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T h e B ib le C a m e f r o m A ra b ia

Kamal Salibi was born in Beirut in 1929. He studied in Beirut


and London and is currently professor of history at the
American University of Beirut. He has had many articles
published, including a series on Lebanese history in medieval
and modern times, and among the books he has written are
The Modern History of Lebanon, Crossroads to Civil War and A
History of Arabia.

Kamal Salibi

THE BIBLE CAME


FROM ARABIA

Pan B ooks
in association with Jonathan Cape

First published in Great Britain 1 9 8 5 by


Jonathan Cape Ltd
This edition published 1 9 8 7 by Pan Books Ltd,
Cavaye Place, London sw io 9 PG
in association w ith Jonathan Cape Ltd
9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 1

by Spiegel Verlag, H am burg


English language 1985 by Kamal Salibi

1985

is b n o 3 3 0 2 9 5 1 9 5

Printed and bound in Great Britain by


C ox & W ym an Ltd, Reading
This book is sold subject to the condition that it
shall not, by w ay o f trade or otherwise, be lent, re-sold,
hired out or otherwise circulated w ithout the publishers prior
consent in any form o f binding or cover other than that in which
it is published and w ithout a similar condition including this
condition being imposed on the subsequent purchaser

CONTENTS

K ey to H ebrew and A rabic transliteration


C onsonantal transform ations
Preface
s
Introduction
1 T h e Jew ish w o rld o f antiquity
2 A question o f m ethod
3 T h e land o f A sir
4 T h e search for G erar
5 N on-findings in Palestine
6 Starting fro m T eh o m
7 T h e Jo rd an question
8 A rabian Judah
9 Jerusalem and the C ity o f D avid
10 Israel and Samaria
11 T he itinerary o f the Sheshonk expedition
12 M elchizedek: clues to a pantheon
13 T h e H ebrew s o f the Asir w oods
14 T h e A rabian Philistines
15 T h e Prom ised Land
16 A visit to Eden
17 Songs from the Jizan m ountains
Epilogue
A ppendix: O n o m astic evidence relating to the tw elve
tribes o f Israel in W est Arabia
N otes
Index

xi
xiii
xv
1

7
27
38

47
63
76
83
97
110

124

133
143
151

157
166
173

180
189
191
197
217

MAPS .
1
2
3
4
5
6
7
8
9
Io
II

T he N ear East in antiquity


Palestine at the tim e o f the O ld T estam ent
Asir: physical characteristics
Asir: adm inistrative areas (provinces and
districts), 1978
P rim ary routes and centres o f population
Gerar in Palestine
Gerar(s) in Asir
T he J o rd a n and E den and its G arden
T he itinerary o f Sheshonk I - in Palestine
T he itinerary o f Sheshonk I ~ in Asir
T he Prom ised Land

10
13
39
41
45
48
61
84
134
138
167

KEY TO HEBREW
AND ARABIC
TRANSLITERATION

Note: Biblical H ebrew has a form al consonantal alphabet o f


tw e n ty -tw o letters, including the sem i-vow els w (l) and y
(>). C onsidering that one consonant, the s (), is taken to stand
either for the s (tf), pronounced as the English sh, or the s
(ip), the total n u m b er o f recognised letters w ould therefore
be tw enty-three. N o one know s h o w Biblical H ebrew was
vocalised, its traditional vow elling being probably based on
A ramaic. Even the original phonetic value (or variant values)
o f som e o f the H ebrew consonants, including the tw o semi
vow els, is uncertain.
Classical Arabic has a form al consonantal alphabet o f
tw en ty-eight letters, w hich also features the tw o sem i-vow els
w (i) and y(<J). In addition, there is the silent Arabic t (w ritten tj
as distinct from o , the ordinary t). This letter is recognised as
the equivalent o f the h (5), featuring exclusively as a fem inine
singular suffix. T here is also the y, pronounced as the vow el a
(w ritten j ) , w hich again features exclusively as a fem inine
suffix. T he phonetic value o f the Classical Arabic consonants
and sem i-vow els is know n; so are the variant phonetic values
o f the same consonants and sem i-vow els in the living form s o f
dialectical Arabic, against w hich the Classical vocalisation can
be checked.

Xll

Hebrew

K
3
J
*7
n

Technical
transliteration

Common alternative
transliteration
(Arabic only)

9-

(glottal stop)

b
g (Arabic g )

(omitted at begin
ning o f words)
b

Arabic

T
n

3
C

Jp

1/3

II
J
r

'f

D/a

1/3

y
1/3
r/x
?
V
n

sJ

J
J
J 1

wr
o
o
c
3
Jp
e:

h
w
z
h (voiceless pharyngeal frica
tive)
t (t as in toy)
y
k
l
m
n
s (as in see)
(voiced pharyngeal fricative)
p (Arabic p, pronounced as an
s (s as in saw)
q (voiceless uvular stop)
r
s (sh as in sheep)
s (as in see)
t (as in tea)
t (th as in thaw)
h (voiceless uvular fricative)
d (th as in them)
z (voiced alveolar fricative)
d (voiced alveolar stop)
g (voiced uvular fricative)

j
d
h
w
z
h
t
y
k
i

m
n
s

f
s
q
r
sh
s
t
th
kh
dh
dh
dh
gh

* N o rm ally transliterated for Arabic as f, but transliterated in this book as p to m ake


it m ore readily com parable to the H ebrew p.
Note: In the traditional vocalisation o f the H ebrew alphabet, the t, k, d and g, w hen
preceded by vowels, are pronounced like the Arabic t, h, d and g.

xiii

CONSONANTAL
TRANSFORMATIONS
Hebrew

Arabic

(glottal stop)
g
d
h (as feminine suffix)
w
z
h
t
y
k
m
n
s
(voiced pharyngeal fricative)
s
p
q
S
s
t

w; y
g; q
d; z; sometimes z; d; rarely t
t (normally silent)
(glottal stop); y
d; s; z; d
h
t
(glottal stop); w
q
n
m
s; s; rarely z
g
d; z; z; sometimes s
f(p); t
g; g; k
s; t
s; sometimes s; rarely z
t; s; t; f(p)

Note: In the diachronic m orph olo gy o f the Semitic languages, one has always to take
into account metathesis, the transposition o f consonants and semi-vowels. In names
o f the archaic substantive y p l (masculine) or tpl (feminine) form , the initial y
frequently disappears in m odern form s o f the name, leaving a p*l ; the initial t, on
the other hand, is turned into a suffixed feminine t (usually pronounced /i), yielding
a p lt. In the case o f ancient names w ith a medial /, such as Gilead (H ebrew g ld),
the / is frequently externalised in the present form o f the name as the prefixed Arabic
definite article al ( 7). T hus g ld, for example, becomes *l-gd, pronounced al-Jad.
In reproducing Arabic place-names consonantally in Latin characters, I have
norm ally om itted the transliteration o f the feminine suffixes t5 or
and also the
sem i-vow els ) and
w here they feature only as vowels. In som e cases, how ever,
these Arabic characters have been transliterated for closer com parison betw een the
Arabic and Biblical form s o f the same name.

PREFACE

W hen I first began to suspect that the true land o f the Bible was
W est A rabia and no t Palestine, I needed encouragem ent to
pursue m y investigation; m ore so, to dare to w rite a book about
it. Support w as provided by a nu m b er o f friends and colleagues,
to w h o m I am pro u d to acknow ledge m y debt. A m ong others,
D r W olfgang K oehler and Professor G ernot R otter provided
m e w ith the first oppo rtu n ity to present m y early findings to
a critical audience at the Deutsche O rient Institut in Beirut. It
was also Professor R otter w ho b ro u g h t m y w o rk to the atten
tion o f m y G erm an publishers, w ho subsequently arranged for
its translation into several languages from this English original.
Jo h n M u nro, Professor o f English Literature at the Am erican
U niversity o f Beirut, was m ost helpful from the very start. It
was he w ho prepared the m anuscript for final publication,
loosening m y som etim es rigidly pedantic prose, and tem pering
m y often dogm atic assertiveness w ith subjunctives w here the
excitem ent o f discovery im pelled m e to cast scholarly caution
to the w inds.
As a new com er to the field o f Semitic and Biblical studies, I
was guided in the initial stages o f m y research by tw o colleagues:
Ram zi Baalbaki, w h o helped m e polish up m y H ebrew , and
W illiam W ard, w ho took pains to introduce m e to the relevant
scholarly literature and w arned m e against pitfalls. Y et another
colleague, Charles A bu Chaar, advised m e on a nu m b er o f
m atters relating to A rabian flora. Professor O tto Jastrow , o f
the U niversity o f Erlangen, was m ost generous to m e in encour
agem ent and scholarly advice, and I ow e him special acknow l
edgm ent. Special thanks also go to M r V olkhard W indfuhr,

XVI

P R EF A C E

o f Der Spiegel, for the keen interest he took in m y w o rk from


start to finish. T h e m aps for the book were draw n by M r
A hm ad Shah D urranai, D r Elfried Soker and Claus Carstens,
w hile the final typescripts w ere prepared by M ufida Yacoub,
Saydeh N im eh , Leila Salibi and M argo M atta.
G iven the revolutionary nature o f m y study, I am sure all
m y friendly m entors will be relieved to learn that I absolve them
from any responsibility for w hatever errors or m isconceptions
critical readers m ay find. Nevertheless, I cherish the m em ory
o f their sup p o rt w hile this book was being w ritten. I can only
hope that their unflagging enthusiasm has been translated into
a book w hich is w o rth y o f their generous co-operation.
Finally, I m ust acknow ledge those printed sources upon
w hich m y study has depended. In addition to a standard version
o f the consonantal text o f the H ebrew Bible, I m ade extensive
use o f a catalogue o f A rabian place-nam es published by Sheikh
H am ad al-Jasir o f Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, entitled A l-M ugam
al-gugrdjt lil-bilad al-Arabiyyah al-Saudiyyah (Riyadh, 1977).
A dditionally, I have m ade use o f som e good m aps o f peninsular
A rabia, and also o f other catalogues o f the names o f Arabian
places and tribes: Atiq al-Baladi, Mu'gam madlim al Higaz (Taif,
1978); M u h am m ad A l-AqIlI, A l-M ugam al-gugrdjt lil-bilad alArabiyyah al-Sa'iidiyyah; muqdtaat Cllzdn (Riyadh, 1979); All
ibn Salih al-Siluk al-Zahrani, A l-M ugam al-gugrdjt . . . ; Bilad
Gamid wa Zahran (Riyadh, 1978); H am ad al-Jasir, Mu'gam qabail
al-Mamlakah al-Arabiyyah al-Sa'udiyyah (Riyadh, 1981); Atiq
al-Baladi, Mu'gam qabdil al-Higaz (Mecca, 1979). T he w orks o f
classical A rabic geographers, notably Y aq u ts Mu'gam al-buldan
and al-H am danis Sifat CZazirat al-Arab, w ere also o f help.
M o st o f the o ther sources I consulted are cited in the notes to
the text.
T o aid the non-specialist reader, I have provided som e notes
on H eb rew and Arabic transliteration, and on the m ore com
m o n consonantal transform ations betw een the tw o languages,
w hich appear im m ediately before this preface.
KAMAL SALIBI

Beirut

24 April 1985

IN T R O D U C TIO N

Let m e not beat about the bush. I believe I have m ade a


rem arkable discovery, w hich should m ake possible a radical
reinterpretation o f the H ebrew Bible, or w hat m ost people refer
to as the O ld Testam ent. It is, quite sim ply, that the Bible came
from W est Arabia and no t from Palestine, as generations o f
scholars have supposed. T he evidence for this startling depar
ture from a tim e-honoured, geographical assum ption is pre
sented in the chapters that follow, m y case resting m ainly on a
linguistic analysis o f Biblical place-names w hich, I believe, have
until n o w been consistently m istranslated. This procedure,
k now n technically as onom astic - or perhaps, m ore accurately,
toponym ic - analysis, is the basis upon w hich m y argum ent is
built. I freely acknow ledge that m y discovery m ust rem ain
t Iieoretical until confirm ed by archaeological investigation. Yet,
.is I see it, the evidence that I adduce is so overw helm ing that
only purblind traditionalists are unlikely to grant m e the benefit
o f d oubt until further support from other scholarly sources
corroborates m y conclusions.
O f course, in breaking new ground it is likely that I have
com m itted a num ber o f errors, w hich hostile critics m ay seize
upon in an effort to discredit m y conclusions. I sincerely doubt,
how ever, that such errors are likely to be o f such m agnitude
or substance that they will alter m y case. N o doubt, there will
be m any w ho will com plain that I have m ade only casual
reference to the vast literature on the geography o f the H ebrew
Bible. T o these I answ er, simply, that as I am in alm ost total
disagreem ent w ith w hat has been w ritten, it seemed unneces
sary to burden the reader w ith point-by-point refutations o f
previous findings.

T HE BIBLE C AME F R O M ARABI A

As it is, I fear that the lists o f place-names on w hich the m ain


argum ents o f this book are based will m ake heavy dem ands on
the reader unfam iliar w ith transliterated H ebrew and Arabic.
W hile I w ould expect specialists to bear w ith me, others m ight
be advised to skip such passages, concentrating instead on
m y conclusions, w hich I have tried to express concisely and
unequivocally, hoping thereby to present m y case as forcefully
as possible.
For the benefit o f the general reader, som e basic inform ation
is perhaps necessary w ith respect to both the H ebrew Bible
and com parative linguistics as it relates to Semitic languages.
Briefly, the canonical H ebrew Bible comprises thirty-nine
books, w hich at one tim e w ere arranged in tw enty-four scrolls.
T he first five books, the Pentateuch (in H ebrew , the T orah, or
Instruction5), include Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, N u m bers
and D euteronom y. T hen com e the tw enty-one books o f the
Prophets: the four historical w orks o f Joshua, Judges, Samuel
(tw o books), Kings (tw o books); the books o f the three m ajor
prophets, Isaiah, Jerem iah and Ezekiel; then the tw elve books
o f the m inor prophets, Hosea, Joel, Am os, O badiah, Jonah,
M icah, N ahum , H abakkuk, Zephaniah, Haggai, Zechariah and
Malachi. Finally, there are thirteen books o f religious poetry
and the literature o f w isdom , the W ritings, w hich include the
Psalms, Proverbs, Job, Song o f Songs, Ruth, Lam entations,
Ecclesiastes, Esther, Daniel, Ezra, N ehem iah and Chronicles
(tw o books). Except for the Aram aic parts o f Daniel ( 2 :^ - 7 :
28) and Ezra (4:8-6:18), the original versions o f all these texts
have com e d ow n to us in H ebrew .
M atters relating to the dating and com position o f the books
o f the H ebrew Bible are too com plex to consider here in detail,
and in any event have only tangential bearing on m y argum ent.
Som e o f the books, for example, are clearly corporate w orks
redacted from older texts, possibly com piled as late as the
fourth century B . C . , that is to say, after the passing o f ancient
Israel. W hat is sure, how ever, is that the H ebrew o f the Bible
as a w hole has the authentic ring o f a living language, unlike
rabbinical H ebrew , w hich was purely a language o f scholarship.
In other w ords, the texts from w hich the H ebrew Bible as we

INTRODUCTION

know it was redacted - no m atter w hen - w ere alm ost certainly


in existence before the fifth century B . C . , at the tim e w hen the
history o f ancient Israel tapers o ff to an end and w hen H ebrew
.ind other form s o f the Canaanite language had passed o ut o f
spoken use. This m eans that it is possible to treat the H ebrew
Bible as a whole, at least for the purposes o f this study, as a
docum ent relating to Israelite times, irrespective o f such m atters
.is dating, com position or authorship.
As m y argum ent rests alm ost entirely upon the assum ption
that the H ebrew Bible has been consistently m istranslated, a
w ord o f justification is clearly in order. Briefly, as I explain
m ore fully in C hapter 2, the H ebrew language passed ou t o f
ro m m o n usage around the fifth or sixth century B.C. Therefore,
in order to understand the H ebrew Bible, w e m ust either accept
the traditional Jew ish interpretation o f its texts or seek guidance
from closely related Semitic languages w hich are still alive
today, such as Arabic or Syriac, the latter being a surviving
form o f ancient Aramaic. I reject the form er course in favour
o f the latter, because the Jew ish scholars w ho interpreted and
vocalised the H ebrew Bible betw een the sixth and tenth cen
turies a . d . did n o t k n o w H ebrew as a spoken language, and
presum ably based their reconstruction o f it on inform ed guess
w ork. T o follow the latter course, how ever, and attem pt to
rcdecipher the H ebrew o f the Bible afresh, one m ust do so in
the light o f the com parative phonology and m orphology o f the
Semitic languages. A ssum ing once again that m any readers
m ay be unfam iliar w ith such m atters, perhaps this is the place
to provide som e basic inform ation.
T he Semitic languages are generally regarded as belonging
to a larger family o f Afro-Asiart languages w hich include ancient
Egyptian and m odern B erber and Hausa. T o the Semitic branch
o f these languages belong Akkadian (the language o f ancient
Babylonia and Assyria), Canaanite (of which-ancient Phoenician
and H ebrew are variant form s), Aramaic (which survives today
in the form o f Syriac), and Arabic. A m ong the features w hich
these languages have in com m on is a system o f derivation from
roots w hich norm ally consist o f three consonants. These roots
are usually conceived o f as verbs, and there are set patterns o f

T H E BIBLE C AME F RO M ARA BI A

derivation from these verbal roots by w hich other verbs, and


also nouns and adjectives o f various sorts, are form ed. These
patterns o f derivation involve the different ways in w hich these
roots are vocalised by the introduction o f vowels, and also the
addition o f one or m ore consonants to the original roots. In
standard dictionaries o f the Semitic languages, one norm ally
looks up the root o f a given w ord, after w hich the various
derivatives from this root are listed. A m ong the Semitic
languages, a n um ber o f these roots are shared, either w ith the
same m eaning or w ith related meanings. O nce one learns one
Semitic language it becomes relatively easy to learn the others.
Som etim es, a root w hich tw o or m ore Semitic languages
hold in com m on is no t readily recognisable as being the same
ro o t by people w ho are not native Semitic speakers. This is
because one or m ore o f the consonants in that root m ay change
from one language to the other. In H ebrew , for example, the
ro o t w hich means to settle or dw ell is hsr, whereas in Arabic
it is hdr. T he explanation is that Semitic language speakers
instinctively recognise a phonological relationship betw een
various consonants, w hich becom e interchangeable am ong
various Semitic languages, not to say betw een different dialects
o f the same Semitic language. For example, the g in one
language or dialect (which m ay be pronounced as the English
g in g o d or the first one in geography) m ay becom e a q
(voiceless uvular stop) or a g (voiced uvular fricative) in
another. Thus the H ebrew Negeb (as a place-name) becomes
the Arabic Naqab or Nagab.
These consonantal changes am ong Semitic languages appear
to obey certain rules, and for the sake o f convenience I have
tabulated the changes from H ebrew to Arabic in the section
im m ediately preceding the Preface. T here is also the question
o f m etathesis, or the transposition o f consonants in the same
root betw een various Semitic languages, w hereby the root acb,
for example, m ay becom e cab or bca. M etathesis is not a linguis
tic phenom enon characteristic only o f Semitic languages; one
finds it in other languages as well, though it is especially
com m o n am ong the Semitic languages, as well as am ong differ
ent dialects o f the same Semitic language. In one Arabic dialect,

INTRODUCTION

for exam ple, zw g (vocalised zawj), m eaning a pair or couple,


m ay becom e g w z (vocalised ja w z), the latter being the form
t o m m o n to the Lebanese dialect w hich I speak.
It is equally, if n o t m ore, im portant to rem em ber that Semitic
languages are w ritten in consonants w ith o u t vowels. In English
i ranslations o f the Bible, how ever, Biblical names are presented
in vow elled form s, derived from the M asoretic or traditional
vocalisation o f Biblical H ebrew which, as I have suggested,
m ay w ell be w rong, in so far as the M asoretic scholars had to
feconstruct the H ebrew language, it no longer being in com m on
usage. In order to assist the reader, w hat I have done is to
provide b o th the traditionally vocalised H ebrew w ord and its
unvocalised form , endeavouring to dem onstrate how that same
w ord, vocalised differently, could have a m eaning other than
that assigned to it in the M asoretic tradition.
As for w ords - notably place-names - derived from ancient
Egyptian records, it is im possible to k n o w how they w ere
vocalised. T herefore, w hat I have done in these instances is to
present th em in their consonantal form as well as m aking them
com parable to the consonantal H ebrew . Similarly, w hen I quote
w hole sentences from the H ebrew Bible, I have transcribed the
unvocalised H ebrew into unvocalised Latin form . It hardly
makes for readability but, in the light o f m y argum ent, I can
see no reasonable alternative.
T o sum m arise: w hat the vocabularies o f different Semitic
languages have in co m m on are a large num ber o f consonantal
roots and their form s o f derivation, the latter varying only
slightly from one language to another. T o com pare w ords in
different Sem itic languages, one has to spell them only in
consonants, otherw ise the w hole point w ould be lost. I m ust
therefore ask the reader to be patient w hen such com parisons
are m ade, and sim ply trust that they have been m ade in accord
ance w ith the appropriate rules for com parative Semitic linguis
tics.
T u rn in g to m ethodology, for reasons w hich should n ow be
clear I have based m y study on the consonantal text o f the
I lebrew Bible, collating certain passages w ith place-names in
W est A rabia in order to suggest alternatives to traditional

T H E BIBLE C A M E F R O M ARA BI A

translations. Further than that there is no reason to go at the


present tim e, as I deal m ore fully w ith such m atters in C hapter
2. H ow ever, I w ould ju s t like to add that as well as poring over
books and m aps, I have also m ade a tour o f W est Arabia,
w hich I contend is the true land o f the Bible, in order to becom e
acquainted w ith som e o f the principal sites m entioned in this
study and to observe at first hand h o w the various locations I
m ention are geographically and topographically related.
It is upon these foundations that the argum ent o f this book
is based. W hether I succeed in persuading Biblical scholars to
abandon their traditional notions concerning the geography o f
the H ebrew Bible rem ains to be seen. All I can say is that I am
fully convinced by the findings provided by m y toponym ic
analysis, and I look forw ard to the day w hen archaeologists
will excavate som e o f the sites I m ention and hopefully provide
further evidence that the true land o f the H ebrew Bible is
W est Arabia, no t Palestine.

THE JEWISH WORLD OF


ANTIQUITY
The present study ow es its origins to pure chance. I had been
presented w ith a copy o f a gazetteer o f Saudi Arabia, published
in R iyadh in 1977, and was exam ining it for place-names o f
non-A rabic origin in W est Arabia, w hen gradually it daw ned
on m e that I was looking n o t ju st at place-names in W est Arabia
but also at those o f the Biblical O ld T estam ent, or w hat I prefer
to call the H ebrew Bible. A t first, I thought I m ust be m istaken,
but as the evidence accum ulated, I was persuaded that I had
stumbled upon a rem arkable set o f coincidences. N early all the
Biblical place-nam es I could think o f w ere concentrated in an
area approxim ately 600 kilom etres long and 200 kilom etres
wide, com prising w hat are today Asir (Arabic 'Asir) and the
southern part o f the Hijaz (al-Higaz). All the co-ordinates o f
the places involved, as described in the H ebrew Bible, were
also traceable there a fact o f the first im portance, as these
co-ordinates have never really been identified in the countries
hitherto believed to have been the lands o f the Bible. M oreover,
I could n o t find such a concentration o f Biblical place-names,
usually in their original H ebrew form , in any other part o f
the Near East. I was obliged to consider the breathtaking pos
sibility th at Judaism had originated n ot in Palestine but in W est
Arabia, and that the history o f the ancient Israelites, as nar
rated in the H ebrew Bible, ran its full course there and now here
else.
O f course, assum ing that m y supposition is correct, this does
n o t m ean that no Jew s lived in Palestine in Biblical times or in

T HE BIBLE C AME F RO M ARABI A

other countries outside W est Arabia. W hat it does m ean is that


the H ebrew Bible is principally a record o f the Jew ish historical
experience in W est Arabia. U nfortunately, how Judaism came
to be established from an early tim e in Palestine, it is n o t
possible to say, as no records exist w hich m ight provide an
explanation. H ow ever, one can m ake an educated guess.
A m o ng the k n o w n religions o f the ancient N ear East, Juda
ism stands in a category by itself; no attem pt to explain its
origins in term s o f the religions o f ancient M esopotam ia, Syria
or E gyp t has so far been truly successful, except at the level o f
m ythical borrow ings. O ne such exam ple is the story o f the
Flood, w hich m ay also be found in the ancient M esopotam ian
Epic o f Gilgamesh, n ot to m ention other ancient folk m yths, one
o f them Chinese. Yet, even in such instances, one cannot really
tell w here such m yths originated, and w ho borrow ed w hat
from w hom . H ow ever, as we shall see later in C hapter 12, it
is reasonable to suppose that the true origins o f Judaism m ay
be sought in a trend tow ards m onotheism in ancient Asir, w here
a nu m b er o f m ountain gods, such as Y ahw eh, El Sabaoth, El
Shalom , El Shaddai, El Elyon and others, came to be identified
w ith one another - h o w we do n ot kn o w - and eventually
recognised as one suprem e deity, perhaps in connection w ith
the am algam ation o f som e local tribes. A dopted by a local
people called the Israelites, this rudim entary W est Arabian
m onotheism eventually developed into a highly thoughtful
religion w ith set scriptures, involving a sophisticated notion o f
divinity and an exceptionally refined social and ethical content.
All things considered, such a religion m ust have been em inently
capable o f attracting converts from outside the vicinity o f its
origin, w herever a certain level o f thoughtfulness and m oral
sensitivity existed. T he fact that it was a religion w ith a
book, developed by a literate people, m ust have facilitated its
spread.
As for the language o f these Jew ish scriptures, traditionally
called H ebrew , it w ould appear that it was a dialect o f a Semitic
language com m only spoken in various parts o f South Arabia,
W est Arabia and Syria (including Palestine) during Biblical
tim es.1 This one m ay deduce from an etym ological study o f

T H E J E W I S H W O R L D OF A N T I Q U I T Y

Near Eastern place-nam es, taking their geographic distribution


into account. For w ant o f a better w ord, this ancient language
is today called Canaanite, after the nam e o f one Biblical people
who actually spoke it.2
Alongside Canaanite, another Semitic language spoken in
peninsular Arabia and Syria was Aramaic, so called after the
Biblical Aramaeans. Regardless o f w ho the Canaanites and
Aramaeans really were, a m atter I return to in C hapter 4 ,3 the
( Canaanite (or H ebrew ), and Aramaic languages were certainly
spoken by different W est Arabian com m unities at one period
o f tim e, m uch as was the case in Syria. O ne Biblical passage,
if reconsidered in the light o f surviving W est Arabian placenames, clearly bears this out.
It is Genesis 31:47-49. T here w e read o f a m ound called the
heap o f w itness, erected to testify to the covenant betw een the
I Iebrew Jacob and his Aram aean m aternal uncle and father-inl.iw Laban. Laban calls it Jegar-sahadutha (Aramaic ygr
shdwt), bu t Jacob calls it Galeed (H ebrew g ld) and M izpah
(I Iebrew h-msph), m eaning a w atchpost. All three names are
still carried today by three little-know n villages in the same
vicinity on the m aritim e slopes o f Asir, in the region o f Rijal
A lm a (Rigal Alm a0), w est o f Abha (Abha). T heir names are:
Farat Al Shahda (I shd), m eaning god is the w itness or god
o f the w itness, the A rabic prt or prh denoting a m ound or
l u l l, equivalent in m eaning to the Aram aic ygr; al-Jad ( l-gd),
w hich is an Arabicised metathesis o f gVd; and al-M adhaf (mdp\
<f. msph).
Such being the p roxim ity betw een Canaanite-speakers and
Aramaic-speakers in Biblical West Arabia, the Israelites, I w ould
suggest, w ere at a loss to decide to w hich group they originally
belonged. W hile they norm ally considered themselves H ebrew s
(see C hapter 13), according to D euteronom y 26:5 they were
urged to recall that their ancestor was an Aramaean. This
apparent contradiction has long puzzled Biblical scholars, but
if m y supposition is correct, it makes em inent sense.
M ore likely than not, the early spread o f Judaism from its
original W est A rabian hom eland to Palestine and other lands
o f the n o rth follow ed the routes o f the trans-A rabian caravan

10

T HE BIBLE C A M E F R O M A R A B I A

[Aleppo
'Nineveh
>Assur

rPALESTINI

Babylon

M em phis

EGYPT

T e im a

G errha

Muscat
Suakin

M a p 1 T h e N e ar East in antiquity

T H E J E W I S H W O R L D OF A N T I Q U I T Y

II

trade. In the ancient w orld, the W est Arabian region o f Asir


was a m eeting place for caravans carrying the trade o f the lands
o f the Indian O cean basin, that is to say India, South Arabia
and East Africa, from one direction, and that o f PersiaM esopotam ia and the lands o f the Eastern M editerranean basin,
specifically Syria, E g ypt and the Aegean w orld, from the other
(see m ap i). Located at the southern corner o f Syria, close to
Egypt, Palestine was the first coastal term inus o f the ancient
West Arabian com m erce in that direction. T he first Jew ish
settlers there m ust have been the W est Arabian m erchants and
caravaneers involved in this comm erce. These settlers could
not have failed to attract local converts to their religion, which,
in term s o f intellectual sophistication, by far transcended the
local cults and even the high religions o f the Egyptian and
M esopotam ian empires. I nis is exactly w hat M oslem m erchant
settlers w ere to do in various parts o f Asia and East Africa in later
times, attracting converts to Islam w herever they established
them selves, am ong people w ho saw in Islam a religion o f
superior qualities to their ow n.
I am n ot suggesting that the Jew s w ere the earliest W est
Arabian settlers in Palestine. T he Biblical Philistines (see C hap
ter 14) m ust have arrived there from W est Arabia before them ,
considering that it was they w ho gave the country its name.
Likewise, the Canaanites o f W est Arabia (see note 3) appear to
have 'spread abroad (Genesis 10:18) from an early time, giving
their nam e to the land o f Canaan (kn n) along the Syrian coast
north o f Palestine, w hich the Greeks called Phoenicia (for the
Faniqa or Phoenicia o f Asir, see C hapter 14). That Phoenicia
was actually called Canaan by its ow n inhabitants is k now n
from a Hellenistic coin from Beirut, w hich describes this city,
in Phoenician, as being in C anaan (b-knn), and in Greek as
being in Phoenicia.4 W riting about the Phoenicians and the
Syrians o f Palestine in the fifth century b . c . , the Greek historian
I lerodotus had no doubts about their W est Arabian origin. He
wrote, concerning both: This nation, according to their ow n
account, dw elt anciently upon the Red Sea, but crossing thence,
they fixed them selves on the sea-coast o f Syria, w here they still
inhabit (7:89; see also ibid. 1:1).5 W hatever the antiquity o f the

12

T HE BIBLE C A ME F R O M A R A B I A

earliest W est A rabian settlem ents in coastal Syria,6 the Philistine


and C anaanite m igrations there m ust in tim e have g ro w n in
volum e. A ccording to the historical books o f the H ebrew Bible,
the Israelite kingdom was established, no doubt in W est Arabia,
betw een the late eleventh and early tenth centuries B . C . , largely
at the expense o f such com m unities as the Philistines and
the Canaanites o f the land. Defeated and dem oralised by the
Israelites in successive wars, these Philistines and Canaanites
probably increased the rate o f their m igrations to coastal Syria
during the same period.
In Palestine, the Philistines appear to have called a n um ber
o f their settlem ents (such as Gaza and Ascalon) after the names
o f W est Arabian tow ns from w hich they came. T he Palestinian
village o f Bayt Dajan (the tem ple o f dgn, or D ag o n ), near
Jaffa, still carries the nam e o f their W est Arabian god (see
C hapter 14). N o rth o f Palestine, the Canaanites also gave W est
A rabian names to som e o f their settlem ents - names such as
Sur (Tyre), Sidon, Gebal (G reek Byhlos), A rw ad (Greek Arados),
or L ebanon.7 W hen the W est Arabian Israelites (and perhaps
other W est A rabian Jews) began to m igrate northw ards to settle
in Palestine, w henever that was, they also g a v e ^ e s t A rabian
nam es to som e (certainly n o t all) o f their settlem ents, or to local
cult shrines w hich they took over and identified w ith W est
A rabian Jew ish shrines. A m ong the m ost obvious and best
k n o w n are: Jerusalem (yrwslym, see C hapter 9), Bethlehem (byt
Ihm, see C hapter 8), H ebron (hbrwn, see C hapter 13), C arm el
(krml),8 and perhaps Galilee (glyl),9 H erm o n (hrmwn)10 and the
Jo rd an (ih-yrdn, see C hapter 7), all o f w hich testify to this. In
m ost parts o f the w orld, at one tim e or another, nostalgic
im m igrants have called tow ns and regions, m ountains, rivers
or even w hole countries or islands by familiar names w hich
they carried w ith them from the old country. C onsidering that
in Biblical times the same languages w ere spoken in W est
A rabia and Syria, one m ust no t exclude the possibility (indeed
the probability) that a n um ber o f places in both areas w ere
originally called by the same names, especially w here they
denoted particular topographic, hydrological or ecological fea
tures, or related to the w orship o f the same god. In traditional

I H E J E W I S H W O R L D OF A N T I Q U I T Y

Palestine at the time ot the u ia le s ia m e m

13

14

T H E BIBLE CAME F RO M ARABI A

culture, as in language, Syria and Arabia w ere never far apart.


A t all stages, the em igrations from W est Arabia in the direc
tion o f Palestine and Syria (and perhaps elsewhere) w ere en
hanced by external factors. As an area o f considerable natural
resources, w hich m oreover controlled one o f the m ost im por
tant ju nctions o f trade routes in the ancient w orld (see C hapter
3), W est A rabia m ust have been a target for imperial conquests
from earliest times. In C hapter 11 it will be dem onstrated by
toponym ic evidence that the expedition o f the Egyptian king
Sheshonk I against Judah in the latter decades o f the tenth
century B . C . , as related in the H ebrew Bible and substantiated
by Egyptian records, was directed against W est Arabia, not
against Palestine and Syria, as has hitherto been thought. T he
proper study o f another E gyptian expedition m entioned in the
H ebrew Bible, that o f N echo II in the last years o f the seventh
century B . C . , w ould show that this expedition also, in w hich a
king o f Judah as well as the Babylonians w ere involved, was
directed against W est Arabia. T he battle o f Carchem ish (krkmys,
2 Chronicles 35:20; Isaiah 10:9; Jerem iah 46:2), w hich was
fought betw een the Egyptians and the Babylonians on the
occasion, took place near Taif, in the southern Hijaz, where
tw o neighbouring villages, Q a rr (qr) and Q am ashah (qms), still
stand. T hus, I w ould m aintain, the Biblical C archem ish is
certainly no t the H ittite Kargamesa, n o w Jerablus, on the
Euphrates, as is traditionally believed.11
Earlier Egyptian m ilitary expeditions dating from the second
m illennium B . C . , w hich have generally been assum ed to have
been directed against Palestine and Syria, are m ore likely to
have been m ostly directed against W est Arabia, if the Egyptian
records o f them are carefully reconsidered in the light o f W est
Arabian place-nam es w hich are still there.12 As an imperial
people, the ancient Egyptians w ere keenly interested in bringing
W est Arabia and its trade routes under their control.13 So w ere
the Assyrians and Babylonians in their time. In the w ake o f
every im perial invasion, from w hatever direction, a new wave
o f m igration from W est Arabia to other lands such as Palestine
m ust have taken place.
It was actually at a tim e w hen E gypt was passing th ro u g h a

T H E J E W I S H W O R L D OF A N T I Q U I T Y

15

period o f retrenchm ent, betw een the late eleventh and early
tenth centuries B . C ., that the Israelite kingdom em erged on
the m aritim e slopes o f Asir (see C hapters 8-10) under Saul,
expanded under David, and reached the peak o f its pow er and
prosperity under Solom on. H ad D avid and Solom on in their
tim e really been the m asters o f a Syrian em pire controlling the
strategic territory separating E gypt from M esopotam ia, as it is
com m only assum ed (see 1 Kings 4:21 in any standard trans
lation), then the E gyptian and M esopotam ian records w ould
surely have m ade at least some reference to them by name,
which they do not. W hen the imperial pow er o f E gypt revived
in the course o f the tenth century, new Egyptian interventions
in W est Arabia caused the Israelite kingdom to split betw een
the rival dynasties o f J u d a h and Israel (see C hapter 10). T he
civil wars w hich follow ed am ong the Israelites, starting in the
last decades o f that century, could well have triggered o ff the
first large-scale Jew ish m igrations to other countries, notably
Palestine. These m igrations could only have been further en
hanced by the M esopotam ian invasions o f W est Arabia betw een
the ninth and sixth centuries B . C ., first by the Assyrians, then
by the Babylonians (i.e., the neo-Babylonians). In 721 B . C ., the
West A rabian kingdom o f Israel was liquidated by the Assyrian
ruler Sargon II, w ho captured its capital Samaria (smrwn, w hich
still exists as Shim ran, see C hapter 10) and took its leading
citizens as prisoners to Persia. Later, in 586 B .C ., the Babylonian
ruler N ebuchadnezzar destroyed the West Arabian kingdom o f
J u d a h , deporting thousands o f its Jew ish subjects as captives
to B aby lo n .14 So eager w ere the Babylonians to m aintain
control o f W est Arabia, and to pre-em pt any Egyptian return
to the area (such as the one attem pted about a quarter o f a
century earlier by N echo II), that N ebuchadnezzars successor,
N abodinus, m oved his capital from Babylon to Teim a
('Vayma'), in the n o rthern Hijaz, spending m ost o f his reign
(here, as is well know n.
By this tim e a strong Jew ish presence in Palestine w ould
probably have been established. T he plight o f the Israelites in
West Arabia could have m ade the Jew s there look hopefully
tow ards the new land o f Jew ish settlem ent - to the daughter

16

T H E BIBLE C AME F R O M ARABI A

o f Z io n and the daughter o f Jerusalem (i.e., the new as distinct


from the old Z ion and Jerusalem in West Arabia, see C hapter
9) - m uch as disillusioned Europeans in the seventeenth and
eighteenth centuries looked for hope to their o w n new w orld
o f Am erica. Such E uropeans hopes, in their tim e, w ere ex
pressed by G oethe in his oft-quoted lines:
Am erica, you have it better
T han has our continent, the old one.
M uch earlier, it is possible that the Jew s o f W est Arabia had
voiced sim ilar expectations, som e tim e betw een the eighth and
fifth centuries B . C ., referring, perhaps, to their ow n new w orld
in Palestine, as follows:
A nd you, O tow er o f the flock
H ill o f the daughter o f Zion,
T o you shall it come,
T he form er dom inion shall come,
T he kingdo m o f the daughter o f Jerusalem .
(Micah 4.9)15
A nd again, in these words:
She despises y o u ,16 she scorns you T he virgin daughter o f Zion;
She w ags her head behind you T he daughter o f Jerusalem . . .
A nd the surviving rem nant o f the house o f Judah
Shall again take root dow nw ard,
A nd bear fruit upw ard;
For out o f Jerusalem shall go forth a rem nant,
A nd out o f M ou n t Z ion a band o f survivors.
T he zeal o f the Lord o f Sabaoth17 will accomplish this.
(Isaiah 37:22b, 31-32; also 2 Kings 19:21b, 30-31)
A nd perhaps in these also:

I m ; J E W I S H W O R L D OF A N T I Q U I T Y

17

Rejoice greatly, O daughter o f Zion;


Shout aloud, O daughter o f Jerusalem .
Lo, y our king comes to you;
T riu m p h a n t and victorious is he,
H u m ble and riding on an ass,
O n a colt the foal o f an ass.18
(Zechariah 9:9)
If any hope rem ained for the reconstitution o f a viable Israelite
polity in W est Arabia after the com pletion o f the Assyrian
and B abylonian conquests, these hopes w ere elim inated in an
indirect w ay by the em ergence o f the Persian w orld em pire o f
the Achaemenes in the latter h alf o f the sixth century B. C. In
s } 8 B. C. , the Persians conquered Babylon; by 525, they had
overrun Syria and occupied E gypt, thereby uniting all the
lands o f the ancient N ear East under one efficient imperial
adm inistration for the first time. T he Persians also extended
their sw ay over m uch, if no t all, o f peninsular Arabia, but their
t onquests in the n o rth dealt a severe blow to the trans-A rabian
caravan trade, w hich had been the m ainstay o f the Israelites
and other ancient com m unities o f W est Arabia. T he patrolled
highw ays established by the Achaemenes to connect Persia and
M esopotam ia w ith E gypt, by w ay o f Syria, had the im m ediate
effect o f shifting the principal trade routes away from Arabia,
1educing the peninsula and its netw o rk o f camel tracks to
econom ic stagnation. B y the turn o f the century, the Persian
( onstruction o f a canal to connect the Red Sea w ith the N ile
helped to p ro m o te m aritim e trade at the expense o f the transArabian caravan com m erce in that direction. T he total effect o f
all this, w here W est Arabia was concerned, m ust have been
truly devastating.
It seems that the Persians were far from being hostile to the
Jews; as a m atter o f fact, we kn o w they actually favoured them .
Therefore, w ith Persian perm ission, about 40,000 descendants
o f the Israelite captives in Persia and M esopotam ia returned to
West Arabia w ith their households, intent on reconstructing
their ro m m u n ity there. U nfortunately, these returning Israel
ites were disappointed w ith w hat they found; everyw here

18

T HE BIBLE C A ME F R OM ARA BI A

around them was poverty and destruction seemingly beyond


repair. W hat follow ed can only be guessed at, because the
historical narrative o f the H ebrew Bible tapers o ff at this point.
O n e thing is certain, how ever: no Israelite com m unity was
ever successfully reconstituted in its original W est Arabian
hom eland, though Judaism , as a religion, survived there, as
well as in South Arabia, in fact right dow n to the present
century. M ost o f the returning Israelites o f the Achaemenid
period m ust have ultim ately m ade their w ay back to M esopota
m ia and Persia, or otherw ise dispersed. From this tim e on
w ards, and until the destruction o f the Palestinian Jerusalem by
the Rom ans in a . d . 70, the m ainstream o f Jew ish history was
to centre around Palestine. The W est Arabian origins o fjudaism
w ere apparently forgotten.
W hat probably helped to eradicate Jew ish m em ories o f W est
Arabia w ithin a relatively short period - perhaps no longer than
tw o or three hundred years - was a language shift, which was
already overtaking Arabia, Syria and M esopotam ia by the sixth
century B .C . As w e have already noted, Canaanite dialects, such
as Biblical H ebrew , were com m only spoken in W est Arabia
and Syria in Biblical times side by side w ith dialects o f Aramaic.
T he Jew ish scriptures, barring a few passages in the books o f
the later prophets, w ere w ritten in H ebrew , not Aramaic. By
about the year 500 B . C . , how ever, Canaanite was already a
dying, if not a dead, language, in Arabia as in Syria; Aramaic
was taking over everyw here, including M esopotam ia. U n d er
the Achaemenes, it becam e the language o f adm inistration in
the Persian em pire and the lingua franca o f the N ear East. This
language shift in the area was to continue during the centuries
that followed, as dialects o f yet another Semitic language called
Arabic began to com pete w ith Aramaic in various N ear Eastern
reg io n s.19 B y the early centuries o f the Christian era Arabic,
originally the language o f pastoral tribes o f the Syro-A rabian
desert, was already replacing Aram aic in m ost o f Arabia, as
well as in parts o f M esopotam ia and Syria, leaving only small
pockets o f Aram aic-speakers in these last tw o areas by the
seventh or eighth century a . d . In W est Arabia, these tw o
successive language shifts are clearly illustrated by the change

T H E J E W I S H W O R L D OF A N T I Q U I T Y

19

w hich overtook som e place-names, notably the Biblical


Z eboiim (sbym or sbyym, the H ebrew dual or plural o f sby,
m eaning gazelle, depending on the vocalisation). This
Z eboiim , as will be show n in C hapter 4, denoted tw in tow ns
in the Jizan (G izan) coastal region o f southern Asir. B oth, in
fact, survive under the names o f Sabya (sby) and al-Zabyah
(zby), the first being the Aramaicised form o f the H ebrew sby
w ith the suffixed, Aram aic definite article, and the second an
Arabicised form o f the same nam e w ith the prefixed Arabic
definite article. T hus do place-names freeze the processes o f
history.
Equally significant w ith respect to the conclusions I have
d raw n concerning the identity o f place-names in W est Arabia
and the Bible lands, is the fact that w ith the death o f Biblical
H eb rew as a spoken language, the reading o f the Jew ish scrip
tures becam e problem atic at best. M oreover, it has rem ained
so ever since. T he H eb rew language, like m ost other Semitic
languages, as I have already noted, was w ritten in a consonantal
alphabet and had to be vocalised to be understood. O ne excep
tion is Akkadian, the language o f ancient M esopotam ia, whose
cuneiform script was syllabic rather than alphabetical. It should
also be rem em bered that ancient H ebrew w ould have to be
understood before it could be vocalised w ith the appropriate
vow el sounds and the doubling o f consonants where the real
o r assum ed sense so required. Thus, beginning w ith the Achae
m enid period, the Palestinian and Babylonian Jew s, not
k n o w in g h o w the H ebrew o f their scriptures was originally
pronounced, appear to have m odelled their artificial vocalisation
o f it on Aramaic, w hich was the language they spoke.20 T he
text o f their received scriptures abounded in place-names w ith
w hich they were unfamiliar, because these names related to
locations in W est Arabia w hich they did not know . M oreover,
in W est Arabia itself, the Jews had so regressed after ca. 500
B. C. that there could hardly have been any sufficiently erudite
am ong them to correct their Palestinian or Babylonian co
religionists in their geographic readings. Also, the West Arabian
Jew s had only survived religiously as Jew s, not ethnically and
politically as Israelites; in any case, they themselves no longer

20

T HE BIBLE C A M E F R O M ARABI A

spoke the H ebrew o f their scriptures, and before long their


speech was to becom e Arabic. N o doubt, West Arabian Jews
m u st have retained som e m em ory o f their Israelite past21; by
the end o f the Achaem enid period, how ever, their contacts
w ith the Jew s outside Arabia m ust have becom e so erratic that
they had difficulty in com m unicating to them w hat they still
k new at all effectively. W hen the Palestinian and Babylonian
Jew s finally began to standardise the reading o f the H ebrew
Bible by using vow el signs, starting in about the sixth century
A .D . (see C hapter 2 ) , m any centuries had passed since H ebrew
or any Canaanite dialect had been spoken anyw here, and
the W est Arabian origin o f Judaism had long passed into
oblivion.
Y et another factor w hich m ust have caused the Jew s to forget
their W est Arabian past relates to political developm ents in
W est Arabia and also in Palestine after the passing o f ancient
Israel. In W est Arabia, the gradual weakening o f the Achae
m enid em pire, already apparent by 4 0 0 B . C ., prom pted the
em ergence o f new political com m unities, notably that o f the
M inaeans (M a in), in the general area w here the kingdom o f
the Israelites had once flourished. Scattered am ong these new
com m unities, w hich in som e cases were politically organised
as kingdom s, the W est Arabian Jew s lost their special sense
o f peoplehood. N o t so, it w ould seem, in Palestine, where
developm ents took a different turn. By 3 3 0 B . C ., the conquests
o f A lexander the Great had put an end to the Persian empire;
follow ing A lexanders death, his generals set up new empires
on w h at had form erly been Achaemenid territory. O ne o f these
Hellenistic empires was that o f the Ptolemies, w ith its centre
in E gypt, and its capital in Alexandria. A nother was that o f the
Seleucids, w hich ultim ately came to centre around Syria, w ith
its capital at Antioch. T he control o f Palestine was initially
disputed betw een the Ptolemies and the Seleucids before it
finally passed under Seleucid rule; the Ptolemies, how ever, did
n o t abandon hope o f regaining control or influence over the
country. In the course o f the second century B . C ., the Palestinian
Jew s seized the opp o rtu n ity o f the continuing imperial dispute
over their territory, staged a successful revolt (starting 167 B .C .)

I HE J E W I S H W O R L D OF A N T I Q U I T Y

21

m anaged to w rest their independence from Seleucid rule


142 or 141 B.C. T he leaders o f this Jew ish revolt, w ho
belonged to the priestly house o f the Hasm onaeans, gained
control over Palestinian Jerusalem w hose temple, by then, was
perhaps already regarded by the Jew s o f the w orld as their
principal sanctuary. B y a series o f m ilitary successes, the H asmonaeans also expanded the Jew ish territory in Palestine so
that it came to include not only the w hole country, but also the
southern parts o f Galilee to the n o rth as well as the highlands
east o f the Jordan river and the Dead Sea.
T h e H asm onaeans, in their time, considered themselves the
legitimate heirs o f ancient Israel, and their kingdom lasted until
the com ing o f the R om ans, ending in 63 B.C. T he R om an
senate, by 37 B .C ., reorganised their territory as the R om an
client kingdom o f Judaea, m eaning the land o f the Jew s, w ith
H erod the Great (d. 4 B.C . ) as king. This H erod restored the
temple o f the Palestinian Jerusalem , which was subsequently
destroyed w hen the Rom ans sacked the city in a . d . 70, forcing
the Jew ish population o f Judaea to disperse. N o t long after
wards, the Rom ans, under Hadrian, rebuilt the city and called
it Aelia Capitolina, ostensibly after one o f H adrians names,
Aelius. H ow ever, it is also possible that the new nam e derived
from a Semitic form o f the nam e Aelia, w hich the place was
originally called before it became k n o w n as Jerusalem, recalling
the Jerusalem o f W est Arabia. Aelia, in its Semitic original
form , could m ean stronghold (cf. H ebrew yl, m eaning
strength), th ough this is not certain. W hat is sure, how ever, is
that the early Arabs knew the city not as Jerusalem but as Iliya
Cyly), before they came to refer to it as the holy place, Bayt
al-Muqaddas, Bayt al-Maqdis, or simply al-Quds.
Regardless o f w hat the original nam e o f the Palestinian Jerusa
lem actually was, it had certainly com e to be recognised as the
original Jerusalem o f D avid and Solom on by the tim e o f the
Hasm onaeans, if not earlier. Likewise, Palestine by then had
already com e to be recognised as the original land o f Israel and
o f the canonical H ebrew Bible. The whole o f the geographic
setting o f the historical narratives o f the Bible was by n o w
conceived o f as com prising mainly the N ear Eastern lands o f
and
by

22

T HE BIBLE C A ME F R O M ARABI A

the north, that is to say, M esopotam ia, Syria and Egypt, rather
than West Arabia.
It is possible that there rem ained a Jew ish kingdom in Arabia
at the tim e o f the Hasm onaeans, that o f H im yar, in the Yemen,
w hich flourished from 1 1 5 B .C . to the sixth century a . d . The
last tw o kings o f H im yar are k now n to have been ardent Jews,
yet their Judaism has n o t been convincingly explained so far.
T here is no conclusive evidence that they were personal con
verts to the faith, as the Arab historical tradition suggests. O ne
m ust n o t exclude the possibility that som e o f the earlier kings o f
H im yar could have been Jews. The historian Flavius Josephus,
about w h o m w e shall have m ore to say later, was aware that
there was an ancient Jew ish presence in Arabia, but gives
no details about it. T he Hasm onaeans m ay have deliberately
encouraged the reinterpretation o f Biblical geography in term s
o f Palestine rather than Arabia to p rom ote their ow n Judaic
legitimacy, assum ing that it could have been challenged by
Arabian Jew ish kings in H im yar. O f course, this is only suppo
sition, yet in the light o f m y argum ent it does seem quite
plausible.
M ore im portantly, w hether, indeed, there existed a Jew ish
k ingdom in the Y em en or not, it is clear from the so-called
Septuagint, the Greek translation o f the Jew ish scriptures m ade
in Hellenistic and early R om an times, that by the tim e o f the
Hasm onaeans the land o f the H ebrew Bible was no longer
regarded as W est Arabia. This is apparent from the w ay such
W est Arabian topographical names as ksdym, nhrym, prt and
msrym, are rendered respectively as Chaldaeans, M esopotamia,
E uphrates and E g y p t.22 M oreover, w e m ay derive additional
evidence for this assum ption from the Dead Sea scrolls. Here
w e find an Aramaic elaboration o f one Biblical text, Genesis
14, w hich identifies a num ber o f Biblical place-names w ith
k n o w n places in the northern parts o f the N ear East.23
Such was the political success o f the Jew s in Palestine, which
lasted for over tw o hundred years, that it did not take long to
w ipe out the m em o ry o f West Arabia as the original hom eland
o f Israel. Josephus, w riting o f The Antiquities o f the Jews - that
is to say, his o w n people - shortly after a . d . 70, took it

T HE J E W I S H W O R L D OF A N T I Q U I T Y

23

tor granted that their historical hom eland had always been
Palestine, and since that tim e no one has departed from this
apparently plausible assum ption. For centuries, Jew ish and
( Christian pilgrim itineraries have traced the w anderings o f the
patriarchs and their Israelite descendants across the northern
lands o f the N ear East, betw een the Euphrates and the Nile,
identifying the central Biblical sites w ith one or another Pales
tinian village or ruin. M ore recently, Biblical archaeology has
been based on these same premises and, to this day, scholars
continue their search for Biblical history - as distinct from
|ewish history - in Palestine, not in W est Arabia.
C onsequently, w hen one reviews the vast literature which
Hiblical archaeologists and scholars have produced during the
last hundred years or so, one is struck by a curious irony: while
the historicity o f a n u m b er o f Biblical narratives remains open
to serious question, their geography continues to be taken for
granted. Yet, the plain fact is that while the northern lands
o f the N e a r East have been surveyed and dug by successive
generations o f archaeologists from one end to the other, the
remains o f m any a forgotten civilisation unearthed, studied and
dated, no clear evidence has been revealed w hich m ay properly
be classified as being directly related to Biblical history.24
M oreover, o f the thousands o f place-names m entioned in the
H ebrew Bible, only a handful have been linguistically identified
w ith place-names in Palestine. This is especially rem arkable
w hen w e recall that the place-names there, as th roughout Syria,
are for the m ost part o f im m em orial antiquity, being over
w helm ingly Canaanite and Aramaic rather than Arabic in struc
ture. Even in cases w here Palestinian locations carry Biblical
names, the co-ordinates given by the Biblical texts for the places
carrying these names, in term s o f absolute or relative location
or o f distances, do n o t readily fit the Palestine sites. In one
notable case (that o f Palestinian Beersheba, see C hapter 4),
a to w n w hose nam e features prom inently in the patriarchal
narratives o f Genesis, and w hose origins m ust therefore go
back at least to the late Bronze Age, archaeological excavation
has revealed on the exact site materials dating from no earlier
than the late R om an period.

24

T HE BIBLE C A M E F R OM ARA BI A

Because the w hole field o f ancient N ear Eastern history has


been investigated largely in connection w ith the study o f the
H ebrew Bible, this history as it stands today is as riddled w ith
uncertainties as m odern Bible Science. Ancient Egyptian and
M esopotam ian records, read in the light o f Biblical texts whose
topographical allusions are taken on faith to relate to Palestine,
Syria, E gypt or M esopotam ia, have been strained to yield
geographical or historical indications in keeping w ith the preju
dices o f Biblical scholars. T he same applies to the interpretation
o f ancient records (such as those o f Ibla, in northern Syria),
w hich archaeologists continue to find in the lands o f the N ear
East. Ancient N ear Eastern peoples, such as the Philistines,
Canaanites, Aramaeans, Am orites, Horites, H ittites (as dis
tinct from the historical people o f N o rth Syria called the H it
tites) and others, are assigned geographically to areas w here
there is no clear p ro o f that they really belonged. M oreover,
som e o f these peoples, all o f w hose names come from the
Biblical texts, are assum ed to have spoken languages they m ay
never have spoken, or n o t to have spoken languages which
they did. M odern scholars maintain, for example, that the
Biblical Philistines w ere a m ysterious non-Sem itic Sea People,
w hich seems odd in the light o f such clearly Semitic (indeed
H ebrew ) names w hich the Biblical texts give not only to their
chiefs b u t also to their god D agon (dgn, corn, grain).
W hile m uch o f the foregoing m ay at least be open to question,
tw o things are reasonably certain. First, traces o f the origins o f
the Hebrew's in M esopotam ia, and their assumed m igration
from there to Palestine by w ay o f N o rth Syria, have been
diligently sought for over a century but never actually found.
Second, no incontrovertible traces o f an Israelite captivity in
Egypt, or o f an Israelite exodus from there at any period o f
antiquity, have yet been discovered.25 O n e m ight also note, in
passing, that Biblical scholars still argue about the trek o f the
Israelite exodus from E g y p t to Palestine by w ay o f Sinai, w hich
has never been satisfactorily established (for an example, see
the observations on the Biblical M o u n t H oreb in C hapter 2).
In the light o f m y o w n discoveries, I find this hardly surpris
ing. These Biblical scholars are looking for evidence in the

I HE J E W I S H W O R L D OF A N T I Q U I T Y

25

w rong place. T hey take the geography o f the H ebrew Bible


lor granted and question its veracity as history. A m ore fruitful
approach, I w ould m aintain, is to take the H ebrew Bibles
historicity for granted and question its geography, w hich is
w hat I have done in the pages that follow. A m ong the peoples
o f the ancient N ear East, the Israelites appear to have been the
only ones w ith a keen sense o f history, or at least the only ones
w ho understood and expressed themselves historically in a
m anner w hich was both coherent and complete. Their scrip
tures, essentially, are a historical self-portrait, as vivid and as
detailed as any that have ever been draw n. T he Genesis narra
tives, it is true, are proto-historical rather than historical, being
not so m uch a record o f w h o the Israelites originally were, as
o f w h at they believed themselves to be. There is no reason to
doubt, how ever, that the H ebrew predecessors o f the Israelites
were at one tim e a tribal folk trapped and put to forced labour
in a place called msrym, w hich was not necessarily Egypt; that
they m ade a massive exodus from there under a leader called
M oses, w h o organised them as a religious com m unity and gave
them their law; that they crossed som e point called h-yrdn not
necessarily the Jordan river - under another leader called Joshua,
to settle in a land over w hich they ultim ately gained political
dom inance; that they lived there for a tim e as a loose confedera
tion o f tribes under the leadership o f chiefs called the Judges,
engaging in constant w arfare w ith other tribes and peoples
am ong w h o m they lived; that they finally came to be politically
organised as a k in g d o m under Saul; that this kingdom was
expanded and given a rudim entary organisation by David, w ho
was a brilliant w arrior as well as a gifted poet, reaching its
apogee under D avids son Solom on w ho, resplendent in wealth,
pow er and good ju d g m e n t, was the very prototype o f the
enlightened despot. Rightly, no one has ever doubted that
Israelite history, follow ing the death o f Solom on, ran its course
the w ay the H ebrew Bible says it did. B ut if we assume that
all this history took place in Palestine, and study the Biblical
texts accordingly, a m yriad o f questions are left unanswered,
apart from countless others that crop up because o f the resulting
am biguity. Shift the Biblical geography from Palestine to W est

26

T H E BI BLE C A ME F R OM ARA BI A

Arabia and hardly a difficulty remains. Reconsider the E g y p


tian, Syrian and M esopotam ian records w ithin this geographical
context, and everything falls into place. T he historical pano
ram a o f the H ebrew Bible, which alone relates the com plete
story o f one ancient N ear Eastern people,26 becomes the clue
to the solution o f the cryptic puzzle o f ancient N ear Eastern
history, instead o f being itself the puzzle, which it is not.
T he w hole argum ent o f this introductory chapter rests on
the prem ise that the original hom eland o f the Israelites and the
birthplace o fju d a ism was in W est Arabia, not Palestine. In the
course o f this book, samples o f Biblical text will be analysed
toponym ically to dem onstrate the truth o f this prem ise - a
tru th w hich m ay hopefully be further substantiated one day by
archaeological findings on the sites indicated. Ideally, the full
text o f the H ebrew Bible m ust be so analysed, but this involves
w o rk for m ore than one lifetime. Lest the reader be confused
by w h at this book has to say, it w ould be useful to point out
once again that the fact that the H ebrew Bible relates the history
o f the ancient Israelites in W est Arabia does not m ean that
Judaism had no base in Palestine in Biblical times. It did.
T he H ebrew Bible, how ever, w ritten in W est Arabia, was
principally concerned w ith the affairs o f the Israelites in that
area, not w ith the Jew s elsewhere.
As already indicated, there are clear Biblical hints regarding
the g ro w th o f a strong Jew ish com m unity in Palestine, starting
perhaps in the tenth century B.C. T here is also extra-Biblical
docum entary evidence attesting to the presence o fje w s in other
N ear Eastern lands - such as upper E gypt27 - from an early
tim e. T he canonical texts o f the H ebrew Bible, w here they
speak in som e detail about Jew s outside West Arabia, only
do so in relation to the Babylonian captivity o f Israel. The
reconstruction o f the early Jew ish history in Palestine is not
possible from these texts, nor indeed from any other records
so far available.

