I love putting together stuff that nobody thought of putting together before, so here’s the link between Indy and the Magi: You know the backdrop for the final scene in Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade is the famous “Treasury” at the historic site of the ancient city of Petra. It’s pictured here. Well, the Treasury is not a treasury of any kind. Instead it is the tomb of the Nabatean king Aretas IV.
These tombs carved in rock faces were common throughout the realm of the Babylonians, and although Aretas IV dates from a time much later, the prevalence of the rock face tombs show the influence of the Babylonians who controlled the Arabian peninsula around 500 BC. This was the time of the reign of King Nabonidus who was the father of the Biblical Belshazzar. Nabonidus lived at Tayma in Arabia and his son ruled as regent in Babylon.
Fast forward five hundred years and the fabulously wealthy Nabatean kingdom occupied present day Saudi Arabia, Yemen, Jordan, Syria and parts of Iraq. Aretas IV took the throne in 9 BC and reigned as King of the Nabateans until 40 AD. This means he was king of the Nabateans during the birth of Jesus Christ. Herod the Great’s mother was a Nabatean princess and he spent much of his boyhood at the Nabatean capital of Petra. Aretas IV’s daughter married Herod Antipas–Herod the Great’s son. This was the wife Herod Antipas divorced to marry his brother’s wife which led to the conflict with John the Baptist. Aretas IV is mentioned just once in the New Testament in the incident of St Paul escaping from Damascus in a basket. Check this blog for more information.
In my book The Mystery of the Magi I go into much more detail about the precise relationship between Aretas IV and Herod the Great at the time of Jesus’ birth. Suffice it to say that the Nabateans were a great trading nation traveling the lucrative routes between the Far East through Yemen and across Arabia to the Mediterranean port of Gaza, from where their goods went out the the rest of the Roman Empire. Just before Jesus’ birth Caesar Augustus gave the port of Gaza to Herod the Great. Herod had a series of forts and customs posts along the border between Nabatea (present day Jordan) and Judea. By the way, this area between the Dead Sea and the Gulf of Aqaba in the Red Sea, is still a heavily fortified area today.
Aretas IV needed access across Judea to Gaza–the area controlled by Herod. Aretas had jumped on the Nabatean throne without Caesar’s permission. Herod was in Caesar’s good books and Caesar was angry with Aretas. Just at the time of Jesus’ birth around 6 BC–after Aretas had only been king for three years and his claim to the throne was shaky…so hearing from his astrologer wise men that they had seen a star rising that indicated a new kind of the Jews was born…he had every motivation to send a rich diplomatic mission to Herod the Great to pay homage to the newborn King of the Jews (who Aretas assumed must be a grandson of Herod).
It is my theory–laid out in more detail in The Mystery of the Magi that the Magi–wise astrologer priests who understood the prophecies about the Messiah– were sent as diplomats to Jerusalem to the court of Herod the Great, and that’s where St Matthew picks up the story.
Where does Indiana Jones fit it? Well, I’m working on a screenplay for the last great Indiana Jones movie…he goes on a quest back to Petra to discover the true identity of the three wise men….I’m just kidding, but it would actually be a great film! The real connection is that the backdrop for the Last Crusade is none other than the tomb of the same Aretas IV who I believe sent his diplomat astrologer priests to find and worship the newborn king of the Jews.
This was my favourite part of the course. Fascinating detail. 😀