Could Petra have been a stopping point of the wise men following the star that would lead them to Bethlehem? It’s certainly probable. If we consider the geographic position, and commercial centre of Petra around the beginning of the Christian era, we have good reason to believe the Wise Men at least sojourned in Petra – perhaps even bought their gifts there. With the Nabateans, nomadic Arabs who monopolised the merchant trade route, Petra flourished in the 1st century BC, especially in the spice trade.
The Nabatean inhabitants were especially skillful in collecting rainwater a precious commodity in the desert not only for human consumption but also to provide camels with plenty of drinking water for their long journeys across the dessert. It was in 106 AD that the Nabateans were defeated by the Romans and became part of the Roman Province of Arabia. So when did the Wise Men appear? Petra connects African and Arabian trade routes and even the northern route extending to Syria. Petra connects the Arabian trade route to the east as the Wise Men coming from the east followed the star west.
The Wise Men are all from the east, Balthasar from Arabia with frankincense, Melchior from Persia with Myrrh, and Gaspar from India with Gold. They may have brought these gifts from the homeland, or with all the commerce in Petra, they may have obtained their gifts right in Petra. So, on this eastern axis they moved west. It makes sense to refuel in Petra whether an abundance of water filled the camels with liters of energy. A sophisticated town with inns for travellers, food, and that most important desert commodity: water. Then, of course, in the center of commerce, the Wise Men had the opportunity to explore and compare, Frankincense, Myrrh and Gold, as they returned to the path of their bright star leading the way north.
Fr. David Bellusci, O.P.
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Martyrs of Jordan