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Ḥimyar

ḤIMYAR

ḤIMYAR, the name of a large tribe in S. Arabia which settled in the mountains south of *Ḥabbān. The name Ḥimyar is found in Greek secular and Church literature in the form ʾΟμηρῖται (also Ιμμιρηνοί), as well as in the *Bet She'arim inscriptions on the series of graves of Jews from *Arabia. The tribe succeeded in expanding its territory of settlement by defeating the inhabitants of neighboring territories, the south Arabian kingdoms, and in stabilizing the last independent south Arabian kingdom before the rise of Islam. There is evidence to support the opinion that the beginning of the Ḥimyarite Era (115 b.c.e., according to most scholars, although there are some who set it a year or two earlier or later, i.e., 117–113 b.c.e.) also designates the beginning of the kingdom of Ḥimyar. In official inscriptions engraved in stone the kings of Ḥimyar preserved the historic titles of the preceding dynasties, each addition to a title designating an additional conquest and the expansion of sovereignty over new territories. The title "king of Sabaʾ, Dhū Raydān, Ḥaḍramawt [Hadhramaut] and Yamanāt and of their Arabians [Bedouins] in the mountains and in the Tihāma [the plains]" (540 cih, from the year 564 Him., i.e., 449 c.e., engraved by King Sharaḥbʾil Yaʿfur in commemoration of the repair of the Ma'rib Dam, was aimed at emphasizing both the geographic expansion of the Ḥimyarite rule in south Arabia and his historic continuation of the kingdoms which preceded him, after wars lasting hundreds of years. In fact, during the time of Shamir Yuharʿish (305–315) all of south Arabia was under the control of the Ḥimyarites. Later, however, the Abyssinian kingdom on the other side of the Red Sea, which was a dangerous enemy of the Ḥimyarites – especially after Abyssinia accepted Christianity at the time of Constantine the Great (c. 327) – regained its power. After a few years the Abyssinians infiltrated south Arabia, and a Christian mission began to operate among the Ḥimyarites in the middle of the century. Philostorgios, a church scribe who recounts this, admits that Christian propaganda in Ḥimyar was received with great opposition on the part of the Jews. This is the first indication in literature of the existence of Jews in south Arabia. It is reasonable to assume, however, that Jews had lived in this area for hundreds of years previously, and that at least part of the Jewish brigade sent by King Herod with Aelius Gallus (25 b.c.e.) to south Yemen settled in this country (see *Arabia). The attempts by the Christian Abyssinians to conquer Ḥimyar opened the eyes of its inhabitants to the dangers threatening the independence of their land from the Christians, and drew them closer to Judaism and Jewish ideas, which posed no political threats. It is related that the king Ab Karib Asʿad (385–420), who was well known for expanding the borders of Ḥimyar, converted to Judaism. This is the background for the normal Jewish-Arab relations in the south. To a great extent this also explains the activity of the king *Yūsuf ʾAsʾar Yathʾar Dhū Nuwās (Masrūq) in the sixth century. During the following period many south Arabians converted to Judaism. The fourth–fifth centuries c.e. saw the beginning of the national and cultural decline of Ḥimyar-south Arabia. The major reason for this may be seen in the socioeconomic changes which occurred during the decline of the Roman Empire as a result of the victory of Christianity. The decline of interterritorial trade led to the neglect of agriculture and the irrigation of lands, the erosion of dams, reservoirs, and watersheds with resultant floods, etc., and a series of disasters which brought about the wanderings of south Arabian tribes and their settlement in north Arabia. Some of them, the Aws and the Khazraj, settled in the vicinity of *Medina (Yathrib), in the Jewish sections. The decline of south Arabia was caused by a combination of political factors (the Abyssinian conquest), economic factors (the decline of trade with lands of the Roman Empire), and cultural factors (the social schisms between Christians, converts to Judaism, and adherents of traditional gods). The Byzantine conquest, 525–75, was a very difficult period for the country, while the period of Persian rule, 575–630, was also not easy. Nevertheless, with the advent of *Islam the general level of south Arabia was still incomparably higher than that of the *Hejaz.

bibliography:

H.Z. Hirschberg, Yisrael ba-Arav (1946), 50–72; J. Ryckmans, L'Institution monarchique en Arabie méridionale avant l'Islam (1951); H. von Wissmann and M. Hoefner, Beitraege zur historischen Geographie des vorislamischen Suedarabien (1953), index, esp. 116–21; A. Grohmann, Arabien (1963), 27–31; F. Altheim and R. Stiehl (eds.), Araber in der alten Welt, 4 (1967), 306–18; 5 pt. 1 (1968), 373–84.

[Haïm Z'ew Hirschberg]

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