A QUESTION OF METHOD
All true learning involves a m easure o f unlearning; in the field
o f Biblical studies this is essential. Because the language o f the
H ebrew Bible passed out o f com m on usage som e tim e after the
sixth or fifth centuries B . C . , it is impossible to k now h o w it
was originally pronounced and vocalised by the ancient people
or peoples w ho spoke it. N o r do w e kn o w anything o f its
orthography, gram m ar, syntax or idiom . T he vocabulary o f
the H ebrew Bible, to the extent that it is k n ow n at all, is lim ited
to the w ords w hich appear in the Biblical texts. True, rabbinical
scholarship has provided us w ith an extra-Biblical vocabulary,
based partly on the existing Biblical vocabulary and partly
on b o rrow ings from Aramaic and other languages. We m ust
rem em ber, how ever, that rabbinical H ebrew was never actually
spoken; it was, quite sim ply, a language o f learning. M oreover,
m any o f the w ords that do occur in the H ebrew Bible appear
so infrequently that their meanings are a m atter o f debate.1
Therefore, to read and understand the H ebrew Bible, one has
either to go by the rabbinical tradition, or refer to other, related
Semitic languages w hich are alive today. I have taken the latter
course, basing m y interpretation on Arabic and, on a few
occasions, on Syriac, w hich is the m odern form o f ancient
Aramaic. In short, I have treated H ebrew as a virtually un
k n o w n language to be deciphered afresh, rather than as a
language w hose basic mysteries have already been resolved.
T hanks to the impeccable honesty o f M asoretic or traditional
Jew ish scholarship, the consonantal text o f the canonical
H ebrew Bible has com e dow n to us from antiquity alm ost
intact. U nfortunately, m odern scholars have rarely appreciated

28

T H E BI BLE C A ME F R O M ARABI A

this. O ften, w here they fail to m ake sense o f a given Biblical


passage as it stands, because o f prejudices regarding its geo
graphical context, they have assum ed textual corruptions w here
n one exists, in m uch the same w ay as a p o o r w o rkm an blames
his tools. T rue, som e books o f the H ebrew Bible are actually
edited com pilations fro m earlier sources. T hat is beyond doubt.
For all one can tell, how ever, the various books o f the canonical
Biblical text, m ore o r less as w e have them , already had their
present form before the passing o f ancient Israel, that is to say
b y the fifth or fourth century B.C. at the latest. This is suggested
by the fact that the H ebrew Bible was already being translated
as a w hole into A ram aic (the Targum s) during the Achaemenid
period, and into Greek (the Septuagint) starting in the Hellenis
tic period. Incidentally, the Dead Sea scrolls, w hich have at
tracted m uch attention in recent decades, are considerably
y o unger than either o f these translations. C onsequently, they
m ay be relevant to the study o f Palestinian Judaism in R om an
times, but are o f little use in helping to unravel the mysteries
o f the H eb rew Bible.
So, the H ebrew Bible in its early form was consonantal. It
was vocalised, w ith the use o f special vow el signs, by Palestinian
and B abylonian M asoretes betw een the sixth and ninth or tenth
centuries o f the C hristian era. In other w ords, those responsible
for vocalising it were, in effect, reconstructing a language that
had n o t been spoken for a thousand years or m ore. These
M asoretes, w hether they were natural speakers o f Aram aic or
Arabic, did w hat they had to do to the best o f their know ledge.
Revering the Bible as a sacred scripture, one m ust assume they
w ere careful n o t to tam per w ith it, leaving its consonantal text
as it stood, even w hen they discovered that a given passage did
n o t appear to m ake sense. Actual or supposed irregularities o f
spelling or g ram m ar w ere noted w herever they occurred or
seem ed to occur, but it appears that there was no deliberate
attem pt to introduce corrections. Ironically, had m odern Bibli
cal scholars been as careful and circumspect as their M asoretic
predecessors, m odern Bible Science w ould not have been as
confused as it is today, and the process o f true learning in the
field w ould n o t have necessitated so m uch unlearning.

A Q U E S T I O N OF M E T H O D

29

Sacred texts, in general, are carefully preserved in their origi


nal form by the pious and faithful o f any religion, surviving
virtually unchanged d o w n the generations. H anded do w n by
tradition, m uch as sacred texts are, place-names also tend to
rem ain unchanged, at least in fundam ental structure, no m atter
how long the passage o f time. Even in those rare cases w here
they are deliberately altered, the old names m ore often than
not survive in the folk m em ory, in the m ajority o f instances
reasserting themselves som e time later.
It is the persistent survival o f place-names that has m ade
m y to ponym ic analysis possible, providing in som e instances
greater insight into the geography o f the H ebrew Bible than
ever archaeology could. In a way, the study o f place-names
serves the same purpose as field archaeology, though w ith one
im portant difference. W hile archaeological findings, unless they
include inscriptions, are m ute, place-names are highly articu
late. T h ey tell us not only w hat they are, but also h o w they are
pronounced, w hat they m ean, and from w hat language or
type o f language they derive. In the absence o f inscriptions,
archaeological findings are notoriously difficult to interpret,
so m u ch so that contentions am ong archaeologists over the
historical significance o f certain findings have often degenerated
into personal feuds. While place-names do not perhaps yield as
m uch inform ation as archaeological excavation, w hat they do
provide at least has the virtue o f absolute or relative certainty.
Let m e offer an example. If one finds a set o f place-names in
West Arabia w hich clearly derive from a language w hich is
consonantally identical w ith Biblical H ebrew or Biblical A ra
maic, one m ay conclude that languages identical or similar to
Biblical H ebrew or Aram aic were once spoken in West Arabia,
although Arabic has been the com m on speech there for about
2,000 years. Jfit can be further dem onstrated that a arge num ber
o f Biblical place-names, w hatever their linguistic origin, have
their living counterparts in W est Arabia, while only a very few
such nam es have their counterparts in Palestine, then it is
reasonable to ask: is the H ebrew Bible a record o f historical
developm ents in W est Arabia rather than in Palestine?
In an effort to answ er that question, m y strategy in the pages

30

T HE BI BLE C A ME F R O M ARA BI A

that follow is to com pare sets o f ancient Semitic place-names,


w hich the Bible presents in H ebrew spelling, w ith actual placenam es in Asir and the southern Hijaz, w hich m odern gazetteers
o f Saudi Arabia present in Arabic spelling. A period o f approxi
m ately 3,000 years separates the Biblical forms o f these names
fro m their present counterparts. In term s o f diachronic linguis
tics, this is an extrem ely long period, in the course o f w hich
m ore than one language shift m ust have taken place in the lands
o f the N ear East, n o t to speak o f dialectical shifts at each stage.
Therefore, to m e, w h at is surprising is not that the Biblical
nam es have undergone som e distortion during this process;
rather, it is that they remain, for the m ost part, so readily
recognisable in their present Arabic form.
It is only natural that the Biblical place-names in W est Arabia
should have undergone som e changes in phonology and m o r
phology after the passage o f nearly three m illenniums. A t the
start o f this book, a note called C onsonantal transform ations
indicates h o w given consonants in H ebrew can becom e different
ones in Arabic, and vice versa. T he same note calls attention to
the frequency o f metathesis (i.e., the transposition o f consonants
in given w ords) betw een the Semitic languages, and even
dialectically w ithin the same language. In addition to the
changes caused by shifts o f language and dialect, one m ust
consider the distortion caused by the w ritten presentation o f
the place-names in question, both in Biblical H ebrew and in
m o dern Arabic. N o w ritten language has the means (alphabeti
cal or otherwise) other than to approxim ate the phonetics o f
actual speech. This is w h y linguists resort to the use o f so m any
extra-alphabetical sym bols in their w ork, know ing well that
even these intricate sym bols fall short o f the accurate represen
tation o f actual sounds.
H o w place-names referred to in this chapter and elsewhere
were actually pronounced in Biblical times cannot be know n.
T o determ ine precisely h o w they are pronounced today w ould
involve extensive field research. H ow ever, in com paring the
w ritten form s o f these names, both in Biblical H ebrew and in
m odern Arabic, one m ust bear in m ind the nature o f the Semitic
alphabet. O riginally, this alphabet recognised no m ore than

A Q U E S T I O N OF M E T H O D

31

tw en ty -tw o consonants (including the glottal stop w hich the


Semitic languages recognise as a consonant, and the tw o semi
vowels w and y), although actual Semitic speech invariably used
more. In rabbinical H ebrew , an extra consonant was added to
the original alphabet by dotting the letter called sin, w hich could
cither be vocalised as an s or as the s. Thus the came to stand
for the s, and the V for the s. Arabic, borrow ing its w riting
from its Semitic siblings, used their basic 22-letter alphabet at
first. In time, how ever, six m ore characters w ere introduced,
again by adding dots to six characters which were already there.
Thus the t (o) received an extra dot to yield a t (>i>); the h ()
was dotted to yield an h (); the d (j) was dotted to yield a d (j);
the 5 (u*) was dotted to yield the d (J*); the f (J) was dotted to
yield the z (J*); and the (the voiced pharyngeal) fricative, or
ayn (Q was dotted to yield th e ^ () (see the Key to H ebrew and
Arabic transliteration at the beginning o f the present study). In
all six cases, the new letters introduced represented consonants
phonologically related to those represented by the older ones
receiving the extra dots.
T hus in Arabic, as originally w ritten, n o t all the consonants
which w ere heard in actual speech had independent characters
in the alphabet to represent them . The same was no doubt true
o f Biblical H ebrew , w here the spoken language in its various
dialects m ust have recognised consonants which, in w riting,
were represented by characters standing for other consonants,
but w hich w ere instinctively recognised as being phonologically
related. For example, there is no reason to assume that ancient
H ebrew speakers in W est Arabia or elsewhere did not pro
nounce the h as well as the phonologically-related h, while
m aking the h stand for bo th consonants in writing. In the
rabbinical vocalisation o f Biblical H ebrew (which reflects the
influence o f Aramaic), the b can be pronounced as both a b and
a v\ the as a g and a g\ the k as a k and a h; the p as a p and a p
( o r / ) ; the t as a t and a t. It is entirely possible that ancient
H ebrew speakers (at least in some dialects) also pronounced
such consonants as the d, d and z for which also the H ebrew
alphabet has no special characters. H o w ancient H ebrew
speakers differentiated in speech betw een their 5 ( , or sin) and

32

T HE BI BLE C A ME F R O M A R A B I A

their s (0, or samek) is an outstanding question. Possibly, the s


represented a cross betw een the s, s and ar sounds.
Bearing all this in m ind, the resemblance betw een ancient
H eb rew pronunciations o f W est Arabian place-names and their
present Arabic form m ay have been closer than one supposes.
A prop er field study o f ho w the w ritten Arabic names are
actually pronounced today w ould no doubt shed further light
on this m atter. W hat is certain, how ever, is that the Arabic
alphabet, w ith its six extra consonantal characters, is equipped
to yield a closer approxim ation o f the original consonantal
structure o f the names than the H ebrew .
O f course, a dem onstrable correspondence betw een Biblical
and W est Arabian place-names w ould not in itself be sufficient
to prove that W est Arabia was the true land o f the H ebrew
Bible. T o begin w ith, one m ust m ake certain that the same
toponym ic correspondence does not exist in other areas o f
peninsular Arabia or in other parts o f the N ear East. O nce this
is ascertained, one m ust try to discover w hether or n o t the
Biblical co-ordinates given to places w hose names survive,
or appear to survive, in West Arabia fit their W est Arabian
counterparts. T o put it another way, if one identifies a place in
W est Arabia w hose nam e seems to correspond w ith that o f the
Biblical Beer-lahai-roi (br Ihy ry), one m ust then determ ine
w hether this place is located along a road leading to a Shur
(swr), betw een a Kadesh (qds) and a Bered (brd) (see Genesis
16:7, 14).2 From this point, one m ight assume, archaeology
could take over, seeking to discover w hether the W est Arabian
site carrying the Biblical nam e could have been inhabited at the
appropriate Biblical period, and w ith w hat sort o f material
culture it was associated. T he present w ork is alm ost entirely
based on toponym ies. Before the thesis it advances m ay be
regarded as definitive, how ever, one m ust assume that archae
ology w ould have to corroborate the findings on w hich it is
based.
In addition to archaeology, there are other ways to ascertain
w hether or not Biblical history could have run its course in W est
Arabia rather than in Palestine. M atters relating to topography,
geology and minerals, hydrology, flora and fauna m ust be

A Q U E S T I O N OF M E T H O D

33

considered. In other w ords, if one finds a West Arabian river


o r stream called the Pishon, for example, it is unlikely to be
the Biblical Pishon unless it skirts an area w here gold can be
found, o r could once have been found (see Genesis 2:11-12).
O ne clear indication that the Biblical Sodom and G om orrah
could n o t have been ancient tow ns in the vicinity o f the Dead
Sea is that there are no volcanoes there which could once have
destroyed them (see Genesis 19:24, 28). If one finds a Sodom
o r a G o m o rrah in W est Arabia, one m ust look for a volcano or
f o r volcanic debris nearby. Likewise, if King Solom on had his
palace built out o f costly stones w hich w ere hewn according
to measure, sawed w ith saws, back and fro n t, and w ere also
huge stones, stones o f eight and ten cubits (1 Kings 7:9-10),
the building material indicated could hardly have been the
co m m o n lim estone o f Palestine. M ore likely, it was granite,
which is still found and quarried in W est Arabia. T he same
material m ust have been used in building the structure round
the walls o f Solom ons tem ple, considering that this structure
was m ade w ith stone prepared at the qu arry , so that neither
ham m er n o r axe nor any tool o f iron was heard in the temple,
while it was being built (1 Kings 6:7).3 A lthough the sn o w
o r slg o f the Bible is in som e instances a reference to the herb
soapw ort (not the Saponaria officinalis, or bouncing bet, but
probably the Gypsophila arabica, see note i ) ,4 in other instances
it clearly refers to actual snow . U nder these circumstances, one
m ust m ake certain that snow does fall and hold on the W est
Arabian m ountains - w hich it does - before venturing the
suggestion that the Bible land could have been there.5 T he
Biblical oil could have been sesame rather than olive oil, con
sidering that sesame remains one o f the main products o f Asir.
The fact that a wild olive still grow s in W est Arabia, how ever,
indicates that the Biblical olive could easily have been cultivated
there in antiquity, together w ith the fig, alm ond, pom egranate
and vine, all o f w hich are m entioned in the H ebrew Bible and
are still cultivated in the area. Additionally, the olive is still to
be found in tw o parts o f peninsular Arabia, northern Hijaz and
O m an. Therefore, it seems reasonable to assume that w hat is
referred to is olive oil rather than sesame. In Leviticus 11:29,

34

T HE BIBLE C A ME F R OM ARABI A

the great lizard (sb) is listed am ong the reptiles held in abom ina
tion as food. T he great lizard or m onitor o f southern Palestine
and Sinai is called the waral (wrl) or waran (wrn). T he Biblical
sb is clearly the Arabian desert m onitor or dabb (db).6 O n the
other hand, while the H ebrew Bible speaks o f m any different
kinds o f birds, it now here seems to m ention geese or chickens.
According to the ancient geographer Strabo (16:4:2), the parts
o f Arabia across the Red Sea from Ethiopia are peculiar in that
they have birds . . . o f every kind, except geese and the
gallinaceous tribe.
All this argues well for a reconsideration o f the geographic
location o f the Bible land, especially as it tends to support other
relevant evidence.
R eturning to the som ew hat m ore arid science o f toponym ies,
on w hich the argum ent o f the present volum e mainly depends,
it should be observed that a proper identification o f Biblical
place-names can deepen and in some cases revolutionise existing
know ledge o f the H ebrew language. Place-names to Biblical
H ebrew , if one treats it as a language to be redeciphered, are
very similar in nature to royal or divine names in cartouches in
ancient Egyptian: they provide clues for the decoding o f w hat
is, in fact, a dead language.7 Recognise a Biblical place-name
for w hat it is, and the w hole passage in which it occurs begins
to unfold its m ystery and m ake new sense. The plain fact is that
m any ordinary w ords (verbs, nouns, adverbs and adjectives,
som etim es w ith a prepositional b, I or m attached) have tra
ditionally been misread in their Biblical context as place-names.
O n the other hand, there are countless unsuspected Biblical
place-names which have traditionally been taken to be verbs,
adverbs, nouns or adjectives. T he proper distinction betw een
w hat is actually a place-nam e and w hat is no t in a given Biblical
text can turn m any a traditional reading (and hence standard
translation) upside-dow n.
T he ancient E gyptian and M esopotam ian records, if their
reading is reconsidered (as it should be, see C hapter 1), can
th ro w m uch light on the true setting o f Biblical geography. In
these records, Biblical place-names are often cited w ith other
place-names w hich one still finds in W est Arabia. Also helpful

A Q U E S T I O N OF M E T H O D

35

.ire the w orks o f the Classical historians and geographers. In


the preceding chapter, evidence from the w o rk o f H erodotus
was cited in connection w ith the em igration o f the Philistines
.md the Canaanites from W est Arabia to the Syrian coast; in
( chapter 4, evidence from the geography o f Strabo will be used
to identify the exact location o f the West Arabian as distinct
from the Palestinian Beersheba. W hat the K oran has to say
about m atters relating to Biblical geography and history, which
is considerable, m ust also be taken seriously into account, which
has n o t been the case so far.
The text o f the K oran was compiled and redacted at about
the same tim e as the M asoretes were beginning to vowel and
collate the text o f the canonical H ebrew Bible. According to
Islamic tradition, the definitive edition o f the Koran, as it
survives to this day, was m ade during the reign o f the caliph
U thm an, i.e. betw een a . d . 644 and 656. W here it speaks o f the
I lebrew patriarchs, o f Israel, or o f the Jew ish prophets, the
Koran cites a n um ber o f place-names which are distinctly West
Arabian. T he correspondence betw een the Koranic place-names
111 a given context, and the Biblical names in the same context,
is som etim es highly intriguing. For example, where the Bible
gives the nam e o f a W est Arabian m ountain, the Koran does
not, b u t refers instead to a valley, a to w n or to som e other
location in the same vicinity. Thus Moses, according to the
liible (Exodus 3: if), was called by the angel o f Y ahw eh o u t o f
the flaming bush in M o u n t H oreb (hrb). A ccording to the Koran
(20:12, 79:16), the divine call o f Moses took place in the sacred
valley o f T u w a (tw). So far, the Biblical M o u n t H oreb has
been sought in Sinai but has never been found there by name.
The flam ing bush which was burning, yet it was not consum ed
has been understood by scholars to be a reference to a volcano,
yet no traces o f volcanic activity have been found in Sinai. This
lias led som e researchers to turn from Sinai to look for a H oreb
111 the volcanic areas o f the northern Hijaz (see Kraeling,
pp. 108-110), b u t again w ith o u t success. The Koran, how ever,
tells us exactly w here H oreb was: an isolated ridge on the
maritime side o f Asir, a place called today Jabal Had!. O n
Jabal Had!, there stands to this day a village called T iw a (tw),

36

T HE BIBLE C A ME F R OM ARABI A

w hich m ust once have given its nam e to an adjacent tributary


o f the valley o f W adi Baqarah - the sacred valley o f the Koranic
M oses. In Wadi Baqarah, there also stands to this day a village
called H arib (hrb), from w hich the neighbouring ridge o f Jabal
H ad! m ust have received its Biblical name. The w hole area in
question is strew n w ith lava fields w here volcanoes could have
once been active.8
W here it relates Biblical stories, the K oran does not simply
repeat Biblical material in variant form s, which is today a
com m only held view am ong scholars. Its contents, w here they
correspond to the H ebrew Bible (not to speak here o f the
C hristian Gospels) are, I believe, independent versions o f the
same W est Arabian historical traditions and m ust be treated as
such. If the Bible represents the Israelite H ebrew version o f
these traditions, dating from times preceding the fourth century
B .C ., the Koran, w here it treats the same traditions, represents
the Arabic version o f them , dating from a period w hen Arabic
had already superseded Aramaic and H ebrew as the spoken
language o f West Arabia. T he discrepancies betw een the tw o
versions m ay appear confusing at first glance; upon further
investigation, how ever, they can turn out to be enlightening.
Hence, w hat w e have is the following: a consonantal H ebrew
text w hich w e m ay reasonably assume is accurate, and which
m ust be carefully reread w ithout regard to traditional vocalisa
tion; ancient Egyptian, M esopotam ian and other records which
cite Biblical place-names and m ust also be reread w ithout regard
to standing geographic or topographical interpretations; the
w orks o f Classical historians and geographers w hich can be
o f help; the consonantal text o f the Koran, which has stood
unchanged since it was first compiled and redacted; finally, a
W est Arabian landscape heavily dotted w ith Biblical names, in
m o st cases w ith their original Biblical form virtually un
changed, or at least clearly recognisable in the names they have
today. In the next chapter, the part o f West Arabia w here the
Biblical names are concentrated will be described in greater
detail. Later, I shall exam ine certain Biblical texts w ith a view
to show ing h ow perfectly their geography corresponds to that
o f W est Arabia. Readers m ay ju d g e for themselves w hether they

A Q U E S T I O N OF M E T H O D

37

Iind the m ain argum ent o f this book convincing. W hatever their
( (inclusions, w e should rem em ber, how ever, that the Bible
remains the Bible, regardless o f w here its true land is to be
lound.

THE LAND OF ASIR


T he true land o f the Bible, as I have suggested, is Asir. Actually,
the nam e is o f m odern usage, dating from the nineteenth
century to denote the W est Arabian highlands extending, north
to south, from N im as (al-Nimas, I 9 N by 4 2 E ) to N ajran
(Nagran, i73o'N by 4 4 i o 'E ) as well as the hill country and
coastal desert o f the so-called Tiham ah (Tihamah) betw een the
coastal to w n o f Q ahm ah (al-Qahmah, i8N by 4 i E ) and the
m odern border w ith Y em en (coastal position i 6 2 5 'N by
4245'E). Today, Asir is a province o f the kingdom o f Saudi
Arabia, its capital being the highland to w n o f Abha ( i 8 I 5 'N
by 4 2 3 o 'E ) . East to west, it extends from the edges o f the
C entral Arabian desert to the Red Sea (see m ap 3).
T he distinctive feature o f Asir is a stretch o f highland called
the Sarat (al-Sarat, plural o f sari, m eaning m oun tain or eleva
tio n ),2 undulating betw een an elevation o f 1,700 and 3,200
m etres, form ing the w estern edge o f the Arabian tableland o f
N ajd (Nagd) betw een T a if and the Yem en border. N o rth o f
Taif, the Arabian tableland ends w ith the low m ountains and
hills o f the Hijaz, w hich rise betw een 1,200 and 1,500 metres.
South o f Taif, how ever, it comes to a m ore abrupt end w ith
the so-called W est Arabian escarpment. This is a sheer drop o f
about 100 m etres, 80-120 kilom etres inland from the Red Sea
coast, extending som e 700 kilom etres from T a if in the north,
and fusing w ith the high m ountains o f the Yem en in the south.
A bove this escarpm ent, the Sarat reaches its highest elevations
near Abha; further south, the escarpm ent tapers o ff to an end
som e distance beyond the tow n o f D hahran (called D hahran o f
the South, Zahran al-Ganiib, i74o'N by 433o'E). In the north,

1 HE L A N D OF ASI R

39

/v /

7 / Basaltic Desert
v Harrat
//
'
j / al-Buqum /

C e n tra l Arabian Desert

i f

M .i 113

Asir: physical characteristics

Rub'al-Hali

40

T H E BI BLE C A ME F R O M A RABI A

the Sarat ends at Taif, east o f Mecca, connecting at about 2 iN


w ith the T a if ridge.
Hence, the nam e Asir m ay be used in a broad geographic
sense to define the territory straddling the full stretch o f the
Sarat, from T a if in the north to D hahran and the borders o f the
Y em en in the south, bearing in m ind that the parts o f this
territory no rth o f the N im as region are norm ally regarded as
being part o f the Hijaz. A long the stretch o f the Sarat, the N im as
region actually form s a saddle betw een the higher elevations o f
the Abha region to the south, and those o f the Bahah (al-Bdhah )
region, which com prises the areas o f Gham id (Bilad Gamid) and
Z ahran (Bilad Zahran) to the north. A shorter col separates the
heights o f Z ahran from the T a if ridge, w here the Sarat (and
hence geographic Asir) m ay be said to end.
A long the T iham ah coast o f geographic Asir are a num ber
o f tow ns and harbours. T he m ost notable o f them today,
n o rth to south, are Lith (al-Lit); Q unfudhah (al-Qunfudah ); Birk
(,al-Birk); Q ahm ah (see above); Shuqayq (al-Suqayq ); and Jizan.
T h e land rises abruptly from the edge o f the Tiham ah coastal
desert, in a n u m b er o f bold m ountain steps, reaching the
escarpm ent and the Sarat drainage divide beyond. H ere the
country is deeply indented w ith valleys and gorges, w ith a
n u m b er o f isolated m ountain ridges in between. This m aritim e
side o f Asir is actually a country o f num erous hills and de
pressions (Arabic wahd or wahdah, consonantally whd o r whdh;
cf. Biblical yhw dh, for Ju d a h ), w hich m ust be the reason w hy
the nam e J u d a h was applied to it in Biblical times (see Chapter
8). A n u m ber o f places there are actually called W ahdah, even
to the present day, carrying names derived from the same root
(whd, lie low , be depressed). U ntil recent times, the valleys
and gorges o f this part o f Asir have provided breeding grounds
for locusts, w hich m ay explain the Biblical famines in the land
(see C hapter 13).
W hile the parts o f Asir w est o f the escarpment form an
intricate jig saw pattern o f ridges and gorges, the Sarat, from
above the escarpm ent, slopes m ore gently tow ards the interior.
In Asir proper, south o f N im as, the slope follows natural
fracture zones in a no rth w ard direction, the land here being

I HF. L A N D OF ASIR

Province ofB aha h:


1 Q ura
2 Dos
3 Hijrah
4 S hoara
5 M a nda q
6 Jam ajim
Province of Asir
1 B a n iA m r
2 Majaridah
3 Ballasm ar
4 K h a m isM ata y r
5 B allahm ar
6 G a n a a lB a h r
7 W a d iH a s h b a l
Province of Najran:
7 Bir Askar
1 Ham a
2 Husayniyah
8 S halba
9 M oayen
3 Hidadah
10 Mofijah
4 M a jm a
11 Najran
5 H abuna
12 Arisah
6 H arshaf
Province of Jizan:
1 Mosalliyah
2 U m m A IK h a s h o b
3 Haqw
4 Harub
5 H ashr
6 Balghazi

7
8
9
10
11

Bani Malik
Fayfa
Dham ad
W adi Jizan
AbuA rish

Mnp 4 Asir: adm inistrative areas (provinces and districts). 1978

41

42

T H E BIBLE C A ME F R O M ARABI A

dom inated, south to north, by the tw o drainage systems o f


W adi Tathlith ( Tatlit) and Wadi Bishah, each w ith its various
tributaries. T he m ain courses o f these tw o wadis eventually
veer eastwards to em pty their flood waters in Wadi D aw asir
(al-Dawasir), w hich drains inland into the desert. From the
highlands o f G ham id and Zahran, how ever, the land slopes
eastwards, being dom inated by the drainage system o f Wadi
Ranyah. T h e m ain course o f this wadi joins that o f Wadi Bishah,
before the latter turns eastwards to connect w ith Wadi Tathlith
near the edge o f the desert.
O f all the regions o f peninsular Arabia, Asir receives the
m ost rain. Located not far south o f the T ropic o f Cancer,
the Sarats high elevations trap the rains o f tw o climes: the
northw esterly w inds in w inter, and the southw est m onsoons
in sum m er. T he precipitation there ranges betw een 300 and 500
m illim etres a year, enough to keep the w ater table o f the
m ore arid lands on either side well replenished. In the higher
elevations, w inter rains som etim es fall and m ay even hold for
a short while as snow . Waterfalls are n o t uncom m on in parts
o f the Sarat, and seasonal or perennial streams, springing from
its heights, run in wadis on its inland and m aritim e sides. Dense
forests o f ju n ip e r are characteristic o f the Sarat and the higher
elevations o f the T iham ah hinterland, while w oodlands o f
terebinth, tam arisk, acacia, cypress and other forest trees are
found in m any areas. W here there are no forests, the Asir
highlands have traditionally been terraced for cultivation o f
grain and a w ide variety o f nut (notably almonds) as well as
fruit, including grapes. Grain and vegetables are cultivated in
large tracts o f arable land in the coastal valleys and lowlands;
grain and dates are g ro w n in the inland regions, notably in the
oasis tracts o f the W adi Bishah basin. T he gradations o f climate
in the country betw een the torrid coastlands, the tem perate
highlands and the desert interior, are reflected in a rich variety
o f flora; hence the honey o f Asir is o f a particularly fine quality.
A round the cultivated areas everyw here are extensive pastures
w here bedouins have traditionally herded flocks o f cattle, sheep
and goats and bred asses, mules and camels.3
T he inland parts o f Asir have always been k n ow n to have

H I E L A N D OF ASIR

43

some mineral wealth. Gold, lead and iron have been w orked
i here in the past - gold particularly in the region o f Wadi
Ranyah - and prospecting for minerals still goes on there, as
well as further north in M ahd al-Dhahab (literally, Cradle o f
( Jold), northeast o f Taif. T here is a tributary o f Wadi Bishah
which is, in fact, called W adi Dhahab (literally, Valley o f
<lold), suggesting that its vicinity could have been one area
where gold was found in ancient tim es.4
In southern Asir, the heights o f D hahran separate between
i wo areas w ith quite distinctive features. O ne comprises the rich
valleys o f the Jizan coastal region, to the west and southwest; the
other is the oasis region o f the N ajran country, to the east. O f
.ill the areas o f Asir, the region o f Wadi N ajran, which runs
eastwards to end in Bilad Y am (Bilad Yam), along the fringes
o f the vast sands o f the E m p ty Q uarter (al-Rub al-Halt), is
perhaps the m ost fertile. A Jew ish com m unity flourished there
until the present century, a people, I w ould maintain, w ho
constituted the last rem nant o f Judaism in the land o f its origin.
Running parallel to W adi N ajran, to the north, are the less
fertile sister valleys o fW a d i H abuna (Habuna) and W adi Idim ah
(idimah)5 w ith their oasis settlements. B oth these valleys, like
Wadi N ajran, end in the Y am country.
T he Jizan coastal plain, across the D hahran heights from
Wadi N ajran, is also very fertile, being irrigated by the waters
o f num erous valleys such as W adi Khulab (Hulab), Wadi Jizan,
Wadi D ham ad (Damad), Wadi Sabya (Sabya), and Wadi Baysh
(Bays). W hat especially distinguishes the Jizan region, however,
is a circle o f picturesque ridges, which separates the coastal
plain from the D hahran heights. Also, there are three clusters
o f volcanic cones (those o f U m m al-Q um am , al-Q ariah and
U kw ah), w hich skirt the coastal plain on the inland side. The
last eruption o f one o f these volcanoes - that o f al-Q ariah is believed to have taken place in about 1820.5 There are
other volcanic areas elsewhere in Asir, especially further south
in the Yem en. A m ong the isolated ridges w hich circle the Jizan
region are Jabal H arub (Harub), Jabal Faifa (Fayfa) and Jabal
Bani M alik (Bam Malik).
Since Islamic times, Asir as a whole, despite its fertility and

44

T H E BIBLE C AME F R OM ARABI A

natural wealth, has been a land o f m arginal significance in the


history o f Arabia. In antiquity, how ever, as I have already
proposed in C hapter I, it m ust have been a country o f the first
im portance, being located at the junction o f the prim ary routes
o f the ancient w orld comm erce. Across the Red Sea, ships
could have m oved back and forth betw een the seaports o f Asir
and those o f Abyssinia, N ubia and Egypt. Caravan highways
proceeded northw ards from coastal and inland Asir, across
the Hijaz, to Syria, or across Central or N o rth Arabia to
M esopotam ia. O th e r caravan highw ays stretched southw ards
to the Yem en, ultim ately reaching the seaports o f south Arabia;
or eastwards to the Arabian coast o f the Persian G u lf by way
o f Y am am ah (al-Yamamah). This is a long stretch o f oasis
country, continuing the course o f W adi al-Dawasir and running
n orth o f the sands o f the E m p ty Q uarter, beginning from the
desert fringes o f southern Asir.
Hence, since the earliest days o f com m erce betw een the lands
o f the Indian O cean and Eastern M editerranean basins, as
betw een those o f the Persian G u lf and the Red Sea basins,
ancient Asir m ust have flourished as a leading centre for broker
age and trading services and transactions. Its inland towns
flourished as caravan stations; m erchants com ing there from
every direction exchanged their wares. M ost im portant am ong
the inland tow ns were those located along the m ain caravan
highw ay follow ing the crest o f the Sarat range, betw een D hahran al-Janub and Taif. Between these tow ns and the seaports,
rugged tracks crossed the m ountain passes o f the Sarat escarp
m ent, connecting the sea trade w ith that m oving inland (see
m ap 5).
In short, there is little doubt that ancient Asir was a thriving
land o f com m erce as well as being rich in agricultural, pastoral
and mineral produce. While its great m arket tow ns m ust have
stood out as centres o f an urban civilisation o f considerable
sophistication, the civilisation o f ancient Asir was nonetheless
centred in clusters o f oases, separated from one another as well
as from other parts o f Arabia by large tracts o f wilderness or
desert. T h o u g h connected to other lands by overland and
m aritim e trade routes, the country was geographically isolated.

1 HE L A N D OF ASIR

M #p 5

Prim ary routes and centres of population

45

46

T H E BI BLE C A M E F R O M ARA BI A

Internally, it lacked unity, different parts o f it going different


ways not only politically, but in other ways as well. In ancient
Asir, different peoples lived in different parts o f the country,
spoke different dialects and in som e cases different languages,
w orshipping different gods in different ways. Som e o f these
peoples w e shall identify later by name, as they appear in the
H ebrew Bible.
M y chief concern, how ever, is w ith that people o f ancient
Asir k n o w n as the Israelites, w h o underw ent a rich historical
experience in the highlands o f the Sarat and its w estern slopes
- the land o f Judah - som ew here betw een the tenth and fifth
centuries B . C . We are fortunate in having in the H ebrew Bible
an especially rich and poignant record o f their eventful history,
a text w hich articulates their hopes and fears, their trium phs
and reversals o f fortune, played out not in Palestine but in West
Arabia.

THE SEARCH FOR GERAR


liefore m oving on to a systematic presentation o f evidence to
upport m y argum ent that the Bible came from Arabia, I
would w ish to dem onstrate h o w perfectly the geography o f the
I lebrew Bible matches that o f West Arabia and h o w dubiously
il matches that o f Palestine. Particularly revealing in this respect
is the question o f Gerar (grr), a place which m ost Biblical
scholars believe to have flourished once as a city in the hinterland
o f Gaza, in coastal Palestine, not far from Blr al-Sab (or Beer.lieba), even th ough it does not actually survive there by name.
( .onsideration o f the location o f Gerar also serves to bring other
i|uestions o f Biblical geography into focus, n o t least those
relating to the land o f Canaan and the Biblical - as distinct from
i lie Palestinian - Beersheba (see m ap 6).
T here are four different Biblical passages which refer to
( lerar. In describing the original extent o f the territory o f
i lie Canaanites (h-knny), Genesis 10:19 m entions the place in
association w ith sydn (usually understood to be the Phoenician
Sidon) and zh (usually taken to mean Gaza in Palestine). In
1liis instance the text says that the border o f the Canaanites, on
one side, extended from sydn to z h , adding that the latter
lay in the direction o f Gerar, though not specifying which
direction. N either does it say w hether Gerar was located be
tween sydn and zh, or w hether it lay beyond zh from sydn,
1here being no clear indication o f the proxim ity betw een Gerar
.md zh or Gerar and sydn, either. O n the other hand, it does
explain w hat the border o f the Canaanite land was on the other
.ide, starting from sydn, though again, it does not specify the
direction (see below).

M ap 6

G era r in Palestine

I HE S E A R C H FOR GERAR

49

In Genesis 20:if, Gerar is m entioned in association w ith rs


li-ngb; either the land o f ngb, taken to m ean Palestinian N aqab
or the N e g e b desert, or the land o f the so u th (cf. Arabic gnb,
vocalised ganub), again understood to m ean southern Palestine,
where the N egeb desert is located. Here, Gerar is described as
lying betw een qds (transcribed Kadesh) and swr (transcribed
Shur) and having a k in g called bymlk (by mlk, transcribed
Abimelech). N o reference is made in this context to zh.
Again, in Genesis 26:if, Abim elech o f Gerar is described
as being the k in g o f plstym (transcribed the Philistines), a
description om itted in Genesis 20. A nhl grr (rendered as valley
o f G erar) is also m entioned in Genesis 26, in association w ith
the sites o f four wells identified by nam e as sq (transcribed
Esek), stnh (transcribed Sitnah), rhbwt (transcribed Rehoboth)
and sbh or br sb (transcribed as Shibah and Beersheba). Again
110 z h is m entioned.
T u rn in g to Chronicles II (i4:8f, or I4:9f in the Septuagint
and the standard translations), Gerar is m entioned in relation
to a w a r fought betw een Zerah the C ushite or Zerah the
Ethiopian (zrh h-kwsy) and King Asa o f Judah (ca. 908-867
i$.c.). In this war, the C ushites or Ethiopians (h-kwsym)
reportedly invaded Judah and reached mrsh (transcribed M areshah), before being defeated by K ing Asa in nearby g y spth (the
valley o f Z ephathah). Follow ing his victory, King Asa pursued
the retreating invaders to Gerar, plundering the to w n and its sur
rounding agricultural and pastoral lands. O ne is left to assume
that G erar and its vicinity form ed part o f the C ushite territory.
In their search for Gerar, Biblical scholars and archaeologists
have had nothing to go on other than these Biblical references;
nor have they had anything other than Biblical material to
identify the territory o f the Canaanites or that o f the Philistines
or, indeed, the Cushites. T he place-names sydn and zh, w hich
appear in Genesis 10, have invariably been taken to refer to the
Syrian Sidon and Gaza. This has led, quite naturally, to the
assum ption that the Biblical land o f the Canaanites com prised
the hinterland o f these tw o tow ns, to the exclusion o f any other
possibility. Because the Biblical zh features elsewhere in the
1 lebrew Bible as a city o f the Philistines (see C hapter 14),

50

THE BI BLE C A M E F R OM A RA B I A

Biblical scholars have also assumed that the land o f these Phili
stines com prised the Gaza coastlands. T hey have taken it for
granted that it included no territory outside coastal Palestine,
particularly as this country clearly carries their nam e (for the
Syrian Palestine and Canaan, see C hapter i). The m ention o f
G erar in Genesis 26 in association w ith plstym (invariably taken
to be the Philistines), in addition to its m ention in Genesis 10 in
connection w ith zh or Gaza, seemed to them sufficient p ro o f
that this place could only have been located in coastal Palestine.
Further, apart from the fact that the sydn and zh o f Genesis
10 appeared to be readily identifiable w ith the Syrian Sidon and
Gaza, m ost scholars have also assumed that the Biblical h-ngb
was none other than the Palestinian N egeb desert (Arabic
al-Naqab, or nqb), though sometim es adm itting that the H e
brew rs h-ngb in the context o f Genesis 20 could have m eant
quite sim ply the south co u n try , w hich they nonetheless take
to be southern Palestine. Beersheba, or br sb (alias sb'h, or
Shibah), seemed to refer to nothing other than present-day
Bir al-Sab, in the same area. H ow ever, w hen Biblical archaeo
logists excavated the Palestinian Bir al-Sab - a distinctly Arabic
nam e - the earliest rem ains they found on the exact site, as
already noted, came from the relatively late R om an or Byzan
tine period, w hen m ost parts o f rural Syria were already becom
ing rapidly Arabicised. Fortifications tenuously claimed to be
Israelite, and dating perhaps from Biblical times, were recently
discovered in the area, but only at a distance o f several kilo
metres fro m the tow n.
In Arabic, Bir al-Sab means Well o f the Wild Beast, although
it can also be understood to m ean Well o f the Seven. W ith the
latter m eaning, it can be taken to be an Arabic rendering o f the
H eb rew br sb, w hich in an aw kw ard way can mean Well o f
Seven (not Well o f the Seven, w hich w ould be br h-sb1). M ore
plausibly, the H ebrew nam e w ould m ean Well o f A bundance.
T he alternative nam e given to the same place in Genesis 26,
w hich is sbh (in the feminine form), w ould also mean A bun
dance, Satiety. T o m ean Well o f A bundance, the Arabic form
o f br sb w ould have to be Bir Shaba1 (br sb) or Bir Shaba'ah
(br sbh) rather than B ir al-Sab (br sb). This, added to the

THE S E A R C H F OR GERAR

51

negative archaeological evidence, argues against the Palestinian


HIr al-Sab being the Biblical Beersheba.
T o be fair, how ever, m ost Biblical scholars adm it that locat
ing Gerar betw een the Palestinian Gaza and Blr al-Sab is
problematical. A standard w ork o f Biblical geography (Kraeling, p. 80) describes the situation as follows:
Just w here Gerar was situated is still uncertain and depends
on h o w one locates other tow ns in this general area . . . In
late R om an times there was a district Geraritike, evidently so
nam ed because it was com posed prim arily o f the old Gerar
territory, and at that tim e Beersheba was included in it. Tell
Jemmeh, an im portant m ound south o f Gaza, which was
partly excavated by Flinders Petrie in 1927, was identified by
him w ith Gerar. Som e scholars doubted this . . . and
favoured Tell esh-SherVa northw est o f Beersheba. According
to a 1961 report, how ever, Israeli archaeologists have found
that a m o u n d not far from there, on the road from Beersheba
to Gaza, Tell Abu Hureira, w ith pre-H yksos remains, has
greater im portance than either o f these tw o tells, and m erits
equation w ith Gerar (cf. Simons, par. 369).
O n e problem w ith the search for Gerar betw een Beersheba
and Gaza arises from the fact that the to w n is described in
Genesis 20 as falling betw een Kadesh (qds) and Shur (swr). N o
places having such names can be identified in the G azaBeersheba area today, if w e assume that this area could have
been the Geraritike o f late R om an times. In fact, the identifica
tions o f the tw o places indicated w ith sites in southern Palestine
and the Sinai peninsula are particularly lame. Kraeling sum m ar
ises:
T he point Kadesh is probably a fixed one (p. 69) . . . Kadesh
lay in the eVArish - Raphia - Q oseim eh triangle, which,
indeed, is the only district in the w hole Sinaitic region in
w hich a nom ad group o f any size could have existed for any
length o f time. T he survey o f the Israeli N egeb by N elson
Glueck . . . since 1951, has established the fact that there was

52

T H E BI BLE C A M E F R O M A R A B I A

considerable occupation o f this region in the M iddle Bronze


period and again in Iron Age II, and thereafter in Nabataean
and late R om an times . . . A place called A in Qedeis was
discovered in the appropriate area in 1842 by J. Row lands
. . . It was rediscovered by H. C. T ru m b u ll w h o publicized
it in 1884. A t nearby A in el-Qudeirat, w hich is a far m ore
copious spring, lies a m ound representing a settlement w ith
Iron A ge sherds. According to Glueck, this is the chief Iron
Age site in the w hole area (p. 117) . . . Shur is believed to
be the H ebrew term for the E gyptian defense line o f the
Isthm us o f Suez, th ough that w ord, w hich means w all, does
no t quite accurately describe these defenses. According to the
French archaeologist Cledat, w ho explored the region, they
seem to have consisted rather o f disconnected fortification
posts. H o w ever that m ay be, the w ay to Shur (drk swr,
Genesis 16:7) is probably the ancient transport route to E gypt
from Beersheba, nam ed Darb el Shur b y Woolley and Law
rence, and going via Khalasa, Ruheibeh, Bir Birein, Muweileh
to the south (p. 69).
In short, the location o f Kadesh and Shur in southern Palestine
and Sinai is no m ore than a guess, and a wild one at that. It
should also be noted that there is no Gerar to be found anyw here
betw een A yn Q udays and the isthm us o f Suez. Even if Gerar
had been there, it w ould in any case have been a considerable
distance from Gaza and BTr al-Sab, w hich w ould leave us
w here w e started.
T he problem o f locating Gerar in Palestine is further com
pounded by the reference to it in 2 Chronicles 14. Here the tow n
appears to belong to the C ushites (h-kwsym), traditionally
identified as being the E thiopians, principally because the
Biblical texts frequently associate Cush, or kws, w ith msrym,
w hich is taken invariably to mean E g y p t (considering that
Ethiopia is the southern neighbour o f Egypt). In the Greek
Septuagint, the H ebrew kws is som etim es rendered in
transliteration, and at other times m o re freely interpreted as
Aithiopia or Aithiopes, and this has further encouraged m odern
Biblical scholars to identify the place as being Ethiopia. G ranted

THE S E A R C H F OR GERAR

53

that the Cushites were Ethiopians, one m ight reasonably ask


how they w ere able to control a territory in distant Palestine?
( k)uld these Ethiopians have been Egyptians o f the tim e o f the
tw enty-fifth or E thiopian dynasty (716-656 B . C . ) ? This is
unlikely, considering that they made w ar against Asa, w hose
reign as king o f Judah had ended about a century and a half
earlier. H ere is Kraeling again (p. 272), describing the w ay this
problem has so far been resolved:
T h e account in Chronicles . . . claims know ledge (sic) o f an
invasion in Asas tim e by the Cushite or Ethiopian Zerah
. . . T he Ethiopians did n o t come to pow er in E gypt until
the next century, so this Cushite cannot be a Pharaoh. H e
may, how ever, have been an Egyptian governor o f the colony
o f the brook o f E g y p t2 and Egyptian-held territory to the
n o rth o f it as far as Gerar. We hear elsewhere, too, that the
children o f H a m (i.e., Cushites) lived adjacent to the tribe
o f Sim eon3 in the south country (1 C hron. 4:39), and the
G edor there m entioned is to be read Gerar (for disagreement
on the last point, see Simons, par. 322).
It m u st be added here that the M areshah (or mrsh) which
'Zerah the Ethiopian reached in his invasion o f Judah has been
identified w ith a Tall Sandahannah in southern Palestine, which
also represents the G reco-R om an Marisa . . . im m ediately east
o f hirbet mer'ash, w here the ancient nam e survives (Simons,
par. 318). Actually, M er'ash (mrs) and M areshah (mrsh) are
not the same nam e at all, and can only appear to be so to
non-Sem itic speakers, w h o w ould ignore the voiced pharyn
geal fricative in the first nam e because they cannot pronounce
it. T he valley o f Z ephathah (gy} spth) has defied identification
in Palestine to such an extent that no guess as to its location 110 m atter h o w wild - has been attempted. O ne explanation is
that the H ebrew form o f the nam e m ay be no m ore than a
textual obscurity (Simons, par. 254), which is hardly a satisfac
tory solution to the problem .
T o sum m arise, w e m ay conclude the following:
1

T h e site o f th e B iblical G e ra r in P alestine has n o t y et b een

54

T H E BIBLE C A ME F R OM ARA BI A

sa tisfac to rily id entified , an d n o place th e re co n tin u es to c a rry a n y th in g


r e s e m b lin g this n am e.
2 It has b ee n a s su m e d th a t G e ra r m u s t h av e b een lo c ate d in
s o u th e r n P alestine, b ecau se G enesis 10 m e n tio n s th e place in associa
tio n w ith a zh, w h ic h is th o u g h t to be th e P alestin ian Gaza, w h ile
G en esis 26 m e n tio n s it in associatio n w ith a sbh o r br sb, t h o u g h t
to b e th e P alestin ian B ir a l-S a b , n o w c o m m o n ly called B eersheba.
3 A s s u m in g th a t th e B iblical K ad e sh is th e oasis o f A y n
Q u d a y s , n e a r W a d i a l-A rish, an d th a t S h u r m u s t h a v e b een lo cated
f u rth e r w e s t in Sinai, n e a r th e isth m u s o f Suez, G e ra r co u ld n o t h av e
b een lo c a te d b e tw e e n B e ersh e b a an d G aza, a n d also b e tw e e n K ad e sh
a n d S h u r, w h ic h is w h a t G enesis 20 asserts.
4 I f th e C u s h ite s w e r e really E th io p ian s, an d G erar w as in
s o u th e rn Palestine, th e c o n tro l o f G erar b y th e C u s h ite s , w h ic h is
clearly im p lie d in 2 C h ro n ic le s 14, c a n n o t easily b e explained.

T o unravel the m ystery o f Gerar, it m ight be best to start


w ith evidence provided in 2 Chronicles 14, by trying to deter
m ine w h o these C ushites really were. C u sh , as already m en
tioned, is associated in the Biblical texts w ith msrym, which
certainly denotes E gypt in som e Biblical passages (e.g. 1 Kings
14:25^ 2 Chronicles I2:2f; also 2 Kings 23:29; 2 Chronicles
35:2of; Jerem iah 46:2). Elsewhere in the Bible, as will be seen
(Chapters 13 and 14), the nam e msrym denotes any o f several
locations in W est Arabia, including the village o f M isram ah
(msrm) in the Asir heights, betw een Abha and Khamis M ushait,
or that o f M asr (msr) in W adi Bishah, in inland Asir. Searching
for a kws (or C u sh ) in that general vicinity, one readily finds
it as K uthah (kwt), near Kham is M ushait. This is an oasis lying
a short distance east o f Abha, and hence o f M isramah; also, it
is located at the headwaters o f Wadi Bishah, and therefore o f
the region w here M asr is found. In the same Khamis M ushait
vicinity lie the oases o f Q ararah (qrr) and G hurayrah (gryr, or
grr), one o f which m ust have been the Biblical Gerar (or one o f
the Biblical Gerars). N earby is also the oasis o f Shabaah (sbh,
or sb*), w hich m ust have been the Biblical Shibah, or Beer
sheba.* If the reader thinks this is ju st too neat to be true, con
sider the following, w hich seems to clinch m y argum ent.
* O f th e th re e w ells (sin g ular br) m e n tio n e d alo n g sid e S h ib ah (alias
B e ersh e b a, o r br sb1) in G enesis 26, E sek (sq) su rv iv es b y n a m e to d a y
as A k as (ks), n e a r A b h a , w e st o f K h a m is M u sh a it. T h e o th e r tw o

I HE S E A R C H F OR GERAR

55

As already m entioned, the H ebrew br sb' probably means


'Well o f A bundance, but it can also be mistaken to mean Well
o f Seven. In his account o f the return jo u rn e y o f the R om an
general Aelius Gallus from his Arabian expedition in 24 B .C .,
Strabo (16:4:24) carefully describes the stages by which Gallus
proceeded out o f N eg ran a (Najran) to reach the harbour o f
N egra (N ujayrah, near the present port o f U m m Lajj) on the
Red Sea. There, the R om an forces boarded the ships which
look them back to E gypt. Strabo reports that eleven days after
leaving N ajran, Gallus reached a place called the Seven Wells,
( learly an attem pted translation o f br sb or br sbh. Studying
1lie text o f Strabo in the light o f his Arabian explorations, H.
St J. B. Philby (Arabian Highlands, Ithaca, N .Y ., 1952, p. 257;
hereafter referred to as Philby) estimated that the Seven W ells
must have been Khamis M ushait, w hich lies at a road distance
o f about 260 kilom etres from N ajran. Philby noted the existence
o f Shabaah am ong the villages dow nstream from Khamis
Mushait, in an area partly irrigated by the floods and partly
from wells, w hich are for the m ost part w ide-m outhed . . .
(p. 132). W hat he did not notice, however, was that the name
Shabaah is the Biblical sb'h, identified in Genesis 26 as being
1he same place as br sb. His guess was that Khamis M ushait
itself could once have been called Bir Saba (p. 257).
A ccording to Strabo, Gallus took forty days to complete the
journey from the Seven W ells to N e g ra , which he described
as being close to the sea; the road he took passed through
Chaalla and M alothas, the latter being located on a river.
N ot taking into account the fact that N e g ra could only have
been located along the Red Sea coast, considering that the
returning R om an forces boarded their ships there, Philby iden
tified it tentatively w ith inland M adain Salih north o f Medina,
missing the proper identification o f Chaalla and M alothas.

wells a p p e a r to h a v e b ee n lo c a te d across th e es c a rp m e n t, o n th e
m a ritim e side o f A sir w a te r d ivide. T h e re o n e finds to this d ay a
R e h o b o th ( rhbwt) w h ic h is R a h a b a t ( rhbt), in th e B ani S h ah r regio n;
ilso a S itn a h (stnh) w h ic h is U m m S hatan (stn, A ra b ic fo r ro p e o f
.1 w a te r w e ll), in th e n e a rb y M a ja rid a h region.

56

T H E BIBLE C A M E F R O M ARA BI A

T he first he took to be Q a lat Bishah, in Wadi Bishah, and the


second Turabah or K hurm a, in the inland Hijaz (p. 257).
Actually, the road from Khamis M ushait to the coast follows
the course o f the river o f Wadi al-Dila1, in the region o f Rijal
A lm a, w here tw o villages called Q alah (Chaalla) and M aladhah
(Malothas) are still to be found. This road continues dow nhill
to Darb; there it connects w ith another road which proceeds
northw ards across the West Arabian coastal desert as far as
U m m Lajj and N ujayrah (Negra). This is exactly w hat Strabo
says: His road thence lay through a desert country, w hich had
only a few w atering places. Along the road described, the total
distance from the Kham is M ushait vicinity to U m m Lajj or
N ujayrah is approxim ately 1,100 kilometres, which can easily
be covered in a m arch o f forty days.
In short, the C ushites (certainly those o f 2 Chronicles 14)
were n o t E thiopians but the tribesmen o f the Kuthah vicinity
(i.e., the Kham is M ushait highlands), in the upper reaches o f
W adi Bishah, n o t far dow nstream from Shaba'ah, the Biblical
br sb, or Beersheba. T he Ju d ah they invaded, as we shall see
in C hapter 8, com prised the western slopes o f Asir. Advancing
against this J u d a h , Zerah o f Kuthah reached a M areshah or
mrsh w hich is today either M ashar (msr) or M ashari (msr), in the
Q unfudhah hinterland. In the same region lies the valley o f
W adi Hall, w here there is at least one village called Sifah (with
the fem inine suffix, spt), one gazetteer listing tw o, perhaps by
mistake. Thus, the Biblical valley o f Zephathah (gy spth)
w ould be a reference either to the m ain course o f Wadi Hall,
or to the tributary o f this valley w here the present village o f
Sifah is located. Zerah had to cross the main Asir escarpment
from W adi Bishah to reach M ashar (or Mashari) and W adi Hall
in the Q unfudhah hinterland. Defeated there, he retreated across
the escarpm ent to W adi Bishah, King Asa and his forces pursu
ing him: they plundered Gerar and its rich surroundings.
A ccording to Genesis 20, as already noted, Gerar was located
betw een Kadesh and Shur. This Gerar (which appears to be
also that o f Genesis 26 and 2 Chronicles 14) m ust have been
Qararah, not Ghurayrah, in the Khamis M ushait vicinity, as
this Q ararah actually falls along the main road betw een Kadas

I HE S E A R C H FOR GERAR

57

(kds, cf. H ebrew qds), in Rijal A lm a, and Al Abu T h a w r (twr,


i f. H ebrew sur), in Wadi Bishah. There is no confusion about the
co-ordination here, nor is there the least problem in identifying
Kadesh and Shur by their respective names. Certainly, one does
not have to resort to conjecture or the forced interpretation o f
inadequate archaeological findings in an effort to prove the
point. M oreover, in both Genesis 20 and 26, a king o f Gerar
is m entioned called Abimelech (by mlk), w h o is described in
Genesis 26 as being the king o f the Philistines (plstym, singular
plsty, the genitive o f plst). Here tw o observations m ust be made,
first, the w hole region straddling the w ater divide northw est
o f Kham is M ushait, including the part o f Wadi Bishah where
Q ararah is located, carries the tribal nam e Ban! Malik (mlk). So
does one village in this same region. This could mean that the
Abim elech (literally, Father o f M alik) o f Genesis 20 and 26
was n o t necessarily the name, but perhaps the designation, o f
.1 succession o f chiefs o f the Malik tribe o f the region, w ho
were also kings o f Qararah. Considering the generation gap
between the stories told in Genesis 20 and 26, the A bim elech
o f both stories could hardly have been the same person. M y
second observation is w ith respect to Gerar (or Qararah) and
t lie Philistines (see C hapter 14). N o rth o f Q ararah in the Wadi
Bishah basin, there is still a village called Falsah (plst), w hose
inhabitants w ould have been called plstym in Hebrew. This
l-'alsah could easily have been part o f the territory o f Q ararah
at one tim e o r another, which w ould explain w h y the A bim elechs o f Genesis are described as kings o f Gerar as well as o f
the Philistines.
T u rn in g to Genesis 10, one finds that the co-ordinates cited
tor G erar there are entirely different from those cited for the
Gerar o f Genesis 20, Genesis 26 and 2 Chronicles 14. Here,
( ierar is m entioned as, the direction o f one border o f the land
o f the Canaanites or kn'ny, extending from sydn to zh, while
.mother border, again starting from sydn, extended in the
direction o f sdm (Sodom), mrh (Gom orrah), dmh (Admah) and
\bym (Zeboiim) to ls (Lasha).
T he sydn in question here is certainly not the Lebanese port
o f Sidon (today Sayda, or syd) . O f four Sidons called Zaydan

58

T H E BIBLE C A ME F R O M A R A B I A

or Al Zaydan (zydn) w hich are found to this day in different


parts o f Asir, that o f Genesis 10 m ust be Al Zaydan, in the
heights o f ja b a l Shahdan - a peak o fja b a l Bani Malik, in the
hinterland o f Jizan, w hich controls a strategic m ountain pass
along the present frontier betw een th ejiza n region and the Ye
men. From this Al Zaydan, the second border o f the Canaan
ite land m entioned in Genesis 10 extended westwards in the
direction o f the Red Sea coast, ending at the last line o f villages
at the edge o f the coastal desert, betw een Wadi Sabya and the
B ahr region no rth o f Wadi Itwad. As will be seen in C hapter
7, the nam e o f the vanished city o f Sodom (sdm) survives today
as that o f W adi D am is (dms), a tributary o f Wadi Sabya, which
runs directly n o rth o f the tw in volcanoes o fja b a l Akw ah, and
w ithin their lava field. G om orrah (mrh) was either another
vanished city o f W adi D am is lying, like Sodom , underneath
the local lava, or else present-day G ham r (gmr), which is located
on the slopes o fja b a l H arub, uphill from W adi Damis. Facing
one another across the main course o f Wadi Sabya, the present
tw in tow ns o f Sabya (sby', H ebrew sby, gazelle, w ith the
suffixed Aramaic definite article) and al-Zabyah (zby, Arabic
form o f the same name, w ith the prefixed definite article) m ust
have been the Biblical Zeboiim (sbym, dual or plural o f sby).
Further n o rth is Lasha (Is) in the basin o f Wadi Baysh, its nam e
corrupted in its present Arabic form to al-Ashshah (l-s, w ith
the initial / pronounced as an Arabic definite article). Still further
north, an A dm ah (dmh) lies across Wadi Itw ad in the Bahr
region, its nam e surviving as al-D um ah w ith the feminine suffix
(dmh, w ith the initial glottal stop o f the original form o f the
nam e dropped, as com m only happens).
While the second border o f the Canaanite land, as defined in
Genesis 10, extended from Al Zaydan to the coastal desert o f
the Red Sea to the west, the first border extended northw ards,
follow ing the line o f the w ater divide, to reach zh - not Gaza
but Al Azzah (zh). This is a picturesque village perched by
itself on top o f a ridge o f the Ballahmar region in the Sarat,
south o f N im as. As a m atter o f fact, there are several other
places by the same nam e in Asir, but only one, Gaza, or gzh,
in coastal Palestine.

I HE S E A R C H F OR GERAR

59

This brings us to the question o f the Gerar (grr) o f Genesis


10, w hich is cited there to indicate the direction followed by
i lie Canaanite border running from sydn to zh. T he first Gerar
one comes across there is G hurar (grr), in Jabal Bani Malik. The
.ccond, further north, is an al-Jarar {grr), in Jabal Harub. The
iliird, still further north, is Ghirar (grr), across Wadi Itwad, in
Rijal A lm a. The fourth, yet further no rth and closer to Al
Azzah, is al-Q ararah (qrr), w hich lies along the crest o f the
Sarat in the vicinity o f Tanum ah. While there are no Gerars in
Lebanon or in Palestine, betw een Sidon and Gaza, or beyond
<iaza from Sidon, there are no less than four in the highlands
o f Asir, betw een A l-Z aydan and Al Azzah, leaving one to
w onder w hich o f them was the Gerar which is actually meant,
.ind w hich fell right along the Canaanite border.
In the light o f the above, the land o f the Biblical Canaanites,
in W est Arabia rather than Palestine, m ust have comprised
the m aritim e slopes o f Asir from the general vicinity o f the
ISallahmar region in the no rth to the Jizan region in the south,
the latter region m ostly included. Here, one finds tw o villages
called Q in a (qn, cf. kn , the root o f kn'n) in the M ajaridah
region no rth o f the Ballahm ar region, w here there is also a
village called Azzah. Additionally, there is a village called Al
Q in a, one called D hi al-Q ina, and one called al-Q anaat (qnt,
feminine plural o f qn1). T w o villages called Q a n ah (qnh, femi
nine o f qn*) are to be found in the Jizan region, not to m ention
t hree place-names o f the same derivation in other parts o f Asir
and the southern Hijaz. Finally, there is a village called Al
Kunan ( 7 krin, literally the god o f C anaan) in Wadi Bishah,
across the w ater divide from the M ajaridah region. In short,
toponym ic evidence regarding the location o f the Biblical (as
distinct from the Syrian) Canaanites in W est Arabia calls for a
thorough reconsideration o f com m only held ideas on the sub
ject (see further Chapters 14 and 15; for the Syrian Canaanites,
see C hapter 1).
W hat is obvious is that the Gerar o f Genesis 10 can hardly be
the same as the Gerar o f Genesis 20, Genesis 26 and 2 Chronicles
14. This is w h y Genesis 10:19 alone m entions grr in association
with zh - the Al Azzah o f the Ballahmar region, not the Azzah

6o

T HE BIBLE C AM E F R OM ARA BI A

o f the M ajaridah region or another Azzah further north in


W adi A dam (see C hapter 14). As for the G edor (gdr) o f 1
Chronicles 4:39f, its nam e is certainly no m isreading for Gerar
{gn). Being in the south country o f the Simeonites (see A ppen
dix), it m ust have been w hat is today the village o f G hadr (gdr),
in the Jizan hinterland, although there exist a num ber o f other
possibilities.
In the light o f all this, the location o f the Biblical rs h-nqb
betw een Kadesh and Shur, m entioned in Genesis 20 in associa
tion w ith Gerar, could only have been the vicinity o f al-N aqb
(;nqb, w ith the Arabic definite article), in Rijal A lm a, on the
other side o f the w ater divide from Qararah.
T he case by n o w should be clear: there is no Gerar near Gaza,
in Palestine. A m ong several w hich are found in Asir, how ever,
one (al-Qararah) is the Gerar o f Genesis 20 and 26 and 2
Chronicles 14, and another (any o f four called G hurar, al-Jarar,
G hirar or al-Qararah) is that o f Genesis 10 (see m ap 7). Finally,
it should be noted that the identification o f the first Gerar by
toponym ic and Biblical evidence goes side by side w ith the
identification o f a Cush, a Philistia, a Beersheba, an Esek, a
Sitnah, a R ehoboth, a Kadesh, a Shur, a M areshah, a Zephathah
and a N egeb in the same general vicinity, betw een the Khamis
M ushait region and the parts o f Asir across the water divide
to the west. T hat o f the second Gerar goes alongside the
identification o f the Biblical Sodom , G om orrah, Adm ah,
Z eboiim and Lasha in one direction, and tw o places so far taken
to be Sidon and Gaza in another. Additionally, it should be
noted that there is evidence for identifying the Biblical Canaan
on the m aritim e slopes o f Asir, betw een the M ajaridah and Jizan
regions. Archaeologists have n o t yet excavated those areas, or
any part o f Asir for that matter; w henever they do, they are
likely to find m any surprises. As Gerald de Gaury, one o f the
last British Arabians, put it (Arabia Phoenix . . . London, 1946,
p. 119):
In the valleys o f Asir, the Yem en, and the Hejaz, there are
ruins w hich m ay one day yield to historians and to the w orld
m ore about the old states . . . and . . . earlier kingdom s o f

M ap 7

G e ra r(s ) in Asir

62

T H E BI BLE C A M E F KOM A R A B I A

Arabia, and show up in clear fashion meanings in the early


books o f the Bible and o f historical allusions in the Koran.
W ho know s w hat treasures o f history lay buried in the
tangled ruins o f Asir?
W hat follows is a m odest attem pt to identify som e o f them .

