Even though the name
The Assyrian records mention Kûsh and Mušuri in reference to the Northern Arabian peoples conquered by Asarhaddon, as a different event from his conquest of
These names recall the Biblical brothers
Another interesting detail is that Salmaneser does not mention any king of Mušuri, unlike he does regarding the other kingdoms, and it is unthinkable that the Assyrian king would have not been proud of mentioning the Pharaoh among his tributaries. Indeed, the Arabian Mušuri were a confederation of nomadic tribes without any organized state, and this is confirmed by the fact that later Tiglath-Pileser assigned an "Arubu" (Arab?) as governor over Mušuri, whose name was Idiba'ilu, name that may indicate his belonging to the Ishmaelite tribe of Adbe'el.
The absence of monarchy in Mušuri by that time is confirmed by later Assyrian accounts attesting that the royal house of that country was founded as a vassal
The existence of
Now let us consider the table of peoples and tribes of
Southern Arabianswere originally Kushitic (Ethiopic). The most ancient Sabeans were closely related with Nubians and Abyssinians dwelling on the opposite shores of the Red Seaand the Gulf of Aden. Their country roughly coincides with modern , where the Kushitic Sabeans have left some hints that allow to identify them as tribes that created a sort of organized states or kingdoms, reported in ancient chronicles as Sabatan, whose capital was the city of Yemen . They transferred some typical Ethiopic features to their Semitic successors, like the female-ruled monarchy, common to all ancient Shabwah Arabia. These seven Hamitic tribes were partially displaced to the Horn of Africa and Meroë by the Semitic Sabeans (Yoqtanites) that came after them, but a large number intermarried and were assimilated into the new nationalities that emerged from the mixture of both groups.
The identity of the twelve Yoqtanite tribes faded away with the formation of different kingdoms: Sheva, Ma'in, Awsan, Qataban, Hadhramawt and Himayar. The Sabean peoples did not keep history records for centuries, until they had relationships with
Northern Arabianswere called mainly after Avrahamic tribes, which apparently would grant them to be classified into the Semitic stock. Nevertheless, the Kushitic character is strongly remarkable since these lands were inhabited by Hamitic peoples ( Kush, Havilah and Mušuri) long before the first Semites arrived in this territory and both groups intermarried. The process of Semitization was completed only under the Assyrian rule, around the 7th century b.c.e.
The origin of these Arabian tribes is connected with Avraham's concubines, Hagar and Qeturah, from whom respectively originated the Ishmaelites (or Hagarites) and the Midyanites (actually one of these tribes, whose name was extended to the others). Avraham was an Akkadian that moved first into the
The Midyanites settled in the region of
In support of the Kushite character of Midyan, there are some ancient texts that link the land and people of Midyan with Kush, and also the Hebrew Scriptures suggest this connection: It is typical in Hebrew poetry to compose verses repeating the same concept twice but with different words, like the statement written in Havaqquq 3:7 "I saw the tents of Kushan under sorrow; the curtains of the land of Midyan trembled" -- here the Prophet uses the names "Midyan" and "Kush" as synonymous. Such an identification of Northern Arabians with Kushites explains the controversy regarding the Kushite wife of Mosheh mentioned in Bemidbar 12:1; here the question emerges, whether she is to be identified with Tzipporah the Midyanite or not, and some interpreters like Rashi assert that this woman is indeed Tzipporah. If Midyan would have been so clearly distinguishable from
The Ishmaelites dwelled near the Midyanites, in the region described as follows: "from Havilah as far as Shur, which is east of Mitzrayim as you go towards Ashshur. He settled before the face of all his brothers" (Bereshyit 25:18); in other words, their territory extended from the coastland by the Persian Gulf next to Southern Mesopotamia [Havilah] up to the border of Midyan [Shur], which is east of Egypt, along the way that leads northwards; the Ishmaelites settled at the east (meaning of the statement "before the face") of all their brothers [Midyanites and Hebrews]. This territory roughly coincides with the land called Mušuri in Assyrian accounts. In Bereshyit is written "Yishmael dwelt in the wilderness of Paran, and his mother took a wife for him from the
Of course, if these twelve sons would have founded their tribes within
The Ishmaelites were associated with Midyanites since early times in such a way that both terms became interchangeable. Their territories were not sharply defined and it seems that only the Midyanites had organized kingdoms and were the leading branch during the first centuries. Progressively, the distinction between both groups vanished by mutual assimilation. Conquered by the Assyrians, the Ishmaelites were not relevant until the Persian period, when the tribe of Qedar assumed the hegemony over the Northern Arabian peoples, but the first true kingdom was founded by the Nabateans, that arose as the leading Ishmaelite tribe in Roman times. The Nabateans extended their dominion up to the present-day
Taking account of the Hebrew Scriptures and other ancient records, it is possible to establish that the term Arab was originally applied to the Nabateans, that inhabited the wilderness region to the east of Israel, from Edom to Syria (not properly in the mainland of Arabia). Such an identification is confirmed by historians of Roman times like Strabo and Josephus, that used the terms Arab and Nabatean as synonymous. The Nabatean sovereigns were usually called "kings of the Arabs" and their realm was known as
The name Nabatean is referred to Ishmael's firstborn son Nebayot, founder of the tribe that prevailed over the northwestern branch of the Ishmaelites and evolved into an organized kingdom, while the southeastern ones kept their Bedouin life-style within the oases of
The region where the Nabateans settled favoured their development as a Semitic culture that progressively replaced their natural Kushitic character. Intermarriage with Arameans was common and determined the origin of the modern Syrians. In fact, there were no marriage restrictions neither for men nor for women among Nabateans to take foreign spouses, and it is likely that such a practice was even encouraged. Mutual assimilation with the local Semitic population was also decisive in the formation of the Arabic language, whose roots are clearly Aramaic. Unlike present-day Arabs, the Nabateans held women in high regard -- a characteristic common to most of the pre-Islamic Arabian peoples. Women had property and heritage rights, and the Nabatean queens were honoured even more than the kings.
The Nabatean culture experienced a sudden transformation from the nomadic life style and camel breeders to city builders, and it is only since this change happened that the Nabateans have left records of their own culture. Before that time, only some samples of pottery were found, and however not older than the first century b.c.e.
In the Hebrew Scriptures, the Assyrian Chronicles and other ancient records the first peoples to be identified as Arabs were the Ishmaelite-Midyanite tribes and the same definition is never applied to the southern peoples, who are called by their ethnic name (Sabeans, Mineans, etc.), so how did it happen that the term Arabian was extended to the whole complex of inhabitants of the peninsula? Indeed, the relationships between the northern tribes and the Yemenite kingdoms were rather limited to commercial exchange, but never achieved a solid cultural and political unity in pre-Islamic times.
Such a generalization of the term seems to come from Greek sources: being the Ishmaelites the immediate neighbours of the
The different tribes of
Paradoxically, modern Arabian ethnologists consider the Southern tribes as the original Arabs (but historically they never defined themselves as Arabs in ancient times, while the first tribes that have accepted such denomination appear to be the Ishmaelites). The Arab scholars distinguish Arabians as descending from two different stocks: the "original" Arabs ('aribah), whose forefather was Qahtan -- Yoqtan -- and are the Yemenite group of tribes, and the "arabized" peoples of the north (musta'aribah), whose forefather is said to be Adnan, allegedly an Ishmaelite. Undoubtedly, there is a glaring contradiction in what the same Arab ethnologists declare: that the Ishmaelites are actually arabized and not the original Arabs; hen they claim that all Arabs are Ishmaelites...by Avraham Sándor