Sabeans

SABEANS (să-bē'ănz, Heb. sevā’îm). The name Seba is mentioned in Gen.10.7 and 1Chr.1.9 as a son of Cush. In Isa.43.3 the name is coupled with Ethiopia, and in Ps.72.10 with Sheba. In Isa.45.14 God says to Israel, “The products of Egypt and the merchandise of Cush, and those tall Sabeans—they will come over to you and will be yours.” “Sabeans...brought from the desert” are referred to in Ezek.23.42. Saba was situated between the Nile and the Atbara. It is a region about 400 miles (667 km.) long and 200 miles (333 km.) broad and was known to the Hebrews as Cush. Strabo says a harbor named Saba was on the west coast of the Red Sea. Josephus identifies the Sabeans with the people of Saba in Upper Egypt, which he says Moses besieged and captured when in the service of the Egyptians. Another Sabean race, mentioned in Gen.10.28 and Gen.25.3, was located in Arabia. They built a unique civilization and great empire. The queen of Sheba, who made a visit of state to the court of Solomon, came from there.


SABEANS sə bē’ ənz (סָבָאִ֖ים; LXX Σαβαειμ, meaning uncertain; the RSV uses drunkards [Ezek 23:42], and the root shebhā connotes raiding, cf. Job 1:15). They were a people of Sem. origin, descended from Sheba (Gen 25:3), and residing in SW Arabia in the area presently known as Yemen and Hadhramaut.

Their position at the S end of the Arabian peninsula was of twofold advantage: (1) they were remote from the powers to the N, and so relatively secure; and (2) they were centrally located with respect to merchandising goods from nearby Africa and India. These included gold, incense, gem stones, prob. ivory, etc. (Ps 72:15; Isa 60:6; Jer 6:20; Ezek 27:22, 38:13), giving rise to a great caravan industry (cf. Job 6:19). Evidently trading in slaves was also carried on (Joel 3:8; cf. Job 1:15). Fertile land and an extensive irrigation system, illustrated by the dam and sluices seen at Marib, made the country fairly self-sustaining.

Its history is extensive, including not only the Biblical references, but also a very extensive pre-Islamic tradition, and Assyrian cuneiform inscrs. mentioning Sabaean kings as givers of tribute, dating as early as 715 b.c. The Samaritan ostraca list contributions of oil and wine sent by the Sabeans to Jeroboam in the first part of the 8th cent. From the 3rd cent. b.c. there appear references to these people in the works of historians and geographers, and in some Syriac and Ethiopic religious texts. Other data from archeological and linguistic sources indicate that the Sabean state began in N Arabia, with a movement toward, and settlement of, the southern part of the country during the middle of the 2nd millennium b.c. By the 12th cent. they appear to be well established there, with a strong capital at Marib, and in the 10th cent. their queen journeyed to Jerusalem to visit Solomon (1 Kings 10:1-13; 2 Chron 9:1-12), prob. to confer with him concerning his probable infringement of the Sabean trading hegemony. By the 3rd cent. a.d., S Arabia had been consolidated into a strong state which continued until the rise of Islam.

Bibliography

W. F. Albright, “The Excavation of the Temple of the Moon at Mârib (Yemen),” BASOR, 128 (1952), 25-38; G. Van Beek, “Recovering the Ancient Civilization of Arabia,” BA, XV (1952), 1-18; J. Bright, A History of Israel (1959), 194 n.; J. Finegan, Light From the Ancient Past (1959), 186.