NON-FINDINGS IN
PALESTINE
N orm ally, w e take it for granted that specialists do their
hom ew ork properly. In such a field as ancient history, not
many o f us are in a position to check. Few o f us are
archaeologists, and the languages o f the ancient w orld, w ith
i heir strange scripts, are a m ystery to m ost people. Therefore,
when specialists pronounce on a subject, w e usually take
what they say on trust and give them leave to disagree on
arguable points. O n m atters where they choose to agree,
they can get away w ith alm ost anything. Clearly, then, in
i lie field o f Biblical archaeology and its related discipline,
palaeography, there is ample opportunity not only for error,
I>ut for perpetuating it alm ost indefinitely.
O ld stones are found all over the N ear East; dig almost
anyw here and you will discover them . But, to dig is one thing;
to interpret w hat one finds is another. Herein lies the difference
between the scientific archaeology o f the N ear East and w hat is
( ailed Biblical archaeology. T he first represents a systematic,
objective attem pt to study the ancient cultures and civilisations
of the area and trace their developm ent, stage by stage, on the
basis o f their material remains, taking into account, o f course,
the lim itations o f the discipline and its m ethods. The second
represents no m ore than a search for material findings in areas
already m arked out according to preconceived notions ofB ibli<al geography, in an effort to provide archaeological and palaeographic substantiation for equally preconceived notions o f
Biblical history. Therefore, w hen a Biblical archaeologist finds

64

T H E BI BLE C A M E F R O M A RABI A

the rem nants o f old fortifications near the Palestinian to w n


o f Beersheba (see C hapter 4), he proclaims the discovery o f
Israelite fortifications, w ith o u t giving thought to other possi
bilities. W hen he finds the rem nants o f copper mines near
m odern Elath, and a seal signet ring inscribed lytm, in the same
general vicinity, he hastily concludes that the ring m ust have
belonged to J o th a m (l-ytm), king o f Judah. Then, w ithout
batting an eyelid, he announces to the w orld the discovery o f
the exact site o f the copper mines o f King Solom on and the
Biblical city o f Ezion-Geber.
I am n o t saying that the archaeological search for Biblical
sites is w ro n g in principle. W hat I do say is that it is w rong
to draw historical conclusions on the basis o f inconclusive
archaeological evidence. Here, inscriptions become im portant.
For example, N elson Glueck w ould have been quite justified
in announcing the discovery o f a Biblical site in the vicinity o f
m o dern Elath had the inscription on the signet ring he found
there read lytm mlk yhwdh (to Jotham , King o f Judah). Having
found there the inscription lytm, there was no justification for
his reading it as l-ytm, excluding all other possibilities. Even if
the w o rd is read l-ytm, it could refer to a Jo th a m w h o was not
a king o f Judah, and perhaps not even a Jew . T he inscription
on the ring could also be a reference to a god called ytm perhaps the Egyptian god A tum , w hose nam e in its native
spelling was itmw. N o w , across Wadi Arabah from Elath there
is a valley called to this day W adi Y u tm (ytm). Does the nam e
o f this wadi, as the inscription, refer to the nam e o f the same
J o th a m , w hoever he was, or the nam e o f the same Egyptian
god A tum ?
T ake another example. In 1880, a rock inscription was found
at Siloam, near Jerusalem , describing h o w a water tunnel was
dug there by m en excavating from either end. This inscription,
by the w ay, is n o w in the M useum o f the Ancient O rient at
Istanbul. H ad the inscription said this tunnel was dug in the
reign o f King H ezekiah, it w ould have clearly substantiated
the texts o f 2 Kings 20:20 and 2 Chronicles 32:30, which speak
o f the pool and aqueduct constructed by King Hezekiah o f
Judah. H ow ever, as it stands, the inscription cites no personal

N O N - F I N D I N G S IN P A L E S T IN E

65

place-names whatsoever. Therefore, to attribute it to the


r e i g n o f Hezekiah, as Biblical scholars have in fact done, is no
m o r e than wild conjecture. W ater tunnels have been constructed
.it all times, w herever and whenever the need for them has
.1r i s e n . T he Siloam inscription does not even indicate that the
present-day Jerusalem is actually the Biblical Jerusalem, because
it does n o t nam e the site.
The Elath and Siloam inscriptions, as well as all the other
so-called H e b re w - or m ore correctly, Canaanite - inscriptions
o f Palestine, have been forced by m odern Bible Science to yield
more than their actual content o f information. O ne example
worth citing comprises som e inscribed potsherds found in the
vicinity o f N ablus in 1910 and dubbed the Ostraca o f Samaria,
although they now here speak o f Samaria (H ebrew smrwn).
These potsherds, which have been dated 778-770 B.C. (the
precision o f the dating being itself highly suspicious), contain
records o f comm ercial transactions am ong individuals, some
o f w h o m could have been Jew s, judging by the personal names
cited. T hey do not m ention a single place-name, nor do they
make the least reference to any Biblical figure or event. Even
i f the dating o f them is correct, all these potsherds prove is that
jews could have been living in the Nablus region o f Palestine
in the eighth century B.C. N o conclusions from them regarding
a n y point o f Biblical history or geography is in any way
justifiable. T hey certainly do not prove that the place where
they w ere found was the Biblical Samaria, w hich means that
even the nam e given to them by Biblical scholars m ust be
reconsidered.
M ore notable is the example o f the so-called Lachish Ostraca,
f o u n d at Tall al-D uw ayr, in southern Palestine, in 1935 and
1938. It has been com m only asserted that these inscribed pot
s h e r d s provide unquestionable evidence that Tall al-D uw ayr
w a s the Biblical Lachish (Ikys). Actually, they do nothing o f
t h e kind, as will shortly be demonstrated.
T he Tall al-D uw ayr O straca (as they m ust strictly be called)
are a set o f reports and complaints sent by a certain Hoshaiah
(hws'yhw), the com m ander o f a Jew ish force stationed som e
where or other, to his superior Yaosh {yuss), w h o m he addresses
or

66

T HE BIBLE C AM E F R OM ARA BI A

as m y lo rd , and w h o m ust have been stationed at Tall alD uw ayr, considering that the ostraca addressed to him were
discovered there. Reading these inscriptions, Biblical scholars
such as W. F. A lbright w ere convinced that they recognised a
clear m ention o f the Biblical Lachish in O stracon IV ; an apparent
m ention o f the Biblical Azekah on the same potsherd, and an
assured reference to Jerusalem (the only one so far claimed for
a Palestinian inscription) in O stracon VI led these scholars to
the same conclusion. In the case o f O stracon IV, the accepted
reading o f the inscription m ust be seriously challenged. So far,
it has been taken to read: Let m y Lord kn o w that w e are waiting
for the signals o f Lachish . . . A m ore careful translation o f
it w ould yield a different message: Let m y Lord kn o w that w e
are waiting for food cargoes . . . In the case o f O stracon VI,
the reading o f the nam e J erusalem is nothing short o f dis
honest. O n a fragm ent o f this broken potsherd, the letters slm
can be discerned. As a H ebrew w ord, this can be read in a
variety o f ways to yield various meanings, such as spark,
peace, good health, agreem ent, completeness or rew ard .
It can also be the w o rd o f Semitic greeting (H ebrew shalom)
or any o f a num ber o f personal or place-names. N othing, on
the other hand, justifies reading slm as the nam e o f J erusalem .
For those interested in the details o f the question, here they
are: in O stracon IV, the sentence taken to refer to Lachish (Ikys)
and Azekah ('zqh) by nam e runs in the original as follows:
w yd ky 7 mst Iks nhnw smrm kkl htt sr ntn dny ky V nrh t zqh.
This sentence has been read and interpreted to mean: A nd let
(m y lord) kn o w (w-yd) that w e are w atching (ky . . . nhnw
smrm) for signals o f Lachish ( 7 mst Iks), according to all the
indications which m y lord hath given (k-kl htt sr ntn dny), for
w e cannot see Azekah (ky V nrh t zqh).' This interpretation is
based on the following assum ptions, w hich I shall refute one by
one:
I
That mst, as the plural of msh, derives from the verbal ro
ns in the sense o f rise, and therefore presumably refers to risings
of smoke, hence to military signals. The verb ns, however, also
means carry. Thus a msh, rather than meaning a rising of smoke,
may lend itself more readily to be understood as a carrying, i.e., a
cargo or load.

N O N - F I N D I N G S IN PALESTINE

67

2 That Iks is to be read as one word, which is the name of the


Biblical Lachish (Ikys). If one reads Iks as l-ks, with the initial I as a
preposition, the meaning would be for food, if ks is interpreted as
.1 noun derivative from ksh, be full or satisfied with food (cf. Arabic
Its, tear away by biting).
3 That smrm, as the plural o f smr, means watching, but it can
.ilso mean waiting.
4 That 'tt, as the plural of th means indications (from the verb
7 /i, cf. Arabic ty, come). In Arabic, one noun derivative from the
same root yt, refers to the act of giving; a second means gifts,
munificence; a third means crop. In all three cases, the sense is
provision. In the case o f the tt here, this sense is strongly suggested
by the verb that follows which is ntn, or give.
5 That I nrh zqh means we cannot see Azekah. The ability
to see Azekah is not in question here. What the original states is
simply a fact: we do not see Azekah.
6 That Azekah (zqh) can only be a reference to the Biblical
town by that name. In context, it makes far better sense to assume
it is the name of a person.
Thus the w hole sentence m ay be retranslated as follows: Let
(my lord) kn o w that w e are waiting for food cargoes, as (for)
.ill the provisions w hich m y lord has given, for w e do not see
Azekah. This w ould mean that Hoshaiah and his m en had
apparently been prom ised food supplies and other provisions
by Yaosh, to be brought to them by a certain Azekah. Hoshaiah
here says that he and his m en are still waiting for these supplies,
as Azekah has not yet arrived w ith them. T here are certainly
no signals o f Lachish involved in the statement. This makes
the unquestionable evidence it is supposed to provide regard
ing the identity o f the Biblical Lachish highly questionable and,
one m ig h t say, untenable.
Biblical scholars m ay be excused for having taken the Iks and
'zqh w hich are contained in the fourth o f the Tall al-D uw ayr
Ostraca to be references to the Biblical Lachish and Azekah.
( )n the other hand, they o u ght not to be excused for assuming
(hat O stracon VI speaks o f Jerusalem. In this ostracon, which
is badly dam aged, the rem nants o f one sentence read: dny hi
tkth ...............ht'sw k z t .................slm. An honest translation o f
(his fragm ent o f a sentence (assuming it was, in fact, one
sentence in the original) w ould only yield: M y lord, will you

68

T HE BI BLE C A M E F R O M A RABI A

n o t w r i t e ...............you do t h u s , ................. slm. T he accepted


translation o f it, how ever, takes the liberty o f filling in the
blanks in a m anner to justify the reading o f the final slm as the
last three consonants o f the H ebrew yrwslym, for Jerusalem .
T h e translation, again by W. F. A lbright, is brazenly dogm atic:
(And now ) m y lord, w ilt thou n o t w rite to them saying, w h y
do ye thus (even) to Jerusalem ? Such a rendering, w hich
does n o t even correctly indicate the translators interpolations,
cannot be perm itted w here scholarly integrity is held at a
prem ium . T he plain fact is that neither the ostracon in question,
n o r any o f the H e b re w inscriptions so far discovered in
Palestine, m ake the least reference to Jerusalem or to any other
Biblical place or figure.
H o w the Tall al-D uw ayr O straca actually fit into the history
o f Palestine, or o f the Jew s in Palestine, is n o t a question that
will be dealt w ith here. As I m entioned earlier, I do n o t deny
that there were Jews living in Palestine in Biblical times; w hat
I do say is that Judaism originated in West Arabia, and that the
land o f the Biblical Israelites was there and n o t Palestine. N o w ,
there is one inscription w hich m ay be classified as Palestinian
that appears to contradict this thesis. This is the so-called
M oabite Stone, first discovered in the hill country east o f the
D ead Sea in 1868, and today housed in the Louvre. The long
inscription on this stone is o f direct relevance to Biblical history,
as it deals w ith events relating to the text o f 2 Kings 3:4.
Its reading and interpretation, however, have so far raised
problem s, m ainly because once again its readers have ap
proached it w ith the w ro n g geography in mind.
T he M oabite Stone (the nam e itself is a misnom er) was set
up in Q arh o h (qrhh) by Mesha, king o f M oab (ms mlk m b) so the inscription on it says. M esha had originally ruled in
M oab, but his territory there suffered a succession o f attacks
by aggressive neighbours, by O m ri, king o f Israel ('mry mlk
ysrl), and his son after him (Ahab, w ho is left unnamed).
H aving suffered a n u m b er o f reverses at their hands, and also
at the hands o f their confederates, M esha finally fled to Q arhoh,
w here he created a new capital. Therefore, the M oabite Stone
is really the Q arh o h Stone, for M esha was no longer established

N O N - F I N D I N G S I N P AL E S T I N E

69

M oab w hen he set it up. T he Q arhoh in question is apparently


the present-day Jahra (ghr), in the area w here the stone was
found.
T here is nothing at all in the inscription on the M oabite
Stone to indicate that M oab was an old nam e for the hill
country east o f the D ead Sea (the Bilad al-Sharat o f the Arabs),
and that the K ingdom o f Israel was based on Palestine. In fact,
when the inscription is carefully read in the original, rather than
i n translation, such as that in English by W. F. Albright, it
becomes abundantly clear that the wars betw een Israel and
Moab, w hich it speaks of, took place n o t in Transjordan, but
i n the Hijaz. This means that Israel and M oab m ust have been
neighbours in W est Arabia, n o t in southern Syria. Readers
eager to pursue the argum ent, and understand exactly the
premises o n w hich it is based, m ay wish to consider the follow
i n g points:
1 Speaking of the first attack on Moab by the subordinates
(sny(m), sing, sn, cf. Arabic tnwy, pronounced tanawi, tribesman of
th e rank below that of chiefs) of King Omri o f Israel, the inscription
describes the town as being ymn rbn. Reading ymn as the plural of ym
in the sense o f day, and rbn as the plural of the adjective rb in the
sense o f many, translators have so far taken the expression ymn rbn
to mean many days. This hardly fits the context. Actually, the
expression simply indicates that Moab was located south of rbn.
The only place in the Near East which answers to the name of rbn is
th e village of Rabin in the Hijaz, in the vicinity o f Mecca. As will be
indicated in Chapter 7, note 5, the Biblical Moab is identifiable by
name today as the village of Um m al-Yab (m yb), in Wadi Adam.
This U m m al-Yab is actually located south of Mecca, and hence ymn
rbn, or south of Rabin.
2 Mesha describes himself in the inscription as not only king
of Moab, but also as a dybny, i.e., as a native of dybn. Dibyan (dbyn)
today is also a village in Wadi Adam, not far from Um m al-Yab. So
far, readers of the Moabite Stone have assumed that dybn is the
present village of Dhiban (dbn), in Transjordan, north of where the
stone was found. I would suggest, however, that this Dhiban was
called after the old Dibyan of the Hijaz after Mesha and his followers
arrived to settle there.
3 There is a sentence in the inscription which reads, wyrs mry
k .....................5 mhdb. This sentence has so far been taken to refer to an
occupation by Omri of Israel of the town ofMedeba, in Transjordan.
in

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T H E BIBLE C A M E F R O M ARABI A

H a d M e d e b a (A rab ic M a d a b a , o r mdb) really b een m e a n t h ere, I


d o u b t w h e th e r it w o u ld h av e b een w r itte n mhdb, as th e m e d ial h in
th e S em itic la n g u ag e s is n e v e r d r o p p e d f ro m p r o n u n c ia tio n . W h a t th e
se n ten c e p r o b a b ly says is: an d O m r i o cc u p ie d (all th e land , kl h-rs)
fr o m hdb (m-hdb), i.e. th e te rr ito r y o f M o a b all th e w a y fro m hdb.
T h is hdb is to d a y th e village o f a l-H u d a b a h (hdb), n o r th o f U m m
al-Y a b , in th e h ig h la n d s o f T a i f th a t o v e rlo o k W ad i A d am .
4
In p arts o f th e in sc rip tio n , qr features as th e w o r d fo r v illa g e
a n d kms as C h e m o s h , th e n a m e o f th e g o d o f M o a b . In o th e r p arts,
h o w e v e r, qr an d kms clearly refer to th e n am es o f n e ig h b o u rin g to w n s
o r villages in th e te rr ito r y o f M o a b . T h e villages o f Q a r r (qr) an d
Q a m a s h a h (qms) are to be f o u n d to d a y in th e sam e p a rt o f th e T a i f
h ig h la n d s w h e r e a l-H u d a b a h is located.
$ A m o n g th e o th e r pla ce -n a m e s cited in th e in sc rip tio n , srn is
id en tifiab le to d a y as S h a ry a n (srn); mhrt as a l-M a h ra th (mhrt); nbh as
N a b a h (nbh); yhs (Biblical J a h a z ) as al-W ahasah (whs). All o f th ese
are villages o f W ad i A d a m , th e T a i f reg io n , o r th e Z a h r a n h ig h lan d s,
in th e s o u th e r n H ijaz.

Geographically, it seems to m e absolutely clear that the wars


betw een Mesha and the kings o f Israel, as narrated in the
M oabite Stone, cannot be interpreted in term s o f Palestine and
Transjordan. T hey can only relate to West Arabia, which, o f
course, supports the argum ent presented in this book. It was
only after M esha was repeatedly w orsted in w ar by O m ri and
Ahab o f Israel, that he finally abandoned his West Arabian
kingdom o f M oab, in the Hijaz, and resolved to establish a new
Transjordanian kingdom , w hose territory was not called M oab
- at least not in the inscription that relates the story. Here, at a
safe distance from his Israelite adversaries, the shepherd king
- as the H ebrew Bible describes him - was able to prosper once
again, appropriating good grazing land for his bqrn (cattle),
m (z) (goats) and sn (sheep). U p until now , readers o f M eshas
inscription have been so confused about its interpretation that
they have failed to recognise these last three w ords for w hat
they are. While the w o rd bqrn is clearly bqr, or cattle, in the
masculine plural form , they read it as b-qrn, taking it to mean
in villages. In translation, the w ords m z and s n were om itted
altogether, because o f the general m isinterpretation o f the con
text in w hich these straightforw ard connotations o f goats and
sheep occur.

N O N - F I N D I N G S I N P AL E S T I N E

71

T he assum ption that the land o f the H ebrew Bible was


Palestine has n o t only confused the issue in the field o f Pales
tinian archaeology, and in the reading and interpretation o f the
Canaanite and other ancient inscriptions found in Palestine; it
lias also prejudiced the study o f all other ancient N ear Eastern
texts w hich bear directly o r indirectly on Biblical history. The
Egyptian topographical lists for W estern Asia are one case in
point. In C hapter 11, the contents o f one such list will be
considered, w here I hope to convince the reader that it actually
relates to West Arabia and not to Palestine, Syria and M esopo
tamia, as hitherto has been taken for granted. N o t only other
Egyptian topographical lists citing Biblical place-names, but
.ilso M esopotam ian topographical lists, such as those o f Ashurbanipal II (883-859 B . C . ) , Shalmaneser III (859-824 B .C .) and
Sargon II (721-705 B . C . ) , present records o f conquests in West
Arabia. T hey have nothing to do w ith Syria.
In the opening lines o f the list o f Sargon II, to give but one
example, this Assyrian king describes him self as the conqueror
o f Sa-m i-ri-na (smrn) and the entire B it-H u-um -ri-a (hmry).
These w ere n o t Sam aria (H ebrew smrwn) and the house o f
O m r i (H ebrew mry), although the Israelite kingdom o f O m ri
was certainly in Asir, as will be show n in Chapter 10, and
Sam aria still exists there w ith its name in its original Biblical
form unchanged (see C hapter 10). Actually, the reference here
is to th e jiz a n region, w here there is a village called al-Sarmayn
(srmyn) in Jabal H arub, and another called H im rayah (hmry) in
the A bu Arish district. T he text that follows, which cites
m any m ore place-names, indicates that Sargon II m ust have
conquered all o f geographic Asir, i.e., all the West Arabian
territory betw een T a if and the borders o f the Yemen. In the
Jizan region, for example, he chased away M i-ta-a, king o f
M us-ku (msk). The reference here is to the village o f M usqu
(msq), in the A ridah hill country east o f Abu Arish. In Rijal
A lm a, he despoiled A s-du-du (sdd)', today the village o f
il-Sudud (sdd). A t the eastern end o f Wadi Najran, he caught
the Ia-m a-nu (ymn) in the Ia-m u (ym) like fish. The reference
here is to the people o f the south (the Biblical Benjaminites,
or the B anu Y am in (ymn) o f ancient Arabic poetry) w ho lived

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T H E BIBLE C A M E F R OM ARABI A

not in the sea (ym), but in the territory o f Y am (also ym),


betw een W adi N ajran and the open desert. In the T aif region,
he defeated M u-su-ri (msr) and Ra-pi-hu (rpti), which are today
Al M asri (msr) and al-Rafkhah (fph); he also exterm inated all
Ta-ba-li (tbl)\ which is today Wadi Tabalah (tbl), along w ith
H i-lak-ku (hlk), w hich is today al-Khallq (hlq). N earby, he
declared H an-no, king o f Ha-za-at-a-a (h z t or h z t), as b o o ty .
So far, Ha-za-at-a-a has been taken to refer to Gaza (Hebrew
zh). B ut this is as untenable as m aking H u -um -ri-a stand for
O m ri (mry). Actually, the reference m ust be to the ancient
W est Arabian tribe o f the K huzaah (h z t), rem nants o f which
are still found in their original hom e territory in the southern
Hijaz (the general vicinity o f Mecca and Taif). Roughly 200
kilom etres to the south o f this Khuzaah territory (i.e., at a
seven-dayjourney, as the inscription has it), Sargon II subdued
the seven kings o f the country I-a (y or y )', w hich is today
W adi Iya (y ), on the m aritim e side o f Asir. W ith the names
in this topographical list surviving in West Arabia unchanged,
w h y should scholars persist in the belief that the list refers to
an Assyrian conquest in Syria and Palestine, where none o f the
names can be found?
T he Egyptian and M esopotam ian topographical lists apart,
there are other ancient N ear Eastern records w hich cite Biblical
place-names, the m ost im portant am ong them being the socalled A m arna Letters. These are a set o f cuneiform tablets
dating from the fourteenth century B . C . , first discovered in
E gypt in 1887. W ritten in corrupt Akkadian, and in some cases
in Canaanite, these tablets report troubles which agents o f the
E gyptian governm ent were having w ith the local chiefs o f some
Asiatic provinces, long thought to have been in Syria and
Palestine. Actually, som e individual place-names cited in the
A m arna Letters do correspond to place-names in Palestine as
well as to som e in West Arabia, the m ost notable cases being
Akka (Akka, or Acre) and Yapu (Yafa, or Jaffa). Altogether,
how ever, the A m arna place-names only m ake a collective fit in
West Arabia.
The interested reader m ay care to examine a table o f thirty
such names, identified one by one by location, at the end o f

N O N - F I N D I N G S IN PALESTINE

73

this chapter. Those are by no means the only Am arna placenames that one can find to this day in W est Arabia. I have listed
only those which retain, consonantally, the exact spelling given
them by the A m arna tablets. Q uite apart from the names
themselves, the w ay they are grouped in particular reports
shows h o w various A m arna Letters speak o f various West
Arabian regions, to the exclusion o f others. As such, they make
complete geographic sense.
All these ancient inscriptions and records have been taken to
relate to Palestine sim ply because they cite Biblical place-names.
True, the place-names they cite are Biblical, but as I have
endeavoured to dem onstrate, this does not mean that they m ust
therefore be found in Palestine. In each case, w hen w e examine
them carefully, these records turn out to relate to West Arabia,
as do the texts o f the H ebrew Bible. I have no doubt that if
these extra-Biblical texts were to be.-re-examined, along w ith
the H ebrew Bible, in term s o f West Arabia, one w ould be able
to clarify m any passages in both which Biblical scholars have
hitherto believed to be obscure.

Table 1

A m arna place-names in W est Arabia

1 A d u r u (dr o r dr): al-A d h ra (dr), in Rijal A lm a ; al-A d h a ra h


(dr), in B ani S hahr.
2 A k k a (k o r k): al-A k k a h (k), n ear N im a s; U k w a h (kw),
in t h e j i z a n reg io n .
3 A k s a f (ksp): al-K ash afah ( ksp), n ea r Jid d a h ; a l-k a sh f (ksp), in
Rijal A lm a .
4 A p ir u (p r o r pr): al-A fra (pr), n ea r N im a s; A fr a , in W adi
A d am ; A f r a , n ea r Taif; also th e A rabian trib e o f a l-A fir (pr) o r
al-A fa riy a h (pry).
5 A ra ru (rr o r rr): A ra r (rr), in t h e j i z a n reg io n ; a l-A ra ra h
(rr), n e a r D h a h r a n al-Janub.
6 A zzati (zt o r zt): Al A zzah (zt), in B a llah m ar; a l-A zzah,
in th e M a jarid a h .
7 B u r q u n a (brqn): a l-B u rq a n (brqn), near K h a m is M u sh ait; alB urqan , in B ani S hahr; A l B u rq a n , in t h e jiz a n reg ion .
8 B u ru z ilim (brzlm, a p p a re n tly hr zlm): B a ra (br), in Rijal

74

T H E BIBLE C A M E F R OM ARA BI A

A lm a , id e n tifie d as b ein g th e o n e lo c ate d in th e Z a lim (zlm) trib a l


te r r ito r y o f th e sa m e reg io n , r a th e r th a n a n o th e r br (to d ay D h l B arr)
situ a te d fa rth e r n o rth .
9 G a r u (gr): al-Jaru (gr) in S arat A b ld ah ; J a r a (gr), in Rijal
A lm a ; A l al-Jarr (gr), e ith e r o f tw o villages b y th e s a m e n a m e in Rijal
A lm a .
10 G az ri (gzr, cf. B iblical G e z e r): al-G h a za r (gzr), in W ad i
A d a m ; al-G h a za ra h (gzr), in th e Jizan region ; G h a z ir (gzr), in th e
G h a m id h ig h lan d s.
11 G i- im - ti (gmt): a l-G a m a t (gmt), in th e jiz a n reg io n ; a l-Ja m m a h
(gmt), in B a n i S hah r; J a m m a h , n e a r G h u m a y q a h , in th e L ith h in te r
land.
12 G in ti K irm il (gnt krml): Ja n a t (gnt), id en tified in re la tio n to
th e n e ig h b o u rin g rid g e o f K irm il (krml), in t h e j i z a n reg io n .
13 G u b la (gbl): asso ciated w ith B u ru z ilim (no. 8) in th e sa m e
re p o r t, th is p articu la r G u b la m u s t b e th e Q u b la h (qbl) o f Rijal A lm a
an d n o t th e Q u b la h o f th e B a h r d istrict, w h ic h in an y case is n o t to o
far aw a y .
14 H a r a b u (hrb): H a r u b (H a ru b al-M alq a, hrb), in th e Jizan
reg io n .
15 H a z a ti (hzt o r hz't, h ith e r to w r o n g ly c o n s id e re d a v a ria n t o f
A zzati, w h ic h it clearly is n o t): th e W e st A ra b ia n trib al n a m e K h u z a 'a h
(hzt) is th e sa m e as th e H a -z a -a t-a -a o f th e to p o g ra p h ic a l list o f
S a rg o n II (see above).
16 M a g d a lu ( mgdl, a c o m m o n p la ce -n a m e th r o u g h o u t S yria and
A rabia): in c o n te x t, th e referen ce m u s t b e to th e p re s e n t village o f
a l-M a g d a l (mgdl) n ea r T a n u m a h , n o r th o f Rijal A lm a , ra th e r th a n to
an y o f several o th e r places b y th e sam e nam e.
17 M a g id d u (mgd, cf. B iblical M e g id d o , w h ic h h as n e v e r been
f o u n d in P alestine b y n am e, c o n tra ry to th e c o m m o n belief): th e
c o n te x t su g g e sts th a t this p articu la r M a g id d u is p re s e n t-d a y M a q d i
o r M a q a d d I ( mqd), in th e Q u n f u d h a h h in te rla n d , r a th e r th a n the
M u g h a d a h (mgd) n ea r T aif, w h ic h is also a M e g id d o .
18 M e s q u (msq): th e c o n te x t p o in ts to a l-M a sh q a (msq) in Rijal
A lm a , r a th e r th a n to a l-M a sh q a (msq) in W ad i A d a m .
19 M u h a z z u (mhz): al-M a h z i (mhz ), n ea r D h a h r a n al-Janub, o r
eith er o f tw o villages called M a h d a h (mhd)_, in th e N a jr a n reg io n ; the
c o n te x t, h o w e v e r, p o in ts to th e village o f Al M u z a h (mzh, m etath esis
o f mhz), in Rijal Alma*.
20 Pella (pi o r pll): al-Falal (pll), in W adi A d a m ; al-Fil (pi), in
th e Q u n f u d h a h h in te rla n d ; al-Fil in B a lla sm a r-B a lla h m a r.
21 Q a n u (qn): Q a n a (qn), in th e B a h r d istrict.
22 R im u n i (rmn): a l-R lm a n ( rmn), in B a lla h m a r; al-R im a n , near
Taif.

N O N - F I N D I N G S I N P AL E S T I N E

75

23 Se-e-ri (sr): al-Shara (s'r), in the Jizan region.


24 Sile (si): the context points to al-Siyul (syl), in the Bahr
district, rather than to Siyal (syl), in the Qunfudhah hinterland.
25 Sunama (snm): Sanumah (snm), in Rijal Alma.
26 Sutu (st): Al Sut (st), in the Jizan region; unless the reference
is to the West Arabian Sawatl (singular Sat!) tribe of the Mecca
vicinity, or the Sutah tribe o f the Taif region.
27 Udumu (dm): here probably Adamah (dm), in Wadi Bishah,
rather than Wadi Iddam (dm) south of Mecca, or Wadi Idimah (dm)
north o f Wadi Najran.
28 Urusalim (rslm or V slm): for the suggested identification of
the Biblical Jerusalem, or yrwslym, as present Al Sharim, near
Nimas, see Chapter 9. The Urusalim here, however, probably refers
to the twin villages of Arwa (rw) and Al-Salam (slm) near Tanumah,
south of Nimas, Arwa here being identified in relation to the neigh
bouring Al Salam, distinguishing i| from another place of the same
name in Asir.
29 Yapu (yp): Wafiyah (wpy), in the Jizan region: al-Wafiyah
near Khamis Mushait.
30 Zarqu (zrq): al-Zarqa or al-Zurqah (both zrq), in the Jizan
region.

STARTING FROM TEHOM


By now , I hope the reader is willing to concede that there m ay
be sufficient evidence to justify at least a reassessment o f the
hitherto universally held belief that the events described in the
H ebrew Bible relate m ainly to Palestine. M y next task is to
establish the Arabian setting o f the H ebrew Bible as a whole,
hoping to convince the reader further. It does n o t really m atter
w here one begins, or which samples o f Biblical topography
one chooses to examine. All the evidence, from Genesis to
Malachi, points in the same direction. In the preceding chapters,
I suggested that the Biblical land o fju d a h com prised the rugged
hill country on the m aritim e side o f the Asir range, which ends
w ith the coastal desert called T ih a m a h .1 W hat I intend to
do n o w is to show h o w this Tiham ah is actually the Tehom
m entioned in m ore than thirty passages o f the text o f the
H ebrew Bible. O nce this is dem onstrated, a context will have
been established w hich m ay serve as a fram e for Biblical geo
graphy as a whole.
Structurally, the nam e Tiham a (Tihamah, consonantal thm or
thmh) is n o t Arabic. It derives from a root w hich survives in
Arabic as hama (hym), in the sense o f be thirsty, become
th irsty , or, perhaps by figurative extension, roam aimlessly
in a wilderness or desert, or get lost. O ne Arabic derivation
from this ro o t is the substantive hay dm (hym), w hich denotes
porous, sandy soil unable to retain water, that is to say soil
w hich remains thirsty and useless for cultivation. The
T iham ah coastlands, w hich run the w hole length o f West
Arabia, have exactly this type o f hayam soil. W hether in the
Hijaz, Asir or the Yem en, the flood waters from the highlands,

STARTING FROM TE HO M

77

carried tow ards the coast by the countless seasonal or perennial


wadi streams, vanish in this porous coastal soil before reaching
the sea, leaving their traces in the typical dry deltas o f the area.
In Arabic, the nam e o f the W est Arabian coastal desert should
have been Hayam. Its actual name, Tihamah, is a survival o f the
Biblical Tehom (thwm).2 As it features in the Bible, thwm is a
feminine substantive o f hym (or a variant hwm),3 the initial t
111 this substantive being the third person feminine singular
pronoun. This pronoun, like the third person masculine singu
lar pron o u n y, enters into the form ation o f archaic substantives
which appear to be m ainly topographical, and m any o f which
[e.g. T ad m u r, Taghlib, T anukh, Yathrib, Y anbu, Yakrub)
survive as Arabic geographic and tribal names. Actually, it is dif
ficult to distinguish between^geographic and tribal names, as
tribes usually carry the names o f localities.
W hile specialists in Biblical H ebrew have invariably recog
nised the Arabic thmh as the equivalent o f the Biblical thwm,4
it has been com m only m aintained that the w ord, in both Arabic
and H eb rew form s, derives from a root w hich is thm, and that
it means the deep, the primeval ocean, or subterranean
w ater.5 Like the Arabic thmh, which is a geographic name that
does n o t carry the prefixed Arabic article 7 (vocalised al), the
I lebrew thwm is now here attested in the Biblical texts w ith the
t lebrew definite article h (traditionally vocalised ha). This fact,
t hough noted in the standard dictionaries o f Biblical Hebrew,
is left unexplained - like so m uch else, for lack o f better
knowledge. T h e explanation is, o f course, that the Biblical
Tehom, like the Arabic Tihamah, is not a com m on noun that
can take o r n o t take the definite article. It is a geographic name
which is structured w ithout it. In fact, none o f the geographic
.ind tribal nam es which are archaic substantives form ed w ith
t lie prefixed pronouns t or y (see above) ever carry the definite
article. H ad Tehom been a com m on noun m eaning the deep,
or w hatever else it has been w rongly assumed to mean, it w ould
have featured n o t only as thwm but also as h-thwm where the
context so dem anded, w hich is now here the case.
Actually, Tehom makes the best sense, w herever it occurs in
i lie canonical H ebrew Bible, as the old Semitic name for the

78

T H E BIBLE C A M E F R O M ARABI A

W est Arabian coastlands w hich are called today Tiham ah. The
fact that the nam e is rendered in som e Biblical passages in the
feminine plural form (consonantally as thwmwt, thmwt or thmt)6
indicates tw o things: first, that Tehom was considered to be a
nam e in the feminine gender (the initial t in it, as already noted,
being a fem inine pronoun); second, that the Biblical Tehom,
like the Arabic Tiham ah, referred not to a single, continuous
stretch o f W est Arabian coastal desert, but to adjoining strips
o f such desert, each k n o w n by a subsidiary nam e according to
its particular locality. Today, the distinction is broadly made
betw een the T iham ah o f the Hijaz, the Tiham ah o f Asir and
the T iham ah o f the Yemen. Further distinctions by nam e are
m ade w ith respect to each o f these three Tiham ahs by the
inhabitants o f the respective regions. In the days o f ancient
Israel, the same was no doubt the case.
Because Tehom, as it features in the H ebrew Bible, has not
so far been recognised as the geographic nam e w hich it really
is, all Biblical passages w here the nam e appears, w hether in
the singular or in the plural fprm , have been misread, and
consequently mistranslated. For example, here is w hat conven
tional translations have m ade o f the blessings o f the Israelite
tribe o f Joseph by Israel and by Moses, in tw o w ell-know n
passages o f Biblical text (the m istranslation here is that o f the
Revised Standard Version, hereafter RSV):
1 H e w ill bless y o u (ybrkk) w ith th e blessing s o f h e a v e n a b o v e
(brkt smym m-'l), b lessings o f th e d eep th a t co uch es b e n e a th (brkt thwm
rbst tht), b le ssin g s o f th e b reasts a n d th e w o m b (brkt sdym w-rhm)
(G enesis 49:25b).
2 B lessed b y th e L o rd (o r b y Y a h w e h ) b e his la n d (mbrkt yhwh
rsw), w ith th e ch oicest gifts o f h ea v en a b o v e (m-mgd smym m-l),
an d th e d eep th a t cou ches b e n e a th ( m-thwm rbst tht) (D e u te ro n o m y
33:i3b).7

T h e Joseph tribe, it appears, occupied a territory in Wadi


A dam , in the hilly hinterland o f the Tiham ah coastal desert
near the to w n o f Lith (the Biblical Laish, or lys; see Appendix).
Here, to this day, are villages called Rakkah (rkt)-, Rabidah (rbdt,
cf. rbst)\ T hadyayn (tdyyn, Arabic tw o breasts, cf. H ebrew
sdym, breasts or tw o breasts, depending on the vocalisation);
R ahm (rhm); Barakah (brkt)-, and M iqaddah (mqd, cf. mgd); also

STARTING FROM TE HO M

79

tw o sets o f tw in peaks, each called Samayin (smyn, cf. H ebrew


smym, vocalised samdyim). T aking the names o f these places
into account, and rereading the tw o blessings o f the Joseph
tribe in their light, ignoring the M asoretic vowelling, one finds
that they actually involve not blessings, but definitions o f the
territory or territorial claim o f this tribe:
1 H e shall settle y o u (ybrkk)6 in th e R a k k ah o f S am a y in fro m
a b o v e ( b-rkt smym m-l), in th e R a k k a h o f th e T ih a m a h o f R ab id ah
b e lo w (b-rkt thwm rbst tht), in th e R a k k a h o f T h a d y a y n an d R a h m
(ib-rkt sdym w-rhm).
2 F r o m B a ra k a h shall b e his lan d (m-brkt yhwh rsw), fro m the
M iq a d d a h o f S a m a y in ( m-mgd smym)-, fro m th e rid g e (m-tl); an d fro m
the T ih a m a h o f R a b id a h b e lo w ( w-m-thwm rbst tht).
T he present ham let o f Rakkah, apparently the main settle
m ent o f the Joseph tribe in Wadi Adam in Biblical times, is
identified in the first blessing in relation to the Samayin ridges
and the villages o f Rabidah, Thadyayn and Rahm . There is also
the suggestion that Samayin and Rabidah lie uphill and downhill
from it respectively, Rabidah being w ithin the Tiham ah terri
tory. In the second blessing, the limits o f the Joseph territory
are indicated as being the villages o f Barakah, the M iqaddah
near Sam ayin (there being other villages by the same name in
West Arabia), and the Tiham ah coastal desert near Rabidah.
I concede there could be a play on w ords in each o f these tw o
definitions o f the territory o f the Joseph tribe. Puns to suggest
etym ologies for geographic, tribal and personal names abound
in the Biblical texts, particularly those o f the so-called Hexateuch (the Six B ooks, from Genesis to Joshua) which treat
the prehistory o f Israel. Therefore, it is possible that in the tw o
passages ju s t cited, the H ebrew ybrkk (see note 8) can mean
both he shall settle y o u , and he shall bless y o u . W ith a
different vocalisation, b-rkt, in R akkah, can be m ade to read
brkt, m eaning blessing or blessings. While smym, as tradition
ally vocalised, conform s exactly to the nam e o f the Samayin
ridges, w ith the H ebrew plural suffix m changed into the Arabic
plural suffix n, the w o rd also means heaven, or the skies.
T he H ebrew rbs, like the Arabic rbd in Rabidah, means couch,
lie in w a it, so that rbst can mean couching. It has already
been pointed out that sdym, like the Arabicised place-name

8o

T HE BIBLE C A ME F R O M ARABI A

T hadyayn, means breasts, or tw o breasts, again depending


on the vocalisation. T he H ebrew rhm and mgd (for R ahm and
M iqaddah) actually m ean w o m b and b o u n ty or "choice gifts
respectively. T he H ebrew yhwh is kno w n to be an archaic form
o f the third person masculine singular im perfect o f the verb
hyh, or b e , o f w hich another form is yhyh\ in an entirely
different sense (see C hapter 12), it is also Yahw eh, the nam e o f
the G od o f Israel, com m only rendered in translation as the
L ord (in accordance w ith the Jew ish tradition o f n o t pronounc
ing the actual nam e o f G od).9 All this is true. Yet the fact
rem ains that the tw o blessings o f the Joseph tribe, in Genesis
and D euteronom y, do cite place-names, and hence yield a sense
that is concrete. W hatever figurative sense m ig h t have been
intended by punning, it m ust be regarded as being o f secondary
im portance, if any.
H ere w e m ust return to the main point o f this chapter; in
both these blessings, as retranslated from the original Biblical
H eb rew here, it is clear that Tehom features as a strip o f the
W est Arabian Tiham ah, identified in relation to w h a t is today
the village o f Rabldah, in the Lith hinterland. T o persist in
reading the H ebrew thwm, at least in this connection, as a
co m m o n noun m eaning the deep w ould perpetuate an error
w hich m ay be tim e-honoured, but is nonetheless false.
A n u m b er o f other Biblical passages, such as the tw o ju st
discussed, m ention Tehom in relation to places still existing by
the same nam es in one part or another o f the T iham ah o f Asir
and the southern Hijaz. It seems apparent, then, that all the
passages in question should be radically reinterpreted. Exodus
15:5, for example, speaks o f Tehom (thmt, w ith a feminine
singular or feminine plural suffix) in connection w ith tw o places
in W adi M adrakah, south o f Lith, those being the local Tihamah
villages o f M islat and Binayah (mslt and bny, cf. Biblical mslwt
and bn). Psalm 33:7 speaks o f wsrwt thwmwt (the wsrwt, plural
o f wsrh, o f the Tihamahs); the reference here m ust be to
W adhrah (wdrh), in the T iham ah neighbourhood o f Q u n fu d
hah, and to another wsrh, W azra (w z r ), a short distance to the
south, in the T iham ah neighbourhood o f Hali (Halt). In Jonah
2:6, nps thwm definitely refers to the present T iham ah village

STARTING FROM T EHO M

8l

o f N ifsh (nps), in the neighbourhood o f Jizan. A m os 7:4 speaks


o f the fire o f the G od Y ahw eh devouring thwm rbh and h-hlq
- n o t the great deep and the land (RSV), but the Tiham ah o f
Rabbah (rbh), in the B ahr region, and the village o f al-Huqlah
(hql, w ith the Arabic instead o f the H ebrew definite article), in
th e jiz a n region. T he fire o f Yahw eh was no doubt volcanic.
Directly w est o f Rabbah, in the Bahr region, lies the largest
lava field in coastal Asir. As for al-Huqlah, it lies close to the
great volcano o f al-Q ariah (see C hapter 2). It m ust have been
the earthquakes o f these same highly volcanic areas o f coastal
Asir w hich are referred to in Psalm 77:17 in the sentence p
yrgzw thmwt. Therefore, this should be translated to read, yea,
the Tiham ahs quaked, rather than the am biguous yea, the
deep trem b led (RSV).
A part from the Biblical passages citing the names and places
along the T iham ah coast o f the southern Hijaz and Asir, there
are tw o passages w hich feature the expression 7 pny (facing
or o v erlooking) thwm. O ne o f these passages, in Genesis 1:2,
speaks o f hsk 7 pny thwm. The H ebrew here m ust be read to
m ean darkness on the face o f T iham ah, not darkness was
upon the face o f the deep (RSV).
A nother highly interesting passage (Proverbs 8:27) mentions
a hqw hwg Ipny thwm - the H aqu (hqw) o f Hiyaj (hyg) overlook
ing T ih a m a h , H aqu and Hiyaj being today tw o villages o f the
Jabal H arub district, northeast ofjizan, which actually overlook
Tiham ah. In the H ebrew text, H aqu is identified in relation to
neighbouring Hiyaj, no doubt to distinguish it from a num ber
o f other villages called H aqu, which are still there in various
regions further north. The next verse in the same passage
(Proverbs 8:28) m entions other place-names in various parts o f
Asir, a m ong them z w z ynwt thwm - the Azlzah (z y z ) o f the
U yaynat (yynt) o f Tiham ah; both Azlzah and U yaynat still
exist as T iham ah villages in the im m ediate neighbourhood o f
Lith. In the standing translations, b-hqw hwg 7 pny thwm is
rendered w hen he drew a circle on the face o f the deep; b-z w z
ynwt thwm is rendered in RSV as w hen he established the
fountains o f the deep, w hatever that m ay mean. It is hardly
surprising that the editors find it necessary to add a footnote,

82

T H E BIBLE C A M E F R O M ARABI A

the m eaning o f the H ebrew is uncertain, effectively disclaim


ing responsibility for this translation.
T he purpose o f this chapter, as thro u g h o u t the book, is to
m ake a point. T o go exhaustively into detail w ould m ake for
bidding reading to non-specialists, apart from involving the
w o rk o f m ore than one lifetime. W hat does seem clear, h o w
ever, is that the Tehom o f the H ebrew Bible was the present
Tiham ah coastal desert o f W estern Arabia, not a mysterious
deep. T h e toponym ic evidence demonstrates this beyond
doubt. M oreover, the translation o f passages speaking o f Tehom
w hich take this fact into account pass the pragm atic test by
m aking perfect geographic sense.

THE JORDAN QUESTION


T o suggest that the Jordan (h-yrdn) o f the H ebrew Bible was
not at all a river (H ebrew and Arabic nhr) m ust seem arrogant,
if n o t blasphem ous. Yet, as all Biblical scholars know , now here
is it actually cited as being o n e .1 H o w the w ell-know n Pales
tinian river came to be k n o w n by this nam e is an intriguing
question in itself, but not one which will be touched upon
here.2 M y concern is to determ ine w hat the Jordan o f the
H ebrew Bible really was, if not a river, and to show h o w the
confusion came about.
Etym ologically, the Biblical yrdn is a noun derivative from
the ro o t yrd (Arabic rdy, vocalised rada), m eaning descend,
fall, fall d o w n . From this same root comes the Arabic substan
tive ryd (rayd) and its feminine form rydh or rydt (raydah), the
form er being a general term denoting the skyline o f a m oun
tain, escarpm ent, and the latter a particular term denoting a
m ountain protrusion or ridge. The use o f the tw o terms in
relation to m ountain terrain, though general in theory, is in
practice restricted to West and South Arabia. H ere Raydah and
Raydan (rydn, w hich is ryd w ith the suffixed archaic definite
article n, cf. Biblical yrdn) are com m on place-names, or topo
graphical term s that enter into the form ation o f composite
place-names. In Asir alone, at least five m ountain villages in
different regions are called Raydah (or Raydat such and such);
at least tw o villages are called Raydan; and at least one is called
Ridan (rdn, possibly a contraction o f rydn).
In Biblical usage, h-yrdn, traditionally taken to be the name
o f the particular river in Palestine, is not always a nam e but (as
in Arabic) a topographical term meaning escarpm ent or

T H E BIBLE C A ME F R OM ARABI A

84

Map 8

T h e Jordan' and Eden and its G arden'

THE J O R D A N Q U E S T I O N

85

ridge. In the construction br h-yrdn (across or beyond the


yrdn), so far taken to mean T ransjordan (i.e. the territory east
o f the Palestinian Jordan), h-yrdn invariably denotes the main
Sarat escarpm ent o f Asir (see C hapter 3), running from Taif,
in the southern Hijaz, to the D hahran region, near the Yem en
border. In m ost instances, br h-yrdn refers to inland Asir, as
distinct from coastal Asir, which was the Israelite land o f Judah
(see C hapter 8). W ithout the br, however, h-yrdn can refer to
any part o f the Asir escarpment; it also refers frequently to any
one o f the countless isolated ridges on the m aritim e side o f the
Asir range, and indeed to m ountain ridges or escarpments
elsewhere (for example, that ofjabal A bu H am dan in the N ajran
region; see C hapter 15). This is clear from constructions such as
yrdn yrhw - not the Jordan at Jericho (RSV), but ridge o f
yrhw, yrhw here being the present village o f W arakh (wrh) in
the Zahran highlands (see below). The fact that there was m ore
than one yrdn (not Jo rd a n ) in question is also indicated by the
expression h-yrdn hzh (this ridge, not this Jo rd a n ), which
occurs no less than six times in the Hexateuch (Genesis 32:11;
D euteronom y 3:27, 32:2; Joshua 1:2, n , 4:22). H ad h-yrdn been
the nam e o f a particular river, or for that m atter o f a particular
ridge, one can hardly think o f a reason for it to be so often
particularised as this yrdn, unless there w ere other rivers or
ridges k n o w n by the same nam e.3 Actually, the expression
h-yrdn hzh sim ply means this escarpm ent or this ridge, to
distinguish it from another ridge or ridges.
T o dem onstrate the fact that the Biblical J o rd a n was n o t a
river by this name, but sim ply a topographical term referring
to m ountain escarpments and ridges in the southern Hijaz and
Asir, let us see h o w the term occurs in conjunction w ith
different sets o f West Arabian place-names in different passages
o f the Bible. The first example I take is from the detailed account
o f the Israelite crossing o f the Jo rd a n under the leadership o f
Joshua, from the m om ent the Israelites set out for the crossing
from Shittim, until the mass circumcision o f the people o f
Israel at Gibeath-haaraloth (Joshua 3:15:3). First, let us fix the
exact points o f departure and arrival. The point o f departure,
Shittim (Biblical spelling h-stym), was apparently a ridge in the

86

T H E BIBLE C A ME F R O M ARABI A

vicinity o f W adi Wajj (probably present-day Jabal Suwayqah,


directly no rth o f Taif), w hose name is attested in the Arabic
historical literature as Jabal Shatan (stn).4 T he location o f Shittim there can be further corroborated from the identification o f
the area w hich the Israelites had reached under the leadership
o f M oses, w hich clearly com prised the parts o f the T aif region
east o f the w ater divide.5 The point o f arrival, w here the mass
circumcision o f the uncircumcised Israelites was perform ed, is
today the village o f D hl G hulf (Arabic dglp), literally the one o f
the foreskins. T he Biblical nam e o f the place, Gibeath-haaraloth
(H ebrew gbt h-rlwt), means the hill o f the foreskins. While
Jabal Shatan lies east o f the West Arabian water divide, D hl
G h u lf lies west o f it, in the valley o f Wadi A dam , in the upper
reaches o f the Lith region. T o reach D hl G hulf from Jabal
Shatan, one has to proceed southw ards, then turn west to
cross the w ater divide at the col o f Wadi Buqran, south o f
Taif.
From Jabal Shatan to D hi Ghulf, the Israelite crossing o f the
Jo rd a n , as described in the book o f Joshua, can be retraced
do w n to the last detail in its West Arabian setting. We should
also bear in m ind that it has never been successfully retraced in
its traditionally assumed Palestinian setting (see Kraeling,
pp. 132-134). T he Israelites reportedly set out for the crossing
at harvest tim e (probably late spring), w hen the wadis on either
side o f the yrdn, or escarpm ent, were running w ith torrential
floods (3:1s).6 W hen they arrived at the point where they could
cross, the waters receded (or were made to recede by judicious
dam m ing) to let the Israelites pass (3:16). From the original
H ebrew , the event is reported in the standard translations as
follows:
T h e waters com ing d o w n from above (m-l-mlh) stood and
rose up in a heap far o ff (nd hd h-rhq m d) at A dam (dm), the
city that is beside Zarethan (srtn), and those flowing dow n
to w ard the sea o f the Arabah ( 7 ym rbh), the Salt Sea (ym
h-mlh), were w holly cut off; and the people passed over
opposite Jericho (yryhw) (RSV).

87
Traditionally, the H ebrew ym rbh ym h-mlh, w rongly trans
lated as the sea o f Arabah, the Salt Sea, has been taken to refer
to the Palestinian Dead Sea. In H ebrew , how ever, ym can mean
both sea and w est. Therefore, the proper translation o f the
full phrase 7 ym rbh ym h-mlh w ould be west o f rbh (a place),
west o f h-mlh (another place). The locations in question are
G hurabah (grbh) in Wadi Buqran, ju st east o f the w ater divide,
and the nearby village o f al-M ilhah (mlh, w ith the Arabic
definite article). O th e r m istranslations in the passage ju st quoted
are the following:
1 The Hebrew m-l-mlh is a most awkward way of saying from
above, as it literally means from to above. Correctly, it must read
m-lmlh, meaning from lmlh, the name of a place which is today
al-Malah (l-mlh), in the Taif region, near Ghurabah and al-Milhah.
2 The Hebrew nd hd, contextually, should be translated one
dam instead o fa heap. It actually features here as an adverbial phrase,
meaning in one dam.
3 The Hebrew h-rhq md, read as such, would mean the distance
much, which is why it has been translated far off. Read h-rhq m-d,
however, it would mean the (one) extending from d', the name of
a place which is today Wadd (wd), in the same part of the Taif region
as Ghurabah, al-Milhah, and al-Malah.
T he places still to be identified are Adam , Zarethan and
Jericho, bearing in m ind the reported proxim ity betw een the
first tw o. A dam today m ust be A dam (dm, corrupt form o f
the Biblical dm), the village w est o f the T a if w ater divide after
w hich the valley o f W adi A dam is called. Zarethan (srtn) m ust
be present-day Raznah (rznt), also in Wadi Adam . As for Jericho
(here yryhw n o t yrhw), it is no doubt the present village o f
R akhyah (rhy), in Wadi Adam . In the light o f all this, Joshua
3:16 m ust be retranslated as follows:
THE J O R D A N Q UE ST IO N

T he waters com ing d o w n from al-M alah stood, they rose


up in one dam extending from W add, at A dam , the city that
is beside Raznah, and those flowing do w n west o f Ghurabah,
w est o f al-M ilhah, were w holly cut off; and the people passed
over opposite Rakhyah.
Clearly, the waters that receded (apparently because they
were dam m ed) to perm it the Israelites to cross the escarpment

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T H E BIBLE C A M E F R OM ARABI A

at the B uqran col w ere those o f Wadi A dam , which flowed


from the w ater divide w estw ards, from the heights o f the T aif
region tow ards the sea. Translated in this way, the point o f
crossing is defined w ith stunning precision.
As they crossed the B uqran col betw een Ghurabah and
A dam , the m en o f Israel (if the H ebrew text is read correctly)
took up tw elve stones out o f the escarpment (h-yrdn), accord
ing to the num ber o f the tribes o f the people o f Israel (4:18).
W hen they reached Gilgal (glgl), Joshua took these twelve stones
and set them up as a m em orial o f the crossing o f h-yrdn hzh
(this escarpm ent, or this ridge). This anecdote, as reported,
is no d o u b t an attem pt to explain h o w the rocky hillock o f Jabal
Juljul (glgl) came to stand in the plain o f Sahl Juljul (also glgl),
in W adi A dam . T he plain and the hillock are both there to this
day, w ith their identical Biblical names unchanged.
T o reach the plain o f Juljul, or Gilgal, the Israelites made
their descent d o w n W adi A dam opposite Jericho (yryhw)
(3:16), i.e. opposite the village o f Rakhyah, which is geographi
cally correct. Juljul (or Gilgal), w here they encamped, was on
the east border o f Jericho, as the standing translation o f the
H ebrew b-qsh m-zrh yryhw (4:19) w ould have it. Here the H ebrew
qsh, taken to mean bord er, and zrh, taken to mean east, are
actually the names o f tw o villages in W adi Adam: Qasyah (qsy)
and Sarhah (srh). T he second village, Sarhah, is identified in
relation to the neighbouring Rakhyah (as zrh yryhw) to dis
tinguish it from another village called Sarhah in the same area.
T he proper translation o f the verse in question m ust therefore
be: they encam ped in Juljul, in Qasyah, from the Sarhah o f
R akhyah. T he full extent o f the encam pm ent is thus indi
cated.
Like the story o f the twelve stones o f Juljul or Gilgal, the
story o f the mass circumcision o f all the uncircumcised m en o f
Israel at G ibeath-haaraloth (today D hl Ghulf, see above) merely
represents an attem pt to explain an unusual phenom enon - in
this case, the strange nam e o f a place called the hill o f the
foreskins. W hy the place was actually called by this nam e is
not a m atter for concern here.7 W hat is im portant is that the
present W est Arabian village o f D hl G hulf - like Rakhyah (or

THE J O R D A N QUESTIO N

89

Jerich o ), Juljul (or Gilgal), Qasyah and Sarhah - is located in


W adi A dam , w hich matches exactly the proper geographic
interpretation o f the Israelite crossing o f the J o rd a n under the
leadership o f Joshua. Incidentally, the co-ordinates o f the point
o f the crossing, along the col o f Wadi Buqran, south o f Taif,
are 2 i N by 4030'E.
W hile the J o rd a n o f Joshua was a m ountain col in the
southern Hijaz, along the m ain West Arabian escarpment, that
o f Lot (Genesis 13:10-12) was the ridge o fja b a l H arub, about
450 kilom etres aw ay to the south-southeast, in the coastal
region o f Jizan, w here a village called Raydan (cf. H ebrew
h-yrdn) is still to be found. From a starting point in the N e g e b
(1h-ngb), betw een Bethel (byt 7 ) and A i (h-y) (Genesis 13:2),
Lot reportedly parted com pany w ith his uncle A bram the
H ebrew (see Chapters 12, 13 and 15) and w ent to settle in
an area described as kkr h-yrdn, w hich is usually rendered in
translations as the circle o f the Jo rd an , or the Jordan valley.
G ranted that kkr means circle, which seems to be the case, the
kkr h-yrdn m ust have referred to the fertile and well-irrigated
valleys radiating from the H arub ridge, w hose original
name, as h-yrdn, appears to survive in that o f the village o f
Raydan.
T h at the kkr h-yrdn actually comprised the valleys at the foot
o fja b a l H arub, in th ejiza n region o f southern Asir, rather than
the Jo rd an valley in Palestine, is borne out by the itinerary o f
L ots m ovem ents, as reported in Genesis. T he N eg eb (ngb)
from w hich Lot set out to reach the kkr h-yrdn was certainly
not the N egeb desert in southern Palestine. It was the village
o f al-N aqb (nqb), w hich still stands today on the slopes o f Rijal
A lm a, w est o f the city o f Abha (see C hapter 4). Here also
exists, to this day, the villages o f Batllah (btl), the Biblical
Bethel, and al-Ghayy {gy, w ith the Arabic definite article, cf.
the H ebrew h-y), the Biblical A i.8 T o reach the kkr h-yrdn, Lot
had first to go to Jabal H arub, then descend from there to the
valleys. In Genesis 13:11, it is actually said that Lot journeyed
from qdm (H ebrew m-qdm) to reach his destination, qdm being
today a w atering place called Gham ad {gmd), near Raydan, on
the H arub ridge. Today, it is actually the main watering place

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T H E BIBLE C A M E F R O M ARABI A

o f the local Raydan (or J o rd a n ) tribe. The translators o f the


Bible could hardly have k n o w n that qdm was a place-name, and
therefore had good reason to take it literally to mean east.
A ssum ing, how ever, that Lot had set out from Palestine, and
that he had to m ove eastwards to reach a kkr h-yrdn, thought
to be the Jordan valley, these translators seem to have m iscon
strued the H ebrew m-qdm to mean eastw ards or east (RSV),
know ing that it could only mean from the east, if, indeed,
qdm m eant east. N o t out o f dishonesty, but out o f sheer
ignorance, they have invariably translated the story in Genesis
13:10-12 m ore or less as follows:
A nd Lot lifted up his eyes, and saw that the Jordan Valley
(kkr h-yrdn) was well w atered everyw here (klh msqh) like the
garden o f the Lord (k-gn yhwh), like the land o f E gypt in
the direction o f Z oar (k-rs msrym b-kh sr); this was before
the Lord destroyed Sodom and G om orrah (l-pny sht y h w h t
sdm w -t mrh). So Lot chose for him self the Jordan Valley,
and Lot journeyed east (m-qdm) . . . Lot dw elt in the cities o f
the valley (ry h-kkr) and m oved his tent as far as Sodom
(w -yhl d sdm) (RSV).
A part from arbitrarily taking kkr h-yrdn to be the Jordan
Valley, and mistranslating m-qdm as east rather than from the
east (it actually means from G ham ad), the translators o f this
passage have understood the H ebrew yhwh, occurring twice in
this passage as the archaic imperfect o f the verb be (see Chapter
6, note 9), as the nam e o f the G od o f Israel (Y ahweh, com m only
rendered as the L ord). Likewise, they have taken the H ebrew
sht to be a verb in the perfect tense, meaning destroyed,
whereas it actually features in the context as a place-name (see
below). A lthough the H ebrew original makes perfect sense as
it stands, Biblical scholars, w orking w ithin the fram ew ork o f
a preconceived geographic structure, have further resorted to
the rem oval o f the phrase l-pny sht yhwh t sdm w -t mrh from
its proper place. In the original it comes directly after klh msqh,
or all o f it w atered, b u t they have transposed it, putting it
after k -rs msrym b-kh sr, w here it does not belong. Further

THE J O R D A N Q U E ST IO N

91

m ore, they have taken for granted that Vs msrym means the
land o f E g y p t. In the last verse, they have invariably assumed
that ry h-kkr means the cities o f the valley, circle, plain,
district. H ow ever, the original H ebrew refers to the caves
(Arabic gr, vocalised gdr, cave) or valleys (Arabic gwr, vocal
ised gawr, depth, valley) o f the place in question. C aves is
probably correct in this context, as Lot is depicted as dwelling
in a cave, in this case a m rh,9 in Genesis 19:30. Here is m y
retranslation o f the same text, keeping the place-names m en
tioned in their original H ebrew form for subsequent identific
ation.
A nd Lot lifted up his eyes and saw that all the kkr h-yrdn was
irrigated in the direction o f sht (l-pny sht)-, it is beside sdm and
mrh (yhwh t sdm w -t mrh). It is like a garden (k-gn yhwh)\
like the land o f msrym in the direction o f sr. So Lot chose for
him self all the kkr h-yrdn, and Lot journeyed from qdm . . .
Lot dw elt in the caves o f the kkr, and set up camp as far as
sdm.
W hat this fresh translation from the consonantal H ebrew text
presents are tw o sets o f place-names, one referring to three
locations in the circle o f R aydan (krr h-yrdn, i.e. in the valleys
around the Jabal H arub ridge), those being sht, sdm and mrh,
and the o ther referring to tw o locations elsewhere, msrym and
s r, the locations in the first set being favourably com pared w ith
msrym in fertility. All five locations survive by nam e in m odern
Asir: the first three in th ejiza n region, where one w ould expect
to find them ; the other tw o in the highly fertile vicinity o f
A bha, the part o f the Sarat blessed w ith m ost rain. Here are the
five locations identified by their present names:
1 Sht: to d a y S h a k h it (sht), in Ja b al B ani M alik , so u th e a st o f
Ja b al H a r u b , an d d ire c tly east o f W ad i Sabya.
2 Sdm, o r S o d o m : th e n a m e su rv iv es in m e tath esis as th a t o f
W ad i D a m is (dms), th e w e s te r n m o s t tr ib u ta ry o f W adi S abya (see
C h a p te r 4).
3 Mrh, o r G o m o r r a h : G h a m r (gmr), o n th e slopes o f Jab al
H a r u b u p h ill f ro m W a d i D a m is.
4 Msrym: h ere ce rtain ly n o t E g y p t , b u t p re se n t M is ra m a h
(,msrm), n e a r A b h a (see C h a p te r 4).

