Mecca And Its Cube

November 7, 2019 Category: Religion

[Author’s note: Mohammed of Mecca is denoted “MoM”.]

As legend has it, at some point in the late 5th century, a Sabaean leader known as Amr ibn Luhay ibn Qamah ibn Khindaf led a band of (Qahtanite) Arabs a thousand kilometers north of his homeland, Himyar (modern-day Yemen) to settle somewhere in the barren deserts of Thamud: the western region of Arabia now known as the Hijaz.  His clan, the Banu Khuza’a, may have hailed from any of three major Himyarite cities: Zafar, Najran, or Ma’rib (present-day Sana’a).

A bit of historical context helps to paint the picture.  In Zafar, there was a (Qahtanite) cubic shrine known as the “kaaba” at Tabalah.  There was another kaaba located at Jabal Taslal in Najran.  And there were major temples at Barran and Awwam in Ma’rib–all dedicated to the Sabaean moon-god, “Al-Makah”.  Sure enough, the Banu Azd of Marib worshipped “Al-Makah”; and made pilgrimages to his temple.  Some of the Banu Harith converted to Christianity; and built a church at Najran (known as the “Kaaba of Najran”).  Meanwhile, many Himyarites worshipped the godhead, “Rahman” (Semitic for “Merciful”).

Some of these locutions should sound oddly familiar.

The question arises: From whence did such pre-Islamic memes come?  We find a possible answer in Ibn Hisham’s recension of Ibn Ishaq’s “Sirah”.  (Ibn Hisham was himself of Himyarite descent.)  According to the famed Islamic hagiographer: At some point, Amr ibn Luhay ventured farther north, into Nabataea, and was inspired by the Nabataean traditions…which he brought back with him to his settlement in the Hijaz.

One might wonder: Was that fabled Hijazi settlement located at the place that eventually came to be called “Makkah”?  It’s hard to say.  Prior to the Quraysh occupying the location-in-question, it seems to have been occupied by (Yemeni) Himyarites; and before that, perhaps even the Amalekites.  Funny enough, when Hebrew scripture mentions the Amalekites in Psalm 84, it refers to a “Valley of Bakka[h]”, which served as that people’s place of pilgrimage.  It should be noted, though, that the Amalekites originally hailed from the southern Levant, in a region that would later be dubbed “Arabia Patraea” by the Romans.  In other words: The area-in-question was associated with the Nabataean capital, Petra.  Might THAT have been where said valley was located?  And might THAT have been where the aforementioned memes originated?

The earliest reference to a location with the auspicious moniker was–it turns out–a Kufic inscription from southern Nabataea (known in Classical Antiquity as “Midian” and in Late Antiquity as “Arabia Patraea”).  The inscription referred obliquely to an auspicious personage: “Abd [slave of] M-K-a[t]”.  While the etymology of the name is unclear, it seems to invoke the Biblical name of the Aramaean king, “Ma’akah” (ref. chapter 10 of Second Samuel).  But here’s the thing: The Aramaeans were never in the Hijaz; their kingdom was in the northeastern Levant.  So this would only make sense if the origins of Islam’s “temenos” (the theological center of the world) lay…well…not in the Hijaz, but somewhere a bit farther north.

As it so happens, there was a place that may have been known as “Bakkah” in pre-Islamic times.  It is mentioned in Ibn Hisham’s writings, wherein he makes reference to “Allah, lord of Bakkah” in a context that is unclear.

From whence does the term, “Ba[k]ka” come?  Lo and behold, it is used in Psalm 84:5-6, when referring to the valley (“Emek ha-Baka”) through which people shall pass on their pilgrimage to Bet[h]-El (the House of God) in Jerusalem.  Hence the verse in the “Recitations” that references “the first house created for mankind at Bakka” (3:96).  Tellingly, though, when it comes to extra-Koranic Islamic sources, we don’t hear reports about the HIJAZI Mecca (alt. “Bakka”) as an auspicious place until Al-Azraqi wrote about the reign of Abbasid caliph Al-Mansur (r. 750’s) in his “Kitab Akhbar Makka” c. 865.

