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A large triangular peninsula lying between Asia and Africa. Classified by geographers as a part of Asia, although connected to Africa by the Sinai Peninsula and in many respects more properly a part of the African land mass, its size of approximately one million square miles entitles it to be considered as a subcontinent. The following entry discusses Arabia in that geographical and historical context; for information on Catholicism in the modern states of Oman, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, and Yemen, which now occupy the peninsula, see those individual entries.


Before treating of the Islamic and pre-Islamic history of Arabia, this article will give a brief description of the geography and ethnology of the Arabian peninsula.

Geography. Arabia is bounded on three sides by water (the Red Sea on the west, the Gulf of Aden and the Arabian Sea on the south, the Gulf of Oman and the Persian Gulf on the east) and has from early times been called Jazīrat al-Arab (Island of the Arabs) by its inhabitants. There is no natural northern boundary; a vast steppe leads into Jordan, Iraq, and Syria. There are many islands off the southern coasts and a few shallow bays along those coasts. A chain of mountains (in some regions two chains) called al-Sarah runs close and parallel to the coastline of the Red Sea, with many plateaus along their eastern slopes. The mountains are highest in the Yemen and reappear again in the southeast in Dhufar and Oman. There are coastal plains and hills, mesas, and buttes, especially in the north. Most of the peninsula, however, is a sandy desert. The principal desert areas are the Great Nufud and the Empty Quarter (al-Rub al-Khâlī ), the latter constituting the largest continuous body of sand in the world.

Climate and Rainfall. Arabia, bisected by the Tropic of Cancer, generally enjoys a temperate climate, although the lowlands are semitropical. The summer heat is intense, with temperatures as high as 122° F, but winter in the highlands can be proportionately bitter. The inlands are dry and subject to severe sandstorms. Limited eastern parts are affected by the monsoons, but, in general, rainfall is scarce throughout the peninsula. In the desert regions, in fact, no rain may fall for periods of 8 or 10 years, though in some places sudden torrential rains caught in a stream channel (wâdī ) cause flashfloods. There are no large rivers (a few small ones flow along the southern and eastern coasts) and no lakes. In fact, human life is made possible in much of the peninsula only by the presence of springs, pools, and wells, around which oasis settlements have grown up. Some of these oases are hundreds of square miles in area, large enough to permit several separate villages and large camping areas within them; others are merely watering places where the water is too salty for human consumption but generally satisfactory for camels. There is some evidence of ancient irrigation systems and dams, which very probably made fertile some regions that are no longer so.

Produce. Since there are no prairies or forests and many inimical migrating dunes, cultivation in Arabia is necessarily limited and requires much skill. The date palm is the principal tree and is put to many uses. Some wheat, barley, and alfalfa are grown, as well as coffee, introduced by Europeans, and qat, with its slightly narcotic leaves, in Yemen and the south. Plants yielding frankincense, myrrh, and other aromatics, as well as dyes such as indigo, have been grown there since ancient times. In a few isolated regions roses, pomegranates, mangoes, figs, grapes, peaches, and bananas can be grown. In general, milk and dates provide the staple foods, supplemented by bush fruit and truffles, for man and beast alike. The camel is the most important animal, since it is well adapted to desert conditions, and there are many sheep and goats. Arabian horses and gazelles are rapidly dying out. There is a wide variety of small animals, birds, and insects.

Ethnology. Much more archeological and anthropological research will have to be done before the ethnology of Arabia is reliably clear. Tribal traditions are mostly legendary and unreliable, although they are not to be dismissed for more recent Arabian history. Nearly all Arabians are of the Mediterranean race, but there is a distinct Veddoid strain in the south. The modern Arabs themselves accept a descent from two ancestors, Qahtan and Adnan, the descendants of the former being supposed to be the southern Arabs and those of the latter the northern Arabs. Naturally such a scheme is open to serious question. There are strong indications that the earliest southern Arabians had migrated from the northern and central parts of the peninsula. Many tribes retain no tradition of ever having belonged to either group, while others are known to have moved or changed their allegiance by alliances. Nevertheless, the tradition expresses something utterly real: a cultural difference and a spirit of rivalry between northern and southern Arabians, which remained a factor of notable importance in Islamic history well into modern times and as far away from Arabia as Spain and Transoxiana. Today there are a few immigrants, mostly in the coastal regions. Slavery of Africans apparently still exists, although it is said to be minimal. There has been no type of color bar in Arabia since Islamic times. Significant migrations of peoples have taken place within the peninsula in recent times, but few Arabians have emigrated, and those few to adjacent Iran, India, and East Africa.

Pre-Islamic history. Arabia is still one of the lesserknown parts of the world, and a great amount of basic scientific exploration remains to be done before its history can be made precise.

Modern Exploration. Such investigation began with Carsten Niebuhr and the Danish expedition of 1761 to 1764. A century later Joseph Halevy and Eduard Glaser explored several south Arabian sites and were able to copy many Sabaean inscriptions. [see saba (sheba)]. The interior of Arabia was penetrated during the 19th century by J. L. Burckhardt, Richard Burton, and W. G. Palgrave; British officers of the Indian government completed technical surveys of the southeastern regions, and Charles Doughty wrote his invaluable study of northern Arabia. The studies preparatory to the building of the Hejaz railway and the work of Alois Musil, K. S. Twitchell, and H. St. John B. Philby have added immeasurably to knowledge of the peninsula. The Empty Quarter was crossed and documented by Bertram Thomas in 1931 and 1932. More recently oil companies have sponsored illuminating surveys of eastern Arabian territories.

Dawn of History in Arabia. Future investigations will doubtless improve the state of knowledge of early Arabia, but as yet it has only the most shadowy history before the 1st millennium b.c. A few chance finds have proved that the peninsula was inhabited in Palaeolithic and Neolithic times. Some of those who believe in the existence of a Semitic race have speculated that Arabia might have been the original home of that race. It is quite solidly established, at any rate, that nomads from the Arabian deserts began infiltrating the Iraqi and Syrian portions of the Fertile Crescent about the middle of the 4th millennium b.c. and made substantial incursions thereafter at intervals of approximately a millennium until the Moslem conquest. Early in the 2d millennium b.c. a system of alphabetic writing was invented and about the same time the camel was domesticated. Soon afterward there were considerable migrations of peoples within Arabia, perhaps originating the traditional division between northern and southern tribes, and about 1500 b.c. the Aramaeans entered the Fertile Crescent in large numbers.

Assyro-Babylonian, Egyptian, and Hebrew (notably Gn 10.2630; see under 2. below) records mention some place names and tribes that are almost certainly to be identified within Arabia. The "Aribi" in Assyro-Babylonian texts are thought by some scholars to denote the Arabs. Strong organized states came into being in South Arabia during the second half of the first millennium b.c., while in North Arabia the Persians were succeeding the Assyrians and Neo-Babylonians in bringing substantial portions of that area under their influence. Evidently there was a rapid development of commerce and trade at this time, and Arabiaparticularly South Arabiamerged and flourished on that account. The Neo-Babylonian king Nabu-Na'id (Nabonidus; 556-539 b.c.), as a recent discovery indicates, had extended his influence as far south as Yathrib, and the presence of Jewish colonies in Arabia may date from this time.

Early Kingdoms. The kingdom of Main existed in Yemen from about 1200 to 650 b.c. Scholars are at variance as to how long it continued to coexist with the Sabaean kingdom, which was newly founded, after a three-century rule of priest-kings, about 650. A queen of the Sabaeans (the Queen of Sheba) is reported in 1 Kgs 10.113 to have visited Solomon. Saba was more or less constantly at war with the younger kingdoms of Hadramaut and Qataban, but appears to have maintained the upper hand. Its rule lasted until 115 b.c., when it was conquered by the Himyarites. Qataban fell at about the same time. The Himyarite kingdom lasted until a.d. 525. In the meantime the Nabataean kingdom rose in the north, from its famous capital at Petra, and prospered as an entrepot and from later cooperation with the Romans. Rome launched its single attempt to conquer Arabia in 24 b.c. under Aelius Gallus, but the expedition ended in failure. The height of Nabataean influence occurred during the reign of Harithath (or Aretas) IV, who ruled from 9 b.c. to a.d. 40. In 106 the Emperor Trajan incorporated the state into the Roman Empire.

There is mention of Arabs at Pentecost (Acts 2.11) and St. Paul visited Arabia, although that may only mean some region south of Damascus, after his conversion (Gal 1.17). Some Arab shaykhs whose identity is now impossible to determine are known to have accepted the Christian faith in the 3d century, and Arab bishoprics are noted thereafter by historians of the times (see under 5. below). In the mid-4th century the (Christian, later Monophysite) Abyssinians succeeded in occupying Himyarite territory in South Arabia. The ensuing struggle became an open quarrel between Judaism, accepted by the Himyarites, and Christianity. Abyssinia, supported by Byzantium, assumed a spacious colony in Arabia in 525, but 50 years later was effectively defeated by Persian forces. In the meantime the political arrangements in North Arabia had come to reflect this important power-struggle. Client kingdoms had been established: Hīra, the Lakhmids, dependent upon Persia, and the Ghassanids, dependent upon Byzantium. After 583 the Ghassanids themselves split, and in the later years of the century the tribe of Kindah began to assume power in Central Arabia as a type of vassal state of Yemen. There was thus a condition of political confusion on the eve of the foundation of Islam.