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T H E BIBLE C A M E F R O M ARABI A

5
S r, o r Z o a r : h e re n o d o u b t al-S ar a (s'r), also n ea r A b h a,
th e re b e in g o th e r Z o a r s e lse w h e re in A sir.

T o support m y transposition o f L ots story in Genesis from


Palestine to West Arabia, I cite evidence o f a different kind.
T he S o d o m and G o m o rra h in the list, according to Genesis
19:24, were destroyed during the lifetime o f Lot by a rain o f
brim sto n e - a fire o f death from heaven (see C hapter 6, note
9). This seems to im ply a volcanic eruption. There are several
possible Sodom s in Asir, one o f them Sudum ah (exactly sdm),
in the Bani Shahr region; none, however, is close to a volcano.
N o t so Wadi Dam is, w hose low er course runs through the
thick o f the laval field o f the A kw ah volcanoes. Biblical
archaeologists w ho continue to search for the remains o f Sodom
(or those o f G om orrah) in the vicinity o f the Dead Sea in
Palestine should rem em ber that no traces o f protovolcanic
activity have as yet been found there. These tw o tow ns m ust
lie buried beneath the lava o f Wadi Damis in th e jiz a n region,
dow nhill from Jabal H arub, although there is a G ham r (gmr)
which could have been the Biblical G om orrah on the slopes o f
Jabal H a ru b .10 T he yrdn or Jo rd a n , w ith w hich the tw o places
are associated in the story o f L ots m igration, can only be the
H arub ridge w hose Biblical nam e (meaning the ridge) is still
carried there by the village o f Raydan. T he circle (kkr) m ust
have been the collective term used to indicate the valleys radiat
ing from the various sides o f the Harub ridge, form ing the
basins o f Wadi Sabya and Wadi Baysh; also L o ts qdm is not the
east, but the spring o f Gham ad, near R aydan.11
W ith respect to the place-name msrym, it m ust be emphasised
that it is rarely used in the H ebrew Bible to refer to Egypt, as
com m only assum ed.12 W here it does not refer to M isram ah
near Abha (see Chapters 4 and 13), it refers to M asr, in Wadi
Bishah, or to M adrum (mdrm), in the G ham id highlands (see
C hapter 14). T he Biblical Pharaoh (p rh), as will be suggested
later, was not the ruler o f E gypt, but a W est Arabian god
associated w ith M isram ah and M asr, am ong other places,13
and was perhaps also the designation o f the chiefs o f a tribe o f
the locality. T he Biblical msr could also have been the nam e o f
a W est Arabian tribe, called in Arabic the M udar (mdr, soured

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93

m ilk). Certainly, a Pharaoh tribe, called the Fara (pr'), is still


to be found in Wadi Bishah today, carrying the nam e o f the
ancient god or chiefs o f the region.
O nce it is recognised that the Biblical h-yrdn, or the Jo rd a n ,
is n o t the nam e o f any river, but a term m eaning the ridge, the
escarpm ent, or a place-name such as Raydan, carrying the
same m eaning, it is easy to understand other com posite Biblical
expressions w hich include the term. It has already been ob
served that yrdn yrhw (N um bers 26:3, 63; 31:12; 33:48, 50; 35:1;
36:13) is n o t the Jordan at Jericho (RSV), but the ridge o f
W arakh, in the Zahran highlands. A part from yrdn yrhw,
there are other Biblical expressions featuring the term yrdn to
consider. T he m'brwt h-yrdn (Judges 3:28, 12:5, 6), for example,
were n o t the fords o f the Jo rd a n (RSV), but the defiles o f the
escarpm ent. 14 The spt h-yrdn (2 Kings 2:13) was not the bank
o f the J o rd a n (RSV), but the edge o f the escarpm ent (cf.
Arabic sph or sp, edge, cliff). As a m atter o f fact, Arabs today
living in W est Arabia still refer to the edge o f the West Arabian
escarpm ent in this way. T he g lylw t h-yrdn (Joshua 22:11) were
not the region about th e jo rd a n but the terraced flanks (Arabic
gl, terrace, from gll) o f the escarpm ent, unless the reference
was to any num ber o f villages called today al-Jallah (gl) on the
m aritim e side o f the Asir escarpment.
Finally, g wn h-yrdn (Jeremiah 12:5, 49:19, 50:44; Zechariah
11:3) was certainly n o t the jungle o f th e jo r d a n . The H ebrew
g wn is attested to mean height. O nly an especially fertile
im agination could m ake it mean high trees or tall trees, hence
j u n g le . As a term , g wn h-yrdn can mean the height o f the
ridge. It happens, how ever, that there are tw o valleys called
Wadi G haw w an (gwn) in the Jizan region o f Asir. The first is a
coastal valley w hich drains into the sea at the harbour to w n o f
Shuqayq. T he second, how ever, further south, is one o f the
headwaters o f Wadi Baysh, springing from the northern ex
trem ity o f the H arub ridge or yrdn system (the yrdn or Raydan
o f Lot) and joining other headwaters there. T o distinguish
betw een this Wadi G haw w an o f the ridge or G haw w an o f
R aydan and the coastal W adi G haw w an to the north, the Biblical
texts cited call it g wn h-yrdn.

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T H E BIBLE C A M E F R O M ARABI A

Reconsidering one Biblical text w hich refers to this g wn


h-yrdn offers an interesting alternative to the standard reading.
In conventional translations o f Zechariah 11:1-3 (here RSV), we
read as follows:
O pen your doors, O Lebanon (Ibnwn), that the fire m ay
devour y o u r cedars (w -tkl s b-rzyk): Wail, O cypress, for
the cedar ('rz) has fallen, for the glorious trees are ruined (sr
drym sddw): Wail, oaks (singular livn) o f Bashan (bsn), for
the thick forest has been felled (ky yrd y r h-bswr): H ark (qwl),
the wail o f the shepherds (lit h-rym), for their glory (drtm)
is despoiled (sddh): H ark (qwl), the roar o f the lions (sg t
kpyrym), for the ju n g le o f the Jordan (gwn h-yrdn) is laid
waste (sdd).
This is certainly picturesque; unfortunately, it is grossly
inaccurate. W hat is involved in the H ebrew text are not tw o
b u t no less than seven place-names. T he Ibnwn referred to is
n o t M o u n t Lebanon but the highlands and valley o f Lubaynan
(Ibynn), w hich border th e jiz a n region from the southeast and
n o w fall w ithin the territory o f the Y em en (see C hapter 1). The
rz o f this Lubaynan could not have been cedar but the local
giant juniper. T he bsn rendered as Bashan is not the Syrian
al-Bathaniyyah, the highland region east o f the Jordan river, as
it has long been assumed, but al-Bathanah (btn), in Jabal Faifa,
overlooking the valleys o f the Jizan region. The Iwn o f this
Bathanah is n o t oak but probably the local terebinth. The
standard translation I have quoted recognises Zechariahs Ibnwn
and bsn as place-names, but fails to identify the others. O n e o f
those is g wn (the g wn h-yrdn), already referred to as the present
Wadi G haw w an, o f the yrdn that is today Jabal Harub. And
here are the rem aining four:

1
Drym: n o t th e g lo rio u s tre e s, b u t th e p lu ral o f dr, h er
m e a n in g p e a k (cf. A ra b ic drw; in th e dialect o f t h e j i z a n h in te rla n d
dry, in th e m asculine, v o calised as dan). T h e reference h ere is to th e
v o lc an ic cones o r p e a k s o f Jab al H a tta b in th e n o r th e r n Y e m e n , east
o f th e L u b a y n a n h ig h la n d s .15 A t th e s o u th e rn en d o f Jab al H a tta b
th e re sta n d s to this d a y a v illage called D a r w a n (drwn, cf. H e b r e w
drym, p e a k s ). T h is co u ld h a v e b een th e o ld n a m e o f th e volcanic
p e a k s o f th e area.

T HE J O R D A N Q U E S T I O N

95

2 Bswr. n o t felled (fro m bsr, cu t in p ieces), b u t th e p rese n t


village o f S ab ir (sbr) in th e B a n i G h az i d istrict o f th e j i z a n h in te rla n d ,
at th e f o o t o f ja b a l H a ru b .
3 R ym : n o t necessarily th e s h e p h e rd s (as th e p lu ral o f ry),
b u t m o r e p r o b a b ly a reference to th e in h a b ita n ts o f R f (rym , as th e
p lu ral o f th e g e n itiv e o f r'), in th e B a n i G h az i d istrict o f th e Jizan
reg io n , o n th e slopes o f j a b a l M a sld ah . T h e i r dr (drtm), o r p e a k
(n o t th e ir g lo r y ), w o u ld h av e b een th e p eak o f th e sa m e Jab al
M a sld ah .
4 Kpyrym : n o t necessarily th e lio n s (plural o f kpyr), b u t m o r e
p r o b a b ly a p la c e -n a m e in th e m asculin e p lu ral fo rm , re fe rrin g to
w h a t is to d a y th e village o f al-R afaq at (fem in in e p lu ral o f rpq, cf.
H e b r e w kpyr), o n th e slopes o f j a b a l H a ru b ; i.e. in th e sa m e v icin ity
o f W a d i G h a w w a n , o r g wn h-yrdn.

Hence, reconsidering the Zechariah text in the light o f these


new suggestions, I w ould propose the following retranslation:
O p e n your doors, O Lubaynan, and the fire will feed on
your ju n ip e rs16; Wail, O cypress, for the juniper which
D arw an ruined has fallen; Wail, O terebinths o f Bathanah,
for the forest o f Sabir has come d o w n 17; H ark the wail o f
the people o f RT, for their peak is ruined; Hark, the roar o f
al-Rafaqat, for the G haw w an o f Raydan is ruined.
W hether readers will be prepared to accept this suggested
reinterpretation or not, one thing is sure: the H ebrew Bible has
no thing to say about the ju n g le o f the Jo rd a n , a mistranslation
which should have given pause to even the m ost unobservant
visitors to the region w here this bosky profusion is popularly
supposed to exist.
W hat about the Jordan (also h-yrdn) w here N aam an o f A ram
dipped him self seven tim es to cure him self o f leprosy (2 Kings
5:14)? Is it conceivable that a m an could dip him self not in
w ater, but in the rocks o f an escarpment or ridge? Certainly
not. T h e yrdn where N aam an dipped him self seven tim es
could only have been a stream or pool o f water. In this case,
the term yrdn derives from the same Semitic root yrd - here not
in the sense o f descend, fall, fall d o w n , but in the sense o f
the Arabic wrd, w hich means go to w ater. C onsidering that
N aam an took his Jo rd a n cure near Samaria (smrwn), which

96

T HE BIBLE C A M E F R O M ARABI A

is today the village o f Shim ran (smrn), in the Q unfudhah hinter


land o f coastal Asir (see C hapter 10), this particular J o rd a n , as
a w ater stream or p o o l, m ust have been part o f the water
course o f W adi N u s, w hich flows there. N a a m an s homeland,
called A ram (rm), w ould be today Wadi W aram (wrm), in the
low er reaches o f Rijal A lm a, south o f Shimran, or Samaria.
There, his D am ascus (dmsq, or d-msq) w ould surely not have
been the Syrian Damascus, but the present local village o f D hat
M isk (dt msk). N o rivers called Pharphar (prpr) and Abana (bn)
flow in the vicinity o f the Syrian Damascus. These rivers o f
N a a m an s hom eland, w hich he compares favourably w ith the
Jo rd a n or yrdn w here he took his cure (2 Kings 5:12), carry
names w hich are today those o f the villages o f Rafrafah (rprp)
and al-Bana (bn). T he m ain w ater course in that region is the
valley o f W adi Hall. O n e m ay assume, therefore, that the
Biblical Pharphar and Abana were am ong the m any tributaries
o f this same W adi Hall.

ARABIAN JUDAH
I f r e a d e r s a r e w i l l i n g t o c o n c e d e t h a t t h e B ib lic a l J o r d a n c o u l d
w e l l h a v e b e e n a m o u n t a i n e s c a r p m e n t in W e s t A r a b ia , t h e y
s h o u l d h a v e li ttle d i f f i c u l t y in a c c e p t i n g t h a t B ib lic a l J u d a h
w a s p r o b a b l y t h e h ill c o u n t r y f la n k i n g t h e m a r i t i m e s id e o f
A s ir . T o b e m o r e p r e c is e , I w o u l d s u g g e s t t h a t t h e J u d a h o f th e
a n c i e n t I s ra e lite s w a s s i t u a t e d in a n a r e a r u n n i n g f r o m t h e
w a t e r d i v i d e o f t h e S a r a t r a n g e ( th e m a i n yrdn, o r J o r d a n o f
t h e H e b r e w B ib le ) t o t h e T i h a m a h c o a s ta l d e s e r t ( th e B ib lic a l

Tehom).
A c c o r d i n g t o t h e H e b r e w B ib le , J u d a h is t h e n a m e o f o n e o f
t h e tw e lv e - I s ra e lite tr ib e s . It is a lso a n a m e u s e d t o d e n o t e th e
t e r r i t o r y w h i c h t h e t r i b e i n h a b i t e d as w e l l as t o d e s i g n a t e o n e
o f t h e t w o k i n g d o m s i n t o w h i c h A ll I s r a e l w a s p a r t i t i o n e d
a f te r t h e d e a t h o f S o l o m o n . I n A c h a e m e n i d t i m e s , t h e n a m e
w a s u s e d m o r e g e n e r a ll y t o r e f e r t o t h e w h o l e la n d o f t h e
Is ra e lite s , w h i c h b y t h e n w a s n o l o n g e r i n d e p e n d e n t .
T h e l a n d o f t h e t r i b e o f J u d a h w a s a p p a r e n t l y in W a d i A d a m ,
i n s o u t h e r n H ija z (se e A p p e n d i x ) . D a v i d , t h e f o u n d e r o f t h e
k i n g d o m o f A ll I s r a e l, c a m e f r o m th e r e , h is h o m e t o w n b e i n g
B e t h l e h e m (byt Ihm), a v il la g e k n o w n t o d a y as U m m L a h m
( m Ihm). N o t s u r p r i s i n g l y , t h e d y n a s t y w h i c h h e f o u n d e d
b e c a m e k n o w n as t h e H o u s e o f J u d a h , r e f le c tin g its o r ig in ;
m o r e i m p o r t a n t l y p e r h a p s , w h a t w e call J u d a i s m m o s t p r o b a b l y
t o o k its n a m e f r o m t h e k i n g d o m - n o t t h e t r i b e o r tr ib a l la n d
- o f J u d a h , w h i c h c o n t i n u e d u n d e r t h e h o u s e o f D a v i d u n t i l it
w a s d e s t r o y e d b y t h e B a b y l o n i a n s in 586 B. C.
W h a t w e ca ll J u d a i s m w a s d e v e l o p e d b y t h e p r o p h e t s , o r
n b yym , w h o li v e d u n d e r t h e p a t r o n a g e o f t h e k i n g s o t J u d a h (see

98

T H E BIBLE C A ME F R O M ARABI A

C hapter i), and the H ebrew Bible as we know it is essentially the


product o f the kingdom o f Judah, rather than that o f the rival
k ingdom o f Israel. After the destruction o f both kingdom s, it
was Judah w hich was better rem em bered. A t least, so one m ay
assume from the fact that the nam e Judah was assigned to all
the form er territory o f the Israelites in Achaemenid times. It
was from Judah, not Israel, that the Jews as a religious com
m unity got the nam e by which they are still k n o w n (Biblical
Yehudim, singular Yehudi, from Yehiidah).
There is little doubt that Judah was a geographic name before
it became that o f an Israelite tribe. Its H ebrew form , yhwdh, is
a noun derivative o f yhd - the equivalent o f the Arabic whd,
which means lie low, be depressed, not in relation to people
but to land. In Arabic, whd yields the substantives wahd ( whd)
and wahdah (whdh , w ith the feminine suffix), m eaning an area
o f flat, low -lying land; ravine, while the Biblical yhwdh, from
yhd, m ust have been an ancient Semitic topographical term
carrying m ore or less the same meaning.
Actually, this hill country flanking the m aritim e side o f the
Asir range, w hich I believe is Judah, is a landscape not only o f
countless intertw ining ridges, some> protruding from the main
range, and others standing here and there in isolation, but also
o f low -lying wahd or wahdah land. Presum ably, it was from the
latter that ancient Judah got its n am e.1
There are innum erable references to Judah in the Biblical text
which support m y claim that it was the territory o f the Biblical
Israelites as a people rather than o f a particular Israelite tribe
(see Appendix). M ost o f them also substantiate m y claim that
their lands com prised the m aritim e slopes o f geographic Asir,
along w ith the southern Hijaz as far north as the T a if ridge.
O ne excellent example comes from tw o accounts o f the return
o f the descendants o f the Israelite exiles from Babylon to Judah
in A chaem enid times, found in Ezra 2:3-63 and N ehem iah
7:8-6$. These tw o texts, w ith slight variations, list the returning
Israelite groups or com m unities according to their tow ns and
villages o f origin, n o t according to tribe or family, as has
hitherto been th o u g h t.2 G oing through the tw o texts, w ith a
good m ap o f peninsular Arabia and a dictionary o f Arabian

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99

place-names for further guidance - m ore than one to make the


task foo lp ro o f - one can easily spot nearly all the tow ns and
villages listed by Ezra and N ehem iah. Sometimes they are
localities still existing by the same names. In other cases they
exist in readily recognisable forms o f the same names. In all
cases they m ay be found in the parts o f West Arabia extending,
roughly, from the T aif region and the hinterland o f Lith in the
north, to the hinterland o f Jizan in the south. Even those terms
w hich have hitherto been assumed to denote priests, Levites,
singers, gate-keepers, tem ple-servants, or Solom ons ser
vants on closer analysis appear m ore readily to refer to groups
com ing from particular areas o f the same general region and its
broader Arabian neighbourhood (notably the N ajran region;
see below).
T o establish the facts o f the case, let me begin by examining
the latter group. C onsidering the absurdity o f the large num ber
o f priests, it is odd that the traditional interpretation o f this
group, as well as o f the others, has been unchallenged for so
long. H ow ever, consider the following:
a T h e P rie sts (h-khnym) are said to n u m b e r a to tal o f 4,289
(a b o u t o n e te n th th e n u m b e r o f th e re tu r n in g Israelites, w h ic h w as
a b o u t 40,000), an d are d iv id e d as fo llo w s (Ezra 2:36-39; N e h e m ia h
7 :39- 42 ):
1 T h e s o n s o f je d a ia h (yd'yh).
2 T h e s o n s o f I m m e r (mr).
3 T h e so n s o f P a s h h u r (pshwr).
4 T h e s o n s o f H a r im (hrm).

T he Biblical khnym here cannot be interpreted as the plural


o f the H ebrew khn, or priest, for that w ould mean one in
every ten m en am ong the returning Israelites was a priest.
Rather, khnym here m ust be regarded as the plural o f khny, the
genitive o f khn as a place-name, to mean the people o f khn.
T he original hom e o f the khnym was apparently the present
oasis o f Q ahw an (qhwn, essentially qhn, Arabicised form o f
Biblical khn), in Wadi N ajran, in the neighbourhood o f the
oasis o f Salwah. This supposition is borne out by the geographic
distribution o f the khnym, w hose hom e tow ns or hom e regions
(rather than families) are listed by Ezra and N ehem iah as fol
lows:

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T H E BIBLE C A ME F R O M ARABI A

1 Jedaiah (yd'yh), which is today clearly the tribal territory of


Wadiah (wd'h), in Wadi Najran. Both Ezra (2:36) and Nehemiah
(7:39) speak o f bny yd'yh l-byt ysw, commonly translated the sons of
Jedaiah o f the house of Joshua, but actually meaning the people of
Wadiah to byt ysw (a place-name), since the prepositional I in
Hebrew means to and not o f. The community in question must
obviously have been the inhabitants of an area extending from
Wadi'ah, in the heart of Wadi Najran, to (not of) the oasis of Wasi
(wsy, cf. Biblical ysw) south of Riyadh, at the eastern extremity of
the Yamamah region o f Central Arabia.
2 Immer (mr), which is today apparently the oasis of al-Amar
(rnr), in the Yamamah region of Central Arabia, northeast of the
broader area of Wadi Najran.
3 Pashhur (pshwr), which is today clearly the oasis of al-Harshaf
(hrsp), in Wadi Habuna, north o f Wadi Najran.
4 Harim (hrtn), which is today the oasis stretch of Wadi Harim
(hrm), at the western extremity of the Yamamah region of Central
Arabia.
From this, it is clear that the khnym m ust have been a
com m unity w hose hom eland extended from Wadi N ajran
northw ards to Wadi H abuna, and northeastw ards into the
Y am am ah region o f Central Arabia. The vast extent o f the
territory involved m ight explain w h y the returning khnym,
according to both Ezra and N ehem iah, were so large in
num ber. Being located inland, the land o f the khnym was an
appendage to the land o f Judah rather than an integral part
o f it.
b The Levites (h-lwym ) are divided as follows (Ezra 2:40;
Nehemiah 7:43):
1 The sons ofjeshua (ysw).
2 The sons of Kadmiel (qdmyl , or qdmy 7 ).
3 The sons of Hodaviah (hwdwyh in Ezra; hwdwh, or Hodevah, in Nehemiah).
T he Iwym (plural o f Iwy, genitive o f Iw or Iwh), rather
than being priestly Levites, m ust have been a com m unity
originally from Lawah (Iw, or Iwh) in W adi A dam . In
the same W adi 4 A dam there is still today a village called
H udayyah (hdyh), w hich is none other than the Hodaviah
o f Ezra and the H odevah o f N ehem iah. In the Ezra and
N ehem iah texts, the people o f H udayyah, in Wadi Adam,
are distinguished from the other tw o groups o f Iwym, w ho

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101

are spoken o f jo in tly as the sons o f Jeshua and K adm iel.


This is because J eshua and K adm iel were neighbouring
places o f the Lith hinterland at som e distance downhill
from W adi A dam , in the vicinity o f present-day Ghum ayqah.
H ere Jeshua is represented today by the village o f Sha'yah
(sy , cf. Biblical ysw 1), while K adm iel is represented by the
village o f al-Q adam ah (l-qdm, apparently 7 qdm, the g o d o f
qdm, cf. Biblical qdmy 7 ).
c T h e S in g e rs (h-msrrym), in c lu d in g th o se o f A s a p h (sp)
(Ezra 2:41; N e h e m ia h 7:44).

These w ere no doubt a com m unity originally from the village


o f M asarrah (msr, or msrr), in the Bariq (Bdriq) region, west o f
the M ajaridah region. East o f M asarrah, in the Ballasmar re
gion, stands the village o f Al Y u su f (ysp), carrying to this day
the nam e o f the Biblical A saph.
d T h e G a te -k e e p e rs (h-srym) are d iv id e d as fo llo w s (Ezra
2:42; N e h e m ia h 7:45):
1 T h e s o n s o f S h allu m (slwm).
2 T h e s o n s o f A te r (tr).
3 T h e s o n s o f T a lm o n ( tlmn).
4 T h e s o n s o f A k k u b (qwb).
5 T h e s o n s o f H a tita (htyt).
6 T h e s o n s o f S ho b ai (shy).

These s'rym, far from being gate-keepers, were a com


m unity o f the T aif region, w here their place o f origin was
present Shaariyah (sry). All the hom e villages o f the s'rym, as
listed by Ezra and N ehem iah, can still be found in the same
general vicinity. T hey are Shum ul (smwl, Biblical slwm,
Shallum ); W atrah (wtr, Biblical tr, A ter); M antalah (mntl,
Biblical tlmn, T a lm o n ); U q u b {qwb, Biblical qwb, also,
A k k u b ); al-H uw ayyit (hwyt, apparently an Arabicised form
o f the Biblical htyt, H atita); and Thaw abiyah (twby, cf.
Biblical sby).
e T h e T e m p le - s e rv a n ts (ntynym) are listed as bein g th e so n s ,
o r p eo p le, o f th irty -fiv e d iffe ren t places (no t fam ilies; E zra 2:43-54;
N e h e m ia h 7:46-56).

Certainly, these cannot have been Tem ple-servants. T hey


were, I believe, a com m unity o f the Jizan region and the adjacent
Rijal A lm a1, B ahr and Birk regions. Their place o f origin was
probably one o f tw o villages called today Tanatin (tntn), in

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T H E BIBLE C A M E F R O M ARABI A

the Jizan region. Here are the thirty-five villages they came
from:
1 Z ih a (syh in E zra; sh in N e h e m ia h ): S ak h y ah (shy) o r Sakhi
(shy), in Rijal Alma*.
2 H a s u p h a (hswp): H ash a fa h (hsp), in th e B irk reg io n .
3 T a b b a o th (tb'wt ): A tib iy y a h (tbyt), in th e Jiz an region.
4 K e ro s (qrs): K irs ( krs), a n y o f n in e villages b y th e sa m e
n a m e in th e Jiz an reg io n ; unless it is K u ru s (krs), in th e sa m e
reg io n .
5 Siaha (sy'h in E zra; sy, in N e h e m ia h ; in e ith e r case w ith th e
su ffix ed A ra m a ic d efin ite article, le avin g th e n a m e as sy'h o r sy'):
al-S ai (s'y, w ith th e p re fix e d A ra b ic defin ite article), in th e Jizan
reg io n .
6 P a d o n (pdwn): F ad an ah (pdn), in th e Jizan reg io n .
7 L eb a n ah ( Ibtih): L u b a n a h (Ibnh) in th e Jiz an reg io n .
8 H a g a b a h (hgbh): H u q b a h ( hqbh), in th e Jiz an reg io n .
9 A k k u b (qwb): A l A q lb a h (' qb), in th e jiz a n re g io n (as d istin ct
fro m th e U q u b o f th e T a i f reg io n , see above).
xo H a g a b (hgb): H u q b a h (hqb), in t h e j i z a n reg io n , unless it is
th e H u q b a h o f ad jacen t Rijal A lm a .
11 S h am lai (smly): S h a m u la (sml [), eith er o f tw o villages b y th e
sa m e n a m e , in t h e j i z a n reg io n .
12 H a n a n (hnn): H a n ln a h (hnn), o r p o ssib ly H a n in l (him), in th e
Jiz an reg io n .
,
13 G id d el (gdl): Ja d al (gdl), in th e B a h r reg ion .
14 G a h a r (ghr): J u h r (ghr), o r p o ssib ly J u h r a h (ghr), in t h e j i z a n
reg io n .
15 R eaiah (ryh): R a y a h (ryh, stric tly ryh), in th e jiz a n reg ion .
16 R ezin (rsyn): a m o n g several possibilities, m o s t p ro b a b ly
R a d w a n (rdwn), in th e j i z a n reg io n ; unless it is R a zin ah (rzn ), in Rijal
A lm a .
17 N e k o d a (nqwd, o r nqwd i f th e suffixed A ra m a ic defin ite
article is d isc o u n te d ): N a jid (ngd), in t h e jiz a n reg io n .
18 G az za m (gzm ): Ja z a y im (gzym ), in t h e j i z a n reg io n , unless
this is th e n a m e o f j i z a n (gzn) itself.
19 U i:za (z ): G h a z a w a h (gzw ), in t h e j i z a n reg io n ; unless it is
U z z (z), in th e B irk regio n.
20 Pasea (psh): Safah (sph), e ith e r o f tw o villages b y th e sa m e
n am e, in t h e j i z a n reg io n .
21 B esai (bsy): B a sw a h (bsw), in th e jiz a n reg io n .
22 A sn a h (' snh): W asan (wsn), in th e B a h r reg io n .
23 M e u n im (m'wnym, tra d itio n a lly vocalised as a plural, b u t
p o ssib ly also a d u al o f m wn o r m'wny): M a a n i ( m n), t w o villages b y
th e sa m e n a m e , in Rijal A lm a ; un less th e referen ce is to th e valley

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103

o f W ad i M a 'a y in (A rabic p lu ra l o f m'yn, vocalised ma'yan), in th e


Jiz an re g io n , w h ic h is th e less likely.
24 N e p h is im (npysym, p lu ral o f th e g en itiv e npys): N asifa n (nspn,
A ra b ic sin g u la r nsp), in W a d i A d a m . T h e Israelite in h a b ita n ts o f this
village m u s t h a v e o rig in a lly a rriv e d th e re f ro m a place b y th e sa m e
n a m e in th e Jiz a n re g io n w h ic h n o lo n g e r exists.
25 B a k b u k (bqbwq): J u b ju b (gbgb), in th e Jiz an reg ion .
26 H a k u p h a (,hqwp, w ith th e suffixed A ra m a ic definite article):
al-H a jfa h ( hgp, w ith th e p refix ed A ra b ic definite article), in th e Jizan
re g io n .3
27 H a r h u r (hrhwr): u n id e n tifia b le as th e n a m e o f o n e place, b u t
p o ssib ly K h a r r (hr), B iblically id entified in rela tio n to n e ig h b o u rin g
K h lra h (hr), in Rijal A lm a .
28 B a z lu th (bslwt): p o ssib ly a tribal n a m e o f th e fem in in e p lu ral
ty p e , e x tre m e ly c o m m o n in A rab ic, f ro m th e p la ce -n a m e bsl; cf.
al-B alas (bis), in Rijal A lm a . T h e r e is also th e tribal te rrito ry o f th e
S ulab (sib) in Rijal A lm a 1. O th e r w is e S u lb iyah (slbyt), in the Jiz an
reg io n .
29 M e h id a (mhyd ): H a m ld a h (hmyd, p o ssib ly b y o rig in
H a m ld a , o r hmyd, w ith th e su ffix ed A ra m a ic d efin ite article, as in
th e B iblical n a m e ), in th e Jiz a n reg ion .
30
H a r s h a (hrs, w ith th e suffixed A ra m a ic d efin ite article):
a l-K h u r s h (hrs, w ith th e p refix ed A ra b ic definite article), in th e Jizan
reg io n .
31 B a rk o s (brqws): e ith e r K irb as (krbs) o r K a rb u s (krbs), in the
Jiz an reg io n .
32 Sisera (sysr): p r o b a b ly S irr Z a h ra (sr zh r, a c o r r u p tio n o f th e
o rig in a l n a m e , b u t p re se rv in g th e suffixed A ra m a ic definite article),
in th e Jiz a n reg io n .
33 T a m a h ( tmh): T a m a h a h (tmh), in th e Jizan reg ion .
34
N e z ia h (nsyh): N a d u h (ndh), in th e Rijal A lm a 1.
3 5 H a tip h a (htyp ): K h a tfa (htp , p rese rv in g th e suffixed A ra m a ic
d efinite article), in th e Jiz an reg io n .

Ju d g in g by these identifications o f the hom e village o f the


ntynym, w hich are concentrated in one area o f southern Asir,
m ostly in the Jizan, it is clear that they were not tem pleservants, but a com m unity which derived its nam e from a
location in that general area (see above). The same applies to
the com m unity that follows:
f S o lo m o n s s e rv a n ts (bdy slmh), listed as b ein g th e so n s , o r
p eop le, o f te n d ifferen t places (n o t families).

Rather than being Solom ons servants, the bny bdy slmh, or
sons o bdy(m) slmh, were a com m unity originally from what

104

T HE BIBLE C A M E F R O M ARA BI A

is t o d a y t h e v il la g e o f A b d a n ( ' bdn), in t h e j i z a n r e g i o n , th is
v il la g e b e i n g B i b lic a ll y id e n t i f i e d in r e l a t i o n t o a n e i g h b o u r i n g

v il la g e c a lle d S i l a m a h (slmh). T h e s e w e r e t h e i r h o m e s :
1 Sotai (sty): Al S ut (st), in t h e j i z a n regio n .
2 H a s s o p h e r e th (h-sprt): R asafah ( rspt), in th e Jiz an re g io n ,
a p p a re n tly co n fu sed , te x tu ally , w ith A l-S afarah (sprt), in th e B allasm a r reg io n .
3 P e r u d a (prwd, w ith a su ffixed A ra m a ic defin ite article): p o s
sibly a l-F ard ah (prd, w ith th e p refix ed A ra b ic d efin ite article), in
Rijal A lm a ; m o r e likely al-R afda ( rpd, p re se rv in g also th e su ffix ed
A ra m a ic d efin ite article), in th e B a lla s m a r reg io n .
4 Ja ala h (y lh): p o ssib ly A liy ah (lyh), e ith er o f t w o villages b y
th e sa m e n a m e in t h e j i z a n reg io n ; m o r e likely a l-W a lah (w lh), in
th e Q u n f u d h a h h in te rla n d .
5 D a r k o n (drqwn): p r o b a b ly a l-D a rq (drq), in t h e j i z a n reg io n ,
te x tu a lly co n fu se d w ith Q a r d a n (qrdn), in the T a i f reg io n .
6 G id d e l (gdl): Ja d a l (gdl) in th e B a h r re g io n (see above).
7 S h e p h a tia h (sptyh): S h u ta y fiy a h (stypyh), a n y o f th re e n e ig h
b o u r in g villages b y th e sa m e n a m e in th e j i z a n reg io n .
8 H a ttil (htyl): a p p a re n tly Sahil a l-H u lu tl (hit), cited as a v a ria n t
n a m e fo r Sahil A b i A llu t, in th e j i z a n region.
9 P o c h e re t-h a z e b a im (pkrt h-sbym, sbym b e in g tra d itio n a lly v o
calised as a du al o f sby, gazelle, see C h a p te r 4): F aq arah (pqrt),
id en tified in rela tio n to th e tw in t o w n s o f S abya (sby, Aramaicised
f o rm ofh-sby) an d a l-Z a b y a h (zby, A rab icised f o r m ofh-sby), all three
places b e in g in close n e ig h b o u r h o o d , in t h e j i z a n reg io n .
10
A m i (my in E zra; mwn in N e h e m ia h ): th e co n fu sio n is
b e tw e e n Y a m iy a h (ymy) a n d Y a m a n i a l-M a r w a (ymn), b o th in th e
Jiz an reg io n .
It w o u l d s e e m t o m e t h a t t h e i d e n t i f i c a t i o n o f t h e h o m e t o w n s
o r v il la g e s o f w h a t h a v e h i t h e r t o b e e n a s s u m e d t o b e t h e
r e t u r n e d s o n s o f p r i e s t s , L e v i t e s , s i n g e r s , g a t e - k e e p e r s ,
t e m p l e - s e r v a n t s a n d S o l o m o n s s e r v a n t s , b u t w h o w e r e i n
r e a l i t y s ix tr ib a l g r o u p s k n o w n a f te r t h e i r r e s p e c t i v e p la c e s o f
o r i g i n , is i n i t s e l f s u f f i c ie n t t o in d i c a t e w h e r e t h e B i b lic a l l a n d
o f J u d a h r e a lly w a s . E v e n so , f u r t h e r e v i d e n c e is p r o v i d e d b y
t h e i d e n t i f i c a t i o n s o f t h e r e m a i n i n g p la c e s m e n t i o n e d in E z r a 2
a n d N e h e m i a h 7 as t h e o r i g i n a l h o m e s , all i n W e s t A r a b i a , o f
t h e I s ra e lite s r e t u r n i n g f r o m B a b y l o n . F o r c o n v e n i e n c e , t h e
p la c e s w i l l b e i d e n t i f i e d a c c o r d i n g t o r e g i o n , f r o m s o u t h t o
n o rth :

ARABIAN J U D A H

105

The Jizan region

1 A ra h (rh): R a h (rh); unless it is R ah a (rh) o r W a rk h a h (wrh),


in th e T a i f reg io n .
2 Z a t t u (z tw , w ith th e suffixed A ra m a ic definite article): p o s
sib ly a l-Z a w iy a h (m etath esis o f z tw , w ith th e p refix ed A ra b ic definite
article).
3 A te r ( tr, o n ly in Ezra): W a ta r ( wtr); unless it is W a tra h ( wtr)
o r W a tira h (wtr), in th e T a i f regio n .
4 Bezai ( bsy): B a s w a h (bsw), B asah (bs) o r B u z ah (bz, e ith er o f
tw o villages b y th e sa m e n am e); unless it is B a d a (bd), in th e T a i f
reg io n .
5 H a r im (hrrn): K h u r m (hrm); unless it is A ra b a t H a r im (the
b r o o k o f hrm), in th e M u h a y il district.
6 T e l-h a rs h a (tl hrsh, th e h ill o f hrsh) an d T e l-m e la h (tl mill):
Ja b a l a l-H a s h r (the m o u n t a i n o f hsr) an d th e p r o m o n to r y (tl) o f
H a m ll (hml), th e la tte r in th e H u r r a th hill co u n try .
7 A d a n (dn, in E zra) o r A d d o n (dwn, in N e h e m ia h ): the
c o n fu s io n is a p p a re n tly b e tw e e n t w o villages o f n e ig h b o u rin g dis
tricts, o n e called U d h n (dn) an d th e o th e r W a d a n a h (wdri).
8 H a r ip h (hryp , o n ly in N e h e m ia h ): H a r f (hrp), an y o f five
villages b y th e sa m e n a m e . T h e r e is also a H a r f in Rijal A lm a ; a n o th e r
in th e B a lla sm a r reg io n ; a n d y e t a n o th e r in th e Q u n f u d h a h reg io n .
A lso p o ssib le is K h arfa (hrp), in th e T a i f regio n .
9 A n a th o th (ntwt): A n tu ta h (' ntwt).
10 A z m a v e th (zm w t, in E zra) o r B e th -a z m a v e th (byt zmwt,
th e te m p le o f zmwt, in N e h e m ia h ): al-U s a y m a t (smt, o r sytnt), in
th e H u r r a t h hill co u n try .
11 A d o n ik a m (dnyqm, a p p a re n tly dny qm, m y lo r d o f qm): any
o f a n u m b e r o f villages in th e re g io n called a l - Q a im (qm), a p p a re n tly
th e n a m e o f an an cien t local g o d .

The Rijal Altna region


1

N e to p h a h ( ntph): Q a w a t Al N a t i f (the hill o f th e g o d

ntp).
2

B e th e l (byt I): B atilah (btl), alread y id en tified in C h a p te r 7.


3 A i (h-y): A l- G h a y y (gy), already id en tified in C h a p te r 7.
4 B arzillai th e G ilead ite (brzly h-gl'dy, b o th in th e gen itiv e, th e
n a m e s in th e n o m in a tiv e b e in g brzl an d gl'd): al-B arsah (app aren tly
7 brs, m e tath esis o f brzl), id entified in relation to n e ig h b o u rin g al-Jad
(1-gd, m e tath esis o ig ld\ see C h a p te r 1).

106

T H E BIBLE C A M E F R O M ARABI A

The Bahr and Birk regions

1 A z g a d (zgd, a p p a re n tly zgd): p o ssib ly A zz (z), in th e B irk


re g io n , id e n tifie d in rela tio n to n e ig h b o u rin g HabTs a l-Q a d (qd) in
th e ad jac en t M u h a y il reg io n .
2 H e b a ia h (in Ezra) o r H o b a ia h (in N e h e m ia h , in e ith er case
hbyh): H a b w a h (hbwh ), in th e B a h r reg io n , unless it is the village b y
th e sa m e n a m e in th e B ani S h ah r reg io n , o r K h a b y a h (hbyh) in th e
Jiz an re g io n . Less likely are th e H a b w a (hbw) a n d K h a b w a (hbw) o f
W ad i A d a m .

The Muhayil region

1 A d in (' dyn ): A d ln a h (dyn).


2 E la m (' ylm): A la m a h ( 7 m); unless it is A l a l- A la m ( 7 m),
th e T a n u m a h re g io n o f th e Sarat.

in

The Ballahmar-Ballasmar region

1 C h e r u b (krwb): K a r b a h ( krb); unless it is a l-Q a rlb a h (qrb) in


th e Jiz a n re g io n , o r a n o th e r Q a r ib a h in th e T a i f reg io n .
2 B eb ai (bby): B a b ( bb), o n th e rid g e o f j a b a l D irim .
3 T h u m m i m (tmym): Al T a m m a m (tmm).
f

The Bariq region

i P a ro s h (pr's): p o ssib ly al-Jaafir (gpr , m e tath esis o f prs, v o ic


ing th e fricativ e s in to a g)\ unless it is al-Jaafir in th e n e ig h b o u rin g
Q u n f u d h a h reg io n ; A jrafah (grp) in th e B a h r reg io n ; o r al-A rafijah
(rpg) in th e G h a m id h ig h lan d s.

The Majaridah region


1 Gibeon (gbwn , only in Nehemiah): A ljaban (gbn).
2 N e b o (nbw)\ N ib a h (nb); unless it is N a b a h (nb), w h ic h is th e

N e b o o f M o se s ( M o u n t N e b o ) in th e T a i f re g io n (see C h a p te r 7, n o te
5), o r a n o th e r N a b a h o n th e isolated rid g e o f Jab al D ir im , in th e
B a lla sm a r reg io n .

The Qunfudhah region

1 G ib b a r (gbr, o n ly in Ezra): Q a b r (qbr); unless it is J u b a r (gbr),


in th e sa m e re g io n , o r a n y o f several places b y th e sa m e n am e, o r
v aria n ts o f it, in o th e r p arts o f W e st A rabia.
2 H a d id (hdyd): H a d h ld h (hdd, strictly hdyd)-, unless it is H a d a d
(hdd), in th e T a i f re g io n , o r W ad i H a d id (hdd, stric tly hdyd), in the
Jiz an reg io n .

ARABIAN J U D A H

107

3 U r i m (wrym): a l-R iy a m (rym); unless it is a l-R iy a m a h (rym)


in th e B a n i S h a h r reg ion .
4 K iria th -Je a rim (qryt y'rym), C h e p h ira h ( kpyrh ) and B e e ro th
(1brwt ): th e c o n te x t o f j o s h u a 9:17, w h e r e these th re e pla ce -n a m e s are
also m e n tio n e d to g e th e r an d in association w ith G ib e o n (see abov e,
u n d e r th e M a ja rid a h reg io n ), clearly p o in ts to th e b ro a d e r Q u n fu d h a h
h in te rla n d . In this v ic in ity th e re is a K iriath -Je arim ( Q a ry a t A m ir,
o r qryt mr) a n d a C h e p h ir a h (Q ifarah , o r qprh), a n d a R a b th a h (rbt) ,
w h ic h is p e rh a p s B e ero th .
i

The Wadi Adam region

1 P a h a th - m o a b (pht m wb): F atih (pth), id en tified in relation to


n e ig h b o u r in g U m m al-Y ab (m yb), th e B iblical M o a b (see C h a p
te r 5).
2 J e s h u a (ysw, cited b y E zra an d N e h e m ia h as a d e p e n d e n c y
o f P a h a th -m o a b ) : S h a y a h (sy) (for th e o th e r d ep e n d en c y , J o a b , see
u n d e r th e T a i f reg io n ).
3 J o r a h (ywrh , o n ly in Ezra): W a ry a h ( wryh).
4 B e th le h e m (byt Ihm, o r te m p le o f Ihm, literally b read , fo o d,
p r o v is io n ; a p p a re n tly th e n a m e o f a d eity o f p ro v isio n ): U m m L a h m
(m Ihm, m e a n in g m o t h e r , i.e. g o d d e s s o f bread , food,
p r o v is io n ) .4
5 R a m a h (h-rmh, w ith th e d efin ite article): D h a a l-R a m a h (the
o n e o f rmh, h e re w ith th e A ra b ic definite article, m e a n in g th e g o d
o f th e h ill) . 5
6 G e b a (gb, listed b y E zra a n d N e h e m ia h in asso ciatio n w ith
R a m a h ): J a b (gb).
7 M ic h m a s ( mkms): M a q m a s (mqms) . 6
8 M a g b is h (mgbys, o n ly in Ezra): M ash ajib (msgb).

The broader hinterland o f Lith

1 T o b ia h ( twbyh): p e rh a p s B u w a y t (bwyt), in W ad i al-Jaizah.


2 O n o (wnw): A w a n ( V n ); unless it is W a y n a h ( wyn), in th e
B ani S h a h r reg io n .
3 J o a b ( yw b): a l-Y a b (yb), in th e G h a m id re g io n n ea r B alju rashi. C ite d b y E zra a n d N e h e m ia h as a d e p e n d e n c y o f P a h a th -m o a b
(see u n d e r W a d i A d a m ), a l-Y a b is lo cated in th e h ig h lan d s to the
so u th e a st o f W ad i A d a m . A n o th e r possible Jo a b , closer to th e
P a h a th -m o a b , is B u w a (bus), in th e T a i f reg io n . T h e n am es J o a b
(ywb) a n d al-Y ab, h o w e v e r, are abso lutely identical.
4 T h e o th e r E la m (ylm hr): th e reference is to t w o n e ig h b o u r
ing valleys o f th e Z a h r a n lo w la n d s, called W adi al-A lm a ( 7 m) and
W adi Y a h a r (yhr). N o o t h e r E la m is in qu estio n .

io 8

T H E BIBLE C A M E F R O M ARABI A

The T a if region

1 Z a c c a i (z k y ): Q a s y a (qsy); unless it is W a d i Q isI (qsy), in the


Jiz an reg io n .
2 B a n i (bny, in E zra) o r B in n u i (bnwy, in N e h e m ia h ): th e
c o n fu sio n is b e tw e e n tw o places in th e T a i f re g io n , th o se b e in g th e
villages o f B in n i (bny) a n d B a n y a (bny).
3 L o d (Id): L id d (Id)-, u nless it is th e L id d a h (Id) o f W ad i
al-Jaizah, in th e L ith h in terlan d .
4 J e r ic h o (yrhw): W a r k h a h (wrh); unless it is th e sa m e as th e
Je ric h o (yrhw) d iscussed in C h a p te r 7, w h ic h is W a r a k h (also wrh) in
th e Z a h r a n h ig h la n d s.

A ltogether, o f the 130 recognised place-names in the E zraN ehem iah lists, which I have correlated w ith those West Ara
bian villages cited above, the identification o f only a few remains
uncertain. W hat is perhaps even m ore im portant, how ever, is
that no m o re than a handful o f names have been identified w ith
locations in Palestine (in Simons, only ten); m oreover, in only
a few cases (notably Bethlehem , Lod, N ebo and Jericho) do the
Palestinian nam es really fit w ith the Biblical original w ithout
raising questions which are n o t readily answered (see Simons,
par. 101 i f ) . This alone should lead one to conclude that the
Biblical land o f Judah, as distinct from the Palestinian Judaea
(or land o f the Je w s) o f R om an times, was to be found in West
Arabia and now here else. Biblical Judah was, in fact, that region
com prising the m aritim e slopes o f the southern Hijaz and Asir,
from the Lith hinterland in the no rth to the Jizan region in the
south, along w ith the T a if region across the w ater divide from
the hinterland o f Lith. It w ould be possible to provide further
evidence in support o f m y contention by identifying the names
o f places cited as being in Judah in other Biblical texts, but I
think m y p o in t has been made. Besides, I have no wish to tax
the readers patience any further.
If the relevant Biblical texts are read as they ought to be,
in their original consonantal H ebrew , w ith o u t regard to any
misleading tradition about them , there is no evidence w hatso
ever to suggest that ancient Judah was anyw here other than
w here I have located it. T he onom astic p ro o f is so overw helm
ing that it seems hardly to w arrant archaeological substan
tiation. N evertheless, as I m entioned at the outset, the issue

ARABIAN J U D A H

109

is unlikely to be resolved to everyones satisfaction before


archaeological evidence is produced to support m y claim. In
the m eantim e, it w ould seem quite in order to suggest that on
the basis o f w hat inform ation I have adduced, Judah is, at least,
far m ore likely to have been in West Arabia than in Palestine.

JERUSALEM AND THE CITY


OF DAVID
T o say that Palestinian Jerusalem, sacred to Jews, Christians
and M oslem s alike, is n o t really the place m ost people think it
is, seems an im pudent assertion, bound to inflame the hearts o f
all true believers o f these three great religions. I do n o t deny,
o f course, that the city o f Jerusalem as the w orld know s it
deserves its reputation as the H oly City. I do suggest, how ever,
that there was another Jerusalem in West Arabia, whose exis
tence predates that o f the one in Palestine, and that the history
o f J erusalem rightly begins there.
T he H ebrew Bible tells us that the K ingdom o f All Israel
in the days o f King Solom on stretched from D an even to
Beersheba (i Kings 4:25). It has com m only been assumed that
Beersheba is actually the present tow n o f BIr Sab in southern
Palestine, while D an has been identified as having been on the
same site as the ruins o f Tall al-Qadi, near the headwaters o f
the Jordan river, m ainly on the grounds that the w o rd qadt in
Arabic means j u d g e (H ebrew dn). H ow ever, as I have already
dem onstrated in C hapter 4, Beersheba is m ore likely to have
been on the same site as the present-day village o f Shabaah in
the highlands o f Asir, near the to w n o f Khamis M ushait. As
for the Biblical Dan, this probably survives in West Arabia by
nam e as the village o f Danadinah (Arabic plural o f dn), in the
Z ahran lowlands, south o f W adi Adam, as I will demonstrate
further in Chapters 10 and 14.
S olom ons capital, Jerusalem , m ust have been situated som e
w here betw een these tw o settlements, m ore likely at w hat is

J E R U S A L E M A N D T H E C I T Y OF D A V I D

III

today an obscure village called Al Sharim ( 7 srym), near the


tow n o f N im as, along the crest o f the West Arabian Sarat.
Alternatively, it could have been several kilometres further
south in the vicinity o f Tanum ah. Jerusalem m ay survive there
in the nam e o f the village o f A rw a (rw), identified in relationship
to the neighbouring village o f Al Salam (slm), which w ould
yield the com pound nam e A rwa-Salam (rw slm; cf. the Biblical
yrwslym, for Jerusalem).
After the death o f Solom on, his kingdom o f All Israel was
divided am ong his descendants, w ho continued to reign in Al
Sharim as kings o f J u d a h ; another succession o f rulers evi
dently called themselves kings o f Israel. Eventually, the latter
established their capital in Samaria (Biblical Shomeron, or
smrwn), w hich I have identified as the village o f Shimran (smrn),
in the low lands o f the Q unfudhah region, downhill from the
Sarat. From their capital, the kings o f Israel controlled a
territory w hich dovetailed into the northern parts o f the terri
tory o f Ju d a h , as far as the region o f Taif.
For the tim e being, how ever, m y main concern is Jerusalem;
the m ore complicated question o f the placement o f Judah and
Israel will be dealt w ith in the following chapter. The H ebrew
Bible tells us that D avid capturedjerusalem and the stronghold
o f Z ion from the Jebusites, m oving his capital there from
H ebron during the eighth year o f his reign as king over Judah
(2 Samuel 5:5-10). O f the five H ebrons (hbrwn) which survive
by the nam e o f Khirban (hrbn by metathesis) on the m aritime
slopes o f Asir, I w ould suggest that D avids first capital was
m ost probably the K hirban o f the M ajaridah region, which had
once been the H ebron o f A bram , or Abraham (see Chapter 13).
Certainly, D av id s H ebron could hardly have been in Palestine,
where no such place appears to exist.
True, Jew s and Christians have traditionally located Biblical
H ebron in the tow n o f al-Khalll, in the hill country south o f
Palestinianjerusalem. M oreover, because the place is associated
with the career o f A braham , w ho is described in the Koran
(4:125) as the friend (Arabic hlyl, vocalised halil, or Khalil) o f
( lod, M oslem s have also accepted the Jew ish and Christian
identification o f al-Khalll w ith A braham s H ebron. N everthe

1 12

T H E BIBLE C A M E F R OM ARABI A

less, it is unlikely that the place-name, al-Khalil, means friend


at all. Probably, it is an Arabicised form o f an earlier Semitic
place-name, hlyl (from hll in H ebrew , hollow o u t, cf. Arabic
hll, pierce, get inside), m eaning cave. This being so, the
Palestinian to w n m ust surely have derived its nam e from a
w ell-know n cave in the vicinity (m entioned by Arab geo
graphers), w hich was consecrated by later tradition as the
tom b-shrine o f A braham . In Asir, how ever, w e find further
corroboration that the K hirban o f the M ajaridah region, in the
Q unfu d h ah hinterland, was the first capital o f David, because
w e find there several place-names which are associated w ith it.
These are: Gibeon (gb'wn), today Al-Jiban (gbn) and H elkathhazzurim (hlqt h-srym), today al-Halq (hlq) and al-Siram (srm),
all o f w hich lie in the same general area (see 2 Samuel 2:16).
All these identifications neatly support m y belief that Jerusa
lem m ust have been Al Sharlm, which is located som e distance
from K hirban, uphill to the east, in the heights o f N im as,
ju st across the Asir escarpment. As for the Jebusites (h-ybwsy,
genitive o f ybws), w ho originally held the tow n, they are likely
to have been one o f m any tribes o f folk w h o inhabited West
Arabia in antiquity (see C hapter 15).'Three places there, am ong
others, continue clearly to carry their name: the village o f
Yabasah (ybsh), in Wadi Adam ; the valley o f Wadi Yabs (ybs)
or Y ubays (ybys), on the m aritim e side o f the G ham id region;
and the village o f Yabs (ybs), in the Q unfudhah region.
If I have been able to carry the reader thus far in m y trans
position o f the H ebrew Bible from Palestine to West Arabia, it
is m ainly because I have been able to identify n o t one but several
places m entioned in specific Biblical passages as being close to
one another, in the same region w here I m aintain the Biblical
story ran its course. W ith respect to Jerusalem, how ever, the
reader is likely to dem and m ore convincing evidence than m ere
toponym ies can supply. Therefore, let us begin w ith D avids
capture o f Jerusalem as told in the H ebrew text o f 2 Samuel
5:6-10. So far, Biblical scholars have deplored w hat they m ain
tain is the paucity o f inform ation provided by this text, con
sidering that it treats o f an event o f the first im portance in the
history o f the Israelites (e.g., see Kraeling, pp. 195-197). The

J E R U S A L E M A N D T H E C I T Y OF D A V I D

113

fault, how ever, is not w ith the text, but w ith the way it has
been traditionally read and interpreted. T h e RSV, for example,
renders it as follows:
A nd the king and his m en w ent to Jerusalem against the
Jebusites ( 7 h-ybwsy), the inhabitants o f the land, w ho said
to D avid, Y ou will n o t com e in here, but the blind and the
lam e will w ard you o f f thinking, D avid cannot com e in
here (I tb w hnh k y m hsyrk h -wrym w-h-pshym l-mr I y b w
dwd hnh). Nevertheless, David took the stronghold o f Z ion
( w -ylkd d w d t m sdtsyw n), that is, the city ofD avid. And David
said on that day, W hoever w ould smite thejebusites, let him
get up the w ater shaft to attack the lame and the blind, w ho
are hated by D avids soul (w -y mr dwd b-ywm h -h w kl mkh
ybw sy w -yg b-snwr w -'t h-pshym w - t h -wrym snw nps dwd).

T herefore it is said, the blind and the lam e shall not come
into the house ( 7 kn y mrw wr w-psh I y b w 7 h-byt). A nd
D avid dw elt in the stronghold (b-msdh), and called it the city
o f David. A nd D avid built the city (sbyb ) round about from
the M illo inw ard (mn h m lw w-byth, conventionally read mn
h -m lw w-byth). A nd D avid became greater and greater, for
the Lord, the G od o f hosts, was w ith him (w -yhw h Ihy sbw t
mw).

U nlike the translation, the original H ebrew version does not


say that D avid and his m en w ent to Jerusalem against the
Jebusites w h o were there; it sim ply says that they w ent to the
Jebusites ( 7 h-ybwsy). This suggests, perhaps, that David did
n o t have to conquer Jerusalem ; it had already been conquered
by the Israelites before him , in the days o f the J udges. A t the
tim e o f its conquest, the Jebusites living in Jerusalem were
allowed to rem ain there, and they were still there w hen the
B ook o f Judges was being w ritten, which was long after the
tim e o f D a v id (seeJudges 1:8, 21, 21:25). Hence, w hat David
conquered after going to (not against) Jerusalem was not
Jerusalem at all. It was another place altogether, in H ebrew msdt
syw n, usually translated as the stronghold o f Zion. It was this
msdh, rather than Jerusalem , which was renam ed the C ity o f

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David. Clearly, this msdh was part o f the Jebusite territory.


O nce he had captured it, D avid said on this day the conquest
o f the Jebusites is com pleted (literally, on this day is all the
Jebusite defeat). This is clearly the meaning o f the original
H ebrew : w -ylkd d w d t msdt syw n w -ym r dwd b-ywm h -h w kl mkh
ybwsy).

Actually, the Israelites before the tim e o f David, having


captured Jerusalem , had sought to subdue the so u th (h-ngb ),
along w ith the hill co u n try (h-hr) and the low land (h-splh ) o f
the Canaanites (Judges 1:9), but apparently w ithout success.
N o w h e re is m entioned actual subjugation o f these areas at that
time. This explains w h y D avid, w hen he conquered msdh, was
able to proclaim: on this day the conquest o f the Jebusites is
com pleted. T he msdh in question features in other Biblical texts
as hr syw n (M ount Zion, or the hill o f Zion). As I see it, the
place could hardly be other than the ridge o f the Rijal A lm a
region, w est o f Abha and south o f N im as, w hose nam e is
carried to this day by one o f its villages, Q a w at Siyan (the hill
o f syn, spelled essentially as in the Biblical form ). O n that same
ridge there are today tw o villages, one called Samad (smd) and
the other U m m Samdah (m smdh, the initial m being the
attested definite article in the local Arabic dialect). The msdh o f
syw n, w hich became the C ity o f David, was probably the
second o f the tw o. O n that same ridge, also, there is another
village called today al-Ham il (hml). This was certainly the
M illo (hm lw ) o f the text w e are discussing, the suffixed Ara
maic definite article o f the Biblical nam e o f the place being
Arabicised into a prefixed definite article in the present form o f
the same name.
In the RSV translation cited above, the H ebrew w-ybn dwd
sbyb mn h m lw w-byth is rendered and D avid built the city round
about from the M illo in w a rd . N o w , the Millo is com m only
th o u g h t to have been the acropolis o f the Palestinian Jerusalem,
ju st as Z ion is generally taken to have been the stronghold
o f that same Jerusalem, stronghold here being the standard
translation o f msdh. H ow ever, the H ebrew sbyb actually means
w all, n o t the city round a b o u t. W hat D avid built, after
conquering w hat is today U m m Samdah on the Siyan ridge o f

J E R U S A L E M A N D T H E C I T Y OF D A V I D

115

Rijal A lm a, was a wall from hmlw , i.e. a wall extending


in w a rd (w-byth) from the present village o f al-Hamil. It is
possible also that the wall was built from al-Ham il and byth,
byth being another place close to al-Ham il w hose nam e does
not survive today (cf. al-Bathah, or bth, in the M edina region;
al-Batah, or bth, in Wadi Adam; Bathyah, or btyh, northeast
o f Lith); pending further evidence it is impossible to be m ore
precise. Clearly, D avid was intent on turning present U m m
Samdah, on the ridge o f Q a w at Siyan (or M ount Zion),
into a second capital subsidiary to Jerusalem - a com plex o f
fortifications, including U m m Samdah along w ith al-Hamil,
to defend his kingdom from the south. This is h o w the place
is described in Psalm 48:12-13:
W alk about Zion, go round about her, n u m ber her towers,
consider well her ram parts, go through her citadels; that you
m ay tell the next generation.1
I
m ust point out here that, contrary to the com m on im
pression, the H ebrew Bible now here says that Zion, or the C ity
o f D avid w hich was certainly there, were part o f Jerusalem.
T he m ention o f Z ion alongside Jerusalem in a num ber o f
Biblical passages (e.g. Psalms 102:21, 125:1, 2, 135:21, 147:12)
does n o t necessarily im ply geographic proxim ity or identity
betw een them . From the text o f various Psalms (e.g. 65:1, 74:2,
76:2, 132:13, 135:21), one gathers that Z ion o r M o u n t Zion,
apart from being the ridge on which the C ity o f David was
located, was also established by D avid as a sacred shrine,
apparently to replace that o f Salem (slm, see C hapter 12, not
J erusalem ; see Psalm 76:2). Therefore, the site o f the Z ion
shrine, as distinct from the C ity o f David, m ust have been the
elevation w here the present village o f Q a w at Siyan is located.
Finally, I w ish to consider a possible alternative to the tra
ditional reading o f wr and the wryn in Samuel 5:6-10, usually
understood to m ean the blind, a n d psh and th e pshym, meaning
the lam e. According to standard translations o f the Bible, the
Jebusites taunted David, boasting that they w ould leave the
defence o f Jerusalem to the blind and the lam e am ong them;

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T HE BIBLE C A M E F R OM ARA BI A

suggesting that Jerusalem was actually defended by such dis


abled people and by no one else. Then David ordered a charge
against them by w ay o f a water shaft (b-snwr), and we are told
further that D avid had a special hatred for the blind and the
lame, w hich is w h y they were forbidden to enter the house
(taken to mean the Jerusalem temple) - a regulation w hich is
not attested to elsewhere in the H ebrew Bible. C o m m o n sense
alone should lead one to question such a reading, therefore it
is hardly surprising that the H ebrew text relates the m atter in
a different way. The wrym and pshym, in this context at least,
are not the blind and the lam e, but the tribal inhabitants o f
tw o m ountain districts in the northern part o f th ejiza n region
south o f Rijal A lm a - apparently the same tribes which the
Israelites had failed to subdue after their conquest o f Jerusalem
before the tim e o f D avid (see above). Furtherm ore, in the
territory o f the wrym, w hich m ust have been called W , today
the ridge o f Jabal A w ara (W ), north o fja b a l H arub, there is
today a village called Sarran (sra, metathesis o f Biblical snwr),
a w o rd w hich translators have mistakenly called a w ater shaft.
It follows that the territory o f the pshym, which w ould have
been psh, was the area around the present village o f Suhayf
(.shyp), on the ridge o f ja b a l al-Hashr, south o f ja b a l Harub.
This being so, one m ust interpret the events that followed the
arrival o fD a v id at Jerusalem in this way:
W hen D avid came to Jerusalem, the local Jebusites told him
he m ust not establish him self there before subduing the tribes
o f the A w ra and Suhayf regions o f Rijal A lm a. W hat they
gave him was sound advice, and the original H ebrew appears
to have rendered it in verse:
T hey said to David, D o not come here;
Unless you do away w ith the wrym and the pshym,
D avid does not come here.2
This p rom pted D avid to m ove southw ards to complete the
conquest o f the Jebusite territory by seizing present U m m
Samdah, on the Siyan ridge o f Rijal A lm a. From there he
continued further south and reached Sarran (w-yg b-snwr),

J E R U S A L E M A N D T HE C I T Y OF D A V I D

117

alongside th tp sh y m and the wrym (w -t h-pshym w -t h-wrym)'.


