Moab and Edom
29. Charach Moba - (al-Karak)
A site in ancient Moab situated above Wadi el-Kerak which drains the Moabite plateau into the Jordan valley.
Name and Identification. The Arabic name al-Karak derives from Aramaic karka "the walled town, city"; the root krk, meaning "to circumvent; to enclose," is peculiar to Aramaic. The name of the site in the Hellenistic-Roman-Byzantine periods was Karakmoba "the fortress-city of Moab," attested, in various spellings (Charach-, Charak-) since Claudius Ptolemaeus (middle of 2d century A.D.; cf. Canova 1954: LXI). Presumably, the name Karakmoba derives from the Persian period, when Aramaic was the official language of the administration.
The Moabite name of Kerak is unknown. Generally, the Moabite city (or cities) of Kir (Isa 15:1), Kir-heres (Jer 48:31, 36; Isa 16:11), and Kir-hareseth (Isa 16:7; 2 Kgs 3:25) are identified with Kerak (Musil 1907: 58; Glueck 1935: 4; Abel, GP 2: 41819). This, however, is difficult to prove. Kir occurs only once (Isa 15:1), where it stands in parallelism with Ar. If Ar refers to a landscape, not to a city, Kir was probably the capital of this district. In Moabite, *qir denotes "city" (KAI 181.11, 12, 24, 29). Ar was probably the region between Wadi Mujib and Wadi Hasa (Weippert 1979: 18); its natural center is er-Rabbah, ancient Rabbathmoba. Kir-heres/Hareseth is used parallel to "Moab" in Isa 16:7, 11; Jer 48:31, 36. In Jer 46:38, "Moab" is a designation of a city, too, i.e., the capital city of Moab, which is in accordance with Late Assyrian and Neo-Babylonian usage. These texts attest that Kir-heres/Hareseth was, at a time, the capital of Moab. They do not say much about its location. The same holds true for 2 Kgs 3:25. In 2 Kgs 3:427, only vv 46 contain reliable information (Bartlett 1983: 145). What really happened in this war is documented in the inscription of Mesha (KAI 181). According to this inscription, Dibon was the capital of Moab in Mesha's days. If one should look for Kir-heres/Hareseth S of Wadi Mujib both er-Rabbah and el-Kerak are reasonable candidates for the location (cf. Iron Age evidence from er-Rabbah; Miller 1982). Only excavations at both sites could help to settle the question. Qir Harest-Heres probably means "city of the woodland" (cf. Arabic hirs "wood"). If the absence of large-scale Iron Age settlement activity in the Wadi el-Kerak means that the wadi slopes were wooded in the Iron Age, the name could be an argument in favor of Kerak. There is, however, not enough information available from the Moabite plateau for the Iron Age. On the other hand, Kerak lay off the major roads of the Iron Age and the Roman-Byzantine periods; er-Rabba did not (Worschech and Knauf 1985).
Description. Kerak occupies the upper ridge of a spur protruding into Wadi el-Kerak from the S. Steep slopes on the N, E, and W sides protect the settlement. A moat excavated by the Crusaders on the S side separates the town from the ridge, and adds to its natural strength. Apart from this, and according to the Madaba mosaic map, Byzantine Kerak had the same extent as had the Crusader through Ottoman city, the wall of which is still preserved. In order to reach their fields on the Moabite plateau or in Wadi el-Kerak, the inhabitants of Kerak had to cover wide distances. In the last century, some spent their summers in tents on their fields. For water, they depended on cisterns, or brought water from springs in Wadi el-Kerak.