Islamic History. About 570 muh:ammad was born in mecca, a center of trade and religious pilgrimage in west Central Arabia. His career as founder of the religion of islam fundamentally changed the entire course of Arabian history. In his youth Muammad was a poor orphan, but later he married a wealthy woman. About the age of 40 he received his "prophetic call" to unite the Arabs under a monotheism, which he came to insist was a reaffirmation of pure Judaism and Christianity. His "revelations" were collected after his death in the qurn. But the Meccans did not welcome Muammad's message, and he was obliged to flee with his followers to Yathrib (known thereafter as medina) in 622, the hijra (Arabic hijrah, "flight") from which Muslims date their era. At Medina Muhammad's fortunes took a sharp turn for the better and he found himself directing a political community, which gradually gained ascendancy in Central Arabia and was ready, at the time of his death in 632, to consolidate its territories and prepare to conquer other lands.

In the Middle Ages. Muhammad's immediate successors, the "Orthodox" caliphs, superintended a series of successful invasions to the north, east, and west of the Arabian peninsula. During the reign of the caliph ali, Muhammad's cousin and son-in-law, there ensued a dispute over the caliphate that resulted in the establishment of the dynasty of the umayyads, which ruled over the still-expanding Islamic empire for almost a century (661750) from its capital in damascus, but resulted also in the most important and enduring division among Muslims, that between the sunnites and the shĪites. A carefully planned revolution put the dynasty of the 'abbsids in power in 750, and the capital of the empire was moved to baghdad. The Abbāsid caliphs continued nominally to rule the Islamic empire until the capture of Baghdad by the mongols in 1258, though in point of fact the empire was already hopelessly fragmented after the first century of their rule. Arabia, in particular, provided favorable conditions for the further growth of Shiism, and by the end of the 9th century two revolutionary branches of Shīites, the ismailis and the Carmathians held large portions of the peninsula. The success of the Ismaili Fatimid caliphate in Egypt prolonged the dominance of Shī 'ites rule of Arabia, but Salah-al-Din (saladin) restored Sunnite control toward the end of the 12th century.

Arabia generally shared the fortunes and misfortunes of neighboring Egypt and Syria during the period of the Mamelukes (12501517), but in some respects and more particularly in its southern and eastern regions was able to follow an independent course. Early in the 16th century Portuguese explorers reached Arabia, and at the same time the ottoman turks wrested Egypt from Mameluke rule. Under the impact of European trading activity in south and east Asia, Yemen, Hadramaut, and Oman in South Arabia entered upon a new period of prosperity. In the 18th century the reforming movement of the wahhbis took root in Najd and won over the Saud tribe to its tenets. But its expanding state ran into powerful opposition from the sherifs of Mecca and the newly vitalized Sayyid dynasty in Oman, which eventually extended its authority to the coastal areas of East Africa. Later technological advances enabled the Ottomans to strengthen their hold over parts of Arabia.

In Modern Times. The Arab Revolt under Sharif Husayn of Mecca, with British assistance, brought about the end of Ottoman rule during World War I. Sharif Husayn was recognized as king of Arabia (and later, briefly, as caliph), but was soon at war with the Saud tribal confederacy under Abd-al-Aziz ibn-Saud. Ibn-Saud defeated Husayn, conquered the Hejaz, and proceeded to unify the peninsula under his own rule; in 1932 he assumed the title of king of Saudi Arabia. His conquest stopped short at the boundaries that have been maintained since, separating Saudi Arabia from the surrounding states. The discovery of enormous deposits of oil in eastern Arabia and their subsequent exploitation very markedly changed the fortunes of this country and brought it increasingly forward into world affairs.

Bibliography: d. g. hogarth, Arabia (Oxford 1922). c. m. doughty, Travels in Arabia Deserts, 2 v. (new ed. New York 1937). a. musil, In the Arabian Desert (New York 1930). b. thomas, Arabia Felix (New York 1932). j. a. montgomery, Arabia and the Bible (Philadelphia 1934). h. r. p. dickson, The Arab of the Desert (London 1949). r. h. sanger, The Arabian Peninsula (Ithaca 1954). h. st. j. b. philby, Saudi Arabia (London 1955). p. k. hitti, History of the Arabs (6th ed. New York 1956). k. s. twitchell, Saudi Arabia (3d ed. Princeton 1958). g. a. lipsky et al., Saudi Arabia (New Haven 1959).

[j. kritzeck]


The Hebrew word 'ărab is used in Is 21.13 to designate the steppe countries where the nomads, the desert dwellers (Jer 25.24), lived, regardless of the dialect spoken by each individual ethnic group. Therefore, Arabia (in the contemporary meaning of the Arabian peninsula inhabited by Arabic-speaking populations) is an entity foreign to the Israelites of the OT period. The generic name Arabian(s) (Heb. collective 'ărab; gentilic 'ărābî, pl. 'ărābîm; the Aribu of the cuneiform inscriptions), refers to the tent-dwelling (Is 13.20) Bedouins of the desert (Jer 3.2) east of Palestine; hence they are known also as the Cedemites or Easterners (b enê-qedem, the children of the East, e.g., in Is 11.14). The generic name, however, is used rather seldom compared with the proper names of the various Arabian populations neighboring Palestine, as they are found, for instance, in the ethnic genealogical lists of Genesis ch. 10, 11, and 25. Although the ancestors of the Israelites originated about the 19th century b.c. in northwestern Mesopotamia, where they had been in contact with and influenced by Semitic as well as non-Semitic populations, their conviction of being close kinsfolk of the peoples living in northern and southern Arabia is stressed in these lists. Among the descendants of Eber (Heb. ēber ), a descendant of Sem, several names are mentioned in Gn 10.2529 that are similar to those of peoples in South Arabia, such as yoqān (Qaân; mentioned in Jamme 635.27 [about 60 b.c.] as forming a kingdom along with Kindat); ăsarmāwet (aramawt); šebā' (Saba'); and ăwîlâ(awlân ). It is noteworthy that the names of Maîn and Qatabân are not found, and that Saba' is listed as the brother of Dedan in the Bible (in Gn 10.7 as a grandson kûs Chus; in Gn 25.3 as a grandson of Abraham and q etûrâ Cetura; see also Ez 38.13). The city of Dedan, at the present time al-Ulá, was an important Minaean (not Sabaean) trading center. The mention of faraway aramawt is explained by actual commercial contacts, as illustrated by the arami clay stamp (probably of the 9th century b.c.) discovered by J. L. Kelso during the 1957 excavations at Beitin, biblical Bethel. The Sabaeans, whose country is said to be far off (Jl 4.8), are described as merchants (Ez 25.23; 27.2223) trading in gold, frankincense (Is 60.6; Jer 6.20; Ps 71 [72]. 15], the best spices, and precious stones (Ez 27.22), but also as raiders (Jb 1.15) and slave traders (Jl 4.8).

During the monarchical period of the Israelite history, the Arabians intervened in Jewish affairs on several occasions. For instance, the Queen of saba (Sheba) visited Solomon; King Josaphat of Juda received a large tribute of sheep and goats from the Arabians (2 Chr 17.11); South Arabians raided the realm and even the capital of Judah at the time of King Jehoram (2 Chr 21.1617; 22.1). After the return from exile, Geshem the Arabian (Neh 2.19) and his band of Arabs (Neh 4.1) joined the coalition that tried unsuccessfully to prevent the reconstruction of the walls of Jerusalem.

Among the descendants of Ismael (Ishmael), the son of Abraham and hagar the Egyptian (Gn 25.12), the most famous were the Nabataeans, known also as Arabians (2 Mc 5.8; Acts 2.11). Finally, it was in the northern end of Arabia, i.e., in the Syro-Arabian desert east of Damascus, that Paul withdrew after his conversion to Christianity (Gal 1.17).

Bibliography: r. p. dougherty, The Sealand of Ancient Arabia (New Haven, CT 1932). j. a. montgomery, Arabia and the Bible (Philadelphia 1934). a. jamme and g. w. van beek, "The South-Arabian Clay Stamp from Bethel Again," Bulletin of the American Schools of Oriental Research 163 (1961) 1518. Encyclopedic Dictionary of the Bible, tr. and adap. by l. hartman (New York 1963), from a. van den born, Bijbels Woordenboek, 122. j. assfalg, Lexikon für Theologie und Kirche, ed. j. hofer and k. rahner (Freiburg 195765) 1:786787.

[a. jamme]


Before Islam and the religious beliefs of the Nabataeans and Palmyrenes, there existed among the tribes of the central and northern portions of the Arabian Peninsula a pantheon and cult that assumed growing importance. Being more or less nomadic, these northern tribes retained certain primitive traits found also in the religion of the Hebrews of the patriarchal era.

