ARABIAN, ARABIANS, ARABS (עֲרַב, H6851, עַרְבִ֨ים; ̓Άραβες). In the Bible, Arabians refers to the nomads who live in the deserts of Arabia, esp. in the northwestern part. They are also known by the general term “people of the East” (
History of the Arabs in relation to the Bible.
In the time of the patriarchs—Arabian tribes.
The Arabs first appear in the Bible in the
The earliest Biblical incident involving Israelites and Arabs is the selling of Joseph by his brothers to Arab merchants, who took him to Egypt and sold him there (
In the time of Moses—the Midianites.
Moses, after killing an Egyp., fled to Midian, an area and a tribe in NW Arabia, and stayed there many years (
At Rephidim, Jethro came to visit Moses and acknowledged: “Yahweh is greater than all the gods” (
Hobab, the son of Reuel, finally consented to accompany the Israelites to guide them through the wilderness (
In the time of Gideon—Midianite raids.
The Midianites, with Amalekites and “people of the East” (that is, people of the Arab country E of Pal.), made raids in Israel with camels (
During the United—Sheba.
Both Saul (
In the 10th cent. b.c. the S Arabian kingdom of Saba, Biblical Sheba, controlled the trade between Arabia and the countries of the eastern Mediterranean. The Sabean trading caravans carried not only the spices of Arabia but also products of Africa and India. The capital of Sheba was Mar’ib.
Since Pal. was a natural northern terminus for the Sabeans’ trade, Solomon had important commercial relations with Arabia. From Eziongeber he sent out fleets to Ophir, perhaps in S Arabia. These trading vessels returned with gold, almug wood, and precious stones (
During the kingdoms of Judah and Israel—Kedar.
Conquests of N Arabian tribes by the Assyrians is implied in
During the period of the divided kingdoms of Israel and Judah, Kedar was the dominant Arab tribe in N Arabia (
Persian Period—Kedar, Mineans, Qataban, Hadramaut.
According to Xenophon’s Cyropaedia, VII. 4. 16, Cyrus, king of Persia, subdued the Arabs, and there were Arab soldiers in Cyrus’s army which took Babylon in 539 b.c. (VII. 5. 13; cf.
In the time of Nehemiah, Geshem the Arabian tried to prevent the Jews from rebuilding the walls of Jerusalem (
During the Pers. period the economic and political dominance of Saba (Biblical Sheba) in S Arabia came to an end, and other kingdoms rose to power and controlled the spice trade. About 400 b.c. the Mineans, perhaps the Biblical Meunim, were dominant in S Arabia. Their capital was Qarnaw, now called Ma’īn. Another kingdom in S Arabia was Qataban, whose capital was Timna’. The kingdom of Hadramaut, corresponding to Hazarmaveth in
Fifth century B.C. to first century A.D.—Nabateans.
The Nabateans were the dominant tribe in northwestern Arabia from the 4th cent. b.c. until the 1st cent. a.d.
Arabs helped in the defense of Gaza against Alexander (Arrian II. 25. 4). Alexander went on to subdue Arabia, that is the NW portion (Livy XLV. 9). According to Polybius V. 71, Arabs helped b.c. (cf.
The Nabateans frequently clashed with the later Maccabean rulers of the Jewish state. About 90 b.c. the Nabatean king Obedas I defeated Alexander Janneus at Gadara in Gilead when the latter was trying to conquer Arab territory (Jos. Antiq. XIII. xiii. 5). Under Aretas III (87-62 b.c.) the Nabatean kingdom reached its greatest extent. He forced Alexander Janneus to give him Moab and Gilead (XIII. xiv. 2), took over Damascus (XIII, xv, 2), and intervened in Jewish affairs, supporting Hyrcanus II as the Jewish ruler against the latter’s brother, Aristobulus II (XIV, i. 4; XIV. ii. 1-3). The Nabateans opposed the Rom. intervention in Pal. under Pompey, and a Rom. general, Scaurus, blockaded Aretas in Petra until he paid money to the Romans (XIV. v. 1). In 31 b.c. Herod the Great fought battles against the Arabs and finally defeated them (XV. v.).
During much of NT times Aretas IV (9 b.c.-a.d. 40) was the Nabatean king. Herod Antipas married the daughter of this Aretas, but divorced her to marry Herodias (XVIII. v. 1;
During the second half of the 1st cent. a.d., the Romans gradually took over the areas that had been controlled by the Nabateans. The Romans forced Malichus II, the Nabatean king (a.d. 40-70), to give up control of Damascus. Malichus also was obliged to contribute Arab soldiers to help the Romans in suppressing the Jewish revolt in a.d. 67 (Jos. War III. vii. 9).
Arab culture and the Bible.
