Friday, May 25, 2007

The Origin and Identity of the arabs - Part 5

Arab myths concerning the Patriarchs

Historic and archaeologic evidences show that the ancient Arabian peoples did not leave any written testimony of themselves before they received the influence of Assyria, around the 8th-7th century b.c.e., and all what we know about them until then has been recorded by external sources and accounts of eyewitnesses. The peoples of Arabia had no records of their own genealogies, which have been artificially invented in Islamic times as well as the alleged pre-Islamic history without any real knowledge concerning location and period, besides the imaginary character of the events. There are many examples that show the inaccuracy of Islamic traditional concepts, based on hearsay from unreliable sources. Just to mention a couple of them, one is that the qur'an identifies Miryam the sister of Aharon with Miryam the mother of Yeshua as if she was the same person, when actually there are about 1400 years that separate the two Miryams; another is that in sura "al-qasas" (38), Haman is said to be Pharaoh's vizier, mistaking both time and place, because actually Haman was a minister of the Persian king when there was no longer any Pharaoh in Egypt. The same sura asserts that Pharaoh intended to build a tower, a story based on Josephus' account about Nimrod (Antiquities, I: 4). There are hundreds of resounding errors like these which are not to be listed here since it is not the intention of this essay to make any process to religious conceptions, but only to present the historic truth.

Concerning the two Arabian forefathers, we can say that Qahtan may be well identified with the Biblical Yoqtan, but Adnan seems to be rather legendary, and as allegedly is only one of Ishmaels' descendants -- not even one of his twelve sons -- he cannot be the ancestor of all the Northern Arabians. The geographic distribution of the Ishmaelites indeed leave a vast "empty" space between them and the Yoqtanite peoples, namely, the whole Central Arabia. The southernmost Ishmaelite tribe was Teyma', whose capital was located about 400 kilometres north from Yathrib (Medinah). Yet, Arab traditions assert that Ishmael was with his father Avraham in Mekka (that is more than 700 kilometres south of Teyma'), a claim that is utterly groundless, without the least hint of possibility to find any historic support.

The only existing written record concerning the person of Ishmael is found in the Bible, witnessing that he dwelled in the region of Paran, north of Midyan. This account was written by Mosheh, who spent half of his life in the very land where Ishmael lived and had undoubtedly more accurate information than the Arab writers that invented the tales about Avraham and Ishmael more than 2000 years after Mosheh. The Scriptures as well describe Avraham's movements in a very accurate way, from his departure from Ur haKashdim to Haran, then to Canaan, his journeys to Egypt and Gherar, his expedition to rescue his nephew, and every place where he sojourned -- none of them is in Arabia. He kept attached to his Akkadian family settled in Northern Mesopotamia and not to any allegedly sacred place in Arabia. Having described all Avraham's movements in detail, would Mosheh not mention a trip involving a distance over 1000 kilometres away from Canaan (and the same length for the way back)? And supposing, for the sake of argument, that Avraham actually travelled to Mekka, if Mosheh ignored such a journey it undoubtedly means that it was completely irrelevant, without any Divine purpose.

The fact is that the name of Ishmael was unknown in Central Arabia in pre-Islamic times, and the Arabic form Isma'il, beginning with an aleph shows that it passed through the Greek and is not directly derived from the Semitic/Aramaic original name Yishmael, with an initial yod -- the change of a consonant/semivowel into a vowel is explained only if a Semitic name has been translated into a western language and then from the western form into another Semitic tongue, which is the case of Hebrew into Greek and then into Arabic. Indeed, there is no mention of Avraham or Ishmael in any ancient Arabian inscription, neither Sabean nor Minean, nor Safaitic, nor Lihyanite, nor Thamudic and not even Nabatean.

The Arabs got acquainted with the existence of Avraham and Ishmael only through the Jewish and Christian sources from which Islam drew its own scriptures. Therefore, according to overwhelming historic, archaeologic, scriptural and scientific evidence, neither Avraham nor Ishmael have ever been in Arabia from Midyan southwards.

Central Arabia was for many centuries left aside from the organized kingdoms of the South and also from the tribal states of the North, keeping its original Kushite population. It was regarded by both parts mainly as a passing-through territory for the caravan routes, which were not far away from the sea coast. The Yemenite kingdoms concentrated their population in their own cities and had no real interest in annexing the desert central region. The Sabeans were like the Phoenicians outstanding seafarers and used mainly the maritime routes; they traded with far away countries like India and established commercial settlements along the whole eastern coast of Africa -- even to reach Mesopotamia and Israel they preferred the sea routes. The only important caravan way they employed was the "Incense Road" that connected Yemen with Midyan across the peninsula along the Red Sea coast.

On the other side, the Semitic empires of the Middle East, namely Assyrian and Babylonian, were not much concerned in conquering the Arabian tribes and only imposed tribute on them, eventually placed vassal kings of their choice in order to keep a sort of organized administration, but did not establish colonies. After the fall of Babylon, the Nabateans got in touch with the Persian and Greek cultures and sought to expand themselves towards the northwest. In this period, they absorbed some Semitic peoples whose kingdoms were ruined since long time like the Edomites, Moabites, Ammonites and some Aramean tribes, which contributed to the formation of the Arab identity. These Arabs are those that in Roman times settled in the central region, slowly and merging with the local Kushite inhabitants.

Map showing the distribution of the Northern and Southern Arabian peoples: notice that Central Arabia was primarily a Kushite territory, in which both Northern and Southern Arabians converged in a later period

by Avraham Sándor