An explicit reference to a city called “Makkah” did not appear until 741.  It occurred in the “Continuatio Byzantia-Arabica” (a.k.a. the “Chronicle of 741”; sequel to the “Chronica Byzantia-Arabica”), written by a pro-Ummayad author.  (It is thought have been based on slightly earlier Syriac works.)  The chronicle was composed in the final year of Byzantine Emperor Leo III’s reign–pursuant to the Byzantine defeat of Umayyad Caliph Hisham ibn Abd al-Malik’s invading forces.  The text places “Makkah” in southwestern Mesopotamia (possibly “Arabia Petraea” / “Palaestina Salutaris”); not in Arabia.

An indication that “Mecca” (qua Hijazi “temenos”) was a post-hoc concoction is the discrepancy in the two–yes, there are only two–references to the city in the Koran itself.  3:96 refers to it as “Bakkah” (possibly meaning “place of weeping”).  Only 48:24 refers to it as the familiar [valley of] “Makkah”. {1}  Both are Medinan (later) surahs.  Meanwhile, the two Meccan (earlier) surahs in which an allusion is made to the location (6:92 and 42:5-7) refer to it as “Umm al-Qura” [“mother of settlements”].  This is hardly a descriptor for which a small desert settlement would have qualified at the time.  Other passages that allude to the location (27:91) simply refer to the “qura” [settlement].  This is, to put it mildly, highly suspicious. {2}  It seems that even god was not consistent in his nomenclature; and did not see fit to refer to what is now “Mecca” by its proper name.

We find, then, that we may be dealing with two separate places.  The initial settlers of the location in the Hijaz (the aforementioned Khuza’a tribe) seem to have set up a shrine to the preeminent deity, “Hubal” (who was typically portrayed as a moon-god).  That structure was eventually fashioned as the “kaaba” under Qurayshi stewardship. {3}  The new-fangled shrine would have incorporated a panoply of other deities that were popular amongst the local tribes.  The preeminent deity was THEN alternately referred to by the Semitic moniker, “Allah”. {4}

THAT cubic shrine is not to be confused with the aforementioned (much older) “kaaba” at Tabalah, in the ancient Himyarite city of Zafar.  Later, that shrine would come to be known as the “Kaaba al-Yamaniyya” (the Yemeni Kaaba), as attested in Bukhari’s Hadith (5/59/641-645) as well as in Hisham ibn al-Kalbi’s “Kitab al-Asnam”.  Such a shrine had its origins in the lore of the Nabataeans.  Indeed, the term “kaaba” (used for a cube-like shrine) derived from the Nabataean Syriac term: “ka’abu”.  Sure enough: In Nabataea, “ka’abu” referred to a cubic shrine (comprised of stone blocks) in Petra.  That shrine was used to pay tribute to the Nabataean godhead, Dushara.  So the use of the Arabized “kaaba” for an analogous purpose (first for the shrine in Yemen, and later for the one in Mecca) makes sense.

In sum: The Meccan cube mimicked the antecedent Yemeni cube…which mimicked the antecedent (Nabataean) cube at Petra. {7}

The earliest description of a cubic shrine that OSTENSIBLY correlated with the Meccan cube comes from Al-Azraqi’s “Kitab Akhabar Makka” [“Book Of Reports On Mecca”].  In the early 860’s, Al-Azraqi redacted a version composed by his grandfather…who had himself purportedly based the material on accounts by Ibn Ishaq.  (We don’t even have that.  Al-Azraqi’s version was further redacted and embellished in the 10th century by a writer named Al-Khuzai.)

Al-Azraqi describes the gazelles and trees that were originally painted on the walls of the cubic shrine…which just so happened to mimic the paintings found on the walls of Al-Qalis church in Sana’a: a structure that had been erected in the 6th century (by the Himyarite king, Abreha, who died the year MoM was supposedly born).  Here’s the thing: The measurements he gave fit the Nabataean cube in Petra, NOT the Meccan cube.  He also describes the hill of Muzdalifah, which only exists in Petra.  (Recall that Petra is also where we find the landscape and environs described in Islamic lore–replete with the streams, flora, and hills described in the oldest documentation.)