Bibliography: Bartlett, J. R. 1983. The 'United' Campaign against Moab in 2 Kings 3:427. Pp. 13546 in Midian, Moab and Edom, ed. J. F. A. Sawyer and D. J. A. Clines. JSOTSup 24. Sheffield.. Canova, R. 1954. Iscrizioni e monumenti protocristiani del paese di Moab. Sussidi allo studio delle antichità cristiane 4. Vatican. Glueck, N. 1935. Explorations in Eastern Palestine II. AASOR 15. New Haven. Miller, J. M. 1982. Recent Archaeological Developments Relevant to Ancient Moab. Pp. 16973 in Studies in the History and Archaeology of Jordan I, ed. A. Hadidi. Amman. Musil, A. 1907. Arabia Petraea I. Vienna. Piccirillo, M., and Spijkerman, A. 1978. The Coins of the Decapolis and Provincia Arabia. SBF.CMa 25. Jerusalem. Weippert, M. 1979. The Israelite "Conquest" and the Evidence from Transjordan. Pp. 1534 in Symposia, ed. F. M. Cross. Cambridge, MA. Worschech, U., and Knauf, E. A. 1985. Alte Strassen in der nordwestlichen Ard el-Kerak, ZDPV 101: 12833.
Ernst Axel Knauf, The Anchor Bible Dictionary, ad v. "Kerak" (extract)
Michael Avi-Yonah (The Madaba Mosaic Map, Jerusalem 1954, 42)
This is modern el-Kérak. The name of Charck-Moba appears in Ptolomaeus (V, 16,4) in the city list of Hierocles an on coins. The Greek Charax 'palisade' corresponds to the Hebrew kir in Isaiah 15:1. It should be noted that the Onomasticon ignores this city; its representation on the map is due to the author´s familiarity with the vicinity. Charachmoba is represented as a walled fortress. In the south there is a gate, flanked by two towers. Near the gate stands a church on the east. Three colonnaded streets run parallel from south to north; the central street leads to a big church (Charachmoba was the seat of a bishop).
Herbert Donner (The Mosaic Map of Madaba, Kampen 1992, 40)
This is modern al-Karak, situated on the top of a high mountain, seen from the west. Its name, sometimes mentioned by Greek an Latin authors is composed of charagx 'palisade' and Moab, the country east of the Dead Sea: fortress of Moab. Unfortunately, we do not know anything about Byzantine al-Karak; the mosaic map is our only source. The representation shows the mosaicist´s attempt to depict the main buildings of the city he knew.
Charachmoba is known as a bishop´s see. In front of the cathedral we notice a circulat object, partly damaged: brownish cubes in the center, black and white cubes around. This cannot be the gate of the church, it is rather a sort of circus surrounded by a street. Above the inscription, i.e. east of the city, there are remains of a simple representation of a village which cannot be identified.
F. Zayadine ("The Karak District in the Madaba Map", in: The Madaba Map Centenary 1897-1997, Jerusalem 1999, 229)
To the north of the Zared, is a city on a mountain, isolated by a valley. The Greek inscription identifies the city as "Charachmoba". It is represented with a gate, flanked by two towers. There is apparently a street bordered by a portico with five columns. That monumental entrance leads to two churches: a large church to the left and a smaller one to the right. It should be noted that the name Charachmoba, which also appears in the Beersheva edit (Clermont-Ganneau 1906), derives from the Aramaic Karka, meaning "citadel" and not from the Kyr Moaba of the Prophet Isaiah. At any rate, the two churches confirm that Karak was a bishopric in the Byzantine period. The large church was in the vicinity of the modern Jami' al-'Umar in Karak and the smaller church was probably the Church of St. George or al-Khadir in the center of the city. There is also a chapel in the Crusader Citadel, but this is probably a Medieval sanctuary. (See also the complete article)
G. López Monteagudo ("The Architectonic Models on the Madaba Mosaic Map", in: The Madaba Map Centenary 1897-1997, Jerusalem 1999, 256)
Tower villas, with their variants of gallery or loggia, are used in the Madaba Mosaic Map to represent the doors of walled cities such as Jerusalem, Askalon, Charach Moba (here with the particular feature that one of the towers is used also as side wall of a building with pediment), Zoora, Aia, Tharais, (Th)ekoue. (See also the complete article)
For more sources and bibliography see:
F.-M. Abel, Géographie de la Palestine. II (Paris 1938), s.v. "Qir Haraseth", 418-419.
Map Section 4 Place Sources