Mr. C.M. Doughty traveled in Northwestern Arabia and Najd in the 19880’s, and his
book Arabia Deserta form one of the most notable of Arabian travel books. It was
first published in two volumes by the Cambridge University Press in 1888, and
has recently gone through several editions. The edition I have used is the
unabridged one-volume edition printed in London in 1926. the reference in this
Appendix should be understood to refer to that edition.
Doughty travelled on the old Pilgrim Caravan from Damascus as far as Mada’in
Salih, and then parted company with the Pilgrims and turned into Najd. Mada’in
Salih (the Cities of Salih), is one of the stations on the Syrian Pilgrimage
route, about 180 miles north of Madinah.
Tabuk, to which the Holy
Prophet led an expedition in A.H. 9 (see introduction to Surah 9), is about
farther to the northwest, and Ma'an Junction about 150 miles still farther.
Mada’in Salih’s was also an
important station on the prehistoric gold and frankincense (bakhur) route
and Egypt on Syria. In sacred history it marks the ruined site of the Thamud
people to whom the prophet Salih was sent, whose she-camel was a symbolic Sign
and is connected with Salih’s history. See
note 3208 to 26:155-157. To the west
and Northwest of Mada’in Salih are three Harrat or tracts of volcanic land
covered with lava, stretching as far as Tabuk.
This is how Doughty describes his first view of Mada’in
Salih, approaching from the northwest.
“At length in the dim morning twilight,
as we journeyed, we were come to a sandy brow and a straight descending place
betwixt cliffs of sandstones. There were some shouting in the forward, and Aswad
bid me look up, ‘this was a famous place, Mabrak al Naqah’” (the kneeling place
of the she-camel of Salih).
“It is short, at first steep, and issues upon the
plain of al Hijr, which is Mada’in Salih; where the sun coming up showed the
singular landscape of this valley plain, encompassed with might sandstone
precipices (which here resemble ranges of city walls, fantastic towers, and
castle buildings), and upon them lie high shouldering sand drifts. The bottom ia
sand, with much growth of desert bushes; and I perceived some thin sprinkled
volcanic drift. Westward is seen the immense mountain blackness, terrible and
lowering, of the Harrat.” (Arabia Deserata, p. 83, vol. 1).
Doughty took some rubbings of some of the inscriptions
which were accessible to him and they were studied by the great Semitic scholar
M. Ernest Renan and published by the Academic des Inscriptions et
Belles-Letters. Renan’s Report in French is printed as an Appendix to Chapters
IV, V, and VI of Arabia Deserta (pp. 180-187, vol 1) and M. le Marquis de
Vofgue’s Note (also in French) on the Nabataean sculptured Architecture at
Mada’in Salih at pp. 620-623, vol 1.
The general result of these studies may be summarized. The
sculpture and architecture are found to be of the same kind as the Nabataean
monuments at Petra
(for which see
note 1043 to 7:73).
At Petra there are no dated Inscriptions preserved, but at Mada’in
Salih we have several.
There are at Mada’in Salih perhaps 100 sepulchral
rock-hewn chambers, in some of which are found human bones and remains, showing
that the Nabataeans knew the art of embalming, and used linen of the same kind
as was used in ancient Egypt.
The tombs are
dedicated in perpetuity to named families, and the named Nabataean kings have,
each the epithet “loving his people”. There are flat side-pilasters, and the figures
of four-footed beasts, eagles, and other birds are discernible.
sepulchral chambers, there is a great Hall or Council Chamber (Diwan), 25 ft x
27 ft x 13 ft. this may have been a Temple.
The gods worshipped there were those
whose names we know from other Nabataean sources-Dusares, Martaba, Allat, Manat,
Ka'bah’is, and Hubal. Allat, Manat, and Hubal are also known to us in connection
with the idols of the Pagan Quraysh of the times of Ignorance. It is interesting
to find the word Mesjeda (Arabic Masjid) already used here for “place of
worship”. Triads of stones were worshipped as gods.
The Inscriptions have dates from 3 B.C. to 79 A.C. within this short
period of 82 years we can see something of the development of Semitic
paleography. The writing becomes more and more cursive with the years, we have
here a central point between Old Armenian, Square Hebrew, Palmyran, Sinaitic,
Kufi and Naskh.
We may treat the Nabataeans as historical, as we have
established dates. The Thamud were prehistoric, and occupied sites which were
afterwards occupied by the Nabataeans and others.
The kneeling place of Salih’s
she-camel (Mabrak al Naqah) and the well of the she-camel (Biru al Naqah), and a
number of local names keep alive the race memory of an ancient Arabic people and
their prophet Salih.