Sure enough, Petra was located in what was then dubbed “Arabia Petraea” (i.e. southern Levant), which corresponded roughly with the Biblical “Edom” / “Midian”.  While this was not part of Aram proper, the Aramaeans controlled much of the Levant during the Iron Age, and their language (Aramaic) predominated throughout the region.  It comes as no surprise, then, that the domain (which would have been ruled by the aforementioned Aramaean king, “Ma’akah”) was often referred to as “Aram-Ma’akah”. (!)  The eastern and southern Levant eventually became Nabataea.  Classical Arabic script derived in large part from the Nabataean version of Syriac script; so all this makes perfect sense.

Al-Azraqi’s “Kitab Akhbar Makka” includes descriptions of the cube’s size, as well as (what seems to be) the and account of the “Safa[h]” and “Marwa[h]” hills.  This brings us to the pre-Islamic (pagan) rituals surrounding the hills now known as Mina and Arafat.  On Safa was the idol for Na’ila.  On Marwa was the idol for Asaf.  The switch occurred per 2:158 (a MEDINAN verse, funny enough), which argues that “it is no sin” to worship at these locations.  That belated proviso indicates that this was a point of contention up until the later years of MoM’s ministry.

But from whence did these monikers come?  “Safa[h]” was the term that the Jewish historian, Josephus used when referring to a hill in northeast Jerusalem: Scopus.  Meanwhile, “Marwa[h]” seems to be a variation on “Moriah”: the hill known as the Temple Mount in Jerusalem, which—according to Abrahamic lore—corresponds to the place on which Abraham almost sacrificed his son.  So running between the Safa and Marwa hills was essentially running between Scopus and Moriah (the Temple Mount in Jerusalem), which were separated by the valley of Jehosephat (the Kedron Valley).  It is no surprise that this description made its way into Islamic lore; and was transplanted from Jerusalem to Mecca.

Another hill is referenced in Mohammedan lore: “Hira”: the “ghar” / “jabal” in which there was the fabled cave that MoM used to visit on the outskirts of town; and where he purportedly received his first revelation on the fabled “Night Of Power”.  The actual mountain was likely what came to be dubbed “Jabal al-Madhbah”–a rocky promontory on the outskirts of Petra that served as a ceremonial site for the Nabataeans.  This was likely the original “Jabal al-Nur” that made it into Mohammedan lore.

Recall that a similar semiotic re-purposing occurred with another bit of landscape around the Temple Mount in Jerusalem: the Valley of Hinnom (the valley of death in Judaic lore), which was rendered “Ge-Hinnom” in Hebrew and “Gehanna” in Syriac.  THAT is the basis for the name of hell in CA: “Jahannam”.

In each of these instances, we are reminded that it’s worth inquiring as to what the earliest Mohammedans may have (ORIGINALLY) been talking about when we hear things that later came to be associated with the Hijazi city of Mecca. {27}

Other clues are worth noting.  Across the Levant and into northern Arabia, pre-Islamic Arabs worshipped a variant of Ishtar, an antelope deity named “Athtar”.  To the present day, antelope remain inscribed on the walls of the Meccan cube.

As we’ve seen, the Yemeni “kaaba” was the original Arabian cube.  It served as the “Dhul Khala[sa]” temple for the Bajilah, Khatham, Hawazin, Umamah, and other (Kahlani) tribes of the southern Hijaz. {5}  All was copacetic until the Ishmaelites decided to establish a distinct new (Mohammedan) religion.  Since the Yemeni “kaaba” posed as a rival to the (new) “kaaba” at Mecca, the southern “kaaba” was destroyed by the Mohammedans. {6}  And so it went: The razing of the cubic shrine at Zafar occurred in the 7th century.  It was undertaken in concert with the Banu Abmas tribe, who had allied themselves with the Mohammedan forces.

Assuming we were to believe that either Abraham or his son (Ishmael) had originally erected the cube at (what is now called) “Mecca”, there is no account in Mohammedan lore of how, exactly, the purported Abrahamic shrine eventually came to become a pagan shrine.  More to the point, there is no explanation for why the Abrahamic deity would have allowed it to become a pagan shrine for (we are led to believe) MILLENNIA before finally deciding to intervene.  Such things are a conundrum–if, that is, we grant the traditional Mohammedan account.

