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Headquartered in what is today Yemen, Himyar had conquered neighboring states, including the ancient kingdom of Sheba (whose legendary queen features in a biblical meeting with Solomon).In a recent article titled “What kind of Judaism in Arabia?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.It is unclear how much of the population converted, but what is sure is that in the Himyarite capital of Zafar (south of Sana’a), references to pagan gods largely disappear from royal inscriptions and texts on public buildings, and are replaced by writings that refer to a single deity.
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.
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.
In 2014, the French-Saudi expedition at Bir Hima discovered an inscription recording Yusuf’s passage there after the Najran massacre as he marched north with 12,000 men into the Arabian desert to reclaim the rest of his kingdom.
After that, we lose track of him, but Christian chroniclers recorded that around 525 the Ethiopians caught up with the rebel leader and defeated him.” 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.