Abraham's Path Sogmatar

Deep in the barren hills of Anatolia near a remote village, seven temples adorn seven hilltops with rock carvings and writings dedicated to the sun, moon, and planets.

Sogmatar is an ancient open-air cultic center located in the Tektek plateau, 60 km southeast of Urfa and 30 km northeast of Harran. The site consists of seven temples with rock carvings dedicated to the sun, moon, and planets. On the central “sacred hill” lies a large, open-air temple dedicated to Marilaha (a chief deity). Edessan craftsmen, who were evidently skilled stoneworkers, built the site in the 2nd and 3rd centuries.

Reliefs carved into the rocks, usually accompanied by Syriac inscriptions, shed light on the religious and cultural atmosphere of pre-Christian Urfa. Several of its most prominent motifs also appear at nearby cultic sites such as Harran, Palmyra and Hieropolis. While Sogmatar seems devoted primarily to the worship of celestial bodies, it also features distinctive evidence of funerary cults, with dedicatory tomb inscriptions detailing hopes for the afterlife of its occupants.

Although planet-worship and funerary cults may seem at first an odd combination, it makes sense in a culture where various local and regional cults might have coexisted, merged, and divided. For instance, at Sogmatar, everything is set up around a chief God, Marilaha. But who exactly is Marilaha?  The diety seems to have been associated at times with the moon god Sin (the chief deity of Harran), at times with Be’elshamin (the chief deity at Palmyra), both of whom were at times associated with Zeus.

At that time, there was a tendency for cultic centers throughout the region to recognize a central godhead, even if it was within or alongside a pantheon of other gods. Some historians believe that this tendency explains in part why Urfa was such a fertile ground for monotheism, Sogmatar in particular, whose height coincided with Urfa’s transition to Christianity in the 2nd century, may shed light on the reception of Christianity in the region.