Once we consider that Abraham’s father, Terah, purportedly hailed from Harran, it makes little sense that the son would end up in Arabia.  We might also note the account of Abraham building an altar at Mamra, which was a place of large trees located on the Judean countryside slightly north of Hebron.  What would possibly have possessed him to leave a verdant place for the barren deserts of the Hijaz?

And are we to suppose that Moriah, the hill where Abraham was tested by (almost) sacrificing his favorite son (Isaac in Judaic lore, Ishmael in Islamic lore), was located IN THE HIJAZ?

This brings us to another point: According to Islamic lore, it was Ishmael (rather than Isaac) who was the auspicious son of Abraham; Ishmael who sired the blessed Abrahamic lineage; and so–of course–Ishmael who was responsible for erecting the Meccan cube.  However, MoM did not seem to be aware of this fact during his time in Mecca; and peculiarly did not receive the relevant revelation (2:127) until exiling the Jews form Yathrib-cum-Medina.  Oddly, 14:37-40 makes no reference to either Abraham OR Ishmael constructing the structure-in-question when mentioning “your sacred house”.  Even more telling, the (earlier) Meccan verses only mention ISAAC (and his son, Jacob), as in 19:50. (!)  It wasn’t until Surah 2, one of the last chapters composed, that Ishmael is finally singled out as significant (ref. verses 125-127).

Even the authors of the Koran were confused about the occurrence of Abrahamic prophets in Arabia prior to MoM.  28:46 claims that MoM was THE FIRST prophet to come to the Arabians…even as 10:47 claims that a prophet had already been sent to every nation.  This also contradicts the fact that Abraham and Ishmael were considered prophets…and allegedly built the Meccan cube (per 2:125-129).

Interestingly, in the ten places to which it is alluded in the Koran, the shrine-in-question is referred to simply as the sacred “house” [bayt] (2:125/127/158, 3:96-97, 5:97, 8:35, 14:37, 22:26/29, and 106:3) rather than as a “cube”.  Meanwhile, the term “kaaba” is only used once (5:97) as a way of DESCRIBING that structure (as cubic).  As mentioned, the term was generic–as the authors of the Koran ALSO used this term to describe the “Dhul Khalasa” temple (i.e. the Yemeni cube) at Tabala / Zafar (used by the Banu Daus).  And it was the same appellation for the cubic shrine in Petra used by the Nabataeans to worship Dushara.

The Mohammedans soon had the “Dhul Khalasa” destroyed (as attested in Bukhari’s Hadith no. 3020, 4355-57, and 6333 when speaking of the campaign in Yemen lead by a Jarir Al-Ahmas).

As mentioned, there were other cubic shrines in Arabia.  During the pre-Islamic era, the Christian kaaba of Najran (at Jabal Taslal) was a place of pilgrimage for generations–especially of the Banu Khath’am.  There were surely other antecedent kaabas throughout in the Middle East–each used in its own fashion during the millennium prior to the construction of the Meccan cube by Hijazi pagans. {8}  If such (Nabataean) memes were able to migrate as far south as Himyar, it seems eminently plausible that they would have also had an influence in the intervening region (i.e. the Hijaz).

So what of the “ka’abu” at Petra that was used by the Nabataeans?  In his “Bibliotheca Historica” (1st century B.C.), Greek historian Diodorus of Sicily wrote about some faraway place in Idumea (what came to be known alternately as “Arabia Petraea”).  The relevant passage reads: “A temple has been set up there, which is very holy and very revered by all [people of the region].”  He was referring to a location that was clearly NOT in the Hijaz; but rather somewhere in Nabataea (which included Idumaea and present-day Jordan).  In other words: the structure to which he was referring would have been in close proximity to Petra.  Here’s the catch: That was the only documentation of religious activity of Arabs outside of Himyar (Yemen).

Prior to (much later) Islamic sources, there is NOT ONE piece of documentation about an explicitly Hijazi place named “Makkah”.

Another tell-tale sign that Petra was the focal point in the (original) “Recitations” is the mention of the Nabataean triad (Al-Uzza, Allat, and Manat / Manutu) in what would later be dubbed the “Satanic verses”.  That triad was originally worshipped–in conjunction with the godhead, Dushara–in PETRA.  So why the pressing concern about them?  Is it not peculiar that the authors felt the need to address these “cranes”, as they were called?  What could the explanation for this be?

