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Religion in Petra

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Stele with baetyl


The prosperity of Petra enabled the city to honor its gods and goddesses through monumental architecture. The city evolved around its largest temple, the Qasr al-Bint, dedicated to the supreme god Dushara. Nearby stood the Temple of the Winged Lions, most likely honoring the city's primary goddess, al-'Uzza. Worshippers gathered to make offerings to the deities at temples and also at high places, sacred open-air sites located on mountain summits.





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Helios


At religious sites throughout the city, the Nabataeans carved or placed a standing stone called a baetyl, literally "house of god." As the term suggests, a baetyl physically marked a deity's presence or residence. The Nabataeans also carved figural representations of their deities, patterned after Greek and Roman sculptural models. The two styles prevailed side by side, underscoring the inspired mixing of cultural elements so common in Petra's art and architecture.



Dushara: the supreme god
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Monumental bust of Dushara


The chief male divinity of Petra was Dushara, whose name probably refers to the Shara, a mountainous area southeast of Petra. We know little about Dushara's character, but as his mountain residence suggests, he had the celestial powers of an ancient Near Eastern storm god, with control over rainfall and seasonal cycles of vegetation.







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Bust of bearded male deity


Dushara was considered the protector of the royal house. Nabataean royal inscriptions call him "the god of our lord," an expression that refers to the reigning king. Through trade, his cult spread far beyond the borders of Nabataea--to Phoenicia, Asia Minor, and even Rome. The geographic extent of his popularity underscores his prominence as a Nabataean deity.

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