Tuesday, August 20, 2013

When There Were Jewish Arabs

In a book review on a period known as the Red Sea Wars, what did I find?


[those wars] in the sixth and seventh centuries quickly took on the explosive quality of religious wars. The kingdom of Axum (the future African Zion of Ethiopia) became Christian in around 340. A century later, “suddenly, remarkably, and inexplicably” the kingdom of Himyar* adopted Judaism.

Judaism?  A Jewish Kingdom?  Like in Khazar?

The bitter fighting between the two powers became holy wars that pitted Christians against Jews. Each side was as brutal as the other. The memory of this spasm of holy violence was still vivid in the Hijaz in which Muhammad was born in around 570. In this way, “the tumultuous events in sixth-century Arabia may reasonably be called the crucible of Islam.” And so Bowersock’s excursion to the apparent fringes of the ancient world leads back to the ground zero of the detonation that created the Islamic world of medieval and modern times.

Okay, Judaism preceded Islam, not only in the Land of Israel but in the Hijaz shorelines.

...the short-lived Sassanian conquest of the Middle East did not leave the former provinces of East Rome desolate. When their armies arrived (in the early 630s) the Arabs “did not find a shattered civilization and a ruined economy.” In fact, they walked into a world as complex and as wealthy as it had ever been, “with its rich traditions of Judaism, Christianity, paganism, and Hellenism.”...Bowersock shows that the earliest Greek accounts of the Muslim occupation of Jerusalem, in 638, implied that the Muslims appeared to have come as friends rather than as foes. They portrayed the Muslim leader, Umar, as having entered the Holy City, in all sincerity, in the humble dress of a pilgrim anxious to worship at the holy places of fellow monotheists.

But is it also responsible for forming an aggressive, violent religious/national movement?  Our fault?

Not really:-

...the balance of learned opinion is that the early Muslims were both conquerors and good listeners. They were proud to have been conquerors. They had watched a Middle East where the collision between East Rome and the Sassanian Empire to their north and the bitter Red Sea Wars to their south made plain that God showed his favor on entire kingdoms by granting them victory over their enemies. Their own stunning success confirmed (in a language that all seventh-century persons could understand) that theirs was a religion “victorious over all religions.” But victory was not enough. Muslims needed to be reassured.


On the kingdom:

southwestern part of Arabia, known in antiquity as Himyar and corresponding today approximately with Yemen, the local population converted to Judaism at some point in the late fourth century, and by about 425 a Jewish kingdom had already taken shape. For just over a century after that, its kings ruled, with one brief interruption, over a religious state that was explicitly dedicated to the observance of Judaism and the persecu­tion of its Christ­ian population... the Jewish Arabs of Himyar.


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