Chants, Cephalopods and Citadels: The etymological bridges to Amman

A common thread that binds together hearts among disparate groups of Jews, Christians and Muslims is an assenting Amen. Whether reciting the Sūrat al-Fātiḥah in Islamabad’s contemporary Faisal Mosque, shouting praises in unison with 16,000 stalwart congregants in Houston’s mega Lakewood Church, or chanting a kaddish prayer in Budapest’s neo-moorish Dohány Street Synagogue on Yom Kippur: we humans often discover comfort, confidence and closure via our universal dual-syllabic expression of pious harmony.

In addition to the philologists’ recognizing its logical Hebraic roots, many theosophists conjecture the word is a derivative of the Egyptian God Amun. Some go further to posit a connection to the sacred sound of Auṃ (Sanskrit: ॐ), a spiritual icon and mantra among Hindus, Buddhists, Jains and Sikhs. 2000 years ago, Pliny the Elder thought some fossils resembled the ram horns donned by Amun-Re, so he offered the respective cephalopods the taxonomy of ammonis curnua. Ammonoids joined 3/4 of their contemporary flora and fauna in going the way of all the earth during the Cretaceous–Paleogene extinction.


66 million years after their lexical ancestors dissolved in the depths of the primordial seas, a new group of Ammonites surfaced on a more arid turf; not to be confused with the Ammonites righteously inhabiting Mesoamerica around 100 B.C., the Ammonites descended from Lot were a people who, after the destruction of the Zamzummim giants, claimed their land east of Judea.

Fast-forward several centuries and in this same terrain you would observe a Macedonian ruler, in an act of self-aggrandizement, rename the city as “Philadelphia” (Greek: Φιλαδέλφεια).  And then of course the Romans conquered and ruled the land for a few centuries, leaving behind the treasured Temple of Hercules on a hill and a massive theatre below.

As I walked around the citadel I overheard tour guides elucidating in French and Hindi about the subsequent waves of caliphates that washed over this barren land. In addition to toppling the limestone remnants of paganism, the Muslims renamed the city as Amman. The Umayyads built a beautiful palace atop Jabal al-Qal’a, obscuring some Roman structures below its foundation while retaining an existing colonnaded street for practical use.

In half an hour at the Jordan Archeological Museum, I traversed through a million years of epigraphs and iconography: from the Paleolithic Period to the bronze and iron ages, then through the Persian, Hellenistic, Roman, Byzantine, and Umayyad eras… have you ever visited a museum with such rich history and realized it would take more than a lifetime to absorb it all? After glossing over Anthropoid coffins and Abbasid pottery, I was suddenly spellbound by the bicephalous Ain Ghazal statues of the Neolithic period: one of mankind’s first attempts to represent the human figure—in quite a sinister fashion I must avow.

Today, the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan offers refuge to many descendants of the Assyrians—a people who once received tributes from the Ammonites as the buffering price of evanescent sovereignty. As I walked 4 kilometers from the limestone citadel to the metallic Abdali Project, my mind juxtaposed the colors and textures of the old and new downtowns, and I wondered how people in another 2000 years might interpret our Dubai-esque structures, and what they will then be fashioning for a new downtown.

Maybe someday a postdoctoral fellow analyzing the social impact of the blogosphere on 21st century civilization will unveil an archive of this post, and the next time they close their evening prayer with a drowsy Amen, they will doze off into hypnagogic dreams of primeval sea creatures battling the fortified Ammonites on the 7 beige hillsides of Amman. 

The apparent linguistic bridges to 1 town on this planet remind me of another dimension that exponentially multiplies my perception of how big this world is:


In parallel to this observation, my good friend Hubble recently discovered that the observable universe contains 10 times more galaxies than previously thought, i.e. 2 Trillion. But don’t mull over that for too long. Go outside and enjoy the sights and sounds of whatever town you currently live in!

As for me, I’m now headed to a Halloween activity with several expatriate families at one of their homes in this place called Amman.

One thought on “Chants, Cephalopods and Citadels: The etymological bridges to Amman

  1. Pingback: Egypt: Old and New | A Year in Amman

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