Early North Arabians. The earliest firsthand information on North Arabia is from Assyrian annals. For the Neo-Babylonian period we have a few proto-Arabic graffiti. Their consonant script is related to that of South Arabic inscriptions. The most ancient are those of Dedan (Is 21.1314); but those of Tema follow closely and constitute Thamudic A (6th and 5th centuries b.c.). The tribe of Thamud was already mentioned in the annals of Sargon II for the year 714 b.c.; but in the proto-Arabic graffiti its name does not appear until the end of the Persian era and during the Hellenistic era. (Thamudic B, in the Nejd). At Dedan the tribe of Liyan was in control during this time. Its script (Liyanite A and B) derives from Dedanite. At the Roman epoch and in the early Byzantine era, the proto-Arabic alphabet continued to be used, with increasingly cursive forms: Thamudic C and D in the Dedan region, E in the regions of Tebuq and Petra, and the so-called afaitic script in the eastern and southeastern Hauran. The explorations of H. St. John B. Philby and of G. and J. Ryckmans show that the more southerly routes also, which lead from mecca or Ryad to yemen, are covered with proto-Arabic graffiti. Studies of these indicate that they should not be attributed to the Thamudeans, inasmuch as classical and Arabic sources situate this tribe only in the northwestern portion of the peninsula. The Aramaean sources are represented by the famous stele of Tema (6th century b.c.), by the Nabataean and Palmyrene inscriptions (1st century b.c. to 3d century a.d.), and by a few passages of Syriac literature. It has been possible to glean precious information from Greek Byzantine writings and Arabic authors. In fact, the Book of Idols of Ibn al-Kalbi (c. a.d. 800) deals exclusively with this subject.

The Pantheon. A description of the gods of ancient North Arabia can best be made by considering separately the inscriptions, according to their provenance, that mention these gods.

The Cuneiform Texts. The annals of Esarhaddon (680-669) contain a list of the Arabic gods of Adumatu, the Duma of Gn 25.14 (Pritchard ANET 291b). At the head of the list is Atar-samain, i.e., Atar-of-the-heavens. It is the god 'Athtar of Ugarit (15th century) and of the southern Arabs. But here it is a goddess, like the Babylonian Ishtar and the Phoenician Astarte (1 Kgs 11.5). 'Athtar (this seems to be the primitive form of these four names) is above all the personification of the planet Venus, whence the vagueness in the attribution of sex. The brilliant star of morning and evening, so familiar to the nomad, thus supplemented El, the ancestral deity of the Semites. ("El" appears also under the augmentative form "Ilah," whose plural of majesty is the Hebrew "Elohim.") The fourth god in the list is Ruldaiu, who is also mentioned by Ibn al-Kalbi under the form of Rua. The corresponding root signifies "to satisfy," and various indices lead one to think that Rua is the name of Mercury, the beneficent planet.

Dedan and Liyan, Thamud and afa. The proto-Arabic inscriptions of Dedan give little information on the autochthonous gods of the Neo-Babylonian era. The name of the supreme god El is found only in personal names. Thus a "king of Dedan" was named Kabir'el, son of Matiel. The names ending in ēl and in ilah are more numerous in the various proto-Arabic dialects than those in honor of any other deity. Taken as a whole, they are to be considered as survivals, for it has been proved that they were preponderant in ancient Akkadian and in proto-Aramaic. Since the word ēl corresponds to the word god, it has been rightly concluded that the proto-Semites invoked only El. In fact, if the word god had applied to various deities, the personal names in ēl would have had an equivocal meaning. It is legitimate to translate El as God, but this practical monotheism does not imply a clear awareness that the gods adored by neighboring peoples did not exist. The reason that the primitive Dedanite and Thamudic texts now known contain no direct invocation to El or Ilah is perhaps because of the rarity of these graffiti. In Thamudic B several examples have been found that cannot be interpreted as innovations or said to have been borrowed. The authors of the graffiti in Thamudic A gave first place to alam. His name, which signifies Image, was actually accompanied by the image of the oxhead; in South Arabia this was generally the symbol of the lunar god, who was almost as important as the god 'Athtar. The Aramaic stele of Tema also names alam, with the same representation of an oxhead. The moon regularly accompanies Venus; 20 kilometers east of Tema, Philby discovered a Thamudic graffito in which a "king of Duma" invokes 'Atarsam and alam." The first name is a shortened form of Atar-samain. Venus seems also to have been designated by the appellation al Ilat, the Goddess, in a contemporary graffito, an appellation that was afterward widely accepted. We find this name also in Herodotus in the mid-5th century. The Arabs of Sinai invoked Orotal and Alilat in their oath, names they gave to Dionysus and heavenly Aphrodite (Histories, 3.8; 1.131). The form Orotal is the approximate pronounciation of Rua by a Greek, the d : giving rise to a light "l" sound. Rua was identified with Dionysus as the god of renewed vegetation. The explorations of N. Glueck have shown that the Sinai Peninsula has almost always been partly under cultivation. As for the heavenly Goddess, she is also attested to by the Aramaic dedication of a silver bowl "offered by Qainu, son of Geshem, king of Qedar [see Is 21.16] to han-Ilat" (han is an ancient form of the Arabic article al ). The tribe of Qedar lived nomadically in the north of Dedan, and our Geshem was doubtless the same "Geshem the Arab" of Nehemia 2.19, thus bringing us back to the mid-5th century b.c. At Dedan the Liyanites also adored Ilat, and this goddess first appeared under the name of 'Uzzai, the very strong one, in a text in Liyanite A. In South Arabia 'Athtar was given similar epithets, no doubt as the Morning Star. Other inscriptions in Liyanite A name han-Aktab, i.e., the scribe, the Arabic counterpart of the godscribe Nebo, whose planet was Mercury. Thus han-Aktab could very well be identical with Rua, frequently invoked in the Thamudic B graffiti, which were in part contemporaneous. The Liyanite texts name Dhu-Ghabat even oftener, i.e., the One from Ghabat, an oasis north of Medina. Dhu-Ghabat is an anonymous appellation in truly Arabic manner, referring perhaps to han-Aktab himself. The Thamudic B graffiti are addressed also to 'Atarsam. Thus in the Persian era, the North Arabic pantheon is consistently astral. One qualification to this must be made by those who agree that the mysterious NHY (Nahay), the divine name that appears most frequently in Thamudic B, is merely a phonetic variation of LHY or LHY (Lahay, Ilahay), elongated forms of Ilah. In this case, the important tribe of Thamud would have reserved first place for the ancestral deity. But if we come down to the Greco-Roman era, we see that Ilah (sometimes elided to Lah) is mentioned far less often than Rua, and especially than Ilat (or Lat).

The Nabataeans. At the end of the Persian era the Nabataeans, who had come from central or southern Arabia, displaced the Qedarites in the area extending from Dedan to Petra. They soon controlled all of Transjordania and even southern Syria. At Gaia (modern Wadi Musa), a village close to which flowed the spring that also watered Petra, a god of anonymous appellation was venerated: Dushara, the One of the Shara. This Arabic word signifies region and even to this day designates the mountain range on whose western slopes Gaia was nestled. Two inscriptions described Dushara as the "god of Gaia." According to the Alexandrian lexicographer Hesychios, Dusares (the Greek form of Dushara) was identified with Dionysus, as the god of vegetation and vineyards. The equation Orotal-Dionysus (made by Herodotus) thus suggests that the real Master of the Shara was none other than Rua, which would explain the curious absence of this divine name in Nabataean texts. Besides, several dedications lend support to this identification, as well as to that of Rua with the scribe-god Mercury. Thus the chief gods of the Nabataeans appear to have been Venus and Mercury. Venus was invoked also under the name of Allatu (the Goddess), in particular at Iram (modern Ramm) and Bora. Among the other Arabic deities named in the Nabataean inscriptions, the mysterious Hubalu and the goddess of fate Manawatu may be cited; both were invoked at Hegra.

Palmyra. Allat, Shamash (Shams), and Raim (the Marciful, likewise discovered in the afaitic graffiti) are Arabic gods who were adopted at Palmyra. To these may be added Aru, whose name represents another form of Rua and who seems to have been invoked in a special way by the caravaneers. One relief shows him mounted on a camel before Azizu on horseback. The latter name is simply a masculine form of 'Uzza. Pairs of masculine deities are characteristic of the Palmyrene pantheon. Maan and Shaar, or Shalman and Abgal, should also be mentioned. They are the "Ginnaye" (whence the Arabic word jinn ), i.e., "protective" gods. The name Gad, Fortune, expresses the same need of protection. Veneration was given the Gad of the village, the Gad of the gardens or of the olive tree, the Gad of Palmyra, the Gad of Taimay (the ancestor of a tribe). But the Arabic deities had been preceded by those of Babylon. The largest temple of the city was dedicated to Bel, the Master, whom Greek dedications called Zeus. He replaced the indigenous god Bol, whose goddess-consort was called 'Ashtor, the local pronunciation of 'Athtar (just as Bol equates with Bel, or rather with Baal). Bel was the great cosmic god, and by virtue of this title, the Sun and the Moon were associated with him, they being represented by Yari-Bol and Agli-Bol. The second divine name signifies Bull-of-Bol, the horns symbolizing the crescent. Originally Yari-Bol, i.e., Moon-of-Bol, also was represented by the crescent, but he was later transmuted into a solar god. Agli-Bol is often paired with another solar deity, Malak-Bel, and these two represent the two heavenly luminaries in the second triad, the triad of Be'el-Shemin, the Master-of the-heavens, dispenser of fecundating rain. The inscriptions describe him as "master of the world," and as the "kind and remunerating" god. In the 2d and 3d Christian centuries the cult of Be'el-Shemin became anonymous. The many pyres dedicated to him were then offered "to the one whose name is blessed forever, the kind and remunerating one," a formula that translated an almost monotheistic attitude. The Jewish colony that resided in Palmyra or the philosophers who had been attracted to the princely court influenced this movement, but its origins were Semitic. The name of Ilahay is attested to on a relief in the Palmyrene region, the name of El or Ilah has been preserved in the onomastic (Rabbel, Zabdilah). Finally, several inscriptions attest to the cult of El-qōne-ra, i.e., of El-Creator-of-the-Earth, one of the Phoenician aspects of El. In the Nabataean region, there was no analogous purification of worship, but the numerous personal names ending in El or in Ilahay, e.g., Wahbilahay, "God has given," reveal an ancient heritage that was certainly related to the cult of Ilah among the Thamudeans.

