Icons of the Gods

Part of the Petra exhibition.

Winged Head

Although much has been learned about the Nabataeans in the last 20 years, their religious world remains hard to define. As archaeological and written evidence reveals, it drew upon the religious traditions of many surrounding regions--north Arabia, Edom, Syria, and Egypt. All were strongly influenced by the Greeks, whose cultural presence dominated the eastern Mediterranean. State religion centered on the worship of two deities, a supreme god and goddess. At Petra, they were called Dushara and al-'Uzza, while in other parts of Nabataea they were known by different names but shared the same general characteristics. Dushara was the universal god of Heaven, equated with the Greek god Zeus. Al-'Uzza was the goddess of abundance and fertility, later identified with the Greco-Roman deity Aphrodite/Venus.

Petra exhibition
© AMNH Photo Studio

Numerous rock-cut shrines and inscribed niches cut into the Nabataean cliffs reveal that religious practice also included private, family worship. As the many sacred banquet rooms indicate, Nabataean worship often revolved around communal feasts, which celebrated religious festivals and honored the deceased. Much about Nabataean religion remains unknown, yet what is clear is its enduring strength; it persisted for centuries after the advent of Christianity.