Muslims kept meticulous records of their conquests in the days of the Sahabah and Salaf.   Yet…a conquest of Petra is NOT MENTIONED in the narratives of the Mohammedan conquests of the Levant.  Why not?  The most plausible explanation for this: The Ishmaelites were already there!

It is telling that the Umayyads operated out of Syria / Jordan (what had been Nabataea) rather than out of Mecca.  This makes sense, as the Nabataeans welcomed the construction of christian churches in their realm–even in their capital, Petra!  (To reiterate: Documentation of a settlement now known as Mecca does not appear until c 741, over a century after MoM’s death.)

Archeological evidence for the “Petra theory” includes the consistent orientation of the earliest mosques over a wide range of locals–in which the qibla is almost always pointing (roughly) toward Petra rather than toward Mecca.  Take, for instance, the “Masjid al-Qiblatayn” [“mosque of the two qiblas”] in Yathrib-cum-Medina: so dubbed because–as the story goes–it was built before MoM switched the direction from Jerusalem to Mecca c. 624 (ref. 2:145-149 in the Koran).  In 1987, when the structure was renovated, it was discovered that the original “mihrab” (apse indicating the direction of the qibla) faced toward Petra (which is–admittedly–in roughly the same direction as Jerusalem from that site).

Was this an aberration?  As it turns out, the Masjid al-Qiblatayn was not the only mosque with two “maharib” (thus two qiblas).  In the 7th century, another mosque with two “maharib” was erected across the Red Sea: at Zeila in Abyssinia (present-day Somalia).  To this day, it is locally known as the “Labo Qibla Masjid” (mosque with two qiblas).  Lo and behold, the first qibla in THAT mosque faced Petra as well.

So what’s going on here?  Were these flukes?  Archeology reveals something quite startling.  Behold the original foundations of:

  • The Kufa AND Wa[s]sit mosques in Mesopotamia
  • The Humeima Palace mosque, the Mushatta mosque, AND the Amman Citadel in Jordan
  • The mosque of Umar at Bosra AND the Umayyad mosque at Damascus in Syria
  • The great mosque of Ba’albek AND the Anjar mosque in Lebanon
  • The Khirbat al-Minya (in Galilee) AND the Khirbat al-Mafjar (on the West Bank) in Palestine
  • The mosque at Be’er-Sheva in the Negev
  • The Fustat mosque near Cairo in Egypt
  • The Masjid al-Qiblatayn in Medina

The sixteen earliest mosques (all built prior to c. 730) ALL (initially) had a qibla that faced PETRA.  In other words, the “maharib” was originally Petra, not Mecca.  This was during the Umayyad period.

If the Meccan cube is what Mohammedan lore claims it is, then the archeological record–which is there for anyone to see–poses a huge problem.

Note that the old mosque at Sana’a (formerly Ma’rib) in Yemen is inconclusive, as Mecca and Petra are in roughly the same direction from the site.  Even the great mosque of Guang-zhou in southern China has a qibla facing Petra (though–of course–from that far away, Jerusalem is in roughly the same direction).  So there are certainly other cases to be found.  (Another possible instance is the 7th-century “Umar” mosque at Duma[tha]: present-day Dumat al-Jandal.)

Suffice to say: This widespread discrepancy would be a rather bizarre coincidence BUT FOR Petra playing an auspicious in the Mohammedan movement during its earliest generations.  In other words, the qibla of every mosque built in the century following MoM’s death faced Petra.  In fact, not a single mosque from this early period has yet been excavated with a “mihrab” facing Mecca. (!)

This uncanny exigency would indicate either that everyone across the globe was making the exact same mistake (a massive coincidence) or that–during the religion’s first century–the focal point was the Nabataean cube.

That so much archeological evidence is incompatible with the standard Mohammedan narrative is not surprising.  It explains why the current custodians of the Kaaba (the House of Saud) are reticent to allow any archeologists to analyze the cubic shrine.  Such secrecy is typical.  (Hint: It is for similar reasons that the Vatican’s curia is reluctant to let “outside”–i.e. REAL–scholars investigate the vast store of artifacts / documents beneath Saint Peter’s basilica.)

