Now, I now there has always been a strong Jewish presence in Arabia. The fact that Mohammed tried first to convert the Jews with Jerusalem as the First Qibla and then, despairing, eventually slaughtered thousands, I knew. The kingdom of Mar Zutra II I knew. I had a faint recall of the Himyar Kingdom from college.
But this article has opened up another avenue of perception, for example,
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 jahilliyah – ignorance – lawlessness, illiteracy and barbaric pagan cults...Reexamination of works by Muslim and Christian chroniclers in recent years, as well as finds like the one in Saudi Arabia, are producing a much more elaborate picture, leading scholars to rediscover the rich and complex history of the region before the rise of Islam.
One of the key, but often forgotten, players in Arabia at the time was the kingdom of Himyar.
Established around the 2nd century CE, by the 4th century it had become a regional power. 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?” 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.
Until 300 AD, southern Arabia had many kingdoms and principalities of very variable size...The creation of ever larger political entities remains a trend, which is observed from the beginning of the South Arabian civilization in the eighth century BC Saba'impose its supremacy for two centuries (seventh to sixth century) then it was the turn of Qataban, but neither one nor the other of these realms conquers all of southern Arabia. The first to succeed, in the late third century AD, is Himyar. Now all southern Arabia has the same sovereign, uses the same language - at least in the inscriptions - and shares some institutions, such as the calendar. In order to deepen its hold, the Himyarite dynasty religiously endeavors to unify the country. Monotheism is in the air. The choice of Christianity have the disadvantage of involving a liability to Byzantium. Himyar The kings therefore make the choice of Judaism, convert but do not make the official religion.
And further history:
[as] reported in The Martyrdom of Saint Arethas and his companions in the city of Najran (Asian Journal - 1873). The Martyrdom tells of a Jewish king took power in Yemen. Because of winter - a time of strong winds in the Red Sea - the Ethiopians were not able to react. The Jewish king then laid siege to Najran, large oasis where Christians dominate. The town surrendered after having the assurance that the people would be spared. The king did not keep his word and force Christians to convert to Judaism; those who refuse are executed. Several hundred faithful perish during this persecution, dated fall 523.
Of course, the Christian world can not stand idly by. Religious leaders of the Byzantine Empire and the Emperor himself ask the Christian king of Ethiopia, Kaleb, organize the response. Kaleb gathers seventy ships and, after Pentecost 525, through the Red Sea. Ethiopian fleet arrives at the entrance to the harbor of Shaykh Sa'id, barred by a chain, while a storm arises. While part of the fleet breaks the chain, the rest with the king, is rejected and further north arrives - he seems - to al-Makha '(Moca), site of the decisive battle. Kaleb outweighs the Jewish king is defeated and executed; then he seized all of Yemen, imposed Christianity, founded churches everywhere, creates an ecclesiastical hierarchy and retires in Ethiopia where he became a monk...
... he growing outside pressures ultimately took their toll on Himyar. Sometime around the year 500, it fell to Christian invaders from the Ethiopian kingdom of Aksum.
In a last bid for independence, in 522, a Jewish Himyarite leader, Yusuf As'ar Yath'ar, rebelled against the puppet ruler enthroned by the negus and put the Aksumite garrison to the sword. He then besieged Najran, which had refused to provide him with troops, and massacred part of its Christian population – a martyrdom that sparked outrage amongst Yusuf’s enemies and hastened retribution from Ethiopia.
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.
According to different traditions, the last Jewish king of Arabia was either killed in battle, or committed suicide by riding with his horse into the Red Sea.
(If you read French, here's a book and also a monograph)
The point I'd like to make need recall Saeb Erekat's 2014 statement
“I am the son of Jericho. I am 10,000 years old … I am the proud son of the Netufians and the Canaanites. I’ve been there for 5,500 years before Joshua Bin Nun came and burned my hometown Jericho. I’m not going to change my narrative,”
The credulousness of that claim is non-existent.
But more importantly, we now know, through inscriptions and texts
that included Hebrew writing
and not just handed-down traditions, that Jews were the forefathers of Arabian political development:
For fifty years, archaeological research provides confirmations [through] the discovery of dozens of inscriptions and graffites in Yemen and Saudi Arabia [that] showed that Judaism was rooted in northwestern Saudi from the first centuries of the Christian era and was dominant in Yemen from the fourth century. Christianity, which had many followers in the islands of the Arabo-Persian Gulf and the coasts, has not spread to Yemen belatedly in some peripheral regions. Now, more than about the extent of Judaization that need be asked, but rather on the nature of Judaism that spread in Arabia from the second century.
It appears Erekat has a new narrative challenge to face.