The Arabs on the Eve of Islam. In the 7th century of our era, Thamud had disappeared, but the preaching of Muammad assumed faith in Ilah on the part of the Meccans, or rather faith in Allah (al-Ilah), the Creator of heaven and earth, the provider of fecundating rain and the savior from danger. When they were out in their boats they all prayed to Allah, but once back on land they "associated" other gods to him (Qurān, 29. 6165). To the mind of Ibn al-Kalbi, the principal god of the Qaba, the sanctuary of Mecca, was Hubal, an anthropomorphous idol who was consulted by means of arrows. The prophet first set up Allah in opposition to him and then substituted Allah for him, holding Allah to be the Lord of the Qaba, which had been founded by Abraham and his son Ishmael (Qurān, 96.3, and 2.121).

The Jewish colonies of Tema, Khaibar, and Medina, as well as the colony of San'a in South Arabia, and the Christian community of Najran on the borders of Yemen, had created a climate of opinion favorable to the anifs, or devout Arabs who were becoming aware of the impossibility of associating other gods to the supreme deity Ilah. Before the triumph of Muammad's efforts, there were certainly many idols on the peninsula. Ibn al-Kalbi enumerates 24; but most of these belonged to a particular ethnic group. In addition to Hubal, the Qoraish invoked al-Lat, al-Uzza and Manāt (Manawat), a triad that is likewise mentioned in the Qurān. The cult of the goddess 'Uzza persisted even after the coming of Islam, for the ritual of abjuration dating from the 9th century anathematized "worshippers of the Morning Star, i.e., Lucifer and Aphrodite, who is called Chabar in Arabic, i.e., the Great One." This ritual mentions also the great stone of the Ka'ba, "bearing a representation of Aphrodite." Is this betyl of 'Uzza the famous Black Stone of the Ka'ba, through which certain poorly Islamized Arabs continued to venerate Venus?

Cult. Pagan religion in ancient North Arabia had its own kind of idols and sanctuaries, its proper priests and rites, and its special funeral customs.

Betyls and Sanctuaries. The idols of the Arabs were often sacred stones, considered as abodes of the gods, whence the word betyl (bet-'el, "house of the god"). The idol of Atar-samain mentioned by Esarhaddon as having a golden star adorned with precious stones, the symbol of Venus-Ishtar (Pritchard ANET 301a), was probably a betyl. Several South Arabic texts describe 'Athtar as H : agar, i.e., stone. We know other betyls of the goddess, under the name of 'Uzza, Allat, or Kokabta (Star). The betyl of Dushara was "a black stone, quadrangular and aniconic, four feet high and two feet wide, resting on a gold base" (Suidas, s.v. "Theusares"). Philo of Byblos says that the betyls were "animates," and the Arabs did not escape the danger of litholatry. The people who lived on the banks of the Orontes river venerated a "Zeus-Betyl, ancestral god," and the North Syrians venerated "the ancestral gods Symbetylos and Leōn" (the associated gods Betyl and Lion). Another degradation of the divine was the worship of the "seat" of the deity, i.e., of the throne or base beneath the betyl, sometimes even when the betyl was not there. The Nabataean inscriptions introduce us to the god Motaba (seat). An analogous phenomenon was the deification of the altar. In North Syria, which was strongly Arabized, dedications to Zeus-Altar have been found; and the Nabataean stone pyres, which the inscriptions call masgida, might first have been betyl altars. Porphyry says likewise that the Arabs of Duma used their altars as if they were idols (De Abstinentia, 2.56). By extension, the word masgida designates the sanctuary and has been borrowed by Islam with this particular signification (mosque).

The cult of betyls did not exclude the cult of divine effigies. In Palmyra the sacred stones of the Arabs never supplanted cultural beliefs. And temples in the strict sense were not unknown in Arabia, especially in Palmyra, where the temples of Bel and of Beel-shemin are still standing. Within the cella of the temple of Bel two large cult niches face each other, both described by the name "Holy" in an inscription (cf. the Holy of Holies of the Temple of Jerusalem). The rear of the principal temple of Petra has three compartments, according to a plan well known in Syria; the central one was no doubt occupied by the betyl of Dushara described by Suidas. In the Nabataean region, there are also sanctuaries with small cellae, sometimes designated by the word rabata (square), which corresponds to the Arabic kaba, "cubic" chapel. The Black Stone, of volcanic origin, is immured in the Ka'ba of Mecca. Nabataean chapels were sometimes encased inside a second wall, with a stairway between the two. This is the plan of the Iranian fire temples. The ammana mentioned in certain Palmyrene and Nabataean dedications is perhaps a fire temple.

Priests and Rites. Priests were designated by various terms, such as the Aramaic kumra (in the Bible: priest of the idols); the Akkadian apkal, which signifies wise man in that language, but which in the Arabic cults alludes to a category of priests; or the Arabic kāhin, diviner. This last was used in Hebrew also, but to refer to Jewish priests. In the Assyrian era there were priestesses as well (kumirtu, apkalatu ). And even at the time of the birth of Islam, women could be guardians of the qobba (the betyl tent). Divination with arrows (Ez 21.21) played an important role, and Ibn al Kalbi mentions an idol who was consulted by means of three arrows: the imperative, the prohibitive, and the expectative. The Arabs had communion sacrifices (1 Sm 20.46), but the Palmyrenes had holocausts as well. The essential rite was the pouring of the victim's blood against the altar (Ex 24.6) or against the betyl. At Bora the god Ara was venerated, whose name signifies betyl "anointed" with blood. He was identified with Dushara. The sacrifice was followed by a sacred meal, in which the deity was supposed to take part. The existence of cult associations is attested to also by Nabataean inscriptions (the term is marzea, cf. Jer 16.5). The ceremony of sacrifice was often preceded by processions or, more precisely, by circumambulations: the one around the Ka'ba of Mecca is still observed, obviously with a new significance. There are no Arabic liturgical anthologies in existence, but the proto-Arabic graffiti give us ample information on what the nomads asked of their gods. Thus Lat was invoked for security, but also for vengeance. There is little evidence of prayers of thanksgiving except those that are found in the Palmyrene dedications to the unnamed god.

The Dead. The Arabs shared the Semitic belief in the survival of the nepeš (i.e., the vital principle), which, being deprived of its body, was thought to lead a very reduced existence. The stone or stele erected on the tomb was supposed to localize the presence of the deceased one; in funerary texts it too is called nepš, a term that was ultimately applied even to mausoleums. At Palmyra the nepš was often a tower with several stories of sepulchers. The funerary temples and the hypogea were equally common. Elsewhere, and in particular in Petra, the word nepš referred above all to the monument built of a square block of stone and surmounted with a pyramid. However, the majority of tombs in this city were hewn out of the rock, the façade being sculpted in the form of an edifice with merlons. The central room of these hypogea was sometimes used for the funeral banquet. According to a Hellenistic custom, the kings of the Nabataeans were divinized after their death. We know of a festival of Obodat the god. And on the Petra-Gaza route, the city of Eboda (modern Avdat) owed its name to the same Obodat I of the early 1st century, where the deceased king had his mausoleum (Stephen of Byzantium). We do not know how widely the Greek concept of the immortality of the soul had penetrated Arabia. Funerary paintings attest to such a belief in Palmyra, where a few inscriptions have been found that envisaged the survival of the soul in the Sun, in the Pythagorean manner. On the eve of the coming of Islam, Judaism and Christianity had made great inroads against Saracen paganism, certain tribes having even been converted to one or the other of these religions. But it is established that the Arabs in all epochs invoked Ilah (God), even when they associated idols with Him.

See Also: palmyra.

Bibliography: g. ryckmans, "Les Religions arabes préislamiques" in m. gorce and r. mortier, Histoire générale des religions, 4 v. (rev. ed. Paris 1960) 4:201228, 593605. j. starcky, "Palmyréniens, Nabatéens et Arabes du Nord avant lIslam," Histoire des religions, ed. m. brilliant and r. aigrain, 5 v. (Paris 195356) v.4. Dictionnaire de la Bible supplement, ed. l. pirot et al. (Paris 1928) 6:10881101; 7:9511016. r. dussaud, La Pénétration des Arabes en Syrie avant l'Islam (Paris 1955). h. lammens, LArabic occidentale avant l'Hégire (Beirut 1928). h. seyrig, Antiquités syriennes, ser. 15 (Paris 193458) offprints from Syria (193157). m. hÖfner, "Nordund Central-arabien," in Wörterbuch der Mythologie, ed. h. w. haussig (Stuttgart 1961) 1.1:407481.

