UBC Community, Partners, and Alumni Publications

Najran Grasso, Valentina A.


South Arabia was unified under the kingdom of Ḥimyar around 275 CE, after subjugating the nearby kingdoms of Saba’ and Ḥaḍramawt. The king of Ḥimyar Malkīkarib Yuha’min (reigned from about 375 to 400) converted to monotheism around 380. Two religious communities are in South Arabia during the fourth and fifth centuries. A local Jewish community influenced the ruling elites, which adopted a cautious form of monotheism which could be defined as “Jewish sympathizing”. In addition to the presence of several Hebrew and Aramiac loanwords in Ḥimyarite inscriptions, two Hebrew inscriptions have been found in South Arabia and a group of epitaphs found outside South Arabia has been attributed to Jewish Himryarite emigrants. The Ḥimyarite kings’ choice to adopt a monotheism inspired by Judaism potentially had political implications, distancing Ḥimyar from Christian political entities, such as Rome, Aksūm, and the surrounding federations of Arabia. Two centuries after the unification, Christianity spread in South Arabia from Najrān, an oasis located at the intersection of the trade route between South Arabia and North-Western Arabia. While one literary account attributes the spread of Christianity in Najrān to a priest by the name of ʾAzqir, active at the time of king Shurihḅʾīl Yakkuf (ca. 468–80), others attributes it to a trader named Ḥannān or Ḥayyān who had converted at Ḥīrah, in modern Iraq. Another literary account attributes the Himyarite’s conversion to Christianity to the preachings of the ascetics Paul and John. This hagiography was probably the basis of the narrative by the Yemeni Wahb ibn Munabbih (d. 728/32) reported by the Muslim historians Ibn Isḥāq and al-Ṭabarī. Both authors claim that two Christians, named Faymiyūn and Ṣālih, were sold as enslaved people in Najrān, where people venerate palm trees. When Faymiyūn proved the truthfulness of the Christian God, the oasis converted to Christianity. Around 523, the Jews of Ḥimyar, sponsored by the king, and the rising community of Christians of South Arabia entered into conflict when the Jewish South Arabian king by the name of Joseph killed the Christian population of Najrān. Kāleb, the Christian king of Aksūm (located between north Ethiopia and south Eritrea) led an expedition to South Arabia and killed Joseph in 525. Thereafter, a Christian kingdom was established in the region until its fall in 575. Kaleb is regarded as a defender of the Miaphysite faction and a saint for the universal church. The kingdom of South Arabia collapsed in the second half of the sixth century.

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