The Arabs speak Sem. languages, as indicated by their descent from Shem (
The Arabs, called “the people of the E” in
Recent excavations have uncovered impressive monuments illustrating the material culture of S Arabia. Noteworthy are the great temple of the Sabean moon-god Ilumquh at Marib, large dams and canals for irrigation, statues in stone and bronze and jewelry. On the stone monuments of S Arabia are carved thousands of memorial, historical, and religious inscrs.
The Nabateans carved spectacular tombs and temples in Greco-Rom. style from the colored sandstone at Petra. Some of their pottery was remarkably thin and beautifully painted. Their inscrs. are found on rocks in many parts of NW Arabia.
Ancient Arab religion.
The general Arabian word for god was il (like Heb. El) or ilah (like Heb. Eloah), but the ancient Arabians were polytheists. One of their most important deities was the moon-god called Ilumquh by the Sabeans, Wadd by the Mineans, ’Amm by the Qatabanians and Sin by the Hadramautians. The moon-god’s consort was the sungoddess Shamsi, and their son was ’Athtar, the morning star. The gods of Adumatu (Biblical Dumah) in the 7th cent. b.c. as noted by the Assyrians were: Atarsamaim, Dai, Nuhai, Ruldaiu, Abrillu, and Atarquruma. Atarsamaim is perhaps the same Arabian goddess called Alilat (“the goddess”) by Herodotus (I. 131), and hanilat (also meaning “the goddess”) in a 5th cent. Kedarite inscr. According to the Babylonian Talmud (Taanith, 5b), the Kedarites also worshiped water. This may refer to the veneration of sacred wells, such as Zamzam at Mecca. Deities of the Nabateans included: Dushara, the supreme god; Allat, the mother goddess; Hadad, the storm-god; Atargatis, the fish-goddess; and Gad, the god of luck. Gods in Safaitic inscrs. include: Dushara, Allāt, Gad-’Awidh, and Ba’alsamīn. Pagan Arab gods mentioned in the Qur’ān are: al-Lāt, al-’Uzza, and Manāh, considered as three daughters of Allah, the supreme god (53:19,
Some of the religious practices of the ancient Arabians were similar to those of the Hebrews. Both people practiced circumcision and pilgrimage. The Arab priest (kāhin), like the Heb. kōhēn, not only performed sacrifices, but also used the sacred lots (cf. Heb.
D. H. Müller, “Arabia,” Pauly’s Realencyclopädie der klassischen Altertumswissenschaft, N.B., III (1895), cols. 244-259; al-Tabari, Ta’rīkh al-rusul w-al-mulūk (1879-1901); J. A. Montgomery, Arabia and the Bible (1934); G. Caton-Thompson, The Tombs and Moon Temple of Hureidha (Hadhramaut) (1944); W. F. Albright, “The Chronology of Ancient South Arabia in the Light of Excavation in Qataban,” BASOR, 119 (1950), 5-15; G. Ryckmans, Les religions arabes préislamiques (1951); G. W. Van Beek, “Recovering the Ancient Civilization of Arabia,” BA, XV (1952), 2-18; W. F. Albright, “Dedan,” Beiträge sur historischen Theologie, XVI (1953), 1-12; Jawad ’Ali, Ta’rīkh al-’arab qabl al-islām, I-III (1950-1953); C. Rathgens, Sabeica I (1953); O. Eissfeldt, “Das Alte Testament im Lichte der Safatenischen Inschriften,” Zeitschrift der Deutschen Morgenländischen Gesellschaft, CIV (1954), 88-118; F. M. Cross, “Geshem the Arabian,” BA, XVIII (1955), 46, 47; A. L. Oppenheim, “Babylonian and Assyrian Historical Texts,” ANET (1955), 263-317; W. Phillips, Qataban and Sheba (1955); J. Starcky, “The Nabataeans: A Historical Sketch,” BA, XVIII (1955), 84-106; G. Ryckmans, “L’Arabie antique et la Bible,” L’Ancien Testament et l’orient (1957), 89-109; R. L. Bowen, F. P. Albright, Archaeological Discoveries in South Arabia, II (1958); S. Moscati, Ancient Semitic Civilizations (1960), 181-219; J. Pirenne, Le royaume sud-arabe de Qataban et sa datation (1961); G. W. Van Beek, “South Arabian History and Archaeology,” The Bible and the Ancient Near East (1961), 229-248; A. Jamme, Sabaean Inscriptions from Mahram Bilqīs (Mārib) (1962); R. L. Cleveland, An Ancient Arabian Necropolis, Objects from the Second Campaign (1951) in the Timna’ Cemetery (1965); N. Glueck, Deities and Dolphins: The Story of the Nabataeans (1965); B. Abd al-Malik, J. A. Thompson, “Arabia,” The Biblical World (1966), 45-50; R. deVaux, “Sur l’origine kénite ou madianite du Yahvisme,” Eretz-Israel, IX (1969), 28-32; P. K. Hitti, History of the Arabs, 10th ed. (1970).