[j. starcky]


South Arabic pre-Islamic religions are still in a rudimentary stage of investigation; no mythological or ritual text or important temple has been discovered, and the inscriptions that have been found need further study. Many interpretations offered by the Dane D. Nielsen, are definitive; others, though inaccurate, survive, viz, the identification of Il with the moon-god, the restriction of the South Arabic pantheon to the three astral deities, and the primacy of Aar in the pantheon (this last was maintained especially by J. Plessis).

Deities. The three great deities are the astral triad composed of the moon, Venus ('Aar ), and the sun. Only these had official cults in the several kingdoms.

The Moon-god. The most important of the three great deities is the moon-god. His name as the national god aries in each kingdom, and the populations call themselves his children: the children of Wadd (Minaeans), of Ilumquh (Sabaeans), and of Amm (Qatabanians). The moon-god is also the protective deity of the main cities, where his most important temples existed, and he is represented as the owner of Qataban and Saba. In Saba, his chief name is Ilumquh (Il is power), often qualified by ahwan [he who speaks (through his oracle)]; three other names allude to the phases of the moon. In adhramaut his principal name is Sin. In Maīn his national name is Wadd (love). In Qataban his principal designation is Amman or Ammum (uncle); the epithets rayan or rayum (he who grows) and rayan waśarum (he who grows and rises), as well as the two names Wara (month) and Rub' Šahr (the lunar quarter), refer to the phases of Wadd.

The Stellar God. The name of 'A[symbol omitted]ar seems best explained by the Arabic adjective 'attār (strong, brave, courageous); the name is often accompanied by the epithet 'izzān or 'izzum (strength). Other names of the stellar god mentioned in Sabaean texts are agar (stone), Mutibnaiyan (he who secures humidity), Nawraw (light), and Saar (dawn).

The Sun-Goddess. Unique in some ways is the sungoddess. Like Aar, she has a proper name, Šams, which is used in all the kingdoms, though sometimes treated as a dual, Šamsay, or plural, Ašams. Like the moon-god, she also has diverse names. These are ordinarily given in antithetic pairs and do not characterize the sun-goddess as a national deity. In Saba, the two antithetic names āt-imyām (she who darts forth her rays) and āt-Badān (she who is remote) refer respectively to the summer and winter sun. Other names are Samayhat (celestial), Tadūn (despised), and Tanūf (sublime). She is also described as Umm 'Aar (the mother of 'Aar ). In Qataban, she is called āt-ahrān (she who appears in her splendor) and āt-antim (she who fixes); a thard name, āt-Rabīn (she who is broad), is sometimes added. The main phases of the sun's course are given in the names Mašraqītān (she who rises), 'Airat (bright), and Marudāwu (she who declines). In Maīn, the most common name is Nakra. In adhramaut, her antithetic names are āt-usul (she who is rejected) and āt-imyām as in Saba. In a few cases in the inscriptions all three of the deities are mentioned together, under an aspect of kindness or strength.

Lesser Gods. Minor deities protect persons, clans, families, and places; they are often referred to under the titles 'l (god of ) and b'l (patron of ). We know of Warafu, the Qatabanian god of boundaries, and Muni, the god of irrigation. Other gods are named only by their attributes. Such in Maīn are D ū-Awdān (he who preserves), Madhuwāwū (he who brings calamity), and Muībqabt : (he who secures the harvest). In Saba there are Balw, a god connected with burial who is known also in Qataban; Bašīr (announcer of good tidings); Halīm (kind); Halfān (the oath); Yi taum (savior); Mutīgad (he who guards the house); Nasrum (eagle); Qaynān (artisan); Raīm (gentle); Rāat (frightening); and Talab (he who collects, that is, the clouds). Several North Arabic, Syrian (Rummān ), and Egyptian (Osarapis ) deities also appear. Four deified persons also known are the Sabaean Azizlat, Hawfil, and Yadasumhu, and the Awsanite king Yaduqil.

Divine Attributes and Activities. Attributes and activities of the deities are described in detail in theophonic names. The divinity in general ('il, god) is generous, jealous, large of stature, and handsome; he speaks, orders, helps, and rewards; he also overwhelms and lacerates. He is considered as father, brother, king, lord, savior, protector, and lover of justice. Individuals are called his sons, servants, friends, etc. Theophoric names related to the three principal deities describe these same relationships. Ilumquh is attested only once, in the name Amat'ilumquh (the maid-servant of Ilumquh ); it is usually replaced by Awwām, the name of the great moon temple near Mārib. Known inscriptions abound in data on the relations of the deities with one another, with men, and with things. Gods are sometimes represented as unequal and sometimes as equal to one another. Wadd orders sacrifices to be offered to 'Aar, who commands the Sabaeans to build a temple for Ilumquh. At times, offerings are presented to two different deities (e.g., Tadūn and Sin ), or to three (e.g., 'Aar, Nakra , and Wadd ), or to several (e.g., Amm, Dāt-Ra ān, and the deities of the clan Rawyān); similarly, temples and altars are built and sacrifices offered to several deities at once. The deities command their worshipers to undertake particular work and sometimes help them to accomplish it. The gods are invoked as witnesses, guarantee possessions, and are owners of land.

Cult. Places of worship are both public and private. The exteriors of five of the larger temples have been described by travelers. Excavations have been made in five less important temple in Yea, Ethiopia; at ureida and ōr Rōrī, both in adhramaut; at eid bin Aqīl, Qataban; and at ugga in Saba. At each site the three requirements for a temple were found: a cella with an altar, a reservoir or well with a drainage canal, and one additional room. The principal temples, such as Awwām in Mārib, doubtless were more complicated and included the md qnt (oratory for prostrations), the mśwd (place for burning incense), and the mtn/mlkn (ceremonial place of the king). In addition to these, there probably was at least another place where either the originals or copies of various juridical protocols were kept under the protection of a god. There was a great variety of altars for incense (mśwd and mqr ), libations (mslm ), burnt offeringrb ), and sacrifices (mbt ). Idols were doubtless used in the temples. The location of the idols in a temple is probably indicated by the inscriptions tbt/'l'ltn (the seat of the deities). Ceremonial utensils are probably indicated by the noun rf in a text from al-Amāyid at Mārib, and benches were discovered in the temple at ōr Rōrī

Temple Personnel. There were three classes of temple personnel: priests, superintendents, and assistants. The common noun for priest is ršw (fem. ršwt ). While the specific difference between ršw, šw, and 'fkl (a loan-word from Sumerian) is unknown, the śhr was probably a kind of priest-magician who gyrated around the altar or offering. The Qatabanian temple was administered by a group ('rby; sing. rby ) of which a priest might eventually become a member. They had charge of the temple and the gifts it received, whether in money or in kind. There were also regular revenues from estates and properties, first fruits of the harvest, and tithes on individuals and clans. Some persons were oblates for various reasons; they probably assisted the priests in the maintenance of the temple. There is no evidence of the existence of sacred prostitution; expressions such as "son of Wadd " and "firstborn of Amm and awkum," referring to an Awsanite king and a Qatabanian mukarrib respectively, are to be understood as metaphorical. The existence of private sanctuaries for household gods is indicated by expressions such as "his god," "his patron," and "the patron of their house." A sanctuary where incense was burned is represented as belonging to three courtiers of a Sabaean king.

Religious Customs. Private devotions included the use of a geometric symbol or of a symbolic animal along with an inscription, astral worship on the terraces of homes, and the cult rendered to the household gods. On the other hand, observances during pilgrimage were a part of the public cult. Religious solemnities are known only through ritual prescriptions for public worship: an ordinance prescribing purity for the feast of alfān, stipulations for offerings and ritual purity during pilgrimages, etc. Sexual relations were forbidden during certain periods of the year. Known texts do not establish the existence of a ritual hunt. Ablutions were required before entering the temple, and during ceremonies or acts of devotion it was forbidden to sit. For sacrificial banquets in the temple, however, when devotees partook of an animal victim cooked, as in Awwām, with "onions and stinking herbs," they sat on benches, sometimes before a statue representing a deceased associate. Offerings to the deities frequently were outright gift persons made slaves or oblates, temple buildings and their appurtenances, statues, animals, all kinds of incense and spices, libations, and other tangible objects.

The texts commemorating these offerings ordinarily specify the reasons for the ritual act, the petitions addressed to the deities, and the occasions for thanksgiving. Personal, public, military, and historical considerations were involved, and the material dealing with these makes up the most detailed section of the inscriptions. Several texts refer to faults and sanctions of an unknown nature. Other acts of expiation were performed to atone for transgressions or precepts imposed by a god, violations of regulations on sexual purity, and violations of a god's property or of the immunity of the temple and of the documents it contained. Consultation of the deities doubtless took many forms. Only a few of them are known, among which are dice (mrb, pl. mrbt ) and sorcery (rqt ). The divine answer was immediate in the first case. In the second, however, the divinity had to make his decision known in some way; the texts speak of oracles (msl ), dreams (lm ), and omens (ry and hryt ). The wearing of amulets was a common practice; many of them were inscribed with the magic formula "Waddum is father." Incantations (rb ) were probably connected with the hunt, and there are indications of bewitching through an image ( ). The invocation 'ynm/n'm concerns the "good eye"; however, šy, which is commonly translated "evil eye," means "wickedness." Geometric and quasi-alphabetic forms in rock carvings are most probably emblems of clans, caravans, or individuals.

The astral character of the three main divinities must be seen as connected with the importance of the stars to communities whose wealth depended to a large extent on the caravan trade. Moreover, the rigors of the climate helped to produce an acute sense of helplessness and an anxiety for divine aid. The great diversity of deities matches a complexity of needs, and the frequency of recourse to the gods shows the people's desire to involve the divinity in every aspect of their lives; yet their devotion is strongly characterized by materialistic egocentricity.

Incipient Monotheism. None of the inscriptions tells us about the beginnings of monotheism in South Arabia; the so-called "Sabaean era," mentioned only in monotheistic texts, began roughly about 110 b.c. The texts with the monotheistic name of God number about 20 and date from the 4th or 5th centuries a.d. Their vocabulary, phraseology, and contents do not in any way differ from those of the polytheistic texts. In some inscriptions the use of a symbol and two monograms intimately connected with the moon-god suggests that the authors of these monotheistic texts indulged in syncretism. The one God is called lhn (the God), mr' (Lord), or more often rmnn (the Merciful); and His name is normally followed by the epithet b'l/smyn or smyn/w'rn [Patron of heaven (and of earth)]. One expression is certainly Jewis rmn/bsmyn // w'/lhhmw/rbyd [the Merciful, He (who is) in heaven and their God, master of Judah]; two others are Christian: rhmnn/wmshw/wrqds (the Merciful and His Messiah and the Holy Spirit) and rmnn/wbnhw/ krśtś/[symbol omitted]bln (the Merciful and His Son Christ the Victorious).

Bibliography: a. jamme, "Le Panthéon sud-arabe préislamique d'après sources épigraphiques," Muséon 60 (1947) 57147; "La Religion sud-arabe pré-islamique," Histoire des religions, ed. m. brillant and r. aigrain, 5 v. (Paris 195356) 4:239307. d. nielsen, "Zur altarabischen Religion," Handbuch der altarabischen Altertumskunde (Copenhagen 1927) 1:177250. g. ryckmans, "Les Religions arabes préislamiques," Histoire générale des religions, v.2 (Paris 1960) 200228, 593605.

[a. j. jamme]


Arabia here is taken to include the Arabian peninsula and, to the north of it, the desert and sown land adjacent to the territories of Rome and Persia. The period studied runs from the 1st to the 7th Christian century. Sources of evidence include lists of bishops at Church councils and inscriptions and writings in Greek, Syriac, Arabic, and South Arabic.

Northwest. The origins of Christianity in the northwest sector of this area are obscure. Among its bearers may have been "Arabs" of Pentecost (Acts 2.11) and Jewish Christians of Pella. Christian development here can be followed only partially. In the 3d century mention must be made of Origen, who intervened so fruitfully; of Philip the Arab, the officially pagan and privately Christian roman emperor; and of the martyrs of Philadelphia. Church organization in the region was marked by many small sees. The change from the patriarchate of Antioch to that of Jerusalem was evidenced at Chalcedon (451). It is interesting to note that, in the mounting conflict with the Monophysites, the Chalcedonians seemed to have clung to the churches of the small towns and villages. Arab phylarchs emerged from legend in the 4th century, but the first Ghassanid phylarch belonged to the early 6th century. Al-ārith ibn Jabala (528569), the second of this line, was something of a pious Monophysite Constantine. The picture of this late Arab Christianity includes the traits of monastic zeal and austerity; of rulers at times polygamous, who protected the Church, visited shrines, and yet projected through the pagan Arabic poetry the image of the pleasant life of wine, flowers, music, and women. The vigorous persecution of the Monophysites by the Melkites and the imperial distrust and treachery have their part in explaining the warm reception given by these Arab Christians to their Muslim brothers.

Northeast. Christian origins in the northeast sector also are poorly known. At Pentecost "Parthians, and Medes, and Elamites, and inhabitants of Mesopotamia" (Acts 2.9) were present. Toward the middle of the 3d century there were Christians in Hatra, and toward the end of the century Roman Christian captives in Babylonia. īra, the Lakhmid capital and a settled Arab town, was the earliest but not the only see among the Christian Arabs of this territory. Other sees lay north along the Euphrates and south along the western shore of the Persian Gulf. Even in īra not all the Arabs were Christian. The bishops of the Arab sees had their part in cutting the Persian Church off from Antioch (424) and orienting it into the path of Nestorianism (486). In the 6th century, Monophysites from the Roman zone were active and initiated the continuing Monophysite-Nestorian conflict. Lakhmid phylarchs, like their Ghassanid counterparts, emerge from legend in the 4th century. Of the 15 Lakhmid rulers, one was married to a Christian; two may have been Christian; one, al-Numān, the last of the line (d. 602), became a Christian. The quality of his Christianity, however, has to be appreciated in the light of his polygamy, his marriage to his stepmother, and his imprisonment and execution of the Christian to whom he owed his throne. īra was the principal center of the wine trade and naturally an inspiration of Bacchic poetry. The Christians of īra and al-Anbār (to the north on the Euphrates), through their Syriac alphabet, shared in creating the Arabic alphabet (early 6th century). The Arab Christians of this zone exercised a religious influence through the work of certain pagan and Christian poets. The extent of that influence is felt to have been reduced by the fact that Syriac, not Arabic, was their religious language, and also by a certain weakness in their Christian life.

Southwest. In the southwest or imyarite sector the rulers were polytheistic pagans until the late 4th century. Monotheistic terms, particularly al-ramān (the merciful), then began to be found in inscriptions. Far though this region was from Persia and Byzantium, both these empires sought to dominate it. Christianity came from Alexandria and directly from the emperor. The account of Christian origins mentions the names of SS. Bartholomew and Pantaenus. There was an Arian mission in the mid-4th century. A more influential mission was sent under Emperor Anastasius (491518). It resulted in conversions and the ordination of a bishop. There were churches at Taphar, Aden, and Najrān. In 523, probably after an Abyssinian conquest and more conversions, Christianity was felt to wear the appearance of something protected by foreigners. A persecution followed under MasruhŪ nuwĀs (Dunaan of the Roman Martyrology), a member of the old ruling family and a Jew by religion. After the persecution the Abyssinians returned. Abraha, a governor of the Abyssinian viceroy, revolted and achieved independence. Under his reign the number of priests dwindled while he vainly insisted that the Emperor Justinian should send a Monophysite bishop to ordain more. Abraha's expedition in the late 6th century against the Hijaz (al-ijāz) may have been due to rivalry between his church at San'ā' and the Ka'ba of Mecca or to the desire to move against Persophile Jews in the Hijaz.

The Hijaz. In speaking of Christians in the Hijaz one must limit the term to mean Mecca, Taymā', Khaibar, al-āif, and Medina. The existing evidence refers to the time just before or during the lifetime of Muammad. The Hijaz had not been touched by Christian preaching. Hence organization of a Christian church was neither to be expected nor found. What Christians resided there were principally individuals from other countries who retained some Christianity. Such were African (mainly Coptic) slaves; trades people who came to the fairs from Syria, from Yemen, and from among the Christian Arabs under the Ghassanids or Lakhmids; Abyssinian mercenary soldiers; and miscellaneous others whose Christianity was evidenced only by their names. The few native Christians whose names have come down to us furnish us with more questions than answers. This Christianity had the marks that go with want of organization. It lacked instruction and fervor. It is therefore not surprising that it offered no opposition to Islam. Finally it is to be borne in mind that it was the Christianity in Arabia, here briefly sketched, that projected the image of Christianity seen in the Qurān.

Bibliography: r. aigrain, Dictionnaire d'histoire et de géographie ecclésiastiques, ed. a. baudrillart et al. (Paris 1912) 3:11581339, with detailed bibliog.; scholars still find the essentials on this subject in this masterly study. j. assfalg, Lexikon für Theologie und Kirche, ed. j. hofer and k. rahner (Freiburg 195765) 1:788789. p. goubert, Byzance avant l'Islam, 2 v. (Paris 195155) v.1. g. rentz, Encyclopedia of Islam, ed. b. lewis et al. (Leiden 1954) 1:533556. s. smith, "Events in Arabia in the 6th Century A.D.," Bulletin of the School of Oriental and African Studies 16 (1954) 425468; facing 426, detailed and helpful map. j. ryckmans, La Persécution des chrétiens himyarites au sixième siècle (Istanbul 1956).

[j. a. devenny]


views updated May 29 2018


ARABIA , the Arabian Peninsula. Arabia attained a high level of civilization and culture continuing from antiquity until the rise of Islam in the seventh century c.e. In its southwestern part several developed states existed (see *Ḥimyar); the northern part however was inhabited by a variety of peoples who, whenever circumstances were favorable, raided the countries of the Fertile Crescent – Ereẓ Israel, Syria, and Mesopotamia. There is a theory that northern Arabia was the cradle of the Semitic peoples. The peninsula declined when the majority of the inhabitants left to take part in the great Arab conquest following the rise of Islam in the seventh century. Only Mecca, the birthplace of *Muhammad the Prophet of Islam and the place from where he spread his teachings, maintained its special position – one of the five fundamental duties of the Muslim faith is a pilgrimage to Mecca at least once in a lifetime. *Medina, to which Muhammad fled in 622 and where he was buried in 632, also acquired the status of a holy place. In the 20th century, geopolitical and economic factors restored to the peninsula its historical importance.

The Bible deals extensively with the Arabian Peninsula and its inhabitants. There are lengthy accounts of family ties, relations in war and peace, and trade between the Israelites and the various tribes of the Arabian steppe and the inhabitants of the Red Sea ports, beginning with the era of the patriarchs. In genealogical lists of the sons of Joktan (Gen. 10:26–29), the sons of Abraham (25:1–5) and Ishmael (25:13–16), Esau-Edom (36:11–12), in biblical stories (i Kings 9:26–28; 10:1–13, the stories of the *Queen of Sheba), and in Job 2:11, the names of nomadic tribes, countries, and settlements can be identified, which local sources (inscriptions) and external sources (Assyrian, Babylonian, and Greek) show existed at that time in both the north and south of the peninsula. The relations between the Jews and the Arabs are reflected in the literature of the Second Temple period and the Talmuds. At that time most of the Jews lived in Babylonia, largely in the vicinity of the Arab country of the Lakhmites in northeastern Arabia. Owing to prevailing circumstances many of the Jewish inhabitants of Ereẓ Israel were transferred to wilderness areas in the Negev and in Transjordan, ruled by the *Nabateans and near-Bedouin Arabs.

Any survey of the history of the Jews in the Arabian Peninsula must take into account the great geophysical, anthropological, sociological, and political differences which have always existed between the north – called from the early Muslim period Ḥijāz *(Hejaz), and the southwest – known in the late pre-Islamic period as Ḥimyar and since then as *Yemen.

These differences also made their mark on the history of the Jewish communities, and the regional division between north and south is a valid factor in a survey of Jewish history in the peninsula. The north (which for simplicity's sake will be called Ḥijāz) must therefore be discussed separately from the south.

The Jews in Ḥijāz

Arabic historical literature and commentaries (which were written much later) contain many legends about the settlement of the Israelites and the Jews in Ḥijāz. One story dates this settlement as early as Moses' war against the Amalekites (Ex. 17:8–16), while another relates that King David fought against the idol worshipers in Yathrib (Medina). It is related that after the destruction of the First Temple, 80,000 priests who were saved made their way to Arabia and joined those who had settled there previously. Some inscriptions of Nabonidus, king of Babylon (555–539 b.c.e.) – several of which were discovered in 1956 – in which he described the establishment of his capital in Taymāʾ (552–542) from where he conducted his campaigns as far as Yathrib, combined with Nabonidus' Prayer (discovered among the Qumran (Dead Sea) Scrolls) and in which he mentions a Jewish priest and visionary from the Babylonian Diaspora who accompanied him, suggest that some of the Babylonian Jewish exiles settled with him in Taymāʾ and in Ḥijāz. Charles C. *Torrey (The Jewish Foundation of Islam (1933), 10, 17–18) thinks that even before that time Jewish traders began to settle in the oases of Ḥijāz. However, definite confirmation of Jewish settlement here appears only with the advent of people who had distinctly Jewish names or were designated as Jews in Aramaic, Nabatean, and Liḥyān inscriptions beginning from the first century b.c.e. or c.e. These tomb inscriptions or grafitti were found for the most part in al-ʿUlā (formerly Dīdān: Dedan), Madāʾin Ṣāliḥ(al-Ḥijr), and their environs. Most interesting is the inscription published in 1968: "This was dedicated by ʿAdnōn bar [son of] Ḥani bar Samawʾal resh Ḥijra to his wife Mūnā [the daughter of] ʿAmrū bar Samawʾal resh Taymāʾ, who died in the month of Av 251 [355/56 c.e.] at the age of 38." This Nabatean inscription appears to be the latest dated of those discovered so far. Among the finds at al-Ḥijr there is a sundial with the inscription, "Menashā bar Nathan Shelam." This may have been the name of the craftsman who set up the sundial, or possibly that of the astronomer. The names in these inscriptions are worthy of attention. Among them are the purely biblical Manasseh, Nathan, Zadok, Samuel, Simeon, and Shalom, but several names have changed under the influence of Aramaic (or Arabic?) into forms like Isḥaq and Ismāʿīl (b. Zadok). There are also pre-classical Arabic names such as Shabīt(o), Ha-Yehudi ("The Jew"), Yaḥ'yā (b. Simeon), and Naʿīm (b. Isḥaq). Though there are only a few of these inscriptions, they reveal a great deal about Jewish life in Ḥijāz.

When Aelius Gallus set out to conquer Yemen in 25 b.c.e. and was delayed in al-Ḥijr, Jews were living there. The task of the auxiliary Jewish contingent sent by Herod as part of this expedition was to act as a link between the Roman army and the Jewish communities in Arabia. Apparently, al-Ḥijr was then an important center and therefore was known in Ereẓ Israel and Babylonia. The Talmud mentions al-Ḥijra a number of times; although there were several places of this name, some of these references undoubtedly mean al-Ḥijr in Ḥijāz (e.g., Anan b. Ḥiyya of Ḥijra; Yev. 116a).

At the end of the fourth century the history of the Jews in Ḥimyar intersects with that of the Jews of Yathrib. According to Arab traditions, Abkarib Asʿad (c. 385–420) embarked on widespread conquests. After Ḥimyar had rid itself of Ethiopian domination during his father's reign, Abkarib conquered Ḥijāz among other places, and laid siege to Yathrib (known as Medina after Muhammad settled there). However, under rabbinical influence he became converted to Judaism. He returned to his country with two sages and began to spread Judaism there. Historians tend to accept these traditions as authentic in the main, but doubts have been aroused by certain Liḥyān inscriptions containing allusions to Jewish scholars and therefore suggesting that a Jewish or proselyte kingdom existed at that time in Ḥijāz.

The names and works of Jewish poets who lived in Arabia a generation before Muhammad and in his day have been preserved in classical Arabic poetry. The most famous of them is *Samuel b. Adiya, called the king of Taymāʾ. Other poets are mentioned in connection with events in Medina. Jewish tribes had lived for generations in this important area. Arab historians mention about 20 tribes who lived in the region, among them the well-known Banu-Naḍīr and Banu Qurayẓa who were called al-Kāhinān, i.e., "Two Tribes of Priests," and the Banu Qaynuqāʿ. Many Jews also lived in Khaybar and in other oases of Wadi al-Qurā ("Valley of the Villages"), such as al-ʿUlā (Dīdān), Madāʾin Ṣāliḥ, al-Ḥijr, Fadak, the Transjordanian plains of Adhruḥ, Jarba, Edrei, and the port of Maqnā on the Gulf of Eilat. Apparently, Jewish refugees from south Arabia also settled in the environs of Ṭāʾif after the war of *Yūsuf Dhū Nuwās. The reports from Medina attracted many Arab tribes who settled in this area, in particular two tribes from south Arabia, Banu al-Aws and Banu Khazraj, who from the start were vassals of the Jewish tribes. In the early seventh century they became stronger and the Jews were compelled to seek their protection. This situation is reflected in the pact which Muhammad made with the al-muhājirūn ("the emigrants": his first Meccan followers who migrated with him from Mecca to Medina in 622), the Banu al-Aws, Banu Khazraj, and Jewish tribes, and also with his "helpers" (anṣār), i.e., those men in Medina who supported him on his arrival.

Muhammad's hopes of converting the Jews of Medina to Islam were disappointed, and at the end of his second year in Medina relations between them began to deteriorate. One after another, Muhammad expelled the Banu al-Aws, Banu Qaynuqāʿ, and the Banu Naḍīr tribes, and had the males of the Banu Qurayẓa put to death. The lands of these tribes were distributed among the muhājirūn, thus solving the problem of their livelihood. After the oases of Medina had been acquired by the Muslims, Muhammad was ready to compromise with the Jews living in northern Ḥijāz – Khaybar, Fadak, Taymāʾ, and the other Jewish settlements – and all surrendered to him. The settlers were obliged by contract to set aside a sizeable portion of their agricultural yield or produce for Muhammad and his colleagues. In practice they remained tenants on their lands. These contracts later served as a model for other agreements negotiated with residents of conquered territories who surrendered willingly to the Arabs (see *Kharāj and Jizya).