When an institution is built on farce, it will always have something to hide.  With all the EXTENSIVE digging and development in central Mecca during the past generation or two (by the House of Saud), there have been exactly ZERO archeological finds.  In other words, no artifacts whatsoever have been unearthed in a city that is supposed to have been contemporaneous with MoM–artifacts which, we might suppose, would be highly valued (and, presumably, enthusiastically announced) by those doing the continual excavations in the city.  This peculiar silence is as deafening as it is revealing.

There are possible explanations for the disjuncture between the earliest and current qibla orientations.  It might be supposed that the initial qibla was intended to face JERUSALEM–which would entail ROUGHLY the same direction as Petra (contra Mecca) for mosques located far enough away.  The problem is that Petra is over 160 kilometers south of Jerusalem (as the crow flies); so anything within a couple thousand kilometers east or west of the Negev would have had to have been WAY OFF to mistake the direction toward one as the direction toward the other.  The supposition is also untenable because the Al-Aqsa mosque (a.k.a. the “Qubbat al-Sakhrah”), which is IN JERUSALEM ITSELF, has its original qibla facing Petra / Mecca (both are in roughly the same direction from that location).  One doesn’t need to be Sherlock Holmes to recognize the implications of this.  Clearly, Jerusalem was NOT the determining factor for the qibla at the time.

In Jerusalem, there is a cavern located directly beneath the Sakhra on Mount Moriah (a.k.a. the Temple Mount) within which the Saracens seem to have put two mihrabs (one dedicated to David, the other dedicated to Solomon) in the early 8th century. {22}  Neither points toward Mecca.  (From Jerusalem, Petra and Mecca are in roughly the same direction.)  Also in the cavern are shrines to Abraham and Elijah (again, facing directions other than Mecca).  This means that, at the time, there was no pressing need to have a qibla facing in any particular direction.

But never mind any of that.  In spite of the problems with the supposition that Jerusalem was the intended direction (for the qibla of the earliest Mohammedans), let’s assume–for the sake of argument–that it WAS the case that Jerusalem represented the initial “temenos”; and thus the direction of prayer.  The existence of the aforementioned mosque foundations (in which the qibla was directed toward the Levant) makes sense ONLY IF we were to conjecture the following: The direction was not changed from Jerusalem (or from Petra, as the case may be) to Mecca during MoM’s tenure as leader of Medina (as the conventional story goes); but rather was changed–as it were–long after the fact (that is: generations after MoM’s lifetime). 

Changed by whom?  Well, by caliphs seeking to sanctify Mecca rather than the ANTECEDENT Abrahamic “temenos” somewhere in the Levant.  This means that later impresarios of Mohammedan lore altered the lore from the one that existed for the century immediately following MoM’s ministry.  It makes sense, then, that caliph Abd al-Malik ibn Marwan had the governor of Kufa destroy all the mosques in the city and rebuild them c. 705–a rather peculiar thing to do…unless, that is, it was decided there was something wrong with the way they were built. (!)

There is an additional conundrum regarding this sudden change in orientation.  3:96 claims that the Meccan cube was THE FIRST (legitimate) house of worship for mankind; while 34:43-45 explains that MoM decided that the qibla should be CHANGED TO Mecca.  So was or was not Mecca the original “temenos”?  Does this mean that Abraham was really a Hijazi, that the Jews mistakenly supposed that he dwelled in Canaan, and that the Mohammedans were merely rectifying Judeo-Christian errancy?

This is difficult to explain away.

Bottom line: Whenever the qibla is mentioned in the earliest Islamic texts (e.g. Koran 2:143-145), Mecca is never referenced.  Instead, the text speaks only of a “place of gathering” [“masjid al-haraam”].  Even more incriminating: In addressing MoM, this passage calls the new qibla “YOUR qibla”, insinuating the Meccan location was a novelty devised for the Mohammedan movement.  Moreover, Al-Tabari recounts that Ibn al-Zubayr transitioned the black stone TO “Mecca”.  As if this were not already a quandary, 48:23 stipulates: That which has been established by god never changes.  Go figure.

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