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Jews and Jewish-Sympathizers in South Arabia Grasso, Valentina A.


Between 275 and 300, the South Arabian kingdom of Ḥimyar managed to subjugate the nearby kingdoms of Saba’ and Ḥaḍramawt, and unified the southern part of the Arabian Peninsula. The language of the ancient and renowned kingdom of Sabaʾ was chosen as the official language of the kingdom. All inscriptions dated after the fourth century are classified as Ḥimyarite. In order to further culturally unify their subjects, the king of Ḥimyar Malkīkarib Yuha’min (reigned from about 375 to 400) converted to monotheism around 380. According to the fifth-century Ecclesiastical History by Philostorgius (d. ca. 439), a Christian religious mission of Theophilus the Indian (d. 364) took place in South Arabia after the kingdom’s unification. However, we do not possess any source other than Philostorgius claiming that “Theophilus persuaded the king to become Christian” in the fourth century. Two religious communities are in South Arabia during the fourth and fifth centuries. The local Jews influenced the ruling elites, which adopted a cautious form of monotheism which could be defined as “Jewish sympathizing”. In some respects, the god invoked by the South Arabian kings and princes resembles the ‘High God’ venerated in the Graeco-Roman world and in buffer-state regions such as the already mentioned Palmyra. Ḥimyar’s becoming monotheistic was a more gradual process than previously thought, a conclusion supported by the religious vocabulary employed in the monumental epigraphic corpus. The Ḥimyarite monotheistic inscriptions of the time contain three different titles to indicate a supreme monotheistic deity. The most common ones are: ’ln (“God,” also spelled ’lhn, ’lh, or ’’lhn), B‘l/Mr’ S1myn (“Lord of the Heaven,” sometimes “of Earth” is added), and Rhṃ nn (“Merciful”). Although these theonyms possess blurred connotations, around ten Ḥimyarite inscriptions point to the presence of Jews in late antique South Arabia. Some inscriptions mention “the People of Israel” (s2‘bn Ys3r’l), the Jews (Hd/Hwd/Yhd) or the formula “Owner of the Sky God of Israel” (B‘(l) S1myn ’lh Ys3r[’l]). We also possess an edict granting the construction of a Jewish cemetery. There are many Hebrew and Aramiac loanwords in these Ḥimyarite inscriptions. In addition to two Hebrew inscriptions have been found in South Arabia, a group of epitaphs found outside South Arabia can be also attributed to Jewish Himryarite emigrants. The Ḥimyarite kings’ choice to adopt a monotheism inspired by Judaism potentially had political implications, distancing Ḥimyar from Rome, Aksūm, and the surrounding federations of Arabia.

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