O f these tw o troublesom e tribes, there was apparently an
uncom plim entary popular saying that they were not welcome
in the house (literally, wr and psh shall not enter the house:
H ebrew wr w-psh I ybw 7 h-byt). According to the H ebrew
text, it w ould seem that they had no great love for David:
T h ey hated the person o f David (snw tips dwd);
For this reason it is said ( 7 kn y mrw),
wr and psh do not enter the house.
Significantly, the text also speaks o f the establishment and
fortification o f the C ity o f David on M o u n t Zion directly after
relating the expedition o f D avid against the wrym and the
pshym, i.e. against the tribes o f the hill country o f Jabal A w ra
and Suhayf, south o f Rijal A lm a. This implies that his ex
pedition there was a show o f force which did not result in
outright conquest. It was no doubt to keep the recalcitrant
tribes o f the south country at bay that David, as already ob
served, built for him self a second capital in Rijal A lm a. N o w
the p o w er o f D avid could become greater and greater. The
G od o f sbwt (not hosts, but the present village o f Sabayat, or
sbyt, in the N im as region, see C hapter 12) was w ith h im
(w-yhwh (here w as n o t Y ahw eh or the L o rd ) . . . mw).
In the light o f this interpretation, one should search for the
Biblical Jerusalem (H ebrew yrwslym, parsed yrw slym)3 in som e
area to the north o f the ridge o f Siyan (M ount Zion) in Rijal
A lm a. M ost probably, this Jerusalem (as distinct from the
Palestinian Jerusalem, see C hapter i) is a settlement som e
thirty-five kilom etres no rth o f the to w n o f N im as, along the
crest o f the Asir range no rth o f Abha. In fact, I w ould suggest
that it is the village called today Al Sharim ( 7 srym), whose
nam e involves only a slight Arabicised corruption o f the original
yrw slym (the transposition o f the r and the / between the tw o
parts o f the com pound nam e).4 At an elevation o f approxi
m ately 2,500 m etres, the N im as region, as the suggested site
o f the Biblical Jerusalem , is located in a strategic position to
dom inate both the inland and the m aritim e slopes o f Asir.

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Furtherm ore, an ancient highw ay, running above the escarp


m ent along the Sarat w ater divide, connects it to Abha and
Kham is M ushait in the south, and to the G ham id, Zahran and
T a if regions to the north, i.e., to the full length o f the ancient
land o f Israel and Judah. I m ight add that this area is particularly
rich in archaeological remains, which have yet to be explored.
H ere, in Biblical times, stood countless sanctuaries and shrines
(see C hapter 12), am ong them the shrine o f the so-called G od
o f H osts (the G od o f Sabayat, see above). T o reach this Jerusa
lem in the N im as region, from his original capital H ebron in
the M ajaridah region (see above), David did n o t have to travel
far uphill along the course o f the valley o f W adi Khat. As a
capital for a kingdom including m ost o f Asir, Jerusalem was
strategically far better placed than H ebron.
A lthough D avid apparently considered Jerusalem, near the
venerated shrine o f Sabaoth (present Sabayat, see above), as his
official capital, he probably resided m ost o f his time in his
second capital, the C ity o f David, keeping close w atch over his
southern borders. It was there that he died; at least it was there
that he was buried (1 Kings 2:10). His son and successor
Solom on, w h o appears to have been w ith him at the tim e o f
his death, continued to reside in the C ity o f D avid (i.e. U m m
Samdah, in Rijal A lm a) until he had finished building his ow n
house and the house o f the Lord and the wall around Jerusalem
(1 Kings 3:1). It was only then that he w ent to offer sacrifices
at Gibeon (today Al Jib'an, or gbn, in the M ajaridah region),
after w hich he proceeded to enter Jerusalem (1 Kings 3:4, 15).
Incidentally, the jo u rn e y o f Solom on from the C ity o f David
to Jerusalem by w ay o f Gibeon makes complete geographic
sense. A road leading from Rijal Alma* to the N im as region
actually passes through the M ajaridah region, w here the present
village o f Al J ib an is located.
M oreover, the story o f S olom ons succession, as related in 1
Kings, clearly suggests that the C ity o f D avid and Jerusalem
w ere tw o different places, at some distance from one another.
Actually, the flying distance betw een U m m Samdah in Rijal
A lm a, and Al Sharim in the N im as region, is approxim ately
eighty or ninety kilometres, the travelling distance by the

J E R U S A L E M A N D T H E C I T Y OF D A V I D

119

various m ountain roads betw een them being considerably


longer. U nlike his father David, Solom on embellished and
fortified Jerusalem and m ade it his perm anent residence. W ith
respect to the C ity o fD a v id and Jerusalem being tw o different
places, the stairs in Jerusalem that go do w n from the C ity o f
D av id (h-m lwt h-ywrdwt m-yr dwd) m ust not confuse the issue,
as those w ere really the altars or podia (m lwt) which
had been b rought ov er (ywrdwt) from the C ity o f David to
Jerusalem (N ehem iah 3:15), possibly in the tim e o f Solomon.
Therefore, assum ing that the Biblical Jerusalem was not the
Palestinian Jerusalem , but probably the present village o f Al
Sharim in the N im as region o f Asir, or som e other place nearby
(see note 4), then it is possible to identify w ith varying degrees
o f certainty m uch o f w hat is associated w ith Jerusalem in the
Biblical text. T he gates (H ebrew singular sr) o f Jerusalem are
a case in point; they can be identified according to the places
after w hich they were called, which probably indicate the
directions onto w hich they opened:
1 T h e B e n ja m in (bn ymn) G ate (Jerem iah 37:13, 38:7; Z e c h
ariah 14:10): a m o n g several possibilities, p ro b a b ly D h a t Y u m i n (ymn),
in th e B a lla sm a r-B a lla h m a r reg io n .
2 T h e C o r n e r (h-pnh) G a te (2 K in g s 14:13, cf. 2 C h ro n ic les
25:23; 2 C h ro n ic le s 26:9;J e re m ia h 31:38; Z e c h a ria h 14:10): ap p a ren tly
a l-N a y a f a h (nyph, w ith th e A ra b ic definite article), in th e B a n u A m r
r e g io n o f th e Sarat.
3 T h e D u n g (h-spt) G a te (N e h e m ia h 2:13, 3:13, 14, 12:31):
a m o n g sev eral possibilities, p e rh a p s Fatish (pts), in W adi A d a m , o r
S h atfah (stp), in th e T a i f reg io n .
4 T h e E a s t (mzrh, rea d m-zrh, f ro m th e place o f risin g ) G ate
(N e h e m ia h 3:29): A l- M u h riz (mhrz), o n e o f t w o villages b y this n a m e
in th e B a n i S h a h r a n d B a lla h m a r regio n s, w e s t o f N im a s.
5 T h e E p h r a im (prym) G ate (2 K in g s 14:13, cf. 2 C h ro n ic les
25:23; N e h e m ia h 8:16, 12:39): W a fra y n (wpryn, like prym in the
dual), in th e B an i S h ah r reg io n .
6 T h e F ish (h-dgym) G a te (2 C h ro n ic les 33:14; N e h e m ia h 3:3;
Z e p h a n ia h 1:10): a m o n g m a n y possibilities, m o s t p r o b a b ly A l Q a d lm
(qdm), o n th e w e s te r n side o f W a d i B ishah, d irectly east o f th e Sarat.
7 T h e F o u n ta in (h-'yn) G a te (N e h e m ia h 2:14, 3:15, 12:37): th e
referen ce c o u ld b e to a local sp rin g ; o th e rw ise to th e p rese n t village
o f a l-A y n (yn, w ith th e d efin ite article), in th e Sarat, in th e B allasm ar
re g io n , w h ic h is th e closest village b y this n a m e to N im a s.

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8 T h e H o r s e (h-swsytn) G a te (N e h e m ia h 3:26; J e re m ia h 31:40):


th e referen ce co u ld b e to th e p re se n t village o f al-S u siy y a h (A rabic
r a th e r th a n H e b r e w p lu ral o f sws), in th e Z a h r a n reg io n ; m o r e likely,
it is to a l-M a su s (mss, m e tath esis o f swsym, also w ith th e definite
article), in Rijal A lm a .
9 T h e In s p e c tio n (h-mpqd) G ate (N e h e m ia h 3:31): m o s t p r o b
ab ly th e p re se n t h a r b o u r o f a l-Q u n f u d h a h (qnpd, w ith th e definite
article), w h ic h is th e closest h a r b o u r to th e N im a s re g io n a n d its
vicin ity , a n d w h o s e n a m e seem s to b e an A rab icised c o r r u p tio n o f

h-mpqd.
10 T h e M id d le (h-twk ) G ate (Jerem iah 39:3): al T u q (tq, w ith
th e d efin ite article), in Rijal A lm a .
11 T h e J e s h a n a h (h-ysnh) G a te (N e h e m ia h 3:6, 12:39): Y asln ah
(ysnh), in th e Q u n f u d h a h h in te rla n d , w e st o f th e N im a s region.
12 T h e P r is o n o r G u a r d (h-rntrh) G ate (N e h e m ia h 12:39):
ap p a re n tly M a tir (mtr), in th e M u h a y il regio n .
13 T h e S h e e p (h-swn) G ate (N e h e m ia h 3:1, 32, 12:39): Al
Z a y y a n (zyn, p h o n o lo g ic a l eq u iv a le n t o f swn), in th e B a lla h m a r
reg io n .
14 T h e U p p e r B e n ja m in (bn ymn h-lywn) G a te (Jerem iah 20:2):
n o d o u b t A l Y a m a n i (ymn), in th e B a lq ran re g io n , n o r th o f N im a s ,
iden tified in rela tio n to n e ig h b o u rin g A ly an ( 7 y).
15 T h e V a lle y (h-gy) G a te (2 C h ro n ic le s 26:9; N e h e m ia h 2:13,
15, 3:13): a m o n g several possibilities, m o s t p r o b a b ly al-Jiyah (gy,
w ith th e d efin ite article), in th e N im a s regio n ; u nless it is al-Ja w w
(gw , also w ith th e definite article), in th e B a lla sm a r re g io n w e s t o f
N im a s .
16 T h e W a te r (h-mym) G ate (Ezra 8:1; N e h e m ia h 3:26, 8:1, 3,
16, 12:37): p o ssib ly a l-M u m iy a h (mmy, w ith th e d efin ite article), in the
B a h r re g io n , in th e fo oth ills o f Rijal A lm a ; p o ssib ly also a l-M a y a y n
(myyn, A ra b ic du al o f my, w a te r ) in th e M e d in a reg io n , alo n g th e
m a in W e st A ra b ia n ca rav an h ig h w a y to Syria; unless th e reference is
actually to a local w a te r .
17 T h e g ate b e h in d th e g u a rd s shall g u a rd th e p lace (hr h-rsym
w-smrtm t msmrt h-byt msh, 2 K in g s 11:6): tran slate d w ith m o r e
ac cu ra cy as th e hr o f h-rsym a n d smrtm beside th e w a tc h to w e r o f byt
msh, a referen c e to fo u r places w o u ld b e o b ta in ed . T h o s e are th e
f o llo w in g , all o f th e m in th e Q u n f u d h a h h in terlan d : Y u h u r (yhr);
S a ru m (srm, m e tath esis o f rsym); th e ir S am a ra h (smrt, th e final m in
th e B iblical smrtm b e in g th e th ir d p e rso n p lural p ossessive p ro n o u n );
an d H illat M a s w a (the s e ttle m e n t, h en ce H e b r e w byt, o r h o u s e , o f
msw, cf. B iblical msh).
18 T h e g ate b e h in d th e t w o w a lls (byn h-hmtym, 2 K in g s 25:4,
cf. J e re m ia h 39:4, 52:7): th e reference is to th e r e g io n (attested

J E R U S A L E M A N D T H E C I T Y OF D A V I D

121

arch aic sense o f th e A ra b ic byn, vocalised bin) o f Al H a m a ta n (hmtn),


in th e Z a h r a n h ig h lan d s (as in th e H e b r e w hmtym, sin g u lar hmt, th e
A ra b ic ised f o r m o f th e n a m e is in th e d u a l).5
19 T h e g a te o f S h allech e th (slkt, 1 C h ro n ic le s 26:16): S h aqlah
(sqlt), in th e Q u n f u d h a h h in te rla n d .
20 T h e g a te o f S u r (h-yswr, 2 K in g s 11:6; 2 C h ro n ic le s 23:5):
A l Y a sir ( 7 ysr), in th e T a n u m a h reg io n , s o u th o f N im a s in th e
d ire c tio n o f A b h a.
21 T h e gate o f J o s h u a th e g o v e r n o r o f th e c ity (yhws' sr h-yr,
2 K in g s 23:8): h ere th e p re se n t village o f S h u 'a h (sw), in th e B a h r
reg io n , ap p e ars to b e iden tified in relatio n to th e villages o f al-S irr
(sr) a n d a l-G h a r (gr, p h o n o lo g ic a l eq u iv ale n t o f yr) in n e ig h b o u rin g
Rijal A lm a (read th e S h u 'a h o f th e S irr o f a l-G h a r ).
22 T h e g ate o f th e p o ts h e r d s ( h-hsrwt, Je re m ia h 19:2): alK h a riz a t (hrzt, m e tath esis o f hsrwt, also in th e fem in in e plural), in the
H ali v ic in ity o f th e Q u n f u d h a h reg io n .
23 T h e n e w g ate o f Y a h w e h (sr yhwh h-hds, J e re m ia h 26:10),
o r th e n e w g a te o f th e h o u se o f Y a h w e h (s'rbyt yhwh h-hds, J e re m ia h
36:10): th e referen ce app ears to b e to an ancien t sh rin e d e d ica ted to
Y a h w e h in th e p re se n t village o f a l-H a d lth a h (hdt, w ith th e d efin ite
article, b e in g th e A ra b ic tra n sla tio n o f H e b r e w h-hds, n e w ), in th e
Q u n f u d h a h reg io n .
24 T h e u p p e r g ate o f th e h o u s e o f Y a h w e h (sr byt yhwh h-lywn,
2 C h ro n ic le s 27:3, b e tte r tra n sla te d as th e g a te o f th e h o u se o f
Y a h w e h o f h-'lywn): th e s a n c tu a ry in q u e s tio n w as th a t o f Al A ly a n
( 7 lyn, th e G o d o f 7 y n ) i n th e N im a s re g io n (see C h a p te r 12).
25 T h e f o r m e r gate (sr h-rswn, Z e c h a ria h 14:10): p ro b a b ly
R a w s h a n (rwsn), in W ad i B ish ah ; less likely RTshan (rsn) o r R u s a n (rsn),
in th e T a i f r e g io n .6

O n e could go on m uch further, identifying the m any places


m entioned by nam e in the H ebrew Bible in connection w ith
Jerusalem (wall-sections, tow ers, springs, fields, buildings or
burial places) in term s o f the names o f locations which are still
there, m ostly w ithin direct reach o f Al Sharim, in the N im as
region o f Asir. B ut I have no wish to tax the readers patience
w ith the addition o f w hat w ould appear to be superfluous
inform ation. Suffice to say, there is only one place which I have
not been able to locate as yet by name and that is the M o u n t
o f Olives (hr h-zytym), w hich lies before Jerusalem on the east
(Zechariah 14:4, as traditionally interpreted). O n the other
hand, there are tw o other places whose names are associated in
the Biblical text w ith Jerusalem which are not in the im m ediate

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T H E BI BLE C A M E F R O M ARABI A

vicinity o f the city but, significantly, texts that m ention them


do n o t say that they were:
1 T h e V alley o f H in n o m o r o f th e s o n o f H in n o m (gy bn
hnm). R e a d th e n a m e as h-nm, w ith th e initial h as th e definite article,
a n d th e n a m e o f this v a lle y ( H e b re w gy') m a y b e read ily identifiable
as th a t o f a l- N a m a h (nm, w ith th e A ra b ic d efin ite article), in th e
B a lla h m a r re g io n , b e tw e e n th e B an i S h ah r re g io n a n d Rijal Alma*.
T h is is e x a ctly w h e r e th e te x t o f J o s h u a 15:8 w o u ld lo cate th e place:
at th e s o u th e rn s h o u ld e r o f th e Je b u s ite (that is, J e ru s a le m ) (RSV).
A c c o rd in g to 2 K in g s 23:10, th e re w as a place in this valley called
T o p h e t h (htpt, m is ta k e n ly read h-tpt). T h is, to d a y , is n o n e o th e r th a n
th e v illage o f a l-H a ta fa h (htpt), in th e sa m e v ic in ity (cf. S im o n s, par.
3 6 ).
2 T h e b r o o k o f K id r o n (nhl qdrwn): this m u s t b e th e valley o f
B a n i U m a r a l-A sh a ib, o n th e m a ritim e slopes o f th e Z a h r a n reg io n ,
w h e r e a village called Q id r a n (qdm) stand s to this day. In 2 K in g s
23:4, 6, th e H e b r e w m-hws l-yrwslym b-sdmwt qdrwn, an d m-hws
l-yrwslym I nhl qdrwn, h a v e b ee n trad itio n a lly re n d e re d o u tsid e
J e ru sa le m in th e fields o f K id r o n , a n d o u ts id e je ru s a le m to th e b r o o k
o f K id r o n . H e re , h o w e v e r, hws is th e n a m e o f a place, to d a y th e
v illage o f H a w w a z (hwz), in th e sa m e valley o f th e Z a h r a n re g io n
w h e r e Q id r a n is to b e fo u n d . R e co n sid ered in this lig h t, th e a b o v e
cited H e b r e w f r o m 2 K in g s 23 w o u ld read: f ro m H a w w a z to J e ru sa
le m , in th e fields o f Q i d r a n , a n d f r o m H a w w a z to j e r u s a le m , to the
b r o o k o f Q i d r a n . T h is re c o n sid e re d tran slatio n fits th e c o n te x t well:
b y th e o rd e rs o f K in g jo s ia h , all th e id o latro u s fetishes, n o t o n ly f ro m
Je ru sa le m , b u t f r o m th e w h o le area b e tw e e n H a w w a z a n d je r u s a le m ,
w e r e collected a n d ta k e n to th e fields o f Q id r a n , o r to th e b r o o k o f
Q id r a n , w h e r e th e y w e r e b u r n t (fo r th e trad itio n a l id en tific atio n o f
K id r o n o u tsid e th e P alestin ian Je ru sa le m , see S im o n s, par. 139).

O ne day, archaeology m ay confirm the suggested identifica


tion o f the Biblical Jerusalem as the present village o f Al
Sharim, in the N im as highlands. W hat is certain, however, is
that the C ity o fD a v id , w hich is today U m m Samdah, in Rijal
A lm a, was n o t the Jerusalem we think it is but another place
altogether. As m entioned earlier, the C ity o f D avid was built
as a fortress-tow n to guard the southern reaches o f D avids
kingdom . A part from being a m ountain fastness, Al Sharim,
D av id s J erusalem , occupied a central position betw een Wadi
A dam and the T a if region in the north, and Rijal A lm a in the
south, as the territory o f the kingdom extended betw een these
tw o areas. Therefore, it was ideally suited to serve as D avids

J E R U S A L E M A N D T H E C I T Y OF D A V I D

123

capital. It should also be noted that the location o f the to w n


along the principal m ountain highw ay east o f the Asir escarp
m ent connects it at several points w ith the inland caravan routes
to the east as well as to the coastal route to the west. This
highw ay still exists today as the main line o f com m unication in
the region. O nce he had established him self in this Jerusalem ,
D avid no longer reigned over Judah alone, but over All Israel
(2 Samuel 5:5), as did his son, Solomon, after him.

ISRAEL AND SAMARIA


If Judah, or yhwdh, was the land o f gorges and ravines along
the m aritim e side o f the southern Hijaz and Asir, Israel (ysrl)
m ust originally have been the land o f the higher elevations in
the same area. M uch has been w ritten about the etym ology o f
ysrl, or Israel, but the results have been m ore confusing than
illuminating. T he suggestion in Genesis 32:28 that it means he
strives w ith G o d , or G od strives (ysrh 7 ), is typical folk
etym ology. T hat the nam e is a contraction o f ysrh 7 is certain;
here, how ever, ysrh is not the imperfect form o f srh in the
attested H ebrew sense o f strive, fight, but an archaic substan
tive o f the same verb in the sense o f the Arabic srw or sry
(vocalised sara), be high, lofty, elevated, highly placed. Hence
the name, m eaning the height o f G o d , is directly related to
Sarat (collective plural o f srw or sry, vocalised sarii, or san,
m ountain height), which survives as the nam e o f the West
Arabian highlands, especially in w hat is today Asir (see Chapter
3 ).

As an expression m eaning the height o f G o d , the name ysrl,


or Israel, m ust have been a geographic nam e before it became
the nam e o f a people, and ultimately o fa West Arabian kingdom
distinct from that o f Ju d a h .1 Actually, ysrh 7 , m ostly in variants
o f the inverted form 7 ysrh, god o f height, elevation, does
survive as a place-name, n o t only in Asir but elsewhere in the
Hijaz. Here is the list:
1 A l-Y a sr (l-ysr) in th e M u h a y il district.
2 A l-Y a sra (l-ysr) in th e N im a s reg io n .
3 A l-Y a sra (also l-ysr) in th e T a i f reg ion .
4 Y asrah (ysrh) in th e A b h a vicinity.

I SRAEL A N D S A M A R I A

12$

5 Al Y aslr ( 7 ysr) in th e T a n u m a h vicinity.


6 A l-Y a slra h (l-ysrh) in th e M e d in a (al-MadTnah) reg io n , as
th e n a m e o f tw o villages.
7 Y aslr (y5r) in th e M e cc a reg ion .
8 Al Y aslr ( 7 ysr) in th e Q u n f u d h a h regio n .
9 A l S irah ( 7 srh, p re se rv in g th e H e b r e w f o rm o f the ro o t) in
th e A b h a reg io n .
10 A l-S a ry a h ( ' l-sry) in K h a m is M u sh a it, east o f A bh a.
11 A b u S ary ah ('b sry) in th e T a i f reg ion .
12 A l-S a ri (l-sry), lo c a tio n u n d e te rm in e d .

O th e r names m ay be added to the above which derive from


srw as a variant o f sry, in the sense that I have suggested. An
alm ost exact equivalent o f the H ebrew ysrl (with the 7 suffixed
rather than prefixed) m ay be represented by SuraywTl (srywyl,
apparently a corruption o f sry 7 ), the nam e o f an Arabian village
in N ajd (Nagd), once part o f the Y am am ah region.2
T he Biblical people o f Israel (bny ysrl) m ust have been
originally a confederation o f tribes in the West Arabian high
lands. Reportedly, these tribes were twelve: Reuben (rwbn),
Sim eon (sm'wn), Levi (Iwy), Judah (yhwdh), Gad (gd), Asher
(sr), Issachar (ysskr), Zebulun (zblwn, essentially zbl), Dan
(dn), N aphtali (nptly), Joseph (ywsp) and Benjam in (bn ymyn,
essentially ymyn). T he names o f tw o o f them , in readily recog
nisable Arabic form , denote tw o historical W est Arabian tribes
called the L uayy (Iy, cf. Iwy, or Levi) and the Yashkur (yskr,
cf. ysskr, or Issachar). T he rem aining ten are still identifiable as
the nam es o f W est Arabian tribes which survive to this day.
These are: the Raw abln (rwbn, or Reuben); the Sama'inah (smn,
or Simeon)3; the W ahadln (singular WahadI, or whd, for Judah);
the Zabbalah o r Zubalah (both zbl, for Zebulun); the D uw aniyah, the D anayw l or the D andan (all three essentially dn, for
Dan); the Falatin (pltn, for Naphtali); the Judan (singular Judi),
Judah, Ju d i or Jadi (all four gd, for Gad); the D haw l Shari
(the folk o f Shari, or sr, for Asher); the B anu Y u su f (ysp, for
Joseph); the Yam na, Yam anah or Yam am (all three ymn, for
Benjamin).
M oreover, am ong the twelve Israelite tribes, that o f Joseph
reportedly existed in tw o branches: Ephraim (p rym) and M anas
seh (mnsh). A stonishingly enough, the present West Arabian

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T H E BIBLE C A M E F R OM ARABI A

tribe o f the Banu Y u su f is actually called the T w o Branches


(Arabic al-Farayn). T he tribal nam e Ephraim survives in West
Arabia as FIran {pm) and M anasseh as M ansi (mns). M ore
detailed onom astic evidence relating to the W est Arabian origins
o f the tw elve tribes is presented in the Appendix.
T h e H ebrew Bible tells us that these twelve tribes eventually
settled in the land o f Judah, that is to say on the m aritim e side
o f geographic Asir, w here they established for themselves a
k ingdom by the late eleventh or early tenth century B.C. B oth
political and econom ic circumstances at the tim e were favour
able to the emergence o f such a kingdom in W est Arabia. There
had been a tem porary recession o f imperial claims on Arabia
from the direction o f M esopotam ia, N o rth ern Syria and E gypt
after ca. 1 2 0 0 , which opened the w ay for the emergence o f
independent local states in the peninsula. Som etim e between
1 30 0 and 1 0 0 0 B.C., there had also been a bo o m in the transArabian caravan trade, reflected by the large-scale introduction
o f the camel to replace the ass as the preferred beast o f burden.
T he K ingdom o f All Israel (see C hapter 9), how ever, did not
m aintain its political unity for very long. B y the second half o f
the tenth century B.C., its territory was already being run by
rival lines o f kings: the kings o f Ju d a h , w ith their capital at Al
Sharim (the suggested site o f the Biblical Jerusalem ), and the
kings o f Israel. N e w bids for the imperial control o f West
Arabia, first from E gypt, then from M esopotam ia, were no
doubt instrum ental in creating and perpetuating this division
(see C hapter 1).
Biblical scholars, thinking in term s o f Palestine, have tra
ditionally spoken o f the rival kingdom s o f Ju d a h and Israel
as being in the south and north, respectively, the latter assumed
to have centred around the north Palestinian tow n o f Nablus.
Actually, as w e shall see, in W est Arabia, Israel did have
its original centres o f p ow er to the north o f J u d ah . Theirs,
how ever, w ere not territories w ith clear boundaries between
them . R ather they involved a political division w ithin the same
territory, based on rival loyalties reinforced by religious schism.
T he kings o f J u d a h and Israel, it appears, controlled tow ns
and villages w ithin the same regions, often in close proxim ity

I SRAEL A N D S A M A R I A

127

to one another. This was certainly the case in the central


territories o fju d a h , that is to say, in the Q unfudhah hinterland.
It was also the case further north, in the Lith and T aif regions
(see below).
T h e first man to establish him self as king o f Israel after
the death o f Solom on, was J eroboam son o f N e b a t, w h o is
described as an prty mn h-srdh, traditionally taken to mean an
Ephraim ite o f Z aredah (i Kings 11:26). Significantly, David,
the founder o f the dynasty which continued to rule Ju d ah , is
also described as the son o f an prty from Bethlehem . T hat
prty cannot mean Ephraim ite is certain; an Ephraim ite, in
H ebrew , w ould be an prymy, from prym (dual o f p r), today
W afrayn (wpryn, dual o f wpr), in Bani Shahr. Actually, prth
(o f w hich the genitive is p rty) survives as the nam e o f the village
o f Firt (prt), in Wadi A dam , o f the Lith region. Bethlehem , as
already observed, was another village o f the same Wadi A dam ,
today U m m Lahm (associated w ith prth also in M icah 5:2;
R uth 1:2, 4:11). Z aredah, the hom e tow n o f Jeroboam in the
Firt vicinity, is today al-Sadrah (sdrh, w ith the definite article
as in the H ebrew ), also in the Lith region. T he quarrel betw een
Jero b o am and the house o f David no doubt had its origins in
old jealousies betw een rival families o f Firt chiefs in Wadi
A dam , w hich were later played out on a grander political scale.
Jeroboam began his political career in the service o f Solom on,
then revolted against him before being forced to flee to Egypt,
w here he sought refuge w ith King Sheshonk I (see C hapter 11).
After S o lom ons death, he returned to Judah to challenge the
succession o f S olom ons son Rehoboam , establishing him self
as rival king o f Israel (see 1 Kings 1 1 :2 6 - 1 2 :2 0 ) . Having made
him self king, Jeroboam built Shechem (skm) in the hill country
o fE p h ra im (p rym) and dwelt there (1 Kings 1 2:25). C onsider
ing that the Biblical E phraim , as already observed, is today
W afrayn, in the Bani Shahr district o f the Q unfudhah hinter
land, the Shechem he built and made his capital (as distinct
from other Biblical Shechem s) could have been present Suqam ah (sqm), in W adi Suqam ah, on the southw estern slopes o f
the Z ahran region, n o t far north o f Bani Shahr. M ore likely,
how ever, it was al-Q asim (qsm), in the Q unfudhah hinterland.

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T H E BIBLE C A M E F R OM ARABI A

Soon after, Jeroboam proceeded to build (probably fortify)


the to w n o f Penuel (jpnwl), as described in I Kings 12:25,
w hich was in all likelihood al-Naflah (npl ), in the T aif region,
or perhaps a l-N a w f ( l-nwp ), the nam e n o w given to a forested
ridge in the Z ahran highlands. T o deter his followers from
going to w orship in Jerusalem , he established new sanctuaries
for them in B ethel and in D a n (1 Kings I 2 \ 2 g { ) . Bethel is
alm ost certainly a place k n o w n today as Butaylah (btyl), in the
Z ahran highlands (see below); D a n is no doubt present-day
Danadinah, in the m aritim e lowlands o f the Zahran region, the
Arabic nam e o f the place being the plural o f dny, the genitive
o f dn (see C hapter 14).
A lthough his capital was at Shechem , Jeroboam appears to
have also resided from tim e to tim e in T irzah (1 Kings 14:7),
w hich was uphill from a place called G ibbethon (1 Kings
16:15f). G ibbethon (gbtwn) m ust have been one o f the villages
in w h at is today the range o f al-Naqabat (nqbt), in the Gham id
highlands. A t a higher elevation to the north, there is a hamlet
called al-ZIr (zr), w hich could have been Tirzah. The area there
is particularly rich in archaeological remains. T he kings o f
Israel, w h o succeeded Jeroboam , established capitals for them
selves first in T irzah, then Jezreel (the Esdraelon o f the
Greek Septuagint), then in Sam aria (1 Kings 15:33f, 18:45^
20:43f) - the last, Sam aria, being a city they themselves built
on a hill close to Jizreel, w hich they purchased from Shem er:
hence the nam e they gave it. J izreel (parsed y z r '/, m ay God
so w , or sow ing o f G o d ) m ust be present-day Al al-ZarI ( 7
z r 1), in the low er reaches o f W adi al-Ghayl, not far to the
southeast o f Q unfudhah. Hence the famed Plain o f Esdraelon,
far from being the depression separating Palestine from Galilee
in Syria, could only have been the ancient nam e o f Wadi
al-Ghayl. Shem er (smr), the original ow ner o f the hill on which
Sam aria (H ebrew Shomeron, or smrwn) was built, was m ost
probably n o t an individual at all, but a tribe whose name
survives in West Arabia to this day as Shimran (precisely, smm).
The present territory o f the Shimran comprises the hinterland
o f Q unfudhah and stretches across the escarpm ent and water
divide to W adi Bishah. Sam aria was no doubt w hat is today

I SRAEL A N D SAMAR I A

12 9

the village o f Shimran in the Q unfudhah hinterland, some


distance uphill from Al al-Z arI, or Jizreel. T rue enough,
present-day Shimran stands distinctly on a hill.
O ne need hardly go into all the Biblical names o f places
m entioned as belonging to the kings o f Israel. T o show how
these kings, and their rivals o f J u d a h , held sway over tow ns
and villages in the same regions, it should be sufficient to
dem onstrate h o w m ost o f the tow ns which R ehoboam report
edly fortified for the defence o f his kingdom o f J u d a h survive
by nam e in the area from the Q unfudhah hinterland no rth
wards, w here the kings o f Israel had their main centres (see
Chronicles 11:6-9).
T he names o f these places are as follows:
1 B e th le h e m , alread y iden tified as U m m L a h m in W adi
A d a m , o f th e L ith re g io n (see above).
2 E t a m (ytm), p ro b a b ly G h u tm a h (gtm), in th e Lith reg io n .
T h e r e are, h o w e v e r, o th e r p o ssib le E ta m s in g e o g ra p h ic Asir.
3 T e k o a (tqw, archaic su b sta n tiv e o f qw): W a q ah (wqt) in
W a d i A d a m ; Y a q ah ( yqt) o r Q a w a h (q'wt) in Rijal A lm a .
4 B e th - z u r (byt swr, h o u s e o r te m p le o f swr): p ro b a b ly th e
Al Z u h a y r ( 7 zhyr) o f Rijal A lm a , o r th a t o f th e B a lla sm a r region;
p o ssib ly also al-S ar (sr) o r al-S u r (sr) in th e Lith reg io n ; al-S ur o r
al-S u ra (b o th sr) in th e Q u n f u d h a h reg ion ; o r al-S u rah (also sr) in th e
v ic in ity o f B a h r.
5 S o c o (swkw): Sikah (sk ), in the T a i f reg io n . O t h e r possibili
ties in c lu d e Saq (sq), S h aq ah (sq) an d S uq ah (sq), in th e L ith reg ion ,
th e last b e in g in W ad i A d a m ; also S h aqah and S h aq iy ah (sqy), in the
Jiz an reg io n .
6 A d u lla m (dim): D a 'a lim a h (d'lm), in th e T a i f reg ion .
7 G a t h (gt): al-G h a t (gt), in th e Jizan region.
8 M a r e s h a h ( tnrsh): M a s h a r (msr), in th e B ani S h ah r region;
M a s h a ra h (tnsrh), called M a sh a ra t al-AlI, in Rijal A lm a ; M a sh ari
(msr), also in Rijal A lm a ; o r a n o th e r M a sh a ri in th e Q u n f u d h a h
h in te rla n d , n o t far f ro m S h im ran .
9 Z i p h (zyp): p ro b a b ly Sifa (syp), in th e Q u n f u d h a h region;
p o ssib ly S iyafah (also syp), in th e N im a s reg io n .
10 A d o r a i m (dwrym, tra d itio n a lly vocalised as a d u al o f dwr):
a l-D a ra y n (dryn, A ra b ic d u al o f dr), th e n a m e o f th re e villages in the
T a i f re g io n , a n d o f o n e in th e Z a h r a n highlands.
11 L a c h ish ( Ikys): certain ly n o t the P alestinian T all a l-D u w a y r
(see C h a p te r 5). T h e asso ciatio n o f th e place w ith gbwn,mqdh, hbrurn,
an d g lwn (G ib e o n , M a k k e d a h , H e b r o n an d E g lo n , J o s h u a 10

130

T H E BIBLE C A ME F R OM ARABI A

passim), w h ic h are to d a y A l J i b an (gb'n), MaqdT (mqd), K h irb a n


(,hrbn) an d A jla n (gin), in th e Q u n fu d h a h h in te rla n d (all fo u r exact
tran slite ra tio n s), p o in ts d istin ctly to Al Q ay a s ( 7 qys) in th e sam e
area.
12 A z e k a h (zqh ): A zq a h (zqh), in th e Q u n f u d h a h regio n.
13 Z o r a h (sr'h): a m o n g several possibilities, th e m o s t likely is
Z a r ah (zrh), o n th e m a ritim e slopes o f th e Z a h r a n reg io n.
14 A ija lo n (ylwn): e ith er A ly a n (lyn), in th e L ith reg io n , o r
A y la (yl), in th e Q u n f u d h a h regio n .
15 H e b r o n (hbrwn): K h ir b a n (hrbn), in th e M a ja rid a h re g io n
(see C h a p te rs 9 an d 13).

Clearly, the kingdom s o f Israel and J u d a h involved w hat


was at least to a certain extent one territory. T hey also com
prised one people, divided in their loyalty betw een the kings
o f the house o f David in the suggested Al Sharim (or J erusa
lem ) and a succession o f rival dynasties established elsewhere,
often in relative proxim ity to Al Sharim, whose rulers defied
the legitim acy o f the house o f David by calling themselves
kings o f Israel. Side by side w ith this political division, as
already suggested, there appears to have been a religious schism
w hich pitted the orthodoxy o f Ju d ah , which survives as Juda
ism, against the heterodoxy o f Israel, which was perpetuated
by the sectarianism o f the Sam aritans. A m ong the Jews o f
Ju d a h , the cult o f the G od Y ahw eh was developed into a
sophisticated w orld religion by a succession o f prophets (the
nbyym). T he religious authority o f these prophets, however,
was generally resisted by the kings o f Israel and their followers,
w hose conception o f the Israelite religion seems to have re
m ained tribal - hence their reported readiness to accept the
divinity o f the gods o f other tribes and peoples am ong w hom
they lived. H o w the heterodoxy o f Israel developed into the
Sam aritanism o f later times is not a question that will be
discussed here. Suffice to say that the Samaritans, as a sect,
continue to call themselves bny ysrl, the people o f Israel, or
h-smrym (vocalised Shomerim). This is usually taken to mean
the vigilant ones but actually means those osmr, the reference
being to the ancient (and still existing) West Arabian tribal
territory o f the Shimran. A m ong orthodox Jews, they are
kno w n as h-smrwnym (vocalised Shomeromm), those o f

I SRAEL A N D S A M A R I A

13 I

Shomeron , or Samaria, the one-tim e capital o f the kings o f


Israel w hich survives as the West Arabian village o f Shimran.
W hen Judaism , in one w ay or another, spread from West
Arabia to Palestine and elsewhere, it did so in both its orthodox
and Sam aritan forms. In Palestine, the Samaritans established
for them selves a new Sam aria in w hat is today Sabastiyah
(Sabastiyah , classical Sebaste), near m odern Nablus; there they
recognised tw o local hills as the Biblical M ount Gerizim (grzym )
and M o u n t Ebal (ybl), w hich they held to be sacred. From the
Biblical texts that speak o f these tw o hills, one has the im
pression that they were extrem ely close to one another.
M o u n t Gerizim and M o u n t Ebal are spoken o f in Joshua
8:33f follow ing the account o f the Israelite conquest o f yryhw
and h -y (the Jericho w hich is present-day Rakhyah, in the
W adi A dam , see C hapter 7; and the Ai which is today U ya
(y), in the highlands betw een the Zahran and T aif regions,
rather than al-Ghayy in Rijal A lm a (see Chapters 7 and 13)).
T h e byt 7 , or Bethel, associated w ith h y in this connection is
the B utaylah (btyl) o f the Zahran highlands rather than the
Batllah o f Rijal A lm a. This Butaylah controls one o f the main
crossings o f the escarpm ent (or yrdn) o f the area. According to
D eu tero n o m y 11:30, M o u n t Gerizim and M ount Ebal were
located beyond the yrdn, w est o f the road (today the Taif-A bha
highw ay), to w ard the going d ow n o f the sun. D ow nhill from
Butaylah, on the western slopes o f the Zahran region, stand
the tw in ridges o fja b a l Shada. The higher ridge, to the north,
m ust have been the Biblical Gerizim, this nam e being still
carried on its higher slopes by the village o f Suqran (sqm,
corrupted metathesis o f g rzym , with the H ebrew plural suffix
Arabicised in the present form o f the name). T he low er ridge,
to the south, m ust have been Ebal - a name which is not actually
found there, b u t w hich survives in the broader Zahran vicinity
as that o f W adi Ilyab ( lyb)\ also as that o f the villages o f Abalah
(bl), A bla (' bl) and Ablah (bl), and the village and sandy ridge
o f Bilala (bl1), w here there is also a village called Laba (l b).
T he sandy ridge o f Bilala could not have been the Biblical
M o u n t Ebal, because it falls east rather than west o f the escarp
m ent and the road.

132

T H E BIBLE C A ME F R OM ARABI A

A ccording to D euteronom y 11:29, M ount Gerizim was the


m ountain to be blessed by the Israelites, and M o u n t Ebal the
one to be cursed. Actually, the northern ridge o f Jabal Shada is
densely forested and traditionally terraced for cultivation, while
the southern ridge is barren. Judges 9:7 associates M o u n t Geri
zim w ith a Shechem (skm). This is today the village o f Suqamah
(sqm), in W adi Suqamah, w hich flows at the eastern foot o f the
n orthern ridge o f Jabal Shada. O n this same ridge (see Chapter
7, note 5), one finds an altar o f unhew n stones, upon which
no m an has lifted an iron to o l (Joshua 9:31; cf. D euteronom y
27:2-8). Similar altars are found in other parts o f the Zahran
region, at least one o f them carrying an as yet undeciphered
inscription (cf. Joshua 8:32). T he people o f Asir and the Yem en
have traditionally regarded the altar on the northern Shada ridge
(i.e. that o f the Biblical Gerizim) as a shrine o f special sanctity.
T hey used to go there on special pilgrimages, m aking a point
o f n o t stopping in any o f the villages along the way. In the
present century, how ever, this practice has been suppressed.
W hatever else the tw o sacred hills o f the Palestinian Samari
tans o f N ablus m ay be, they were certainly not the original
M ount Gerizim and M ount Ebal.

11
THE ITINERARY OF THE
SHESHONK EXPEDITION
Such is the im portance o f the H ebrew Bible to m odern m an
that the ancient history o f the whole N ear East has been re
searched w ith an eye to prove its historicity. H ow ever, as I
have suggested, the traditional m isinterpretation o f Biblical
geography has led to a m isunderstanding o f the historical geo
graphy o f the ancient N ear East in general. A good example
o f the confusion that has resulted from this crucial error o f
m isplacem ent is provided by an analysis o f the m uch studied
E gyptian records relating to the expedition o f Sheshonk I.'
Sheshonk I was an Eyptian king o f the tw enty-second dyn
asty, w h o ruled from about 945 to 924 B.C., and is credited w ith
a m ilitary cam paign against the cities o f Judah described briefly
in 1 Kings 14:25-26; 2 Chronicles 12:2-9. So far, the lists o f the
places he subdued or visited have been studied on the assum p
tion that they referred to cities or tow ns in Palestine (see map
9). O n the face o f it, this is n o t unreasonable, for Sheshonk,
like other rulers o f ancient E gypt, m ust have had m uch to do
w ith Palestine and Syria. A fragm ent o f an Egyptian stela found
in coastal Palestine bears his name, or w hat scholars assume
was his name, but evidence such as this does not necessarily
m ean that he was actually there during his recorded expedition
against the kingdom o f Judah. Ancient Egyptian inscriptions
and artefacts bearing names o f ancient Egyptian kings have
been discovered in various parts o f the N ear East, but few
scholars regard their presence there as necessarily indicating
that the m onarchs they refer to once passed through the vicini
ties w here they were found.

T HE BIBLE C A M E F R O M ARABIA

^Rehob

T irza h ^

ichem
Adam
Bethel
sJerusalei

.Beersheba

r*-r
Jam ar

Shu r D esert
-

Kadesh

(Sur)
Zin /
.Desdrt

E ziorj-G eber

0 0 km

M ap 9

T h e itinerary of S heshonk I - in Palestine

T H E I T I N E R A R Y OF T H E S H E S H O N K E X P E D I T I O N

135

I
w ould certainly suggest that on his expedition against Judah,
Sheshonk did not go to Palestine. Setting out for this expedition
from one o f the Egyptian seaports along the coast o f the Red
Sea, Sheshonk landed som ew here along the coast o f the Hijaz,
apparently near Lith. His intention, it seems, was to make a
great show o f military p ow er there, to rem ind the kings o f
Judah and other West Arabian rulers that their territories were
not outside E g y p ts m ighty reach. After gaining a foothold in
the Lith hinterland, the Egyptian Pharaoh proceeded south
tow ards the central part o f Judah, either by way o f the coastal
road, or by taking another further inland which hugs the first
line o f hills. A long the way, he stopped from tim e to tim e to
conduct forays into the m ore m ountainous regions, and on one
occasion penetrated the Sarat escarpment as far as Al Sharim,
w hich I have suggested was probably the site o f the H ebrew
Bibles J erusalem . Perhaps flushed w ith his success in that
area, he was em boldened to m ove further southw ards into the
Jizan region, w here his m ilitary operations appear to have been
limited, perhaps on account o f the stiff resistance he m et from
the m ountain tribes o f the region. From there, Sheshonk re
turned alm ost directly to the vicinity o f Lith, where he subdued
not only num erous places on the m aritim e side o f the escarp
m ent, but also m any others in the region o f Taif, pushing his
conquests inland to the lim it o f the desert.
Such, at least, is m y o w n supposition, based on a reinterpreta
tion o f Sheshonks expedition as described in the H ebrew Bible
and in his o w n topographical records. Needless to say, the
itinerary I have traced does not conform to that o f traditional
Biblical scholars, w ho, I w ould suggest, have engaged in some
bew ildering legerdemain in an effort to im pose som e form o f
logic on the Sheshonk account to accom m odate it w ithin the
borders o f Palestine. T heir version can hardly be taken
seriously, how ever, for it rests on the curious assum ption that
the Egyptian scribes responsible for transcribing the accounts
did n o t k n o w h o w to render the place-names they contain in
their o w n language and script. Considering that ancient E gyp
tian is n o t too distant a cousin to the Semitic languages, that
hardly seems likely. Even if w e accept such a shaky hypothesis,

136

T H E BIBLE C A ME F R O M ARABI A

fitting the names o f all the places referred to in the Sheshonk


lists to Palestine can only be done w ith cavalier disregard to the
original E gyptian text. It is hardly surprising, therefore, that
there is considerable disagreem ent am ong Biblical scholars as
to w hat actually happened on Sheshonks expedition. If we read
the accounts w ith West Arabia in mind, how ever, m any - if
n o t all - o f the problem s disappear, leaving us w ith a rem arkably
clear itinerary o f the Egyptian rulers campaign. Incidentally, I
w ould suggest that if other Egyptian topographical lists, as well
as M esopotam ian lists o f a similar nature, were studied in a
similar way, it w ould produce som e startling results (see, for
example, m y com m ents on Carchem ish and Karkara in Chapter
i, note i i , and on the conquests o f Sargon II and the Am arna
Letters, in C hapter 5).
It is true that the Biblical accounts o f the Sheshonk (Biblical
swsq or sysq, Shishak) expedition against Judah do not go into
geographical detail. T he longer o f the tw o - that o f 2 Chronicles
12:2-9 _ sim ply reports that the Egyptian king arrived w ith a
large arm y, to o k the fortified cities o f Judah and came as far
as Jerusalem , w ith o u t actually capturing it. T he king o f Ju d ah ,
w h o was R ehoboam , the son o f Solomon, apparently managed
to buy o ff the invader w ith the treasures o f the house o f the
Lord (i.e. the temple) and the treasures o f the kin g s house.
This m ight explain w h y J erusalem does not feature am ong
the readable nam es in the Sheshonk lists. It is also possible, o f
course, that the nam e o f the city m ight have existed in the parts
o f the lists that have been lost, or which survive only as
indecipherable fragments.
Sheshonk, as I have already said, m ust have crossed the Red
Sea to land on the coast o f the southern Hijaz near Lith. From
there he proceeded uphill to subdue six places in the Lith
hinterland (nos. 10-15 in the great Sheshonk list at the tem ple
o f A m on in Karnak), four o f which rem ain fully legible. These
places are, as n um bered in the original Sheshonk topographical
list:
10
mtt: M u t i (mt), in W a d i A d a m ; o r a l-M a tah (mt1), in W ad i
al-Jaizah, f u r th e r so u th .
13
rbt: R ib a t (rbt), in th e Z a h r a n lo w la n d s, o r a n o th e r R ib at,
fu rth e r s o u th in W a d i al-S h aqq ah .

T H E I T I N E R A R Y OF T H E S H E S H O N K E X P E D I T I O N

137

14 t'nkV:2 th e Biblical T aa n ac h , o r t'nk; to d a y K a n a h (k nt), in


th e Z a h r a n lo w la n d s .3
15 snmV :4 a l-M a sh n iy y a h ( tnsny), in th e Z a h r a n h igh land s.

In a first raid inland from there, Sheshonk appears to have


subdued a place in Wadi Ranyah, whose headwaters are in the
Zahran region:
16

snri:5 S h a ry a n iy y a h (sryny).

He then returned to the Lith hinterland w here he seized yet


another place:
17 Rhbt: W a d i R a h a b a h ( rhb), a cluster o f villages in th e Z a h r a n
lo w la n d s; o r R u h b a h (rhb), in W ad i A d am .
N e x t Sheshonk proceeded southw ards to the central lands o f
Judah, in the hinterland o f Q unfudhah and Birk. He could have
taken either the coastal road, or the one further inland which
hugs the first line o f hills. A long the way, he stopped here and
there to conduct forays into the m ountain regions (see map 10).
O f the seventeen places he raided in the area, the names o f
fifteen are still legible and can be identified w ith varying degrees
o f certainty:
18 hprmi (p arsed hpr mV): H a fa r (hpr), iden tified in relation
to n e i g h b o u r in g M u w a y h (mwy), in th e Q u n f u d h a h v icinity, to
d istin g u ish it f r o m o th e r H afars in th e sa m e area an d elsew h e re .6
H a fa r to d a y is a village o f th e a d m in istra tiv e d istrict o f M u w a y h .
19 idrtn, also read drm: a l-M a rd a (mrd), in th e M a jarid a h reg io n .
21 swd: a l-D lsh (dys), in th e h in te rla n d o f H ali.
22 mhnm : clearly a m e tath esis o f th e Biblical M a h a n a im
(imhnym) w h ic h w o u ld b e at p re se n t U m m M a n a h i (A rabic plu ral o f
mtih, m e tath esis o f mini o f w h ic h th e H e b r e w p lu ral is mhnym), in th e
Q u n f u d h a h r e g io n .7
23 qbn: Al J u b 'a n (gbn), th e Biblical G ib e o n (gbu>n), in the
M a ja rid a h reg io n .
24 bt h(w)rn: a l-R a w h a n (rwhn), th e Biblical B e th - h o r o n (byt
hwnvn), in th e Q u n f u d h a h reg io n ; unless the la tte r is K h a y ra n (hyrn),
in W adi A d a m .
25 qdttn: p e rh a p s M a k d a h (mkdt), in the B a h r reg io n .
26 iyrn: a l-R a w n (rwn), in th e h in te rla n d o f H a li.8
27 mkdV: M a q d i (mqd), in th e Q u n f u d h a h reg io n , o n e o f the
th re e B iblical M e g id d o s (mgdw), th e o th e r tw o b e in g M a g h d a h
(mgd), in th e T a i f reg io n (see n o te 3), an d S h u 'a y b M a q d a h (the
v alley o f mqd), in W ad i A d a m .
28 idr: W a d h ra h (wdr), in th e B ani S hah r reg io n .
29 id htnrk (parsed h-mrk): th e id in th e n a m e (H e b re w yd) is th e

138

M ap 10 The itinerary of S heshonk I - in Asir

T H E BIBLE C A M E F R O M A RABI A

T H E I T I N E R A R Y OF T H E S H E S H O N K E X P E D I T I O N

139

e q u iv a le n t o f th e A ra b ic wadi (wd), o r v alley ; h-mrk, w ith th e H e b r e w


d efinite article, is to d a y a l-M a ra k a h (mrk, w ith th e A ra b ic d efin ite
article), in th e Q u n f u d h a h reg io n . T h e village o f a l-M a ra k a h is
actually lo c ate d in o n e o f th e m a jo r w ad is, o r valleys, o f th e reg io n .
31 hinm, also rea d hy nm: H a w m a n (hwmn), in th e Q u n f u d h a h
reg io n ; Al H a w m a n , in th e B a lla sm a r regio n ; o r H a w m a n , in th e
M u h a y il reg io n .
32 rn: A rm (rn), th e B iblical E r a n (rn), in th e Q u n f u d h a h
reg io n ; un less th e la tte r is Al G h u rr a n (grn), in th e B a n i S h ah r reg io n .
33 brn, also read brm: B a rm a h ( brm), in th e Q u n f u d h a h reg io n ;
unless it is B u r r a n (brn), in th e Z a h r a n lo w lan d s.
34 dtptr, also rea d d dptr:9 e ith er al-F atra h ( l-ptr) in Rijal A lm a ,
o r a l-D a fra h (l-dprt), in th e B a h r reg io n ; unless th e reference is to
a n o th e r a l-D a fra h in th e Faifa d istrict o f th e j i z a n re g io n (see b elo w ).

It m ust have been at this stage o f the campaign that Sheshonk


crossed the escarpm ent and advanced against Al Sharim, i.e.
the suggested Biblical Jerusalem in the N im as region, w ithout
entering the city. O nce he had arrived at dt ptr or d dptr,
how ever, Sheshonk was already on his way south to m ake a
rapid sweep thro u g h the Jizan hinterland, or perhaps he was
already there (see no. 34). T he four places which he m ust have
subdued in this region w ere the following:
35 ihm: W a h m (whm), in th e M a sarih a h district.
36 bt rm: U m a r (mr), full n a m e Q a r y a t U m a r M a q b u l (literally,
th e v illage o f U m a r to w h o m p ray e r, o r p ilg rim a g e , is d u e , w h ic h
e x p lain s th e bt, o r te m p le , in th e n a m e as cited in th e S h esh o n k list),
in th e M a d a y a district.
37 kgri: G h a r q a h (grq), in th e A b u A rish d istrict; a p p a re n tly th e
h o m e o f th e A rk ite s (rqy, g en itiv e o f rq o r rqh) o f G enesis 10:17,
h ith e r to ta k e n to b e th e A rq a o f th e n o r th e r n L eb an o n , in th e
h in te r la n d o f T rip o li.

38 sik: Kus (kws), in the Masarihah district, or Kls (kys), in the


Aridah district.
R eturning from the Jizan region, Sheshonk stopped at bt
tpw(h) (the Biblical B eth-tappuah, or byt tpwh, Joshua 15:53),
today al-Fatih (pth) in the Bahr region. From there he proceeded
directly back to the hinterland o f Lith, m aking fresh conquests
there (notably in W adi Adam ), and resum ing his forays, this
tim e across the B uqran col, to subdue places in the T aif region.
A m o n g the new places he subdued in W adi A dam were the
following:

140

T H E BIBLE C A M E F R O M ARA BI A

40 ibn: W a b ir (ivbr).
55 p ktt: Q a ti t (qtt) . 10
56 idmi: W a d m a h (wdni).
58 (m)gdr: M a q d h a r (mqdr).
67 inmr: N a m i r a h ( nmr); u nless it w as a n o th e r N a m ira h , o r
N a m i r (nmr), o u tsid e W ad i A d a m , b u t close b y in th e L ith h in terlan d .
69 ftisT: F atish (pts).
74 (h)bri: K h a b ira h (hbr).
78 dit: A d y a h (dyt).
112 & 119 irhm: a l-R a h m (rhm), a p p a re n tly raid e d tw ice.
133 ir(i): W a ry a h (wryh), th e Biblical J o r a h (ywrh, see C h a p te r
8).

O utside W adi A dam , Sheshonk appears to have subdued Al


Yarar ( 7 yrr), in the Banu A m r region o f the Sarat. T he name
is rendered in the list (no. 70) as irhrr or V hrr (parsed h-rr), the
Egyptian V standing for the Semitic 7 (Arabic Al), as the ancient
Egyptians w rote the I as r (and sometim es as n). In the broader
Lith hinterland, the following places were also attacked:
bt dbi: U m m Z a b y a h (m zby).
(q)dst: K ad lsah (kdst).
dmrm (p arsed d mrm): A l M a r y a m ( 7 mrym. B iblical M e r o m ,
o r mrwrn, J o s h u a 11:5, 7).
59 yrdV: Y a rid a h (yrd).
89 hq(q) (parsed h-qq): a l - Q u q a (qq, w ith th e A ra b ic definite
45
54
57

article).

Across the B uqran col, Sheshonk waged raids against four


teen places in the T a if region, which the great Sheshonk list
m entions by name:
60 p mq: th e valley o f W a d i A m q (mq).
72 ibrm: B a rm a h (brm), an oasis n ea r W adi T u r a b a h a n d the
basaltic d e s e rt o f H a r r a t al B u q u m .
76 wrkyt: a l-W iraq (wrq, A ra b ic p lu ral o f wrq; cf. wrkyt as th e
fem in in e p lu ral o f wrk).
80 dpkl (parsed d pkT"), also read dpk (d pk): A l Faqih ( 7 pqh);
unless it is th e al-F aq ih (as 7 pqh) o f W ad i A d a m .
86- tsdn(w): S h ad an a h (sdnt); unless it is D a s h n a h (dsnt) in th e L ith
h in terlan d .
88 snyy: S h an iy a h (stty).
91 wht wrki: W a h a t (wht ) , id en tified in relatio n to th e n e ig h b o u r
ing D a r a l-A ra k a h (rk), cited in th e A ra b ic lite ra tu re o n th e T a i f
reg io n , to d istin g u ish it f ro m th e W a h at o f th e B a lla sm a r re g io n in
A sir.

T H E I T I N E R A R Y OF T H E S H E S H O N K E X P E D I T I O N

I4I

93 ysht: S h u h u t (slit), th e n a m e o f a sm all w a d i o f th e T a i f reg io n .


95 & 99 limnt an d hnni: n o t o n e place, b u t tw o d ifferen t ones,
A l H u m a n (hmn) a n d H a n a n a h (hnn).
107 hqrm: a l-M ih ra q (mhrq), e ith er o f t w o villages b y this n a m e
in th e sa m e vicinity.
108 & n o
rdV: A ra d a h (rd).
ill
nbt: N a b a h (nb, w ith th e fem in in e suffix nbt).u
118 (p?) byy B u w a (bwr).
150 irdn: a l-D a ra y n (dryn\ n o t th e J o r d a n , see C h a p te r 7): a n y o f
th re e villages b y this n am e; unless it is th e a l-D a ra y n o f th e Z a h r a n
h ig h la n d s f u rth e r so u th .

It is possible to identify other places raided by Sheshonk in


northern Asir and the southern Hijaz, but I think the point has
been made: his campaign was clearly conducted in West Arabia
rather than in Palestine. M ore precisely, it seems that the
Egyptian invader pushed inland in his raids as far as the basaltic
desert o f H arrat al-Buqum , w here he attacked the oasis o f
B arm ah (see no. 72), and also ibr (no. 122), which is today the
oasis o f W abr (wbr). It also appears that he proceeded south
w ards across the headwaters o f Wadi Ranyah (srnrV, no. 104,
parsed sr tin : Al Siyar (syr), in the G ham id highlands where the
waters o f Wadi Ranyah (my) spring) to invade Wadi Bishah.
Here, apparently on tw o different occasions, he attacked irqd
(no. 97), w hich is probably present Al Q irad (qrd)\ idmm (nos.
98 and 128), probably Wadi Adam ah (dm)\ and inn (no. 140),
which is today W anan (wtin).
In the prologue to his great list at Karnak, Sheshonk speaks
o f having subjugated the armies o f M itanni - either the present
village o f M athani (mtny), or m ore likely the vicinity o f Wadi
M athan (nitn), in the T a if region where he took so m any
villages, as I have already noted. Certainly, the M itanni in
question was not a kingdom in northern M esopotamia; had it
been so, it w ould have involved a blatant anachronism .12 In
the shorter Sheshonk list at the tem ple o f A m on in El Hibeh,
nhrn (no. 4) is certainly not M esopotam ia, as has hitherto been
assum ed, but the present village o f N aharin (nhrn), a short
distance from W adi M athan or the village o f M athani in the
T a if region. This place is no doubt the Biblical N aharaim
(nhrym, Genesis 24:10; D euteronom y 23:5; Judges 3:8; Psalm

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T H E BI BLE C A M E F R O M ARABI A

60:2; I Chronicles 19:6), w hich the Septuagint (followed by


traditional Biblical scholarship) v/as to identify as M esopo
tam ia (see C hapter 1). Likewise, the iss(wr) in this same list
(no. 9) is n o t A ssyria, b u t am ong various possibilities the m ost
plausible candidate is Yasir (ysr) in the region o f Mecca, near
the seaport o f Rabigh.
Setting aside such m inor uncertainties, w hat seems clear is
that n o t only Biblical history should be reassessed, b u t also the
ancient history o f the entire N ear East region. Those seemingly
arid lists o f H ebrew O ld Testam ent place-names are, I am sure,
fertile gro u n d for a new generation o f scholars w ho, if they can
rid them selves o f the traditional notion that they are located in
Palestine, m ay be able to clarify large areas o f ancient history
w hich have hitherto been w rapped in confusion.

MELCHIZEDEK: CLUES TO
A PANTHEON
Given the unequivocal reference to a king-priest called M elchizedek in standard English versions o f the O ld Testam ent, it
w ould seem churlish to question w hether, in fact, he existed.
Yet, if there was such a person, the H ebrew Bible has nothing
to say about him. N o w , it is true that a structure o f consonants
reading as m lky sdq does occur in tw o Biblical texts (Genesis
14:18 and Psalm 110:4), w hich has been translated to mean M y
King is R ighteousness. In each case, however, it seems highly
unlikely that it is a personal name. In Genesis 14:18, m lky sdq
appears to be an idiom atic expression. In Psalm 110:4 it is
alm ost certainly a reference to the kings (m lkym , w ith the final
m o f the plural suffix dropped in the genitive structure) o f a
particular place.
Let us consider the full text o f Genesis 14:18. It reads consonantally as follows: w -m lky sdq mlk sltn h w sy Ihm iv-yyn w -hw
khn l-l lyw n. This has traditionally been vocalised to yield the
follow ing sense: and Melchizedek king o f Salem (5/m) brought
out bread and w ine and he is priest to E l Elydn (or G od M ost
H ig h R S V ). In context, how ever, the mlk in m lky is unlikely
to be the H ebrew w o rd for kin g to make m lky sdq a personal
nam e m eaning M y King is Righteousness. M ore likely it is the
plural o f m lk as a contracted form o f m lwk, meaning m outhfulthe participle o f a verb attested in Arabic (but n o t in Hebrew)
as Ik, ch ew . Arabic dictionaries cite Iwk sdq (vocalised aluk
sidq, literally m outhful o f offering), as an archaic euphem ism
for food, especially food offered to a guest. Hence, the real

144

T H E BI BLE C A M E F R OM ARABI A

sense o f Genesis 14:18 w ould appear to be: and the king o f


Salem b ro u g h t o u t food (literally, m outhfuls o f offering),
bread and wine, and he is priest to El Elyon. Incidentally, the
peculiar syntax o f the H ebrew original, as o f the whole o f
Genesis 14, suggests that it was w ritten in verse, as an epic
account o f the m ilitary exploits o f A bram the H ebrew (see
C hapter 13). W ord by w ord, the passage w ould translate: A nd
food the king o f Salem b rought out, bread and wine; A nd he
is priest to El Elyon.'
In the context o f the story told in Genesis 14, the king o f
Salem ho noured A bram the H eb rew , w h o was on his way
back hom e from a successful military venture, laden w ith
booty. H aving b rought out his bread and w in e, the king o f
Salem invited A bram to eat; idiomatically, he gave him a
m orsel o f fo o d (w-ytn Iw m sr mkl, Genesis 14:20). This makes
it even clearer that the mlky sdq o f Genesis 14:18, like the mkl
(Arabic m kl, vocalised makal) o f Genesis 14:20, refers to food,
and is n o t a personal name, M elchizedek. Traditionally, the
expression o f m sr mkl has been read as m sr m-kl, to m ean a
tenth o f everything, since m sr can m ean ten th and tenth
p o rtio n as well as p o rtio n . Furtherm ore, the subject o f w-ytn
Iw, and he gave h im , has traditionally been taken to be A bram
rather than the king o f Salem, although the latter was the subject
o f the tw o preceding sentences. T he w hole verse has hence
been understood to mean n o t that the king o f Salem invited
A bram to eat, but that A bram gave him a tenth o f all the spoils
w ith which he returned - a falsely assumed justification o f
ecclesiastical tithing, considering that the king o f Salem was
also a priest to G od M ost H ig h . Here, it seems to me, is an
exam ple o f h o w wide o f the m ark the traditional reading o f
Biblical H ebrew has been.
T u rn in g to the consonantal text o f Psalm 110:4, one finds
the following: th khn l-wlm 7 dbrty mlky sdq, traditionally
vocalised to read in translation: you are priest for ever over the
order o f M elchizedek, the person addressed being presum ably
King David. H ow ever, consider the following:
1
T h e H e b r e w l-wltn can ce rtain ly m e a n fo r e v e r , b u t it can
also m e a n to Olam - th e n a m e o f a g o d o r a shrine, o r an ep ith e t

m e lch ized ek : clues to

a pantheon

145

fo r Y a h w e h , th e G o d o f Israel (see b elo w ), m e a n in g ev e rlastin g o r


e te rn a l. C o n s id e r in g th a t n o m o rta l can be priest - o r a n y th in g else
fo r th a t m a tte r - fo r e v e r, th e seco n d p o ssib le in te rp re ta tio n o f th e
H e b r e w l-wlm m ak es c o n te x tu a lly b e tte r sense.
2 T h e H e b r e w dbrty c a n n o t m e an o r d e r b ecau se it is n o t a
w o r d in th e sin g ular. It can o n ly b e the dual o f dbrh (dbrtym, as d istin ct
fro m th e fem in in e p lu ral dbrwt), w ith th e final m in th e dual suffix
d r o p p e d in th e g enitive s tr u c tu re dbrty(m) mlky(m) sdq. T h e H e b r e w
dbrh is th e fem in in e v erb a l n o u n f ro m dbr, h ere clearly in the sense o f
th e vo ca lised A ra b ic dabara (also dbr), fo llo w b e h in d . T h u s , th e w o r d
m u s t b e tra n sla te d as f o llo w in g (i.e. area o f ju r is d ic tio n , o r m o r e
likely flo ck ), w h ic h w o u ld m a k e dbrty(m) m e a n th e tw o fo llo w in g s ,
o r th e t w o flo ck s. T h e fact th a t th e re are places called sdq in t w o
d iffe re n t p a rts o f W e st A ra b ia s h o u ld also b e ta k en in to a c co u n t h ere
(see b elo w ).
3 T h e H e b r e w mlky(m) sdq, in c o n tex t, stand s as a g en itiv e
s tr u c tu re m e a n in g th e k in g s o f Sedeq. O f course, it can also be
read as a p e rso n a l n a m e , M e lc h iz e d e k . T w o K o ra n ic references,
h o w e v e r, s u g g e st th a t sdq (vocalised sidq, an d in te rp re te d to m e an
r ig h te o u s n e s s ) co u ld h av e actually b een a place: o n e in w h ic h th e
p eo p le o f Israel w e re m a d e to settle (10:93); also th e seat o f a p o w e rfu l
k in g (54:55). T h is s tr o n g ly en d o rses th e first in te rp re ta tio n . S ignifi
can tly , th e re is n o m e n tio n o f S a le m o r El 'Elydii in th e te x t o f th e
P salm .
I n t h e l i g h t o f th e s e o b s e r v a t i o n s , t h e r e a d i n g o f P s a l m 110 :4
s h o u l d b e c o r r e c t e d t o y i e l d t h e f o l l o w i n g se n se : y o u a re p r i e s t
t o Olam o v e r t h e t w o flo c k s ( o r t w o dabrahs) o f t h e k i n g s o f

Sedeq'. H e r e , as in G e n e s is 1 4:18, t h e r e is n o q u e s t i o n o f a n y o n e
c a lle d M e l c h i z e d e k .
W h a t is a c t u a l l y i n v o l v e d in t h e t w o p a s s a g e s I h a v e e x a m i n e d
a r e t w o d i f f e r e n t se ts o f k i n g - p r i e s t s : t h o s e o f S a l e m a n d El
Elyon, a n d t h o s e o f Sedeq a n d Olam. W h i l e t h e k i n g s o f S a l e m

(slm) w e r e p r ie s t s t o El Elyon (I lywn), t h o s e o f Sedeq (sdq)


w e r e p r i e s t s t o Olam (wlm). L o n g t h o u g h t t o h a v e b e e n a t o w n
in P a l e s t i n e , s o m e t i m e s id e n t i f i e d as J e r u s a l e m , t h e S a l e m o f
G e n e s is 14 c o u l d o n l y h a v e b e e n w h a t is t o d a y t h e v illa g e o f

Al S a l a m a h ( 7 slm, g o d o f slm, o r g o d o f s a fe ty , s e c u r ity ,


w e l l - b e i n g , p e a c e ), in t h e N i m a s r e g i o n o f t h e A s ir h i g h l a n d s .
C l o s e b y , i n t h e s a m e r e g i o n , s ta n d s t h e v il la g e o f Al A l y a n
( 7 lyn, cf. B i b lic a l 7 lywn), c a r r y i n g t o th is d a y t h e n a m e o f
t h e d e i t y w h o m t h e k i n g o f S a l e m s e r v e d as p r ie s t. A ls o in

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T H E BIBLE C A ME F R O M ARABI A

the same N im as region, and in the T anum ah highlands n o t far


to the southeast, stand the villages o f Al al-Alam ( 7 ulm) and
Al al-Alam ( 7 7 m), carrying to this day the name o f the deity
(the Biblical wlm) w h o m the kings o f Sedeq served as priests.
T he tw o different flocks or areas o f jurisdiction (Hebrew
dbrtym) o f these king-priests (if tw o actual places w ith identical
names w ere n o t involved) could have centred around the Zahran
highlands, in the extrem e n o rth o f Asir, and the Jizan and
N ajran regions, in the extrem e south. M ost probably, the seat
o f these kings o f Sedeq w ho served the god Olam was the
present village o f Bayt al-Sadiq (byt l-sdq, tem ple o f the god
o f sdq), in the Zahran region. N earby stands another village
called Sidaq (sdq). T w o other villages called Sidaqah (sdq) and
Siddlqah (sdq) are still to be found today in the Jizan region,
along w ith one called Sadaqah (sdq) in the vicinity o f Wadi
N ajran. If it is true, as I have suggested, that King David came
originally from Wadi Adam , near the Bayt al-Sadiq o f the
Zahran region, and that he finally reigned as king in the Z io n
(or Siyan) o f Rijal A lm a closer to the Sidaqah o f the Jizan
region, the explanation o f the dual in dbrtym could lie there.
Furtherm ore, the following should be taken into account:
1 T h e Israelite G o d Y a h w e h is d istin ctly id en tified as Shalom
(slwm, a f o r m o f slm, o r S a le m ) in th e n a m e o f an altar r e p o rte d ly
b uilt b y G id e o n at O p h r a h ( prh), a place said to h a v e b e lo n g e d to
s o m e o n e f r o m E z e r (by h- 'zry, th e father o f th e E z r ite , as cited
in J u d g e s 6:24). T h e O p h r a h in q u e s tio n m u s t b e p re s e n t-d a y A fra
(pr), a v illage in th e N im a s reg io n , n o t far f ro m A d h ra h (dr, cf.
H e b r e w zr), n o d o u b t th e Biblical E z e r , in n e a rb y B an i Shahr.
O b v io u s ly , th e altar o f Yahweh Shalom w as n o n e o th e r th a n Al
S alam ah, in th e N im a s re g io n - th e S a le m o f G enesis 14.
2 T h e M essiah w h o s e b ir th is p ro p h e sie d in Isaiah 9:6 is called
7 gbwr by d sr slwm, u su ally tra n sla te d as M ig h ty G o d , E v e rla stin g
F ath er, P rin c e o f P eac e (RSV). T h e H e b r e w sr slwm h ere p ro b a b ly
m ean s p rin ce o f Shalom, i.e. o f th e sh rin e city o f S a le m , o r Al
Salam ah. C e rta in ly , by d is th e n a m e o f a g o d , w h ic h su rv iv es in
th e n a m e o f th e village o f A b u al-Id (b d, o r b I- d), in t h e j i z a n
reg io n . J u s t as certain ly , 7 gbwr is th e n a m e o f a g o d su rv iv in g in th e
n a m e s o f th re e villages called Al J a b b a r ( 7 gbr): o n e in th e T a n u m a h
reg io n ; o n e in th e A b id a h reg io n ; o n e in th e M a ja rid a h d istrict; all
th ree in A sir. In Isaiah, th e n a m e s o f th ree W est A ra b ia n g o d s are
g iv e n to th e Israelite M e ssia h w h o w as to sit o n th e th r o n e o f D av id .

m elch ized ek : clues to

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147

3 The traditional reading of Genesis 14:22 has long assumed


that Abram the Hebrew, in an oath, identifies his own god, Yahweh,
with the El 'Elydn of the king o f Salem. The Hebrew text of Abrams
oath, hrmty ydy 7 yhivh 7 lywn, has normally been taken to mean I
have sworn (literally, raised my hand) to Yahweh El Elyon (in RSV,
to the Lord God Most High). Actually, the Hebrew yhwh here (as
in examples cited earlier) must be read as the archaic imperfect of the
verb hyh - be. Hence, the oath must be read as: I have sworn, El
Elydn being a god, or 1 have sworn, (as) El Elydn is a god ( 7 yhwh
7 lywn), the recognition of the divinity o f El Elydn being presented
as testimony to the truth of the oath. In Psalm 7:18, however, Elyon
is unequivocally mentioned as a name of Yahweh (sm yhwh lywn,
the name o f Yahweh is Elyon). Yahweh is also called Elyon in
Psalm 47:3. Moreover, Elyon rather than Yahweh is cited as the
name o f the God of Israel in more than twenty other passages of
Biblical text, where it is commonly rendered in translation as Most
High.
4 Yahweh is identified as El Olam ( 7 wlm) in Genesis 21:33,
and as lhy(m) wlm (literally, gods o f Olam) in Isaiah 40:28. He is
also called King of Olam (mlk wlm) in Jeremiah 10:10.
5 In Psalm 7:18, the Hebrew wdh yhwh b-sdqw has so far been
taken to mean I will give thanks to Yahweh (or the Lord) due to
his righteousness. The b in b-sdqw, however, clearly means in or
at, and can in no way be made to mean due to, or for. The latter
reading would have required the Hebrew preposition I in that case,
as l-sdqw. Thus, the correct translation of the Hebrew is: I will give
thanks to Yahweh in his Sedeq, that is to say in his shrine at a place
called sdq, which is probably the Sidaqah or Siddlqah of Jizan.1
Indeed, one may go through other Biblical passages in which the
word sdq occurs, and determine, according to the context, where it
refers to a shrine called Sedeq and where it means simply righteous
ness.
By n ow , it should be perfectly clear: in all probability there
never was a Biblically attested king-priest o f Salem by the
nam e o f M elchizedek, w ho headed an ord er. Interesting
though such a conclusion m ay be, w hat is perhaps m ore signifi
cant is that investigation o f the Melchizedek question offers
clues w hich help to unravel a great historical mystery: the
forgotten origins o f m onotheism in ancient West Arabia.
First o f all, we m ust rem em ber that the w ord denoting the
O n e G o d , in H ebrew , is Elohim (Ihym), which is the mascu
line plural o f eloh (Ih), or g o d .

1 48

T H E BIBLE C A ME F R O M ARABI A

N o w , one m ay safely suggest that w hat came to be recognised


in W est Arabia, at som e point, as the O ne G od was originally
a pantheon o f local or tribal gods. A count o f place-names in
W est Arabia starting w ith Al ( 7 , cf. H ebrew 7 , g o d ), setting
aside the countless place-names carrying an Arabic definite
article al w hich could conceivably be a survival o f the H ebrew
7 , w o u ld readily show that the ancient West Arabian pantheon
originally num bered hundreds o f gods, possibly including gods
called by different names. A m ong these gods were Al Salamah
(Biblical slm or slwm), Al Alyan (Biblical 7 lywn), Al al-Alam
or Al al-Alam (Biblical wlm), and Sidq (Biblical sdq, also
attested as sdq and sdyq in Arabian inscriptions). In the H ebrew
Bible, Al Salamah, Al Alyan, and Al al-Alam (or al-Alam) are
clearly identified w ith the Israelite god Yahw eh (yhwh, see
below), and a sdq is cited as a shrine o f Yahweh. Also identified
w ith Y ahw eh are a n um ber o f other West Arabian gods, whose
names survive in their land o f origin as place-names. Such are
Al Sadi ( 7 sdy, Biblical 7 sdy, or El Shadddi, often rendered in
translation as G od A lm ighty); Al Rahw ah (rhw, waterhole,
w ell, Biblical 7 ry, vocalised El R oi, being m isinterpreted to
mean G od o f Seeing); al-Sabayat (sbyt, gazelles, the placenam e for a shrine; Biblical sbwt, or Sabaoth, also m eaning
gazelles, but traditionally interpreted in the sense o f armies,
hosts - hence the rendering o f yhwh sbwt, as the Lord o f
H osts, w here it actually means the Yahw eh o f Sabayat). As
already noted, the names o f tw o other West Arabian gods, Al
Jabbar (Biblical 7 gbwr) and A bu al-Id (Biblical b d), are
identified in Isaiah 9:6 as names o f the Israelite Messiah; these
tw o gods m ay equally have been identified w ith the Israelite
G od Y ahw eh.2
As for the nam e o f Y ahw eh himself, it also survives in West
Arabia - not only as the yh or yhw o f the T ham udic and
Lihyanite inscriptions o f the northern Hijaz (which is already a
recognised fact), but also in a num ber o f place-names. O ne is
that o f a m ountain ridge, Jabal T ahw a (thw), in coastal Asir.
O thers are those o f villages such as al-Haw ( 7 hw), near Mecca;
al-H aw a (l-hw), A bu H iya (b hy) and Hiyah (hyh), near Taif;
Al H iyah ( 7 hyh), in the N im as region (possibly the nam e o f

m elch ized ek : clues to

a pantheon

149

the principal Y ahw eh shrine, considering its proxim ity to Al


"Alyan and Al al-A lam, see above), and Hiyay (hyy), near
D hahran, in the southernm ost heights o f Asir (perhaps the dt
zhrn o f the Arabian inscriptions). M ore likely than not,
Y ahw eh, like El Elyon, was originally a god o f m ountain
heights. His nam e has been the subject o f m uch learned contro
versy, yet it can be sim ply explained as an archaic substantive
o f the verb hwh (rather than the oft-suggested hyh, be), not in
the H ebrew and Arabic sense o f fall, but in the Arabic sense
(unattested in H ebrew) o f rise, be elevated. His nam e alone,
in that sense, m ust have recom m ended him for recognition as
a suprem e and transcendent deity.
O n e cannot really tell w hen Yahw eh came to be identified
w ith other gods o f the West Arabian pantheon, as the Elohim
(Ihym, G o d , as distinct from h-lhym, the gods) o f Israel. All
one can say is that the identification was selective. While the
names o f som e West Arabian gods, such as the ones m entioned
above, came to be equated w ith that o f Yahweh, others did
not. Such was the nam e o f the god Succoth (skwt, Am os 5:26),
w hich survives in the Ahha vicinity o f the Asir highlands as
that o f the village o f Al Skut ( 7 skwt). Such also were the various
gods called Baal (bl, possibly by origin a contraction o f b 7 ,
father o f crops, or the one o f crops), such as B aal-Zebub
(bl zbwb, 2 Kings 1:2), w hose nam e survives as that o f various
villages in Asir such as D habub (dbwb), and D hubabah (dbb) in
the Jizan region, and Al D hubabah ( 7 dbb) near Khamis M u
shait. O ne can readily understand w hy this Baal-Zebub (the
nam e is com m only thought to mean Lord o f the Flies) was
never identified w ith Y ahw eh. Judging by the surviving m ean
ing o f zbb in Arabic, his nam e indicates that he was the father,
o f the crops w ith the enorm ous phallus.
H ow ever, a complete inventory o f the West Arabian gods
w ho came to be equated w ith Yahweh, and those w ho were
not, is beyond the scope o f the present w ork. W hat seems m ore
im portant is that a reinterpretation o f certain passages in the
H ebrew Bible m ay provide us w ith some evidence that could
be useful in assisting scholars to form ulate a new theory that
w o u ld explain h o w m onotheism developed in W estern Arabia.

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T H E BIBLE CAME F ROM ARABI A

O nce again, onom astics points the way which others with
greater know ledge o f such matters than I may care to follow.
Let m e add sim ply this, by way o f conclusion: there is an
interesting story in Genesis 22:1-14 which, if read carefully,
w ould appear to shed light on the transition in ancient West
Arabia betw een polytheism and monotheism (or at least the
cult o f Y ahw eh as a suprem e god). In this passage, we are told
that A braham was ordered by the gods (h-lhym as distinct
from Ihym) to take his son, Isaac, to the land o f M oriah
(h-mryh, today al-M arw ah, or mrwh, also with the definite
article, in Rijal A lm a; see the geography of the Abraham story
in C hapter 13). There, he was to sacrifice him as a b urnt offering
on a m ountain, subsequently identified by name as yhwh yrh,
or Y ahw eh Y ireh (today Yara, or yr, also in Rijal A lm a).
A braham carefully follow ed the orders o f the g ods (h-lhym,
repeated in 22:1, 3, 9),3 b u t w hen he began to prepare the altar
for the sacrifice o f his son, and the latter enquired where the
lam b for the b urnt offering was, Abraham answered that G o d
in the singular (Ihym n o t h -lhym) will provide the lam b (22:8).
Hearing this, Y ahw eh intervened to save Isaac from being
sacrificed by providing a ram in his stead for the offering,
having satisfied him self that A braham feared G od (again Ihym,
n o t h-lhym), as w e are told in Genesis 22:1 if. Is it too fanciful
to assume that this story was originally told to explain how
m onotheism first began?

THE HEBREWS OF THE ASIR


WOODS
T he term H e b re w (bry, plural brym, bryym, feminine bryt)
occurs seventeen times in the H ebrew Bible, and three times in
the Christian scriptures (Acts 6: i ; 2 Corinthians 11:22; Philippians 3:5). In the Christian texts, it is used to distinguish Chris
tians w h o w ere ethnically Jews from others - particularly
Hellenists (Acts 6:1). In the H ebrew texts, its usage is som e
w hat vague; the reading o f these texts, however, leaves one
w ith the im pression that, the people o f ancient Israel were
originally regarded as H e b re w tribes.
W hat can one say about the H ebrew s? So far, m any attempts
have been m ade to identify the Biblical 'brym w ith the ha-pi-ru
o f the cuneiform texts, the U garitic p rm, the Egyptian pr, and
the habiru o f the A m arna Letters (for these A m arna Letters, see
C hapter 5). Such people are generally believed to have been not
so m uch an ethnic group as a social class o f people obeying no
authority and living outside the law, such as bandits, mercenar
ies, vagabonds or pedlars. H ad these ha-pi-ru really been the
Biblical brym, the cuneiform texts, w ritten in languages closely
related to Biblical H ebrew , w ould surely have spelt their name
correctly, w ith o u t one or m ore fundamental consonantal
changes. From exam ination o f the Egyptian topographical lists
in C hapter 11, one finds that the ancient Egyptians also repro
duced the consonantal structure o f Semitic place-names cor
rectly; they certainly never took a b to be a p. Hence, the
E gyptian pr could hardly have been a misrendering o f the
H ebrew br - the ro o t from w hich brym derives.

152

T H E BIBLE C A ME F R O M ARABI A

T o gain clearer insight into w hat the H ebrew s originally


were, one m ay turn to the story o f A braham in Genesis,
w here this patriarch goes under tw o names, A bram (brm), until
Genesis 17, and A braham (brhm), starting from Genesis 18.
Regardless o f w hether or not A bram and A braham were the
same person, the Genesis story treats them as such. In Genesis
14:13, this patriarch, w h o is regarded as the ancestor o f the
Israelites and other related peoples, is called A bram the H e
b re w (brm h-bry). H e is also said to have been living by the
oaks (m ore likely, the wood) o f M am re (b-lny mmr, literally
in, not by the w ood o f M amre). This same A bram is described
as living in the w o o d o f M oreh (mwrh) in Genesis 12:6, and
in the w o o d o f M am re (same as above) in Genesis 13:18. The
latter w o o d features again as the hom e o f A braham in Genesis
18:1, right w here the change in the nam e o f the patriarch occurs.
Clearly, the claimed ancestor o f the Israelites, as depicted in
Genesis, was a H e b re w , or bry, a m an w ho lived in the woods.
T he term bry itself m ay denote this. So far taken to be the
equivalent o f the Arabic verb 't r (vocalised, abara), cross, cross
over, traverse, 1 the H ebrew br in bry, or its plural brym, can
ju st as well be the equivalent o f the Arabic collective plural
noun gbr (vocalised gabar, singular gabarah, or gbrh), m eaning
w o o d s. T he H ebrew s, originally, could have been a West
Arabian folk o f the woods. In the D hahran region, in the
southernm ost highlands o f Asir, there stands to this day a
village called Al al-Ghabaran ( 7 gbrn, god o f the w o o d s).
C ould a god by this nam e have been the Ihy h-brym (G od o f
the H eb rew s RSV) identified as Yahweh, the G od o f Israel, in
six passages o fE x o d u s (3:18, 5:3, 7:16, 9:1, 13, io:3)2?
T o find out w here the H e b re w w ood folk o f W est Arabia
were believed to have originated, one m ay follow the trek o f
A bram the H e b re w , as described in Genesis 11:31-13:18.
Reportedly, A bram and his folk came originally from Ur Kasdim, or wr ksdym. The traditional rendering o f this U r Kasdlm
as U r o f the Chaldaeans, taken to be in M esopotam ia, comes
from the Greek Septuagint, and thus represents a geographic
m isinterpretation o f the Hellenistic period. Actually, A b ra m s
original hom e m ust have been present W aryah (wry, cf. wr) in

T H E H E B R E W S OF T H E ASIR W O O D S

1 53

Wadi A dam , Biblically identified in relation to M aqsud (mqsd,


cf. ksdym), a place which is still there in the same region. From
there, A bram and his folk m oved to H aran (hrn) - apparently
present-day Khayran (hyrn), also in Wadi Adam. At this point
A bram parted com pany w ith his people and proceeded south
wards to the vicinity o f Shechem (skm), today al-Kashmah
(ksm), in Rijal A lm a, w here he settled in the w o o d o f M o reh
- apparently present-day M arw ah (mrwh, one o f tw o villages
by the same nam e in Asir, the other being the Biblical M oriah,
see C hapter 12). N ext, A bram m oved to the m ountain (i.e.
the ridge) east o f Bethel (byt I), present Batilah (btl), in Rijal
A lm a (see C hapter 4), encam ping in a place w here Bethel was
to his w est and A i (h-y , present al-Ghayy, in the same region,
see C hapter 7) to his east.3 There is actually a Bethel called
Bayt U la (byt I) in Palestine, in the region o f al-Khalll (or
H e b ro n ). A t a considerable distance to the east, across the
Dead Sea, there is an Ai called K hirbat A yy ('y), in the region
o f al-Karak. The tw o regions, however, are separated from one
another not by a m ountain, but by the particularly deep valley
o f the Dead Sea. It is perhaps for this reason that Biblical
scholars have not identified these places as the Bethel and Ai o f
A bram , and rightly so. H ow ever, their suggestion that the
Bethel in question is the Palestinian Baytln, and Ai the nearby
al-Tall (see C hapter 7, note 8), is untenable on all counts.
A b ra m s next m ove was in the direction o f the N e g e b
(h-ngb, today al-Naqab, or nqb, again in Rijal A lm a). From there
he w ent to msrym - not E g y p t, as the traditional identification
has it, but present M isram ah (msrm), near Abha, where he
reportedly got into trouble w ith Pharaoh - pr'h, apparently
the local g o d .4 A fter a sojourn there, w hich reportedly brought
him great wealth, probably through trade in livestock, A bram
returned to Rijal A lm a - first to the N eg eb , or al-Naqab; then
to the site o f his earlier encam pm ent betw een Bethel, or
Batilah, and A i, or al-Ghayy. It was from there that he finally
w ent to settle in the w o o d o f M am re (mmr), near H e b ro n
(hbrwn) - today N am irah (nmr), near Khirban (hrbn), in the hill
country o f the hinterland o f Q unfudhah. In the vicinity o f
N am irah, and in the same Q unfudhah region, there exists to

154

T H E BIBLE C A ME F R O M ARABI A

this day a cluster o f four villages called Q aryat Al Sllan, Q aryat


al-Shiyab, Q aryat Asiyah and Q aryat A m ir - no doubt the
K iriath-arba (qryt rb, village o f four, or villages o f four,
perhaps four gods) w here the patriarchs wife died (Genesis
23:2), w hich is identified in the same context w ith H eb ro n . In
the same vicinity also stands the village o f Maqfalah (mqplh),
carrying to this day the nam e o f the cave o f M achpelah (mkplh),
w hich the patriarch purchased outside H e b ro n as a place o f
burial for his family (Genesis 23:9f). So m uch for the geographic
precision o f the Genesis story. M ore generally, one m ight also
add that the nam e o f A bram (brm) survives as that o f tw o
locations in the regions w here he m ostly lived: the village o f
Shab Baram (the valley o f brm), in Rijal A lm a; and Barm ah
(brm), in the Q unfudhah region.
Clearly, the career o f A bram centred around the region o f
Rijal A lm a and the hill country further to the north, in the
hinterland o f Q unfudhah - areas where dense forests o f juniper
and cypress at the higher elevations, and savannahs o f terebinth,
acacia and other forest trees at the low er ones, are interspersed
w ith pastures and arable lands. Incidentally, the w o o d o f
A braham s M a m re is represented today by the cluster o f acacia
trees and tamarisks in the vicinity o f N am irah and Khirban, in
the Q unfu d h ah hinterland. W hat was in question was neither
oaks (as in the old Biblical translations) nor terebinths (as in
the m ore recent ones). M isram ah, however, w here the patriarch
settled for a while, was no doubt an im portant m arket tow n,
m uch as neighbouring Abha and Khamis M ushait have been in
m ore recent times. T he highlands there are intensively culti
vated and located at an im portant junction o f trade routes.
A bram reportedly w ent there w hen there was famine in the
land, probably caused by locusts, as until recently the wadis
on the m aritim e side o f Asir w ere infested by these voracious
pests.
W ere all the people o f Israel originally H ebrew s, or tribal
folk from the w oodlands o f Asir? Probably not. A m ong the
tw elve sons o f Israel, w ho were reckoned to be the eponym ous
ancestors o f the twelve Israelite tribes (if twelve they were),
only Joseph is distinctly spoken o f in Genesis as a H eb rew -

T H E H E B R E W S OF T H E ASIR W O O D S

I $5

an ys bry, or H ebrew m an ; a bd bry, or H ebrew servant,


slave; a n r bry, or H ebrew b o y (Genesis 39:14, 17, 41:12).
N o n e o f his b rothers is singled out as H ebrew , even though
collectively they are referred to as such (e.g. 43:32). Joseph was
reportedly sold as a slave in E g y p t (msrym) - either M isramah,
near Abha, or M asr (msr, singular o f msrym), in Wadi Bishah.
Before that, he had been living in H e b ro n , already identified
as Khirban, in the Q unfudhah region, while his brothers
herded their flocks near Shechem , or al-Kashm ah (see above),
in Rijal A lm a (Genesis 37:13-14). Sent after his brothers in
Shechem , and failing to catch up w ith them , Joseph pursued
them to D o th a n (spelt dtyn and dtn, Genesis 37:17) - probably
D athanah (dtn), in the vicinity ofjabal Faifa, in the m ountainous
hinterland o f Jizan.5 A t the foot ofjabal Faifa runs the m ountain
defile connecting th ejiza n coastal region and inland Asir. This
explains w h y caravaneers passed near D o th a n on their w ay to
M isram ah or to M asr, picking up Joseph from his brothers
and taking him along w ith them to sell him as a slave there.
Later on, Jo sep h s brothers (and his father as well) followed
him to M isram ah or M asr to escape a famine in their hom e
country, m uch as the patriarch A bram had done som e tim e
before.
T he pre-em inence o f the H e b re w element am ong the Israel
ites is indicated by the dom inant role given to Joseph am ong
his b ro th ers after all o f them had m igrated to the territory o f
M isram ah or M asr (probably M asr, since the H ebrew V5 msrym
can best be rendered as the land o f the people o f msr, the w o rd
msry, plural msrym, being the genitive o f msr). O nce established
there, all the Israelite b rothers and their descendants came to
be recognised as H ebrew s (Genesis 43:32; Exodus i:is f , 19,
2:6, 7, 11, 13, 21:2), and their G od Yahw eh regarded as the
G od o f the H ebrew s, as already indicated. After the emergence
o f the Israelites as a political com m unity, how ever, the term
H e b re w was used only occasionally to refer to them , in
variably to distinguish them ethnically from other peoples
am ong w h o m they lived or happened to be (1 Samuel 4:6, 9,
13:3, 19, 14:11; Jonah 1:6).
Finally, the language w hich came to be k n o w n as H eb rew

156

T H E BIBLE C A ME F R O M ARABI A

was certainly n o t the language o f the H ebrew s or o f the tribes


o f Israel alone. In its time, it was a language widely spoken n ot
only in W est Arabia, but also elsewhere. It was the Israelites o f
West Arabia, how ever, claiming a com m on H e b re w ancestry,
w ho im m ortalised this language in their m agnificent scriptures
- the H ebrew Bible, w hose geography is the subject o f the
present study. B y w hat other nam e can this language, highly
expressive by nature, but enriched and transform ed into a
vehicle o f enduring ideas by the genius o f a great people, be
better called?

THE ARABIAN PHILISTINES


K. A. Kitchen, an em inent Biblical scholar writes: A m ong the
peoples o f the O ld T estam ent the Philistines are at once am ong
the m ost familiar and the m ost elusive.1 T heir elusiveness is
hardly surprising, for scholars have persisted in searching for
their Biblical hom eland in the w rong place. Because the Phili
stines are referred to in som e Biblical passages as C herethites
(krty, genitive o f krt), it has long been taken as an article o f faith
that they were originally a m ysterious Sea People from the
M editerranean island o f C rete w ho came to occupy southw est
Palestine. H o w Palestine came to be called Palestine after it
was settled by West Arabian Philistines is a question that has
already been touched upon (see Chapter i). W hat w e can say
for sure is that the Philistines spoken o f in the H ebrew Bible
did n o t live there, and they did not come from Crete. The
Biblical krt (i Samuel 30:14; Zephaniah 2:4-5; Ezekiel 25:15-16)
m ust have been Wadi K arith (krt), a tributary o f Wadi Tayyah
in the heights o f Rijal A lm a. There are also three places in Asir
called K arath (krt): one in Wadi Bishah, w here there is also a
village called Falsah (plst, cf. H ebrew plst, o f w hich the mascu
line plural o r the plural o f the genitive w ould be plstym, Phili
stines); one near G hum ayqah, in the Lith region; and one in
W adi A dam , again in the Lith region, w here there is also a
village called Fasilah (pslt, metathesis o f plst, w ith the s trans
form ed in the local pronunciation into a s rather than the
standard 5).
R ather than take tedious issue w ith traditional Biblical
scholarship over the question o f the Philistines, I find it
simpler to say w ho they actually were. The famed Tables o f

15 8

T HE BIBLE C A ME F R OM ARABI A

N atio n s in Genesis 10 classify them among the descendants o f


H am , son o f N oah. These Tables o f N ations are actually lists
o f ancient W est Arabian tribes and communities, as will shortly
be seen. Genesis is, in fact, no m ore than a narrative o f ancient
W est Arabian legend. The com m only held notion that it at
tem pts to explain the origins o f a wider w orld (that o f the
w hole o f the ancient N ear East) is hardly valid, and should be
discarded. Table 2, based on Genesis 10:6, 13-14, shows how
the Biblical Philistines were reportedly descended from H am .
1 Ham

(hm)

6 Ludim
(Iwdym)

2 Cush
(k w s )

3 E g y p t
(msrym)

7 A n am im
('nmym)

8 Lehabim
(Ih b y m )

(PM)

5 Canaan
Ckn'n)

9 N aphtuhim

10 Pathrusim

11 Casluhim

12 C a p h t o r i m

(1n p th y m )

(p lr s y m )

(k s l h y m )

(kptrym)

4 Pu t

Table 2 T he Philistines in the


Tables o f N ations

13 Philistines
(plstym)

C onsidering that the Biblical Philistines were the neighbours


o f the Israelites, and that the Israelites have already been show n
to have been W est Arabians, the names in the above table m ay
be identified in term s o f West Arabian geography as follows:
1 Ham (hm): probably Hamm (hm), in the Qunfudhah region;
possibly Hamm, in the Bahr district further south.
2 Cush (kws): Kuthah (kwt), in the Khamis Mushait vicinity
(see Chapter 4).2
3 Egypt (msrym): here probably Madrum (mdrm), in the
Ghamid highlands. Other possibilities are Misramah, near Abha, and
Masr, in Wadi Bishah (see Chapter 10); Al Masri (msry, the one of
msr), in the Taif region (a good possibility); or Madlr (mdr), in the
Muhayil district. It is also possible that there is a connection between

T HE A RABI AN PHI LISTINES

159

the Biblical msrym, as the masculine plural of msr or msry, and the
attested Arabian tribal name Mudar (mdr).
4 Put (pwt): Fatiyah (pty), in the Qunfudhah region; or Fawayit (Arabic plural of Fut, or pwt), in Rijal Alma1.
5 Canaan (krin): Al Kunan ('/ kn'n, the god of Canaan), in
Wadi Bishah. The Canaanite peoples, as enumerated in Genesis
10:15-16, all have names which are genitives of place-names in
different parts of Asir, which will not be identified here; the cities of
the Canaanites, listed in Genesis 19 to fix the boundaries of the
Canaanite territory, also survive by name there, where a local tribe
has the name al-Qinan (qn'n). The cryptic statement in Genesis 10:18
that Afterward the families of the Canaanites spread abroad may
explain why the names of two of the West Arabian Canaanite cities
(Sidon and Gaza, not to mention others not listed here such as Sur,
or Tyre) are also to be found as the names of ancient coastal cities
in Syria. When Herodotus (1:1), writing in the fifth century B.C .,
stated that the Phoenicians (the people of coastal Syria, who spoke a
language consonantally almost identical with Biblical Hebrew) had
formerly dwelt on the shores of the Red Sea, having migrated to the
Mediterranean and settled in the parts where they still inhabit,
he was unknowingly agreeing with the statement made about the
spreading abroad of the Canaanites in Genesis 10:18. Whatever the
origin o f the name Phoenicia, which is a transliteration from ancient
Greek usage, it certainly survives in West Arabia as the name of the
village of Fanlqa (pnq), in Wadi Bishah, where the village of Al
Kunan also stands. The question of the Biblical Canaan has already
been touched upon in Chapters 1 and 4.
6 Ludim (Iwdym): Ludhan (Idn) in Rijal Alma; Lawdhan
(Iwdn), in the inland region of al-QasIm; Lidan (or Liddan, dual of
Id), in the Taif region. There is also a Lidd (Id) in the Taif region,
and a Lidah (or Liddah, Id) in the Lith region, of either of which
Iwdym could be the plural of the genitive.
7 Anamim ('nmym, plural of the genitive of 'nm): Ghanamln
(Arabic plural of gnm), the name of two villages in the Taif region,
where there are also two villages called Ghunam (gnm), and one called
Ghanamah (gnm). Two other villages called Ghanamah are also to be
found in Rijal Alma.
8 Lehabim (Ihbym): Lahban (Ihbn, from Ihb, with archaic defi
nite article), in the Taif region. There is also a village called Abi
Lahab (b Ihb, the father or god of Ihb) in the Jizan region. The
Banu Luhabah (Ihb) are a tribe of the Buqum desert, east of Taif.
9 Naphtuhim (npthyrn, dual or plural of npth): Mafatlh (mpth,
vocalised as the Arabic plural of the same word), in the Taif region.
There is also a village called Miftah (mpth in the singular) in the Lith

i 6o

T HE BIBLE C A M E F R OM ARABI A

region. As a West Arabian tribal name, Naphtuhim appears to


survive differently as that of the tribe of the Fatahin (pthn), in the
Taif region.
10 Pathrusim (ptrsym, plural of the genitive of ptrs): Sharfat
(srpt), full name Hajib Bani al-Sharfat (a tribal name), in the Birk
region. There is also a tribe, the Farsat (prst), found today in the
northern Hijaz. As in the Hebrew plural ptrsym, both Sharfat and
Farsat are in the Arabic plural form.
11 Casluhim (kslhym, plural of the genitive of kslh): following
the pattern o f corruption by which the Biblical gl'd (Giiead) yielded
l-g d (al-Jad, see Chapter i), by externalising an internal I to become
an Arabic definite article, kslh would be today al-Husakah ('l-hsk), in
the Medina region; Wadi al-Husakl (l-hsk), in North Arabia; or
al-Qash (l-qsh) in Wadi Adam. A tribe of the Taif region are called
today al-Huskan (l-hskn, with the final n as the Arabic plural suffix).
12 Caphtorim (kptrym, plural of kptr or kptry): apparently
al-Faqarat (Arabic plural of pqrt, metathesis of kptr), in Wadi Bishah;
or al-Rafaqat (Arabic plural of rpqt), in the Jizan region. Both placenames have the structure of tribal names.
13 Philistines (reportedly descended from the Casluhim, and
hence possibly originating in the Wadi Adam region, from which
they spread to other regions; Hebrew plstym, dual or plural o f plst or
the genitive o f it, plsty): Falsah (plst), in Wadi Bishah; Shalfa (sip,
probably an original slpt pronounced as slph), near Abha; Faslah (pslt),
in the Qunfudhah region; and four villages called FasTlah (pslt), two
in the Zahran highlands, one in Wadi Adam, of the Lith region, and
one in Bani Shahr, southeast of Qunfudhah.
In the light o f this evidence, it w ould seem that the Biblical
Philistines w ere one am ong a n u m ber o f W est Arabian peoples
w ith w h o m the Israelites lived, n o t only along the Red Sea but
perhaps also in the inland region o f Wadi Bishah. T hat they
spoke the same language as the H ebrew s or Israelites is clear
from the personal names o f their chiefs or kings, as reported
in som e Biblical texts, such as Abim elech (b mlk, from mlk,
ow n, possess, or kin g ); A huzzath (hzt: possibly the plural
o f hzh, Arabic hdh, property, holding); and Phicol (pykl,
Genesis 26:26; cf. Arabic Afkal, or p kl, trem bling, attested as
an old Arabian personal and tribal nam e).3 T he Philistines
certainly differed from the Israelites in religion, and also in
customs; the H ebrew Bible refers to them in a special way as
the uncircum cised (Judges 14:3, 15:18; 1 Samuel 14:6, 17:26,

T H E A R A B I A N P HI L I S T I N E S

161

36, 31:4; 2 Samuel 1:20; 1 Chronicles 10:4). T hey w orshipped


various gods o f the land, but their special god was D a g o n
(1dgwn, fro m dgn, corn, grain), w h o had shrines at Gaza
(Judges 16:21-23) and A shdod (1 Samuel 5:if). Gaza and
A sh d o d w ere tw o o f the five principal cities o f the Philistines
in coastal Asir, and the names o f the shrines o f D a g o n still
survive in their vicinity, as show n in the follow ing identifica
tions o f the five cities:
1 Gaza (zh): Azzah (zh), in Wadi Adam (Lith region). In the
same vicinity stands the village of Daghma (Aramaicised form o f dgm,
with the suffixed Aramaic definite article; cf. Biblical dgn or dgwn)-, also
five other villages called Duqum (dqm), one of them in Wadi Adam.
Other Gazas in coastal Asir are Azzah, in the Majaridah district; Al
Azzah ( 7 zh, god of Gaza, no doubt Dagon), in the Ballasmar
district; and Azz (z, without the feminine suffix), near Birk.
2 Ashdod (sdwd): Sudud (sdwd), in Rijal Alma, where the
hilltop village of Dharwat Al Daghmah (the peak o f the god dgm',
or Dagon) is also found. Other Ashdods in West Arabia are Sidad
(sdd) in the Jizan region, and Shadld (sdd) in the Mecca region. There
is a village called Daghumah (dgm) near a Sidad in the Taif region.
3 Ashkelon ('sqlwn): either Shaqlah (sql), in the Qunfudhah
vicinity, or Thaqalah (tql) in the same vicinity; possibly both. The
tqln (vocalised taqalan) of Koran 55:31 may be a reference to these
two places in an otherwise obscure context. The Palestinian Ascalon,
Asqalan (sqln), could be the same name, except that it starts with
the voiced pharyngeal fricative ayn rather than with the glottal stop
o f sqlwn.
4 Gath (gt): al-Ghat in the Jizan region (see Chapter 10).
Among other West Arabian Gaths, there is al-Ghati (gt), in the Zahran
region, w here a village called Al D ughm an also' exists ( 7 dgmn,
the god Dagon, here the dgm carrying the archaic Semitic definite
article).
5 Ekron (qrwn): Irqayn (rqyn), in Wadi Itwad, between
Rijal Alma and the Jizan region; unless it is Jaran (grn, metathesis
o f qrwn), in Rijal Alma.
W herever else they m ay have been found in West Arabia,
the Biblical Philistines certainly had their m ain cities on the
m aritim e side o f Asir, apparently being concentrated in the
hinterland o f the harbours o f Lith, Q unfudhah, Birk and Jizan.
H ere their territory dovetailed into that o f the Israelites and
other local peoples. T here is nothing whatsoever in the H ebrew

T H E BIBLE C A M E F R O M ARABI A

Bible to indicate that they were originally alien settlers in the


country, arriving as a Sea People from abroad.
T o show h o w closely the Biblical Philistines and Israelites o f
coastal Asir lived side by side, w ithin the same regions and
districts, here is a topographical analysis o f the story o f Samson,
w hich unfolds alm ost entirely in the hinterland o f Lith, in the
southern Hijaz (read the full story as it is told in Judges 13-17):
Sam son was born in the coastal hills o f the Zahran region,
in the village o f al-Z arah (z r h, cf. Biblical srh, or Z o ra h ).
His family belonged to the tribe o f D an (dn), w hich carried the
nam e o f w hat is today Danadinah (Arabic plural o f the genitive
o f dn, D anite), in the same region. The Spirit o f Y ahw eh
began to stir him in al-M ahna (mhn), near Danadinah (Biblical
mhnh dn, the M ahaneh o f D a n rather than M ahaneh-dan),
betw een Z a rah and al-Ishta (l-st, inversion o f the original stl
or st I, E shtaol, m eaning w om an, wife o f g o d ). H e sought
a wife am ong the Philistines o f T im n a h (tmnh), apparently
present-day al-M athanah (mtnh), again in the same Zahran
region. His first attack against the Philistines was directed
against Shaqlah or Thaqalah, near Q unfudhah (A shkelon, see
above). H e then w ent northw ards to stay at G hutm ah (gtm,
Biblical ytm, or E ta m ), in W adi Adam.
T h e Philistines, in retaliation, raided Lehi (Ihy) in the land
o f J u d a h , which is present-day Lakhyah (Ihy), also in Wadi
A dam . N earby, to this day, stand the villages o f D ha al-Ramah
(rmh) and D ha al-H am lrah (hmyr). Samson reportedly slew
a thousand o f the attacking Philistines b-lhy h-hmwr which,
interestingly, means both w ith the jaw b o n e o f an ass and in
the Lakhyah o f H am lrah (i.e. the Lakhyah o f the vicinity o f
Ham lrah). T he story obviously aimed at explaining the origin
o f the tw o place-names. T he location w here the battle took
place, according to the story, was subsequently called Ram athlehi (rmt Ihy), m eaning both hill o fth e ja w b o n e and the Ram ah
o f Lakhyah. T he spring from w hich Samson refreshed him self
there, called E n-hakkore (yn h-qwr), is the site o f w hat is
today the village o f al-Qara (qr, w ith the Arabic definite article),
also in W adi A dam .
T he Philistine w om an Delilah, w h o m Sam son took as a

THE ARABIAN PHILISTINES

i
;

:
I

163

mistress, and w h o finally m anaged to lure him to his destruc


tion, cam e from the valley o f Sorek (nhl swrq) - today m ost
probably Shuruj (srwg), in W adi Adam; unless it is Shariqah
(srq) o r Shark (srk), in the Q unfudhah region. Sam son, o f
course, m et his end in Gaza ( z h ) - the Azzah o f W adi A dam
(see above). H e was buried betw een Z ar'ah (Zorah) and al-Ishta
(Eshtaol), in the Z ahran region.
A t this point, one can afford the entertainm ent o f tackling
Sam sons fam ous riddles. Those, I believe, w ere no m ore than
stories or conundrum s set to explain the origin o f place-names,
and to preserve the folk m em ory o f tribal connections betw een
one co m m u n ity and another. As has already been seen, the
story o f Sam sons j aw b o n e o f an ass was contrived to explain
tw o place-nam es, those o f present-day Lakhyah and Ham lrah.
T he story o f h o w he took honey from the carcass o f the lion
(;m-gwyt h-ryh rdh h-dbs, Judges 14:9) suggests, at one level,
etym ologies for the nam es o f three places, those being Ja w w
(g w , cf. gwyt, inside o f , here inside o f a carcass) and W aryah
(wryh, cf. 'ryh, lion), in W adi Adam ; and Dabash (dbs), near
Hali, in the Q unfudhah region. A t another level, the story hints
that Dabash, in the Q unfudhah region, was originally a colony
founded by em igrants from Jaw w , near W aryah, perhaps under
the sponsorship o f Samson. W ord by w ord, the H ebrew sen
tence translates in tw o ways: first, from the inside o f the lion
he took (or scraped) the ho n ey ; second, from the Ja w w o f
W aryah he took D abash.
Sam sons riddle concerning the honey he took from the
inside o f the lion treats o f another set o f tw o m other com
m unities and their respective colonies: O u t o f the eater (m-h-kl)
came som ething to eat (m kl); out o f the strong (m -z ) came
som ething sw eet (mtwq) (Judges 14:14). T he riddle can also be
read as a conundrum to mean: O u t o f al-Kulah (kl, in the
Q unfu d h ah region) came M akllah (mkl, in the Bahr district);
ou t o f Azz (z , the Gaza near Birk, see above) came M athqah
(;mtq, in the Q unfudhah region). By conundrum s such as these
the folk culture o f the N ear East continues to rem em ber events
and developm ents o f the past. There is a com parable pheno
m enon in E uropean culture as one m ay see from the com m ents

164

THE BIBLE CAME FROM ARABIA

on a n u m b er o f entries o f The Oxford Dictionary of Nursery


Rhymes.
W hen the Philistines to w h o m Sam son posed his riddle w ere
able to provide the answer, because his betrothed Philistine
wife had secretly given it to them , he responded w ith the
follow ing conundrum : If you have not ploughed w ith m y
heifer ('glh, here glty, in the first person possessive), you w ould
not have found out m y riddle (hydh, here hydty, again in the
first person possessive) (Judges 14:18). Samson, according to
the story, had surm ised that the Philistines had ploughed on
his betrothed wife to get the correct answer to his riddle. The
alternative sense o f the conundrum , how ever, m ay be freely
rendered in the follow ing w ords: If you do n o t come from
Ajlat (g it, in Bani Shahr), you cannot k now H aydah (hydh,
also in Bani Shahr). W hat is involved here is obviously a
proverb, m eaning that you have to come from a place yourself
to have intim ate know ledge o f its surroundings. A t the figura
tive level, the proverb also says that one cannot really know
anything w ith o u t being familiar w ith other things to w hich it
relates - w hich m ight alm ost serve as an epigraph to the present
study.
T o consider and reinterpret all the Biblical references to the
Philistines is beyond m y lim ited scope. In 1 Samuel 6:18,
how ever, there is a statem ent on the extent o f the territory
w here the Philistines w ere found w hich m erits som e com m ent.
In H ebrew , it reads as follows: kl ry plstym . . . m-yr mbsr w -d
kpr h-przy. In the RSV, this is translated as all the cities o f the
Philistines . . . both fortified cities (m-yr mbsr) and walled
villages (w -d kpr h-przy)'. A m ore inaccurate translation can
hardly be im agined. Actually, m -yr mbsr sim ply means from
the city o f mbsr, the city in question being the present village
o f M idbar (mdbr), in the H u rrath hill country at the southern
end o f the Jizan region. As for d kpr h-przy, it can only mean
to the village o f the p r z y , the p rz in question being today the
ham let o f al-Firdah [prd), in W adi A dam (the H ebrew p rzy is
the genitive o f p rz, and refers to the inhabitants o f the place).
Hence, according to this geographic definition o f the Philistine
land, their territory extended all the w ay from the southernm ost

THE ARABIAN PHILISTINES

165

ex trem ity o f the Jizan region to W adi Adam . In short, there


was no set geographic boundary betw een Israelite and Philistine
territories in the area in question, w hich w ould seem to th ro w
considerable light n o t only on the story o f Sam son, but also on
o ther Biblical passages w here the Philistines appear.

THE PROMISED LAND


Som etim es, disinterested scholarly research yields results which
m ay have repercussions that extend far beyond the boundaries
o f o n es academic discipline, especially if they appear to chal
lenge tim e-honoured historical assum ptions that are central to
cherished religious beliefs. T o suggest that the prom ised land
is n o t w here it is generally believed to be, is unlikely to be taken
seriously by those for w h o m the creation o f the state o f Israel
in 1948 was the fulfilm ent o f a centuries-old dream. Yet, having
em barked on m y onom astic analysis o f the H ebrew Bible, such
is the conclusion that m y research has led m e to believe.
A historian, o f course, can argue for a historiographical, as
against a religious, explanation o f the Biblical prom ise of
specified territory to the H ebrew descendants o f A bram (Gene
sis 15), and the Israelite followers o f M oses (N um bers 34).
W hen the stories o f the tw o prom ises, as recorded later in the
Bible, w ere originally told, the Israelites already inhabited their
prom ised land, so that the stories o f the tw o promises w ere ex
post facto explanation. W hat is im portant for us here, however,
are the prom ises as historical geography, not as history or
religion.
In the conventional translations, the land prom ised by
Y ahw eh to A bram the H ebrew (Genesis 15:18) is said to extend
from the river o f E gypt (nhr msrym) to the great river, the river
Euphrates (nhr prt). C ontrary to received opinion, I w ould
suggest that the land indicated in the H ebrew original o f the
prom ise actually com prised the historical land o fju d a h (Chapter
8), in geographic Asir, from the Jizan region in the south to
W adi A dam , in the hinterland o f Lith, to the north. T he river

i68

THE BIBLE CAME FROM ARABIA

o f E g y p t (nhr msrym) in this prom ise is certainly n o t the Nile,


b u t the stream o f W adi Itw ad w hich springs near the present
village o f M isram ah, in the Asir highlands, and form s the
present border betw een the Jizan region and Rijal Alma*. It
could also be W adi Liyah, w hich separates the Jizan region from
the Y em en, and w here a village called M asram (msrm) is still to
be found. In W adi A dam , w hich form s part o f the m ain valley
o f the Lith region, there is a village called Firt (jprt) and another
called Farat (alsoprt), w hich leads m e to suggest that Y ahw ehs
prom ise to A bram should be read as follows: T o your descen
dants I will give this land, from the stream o f M isram ah (or
M asram , nhr msrym) to the great stream (h-nhr h-gdwl), the
stream Firt (or Farat, nhrprt), this being the W adi A dam , not
the River E uphrates.
T he land prom ised to A bram and his H e b re w descendants
was, o f course, inhabited. Y ahw ehs prom ise listed the inhabi
tants - ten peoples in all (Genesis 15:19-21), five am ong w h o m
w ere C anaanite folk, according to Genesis 10:15-18 (see C hap
ter 14). T h e names o f all these peoples survive as place-names
in various parts o f Asir, and m ostly in Ju d a h . H ere they are:
1 The Kenites (qyny, genitive of qyn): as a tribal name, qyny
survives as the name o f the present Qawayinah (singular QawnI, or
qwny, from qwn), south of Taif. Related place-names are QanI (qn),
in the Jizan region; Qann (qn), in the Ballasmar district; Qana (qn),
altogether four villages, one in the Bahr district, one in the Dhahran
highlands, one in the Qunfudhah region, near Hali, and one in Wadi
Adam; Qanan (qnn), in the Majaridah district; Qanwah (qnw), in Rijal
Alma; Qannah (qn), altogether five villages, one in the Muhayil
district, one near Khamis Mushait, one in the Jizan region, and two
in Wadi Adam; Al Qanmah ( 7 qnyn), in the Abidah highlands;
Qanyah (qny), in Wadi Adam.
2 The Kenizzites (qnzy, genitive of qnz): Qanazlz (Arabic
plural o f qnzyz or qnz), in the Jizan region. An Arabian tribe is still
found today called al-Qunaysat (singular Qunaysl, or qnysy, from
qnys).
3 The Kadmonites (qdmny, genitive of qdmn): Damjan (dmgn,
metathesis of qdmwn), in the Taif region. Less likely, but also plaus
ible, is Qadamah (qdm), in the Lith region, and Kawadimah (kwdm),
in the Jizan region. An Arabian tribe of the northern Hijaz is today the
Qidman (qdmn).
4 The Hittites (hty, genitive ofht\ listed as Canaanites in Genesis

THE PROMISED LAND

10): Hathah (ht), in the Lith region; Hat (ht), in the Ballasmar district;
Hatwah (htw), in Rijal Alma1; Hittayy (hty), in the Zahran coastlands;
Al Hatahlt ( 7 hthyt, god o f the ht folk), in Wadi Adam. Hatahit
(Arabic plural of hty), moreover, is attested in the Arabic literature
as an Arabian tribal name.
5 The Perizzites {przy, genitive o f prz): Al Farzan ( 7 przn, prz
with the Semitic archaic definite article), in Bani Shahr; Furdah (prd,
cf. prz), the name of four villages, one in the Jizan region, two in
Wadi Adam, and one in the Majaridah region. Perhaps also the names
o f the present tribes o f the Safarin (singular Safari, or spry), in
southern Asir; the Zawafirah (singular ZafTri, or zpry), in the southern
Hijaz; and the Farasat (singular Farsi, or prsy), in the northern Hijaz.
6 The Rephaim (rpym, dual or plural of rp or its genitive
rpy): Rafah (rp), in thejizan region, and Rafyah (rpy), in Rijal Alma*.
The Arabic literature speaks of a Yarfa (yrp\ archaic substantive of
rp) tribe in southwest Arabia.
7 The Amorites (mry, genitive of W ; listed as Canaanites in
Genesis io): Amarah (W ), in the Zahran coastlands; Wamrah (wmr),
in Wadi Adam; also probably Maru (mrw, with the final w as the
suffixed Aramaic definite article), altogether three villages, two in
Wadi Adam and one in the Bahr district. As a tribal name, mry may
be still there as the name of the ubiquitous Banu Murrah (tnr), or that
of the Maru (mrw) of the southern Hijaz.
8 The Canaanites (knny, genitive o fk n n): Al Kunan ( 7 kn'n),
in Wadi Bishah; also the name of the tribe of al-Qinan (qnn), in Asir
(see Chapter 14). For more details see Chapters 1 and 4.
9 The Girgashites (grgsy, genitive of grgs, hyperbolic or
diminutive of grs\ listed as Canaanites in Genesis 10): Juraysh (grys,
diminutive of grs) and Quraysh (qrys, diminutive of qrs), in the
Qunfudhah region; also Quraysh, two villages in the Taif region;
Qaryat Quraysh, in the Qunfudhah region; Dar Bam Quraysh, in
Wadi Adam; Quraysh al-Hasan, in the Zahran highlands. The histori
cal West Arabian tribal name Quraysh can hardly be other than the
same name.
10
The Jebusites (ybw'sy, genitive of ybws\ listed as Canaanites
in Genesis 10): Yabasah (ybs), in Wadi Adam; Yabs (ybs), on the
maritime slopes of the Ghamid region; and Yabs, near Mudhaylif,
north o f Qunfudhah (see Chapter 9). Yubbas (ybs) and Yabis (ybs)
still exist as names of tribes in West Arabia today.
A ssum ing m y identification o f the ten tribes is correct, Bibli
cal research into their history has been com pletely off-course.1
It is hardly surprising, therefore, that so little palaeographic
and archaeological evidence has been cited to substantiate their

170

THE BIBLE CAME FROM ARABIA

provenance, because w hatever investigation has been done in


this regard has been undertaken w ith the w rong place in m ind
- Palestine and historical Syria, rather than W est Arabia.
A ccording to Genesis, it was the hom elands o f these ancient
W est A rabian tribes that w ere prom ised by Y ahw eh to A bram
and his descendants. These same hom elands were also included
in the territory prom ised by Y ahw eh to M oses (N um bers
34:1-12), w hich was, in fact, not smaller than that prom ised to
A bram , as has so far been thought, but actually m ore vast. It
com prised the land o f Canaan in its full extent (34:2) to include
inland as well as coastal Asir, along w ith the T a if region o f the
Hijaz, from the Red Sea coast to the fringes o f the Central
A rabian desert.
In attem pting to m ake a geographic interpretation o f the
boundaries o f this prom ised land in term s o f Palestine, Biblical
scholars have invariably com e up against difficulties, which
again is hardly surprising considering the territory does not
belong there. Reading the H ebrew text o f the prom ise, as
traditionally interpreted and hence vocalised, the Biblical ym
has always been taken to m ean sea, though the same ym is also
attested in the sense o f w est. Scholars have also taken ym h-mlh
to m ean the sea o f salt, or the salt sea, in reference to the
Palestinian D ead Sea. W hile mlh in H ebrew and Arabic does
m ean salt, it also means sand in the present Arabic dialect o f
inland Asir. Hence, while the Biblical h-ym h-gdwl certainly
means the Great Sea (with respect to W est Arabia, not the
M editerranean b u t the Red Sea), ym h-mlh in the context o f the
prom ise under discussion, does not m ean sea o f salt, but
w est o f the sand. T he reference, as will be seen, is to Bilad
Y am (ym), literally the country o f the w est, w hich actually
flanks the sands (mlh) o f the Arabian E m pty Q uarter from the
w est (ym). Likewise, ym knrt means w est o f Q u ray n at (a
place, see below ), and n o t the Sea o f C hinnereth, believed on no grounds w hatsoever - to be the Biblical nam e for the
Palestinian Lake Tiberias. It follows that the construction ktp ym
knrt does n o t m ean the shoulder (ktp) o f the Sea o f C hinnereth
(RS V ), b u t the Q a tf w est o f Q u ra y n a t, Q a tf (qtp) being actually
a place in W est Arabia lying w est o f Q uraynat (see below).

