Najran, Martyrs of

views updated


Fifth-and sixth-century Christians put to death in South Arabia. St. Arethas and his companions were martyred in Najran, a town in northern yemen and a center of South Arabian Christianity. Before 520 the South Arabian Prince dhŪ nuwĀs masruk: (Dunaan), a convert to Judaism, revolted against the Aksumite Ethiopians who ruled the Arabs and Jews of Yemen. He seized the capital, Zafar, massacred the garrison and clergy, and turned the church into a synagogue. In 523 (or late 524) he blockaded Najran, but impatient of a long siege, he offered an amnesty in return for capitulation. Despite the warnings of the aged Prince Arethas, the people agreed. Dhū Nuwās pillaged the Christians, exhumed and burned the corpse of Bishop Paul, set fire to the church, cast 427 priests and deacons, monks and consecrated virgins into a furnace at the bottom of a ravine, decapitated Arethas

and 200 (or 340) others among the chiefs and nobility, and massacred more than 4,000 of the common people who refused to declare that "Christ is a man and not a God." The atrocities were halted when the Aksumite king Elesbaan and his army defeated the forces of Dhū Nuwās and annihilated the power of the Yemenite Jews; unfortunately he used barbaric cruelty in the process. Though the Najran martyrs were undoubtedly Christians, it is not clear to what extent they may have unwittingly been Monophysites.

Feast: Oct. 24 (Roman martyrology).

Bibliography: Bibliotheca hagiographica orientalis (Brussels 1910) 99106. Acta Sanctorum Oct. 10:661762, 919920. j. pÉrier, Dictionnaire d'histoire et de géographie ecclésiastiques, ed. a. baudrillart et al. (Paris 1912) 3:165053, brief critical appraisal of the sources. j. ryckmans, La Persécution des chrétiens himyarites au sixième siècle (Istanbul 1956).

[w. j. burghardt]