After Simon Stylites became famous, other holy men began to imitate him, themselves living atop towers in order to pray and preach away from the distractions of the world. Our guide suggested that these Stylite towers may have even been the prototype for the Islamic muzzein, from which the call to prayer is given.

The scaffolding surrounding the tower is part of ongoing excavation and preservation work. Near the tower is the ruins of a church, cisterns, and a three storey building which may have been some sort of lodging quarters for visiting pilgrims.

Ruins of 5th century church
Ruins of 3-Storey building

No comments: