King (c. 523–c. 525) of pre-Islamic South Arabia, known especially for his ferocious persecution of the Christians. In the Arabic chronicles he is known generally under the name of Zur‘at ben Tibbān As‘ad; in the Syriac sources (The Book of the Ḥimyarites ), under that of Dhū-Nuwās Masruḳ. His real name, however, as the South-Arabic epigraphical sources testify, was Yūsuf ‘As'ar Yat‘ar. According to the Syriac sources he had been indoctrinated in Judaism by his mother, who was from Nisibis in Syria, and he reigned after the death of his father. The Arabic writers state, on the contrary, that he was converted to Judaism and that he deposed King Lahay'a ben Yanūf. Actually, according to the contemporary epigraphical sources, he succeeded King Ma‘adīkarib Ya’fur c. 522 to 523, and from the beginning his reign was marked by an irreconcilable antipathy toward Christians, caused perhaps by the hostile attitude of the Christian negus (king) of Ethiopia and his disastrous attempt to invade Yemen from motives of religious zeal.
Be that as it may, as soon as Dhū-Nuwās gained the royal power the persecution of the Christians spread throughout the region of the Ḥimyarites (a people of South Arabia). Moreover, Dhū-Nuwās enticed al-Mundhir, the king of Ḥira (in North Arabia), who was then engaged in war against the Byzantines in the Syrian Desert, to follow his example and exterminate all the Christians who would not deny Christ. Dhū-Nuwās's bloody persecution of the Christians had begun in Ẓafar, where he burned down the church that had still belonged to the Ethiopians. But soon he turned his fury against the Christians of the tribe of al-‘Aš‘ar, and finally he attacked Mukhā. In these quasi wars of extermination he slew 14,000 people and took 11,000 prisoners. Before long (November 523) he sent his forces against the Christians of Nağrān.
The actions of Dhū-Nuwās aroused the Byzantine Emperor justinian i (518–527), who urged the negus of Ethiopia to intervene once more. So the Negus ’Ellā ‘Asbeha (known also as Kālēb) again invaded Yemen (525), this time with a strong fleet and an army of 120,000 warriors. According to the Syriac sources Dhū-Nuwās was assassinated and succeeded on the throne of Ḥimyar by the Christian King Abramos (whose real name, according to the epigraphical sources, was ‘Abraha). But the fall of Dhū-Nuwās was perhaps due, at least in part, to deep dissensions within the ranks of his followers and to the treachery of some of them. In fact, the epigraphical sources place, between the end of Dhū-Nuwās's reign and the beginning of ‘Abraha's (c. 530), the short reign of the Christian King Sumyafa' 'Ašwa', who has been identified as one of the early followers of Dhū-Nuwās.
Bibliography: a. moberg, The Book of the Himyarites (Lund 1921). j. ryckmans, La Persécution des chrétiens himyarites au sixième siècle (Istanbul 1956); Le Christianisme en Arabie du Sud préislamique (Rome 1964) 413–453. h. st. j. b. philby, The Background of Islam (Alexandria 1947). m. r. al-assouad, Encyclopedia of Islam, ed. b. lewis et al. (2d ed. Leiden 1954–) s.v. Dhū Nūwas 1:985. r. geis, Lexikon für Theologie und Kirche, ed. j. hofer and k. rahner (2d, new ed. Freiburg 1957–65) 3:317. a. jamme, Research on Sabaean Rock Inscriptions from Southwestern Saudi Arabia (Washington 1965) 28–39.
[j. m. sola-sole]