THE PROMISED LAND

171

In interpreting the Prom ised Land o f M oses, Biblical scholars


have been confused n o t only about the m eaning o f the H ebrew
y m , b u t also about h -yrd n , w hich they assum ed was none other
than the Palestinian J o rd a n . T hey w ere further confused by
the nam e o f a place called qds b rn (or Kadesh-B arnea), falsely
identified since 1847 as the oasis o f A yn Q udays, in southern
Palestine (see C hapter 4). This identification has been m ade on
no grounds other than that the Arabic Q udays, or qdys, is the
dim inutive o f Q uds, or qds, which is the equivalent o f the
H ebrew qds. Actually, qds b rn , parsed to read qds b -rn (the b
here being apparently a contraction o f b, father, i.e. g o d ),
sim ply means the holy place, sanctuary, or shrine o f the
g o d r n \ w hose nam e survives m etathetically in tw o East
Arabian place-nam es as A bu Arinah {b rn ), and in the Asir
highlands south o f Khamis M ushait as Al Arinah ( I rn).
K adesh-B arnea m ust have been an ancient holy city, w hich
survives today as the village o f Al Arinah, as w e shall see.
Incidentally, the nam e o f the same ancient W est Arabian god
rn ' survives by another metathesis, as r n, in Lihyanite and
D edanite inscriptions o f the northern Hijaz.
H ere are the boundaries o f the land prom ised to the Israelite
followers o f M oses, as described in N um bers 34 and related to
W est A rabian geography:
1 The western boundary is the Great Sea (h-ym h-gdwl, 34:6),
i.e. the Red Sea (see above).
2 The southern boundary begins from the desert of Zin, or z n
(Biblical sn, Zin), an oasis of the Najran region which is correctly
described as being on the side ( 7 ydy) of Wadi Idimah, or dm
(Biblical dw m , Edom ), actually to the south; more precisely, from
Quziyyah (q z y h ), west of the sand to the east (m-qsh ym h-mlh qdmh),
Quziyyah (Biblical qsh) being an oasis of Bilad Yam, downstream
from Zin in Wadi Najran, and right on the western border of the
sands o f the Empty Quarter. From there the boundary extends
westwards south o f the ascent of Akrabbim ('qrbym ), today a village
o f Sarat AbTdah, uphill from Wadi Najran, called al-Jarabi (Arabic
plural o fg r b , metathesis of Biblical qrb, of which the Hebrew plural
would be qrbym ).2 Further to the west, the boundary passes through
another Zin (Biblical sn) in the Dhahran region, which is actually
south of Al Arinah (or Kadesh-Barnea, see above), exactly as the
text has it. It then proceeds through what the Biblical Hebrew

172

THE BIBLE CAME FROM ARABIA

describes as hsr dr (Hazzar-addar), which probably denotes the land


of settlement (hsr) of a tribe called dr, whose name is still carried by
the tribe of Adhar (dr), in Sarat Abidah and the vicinity of Dhahran
al-Janub. Next the boundary passes through Al Asman (/ smn, cf.
Hebrew zmn or zmwn, Azmon), in the Dhahran region, to reach
Wadi Itwad (nhl msrym, meaning the palms of Misramah or the
headwaters of Misramah, see above, not the Brook of Egypt as
traditionally rendered; for the confusion of this Misramah with
Egypt, see above). From that point, the boundary follows the course
of Wadi Itwad (or perhaps again Wadi Liyah, see above) all the way
to the sea (34:3-5)3 The northern boundary begins at the coast o f the Red Sea
and proceeds uphill, passing through Mount H or (hr h-hr), already
identified as the ridge (hr) o f al-Harrah (hr with the Arabic definite
article), at the northern extremity of the Zahran highlands (see
Chapter 7, note 5). From there the boundary turns directly north to
reach the Taif region at Dhawl Himat (hmt) or Himatah (hmt, cf.
Biblical hmt, Hamath), and Sidad (sdd, cf. Biblical sdd, Zedad).
From here it continues through zprn (Ziphron, possibly present
Safra, or spr without the archaic suffixed definite article w),3 to end
in the basaltic wilderness o f Harrat al-Buqum, at the oasis or
settlement (Hebrew hsr) of Aynln (ynn, cf. Biblical hsr ynn, the
hsr or settlement of ynn, conventionally rendered as Hazar-enan,
3 4 :7 - 9 )4 The eastern boundary, beginning from Aymn (see above),
proceeds southwards, apparently to al-Thafan (tpn, cf. Biblical spm,
Shepam), in Wadi Tathlith (full name Hadayir al-Thafan, or the
settlements of al-Thafan). It then continues southwards passing
through Riblah (rblh), east o f Ain (yn), which is perhaps presentday al-Rabiyah ('l-rbyh),4 in the Yam extremity of Wadi Habuna,
northeast of the oasis o f Ayn, in the Najran region. From this point
the boundary passes through Q atf (qtp), west o f Quraynat (qrynt)
(ktp ym knrt, see above), Quraynat being an oasis of Wadi al-Dawasir,
and Q atf lying to the southwest o f this Quraynat in Bilad Yam. From
there it crosses the ridge (h-yrdn), no doubt what Philby called the
great granite boss ofjabal Abu Hamdan in the Najran region, to
end west o f the sand (ym h-mlh) of the Empty Quarter (34:10-12).
Projecting the boundaries o f the Prom ised Land o f M oses,
as interpreted here, on a m ap o f W est Arabia, one is left w ith
hardly a question to ask. T he picture is com plete alm ost to the
last detail.

A VISIT TO EDEN
B y the standards to w hich W esterners are accustomed, Junaynah, in W adi Bishah, is not m uch o f a garden; as an oasis on
the fringes o f the desert, how ever, the place does have a certain
charm . It is the low est o f the Bishah villages, w ro te H. St J.
B. Philby w h o visited Junaynah in the early 1930s; it is an oasis
in the desert, w ith no palm s beyond it. As described by
Philby, the oasis com prised a graceful arc o f palm groves,
w ith patches o f ripening w heat and barley at its eastern end,
thick plantations o f tam arisk, and a generous g ro w th o f
shrubs around som e abandoned ruins, w ith a small village
nearby - altogether an ideal oasis picture, particularly by
m oonlight (Arabian Highlands, Ithaca, N Y , 1952, pp. 29-31).
As the m ost outlying o f the Bishah villages, Junaynah, despite
its insignificance, features on m ost maps o f peninsular Arabia
(2020'N by 4055'E). Philby visited the place and described
it w ith o u t know ing that it was the Garden o f Eden. H o w
could he, w ith tradition throw ing its full w eight behind
the location o f this garden som ew here in M esopotam ia, far
away?
B y now , I hope the reader is willing to accept the idea that
the H eb rew Bible was w ritten by Israelite authors living in the
hill country o f Judah, in coastal Asir. In Genesis 2:8-14, one o f
these authors, w hose nam e w e shall never know , described
the setting o f the Garden o f Eden as follows:
A nd the Lord (or G od Yahweh) planted a garden (gn) in
Eden, in the east, and there he put the m an w h o m he had
form ed. A nd out o f the ground the Lord G od m ade to grow

174

THE BIBLE CAME FROM ARABIA

every tree that is pleasant to the sight and good for food, the
tree o f life (hyym) also in the m idst o f the garden, and the
tree o f the know ledge (dh) o f good and evil. A river (nhr,
stream , river) flowed o u t o f Eden to w ater the garden, and
there it divided and becam e four rivers (rsym, plural o f
rs, head, headstream ). T he nam e o f the first is Pishon
(pyswn); it is the one w hich flows around the w hole land
o f H avilah (hwylh), w here there is gold; and the gold o f
that land is good; bdellium and onyx stone are there. The
nam e o f the second river is G ihon (gyhwn); it is the one
w hich flows around the w hole land o f C ush (kws). A nd
the nam e o f the third river is hdql (traditionally rendered
T ig ris), w hich flows east o f swr (traditionally rendered
A ssyria). A nd the fourth river is prt (traditionally rendered
E uphrates).
Later, while speaking o f A dam , the first m an, and his family,
the sam e author gives tw o additional pieces o f inform ation
about the location o f Eden and its garden. W hen A dam and his
wife Eve w ere expelled from paradise, Y ahw eh placed the
cherubim (krbym, dual or plural o f krb, literally priest) at the
east o f the garden, to guard the w ay to the tree o f life (3 :2 4 ).
W hen Cain, the first-born o f A dam and Eve, slew his brother
Abel and was punished by being banished from the sight o f
Y ahw eh, he w ent to dwell in the land o f N o d (nwd), east o f
E d en (4 : 16 ).
T he inform ation all this yields about the geographic location
o f Eden and its garden m ay be sum m arised as follows:
First, Eden was east o f the hom eland o f the author o f the
Biblical text in question, w hich was the land o f Judah, on the
coastal side o f Asir.
Second, Eden and its garden w ere located in a drainage system
com prising four recognised tributaries, w hich are identified by
name.
T hird, the garden (gn) o f Eden {dn) lay dow nstream from
Eden, being w atered by a stream w hich flow ed o u t (ys) o f
Eden.
Fourth, the garden was associated w ith tw o trees o f special

A VISIT TO EDEN

*75

significance, one being a tree o f life (hyym) and the other tree
o f kno w led g e (dh).
Fifth, tw o or m ore cherubs (krbym, plural krb, m eaning
priest) came to be stationed east o f the Garden o f Eden to
guard the w ay to the tree o f life.
Sixth, east o f the general vicinity o f Eden lay the land o f N o d
(;mvd ).

O n e m ay conclude from the above that the Garden o f Eden


was in a region o f well w atered oases located betw een the land
o f Judah, in coastal Asir, and an inland area called tiwd. T hat
this region was none other than the W adi Bishah basin seems
obvious in light o f the further identification o f the four rivers
o f Eden:
1 The Pishon (pyswn, essentially psn), flowing around the land
o f Havilah (hwylh) where there is gold. This is today Wadi Tabalah,
the westernmost of the Bishah tributaries. The wadi takes its present
name from one of the many oases along its course. Its Biblical name
survives as that of the village of Shufan (spn, metathesis ofthe Hebrew
pyswti), near its headwaters in the highlands o f Nimas. The author
o f the Eden story must have considered Wadi T abalah (or the Pishon)
as the main stream of the Wadi Bishah system, considering the way
he describes its course. Havilah, which the Pishon is said to
skirt, is present-day Hawalah (hwlh), in the highlands of the Ghamid
region, north of Nimas. The main course of Wadi Bishah actually
skirts the Ghamid region on the inland side after its junction
with its main tributaries. That this was a land of gold is correct;
gold was actually found there in antiquity, and is still sought there
today. This was probably the land of fossil gold . . . not in the
form of dust, but in lumps, noted by Strabo in his description
o f Arabia (see Chapter 3). East of the Ghamid region runs a small
tributary of Wadi Bishah, which in fact is called Wadi Dhahab,
the Valley of Gold (see again Chapter 3). Also found there is
carnelian (h-shm), generally mistranslated as onyx. Even today,
pilgrims returning from Mecca usually bring with them beads
made from this semi-precious stone. The bdellium (bdlh) referred
to is a prized gum produced by a local tree (Commiphora mukul),
peculiar to West Arabia, called today Meccan balsam. Despite the
resemblance in name, the Biblical Pishon is certainly not the
tributary of the main course of Wadi Bishah known today as Wadi
Shaffan (spn).
2 The Gihon (gyhwn, essentiallyghn), flowing around the land
o f Cush (kws). This is the main stream of Wadi Bishah, as it is called

THE BIBLE CAME FROM ARABIA

today, one o f its headstreams being still called W adijuhan (ghn). This
wadi is located between Khamis Mushait and Abha, where there is
also a village with the name Aljahun (also ghn). The present name
o f Wadi Bishah comes from the village of Bishah, near the junction
o f the main tributaries o f the wadi system. The Cush whose land
is skirted by the Gihon is today the village of Kuthah (kwt, see
Chapter 4), in the Khamis Mushait vicinity, which actually flanks
Wadi Juhan.
3 The hdql, traditionally taken to be the Mesopotamian Tigris.
Had the name o f this river been h-dql (today Arabicised as al-Dijlah,
or dglh preceded by the definite article), it could conceivably have
been the Tigris. In fact, however, the name o f the river, as given in
Genesis, is distinctly hdql, with an initial h rather than the h, which
makes a world - or at least several hundred kilometres - o f difference.
Today, the name hdql survives as that of the village of Al Jahdal
(ghdl), in the highlands o f Sarat Abidah, where the headwaters of
Wadi Tindahah are to be found. Sarat Abidah is located to the
southeast o f Khamis Mushait, and Wadi Tindahah joins the main
course o f Wadi Bishah north o f Khamis Mushait. In Biblical times,
Wadi Tindahah must have been called hdql after the name o f the
village where it springs. Just as the hdql is not the Tigris, but present
Wadi Tindahah, likewise the swr to the east o f which it flows is not
Assyria. Actually, Wadi Tindahah does flow directly east of an 'swr
which is today the village o f Bani Thawr (twr), also called Al Abu
Thawr. As we have had the opportunity to demonstrate several
times before, there is hardly a topographical error in the Hebrew
Bible.
4 The prt, traditionally taken to be the Euphrates, could only
have been what is today Wadi Kharif, which springs from the heights
o f the Tanumah region, north o f Abha, and is one o f the principal
tributaries o f the main course of Wadi Bishah. Its Biblical name, prt,
must have derived from the name o f a village at its headwaters called
today al-Tafra (tpr, a metathesis o f prt). In other Biblical texts, as
already observed, the prt is Wadi Adam (see Chapter 1, note 11),
which is not the case here.
A ccording to the Genesis story, the river (nhr) o f Eden
divided into four headstream s (rsym) in the neighbourhood o f
Eden and its garden. Actually, the Biblical rsym survives as the
nam e o f the oasis o f Raw shan (rwsn) located close to the point
w here W adi Tabalah (the Pishon) joins the main course o f
W adi B ishah.1 A short distance upstream from Raw shan, along
the course o f W adi Tabalah, is another oasis called Adanah
{dn), bearing to this day the nam e o f the Biblical Eden {dn).

A VISIT TO EDEN

177

T he oasis o fju n a y n a h (gnyn, dim inutive o f gn, cf. H ebrew gn,


garden) lies not far dow nstream from Rawshan, irrigated
by w aters w hich flow out o f Adanah. It m ay seem uncanny,
but there it is: the Garden o f Eden, no less, and surviving by
nam e (see m ap 8).
East o f the Wadi Bishah confluence, w hich is the general
vicinity o f the Biblical Eden, there is a land o f N o d - a country
o f hom elessness (H ebrew nwd), exactly as it is explained
in the standard dictionaries o f Biblical H ebrew (from the
verb nwd, be homeless, m ove to and fro, w ander aimlessly).
It is the stretch o f parched pastoral desert w hich separates
inland Asir from central Arabia. Beyond this land o f N od,
there is nothing but endless desolation - either gravel desert,
or the dead flat expanse o f the E m p ty Q u a rte r (Arabian
Highlands, p. 221).
Southeast o f W adi Bishah lies the oasis o f al-Q arban (qrbn,
w ith the definite article; cf. H ebrew h-krbym, the priests). This
could have been the cherubim stationed east o f the Garden
o f Eden after A dam and Eve w ere banished from it. In the
context o f this story, how ever, the w o rd h-krbym could actually
have m eant the priests (see below). As for the tree o f life
(hyym) and the tree o f know ledge (dh) in the Garden, they were
no do u b t sacred trees dedicated to tw o ancient local gods. T he
present village o f Al H iyah (I hy), in Wadi Bishah, still carries
the nam e o f a forgotten W est Arabian god o f life; so do the
villages o f Al HI (/ hy) and Al Ibn HI (also hy), in the Asir
highlands to the west; Al H ayat (hyt), in the D hahran region,
and H iyln {hyyn, cf. H ebrew hyym, in the plural form ), in the
Jizan region. Likewise, the present village o f Al D a'yah (/ dy,
cf. H ebrew dh), in the highlands west ofW adi Bishah, preserves
to this day the nam e o f a forgotten W est Arabian god o f
k now ledge.
Was the Biblical Garden o f Eden a sacred grove - a cult centre
for the w orship o f a god o f life and a god o f know ledge - before
it becam e Y ahw ehs ow n garden? T he available toponym ic
evidence certainly points in this direction. Analysed in this
fram e o f reference, the Biblical story o f this garden m ay yield
new m eanings which, like the investigation o f the Melchizedek

178

THE BIBLE CAME FROM ARABIA

question, could provide further insights into the origins o f


m onotheism in ancient W est Arabia. H ow ever, such an analysis
o f the story will not be m ade here.
W hat is notew orthy, how ever, is that the K oran does not
speak o f one Garden o f Eden, but o f the Gardens o f E den, in
the plural, and also o f the rivers (anhar), n o t the one river
(inahr), that flow beneath th em . A ltogether, there are eleven
K oranic references to these Gardens o f E den, and not one to
a single garden, leaving one to speculate how m any there
actually were. M ore significantly, there are tw o Koranic pass
ages w hich hint at a close connection betw een gardens and
traditional religious cults, w hich m ay be the explanation o f the
Biblical m ention o f the appointm ent o f cherubim , or priests,
as wardens o f the Garden o f Eden. According to one Koranic
text, M u ham m ad was told by m ost people that they were
no t willing to recognise his religious mission unless he could
dem onstrate that he had at his disposal a garden o f palm
trees and grapes w ith gushing rivers (17:89-91). A ccording to
another, people w ondered h o w M uham m ad could claim to be
a prophet w hen he ate ordinary food, and w alked about the
m arket places, and did n o t possess a special garden from which
he ate (25:7-8).
O f these sacred gardens o f ancient W est Arabia, o f w hich the
Biblical G arden o f Eden and its cherubim was the prototype,
w e have direct know ledge o f only one, w hich was still in
existence in the early decades o f the seventh century a .d . It
was the garden o f the high priest M aslamah o f Y am am ah,
an Arabian m onotheist, w h o was a contem porary, but not a
follower, o f M uham m ad. It was called H adlqat al-Rahman,
al-Rahm an (rhmn, the M erciful O n e ), being the nam e o f the
O ne G od in som e o f the pre-Islamic Arabian m onotheistic
cults. W hile M uham m ad lived, M aslamah was willing to come
to term s w ith him. A fter M u h am m ad s death, how ever, he fell
out w ith his successors, and the first caliph, A bu Bakr (a.d.
632-634) sent forces to subdue him. A ccording to the Arab
historians, the w ar cry o f M aslamah and his followers was: T he
Garden! T he Garden! It is reported, in fact, that M aslam ahs last
stand against the forces o f Islam was w ithin the walls o f his

A VISIT TO EDEN

I7 9

o w n garden, where he and ten thousand o f his followers fought


until they w ere killed.
A n interesting thought: could M aslamah, w ith his sacred
garden, have been the last o f the W est Arabian cherubim?

SONGS FROM THE JIZAN


MOUNTAINS
T he idealisation o f rural life, it seems, was as m uch in fashion
in the royal court o f the A rabian Jerusalem as it was in Versailles
under the later B ourbons. O n e should keep this in m ind w hen
considering the nature o f the Song o f Songs w hich is
Solom ons (syr h-syrym sr l-slmh), an anthology o f folk songs
speaking o f love am ong the shepherds and vineyard-keepers,
apparently com piled under one o f the later kings o f Judah,
tho ugh bearing Solom ons name. This anthology, preserved
am ong the H ebrew ktwbym (or books), ultim ately came to
form part o f the Bible, alongside other b ooks o f proverbs and
w isdom attributed to Solom on.
Jew s have traditionally interpreted the boldly erotic material
included in the Song o f Songs as a series o f allegories which
dem onstrate G o d s love for Israel. Christians regard the same
passages as allegorical prophecies relating to C h rists love for
the church. T o the Arab ear, how ever, the lyrics included in
the Song o f Songs have a far less ethereal ring: they mean
exactly w hat they say, being early examples o f a genre o f erotica
still very m uch alive today.
Songs very m uch like them abound in classical Arabic litera
ture, and you can hear their m odern equivalents throughout
the N ear East, at social gatherings w herever musical entertain
m ent is offered. Imitations o f these songs, as in the case o f folk
songs all over the w orld, have found their w ay into the reper
to ry o f the Arabic m usic hall and ju k e box, and their popularity
attests to the vigour o f the tradition.

SONGS FROM THE JIZAN MOUNTAINS

l8l

In these live Arabic folk songs, as in the Biblical Song o f


S ongs, young lovers are transform ed into gazelles and does
w h o enjoy secret trysts in vineyards and bedouin tents. K nock
ing at a door or entering a vineyard or orchard to gather fruit
(especially pom egranates or grapes), or to partake freely o f
honey or m ilk, are sly references to erotic seduction, which
everyone recognises for w hat they are.
In the Song o f Songs, the lover is Solom on (Shldmdh, or
slmh), and the beloved, w here she is identified by name, is the
Shulam m ite (swlmyt), the feminine form o f slmh or Solom on
(see below ). In the traditional Arabic love song, the beloved
m aiden is frequently Salma (feminine form o f the nam e Salman,
w hich is the Arabic equivalent o f the H ebrew Shldmdh, or
Solom on). Like the Biblical Shulamm ite, the Arabic Salma is
extolled in classical verse as in m odern song for her sw arthy
beauty; she has been dark but com ely for as long as anyone
can rem em ber.
O f course, the strong sim ilarity betw een the Song o f Songs
and Arabic love poetry has been com m ented upon by scholars
before. Recently, M orris Seale noted:
In m y view , the Song m ay be best understood if com pared
w ith erotic poetry o f Arabian origin. W hat is im m ediately
striking to a student o f ancient Arabian poetry is the very
great sim ilarity betw een such nom adic poetry and the ef
fusions o f the Song. T he similarity extends to the subjectm atter, the literary genre and to the imagery. The beloved
Shulam m ite o f the Song is sister to a w hole host o f beauties
celebrated by Arabian poet-lovers. T he poets lived in tow n
but their m inds roam ed the desert. M odern Arabic is full o f
such examples. This corpus o f sensual poetry (i.e., the Song)
points to the ethos o f an untam ed, free-living age. As such,
it is a m o n u m en t to the nom adic past o f the Hebrew s w hen
the enjoym ent and celebration o f physical love counted for
m ore than the fear o f G o d .1
The question remains, how ever, where exactly did the erotic
lore preserved in the Song o f Songs originate? As I hope to

182

THE BIBLE CAME FROM ARABIA

dem onstrate, it was now here other than the true Bible land o f
Asir.
Judging by the place-names referred to in these love songs,
they m ust have com e originally from the m ountains and hills
o f the Jizan hinterland - the half-circle o f m agnificent ridges,
part bare, part densely forested, and part terraced for culti
vation, w hich overlook the fertile valleys o f the broad Jizan
coastal plain. W hen Philby visited this area, he was struck by
the glory o f the scenery. M ore so, his waking senses were
thrilled by the sound o f a shepherd piping a thin tune from
the m ountain-side (Arabian Highlands, p. 488), w hich left
him w ishing he had som e means o f recording the tuneful
folk-songs o f the local people (p. 503) - som ething that
Philby did not say in relation to other parts o f Asir. In
Biblical times also, there was no w ay to record the tunes o f
the local folk songs for posterity. A selection o f the lyrics,
how ever, was preserved.
H o w , w hen and w h y the Song o f Songs was com piled is
beyond the scope o f the present study; n o r w ould m y k now
ledge o f Biblical textual history be equal to such an undertaking.
W hat I am sure of, how ever, is that the lore contained in the
Song o f Songs could only have come from the Jizan m ountains.
In any given country, folk songs are frequently com posed by
w andering m instrels w ho have been to m any places, and are
often anxious to dem onstrate their familiarity w ith w here they
have been. M oreover, by citing place-names from different
districts in their songs, m instrels m ake their songs directly
m eaningful to listeners w herever they m ay be. A m instrel may
even change the place-names in a given song as he sings it in
one district or another, to please his various audiences. Here
are the places w hich occur in the text o f the Song o f Songs.
Except w here otherw ise indicated, they all belong to districts
o f the Jizan region. This is im portant, for such identification
clarifies m any passages o f the H ebrew text o f this charm ing
anthology o f ancient love poem s, which w ould otherw ise re
m ain obscure.
C onsider the following:
1 I am very dark, but comely, O daughters of Jerusalem, like

SONGS FROM THE JIZAN MOUNTAINS

183

the tents of Kedar (qdr), like the curtains of Solomon (yry'w t slm h)
(RSV 1:5). Kedar here is possibly al-Ghadir (gdr), in the Aridah hill
country. The tents of Kedar are referred to as hly(m)-, the y r y 'w t of
slmh, cited alongside the tents of Kedar as being very dark (i.e.
black), could not have been the curtains of Solomon. The Hebrew
y r y 'w t stands for tent curtains or tent cloths, and slmh here is not
Solomon, but either the village of al-Salamah (full transliteration
slmh), in the Abu Arlsh district, or that of Al Salamah (also slmh),
in the heights o f Dhahran al-Janub beyond the Jizan hill country.
This verse, therefore, should read: I am very dark, but comely, O
daughters of Jerusalem, like the tents of al-Ghadir, like the tent
coverings of al-Salamah.
2 My Beloved to me is a cluster of blossoms in the vineyard
o f En-gedi ( yn gdy, the spring of g d y) (1:14). The reference here
seems to be to the spring o f al-Jiddiyyln (Arabic plural of gdy, or
gd y as the genitive of gd), a famed oasis of the Sabya district.
3 I am a rose (hbslt, asphodel) of Sharon (h-srwn ), a lily of
the valleys (2:1). Here the asphodel of Sharon is identified as being
a lily of the valleys. Actually, in this context, Sharon is a valley,
today Wadi Sharranah (srn) in the Hurrath hill country.
4 O my dove, in the clefts of the rock (b-hgwy h-sl), in the
covert o f the cliff (b-str h-mdrgh) . . . (2:14). The Hebrew hgw y h-sV
can mean clefts of the rock. Here, however, it appears to refer to a
village in the highlands of Rijal Alma called today Jarf Sala (grp si1).
In the present name, the Arabic grp is a translation of the Hebrew
hgw, which survives in the Jizan dialect as hqw (vocalised haqu), used
today to denote the foot of a mountain ridge. The Hebrew mdrgh,
attested in only two passages of Biblical text (the second being Isaiah
38:20) and interpreted to mean cliff, is here clearly a place-name today al-Madrajah (exactly, mdrgh), injabal Harub. To someone in
thejizan region, the highlands of Rijal Alma would lie behind (b-str,
in the covert o f) Jabal Harub. Thus the verse should read: O my
dove in Jarf Sala, behind Madrajah . . .
5 Turn, my beloved, be like a gazelle, or a young stag upon
rugged mountains (hry btr) (2:17). Even if btr here is taken to mean
rugged, it could not be a description of hry(m ), which means
mountains or hills (plural of hr), since btr is in the singular. The
reference can only be to the mountains or hills ofjabal Bani Malik,
where a village called Batar (btr) still exists.
6 Your hair is like a flock of goats, moving down the slopes
of Gilead (hr g ld, or Mount Gilead) (4:1). The Mount Gilead in
question here must be the mountain spur of al-Jadah (l-gd), in Rijal
Alma, across Wadi Itwad from thejizan region.
7 Your teeth are like a flock of shorn ewes (k -dr h-qswbwt)

184

THE BIBLE CAME FROM ARABIA

that have come up from the washing (4:2). Here h-qswbwt is certainly
the name o f a place, today al-Qusaybat (qsybt, in the feminine plural
and with the definite article, as in the Hebrew), in the Hurrath hills.
No ewes are to be found in the original, and a shorn flock in
Hebrew would have been dr qswb, not dr qswbwt, where the noun
is in the masculine singular and the adjective in the feminine plural.
Hence: Your teeth are like the flock of Qusaybat that have come up
from the washing.
8 I will hie me to the mountain of myrrh (hr h-mwr) and the
hill of frankincense (gbt h-lbwnh) (4:6). There is actually nothing
figurative about the verse. The hill of h-lbwnh is definitely that of
Jabal al-Lubayni (Ibyny), in the Hurrath district. The mountain of
m yrrh refers to one of the ridges in the highlands of Mawr (mwr),
today within the Yemen, where the headwaters of Wadi Mawr are
located.
9 Come with me from Lebanon (Ibnwn), my bride. . . Depart
(correctly, descend) from the peak of Amana (mnh), from the peak
of Senir (snyr) and Hermon (hrmwn), from the dens of lions (m'nwt
rywt), from the mountains of leopards (hrry h-nmrym) (4:8). The
Lebanon, Amana, Senir and Hermon here are the highlands of
Lubaynan (Ibynn), just south of the Yemen border; Yamanl (ymn), in
the Aridah district; al-Sarran (srn), in Jabal Harub; and Khimran
(hmrn), in the Hurrath district. The dens of lions are (or rather is)
the present village of al-Maayin (Arabic plural o f myn) of Jabal
Harub, identified in relation to the adjacent district of al-Rayth
(pronounced ar-Rayth, or ryt, cf. Hebrew rywt). The mountains of
leopards are clearly the ridges of Jabal Dhu Nimr (nmr, leopard),
in the Hurrath district, unless the reference is to al-Numur (Arabic
plural of nmr), in the neighbouring Rubuah district.
10 You are beautiful as Tirzah, my love, comely as Jerusalem,
terrible as an army with banners (ymh k-ndglwt) (6:4). The Hebrew
ndglwt here, translated banners, and freely interpreted as an army
with banners, is attested in no other passage of the Bible. It is clearly
the feminine plural of ndgl, taken to be the participle of the npl form
of dgl, lift the banner. Actually, it must refer to a range of hills in
the extreme south of the Jizan region called today al-Janadil (Arabic
plural of gndl, large rock, boulder, of which ndgl is a metathesis). It
might be added here that ymh k-ndglwt probably means awesome as
al-Janadil rather than terrible as al-Janadil, the mountains and hills
of the Jizan hinterland being truly majestic in their rugged beauty.
For the Biblical Tirzah and Jerusalem, see Chapters 10 and 9 re
spectively.
11 I went down to the nut orchard (gnt gwz), to look at the
blossoms of the valley, to see whether the vines had budded, whether

SONGS FROM THE JIZAN MOUNTAINS

185

the pomegranates were in bloom (6 :11). In a nut orchard, one would


expect to see nut trees rather than blossoms, vines and pomegranates.
Moreover, nut orchard, in Hebrew, would have been rendered as
gnt h-g wz, granting that g wz means nut, or nut tree (the term is
not attested anywhere else in the Hebrew Bible, and is taken to mean
nut mainly by comparison to the Arabic gwz). However, what is
at issue here is the name of a place, today the village of al-Janat (gnt)
in the Bal-Ghazi (or Bani al-GhazI, gzy, cf. Biblical gwz) district an area where the foothills ofjabal Faifa andjabal Bani Malik merge
with the Jizan coastal plain. The valley there could have been any
o f the fertile tributaries of Wadi Sabya or Wadi Damad.
12 Return, return, O Shulammite (h-swlmyt), return, return,
that we may look upon you (w-nhzh bk). Why should you look upon
the Shulammite (tnh thzw b-swlmyt), as upon a dance before two
armies (k-mhlt h-mhnym)V (RSV 6:13; Hebrew Bible 7:1). Here,
swlmyt, the feminine of the genitive of swim, could refer to a girl
from what is today the village of al-Shamla (sml), in the territory of
the Salamah (5/m) tribe, in Jabal Bani Malik. Some scholars have
suggested that it could actually be a girls name, which I find more
plausible, considering that it is mentioned in the same verse once
with and once without the definite article (a common feature of some
Arabic personal names to this day). As such, it could be the equivalent
o f Salma (slm, feminine form of slmn) the poetic prototype of the
beloved so often praised in ancient and modern Arabic song. In the
verse in question, as conventionally translated, this Shulammite is
compared to the dance of two armies (or two camps, mhlt h-mhnym),
which makes no sense. The verbal root of mhl, however, is hlh,
which is attested in Arabic (hly) in the sense of adorn; hence
the Arabic (and also Hebrew) hly as a noun meaning womens
ornaments. As another substantive o f hlh, mhlh can also mean orna
ment. Hence the verse can be retranslated: Return, return, O Shu
lammite . . . that we may look upon you. Why do you look (mh
thzw) on the Shulammite as the ornament of the camps?
13 Your neck is like an ivory tower (mgdl h-sn). Your eyes are
like pools in Heshbon (hsbwn), by the gate of Bath-rabbim ( 7 sr
bt-rbym). Your nose is like the tower of Lebanon (mgdl h-lbnwn),
overlooking Damascus (swphpny dmsq). Your head crowns you like
Carmel (rsk lyk k-krml), and your flowing locks (dlt rsk) are like
purple; a king is held in the tresses (k-rgmn mlk swr b-rhtym) (RSV
7:4-5; Hebrew Bible 7:5-6). Among the recognised place-names
here, Heshbon and Bath-rabbim do not correspond to any known
surviving place-names in the Jizan region or its close neighbourhood,
unless Heshbon is the ridge (and spring) of Shihb (shb, metathesis of
hsb, without the archaic suffixed definite article n) in Rijal Alma, and

THE BIBLE CAME FROM ARABIA

Bath-rabbim is Sha'b al-Baram (brm , metathesis of rbym) in the same


region. The Lebanon or Lubaynan of North Yemen has already
been identified; it stands across thejizan region fromJabal Bani Malik
where a Damascus (the present village of Dha Misk, or d-msk, cf.
Biblical dmsq) is to be found. Carmel, or Kirmil (krm l ), is cited by
the Arab geographers as a ridge of the Jizan region, its name still
being carried by the Karamilah (those o f krml), a tribe o f Wadi Jizan.
Not recognised as a place-name is h-sn (mgdl h-sn, understood to mean
ivory tower), which probably refers to al-Sinn (sn ), in the Muhayil
region, or al-Shanu (sn), a village on the isolated ridge ofjabal Dirim,
in the neighbouring Ballasmar region. The Hebrew dlt rsk k - rgmn
m lk swr b-rhtym, so far treated as two separate sentences (your
flowing locks are like purple; a king is held in the tresses), is actually
one sentence. Here dlt means dishevelled hair, or simply hair,
rather than locks; rgmn means woollen cloth, or dyed woollen
cloth, rather than purple (and who would think of hair as being
purple?); sw r is a place-name, Al Yasir (ysyr), in the Tanumah region
of the Sarat, rather than a common noun meaning captive; rhtym
(plural of rht) is the equivalent o f the Arabic rihdt (collective plural
o f rht), attested in the sense of carpets, rugs, upholstery, textile
furnishings, and does not stand for tresses. Translators of the
Bible have actually admitted uncertainty about the translation of this
sentence, which should read: The hair of your head is like the woollen
rugs of the king of Asur (Al Yasir), which makes proper sense. Rugs
of wool, coloured with local vegetable dyes (today increasingly with
artificial dyes) are still made in the Sarat and sold in the market places
of Abha and Khamis Mushait.
14 Solomon had a vineyard at Baal-hamon (bl hm w n ) (8:11).
Take bl to be b-l, and it would mean above, or in the height, not
Baal. Hamon (hmwn) must be Wadi Haman (hmn), in the Hurrath
district. Hence: Solomon had a vineyard in the upper reaches of
Haman.
15 Make haste, my beloved, and be like a gazelle or a young
stag upon the mountains of spices (hry bsm ym ) (8:14). The reference
here could be to two places called Bashamah (bsm) in the Jizan
region, one in the hill country of al-Aridah, and the other in the hill
country bordering Wadi Itwad. If only these two Bashamahs were
involved, then hry bsmym should be read in the dual rather than in
the plural.
T he Song o f Songs is by no means the only exam ple o f the
folk lore o f the Jizan m ountains to be found in the H ebrew
Bible. A nother comprises the Psalms attributed to the Sons o f
K o rah (bny qrh, see note 1 in C hapter 9). As already indicated,

SONGS FROM THE JIZAN MOUNTAINS

187

these Sons o f K o rah w ere a tribe o f the m ountain hinterland


o f Jizan. T heir nam e survives there to this day as that o f the
village o f al-Q arhah (qrh), in Jabal Faifa, and o f al-Q arhan
(.qrhn), in Jabal Bani M alik, the latter nam e being the Arabic
equivalent o f qrhym (H ebrew plural o f qrh), m eaning the qrh
folk, or the qrh tribe.
T h e contents o f the Song o f Songs, as already m entioned,
m ust have been com piled n o t in the days o f Solom on, but
under his successors. T here is, in fact, one piece o f evidence
w hich suggests that they m ust have been collected som e tim e
after his death and the division o f his kingdom , w hen his
descendants w ere reigning as kings o f Judah in J erusalem ,
while their rivals, the kings o f Israel, resided in T irzah. In the
verse that says Y ou are beautiful as Tirzah, m y love, comely
as Jerusalem , the parallel m ention o f the tw o names in one
sentence indicates a recognition o f an equality o f status between
the tw o tow ns. Such an equality o f status could n o t have existed
in the days o f K ing Solom on, w hen T irzah was still a place
o f little renow n in the G ham id highlands (see C hapter 10),
while J erusalem was the capital o f All Israel.
W hile transposing the Song o f Songs from Palestine to Asir
m ay seem to add little o f m ajor significance to our understand
ing o f the Bible - m istranslation o f place-names into desert
bloom s hardly changes the im port o f the Songs - nevertheless,
the examples I have chosen are revealing. It is not ju st that these
ancient H ebrew lyrics gain in geographical precision; m ore
im portantly, w e are m ade to recognise that they are firm ly
rooted in a clearly definable place. This is w hat m any Bible
readers fail to recognise, a residue o f piety leading them to
underestim ate the extent to w hich its texts w ere w ritten in a
language really used by actual people w ho lived in a particular
place at a particular time.
W hat a rereading o f the H ebrew Bibles Song o f Songs
dem onstrates m ost vividly is that even passages w hich seem so
poetically right, so evocative in their sensuous beauty, are
susceptible to a m ore prosaic, though truer, interpretation. T he
sooner w e are ready to recognise that it is the ancient, fertile
land o f Asir in w hich som e o f the m ost cherished beliefs o f a

188

THE BIBLE CAME FROM ARABIA

large portion o f the hum an race are grounded, the sooner w e


will be in a better position to understand an im portant part o f
our heritage.

EPILOGUE

O n e can, o f course, go on and on reinterpreting the geography


o f the H ebrew Bible in term s o f W est Arabia rather than
Palestine. For the purpose o f the present study, how ever,
enough is enough. O ne day, should a new generation o f Biblical
scholars decide to abandon w hat I believe are the obsolete
traditions o f their craft, the w hole text o f the H ebrew Bible
will be properly reassessed. W ords so far assumed to be verbs,
adjectives, nouns o f all sorts such as substantive and gerunds,
and even som e adverbs, w ould be recognised as place-names,
w hile som e w ords so far taken to be place-names m ay turn out
to be som ething else. Fed into a com puter, along w ith the host
o f catalogued W est Arabian place-names, the k n o w n as well as
the yet u n k n o w n Biblical place-names will all - or nearly all be correctly identified. N e w Biblical atlases, com pletely unlike
the ones w ith w hich the w orld is presently familiar, will be
prepared and published to serve as proper guides to Bible
readers.
So far, I have resisted addressing m yself to the question
w hich m y investigation into Biblical geography has inevitably
posed: does all this m ake any difference to the Bible as a book
o f religion? O bviously, the answ er m ust be yes, in the sense
that it will establish the veracity o f Biblical history to a degree
that no one has so far suspected. As a result, one should be able
to obtain rich insights into the origins, developm ent and nature
o f the Jew ish and C hristian religions - insights based on scho
larly accuracy rather than conjecture, w hich w ould m ake m uch
o f w h at has been w ritten about the subject so far untei. able, if
n o t also insipid, by com parison. Properly studied in the light

190

THE BIBLE CAME FROM ARABIA

o f its correct geography, the Bible will stand as a book o f


history, no longer needing to have its historicity proved by
lame artifice - certainly not by a Biblical archaeology w hich
persists in searching for the Bible land in the w ro n g place. T he
ancient history o f the w hole N ear East, restudied in the light
o f a m ore accurate historical interpretation o f the Bible in its
p roper geographic setting, will begin to m ake better sense.
Even so, it is well to rem ind ourselves that the H ebrew Bible
is a prized legacy o f the hum an race and will rem ain so, no
m atter w hether it was originally w ritten in Palestine or W est
Arabia. T h e ancient Israelites will continue to be rightly recog
nised as a great people w h o w ere prim e contributors to hum an
civilisation, no m atter w hether they lived in Palestine or Asir,
or w hether their Jerusalem was the present Jerusalem or a W est
A rabian village by the nam e o f Al Sharim. G eography makes
a difference to history, but not to historical stature, and m uch
less to religion and faith, w hich are m atters o f an altogether
different order. Therefore, w hile m y thesis m ay cause some
consternation - and perhaps, m ore likely, scepticism - all I
w ould ask is that the evidence I have presented should be
carefully studied in the light o f disinterested scholarly enquiry.
T he Bible is, after all, the Bible, and nothing is likely to
underm ine its im portance as a book w hich enshrines the wis
d om w hich has shaped the course o f civilisation and sustained
the faith o f all true believers. W hat is im portant is its m eaning
for m ankind rather than the geographical context in w hich the
events it describes actually took place.

APPENDIX
O N O M A S T IC E V ID E N C E R E L A T IN G T O T H E
T W E L V E T R IB E S O F IS R A E L IN W E S T A R A B IA

Reuben

Simeon

Levi

Judah

(rwbn ): the Rawabln (rwbn ) tribe continue to carry the


same name in Arabia today. The Reuben territory appears
to have been in the southern Hijaz, between the Mecca
vicinity and the hinterland of Lith. A village called Rabin
(:rbn) exists today in the neighbourhood of Rabigh, near
Mecca. East of Lith one finds a Rabwan (rbwn) in Wadi
Adam, and a Rubyan (rbyn ) in the Bahah region.
(sm'wn): the Samainah or SamaTn (sm'n) tribe, originally
from the Yemen and today in southern Palestine, are an
Arab tribe still known by the same name. The Simeon
country appears to have been mainly in the southern part
of the Jizan region, close by the Yemen border, where
one village called Sha'nun (s'nwn) and two called Shima1
(sm, without the archaic definite article in sm'wn) are
situated. There is also a Sham* (sm*) in the hinterland of
Qunfudhah, and an Al Shamah (I sm) near Taif.
{IwyY the name is strikingly similar to the Arabian tribal
name Luayy (Iy). Buq'at al-Lawat (singular Iwh) is found
in the Jizan region, which is one place where the tribe
was concentrated. There are a Law! (Iwy) and a Lawiyyah
{Iwy) there. Two villages called Lawah (Iwh) and La
wiyyah (Iwy) in Wadi Adam, one called Lawiyyah in the
Bahah region, and one called Luwayyah (Iwy) near Taif,
attest to an ancient presence of the tribe in these areas
also.
(yhwdh): the name is still carried today by a number
o f Arabian tribes, among them the Wahadm (plural of
WahadI, or whd). See Chapter 8 for the discussion. Two
villages called Wahdah (whdh) exist in Rijal Alma*. There

192

Dan

Naphtali

Gad

Asher

Issachar

APPENDIX

is also a Wahdah in Wadi Adam, another in the Bahah


region, and a third in the Nimas region; also a Wihad
(whd) in Wadi Bishah. When the Philistines raided the
land of Judah in the days of Samson, they attacked
Lehi (Ihy), today Lakhyah (Ihy), in Wadi Adam (see
Chapter 14). This indicates that the original land of Judah
must have been there. Other Biblical evidence for this is
also available.
(dn): today, the identical name is that of the Arabian
trihes of the Duwaniyah (dny), Danaywi (dny) and Dandan (dndn). The Arabic plural form of the tribal name,
Danadinah (dndn), is carried by a village in the maritime
lowlands of the Zahran region. There is additional Bibli
cal evidence that the Danite territory was there; see the
toponymies of the story of Samson in Chapter 14.
(nptly): the Arabian tribe of the Falatin (pltn) carries a
metathesis of this name to the present day. The territory
of the Biblical Naphtali could have comprised areas
ranging from the hinterland of Birk in the north to that
of Jizan in the south. Two villages called Maftali (mptly)
and Al Maftalah ( 7 mptl) are to be found in the first
area; three villages called Maftal (mptl) are located in the
second.
(gd): among several Arabian tribes that still carry this
name today are thejadl (gd) and the Judan (plural ofjudl,
or gd). Jadiyah (gdy), in the Bahah region, and Jldiyah
(gdy), near Mecca, would indicate that the Biblical Gad
was a northern tribe. There is also a Jadyah (gdy) in the
Taif region. O n the other hand there is a Ghadah (gd)
near Abha, one Ghadi (gd) and two villages called Ghadiyah (gdy) in the Jizan region, apart from a northern
Ghadiyah in the hinterland of Lith, which suggests
another southern homeland for the Gad tribe. The Mec
can harbour ofjuddah (gd), and two villages calledjuddah
and Ibn Juddah in the Qunfudhah region, may also be
related to this tribal name.
(sr): today, the Arabian tribe that carries the identical
name is the Dhawi Shari (sr). The identical place-name
is Wishr (wsr), in the Jizan region, which suggests that
the Asher were a southern tribe. Sharawra, or Sharawrah
(srwr), is probably an Arabic plural form of the same
tribal name; it is that of a village in the Najran region, in
the southernmost part of inland Asir.
(ysskr): the Shukarah (skr) tribe of Wadi Sayah, north of

APPENDIX

193

Mecca, carry what appears to be the name of this Biblical


tribe today. There is also a Shukarah tribe in Wadi
al-Dawasir, west o f Wadi Bishah. Closer to the Biblical
ysskr, however, is the name o f the historical Arabian tribe
of the Yashkur (yskr).
Zebulun
(zblwn): the Zabbalah (zbl) o f the highlands o f southern
Asir are one West Arabian tribe that continues to bear
this name; another is the tribe of the Zubalah (also zbl),
found in Wadi Hajar, north of Mecca. The Biblical zblwn
is the identical name, with the archaic definite article
added as a suffix.
Joseph
(ywsp): the Arabian Banu Yusuf (ysp) still carry the same
name today. There is also a village called Al Yusuf ( 7
ywsp) in the heights of the Ballasmar country, in central
Asir. Also, the name survives in an Arabicised form as
Asfa (sp), which is the name of one village in the
Asir highlands, and of another near Ghumayqah, in the
hinterland o f Lith, where the tribal country of Joseph
appears to have been located (see Chapter 6).
Benjamin (bnymyn, or bn ymyn, apparently meaning son of the
south): that ymyn (as ymn) means south is certain. In
pre-Islamic Arabic literature, the exact Arabic equivalent
o f the Biblical name, Ibn Yamin (bn ymn), is used poeti
cally for the people o f the Yemen (Yaman, or ymn, also
south). Today, in West Arabia, we have the tribes
o f the Yamna, Yamanah and Yamani (all ymn), which
continue to carry the same name. Villages with names
derived from ymn (such as al-Yamam and Al Yamani)
are numerous in the southern parts o f geographic Asir.
According to Genesis 35:18, Benjamin was called Benoni (bn wny) before his name was changed. The Biblical
'wny here (from a root ny, perhaps a variant o f nk, hold,
comprise) probably means caravan (cf. Arabic aniyah,
or nyh, in the sense o f saddlebag, or saddlebags, both
in the singular and the collective plural). Thus, while
Ben-oni could have meant the son o f the caravans,
Benjamin, emphasising the location rather than the trade
o f the tribe or people involved, must have meant the
son of the south (today southern Asir and the adjacent
Yemen). The name in either case is appropriate, because
ancient Asir was largely dependent for its commerce on
the caravans coming from the direction of the south.

194

APPENDIX

Subdivisions o f the Joseph tribe


Ephraim

(pryrn, dual or plural of pr): as a modern Arabian tribal


name, we have the FIran (dual or plural of pr, cf. pr).
The territory of the Ephraim tribe must have been in
Wadi al-Malahah, in the Bani Shahr district on the mari
time slopes of Asir, where a village called Wafrayn
(wpryn, dual of wpr) still stands.
Manasseh (mnsh ): as the name of an Arabian tribe, the name is still
there as that of the Mansi (mns ). There is a village called
Mansiyah (m nsyh) near Sabya, in the northern part of the
Jizan region; a Munshah (mnsh), in the Ballasmar region;
a Mamshah (mmsh, a dialectical corruption of mnsh) in
the Qunfudhah region; also a Manshiyyat al-Far, in the
Bahah region of northern Asir. The main concentration
of the Manasseh appears to have been fairly close to that
of the related Ephraim.
The Mothers o f the Israelite tribes
According to Genesis 29, 30 and 35, Reuben, Simeon, Levi, Judah,
and Issachar were born to Jacob by Leah (Ih), the elder daughter of
his maternal uncle Laban (Ibn), the brother of his mother Rebekah
(rbqh), both Laban and Rebekah being the children of Bethuel (btwl).
Joseph and Benjamin were borne by Labans younger daughter Rachel
(rhl). Dan and Naphtali were the sons of Rachels maid Bilhah (blhh),
while Gad and Asher were the sons of Leahs maid Zilpah (zlph).
All this indicates a northern origin for the reported maternal
ancestry of the Israelite tribes. The name of Bethuel, father of Laban
and Rebekah and paternal grandfather of Leah and Rachel, survives
as the name of the village of Butaylah (btyl) in the Zahran highlands
south o f Taif. The name of Rebekah, as Ribqah (exactly rbqh) survives
a short distance further south, in the Ghamid highlands, as that of a
village near Baljurashi. Incidentally, there is also a Ribkah (rbkh,
variant of rbqh) near Rabigh, in the vicinity of Mecca, where a village
called Laban (Ibn) also survives, still carrying the name of Rebekahs
brother. Against this topographical background, one must associate
the name of Leah, the daughter of Laban, niece o f Rebekah, and
mother o f six ofjacobs twelve sons, with that of the valley of Wadi
Liyyah (lyh), in the Taif region east of Mecca, rather than with Wadi
Liyah (also lyh), in the Jizan region.
As the sister of Leah, Rachel would appear to have carried the
name of Rakhilah or Rukhaylah (rhyl, cf. Hebrew rhl), one of the
villages o f Wadi Liyyah, bearing in mind that a village called Rakhl
(rhl, identical with rhl) also exists to this day further north in the

APPENDIX

195

vicinity of Yanbu al-Nakhl, west of Medina. The name of Rachels


maid, the mother of Dan and Naphtali, being Bilhah (blhh), recalls
the name o f the present village of Balha (blh'), actually pronounced
Balha or Balhah (blhh), in the vicinity o f Lith, southwest of Taif,
near the Red Sea coast. As for Leahs maid Zilpah (zlph), the mother
of Gad and Asher, her name is still carried by one of three villages
o f the same general vicinity: Dhulf (dip), in Wadi Adam; Zulf (zip),
also in Wadi Adam; and (the most likely) Zuluf (zip), in the Taif
region, close by Wadi Liyyah.
Significantly, two places called Aqb (qb, root of y qb, or Jacob)
survive in the Zahran region, south of Taif, along with one place
called Uqub (qwb), one called Aqlb (qyb), and one called Aqibah
Cqyb) in the Taif region. There is also a village there called Al-Yaaqib
(Arabic plural o fy'qwby, literally theJacob people). All these villages
are found in the regions of Taif and Zahran which straddle the water
divide between the inland and coastal parts o f the southern Hijaz.
Therefore, taking into account the topography of the area, the name
Jacob or y qb, as a substantive o f qb, could be related to the Arabic
aqabah (qbh), meaning mountain pass, crossing. Actually, a number
o f villages called Aqabah are found today in the same area. Thus,
the Jacob tribes could originally have been the people controlling the
mountain passes between the southern Hijaz and northern Asir (cf.
the analysis of the crossing of h-yrdti by Joshua in Chapter 7).
Taking into account that Genesis describes Jacobs uncle Laban as an
Aramaean, and actually makes him speak Aramaic rather than He
brew (see Chapter 1), one may assume that a Jacob people living in
the same area could also have been Aramaeans by origin, before
migrating southwards to become fused with Hebrew-speaking tribes
in Asir, eventually becoming known as Israelites. Actually, Labans
Aram appears to survive today as Aryamah (rym), in the Zahran
highlands (see Chapter 1, note 3). This may explain the cryptic
statement in Deuteronomy 26:5: A wandering Aramaean was my
father; and he went down to msrym (not Egypt, but Misramah near
Abha, as already suggested) and sojourned there, few in number; and
there he became a nation, great, mighty, and populous.
Again, one cannot help recalling the words of Gerald de Gaury:
Who knows what treasures of history lay in the tangled ruins of
Asir? The place-names that survive there are in themselves a priceless
treasure o f frozen history, and, we may assume, have much more to
tell us about the history of the ancient Near East than has been said
in this book.

IS '

NOTES
TH E JEWISH W O R LD OF A N T IQ U IT Y
The term Semitic, used to describe the peoples related to the
Hebrews and their languages, was first introduced by A. L.
Schlozer in 1781. It derives from the Biblical Shem (sm), son of
Noah and supposed ancestor of the Israelites and other Biblical
folk. The Hebrew Bible speaks o f the peoples descended from
Shem without describing them as being Semites or Semitic.
The language may have been so called in antiquity. Mention o f
the language o f Canaan (spt kn'n), apparently to mean Hebrew,
occurs in one Biblical passage, Isaiah 19:18.
Later, it will be shown by toponymic analysis that the Biblical
land of Canaan was on the maritime side o f Asir and not in
Palestine and coastal Syria, as is commonly supposed. Basing
their arguments almost entirely on Biblical evidence, wrongly
interpreted, scholars have assumed that the Aramaeans were
originally the inhabitants o f the area o f northern Syria west
of the Euphrates. However, a re-examination of the Biblical
evidence shows us that what the Hebrew Bible refers to as Aram
(consonantal rm) was actually in West Arabia. Aram Naharim
(rm nhrym, Genesis 28:2 etc.), for example, was certainly not
Mesopotamia but present-day Naharfn (nhryn) near Taif (alTaif), in the southern Hijaz. Therefore, one must conclude that
Paddan-aram (pdn rm, Genesis 28:2 etc.) was nearby Dafinah
(dpn) in the vicinity of Mecca, not somewhere in Mesopotamia.
Similarly, other names which the Hebrew Bible associated with
Aram - Beth-rehob, Aram Zobah and even Damascus (West
Arabian Dha Misk, or d msk, cf. Hebrew dmsq) - may be located
today by name in the Hijaz and Asir. A Wadi Waram (wrm) also
bears the name of ancient Aram there. Incidentally, the Koranic
Iram (rm, Koran 89:7) as a place-name is consonantally identical
with the Biblical Aram, which is also rm. The Koran associates
the place with that of Dhat al-Imad, al-Imad today being a

198

6
7

NOTES TO PAGES 11-12

village of the Zahran (Zahran) highlands, an area south of Taif,


where a local Aram survives as the village of Aryamah (rym).
Admittedly, one cannot say for sure how far the Biblical land of
Aram in West Arabia extended, but it certainly included the
southern parts of the Hijaz.
Zellig S. Harris, A Grammar of the Phoenician Language (New
Haven, Conn., 1936), p. 7, note 29. Harris also cites further
evidence indicating that the Phoenicians, along the Syrian coast
as elsewhere, actually called themselves Canaanites.
The evidence of Herodotus on this, as on other points relating
to the history of the ancient Near East, is normally dismissed as
being of no real worth by modern historians and archaeologists
o f the area. They no doubt give it cavalier treatment because it
does not fit in with their own notions, which largely derive from
misinterpretations o f ancient records and archaeological findings,
based in turn on misinterpretations of the geographical and
topographical material o f the Hebrew Bible. The suggestion that
the Red Sea of Herodotus was not the Red Sea but the Persian
Gulf need not be credited, as it has little to support it.
Herodotus (2:44) reports, on the authority of the priests of the
Phoenician city of Tyre in his time, that this city was founded
2,300 years before.
Biblical Tyre (Hebrew sr) was not a city by the sea (Hebrew
ym), but the present major oasis of Zur (zr), called Zur
al-Wadiah, in the Najran region, which stands on the edge of
the Yam (ym) country, bordering on the Central Arabian desert.
Its ships (Hebrew wnywt) were really caravans of pack-animals
(Arabic nyt, saddlebags), and the places with which it traded
can be identified by name in different parts of Arabia. The Bible
speaks of King Hiram (hyrm) of sr, or Tyre; no ancient king by
this name is attested for the Lebanese city of Tyre, the Phoenician
Ahiram (hrm, not hyrm) having been a king of Byblos, which
is an entirely different place. Gebal (as gbl or qbl) is among the
commonest of place-names in West Arabia, one particular Gebal,
near the Biblical Tyre, being Al Qabil (qbl), in the Najran region.
The West Arabian Arwad is today Riwad (rwd), in the Asir
highlands; Biblical Sidon is considered in Chapter 4. According
to Arab geographers, Lubaynan (Ibynn, unvocalised Ibnn, or
Lebanon) was the name of the highlands which today straddle
the border between Asir and the Yemen. In the coastal foothills
of this area, a village called Lubayni (Ibyny) still exists. The
Biblical cedars of Lebanon must have been the giant junipers of
this West Arabian Lubaynan, and the Biblical snow of Lebanon
is, no doubt, local snow (see Chapter 2).

NOTES TO PAGES 12-14

199

8 The West Arabian Carmel is Kirmil (also krml), mentioned in


the Arabic geographical dictionary of Yaqut (4:448) as a coastal
ridge in the extreme south of Asir, bordering the Yemen, and
hence immediately to the west of the West Arabian Lebanon
(see note 7). This explains why Mount Carmel is sometimes
mentioned in association with Mount Lebanon in Biblical texts,
one of them the hitherto unsuspected Isaiah 29:17, sb Ibnwn l-krml,
taken to mean Lebanon shall be turned into a fruitful field, but
actually meaning Lebanon shall turn to (or return to) Carmel.
9 Place-names equivalent to the Hebrew glyl (meaning terraced
slopes) are common in the West Arabian highlands. Among
others, there is a Wadi Jalll (glyl) in the southern Hijaz, southeast
of Taif.
10 The Biblical hrmwn (in the metathesis hmrn or hmm) survives as
the name of no less than five places in the southern Hijaz and
Asir called Hamran or Khamran.
11 Wadi Adam, which springs from the highlands o f Taif and flows
in the direction of the Red Sea, is sometimes referred to in the
Hebrew Bible as nhr prt, which makes it easily confusable with
the Mesopotamian Euphrates. This confusion is enhanced by the
Biblical description o f the nhr prt as h-nhr h-gdwl, the great river,
Wadi Adam being one of the largest maritime-draining wadis of
West Arabia. Actually, the Biblical name of this wadi derives
from that of the village today called Firt (prt), in the same region.
Like the battle of Carchemish, the battle of Karkara (or rather
Qarqara), fought by the Assyrians against the kings of Amat and
Imerisu and their allies Gindibu of Aribi and Ahab o f Israel (Ahabu
Sirlla) towards the middle of the ninth century B . C . , was actually
fought in West Arabia, not along the Orontes river in northern
Syria as generally believed. Amat, hitherto taken to be a reference
to Hamah in the Orontes valley, in northern Syria, is actually
the present village o f Amt (mt), near Taif, and hence not far
from the Biblical Carchemish. Imerisu is not the Syrian Damascus
it has been taken to be, on no basis whatsoever. Among several
West Arabian alternatives, probably Marasha (mrs), in the
southern Asir highlands (the Dhahran al-Janub region, see Chap
ter 3) is the most likely. Gindibu of Aribi is commonly assumed
to have been an Arab chief of the Syrian desert. Actually, a
tribe called the Banu Jundub (gndb) still inhabit the central Asir
highlands, and Aribi must have been present-day Arabah (rbh),
a village o f those highlands where the Banu Jundub are still to
be found. Karkara itself, in this case, would be present-day
Qarqarah or Qarqara (qrqr), in coastal Asir, in the hinterland of
the harbour of Qunfudhah, south of Lith. There are three other

200

12

13

14

15

16
17
18

NOTES TO PAGES I 4 - I 7

places called Qarqar (qrqr) also in West Arabia, and none in the
Orontes region of Syria. For the doubts concerning the onomas
tics connected with the Battle of Karkara, as it has hitherto been
interpreted geographically, see the notes in James B. Pritchard,
ed., Ancient Near Eastern Texts Relating to the Old Testament
(Princeton, 1969; hereafter Pritchard), pp. 278-279.
Translations of the Egyptian records (such as those in Pritchard)
confuse the issue by uncritically identifying the place-names
cited with known Palestinian and Syrian place-names, instead of
transliterating the original, which is the proper thing to do. The
same also (as in Pritchard) goes for the Mesopotamian and other
records. The search for the places in question must be sought
with the help of the original records, not translations.
The Egyptians were also interested, among other things, in
securing the juniper wood of Asir (rather than the cedar of
Lebanon) as building material, and for the construction of ships,
cedar being of little use for that purpose. For the confusion
between cedar and juniper, see the relevant passages in Alessandra Nibbi, Ancient Egypt and Some Eastern Neighbours (Park Ridge,
N.J., 1981).
It must be noted here that the Arab historians of early Islamic
times, whose works preserve old Arabian traditions deserving
serious attention, insist that Nebuchadnezzar was a conqueror
of Arabia and relate the story of his conquests there.
Judging by Micah 1:1, this expression of hope in the daughter
of Jerusalem dates from the eighth century B.C. So far, Biblical
scholars have taken the expressions daughter of Zion and
daughter of Jerusalem to be no more than poetic references to
Zion and Jerusalem, thereby obviating the necessity of providing
further historical information.
These words are addressed to Sennacherib, the king of Assyria
(704-681 B.C.).
For the Biblical Sabaoth as a leading shrine o f Yahweh in the
Asir highlands (today the village of al-Sabayat, cf. Hebrew Ihy
sbwt or yhwh sbwt), see Chapter 12.
The prophetic career of Zechariah coincided with the early years
of the reign of the Achaemenid ruler Darius I (522-486 B.C.), as
is clear from the mention of Darius and the years of his reign in
the text of Zechariahs prophecies. Because Zechariah 9:13 speaks
o f ywn, which has been taken to be a reference to Greece (Greek
laones), this chapter and what follows in Zechariah has been
attributed by critics to another writer of a later date (late Achae
menid or early Hellenistic times). Actually, the Hebrew ywn can
only be a reference to Greece in Daniel. Everywhere else in the

NOTES TO PAGES 1 8 - 2 3

201

Hebrew Bible, it refers to what is today either the village of


Yanah (yn), near Taif, in the southern Hijaz, or the village of
Waynah (wyn) on the western slopes of Asir, in the Bani Shahr
region. Zechariah was apparently one of the Israelites who
returned from Persia or Babylon to West Arabia in early Achaemenid times (see text). Disappointed by what he found there,
he could have had reason to turn his attention from the old Zion
and Jerusalem in West Arabia to a more hopeful vision of a new
Zion and Jerusalem in Palestine.
19 These successive language shifts, affecting the countries of the
Near East surrounding the vast expanse of the Syro-Arabian
desert, must have been related to successive waves o f settlement
by pastoral tribes from the central desert in the sedentary lands
around it. Canaanite, it appears, was the language of the original
tribal and sedentary population of the western highland fringes
o f the Syro-Arabian desert, in Syria as in Arabia. New settlers
from the desert, from an early time, introduced Aramaic there,
and also to Mesopotamia. Later settlements in the same areas
established by Arabic-speaking desert tribes introduced Arabic.
As variants of a mother Semitic language, Canaanite, Aramaic
and Arabic might be regarded as of equal antiquity, though
linguistically Arabic is regarded as the most ancient of the three.
20 One indication of this (apart from vowel sounds) was the adop
tion of the Aramaic softening of the voiceless plosive k, when
preceded by a vowel, into the voiceless fricative h, which is not
attested in any instance by the actual vocalisation of surviving
Biblical place-names in West Arabia, where the h is invariably
an alternative pronunciation of another fricative, fi.
21 A number of West Arabian tribes, who are not Jews today, insist
that they are Jewish by remote origin, and there is a local
conviction in the area that the land of the Biblical prophets was
there. Arabian tribal lore recalls that the Jews inhabited the
mountains of the Hijaz (sic) when the Arabs were still in the
desert, and that it was the Jews there who first domesticated
the camel. See Alois Musil, The Manners and Customs of the Rwala
Bedouins (New York, 1928), pp. 329-330.
22 For nhrym and prt, see above, notes 3 and 11. For ksdym, see
Chapter 13. While the Biblical msrym sometimes refers to Egypt,
more often than not it denotes a town or region in West Arabia,
in inland Asir; see Chapters 4, 13 and 14.
23 See the summary discussion of the topographical content of this
scroll in Emil G. Kraeling, Rand McNally Bible Atlas (New York,
1962; hereafter Kraeling), pp. 66-68.
24 The work of Biblical archaeologists in Palestine has actually been

202

NOTES TO PAGES 2 4 - 2 7

subjected to severe criticism. Writing in 1965, Frederick V.


