25 December 2008

On Being Named for the Prophet Aaron, Part II

Well, I might have waited until my nameday next September to do these posts on St Aaron, but something very exciting happened a few days ago. I was doing a little bit of research on one of the Saints Aaron (I don’t recall which, now), when I came across this page. It’s a list of publications, lectures, etc., by an archæology group in Finland called the ‘Finnish Jabal Haroun Project’. ‘Jabal Haroun’, it turns out, is Arabic for ‘Mount Aaron’. As I scanned the titles of these articles and lectures, I became increasingly excited. Many of them directly referred to a Byzantine Monastery of St Aaron, which was cool enough in itself, as I’d never heard of anything dedicated to any St Aaron.

But then I came across this, which I shall quote at length:

Jabal an-Nabi Haroun (the mountain of the Prophet Aaron) is located about 3 miles to the southwest of Petra, Jordan. According to the Jewish, Christian and Muslim traditions, the mountain is the burial place of Moses’ brother Aaron. That the Mountain of Aaron was located near the Nabatean city of Petra was already mentioned by Josephus, and followed by Eusebius and Jerome in the 4th century AD. The Vita of St Stephen the Sabaite (8th century) recorded Mar Haroun; possibly a monastery on Jabal Haroun. . . . In 1217, Magister Thetmarus noted a church there, in which two Greek Christian monks still lived.

Currently, the peak of the mountain is occupied by the mid-14th century Muslim shrine (weli) with Aaron’s cenotaph. In addition to the early descriptions by Palmer and Wiegand, the most recent one is sby R. Schick, G. Peterman and K.W. Russell in 1996, which concentrated on the ruined architectural complex located on a plateau at about 4,230 feet above sea level, and about 230 feet below the peak. They concluded that the ruins should probably be identified with a monastery of Saint Aaron. This identification is also supported by the Papyrus Petra inv. 6 (AD 573), which mentions ‘the House of the Saint High-Priest Aaron’ outside Petra. . . . Combined with the religious tradition and the remains on the plateau, this would strongly suggest that the latter should be identified as the Monastery/Pilgrimage Center of Saint Aaron. . . .

. . .

Apparently, the complex represents a pilgrimage center related to the veneration of St Aaron, and associated with the monastic presence. It resembles a monatery of a cœnobium type, usually erected next to a memorial church which generally served the needs of pilgrims.

(Avraham Negev and Shimon Gibson, ed., Archaeological Encyclopedia of the Holy Land [London: Continuum, 2005], pp. 251-2)


So, I discovered, not only was the Prophet Aaron venerated actively at one point, there was a monastery dedicated to him that either housed, or was near to, his tomb. In other words, his relics were apparently preserved!

Although not possessing the complete works of Josephus (I’ve got an ancient Penguin Classics edition of The Jewish War), I looked up the Antiquities (IV.4.7) online, and found this:


Now when this purification, which their leader made upon the mourning for his sister, as it has been now described, was over, he caused the army to remove and to march through the wilderness and through Arabia; and when he came to a place which the Arabians esteem their metropolis, which was formerly called Arce, but has now the name of Petra, at this place, which was encompassed with high mountains, Aaron went up one of them in the sight of the whole army, Moses having before told him that he was to die, for this place was over against them. He put off his pontifical garments, and delivered them to Eleazar his son, to whom the high priesthood belonged, because he was the elder brother; and died while the multitude looked upon him. He died in the same year wherein he lost his sister, having lived in all a hundred twenty and three years. He died on the first day of that lunar month which is called by the Athenians Hecatombaeon, by the Macedonians Lous, but by the Hebrews Abba [a cursory look for the meaning of this date suggests the July dates for St Aaron may be closer to his actual repose than any others].

Of course, Josephus is closely basing his account on Numbers 20:22-9, but he goes further in identifying the biblical ‘Mount Hor’ with a site overlooking Petra. This identification seems to be taken for granted in the one comprehensive ‘Bible dictionary’ I possess (the limits of my library really begin to appear!), F.N. Peloubet’s apparent abridgement of that of Sir William Smith and J.M. Fuller. Peloubet’s entry has:


The mountain on which Aaron died. . . . Mount Hor is situated on the eastern side of the great valley of the Arabah, the highest and most conspicuous of the whole range of the sandstone mountains of Edom, having close beneath it on its eastern side the mysterious city of Petra. It is now the Jebel Nebi-Harûn, ‘the mountain of the prophet Aaron.’. . . The mountain is marked far and near by its double top, which rises like a huge castellated building from a lower base, and is surmounted by a circular dome of the tomb of Aaron, a distinct white spot on the dark red surface of the mountain. (F.N. Peloubet and Alice D. Adams, Peloubet’s Bible Dictionary, Based Upon the Foundation Laid by William Smith [Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1974], pp. 261-2)

Well, it would be nice to know what sort of hymns and services they had for the Saint at the monastery, or to see the icons they would have had, or even to know what date they observed for the commemoration. Alas, I’m afraid all of these things ‘have passed like rain on the mountain, like a wind in the meadow’. But at least I’ve got just one more thing to hold onto as a token of my Saint, with whom I consent gladly to be stuck!

(The icon above is a 17th-c. work housed at the Saris Museum in Bardejov, Slovakia.)
[Read Part I of this post here.]

2 comments:

Trevor-Peter said...

Perhaps you should pursue a pilgrimage post-haste and hope for an encounter with the saint himself. Maybe he'll show you where to uncover his lost relics or teach you some hymns or inspire you to write an icon :-)

aaronandbrighid said...

Well, he can start by showing me where to uncover the money to travel to Jordan!