The name of a place mentioned in 2 Kings 14:7, where it is said that Amaziah king of Judah slew ten thousand men of Edom, in the valley of Salt, and took Sela by war, and called the name of it JOKTHEEL, subdued by God. Sela, in Hebrew, signifies, a rock, and answers to the Greek word Petra; whence it has been reasonably inferred that the city bearing the name of Petra, and which was the celebrated capital of Arabia Petraea, is the place mentioned by the sacred historian. It is also mentioned in Isaiah 16:1, and may be intended by the word Sela, translated rock, in Judges 1:36 Isaiah 42:11. The ruins of this place were in modern times first visited by Burckhardt, 1812, and attest the splendor of the ancient city. He says, "At the distance of a two long days’ journey northeast from Akabah, is a rivulet and valley in the Djebel Shera, on the east side of the Arabah, called Wady Mousa. This place is very interesting for its antiquities and the remains of an ancient city, which I conjecture to be Petra, the capital of Arabia Petraea, a place which, as far as I know, no European traveller has ever visited. In the red sandstone of the which the valley is composed are upwards of two hundred and fifty sepulchres, entirely cut out of the rock, the greater part of them with Grecian ornaments. There is a mausoleum in the shape of a temple, of colossal dimensions, likewise cut out of the rock, with all its apartments, its vestibule, peristyle, etc. It is a most beautiful specimen of Grecian architecture, and in perfect preservation. There are other mausolea with obelisks, apparently in the Egyptian style, a whole amphitheater cut out of the rock, with the remains of a palace and of several temples. Upon the summit of the mountains, which closes the narrow valley on its western side, (Mount Hor,) is the tomb of Haroun, or Aaron. It is held in great veneration by the Arabs." That this was indeed the ancient Sela or Petra is established by various concurring proofs; Josephus, Eusebius, and Jerome affirm that the location and ruins correspond with the notices given in the Bible, and by Pliny and Strabo.
Subsequent travellers, especially Laborde, have given minute and graphic description of this wonderful city, with drawings of the principal ruins. The valley of Petra, 2,200 feet above the great valley El-Arabah, is about a mile long from north to south, and half a mile wide, with numerous short ravines in its sides, making its whole circuit perhaps four miles. It is accessible through ravines at the north and the south; but the cliffs, which define it on the east and west, are precipitous, and vary from two hundred to one thousand feet in height. The main passage into the city is on the east, and begins between cliffs forty feet high and fifty yards apart, which soon become higher, nearer, and full of excavated tombs. This winding ravine is a mile long, and gives entrance to a small brook; its sides at one place are but twelve feet apart and two hundred and fifty feet high. At the termination of this narrow gorge you confront the most splendid of all the structures of Petra, el-Khusneh, the temple mentioned by Burckhardt, hewn out of the face of the opposite cliff. Here you enter a wider ravine, which leads northwest, passes the amphitheatre in a recess on the left, and at length opens on the great valley of the main city towards the west. The tombs excavated in these, and in all the side gorges, are without number, rising range above range; many of them are approached by steps cut in the rock, while others are inaccessible, at the height of nearly four hundred feet. The theatre was so large as to accommodate more than three thousand persons. The palace, called Pharaoh’s house by the Arabs, is the chief structure not excavated in the mountain that survives in any good degree the ravages of time; it was evidently a gorgeous building. Most of the valley is strewn with the ruins of public edifices and with fragments of pottery. The brook flows through the valley towards the west, and passes off through a narrow gorge like that by which it entered. One of the finest temples, the Deir, stands high up in a ravine on the west side. It is hewn out of the solid rock, are eight feet in diameter. A singular charm is thrown over the whole by the beauty of the stone from which these various structures are wrought. It is fine and soft sandstone, variegated with almost every variety of hues, red, purple, black, white, azure, and yellow, the deepest crimson and the softest pink blending with each other, while high above the sculptured monuments the rocks rise in their native rudeness and majesty. The whole strange and beautiful scene leaves on the spectator’s mind impressions, which nothing can efface.
Petra was an ancient city, a strong fortress, and for many ages an important commercial center. It was the chief city among scores, which once filled that region. Yet the prophets of God foretold its downfall, and its abandonment to solitude and desolation, in terms which strikingly agree with the facts. "Thy terribleness hath deceived thee, and the pride of thy heart, O thou that dwellest in the clefts of the rock, that holdest the height of the hill: though thou shouldest make thy nest as high as the eagle, I will bring thee down from thence, saith the Lord," Jeremiah 49:7-22. See also Isaiah 34:5-15 Ezekiel 35:1-15 Joel 3:19 Amos 1:11,12 Obadiah 1:3-16. When its ruin took place we are not informed. There were Christian churches there in the fifth and sixth centuries, but after A. D. 536 no mention is made of it in history.
These dictionary topics are from American Tract Society Bible Dictionary published in 1859. Public Domain, copy freely.
Rand, W. W. "Entry for 'SELA'". "American Tract Society Bible Dictionary".