During the rule of Omar ibn al-Khaṭṭāb (634–44) the conditions of the inhabitants of Ḥijāz took a turn for the worse. At that time, Muhammad's hitherto-unknown will was suddenly discovered, and stated "there must not be two religions in Ḥijāz." On the basis of this spurious will all Jews and Christians were allegedly expelled from the Ḥijāz. But as attested by Arab authors and in the Genizah sources, many Jews in fact lived in Wadi al-Qurā, Taymāʾ, and other regions in the 10th and 11th centuries. From the 12th century, concrete information about them disappears and from that time Jews are found only in *Yemen. Like its beginnings, the end of Ḥijāz Jewry is shrouded in legend. Travelers such as *Benjamin of Tudela (12th century); David *Reuveni (early 16th century); the Italian, Ludovico di Varthema (early 16th century), who was converted to Islam and therefore allowed to visit Ḥijāz, and others, have much to tell about the tribes of Israel, and especially the people of Khaybar still inhabiting the Arabian Desert, who were skilled in warfare and courageous. Izhak *Ben-Zvi, the second president of the State of Israel, devoted considerable time to tracing these stories and investigating the kernel of truth they contain.

South Arabia

The history of the Jews in south Arabia from the pre-Islamic period, including isolated information on the Islamic period which in time and source material is related to the history of Ḥijāz, is surveyed below. Because of its essentially different nature, the history from the 12th century to the present day is covered in the article on *Yemen. Various legends, resembling those on the origin of Ḥijāz Jewry, circulated about the beginnings of Jewish settlement in south Arabia. Bible stories of the Queen of Sheba and the ships of Ophir served as a basis for legends about the Israelites traveling in the Queen of Sheba's entourage when she returned to her country to bring up her child by Solomon. Large groups arrived before the destruction of the First Temple and others came afterward. Since the Jews of Yemen ignored Ezra's call to immigrate to Ereẓ Israel, he cursed them; they repaid him by refusing to name their sons Ezra. It may be assumed that Jews reached south Arabia at the latest during the reigns of Ḥimyar, i.e., in the first century b.c.e., some for reasons of trade, others with the legions of Aelius Gallus (25 b.c.e.). Although incontrovertible evidence exists from the early fourth century c.e. at the latest, it serves as a definite proof of the existence of Jewish communities in south Yemen for many decades and even centuries beforehand.

The excavations in 1936 of the central cemetery in *Bet Sheʿarim (near Haifa) of Jews from Ereẓ Israel and the Diaspora from the amoraic period, revealed a series of graves of "the people of Ḥimyar." According to a Greek inscription in one of the chambers, Ḥimyar was the name of south Arabia in the classical world of that time. In another room a Ḥimyarite monogram was drawn, reading: "Menahem the Ḥimyarite Qawl" (classical Ar. Qayl), "the head of a south Arabian tribe." In the same room, the Greek inscription Menaē presbyteros (i.e., "Menahem, elder of the community,") was discovered. Whether bodies buried in the Ḥimyarite graves in Bet Sheʿarim were brought from south Arabia or from one of the settlements established by these Jews in northern Arabia, Transjordan, or the Negev is of secondary importance from the point of view of the antiquity of the Jewish community in south Arabia. In any case it is clear that they originated from south Arabia: there is no reason to conjecture that immediately after their arrival in south Arabia the Jews began to wander north to establish settlements. It may be assumed that their settlement there preceded the dates on the graves in Bet Sheʿarim by at least one to two hundred years.

According to Philostorgios, the fourth-century author of a history of the Christian church, the Byzantine emperor Constantine sent Theophilus to south Arabia in the middle of the fourth century to bring Christianity to its inhabitants. Theophilus built two churches, one in Ẓafār and one in Aden, but he did not succeed in converting either the Ḥimyarites or their king. The Jews in the country then conducted propaganda against the Christian missionaries. Theodor Lector states that Christianity gained no converts in Ḥimyar until as late as the reign of the Byzantine emperor Anastasius (491–518), and in fact the majority of the monotheistic inscriptions discovered in Ḥimyar attest to Jewish influence; and only two or three of the latest ones, the work of Ethiopian-Christians (Copts), are of a Christian type. Several of the monotheistic inscriptions were placed there by the kings of Ḥimyar and hence it was concluded that they were converts to Judaism. In other inscriptions the following phrase figures: "The Raḥmān ["Merciful One"] who is in the heavens, and Israel and their God, the lord of Judah." One of the tombstone inscriptions includes the characteristically Jewish name Meir (cis, vol. 4, no. 543).

The last independent king of Ḥimyar, Yūsuf Musuf Asʿar – known by his epithet Dhu Nuwās – was converted to Judaism and waged a prolonged war against his Ethiopian enemies. The Christian communities in Ẓafār and Najrān acted as an Ethiopian fifth column; when Dhu Nuwās was defeated and fell in battle in 525, the country came under Ethiopian rule. At first a native Christian viceroy was appointed, but later a viceroy was sent from Ethiopia. The Jewish community suffered hardship until the Persian conquest of south Arabia in 575. The Jews then prospered and were able to maintain contact with their brethren in Babylonia. In 628 Ḥimyar turned Muslim. In one of his letters to Yemen, Muhammad warned that it is forbidden to force a Jew or a Christian to accept Islam. The spurious will of Muhammad partly enforced in Ḥijāz by the caliph Omar ibn al-Khaṭṭāb (see above) did not include the Jews of Yemen although it severely affected the Christians in Najrān. However, it seems that at that time many of the converts to Judaism of south Arabian origin accepted Islam, and apparently more than a few Jews who were descendants of the exiles. Noteworthy among the converts to Islam are *Kaʿb al-Aḥbār, a contemporary of Omar, and later *Wahb ibn Munabbih.

From Omar's reign on, south Arabian Jewry was not mentioned for several hundred years. Neither Jews nor Christians were permitted to live in Ḥijāz until the discovery of oil in Saudi Arabia in the 20th century. At that time the prohibition against Christians employed in the oil fields was lifted, though it remained in force for Jews.

[Haïm Z'ew Hirschberg]

Modern Period

In 1948, about 54,000 Jews lived in hundreds of small communities in the southern Arabian Peninsula, most of them in Yemen. There were also communities in the British colony of Aden, the Aden Protectorate (including Hadramaut), *Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, and Kuwait. In 1949, 154 Jews gathered in the Najran area in southern Saudi Arabia, near the Yemeni border, and moved to Israel within a year. Kuwait's Jewish population of several dozen was expelled in 1948 and Jews were prohibited to enter the country. In 1968 there were a few hundred Jews left in the entire peninsula area. For Jewish settlements in other areas of Arabia, see by name of area; for relations with Israel, see *Saudi Arabia.

[Hayyim J. Cohen]


A. Grohmann, Kulturgeschichte des Alten Orients, Arabien (1963), in the series Handbuch der Altertumswissenschaft; R. Dozy, Die Israeliten zu Mekka von Davids Zeit… (1864); C.J. Gadd, in: Anatolian Studies, 8 (1958), 77–88; A. Jaussen et al., Mission archéologique en Arabie, 1 (1909), 118 ff.; 2 (1914), 231 ff., 428 ff.; J.W. Hirschberg, Der Dīwān des as-Samauʾal ibn ʿĀdijā (1931); idem, Yisrael be-Arav (1946); Ben Zvi, in: Eretz Israel, 6 (1960), 130–48; idem, The Exiled and the Redeemed (1958), 167–208; Ryckmans, in: Miscellanea A. de Meyer (1946), 194–205; idem, in: Le Muséon, 66 (1953), 319–42, ry 507–8; idem, in: Hebrew and Semitic Studies… G.R. Driver (1963), 151–2; W. Caskel, Entdeckungen in Arabien (1954), 14–26; F. Altheim and R. Stiehl, Die Araber in der alten Welt, 4 (1967), 306–17; 5 pt. 1 (1968), 305–9; J.A. Montgomery, Arabia and the Bible (19692).


views updated May 18 2018

Arabia a peninsula of SW Asia, largely desert, lying between the Red Sea and the Persian Gulf and bounded on the north by Jordan and Iraq, which is the original homeland of the Arabs and the historic centre of Islam; in literary use, it may be referred to as a rich and distant eastern land (Araby is an archaic variant of the name).
Arabian bird a phoenix, a unique specimen; the phrase comes originally from Shakespeare's Antony and Cleopatra (1606–7).
The Arabian Nights a collection of stories and romances written in Arabic. The king of Samarkand has killed all his wives after one night's marriage until he marries Scheherazade, who saves her life by entertaining him with stories. The stories include the tales of Aladdin and Sinbad the Sailor. The collection is also known as The Thousand and One Nights.


views updated Jun 27 2018

Arabia Peninsular region of sw Asia bordered by the Persian Gulf (e), the Arabian Sea (s), the Syrian Desert (n), and the Red Sea (w). The original homeland of the Arabs, it is the world's largest peninsula, consisting largely of a plateau of crystalline rock. It is mostly desert, including the vast, barren Rub al-Khali (Empty Quarter) in the s and the An Nafud in the n. Muslims unified Arabia in the 7th century, and Ottoman Turks dominated it after 1517. In 1916, Hussein ibn Ali led a successful revolt against the Turks and founded an independent state in the Hejaz region, but he was subsequently defeated by the Saud family, who founded Saudi Arabia in 1925. After World War II independent Arab states emerged, many of them exploiting the peninsula's vast reserves of oil. Area: c.2.6 million sq km (1 million sq mi).