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In 2014, researchers from a French-Saudi expedition studying rock inscriptions in southern Saudi Arabia announced they had discovered what could be the oldest texts written in the Arabic alphabet.But they did so very quietly, perhaps because the context of the texts is something of an embarrassment to some.
Using mostly the local Sabean language (and in some rare cases Hebrew), this god is alternatively described as .“The inscriptions of Hima reveal a strong movement of cultural unification of the Arabs, from the Euphrates to Najran, which manifested itself by the use of the same writing.” Joseph the rebel The growing outside pressures ultimately took their toll on Himyar.Sometime around the year 500, it fell to Christian invaders from the Ethiopian kingdom of Aksum.The dozen or so engravings had been carved into the soft sandstone of the mountain passes around Bir Hima – a site about 100 kilometers north of the city of Najran, which over millennia has been plastered with thousands of inscriptions by passing travelers and officials.Conveniently, at least two of the early Arabic petroglyphs that were discovered cited dates in an ancient calendar, and expert epigraphists quickly calculated that the oldest one corresponded to the year 469 or 470 CE.In the middle of the sixth century, one of its rulers, Abraha, marched through Bir Hima, leaving on the stones a depiction of the African elephant that led his mighty army. Some scholars, like the 19th century Jewish-French orientalist Joseph Halevy, refused to believe that a Jewish king could persecute and massacre his Christian subjects, and dismissed the Himyarites as belonging to one of the many sects in which Christianity was divided in its early days.
A later inscription, dated 552 and found in central Arabia, records the many locations he conquered, including Yathrib, the desert oasis that just 70 years later would become known as Madinat al-Nabi (the City of the Prophet) – or, more simply, Medina. One big question that remains about the Jews of Himyar is what kind of Judaism they practiced. Robin, the French epigraphist, writes in his article that the official religion of Himyar may be described as “Judeo-monotheism” – “a minimalist variety of Judaism” that followed some of the religion’s basic principles.
Further consternation may have arisen when realizing that these texts are not only the legacy of a once-numerous Christian community, but are also linked to the story of an ancient Jewish kingdom that once ruled over much of what is today Yemen and Saudi Arabia. Christians in the desert While the Koran and later Muslim tradition make no bones about the presence of Jewish and Christian communities across the peninsula in Mohammed’s day, the general picture that is painted of pre-Islamic Arabia is one of chaos and anarchy.
The region is described as being dominated by The decades immediately before the start of the Islamic calendar (marked by Mohammed’s “hijra” – migration – from Mecca to Medina in 622 CE) were marked by a weakening of societies and centralized states in Europe and the Middle East, partly due to a plague pandemic and the incessant warfare between the Byzantine and Persian empires.
According to Christian chroniclers, around 470 (the date of the Thawban inscription), the Christians of the nearby city of Najran suffered a wave of persecution by the Himyarites.
The French experts suspect that Thawban and his fellow Christians may have been martyred.
” Christian Robin, a French epigraphist and historian who also leads the expedition at Bir Hima, says most scholars now agree that, around 380 CE, the elites of the kingdom of Himyar converted to some form of Judaism.