Winnet remarked that the foundations of some of the edifices
which have been erected by O T scholars in recent years . . . are
in bad shape and stand in need of extensive repairs (Journal of
Biblical Literature, 84 (1965), pp. 1-19). The point of view of
Professor Winnet is upheld by other notable Biblical scholars,
such as J. Maxwell Miller and H. J. Franken.
25 The Goshen (gsn), Pithon (ptm), and Raamses (r'mss) mentioned
in Genesis and Exodus in connection with the stay of the Israelites
in the land o f msrym have never been satisfactorily located in
Egypt (see entries inj. Simons, The Geographical and Topographi
cal Texts of the Old Testament . . . (Leiden, 1959; hereafter
Simons), which makes several tentative identifications). Two
possible Goshens (Ghathan, gtn, and Qashanln, qsnn, plural of
qsn), a Pithom (Al Futaymah, ptym, unvocalised ptm) and a
Raamses (Masas, mss) are still to be found in inland Asir, in the
region of the West Arabian msrym. The initial r in r'mss (Raamses)
is probably the name of a god. In the vocalised form Ra' or
Ra'T, it features as an initial part of a number of West Arabian
place-names.
26 Unlike the Hebrew Bible, which relates the full story of the
ancient Israelites from its legendary beginnings down to the fifth
century B.C., the other historical records which have come down
to us from the various lands of the ancient Near East relate only
bits and pieces of history - king lists, accounts of particular
military expeditions, peace treaties and the like - and in no
case tell the complete story of a particular people, state or
empire.
27 See the translations of the Aramaic papyri of the fifth century
B.C. relating to the Jewish community of Elephantine (apparently
a military colony of the Achaemenid period) in Pritchard,
pp. 491-493, 548-549. Some of these papyri hint at the antiquity
o f the Aramaic-speaking Jewish presence there. Interestingly,
these papyri speak of Jews, not of Israelites.
2

A Q U E S T IO N OF M E T H O D
1 The Biblical slg, for example, which occurs no less than eighteen
times in different Biblical texts, is normally taken to mean
snow, except in job 9:30, where it is not infrequently translated
to mean a cleansing or bleaching material, probably soapwort.
The latter is probably the connotation o f slg in other Biblical
passages, notably in Psalm 51:9. In this context, Purge me with

NOTES TO PAGES 3 2 -3 4

3
4
5

203

hyssop, and I shall be clean; wash me and I shall be whiter than


snow (tkbsny w-m-slg Ibyn) should perhaps be more correctly
rendered as: You shall purge me with hyssop, and I shall be
clean; you shall wash me, and from soapwort I shall be white.
Two cleansing materials - the purgati ve hyssop and the detergent
roots of the soapwort - are obviously what this verse refers to.
For the Arabian soapwort, see below.
The Biblical br Ihy ry means well of the ravine of ry , not well
o f the living one who sees me (l-hy ry), as the name is commonly
interpreted. Even if the Ihy in the name is read l-hy, it would
mean to the living one, not of the living one. Actually, Ihy in
the vocalised Arabic form lahi, means ravine. The name of the
ravine in question is ry, vocalised to read as the Arabic rawi
(rwy), it would mean the irrigated one, not the seeing one or
the one who sees me, which is what the Hebrew form of the
word immediately suggests. This rwy could be none other than
what is to this day the oasis of Rawiyyah (rwy) in Wadi Bishah
(Bishah), in inland Asir. The oasis carrying this name is actually
located along a road leading to a Shur - Al Abu Thawr (twr, cf.
Hebrew swr). It also falls between any of two places called Kadas
(kds, cf. Hebrew qds), on the western slopes of Asir, and another
Wadi Bishah oasis called al-Baridah (brd). For the forced attempts
to locate Beer-lahai-roi in southern Palestine, see Simons, pars.
367, 368; also Kraeling, pp. 69-70.
My attention .was drawn to this by Dr Ahmad Chalabi, a
mathematician and banker, who takes an amateur interest in
geology and Biblical study.
See Ahmad Khattab et alias, Results of a botanic expedition to
Arabia in 1944-194$ (Publication of the Cairo University Her
barium, no. 4, 1971), p. 27.
Snow rarely falls on the mountains of Yemen, in southwest
Arabia, where the rainy season is the summer, the time of the
southwest monsoons. In Asir, however, the mountains capture
the rains of the southwest monsoons in summer as well as
those of the northwesterly winds in winter. Hence, the higher
elevations there receive and sometimes hold the winter snow
(see Chapter 3).
According to Islamic tradition, Muhammad did not forbid the
eating o f the dabb, although he would not eat it himself. Today,
some Arabian Sunnites eat the dabb, while the Shiites hold it in
abomination. As far as I know, the dabb is not found in the
northern lands of the Near East.
For example, one can conclude from the way Arabian placenames o f Hebrew type are actually pronounced that the k was

NOTES TO PAGES 3 6 - 4 2

not normally softened to a h, whereas the h was frequently


pronounced as a h. Likewise, the t was softened into a (, but also
appears to have been a dialectical variant of the s. The 'ayn()
was as often as not pronounced as a g, and the glottal stop
() was often pronounced as a semi-vowel w or y, these two
semi-vowels being in their turn interchangeable, and often voca
lised as an open vowel a.
There is also Biblical evidence for the identification ofjabal Had!
in coastal Asir as the Biblical Horeb. According to Deuteronomy
1:1, Moses spoke to all Israel in the wilderness, in the Arabah
('rbh) over against Suph (swp), between Paran (prn) and Tophel
(tpl), Laban (Ibn), Hazeroth (hsrt) and Dizahab (dy zhb). The
location is the col of Wadi Ghurabah (grbh) which separates the
Ghamid and Zahran regions. A village called al-Safa (sp, cf. swp)
overlooks Wadi Ghurabah from the north. The wadi is also
located between a p rn (Jabal Faran, or pm), to the east; a tpl
(Wadi Tufalah, or tpl), to the south; a Ibn, today the village of
al-Bunn (l-bn), to the north; a dy zhb (Al-Dhuhayb, or dhyb),
also to the north; and a hsrt, today al-HazIrah (hzrt), to the west
(unless it is Jabal Khudayrah, or hdrt, which is yet again to the
north). The name of the Biblical Moses actually survives in the
same vicinity as that of the village of al-Musa. Deuteronomy 1:2
says the place was eleven daysjourney from Horeb. The road
distance between Jabal Had! and Wadi Ghurabah is approxi
mately 200-250 kilometres, and can easily be covered in an
eleven-day hike at the pace of about twenty kilometres a day.
T H E L A N D OF ASIR
Actually, the name Asir (sr, or syr) denotes the tribal highlands
around Abha, though it came to be applied by administrative
usage to the broader area I have indicated. The name appears to
be a survival, by metathesis, of the Biblical Seir, or Mount
Sen- (syr, Genesis 14:6, 36:8f, etc.). For the correlation between
the name Tihamah and the Biblical Tehom, see Chapter 6.
For the correlation between the name Sarat and the Biblical
Israel, see Chapter 10.
For a modern study of the geography and ecology of Asir, see
Kamal Abdul-Fattah, Mountain Farmer and Fellah in Asir . . .
(Erlangen, 1981). For the flora of Asir, see Western Arabia and the
Red Sea (London, H.M .S.O ., 1946), Appendix D, pp. 590-602.
Reference has already been made to the possibility that the camel
was first domesticated as a beast of burden in Asir. See Michael

NOTES TO PAGES 43~77

205

Ripinsky, Camel Ancestry and Domestication in Egypt and the


Sahara, in Archaeology, 36:3 (1983), pp. 21-27.
4 Strabo speaks of the gold of West Arabia, where he describes
the country between the Hijaz and the Yemen (16:4:18): Near
these people is a nation more civilized, who inhabit a district
with a more temperate climate; for it is well watered, and has
frequent showers. Fossil gold is found there, not in the form of
dust, but in lumps, which do not require much purification. The
least pieces are in the size of a nut, the middle size of a medlar, and
the largest of a w aln u t. . . Strabos reference to the temperate
climate and frequent showers in the Arabian country he de
scribes here leaves no doubt that he is speaking of Asir.
5 This Idimah (dm) is one West Arabian location which could
have been referred to in the Bible as Edom (dm). Another, the
one more commonly referred to, is Wadi Iddam (dm), south of
Mecca. A third is represented by the village of Admah (dm), in
the Wadi Bishah region.
6 For the activity of the volcanoes of thejizan region of Asir, see
M. Neumann Van Padang, Catalogue of the Active Volcanoes and
Solfatara Fields of Arabia and the Indian Ocean (Napoli, Inter
national Association of Vulcanology, 1963), pp. 12-13.
4

TH E SEARCH FOR GERAR


1 The dating o f Biblical history is based on historical synchro
nisms, such as that involving the expedition of the Egyptian
ruler Sheshonk I against Judah during the reign of Solomons
son Rehoboam (see Chapter 11). It may therefore be taken as
more or less accurate.
2 The usual identification o f the Hebrew nhl msryn is Wadi alArish, which separates Palestine from Sinai. For the identifica
tion of nhl msrym in West Arabia, see Chapter 15.
3 For the tribe of Simeon and their territory in West Arabia, see
Appendix.

STARTING FROM TEHOM


1 For the discussion of the question of the Biblical Judah, see
Chapter 8.
2 The vocalisation of thwm as tehom is that o f the Masoretic
tradition; the word might well have been originally vocalised
differently.

206

NOTES TO PAGES 7 7 -8 3

3 The semi-vowels y and w in the Semitic languages are readily


interchangeable.
4 The feminine suffix h (the silent t) in the Arabic thmh (which is
strictly thm) emphasises the feminine gender o f the Biblical thwm.
5 Scholars were apparently misled into this view by the fact that
the word thwm (tehoma), in Syriac, means chaos, deep abyss,
bottomless pit, etc., probably from hwm in the sense o f get
lost.
6 The final t in thmt need not be a feminine plural suffix, as it can
also be a feminine singular suffix.
7 The m, which is the preposition from in m-mgd and m-thwm, is
conveniently left out in the translation here, no doubt because it
confused the translator. A note in the RSV admits that m-tl
means with the dew (actually, from the dew) rather than
above. Here tl (noun from til, cover over, roof, or misspelling
for tl, hill, peak) seems to refer to one o f the Samayin ridges.
8 The root brk, meaning bless, is also the Hebrew for kneel
down; figuratively settle down. In Arabic, the primary sense
of brk is settle, settle down.
9 One o f the most common mistakes in the traditional reading of
the Bible involves the confusion o f yhwh in the sense o f he is,
or he shall be (also it is, it shall be), with yhwh as the name
o f the Israelite God Yahweh. For example, the nonsensical The
Lord (yhwh) rained on Sodom and Gomorrah brimstone and fire
from the Lord (s m-t yhwh) out of heaven (Genesis 19:24),
actually reads The Lord (yhwh) rained on Sodom and Gomorrah
brimstone, and it is a fire o f death (w-s mt yhwh) from heaven.
The Hebrew mt here must be read as a variant o f mwt, to
mean death. In the Semitic languages, the glottal stop and the
semi-vowels w and y are readily interchangeable.
7

THE JORDAN QUESTION


1 See Simons, par. 137. Noting that Palestines most substantial
river is never referred to in the Hebrew Bible as a nhr, Simons
adds in a footnote that the problem as to the origin and meaning
o f Jordan , about which divergent opinions have been set forth,
is as yet quite unsolved.
2 Arab geographers originally used the name Urdun (rdn) to
denote the territory of Galilee and the adjacent parts of the Jordan
river valley rather than the Jordan river itself. This name could
be the equivalent of the Hebrew yrdn, but not necessarily. The
Arabic dictionaries derive the name from the root rdn, shrivel,

NOTES TO PAGES 8 5 - 8 6

207

wrinkle, stiffen, with the suggestion that it means rugged,


hardy. For the derivation of yrdn, see below.
3 Countless seasonal and perennial streams spring from the various
parts of the Asir escarpment, which explains the Biblical term
my h-yrdti, or my my h-yrdn (water or waters of the yrdn, see
below). In some instances, however, the term yrdn does feature
in the Bible to mean water stream or pool. In this sense, it
derives from yrd in the Arabic (wrd) sense o f go to water. See
the story of Naaman at the end of this chapter.
4 According to Arab historians, Muhammad went from Medina
to Mecca on his last pilgrimage by way ofjabal Shatan and the
neighbouring village of Kada, which is still there.
5 According to Numbers 33:41-49, Moses led the Israelites in the
last stage of their wanderings from Mount Hor (hr h-hr) to
Zalmonah (slmnh); then to Punon (pwnn); Oboth (&/); Iye-abarim
(yy h-brym), in the territory of the Moab (mwb); Dibon-gad
(dybn gd)\ Almon-diblathaim (Imn dbltym)-, the mountains of
Abarim (hry brym), facing Nebo (nbw)\ the plains of Moab (rbt
mwb), by the Jordan at Jericho ( 7 yrdn yrhw, literally on the
yrdn o f yrhw). Then they encamped by the Jordan ( 7 yrdn,
literally on the yrdn), between Beth-jeshimoth (byt h-ysmt) and
Abel-shittim (bl h-stym), in the plains of Moab (rbt mwb). The
first eight places indicated are in the Ghamid and Zahran regions.
They are today the promontory (Hebrew hr) of al-Harrah (hr,
with the Arabic replacing the Hebrew definite article in the
present name); Salaman (slmn); Jabal al-Nawf (tiwp); Wadi Bat
(bt); the heaped stones (yym) of al-Arba (rb, cf. brym, plural
of the genitive of br), in Jabal Shada, still there as a flat, triangular
slab o f stone raised on three other large stones and revered as a
shrine o f Abraham; the neighbouring villages of Badwan (bdwn)
and al-Ghadhl (gd), near the town of Qilwah; two other villages
of the broader Qilwah vicinity, called Amlah (ml, cf. Imn) and
al-Badlah (bdlt, cf. dbltym as the plural of the name or of its
genitive); and finally the heights of Jabal Gharib (grb), in the
Sarat of Zahran, which actually face Nabah (nb), the Biblical
Nebo, on the southernmost spur of the Taif ridge to the north.
As for rbt mwb, it is not the plains of Moab but the present
village of Ghurabah [grbt, or grbh, see text), located directly east
o f the water divide between the Zahran and Taif regions, and
across the yrdn, or escarpment, from U m m al-Yab (m yb), the
Biblical Moab. This Ghurabah actually lies on the same stretch
o f the yrdn, or escarpment, where the village of Warakh, or
wrh (the Biblical J ericho, see text), is to be found. The area
where the Israelites under Moses finally settled was the stretch

208

10

11

12

13

NOTES TO PAGES 8 6 - 9 2

of highland between al-Athimmah (tm) in the Zahran region,


and the water-course (bl) o f Jabal Shatan (stn), called today
Wadi Wajj, in the Taif region. For the awkward attempts to
explain the geography o f Numbers 33:41-49 in terms of Trans
jordan, see Kraeling, pp. 124125.
The Jordan river in Palestine does not flood at harvest time. In
geographic Asir, however, this is a season of torrential rains
which can cause enormous floods. I visited the area in late May
and verified this fact to my satisfaction.
Travellers visiting coastal Asir, as late as the present century,
report that young men were taken out to a hillock outside
their village to be circumcised there in public. The term for
circumcise in the local usage is alia (I), literally raise, take to
a high place. DhT Ghulf, once called Gibeath-haaraloth, could
have been the site of one hillock where ritual circumcision used
to be performed on young adults.
Biblical scholars have also falsely identified the Biblical Bethel
as the Palestinian village o f Baytln (bytn), on the basis of the
vague resemblance between the two names, and nothing else.
They suggest that Ai could be present-day al-Tall, near Baytln.
For further discussion, see Chapter 13, note 3.
Actually V (rather than 'yr, city), the singular o f ry (or 'rym)
o f the text, and mrh derive from the same root, unattested in
Hebrew, but the Arabic equivalent o f which is gwr, sink, enter,
go into hiding, percolate in the ground. The Arabic equivalent
o f mrh is mgrh, vocalised magarah, and like gar (see text) means
cave and derives from the same root, gwr.
This Ghamr probably lies outside the range o f the volcanic
fallout o f Akwah; so does another Gomorrah of the Jizan
region, which is Ghamrah (gmrh, with the feminine suffix as in
'mrh), in Jabal Bani Malik. The Gomorrahs o f Asir (as gttir or
mr, gmrh or mrh) are too numerous to count.
Biblical scholars have invented the term Pentapolis to refer to
the five cities o f the Jordan plain, comprising Sodom and
Gomorrah along with Admah and Zeboiim (see Chapter 4)
and Bela-Zoar (Genesis 15), although they have not managed
to locate any of these five cities in the Palestinian Jordan valley.
See Simons, par. 271.
For earlier doubts about the Biblical msrym being invariably a
reference to Egypt, see Zeitschriftfiir Assyriologie, 37:76; Reallexi
kon der Assyriologie (ed. E. Ebeling and B. Meissner, Berlin,
1928), I, 255a; Harri Torczyner, Die Bundeslade und die Anfange
der Religion Israels (Berlin, 1930), pp. 67f.
This god was no doubt the I msry (literally, god of the msr

NOTES TO PAGES 9 3 -9 8

209

17

people), whose name survives as that of the village of Al Masri,


in the Taif region. Judging by the distribution of place-names
relating to the root msr in West Arabia, one may suggest that
the Biblical rs msrym extended from the headwaters of Wadi
Bishah, near Abha, to those of Wadi Ranyah, southeast of Taif.
Fuad Hamzah, visiting Asir in 1934, counted twenty-four such
defiles which cross the escarpment from Nimas southwards, not
to mention those between Nimas and Taif. See Ft Bilad Asir
(Riyadh, 1968), pp. 9 i~ 9 3 As described in Van Padang, pp. 14-16, these volcanoes are at
an elevation of about 2,900 metres above sea level, and consist
today o f about sixty cones, mostly of recent age. The craters
and their lava field spread around Jabal Hattab in all directions.
Van Padang indicates, on the authority of the classical Arabic
geographers, that the volcanic eruption described in the Koran
68:17-33 occurred in this district, which is correct. In the Koranic
text, what is destroyed by the eruption is described as a garden
(68:17), and the inhabitants of this garden, according to the
authoritative exegesis of the Koran by al-Fakhr al-Razi, were
said to be Israelites.
This, strictly speaking, is the translation of the Hebrew w-tkl
s b-rzyk, which in no way can mean that the fire may devour
your junipers.
Hebrew yrd.

ARABIAN JU D A H

14

15

16

1 According to Genesis 29:35, 49:8, the name yhwdh, as that of the


eponymous ancestor o f the Judah tribe (one of the twelve tribes
of Israel, see Appendix), means may Yahweh be praised (yhwh
ydh). This is clearly folk etymology, and is only interesting as
such. So far, the name has not been successfully explained, and
has generally been assumed to have been, by origin, the name
o f a tribe rather than that of a territory. Normally, tribes
are called after their territories, although there are cases where
territories have carried the names of tribes which inhabit
them.
2 So far, Biblical scholars have tended to think that the names in
the two lists preceded by bny, or sons o f, were generally tribal
or family names, while those preceded by nwsy, or people
o f, were mainly the ones which were place-names. In ancient
Hebrew, as in modem Arabic usage, one could just as easily
speak o f the sons o f a place as of the people o f a place. The

210

NOTES TO PAGES I O 3 - I I 7

use of both expressions in the same text was, no doubt, for


elegant variation.
This Hajfah, along with Qihafah (qhp ) and Q ihf (qhp ) in the
adjacent region of Rijal Alma, must have been the Ahqaf (plural
o f hqp) of Koran 46:21, traditionally believed to have been the
sand dunes of the Hadramut region, in South Arabia.
What makes the identification of the Biblical Bethlehem with
U m m Lahm, in Wadi Adam, absolutely certain, is its association
in various Biblical passages with the place-name Ephrathah
(prth), which is today Firt (prt), near Um m Lahm, in the same
Wadi Adam. Consider, for example, Micah 5:2: But you,
O Bethlehem of Ephrathah, who are little among the clans of
Judah . . . See also Chapter 9.
This is the Ramah, near Bethlehem, where Rachel was buried,
which is mentioned by the prophets, e.g. Jeremiah 31:35: A
voice is heard in Ramah, lamentation and bitter weeping. Rachel
is weeping for her children . . . For Rachel, see Appendix.
Note the association of Geba and Michmas with Ramah (see
note 5) in Isaiah 10:28-29.

9 JER U SA L EM A N D TH E CITY OF DAVID


1 This Psalm is attributed to the Sons of Korah (bny qrh) whose
name survives intact as that of the villages of al-Qarhah (qrh), in
Jabal Faifa, and al-Qarhan (qrhn ), in Jabal Bani Malik, both in
the Jizan region, far south of Rijal Alma. In an earlier verse of
the same Psalm (48:2), Mount Zion is actually .described as
being in the far north.
2 This is but one possible translation of the original Hebrew:
3

w -yw m r l-dwd l-m r V tb w hnh k y m hsyrk h - w rym w -h-pshym


l-mr I y b w dwd hnh.
The name yrw slym has hitherto been regarded as enigmatic. Most
probably, it means the abode (substantive yrw , cf. Arabic verbal
root ry, abide, dwell), of slym (cf. the surviving Arabic tribal
name Sulaym, or slym , in the Asir highlands). The root ry is
attested in other place-names in West Arabia, such as Arwa (rw)
and Arwa (rw). If it was not the name of a tribe (perhaps a
subdivision of the Jebusites), slym could have been the name of
a local god - perhaps a variant of slm (see Chapter 12).
It is also possible that the name yrw slym combined the present
names of two villages, Arwa (rw) and Al Salam (slm), in the

Tanumah region o f the Sarat, not far south of the Nimas region
(see above).

NOTES TO PAGES I 2 I - I 3 3

211

5 The singular form of this name, hmt (as in Numbers 13:21 and
twenty-nine other places in the Hebrew Bible), also survives in
the southern Hijaz and Asir as the name of one village called
Dhawl Hamat and six villages called Hamatah. The confusion
of this Biblical place-name with that of Hamah (hmh or hmt), of
the Orontes valley in Syria, has done much to throw the tra
ditional understanding of Biblical geography wide of the mark.
The connotation of the same name, as it features in ancient
Egyptian and Mesopotamian records, must also be carefully
reconsidered.
6 Compare the identifications of the names of the gates of Jerusa
lem here with those in j. Simons, Jerusalem in the Old Testament
(Leiden, 1952), which are based on archaeological findings in the
Palestinian Jerusalem, with no toponymic evidence to support
them.
10

ISRAEL A N D SAMARIA

1 I am personally convinced that the (' ntr (or Gods Land) of the
Egyptians is none other than the ysrl (or Gods Highland) of
the Bible - i.e., the Sarat of geographic Asir with its rich forest,
mineral and other resources. Further study, however, is clearly
necessary to substantiate this claim.
2 The name is locally interpreted as a diminutive of the Arabic
sirwal, trousers, which is a highly unconvincing interpretation.
Najd is the traditional name of the Central Arabian plateau. For
evidence of the presence of Israelites in the area in Biblical times,
see the identification of the khnym as an Israelite community of
Wadi Najran and the Yamamah region (Chapter 8).
3 The Samainah (or the SamaIn, also smn) exist today in southern
Palestine. Originally, however, they appear to have come from
a place called al-Simaniyyah (smn) in the Yemen, from where
the tribe derives its name. According to the Biblical account of
them, the Simeonites were a southern tribe in the Biblical land
of the Israelites.
11

TH E ITIN ERA RY OF THE SH ESH O N K


EXPEDITION

1 For these records, seej. Simons, Handbookfor the Study of Egyptian


Topographical Lists Relating to Western Asia (Leiden, 1937),
pp. 178-187; cf. K. A. Kitchen, The Third Intermediate Period in

212

6
7

NOTES TO PAGE I 37

Egypt, 1100-650 B.C. (Warminster, 1973), pp. 293-300, 432-447,


which has a full review of the relevant literature to date. In the
present study, I shall transliterate the Egyptian consonantal
spelling of the place-names in the Sheshonk lists according to
the same system I have adopted with respect to the transliteration
of Hebrew and Arabic place-names, or at least as closely as
possible. To simplify matters for the general reader, I have
maintained, however, the difference between the semi-vowels,
usually distinguished from one another in the transliteration of
ancient Egyptian as an i and a y.
The final V in this, as in other names that follow, appears to have
stood at times for the Hebrew (and Arabic) feminine suffix h
(which is the silent t). As already noted, a number of Biblical
place-names carrying this suffix survive in West Arabia today
without it, while Biblical place-names in the masculine form
often survive in West Arabia today in the feminine, with the
suffix h (the silent t) added.
In Judges 1:27, 5:19-21, this Taanach is geographically associ
ated with Beth-shean (byt sn), Dor (dwr), Ibleam (blm), Megiddo (mgdw), and the torrent of Kishon (nhl qyswn). O f these
five places, only Ibleam remains unidentifiable with a village in
the southern Hijaz. It could be Bilum (bVm), today an oasis of
the Qasim region, at some distance from Taif to the northeast.
It could also be Bani Walibah (wlb), in the Ghamid region,
identified in relation to al-Amiyah {my), in the neighbouring
Zahran region. The other four places, all in the Taif region, are
today the villages of Shanyah (sny), any of several villages called
Dar (dr), Maghdah (mgd), and Qaysan (qysn). The Ta'nuq cited
in the Arabic geographical literature cannot be the Taanach
referred to here, as it is located in the northern rather than the
southern Hijaz.
Not the hitherto suggested Biblical Shunem (swnm), which is
today probably Sanumah (snm), in Rijal Alma; other possibilities
are Nasham (nsm) or Nashim (nsm), in the Jizan region and Dhl
Nisham (nsm), in the Ballasmar region.
Not the hitherto suggested Biblical Beth-shean, already iden
tified in note 3. The bt (Hebrew byt, house) here, as in other
names in the Sheshonk lists, means temple, which is frequently
dropped in the Arabicised forms of these names.
Not the hitherto suggested Biblical Haphraim (hprym, Joshua
19:19), which must be present-day al-Harfan (dual of hrp, as the
Hebrew hprym is the dual of hpr), in Rijal Alma.
The Hebrew name means the two encampments, or (with a
different vocalisation) the encampments. The Arabic name may

NOTES TO PAGES I 3 7 - I 4 8

8
9

10
11

12

213

be not so much a corruption as an attempted translation, as


the Arabic manahi is a plural of manhd, which means encamp
m ent.
N ot the hitherto suggested Biblical Aijalon (ylwn), which is
identified in Chapter ro.
The dt (Arabic dt, vocalised dat) or d (Arabic nominative dw,
vocalised du) in this name as in others means the one o f, i.e.
the goddess o f (feminine dt) or the god o f (masculine d); in
the Arabicised form of the name, it normally features as 7 , the
latter in this case not to be read as the Arabic definite article but
as an independent word which, like Al (also 7 ), would mean
god.
The;) here, as in other names in the Sheshonk lists, is the Arabic
fa y (py), meaning district, vicinity; cf. Hebrew ph, here,
hither, this side.
This is definitely the Biblical Nebaioth (nbywt, or nbyt) listed
among the sons of Ishmael in Genesis 25:13 along with Kedar,
and identified as the Nebaioth of Kedar in Isaiah 60:7. Nabah
is found in the Bajilah district o f the Taif region; so is the village
ofal-Qidarah (qdr), the Biblical Kedar. Thus the Nebaioth are
not the Nabataeans of Petra, as hitherto identified. Nabah is
apparently also the Biblical Nebo.
Because the records of many an Egyptian conquest have been
read with the wrong geography in mind, scholars have concluded
that a number of vain boasts are involved in these records.
Considering that the kingdom of the Mesopotamian Mitanni
had already passed from existence some four centuries before
the time of Sheshonk, this Egyptian rulers statement that he
subdued Mitanni has been taken to be one such boast, which it
obviously was not, as Mitanni was a place in Arabia. Cf.
Pritchard, pp. 263-264, with reference to the literature.

12 M E L C H I Z E D E K : C L U E S T O A P A N T H E O N
1 The title of Psalm 7 associates its composition with a place not a person - called Cush (kws), which is most probably
present-day Kus (kws) or KIsah (kys), both in thejizan region.
It must be noted here that the verse numbers cited for the Psalms
are those o f the Hebrew original, not of the translations.
2 Apart from the god sdq, the names of the gods slm (as slmn, with
the hyperbolic suffix), wlm (as 7 m), and possibly b d (as bdn,
or b-dn, with the archaic definite article), are attested in Arabian
inscriptions.

214

NOTES TO PAGES I 5O-158

3 The verbs of which h-lhym (the gods) are the subject in this
passage appear in the Hebrew text without the plural pronominal
suffix w. This could have been edited out by redactors confused
by the text. On the other hand, they apparently failed to edit
out the definite article in h-lhym.

13

T H E H E B R E W S OF T H E ASIR W O O D S

1 One must not exclude the possibility that the Hebrews received
their name from br in the sense o f crossing, with reference to
the mountain defiles (m'brwt h-yrdn, see Chapter 7) of the heights
of the West Arabian Sarat, which could have been their original
homeland.
2 The god of the woods, whose name is still carried by the village
of A l al-Ghabaran, in the Dhahran region, may also have been
called Abu Ghabar, today the name of a village in Wadi Najran.
Other villages with names derived from gbr are also to be found
in various parts of the Asir highlands.
3 In the Abraham story, as related in Genesis, there could well be
some confusion between these Bethel and Ai of Rijal Alma
and those of the Zahran and Taif regions (Butaylah and Uya),
closer to Wadi Adam (see Chapter 10).
4 There are no less than twenty-eight villages in West Arabia
which still carry the name of this prh as Farah (prh) or al-Farah
(1-prh). That this was the name of a god is clear from the name
of the village A l Firaah ( 7 pr'h), in the Ballasmar district. There
are two villages called al-Farah near Abha, where Misramah is
to be found. The house o{pr'h, which was afflicted with great
plagues because of Sarai, Abrams wife (12:17), was no doubt
the temple of this god in Misramah, where Sarai, taken to be
Abrams sister rather than his wife, was made to stay.
5 The variant spelling of the name may be due to a confusion
between this Dathanah (dtn) and what is today the village of
Dathinah (dtyn) in Wadi Adam, which was the territory of the
Joseph tribe (see Chapter 8 and Appendix).

14

TH E ARABIAN PHILISTINES

1 K. A. Kitchen, The Philistines, in D. J. Wiseman, ed., Peoples


of Old Testament Times (Oxford, 1973), p. 53.
2 The name kws may also be represented by Klsah (kys) and Kus

N OT E S TO PAGES

160-176

215

(,kws) in the Jizan region, and by Kiwath (kwt) near Ghumayqah,


in the Lith region.
3 Phicol has so far been regarded as a non-Semitic name; hence
K. A. Kitchens comment: Finally, on the linguistic plane,
the mixture of both Semitic (Abimelech, Ahuzzat) and nonSemitic (Phicol) . . . shows assimilation of aliens to a Semitic
milieu.
15

THE PROMISED LAND

1 For what Biblical scholars have said about these Biblical peoples,
who were so obviously West Arabian tribes, see the various
entries in D. J. Wiseman, ed., Peoples of Old Testament Times,
already referred to in Chapter 14.
2 The confusion in the Arabicisation of the name is between qrb
(Hebrew and Arabic, scorpion) and the Arabic jM', vocalised
garbii (a desert rodent, the gerboa).
3 Other possibilities are Zafar (zpr) and Dharlf (drp), also in the Taif
region. If the Hebrew zprn is read as z-prn (the one of pm, or
god, i.e. shrine, of pm), the place in question could have been
Faran, in the Zahran highlands, bordering the basaltic desert of
Harrat al-Buqum. In any case, this Faran was no doubt the Biblical
Paran (prn, Genesis 21:21; Numbers 10:12, 12:16, 13:3, 26; Deu
teronomy 1:1, 33:2; 1 Samuel 25:1; 1 Kings 11:18; Habakkuk 3:3).
The El Paran, or Iprn, ofGenesis 14:16, on the other hand, would
be present-day Al Farwan (Iprwn), south ofKhamis Mushait.
4 Here, as in the case o fgld (Gilead) becoming al-Jad (Chapter 1)
and kslh becoming al-Hasakah (Chapter 14), an internal I was
possibly externalised in corruption to become the prefixed Arabic
definite article. The identification of Riblah, however, remains
uncertain.
16

A VISIT T O E D E N

1 Wadi Harjab, one of the three principal tributaries of Wadi


Bishah, joins the confluence at approximately the same point.
The author o f Genesis appears to have regarded it as an extension
o f Wadi Tindahah which, like Wadi Harjab, joins the main
course of Wadi Bishah from the eastern side.

N O T E TO PAGE 1 8 1

SONGS FROM THE JIZAN M O U N TA IN S


Morris S. Seale, The Desert Bible (London, 1974), condensed
from pp. 54-74-

INDEX

Abarim , m ountains of, 207 n.5


Abdullah, 129
Abel-shittim , 207 n. 5
Abimelech, King, 49, 57, 160
A braham (Abram); H ebro n associated
with, u i ; j o u r n e y , 152-4; king o f
Salem and, 144, 147; land prom ised
to, 166-70; L o ts parting from , 89;
sacrifice o f Isaac, 150
Achaemenes: Judah under, 97, 98; West
Arabian conquests, 17-18,20
A dam , 174, 177
A dam (place), 86, 87, 88
Adhrah, 146
A dm ah, 57, 58, 60, 208 n. 11
Adoraim , 129
Aelia Capitolina, 21
agriculture: in Asir, 42, 43
Ahab, King, 68, 70
Ahuzzath, King, 160
Ai, 89, 131, 153, 208 n.8, 214 n.3
Aijalon, 130, 213 n.8
Ain, 172
Akkadian language, 3, 19
A krabbim , ascent of, 171
Alexander the Great, 20
A lm on-diblathaim , 207 n. 5
alphabet, consonantal, xi, 5, 19, 30-1
Am ana, peak of, 184
A m arna Letters, 72-5, 151
A m orite people, 169
A m os, Book of: on Tehom , 81
A nam im tribe, 159
Arabah, Sea of, 86, 87, 204 n.8
Arabia, West: com m erce, 9-11, 17, 44,
126; emigration from to Palestine,
1115; historical traditions related in
H ebrew Bible and Koran, 36, 158;
imperial conquests, 14-15, 17, 20,
71-2, I26 ;judaism s origins in, 8,
18-23, 97-8; language shift, 18-19, 3,
201 n. 19; survival o fju d aism in, 18,
19-20, 22; tribes, 125-6, 191-5
Arabic language: classical, 3; alphabet,

31, 32; Aramaic replaced by, 18, 201


n. 19; Biblical H ebrew interpreted in
light of, 27; transliteration, xi-xiii
Arabic love poetry, Song o f Songs
and, 180-1
A ram , 95-6, 195, 197-8 n.3
Aramaeans, 197-8 n.3; Laban as, 195
Aramaic language, xi, 3, 9, 18, 201 n.19,
20; H eb rew Bible translated into, 28;
proxim ity betw een Canaanite and, 9,
18; Syriac m od ern form of, 27;
vocalisation o f H ebrew based on, 19
archaeology: in Asir, absence of, 60;
Egyptian artefacts, 133; inconclusive
evidence from , 64-73; little evidence
on prom ised land, 169-70; mis
leading historical and geographical
assum ptions underlying, 23-4, 63-4,
190; need for in N im as region, 118,
122; place-name study compared
w ith, 29; toponym ic evidence m ust be
corroborated by, 32, 108-9
Arkites, 139
Arw ad, 12, 198 n.7
Asa, King, 49, 53, 56
Ashdod, 161
A sher tribe, 125, 192, 194, 195
Ashkelon, 161, 162
Asir: archaeological excavations n ot yet
undertaken in, 60; Biblical placenames concentrated in, 7; caravan
trade, n , 44; geographic isolation and
disunity, 44-6; geography and
ecology, 38-43; m onotheism in, 8,
147-50
Assyria: invasion o f West Arabia, 14, 15;
Sheshonks expedition n ot in, 142;
topographical lists, 71-2
Aynln, 172
Azekah, 66, 67, 130
Azm on, 172
Baal (gods), 149
Baal-hamon, vineyard at, 186

218
Babylon: Israelites return from , 98-108;
W est Arabia conquered by, 14-15
Barakah, 78, 79
Bashan, 94
B ath-rabbim , gate of, 185
Beersheba, 50-1; archaeological
excavations near, 50, 64; Gerar and,
47, 49, 51, 54; Strabo on, 35; W est
Arabian location, 54, 56, 6o, n o
Bela-Zoar, 208 n. 11
Benjam in tribe, 125, 193, 194
Ben-oni, 193
Bethel, 89, 128, 131, 153, 208 n . 8
Beth-horon, 137
Beth-jeshim oth, 207 n. 5
Bethlehem , 107, 108, 127, 210 n.4;
D avid from , 97; mentioned, 12, 129
Beth-rehob, 197 n. 3
Beth-shean, 212 n. 3
Beth-tappuah, 139
Bethuel, 194
Beth-zur, 129
Bible, see H eb rew Bible
Bilhah (Rachels maid), 194, 195
Bishah, G arden o f Eden in, 173-7
Canaanite people, 159; Israelites
attem p t to subdue, 114; language, 3,
9, 18, 201 n.19 (see also Hebrew );
m igration to Palestine, 11-12; in
prom ised land, 168, 169, 170;
territory, 47, 49, 57-9, 197 n. 3
C aph torim tribe, 160
Carchem ish, battle of, 14, 199 n. 11
Carm el, M ount, 12, 185, 186, 199 n.8
C asluhim tribe, 160
cedar: confusion w ith juniper, 94, 200
n.13
Chaala, 55, 56
Cherethites, 157
cherubim : in Garden o f Eden, 174, 175,
177, 178-9
Chinnereth, Sea of, 170
Christianity: new insights into possible,
189-90
Chronicles: on Gerar, 49, 52-3, 60; on
Israelite territory, 129; o n Philistines,
161; o n Sheshonk, 133, 136
circumcision, mass, 85, 86, 88-89, 28
n -7
Crete, Philistines not from , 157
C ush, land of, 174, 175-6, 213 n. 1
C ush tribe, 158
Cushites: traditionally Ethiopians, 49,
52-3, 54; W est Arabian location, 54-6
D agon (Philistine god), 161
Damascus, 96, 185, 186, 197 n .3
Dan, n o , 128

INDEX
Dan tribe, 125, 162, 192, 194, 195
Darius I, King, 200 n. 18
David: All Israel ruled by, 25, 97, 123;
descendants rivalry w ith Israel, 127,
130; H ebron as capital of, 111-12, 118;
Jerusalem captured by, II , 112-18
David, C ity of, 113-15, 117, 118-19, 122
Dead Sea, erroneous reference to, 87,
170
D ead Sea scrolls, 22, 28
Delilah, 162-3
D euteronom y: on blessing o fjo sep h
tribe, 78, 80; on H oreb, 204 n.8; on
M ounts G erizim and Ebal, 131-2; on
w andering Aramaean, 195
D ibon-gad, 207 n. 5
Dizahab, 204 n.8
D or, 212 n .3
D othan, 155
Ebal, M o unt, 131-2
Eden, G arden of, 1 7 3 -9
E dom , 171, 205 n.5
Egypt, erroneous references to, 24,
92-3, 153, 158-9, 166-8, 172
Egyptians: C ushites unlikely to have
been, 52-3; language, 135; military
expeditions against Judah, 14-15,
133-42; records, place-names in, 14,
24, 34, 71, 135-42, 151, 200 n. 12
E kron, 161
Elath inscription, 64
El Elydn (god), 143, 144, 145, 147. *49
Hlohim, 147, 149
En-gedi, 183
En-nakkore, spring of, 162
Ephraim , 127
E phraim tribe, 125-6, 194
Ephraim ite, place-nam e mistranslated
as, 127
Eran, 139
Esdraelon, Plain of, 128
Esek, well of, 49, 54n., 60
Eshtaol, 162
Etam , 129, 162
Ethiopians, C ushites traditionally
identified as, 49, 52-3, 54
Euphrates, River, erroneous
assum ptions concerning, 166, 168,
174, 176, 199 n. 11
Eve, 174, 177
Exodus: on T eh om , 80; on Y ahweh, 152
Ezekiel: o n Philistines, 157
Ezer, 146
Ezion-Geber, 64
Ezra: o n Israelites return from Babylon,
98-108
fauna and flora, to pon ym ic analysis

219

INDEX
supported by, 33-4
folk songs, placc-names in, 182
forests, 42; H ebrew s as people from, 152
Gad tribe, 125, 192, 194, 195
Galeed, 9
Galilee, 12
Gallus, Aelius, jo u rn ey of, 55-6
gate-keepers, mistranslation of, 101
Gath, 129, 161
Gaza: as Canaanite city, 159; Gerar
assum ed to be near, 47, 49, 50, 51, 54,
58-9, 60; as Philistine city, 161;
Sam sons death in, 163
Gebal, 12
Gedor, 60
Genesis: on A braham , 150, 152-4; on
A ram , 197 n . 3; on Benjam in, 193; on
blessing o fjo se p h tribe, 78, 80; on
G arden o f Eden, 173-6; on Gerar and
Canaanite territory, 47-9, 50, 54,
56-60; on Israelite tribes, 194-5; n
Jacob and Labans covenant, 9; on
L ots jo urney, 89-92; on m eaning o f
Israel and Judah, 124, 2 0 9 n . i ; o n
Melchizedek and A bram , 143-4, 147;
on M o u n t Seir, 204 n. 1; o n prom ised
lan d, 166-70; as proto-historical
record, 25; on Sodom and G om orrah,
206 n.9
geology, toponym ic evidence supported
by, 33
Gerar, 47-62
Gerizim, M ount, 131-2
G ibbethon, 128
G ibeath-haaraloth, 85, 86, 88-9, 208 n .7
Gibeon, 112, 118, 137
Gihon, River, 174, 175-6
Gilead, M ount, 183
Gilgal, tw elve stones of, 88
G irgashite people, 169
gold: in Asir, 43, 205 n.4; in G arden o f
Eden, 174, 175
G om orrah, see Sodom
Goshen, 202 n.25
Greek, Bible translated into, see
Septuagint
H adlqat al-Rahm an, 178
Hadrian, Jerusalem rebuilt by, 21
H am , Philistines descended from,
158-60
H am ath, 172
Ham irah, 162, 163
Haphraim , 212 n.6
Haran, 153
Hasm onaeans, 21, 22
Havilah, 174, 175
Hazeroth, 204 n.8

Hazzar-addar, 172
H ebrew Bible: books comprising, 2;
dating and com position, 2-3; early
translations of, 28; geography and
history of, erroneous assum ptions
relating to, 23-6, 133; im portance o f
cannot be underm ined, 190; mis
translations, 1, 3, 5, 34
Hebrew , Biblical: interpretation in light
o f m odern Semitic languages, 27;
spoken by Philistines, 160; traditional
(Masoretic) vocalisation, 3, 5, 27-8;
transliteration, xi-xiii; vocalisation,
xi, 3, 5, 19-20, 27, 28, 31-2; w ide
spread use of, 156; see also placenames, Biblical
Hebrew , rabbinical, 27, 31
H ebrew people, 151-6; fruitless search
for evidence o f in M esopotamia, 24
Hebron: A bram in, 111, 153-4; as
D avids capital, 111-12, 118; Joseph
in, r 55; mentioned, 12, 130
Helkath-hazzurim , 112
H erm on, peak of, 12, 184
H erod the Great, King, 21
Herodotus: on W est Arabian origins o f
Palestinian inhabitants, 11, 35, 159
Heshbon, 185
Hezekiah, King, 64-5
Hijaz, 38, 40; Biblical place-names in, 7;
Israelite-Moab wars in, 69-70
Him yar, Jew ish k ingdom of, 22
Hinnorp, Valley of, 122
H iram , King, 198 n .7
Hittite people, 168-9
H or, M ount, 172, 207 n. 5
Horeb, M oun t, 35-6, 204 n.8
Ibleam, 212 n.3
im m igration, place-name origins and,

12

inscriptions, m isinterpretation of,


64-71, 72-5
Isaac, sacrifice of, 150
Isaiah: on daughters o f Z ion and
Jerusalem , 16; on Geba and Michmas,
210 n. 6; on language o f Canaan, 197
n.2; Messiah prophesied by, 146, 148;
on N ebaioth o f Kedar, 213 n .i 1
Israel: etym ology, 124-5; rivalry w ith
Judah, 15, 96, 126-7, I2 9, 130;
Samaritan sect, 130-1; territory, 126,
127-30
Israelites: affinity w ith Canaanites and
Aramaeans, 9; conquest o f Jerusalem,
114, 116; crossing o f J o rd a n , 85-9;
Hebrew s p re-em inent am ong, 154-5;
im portance of, 190; im prisonm ent in
Egypt, ho archaeological evidence

INDEX

220
Israelites (cont)
for, 24; keen sense o f history, 25;
kingd om established by, 12, 15, 25,
126; king dom partitioned into J u d a h
and Israel, 15, 96, 126-7, 129, 130;
Philistines com pared with, 160-1;
return from Babylon, 98-108;
territory, Philistine territory in
relation to, 162-5; twelve tribes of, 97,
98, 125-6, 154-5, 191-2; wars w ith
M oab, 69, 70; see also Israel; Judah
Issachar tribe, 125, 192-3, 194
Jacob, 9, 194
Jacob people, 195
Jebusite people: Jerusalem captured
from , h i , 112, 113, 115-17; in
prom ised land, 169
Jegar-sahadutha, 9
Jeremiah: on Jo rd a n , 93; on Rachel, 210
n.5
Jericho, 86, 87, 88, 108, 131
Jeroboam , King, 127-8
Jerusalem , 12, 21; daughter of, 16-17,
200 n. 15; D avids capture of, 111,
112-18;gates, 119-21; imperial
control of, 21; inscription assumed
to refer to, 66, 67-8; Sheshonks
successes in area of, 135, 136, 139;
Siloam inscription found at, 64-5;
Solo m o n s jo u m e y to, 118-19; in
Song o f Songs, 184, 187; West
Arabian location, 110-23
Jewish religion, ieejudaism
Jezreel, 128, 129
Jizan region, 43; land o f C anaan in, 59;
returning Israelites from , 102-4, 105;
Sargon IIs conquests in, 71; Sheshonk
in, 135, ! 39; Song o f Songs from ,
180-8; Z eboiim located in, 19
Jonah: o n T eh om , 80-1; use o f term
H e b re w in, 155
Jordan, 12, 25; identification o f as
topographical term , 83-96; prom ised
land in relation to, 171
Joseph, 154-5
Joseph tribe, 125-6, 193, 194; blessing
of, 78-80
Josephus, Flavius: o n Jew ish history, 22
Joshua: crossing o f Jordan, 25, 85-9
Joshua, B ook of: on Gerizim and Ebal,
131, 132; o n H aphraim , 212 n.6; on
J o rd a n , 93
Jo tham , King, 64
Judah, 40, 97; Egyptian m ilitary
expedition against, 14-15, 133-42;
kin g d o m established, 126; land
prom ised to A bram , 166-70;
Philistine raid on, 192; rivalry w ith

Israel, 15, 126-7, 129; territory, 126-7,


129-30; W est Arabian location, 97-109
Judah tribe, 125, 191-2, 194
Judaism : developm ent and spread,
130-1; establishement in Palestine,
8-18, 26, 131; new insights into,
189-90; origins, 8, 97-8; W est Arabian
origins forgotten, 18-23; West
Arabian survival, 18, 19-20, 22
Judges, 25
Judges, Book of: on capture o f
Jerusalem , 113, 114; o n J o rd a n , 93;
on M o u n t Gerizim, 132; on
Philistines, 160, 161; on Samson,
162-4; on Taanach, 212 n.3
Junaynah, 173, 177
juniper, confusion betw een cedar and,
94, 200 n. 13
Kadesh, G e rara n d , 49, 51-2, 54, 56-7,
60
K adm onite people, 168
Karkara, battle of, 199-200 n. 11
Kedar, 183, 213 n . n
Kenite people, 168
Kenizzite people, 168
K idron, b rook of, 122
Kings, B ook of: on brook o f Kidron,
122; o n daughters o f Z io n and
Jerusalem , 16; o n extent o f All Israel,
110; on Jeroboam , 128; o n Jo rd a n ,
93, 95; o n Sheshonk expedition, 133
Kishon, 212 n.3
Korah, Sons of, 186-7, 210 n. I
Koran, evidence from , 35-6; on Gardens
o f Eden, 178
Laban (Jacobs uncle), 9, 194, 195
Laban (place), 204 n.8
Lachish, 129-30; O straca, 65-8
Lakhyah, 162, 163
languages, ancient, misleading
assum ptions about, 24; see also Arabic;
Aramaic; H ebrew ; Semitic etc.
Lasha, 57, 58, 60
Leah (Jacobs wife), 194, 195
Lebanon, 12, 198 n.7, 199 n.8;
erroneous reference to, 94; in Song o f
Songs, 184, 185, 186
Lehabim tribe, 159
Lehi, 162
Levi tribe, 125, 191, 194
Levites, m istranslation concerning,

100-1

Lith region: Israelites from , 107;


Sheshonk in, 135, 136-7, 139-40;
story o f Sam son in, 162
locusts, 40, 154
Lod, 108

INDEX
Lot, jo u rn ey of, 89-92
L udim tribe, 159
Machpelah, cave of, 154
M ahanaim , 137
M ahaneh, 162
M alothas, 55, 56
M am re, w o od of, 152, 153, 154
Manasseh tribe, 125-6, 194
M areshah, 49, 53, 56, 60, 129
M aslam ah (high priest), 178-9
M asoretic scholars, 5, 27-8
M egiddo, 212 n. 3
Melchizedek, King, 143-5, H 7
M erom , 140
Mesha, King, 68-9, 70
M esopotam ia: A bram assumed to come
from , 152; Eden assumed to be in,
173; fruitless search for H ebrew s in,
24; invasion o f West Arabia, 15;
m yths, 8; records, Biblical placenames in, 24, 34, 71-2; Sheshonks
expedition not in, 141-2
Messiah, 146, 148
metathesis, xiiin., 4-5, 30
Micah: on Bethlehem, 210 n.4; on
d aughters o f Z ion and Jerusalem , 16,
200 n. 15
M illo o f Jerusalem , 113, 114-15
minerals: in Asir, 43
M iqaddah, 78, 79
M isram ah, 54, 91, 92, 153, 154, 155,
168, 172
M itanni, 141, 213 n. 12
M izpah, 9
M oab territory, 207 n.5
M oabite Stone, m isinterpretation of,
68-70
m onotheism , developm ent of, 8, 147-50
M oreh, w o o d of, 152, 153
M oriah, land of, 150
Moses: K oran on, 35; land prom ised to,
170-2; leadership oflsraelites, 25, 86,
207 n.5
M uham m ad, Prophet, 178
N aam an o f A ram , 95-6
Nablus, 126, 131-2; O stracanear, 65
N abodinus, King, 15
N aharaim , 141
N aphtali tribe, 125, 192, 194, 195
N ap h tu h im tribe, 159-60
N ebaioth, 213 n. n
N eb o, 106, 108, 2 0 7 n.5, 213 n . n
Nebuchadnezzar, King, 15
N echo II, King, 14
Negeb: A bram in, 153; G erar and, 49,
50; L ots departure from , 89
Negra, 55

221
Nehem iah: on Israelites return from
Babylon, 98-108
N im as, 40
N o d , land of, 174, 177
N um bers, B ook of: on Jo rd a n , 93; on
M osesjo u rn ey w ith Israelites, 207-8
n.5; o n prom ised land, 166, 170-2
O both, 2 0 7 n.5
'Oldm (god), 144-5, 146. 147
O ld T estam ent, see H ebrew Bible
olive oil, 33
Olives, M o u n t of, 121
O m ri, King, 68, 69, 70
O ph rah, 146
O straca, m istranslation of, 65-8
Paddan-aram , 197 n. 3
Palestine: archaeological evidence from
inconclusive, 64-71; assum ed to be
original land o f H ebrew Bible, 21-3;
im m igration from West Arabia,
11-15; imperial control of, 20-1;
Judaism established in, 8-18, 26, 131;
Philistine and Canaanite settlem ent in,
11-12, 157; W est Arabian place-names
in associated w ith im m igration, 12
Paran, 2 0 4 n.8, 215 n .3
Pathrusim tribe, 160
Pentapolis, 208 n. 11
Penuel, 128
Perizzite people, 169
Persian empire, 17-18, 20
Pharaoh, 92-3
Phicol, Chief, 160
Philistine people: assum ptions about,
24, 157; as descendants o f Ham ,
158-60; Gerar and, 50, 57; Israelites
com pared w ith, 160-1; Judah raided
by, 192; in Palestine, 11-12, 157;
territory, 49-50, 161-5
Phoenicia, n , 159
Pishon, River, 174, 175, 176
Pithon, 202 n. 25
place-names: language shift reflected in,
18-19; Palestinian, West Arabian
origins of, 12; persistent survival, 29;
in Song o f Songs, 182-7; topo
graphical elements in, 83-5
place-names, Biblical: concentration in
Asir, 7; errors in recognition of, 34,
94-5, 98-108, 189; evidence on in
other ancient records etc., 24, 34-6,
71-2, 133-42, 151; inscriptions
relating to, m isinterpretation of,
64-71, 72-5; linguistic analysis, 1,
29-32; w ro n g ly identified w ith
Palestinian place-names, 23

222
priests, place-names m istranslated as,
99-100
prophets, Judaism developed by, 97-8
Proverbs: on T eho m , 81-2
Psalms: attributed to Sons o f Korah,
186-7; on hyssop and snow , 202-3
n. 1; on Melchizedek, 143, 144-5; on
T eh om , 80; on Z ion, 115
Ptolemies, 20
Punon, 207 n. 5
P ut tribe, 158
Q arhoh, M oabite Stone at, 68-9
Raamses, 202 n.25
Rabldah, 78, 79, 80
Rachel (Labans daughter), 194-5, 210
n.5
Rahm , 78, 79
rainfall: in Asir, 42
Rakkah, 78, 79
Ramah, 210 n, 5
Ramath-lehi, 162
Rebekah (Jacobs m other), 194
Red Sea, 170, 171, 172
Rehoboam , King, 127, 129, 136
Rehoboth, 49, 55 n., 60
Rephaim people, 169
Reuben tribe, 125, 191, 194
Riblah, 172
riddles o f Solom on, 163-4
Rom ans, Palestine controlled by, 21
Sabaoth, 16, 118, 200 n. 17
Salem: king-priests of, 143-4, 145. 146,
147; shrine at, 115
Samaria: captured by Sargon II, 15; as
Israelite capital, 15, i n , 128-9, 131;
Jo rd a n and, 95-6; O straca of, 65
Sam aritan sect, 130-1
Samson, 162-4
Samuel, B ook of: on D avids capture o f
Jerusalem , i i 2 - i 7 ; o n Philistines, 157;
use o f term H e b rew in, 155
Sarai (A bram s wife), 214 n.4
Sarat highalnds, 38-40, 42, 85; Israel
related to, 124; Sheshonk in, 135
Sargon II, King: conquest oflsrael by,
15; topographical list of, 71-2
Saul, 25
Sedeq, king-priests of, 145, 146, 147
Seir, M ount, 204 n. 1
Seleucid empire, 20-1
Semitic languages: co m m o n features of,
3-5; consonantal alphabet, xi, 5, 19,
30-1; H ebrew as dialect of, .8-9 (see
also Hebrew ); metathesis in , xiiin.,
4-5, 30; m o d em , Biblical H ebrew
interpreted in light of, 27

INDEX
Senir, peak of, 184
Sennacherib, King, 200 n. 16
Septuagint, 22, 28, 142, 152
Sharon, rose of, 183
Shechem, 127-8, 132, 153, 155
Shepam, 172
Sheshonk I, King: expedition of, 14,
133-42; Je ro b o a m s refuge with, 127
Shittim, 85-6
Shulamm ite, 181, 185
Shunem , 212 n.4
Shur, Gerar and, 49, 51-2, 54, 56-7, 60
Sidon, Gerar and, 47, 49, 50, 57-8, 60;
mentioned, 12, 159
Siloam inscription, 64-5
Simeon tribe, 125, 191, 194
singers, m istranslation concerning, 101
Sitnah, well of, 49, 55n. 60
snow , 33
soapw ort, 33, 202-3 n - J
Soco, 129
Sodom and G om orrah: G erar and, 57,
58, 60; volcanoes and, 33, 58, 92;
mentioned, 90, 91
Solom on: All Israel ruled by, 25,
11 o - 11; copper mines, 64; Je ro b o a m s
rivalry with, 127; jo u rn e y from C ity
o f D avid to jerusalem , 118-19; palace,
33; servants, 103-4; Song o f Songs,
180-8
Song o f Songs, 180-8
Sorek, 163
Strabo: on Aelius Gallusjo urney, 55-6;
on Beersheba, 35; on birds in Asir, 34;
on gold in Asir, 175, 205 n.4
Succoth (god), 149
Suph, 2 0 4 n.8
Syriac language, 27
Taanach, 137, 212 n.3
Tables o f Nations, 158
Taif, 38; battle o f Carchem ish near, 14,
199 n. n ; Israelites from , 108;
Sheshonk in, 135, 139, 140-1
Tall al-D uw ayr Ostraca, 65-8
Tehom, T iham ah identified as, 76-82
Teim a, 15
Tekoa, 129
tem ple-servants, m istranslation of,
101-3
T hadyayn, 78, 79
Tigris, River: erroneously assum ed to
Be in Garden o f Eden, 174, 176
T im nah, 162
Tirzah, 128, 184, 187
T ophel, 2 0 4 n.8
topographical lists, 71-2, 136, 151
toponym ic analysis, 1, 29, 32;
archaeological corroboration

INDEX
neccssary, 32, 108-9; evidence
supporting, 32-4
trade, West Arabian, 9-11, 17, 44, 126
T ransjordan, 70
trees, sacred: in Eden, 174, 175, 177
T yre, 12, 159, 198, n.6, 7
U r o f the Chaldaeans, 152-3
U rdu n, Arab geographers use of, 206-7
n.2
vocalisation, Hebrew , xi, 19-20, 31.-2;
traditional (Masorctic), 3, 5, 27-8
volcanoes, 35, 36, 43, 81, 92, 205 11.6,
209 n. 15
W ahdah, 40
West Arabia, see Arabia, West
woods, H ebrew s from, 152
Y ahweh, 144-5,
147; cult o f
developed into w orld religion, 130;
G arden o f Eden and, 173, 174; a s God
o f the H eb rew s, 15, 155; Hebrew

223
form of, 80, 90, 206 n.9; land
prom ised by, 166-72; in place-names,
148-9; as suprem e god, 8, 147-50
Y am am ah, 178
Zalm onah, 207 n.5
Zaredah, 127
Zarethan, 86, 87
Z eboiim , 19, 57, 58, 60, 208 n. 11
Zcbulun tribe, 125, 193
Zechariah: on 'daughters o f Zion and
Jerusalem , 17, 200-1 n. 18; on Jordan,
93-5; on M o unt o f Olives, 121
Zedad, 172
Zephaniah: on Philistines, 157
Zephathah, valley of, 49, 53, 60
Zerah the C ush ite, 49, 53, 55
Zilpah (Leahs maid), 194, 195
Zin, desert of, 171
Zion: C ity o f D avid and, 113-15, 117,
118-19, I22; dau g h ter of, 15-16, 200

n.15

Ziph, 129
Z iphron, 172
Zorah, 130

I BELIEVE I HAVE MADE A REMARKABLE


DISCOVERY, WHICH SHOULD MAKE
POSSIBLE A RADICAL REINTERPRETATION
OF THE OLD TESTAMENT
Kamal Salibi, professor of history at the American University
of Beirut, reveals startling linguistic evidence which
controversially suggests that Judaism originated not in
Palestine but in West Arabia.
Whilst looking at a gazeteer of Saudi place names, he noticed
a remarkable concentration of Biblical place names in an
area 600km long by 200km wide - Asir. Ancient Hebrew, like
Arabic, was written without vowels. Salibi believed that
scholars of the sixth centuiy might have added the vowels
wrongly when standardizing texts, and so he went back to the
original unvowelled Old Testament to prove histheoiyand it did.
The geography of Palestine has never corresponded in any
way to the apparently specific stories in the Bible. Salibis
research authenticates the events as histoiy for the first time
- but within an Arabian setting.
This book has caused a predictable storm amongst
academics and politicians. The issue is of such importance
that everyone should read the evidence first-hand.
Avery important book Contemporary Review
Professor Salibi presents histheoiy both confidently and
with becoming modesty Country Life
Cover photography by P eter Williams

ISBN 0 - 3 3 0 - 2 1 S 1 V S
PHILOSOPHY/RELIGION

U.K.

3.95

9 0 0 0 0

111

7 8 0 3 3 0

2 9 5 1 9 2