The Himyarite Kingdom’s Bloody Conversion to Judaism: Ardour or Ploy?


The Himyarite Kingdom was established in 110 BC and lasted till 570 AC. It’s most frequently remembered lately because the “Jewish Kingdom”, because of the truth that for a while its predominant faith was Judaism. The historical past of the rise and eventual fall of the Himyarite Kingdom is a bloody one. Additionally it is an interesting lesson within the impression spiritual shifts had on the traditional empires.

What was the Himyarite Kingdom?

The Himyarite Kingdom was based in what’s right this moment modern-day Yemen in 110 BC. To its contemporaries, the Greeks and Romans, it was known as the Homerite Kingdom. The Himyarite Kingdom’s capital was referred to as Zafar, which was positioned close to the trendy metropolis of Sana’a.

Location of Himyarite Kingdom and Aksum (Axum) (Trokiodero / CC BY SA 4.0 )

Based on historic sources, the dominion was named after its founder, Himyar. The story of the Himyarite Kingdom begins in 110 BC when the tribe of Himyar determined to separate from the Qataban kingdom, one other kingdom primarily based in Yemen. They shortly started working by establishing their capital, Zafar, and altering languages. To distinguish themselves from their previous, they adopted the Sabaean language.

As soon as established, the Himyarites had been swift in increasing their borders. Their first main sufferer was the traditional kingdom of Saba. Saba had been an historical powerhouse, controlling all the space for nearly a thousand years. Nonetheless no kingdom lasts perpetually, and within the 12 months 25 BC, the Romans invaded southern Arabia, severely weakening Saba.

The Himyarites noticed their alternative and went in, conquering the dominion of Saba, however they didn’t wipe out the dominion altogether. It quickly grew to become obvious that the Himyarites had bitten off greater than they may chew. The previous Saba canine nonetheless knew a number of methods, and the Himyarites struggled to take care of a foothold.

The largely abandoned ruins of Bayt Baws, a Himyar-period Jewish settlement. (Rod Waddington / CC BY-SA 2.0)

The largely deserted ruins of Bayt Baws, a Himyar-period Jewish settlement. (Rod Waddington / CC BY-SA 2.0 )

Round 175 AD, the Himyarites conquered their former masters, the Kingdom of Qataban. Inside roughly 200 years, that they had basically conquered two massive empires. Spectacular.

Nonetheless, the Himyarite profitable streak couldn’t final. That they had didn’t eradicate each kingdoms utterly, and this might have penalties. The primary Himyarite kingdom fell aside within the early 2nd century AD, when each Saba and Qataban rose once more.

The Himyarites didn’t settle for defeat simply. From 100 AD till 275 AD, the Himyarite Kingdom and the Saba Kingdom had been in a near-constant state of battle. The Qataban victory was additionally short-lived. A shadow of their former selves, they had been quickly conquered by Hadramaut (one other energy within the space).

The Himyarites ultimately regained the higher hand. They reconquered the dominion of Saba round 275 BC and conquered Hadramaut (together with the previous Qataban kingdom) within the 4th century AD.

The Battle of Hadramaut, 570 AD, from a Persian miniature (Public Domain)

The Battle of Hadramaut, 570 AD, from a Persian miniature ( Public Area )

The Conversion of the Himyarite Kingdom

The Himyarite Kingdom was now big, consisting of peoples who had as soon as belonged to completely different kingdoms. The Himyarite management wanted a technique to unite all these numerous peoples, every with their languages, religions, and customs.

The Sabaean language unfold shortly all through the dominion, and a normal calendar system was launched. Nonetheless, it could take almost 100 years for modifications to faith to turn out to be obvious.

Every of the sooner kingdoms that now made up the Himyarite kingdom had as soon as had its personal faith. It’s doubtless that one of many causes for having Judaism as a state faith was to try to deliver these disparate teams collectively below one spiritual banner.

Utilizing archaeological proof, we will estimate the date that the Himyarite kings transformed to Judaism to round 380 AD. It was at the moment that the previous polytheistic temples had been deserted. Dedications to the previous gods had been changed with references to a brand new determine known as Rahmanan. Rahmanan means “the Lord of Heaven ” or “Lord of Heaven and Earth”.

It’s unclear who the primary Jewish king of the Himyarite kingdom was, however there are a few potentialities. It’s thought that spiritual reform initially started below King Malikikariba Yuha’amin (375-400 AD).

His reign was a steady one, and that is typically attributed to his makes an attempt at unifying the nation by means of faith. It was throughout his rule that we begin to see dedications below the identify Rahmanan for him and his sons. It was additionally King Yuha’amin who constructed the primary mikrab, a home of prayer.

Evidently Yuha’amin started the conversion to Judaism , however it was his son, Tub’a Abu Kariba As’advert (390-420) who completed it. It’s believed Abu-Kariba transformed whole-heartedly after an expedition into northern Arabia towards the Byzantines. 

The extent of the still inhabited city of Thula, Yemen (Biblioteca del Arte / CC BY NC ND 2.0)

The extent of the nonetheless inhabited metropolis of Thula, Yemen (Biblioteca del Arte / CC BY NC ND 2.0 )

The Byzantines had hopes of taking the Arabian Peninsula, which might give them management of the profitable spice commerce . Their aim was to do that peacefully by changing the locals to Christianity and establishing a protectorate, permitting them to stay legally impartial however virtually managed and guarded by them.

Abu-Kariba didn’t intend to allow this, nevertheless. He marched his forces to Yathrib (an essential Byzantine metropolis, now Medina), however he met no resistance there. Seeing a simple win, he left one among his sons behind to rule as governor.

Sadly, the individuals of Yathrib had different plans. Not lengthy after Abu-Kariba left, they murdered his son. Upon listening to this, Abu-Kariba quickly returned to wreak havoc upon those that had killed his son. He started by chopping down the palm bushes, which had been town’s essential supply of revenue.  He then laid a bloody siege.

The massacre of the Banu Quarayza Jewish community of Yathrib, which possibly never happened (Public Domain)

The bloodbath of the Banu Quarayza Jewish group of Yathrib, which probably by no means occurred ( Public Area )

Yathrib was largely pagan, but additionally had a major Jewish inhabitants . The Jews stood facet by facet with the opposite residents to struggle Abu-Kariba. This turned out to be fortunate for Abu-Kariba, as throughout the siege he fell severely unwell, and his personal individuals lacked the data required to deal with him.

Two Jewish students, who had been expert in medication, risked their lives by visiting Abu-Kariba in his camp. Their therapies had been profitable, and Abu-Kariba was quickly on the mend. Whereas treating the king, the 2 males begged him to deliver an finish to the combating and make peace.

Abu-Kariba went even additional. He ended the siege and transformed himself and his total military to Judaism on the spot. He then took the 2 students again dwelling to assist lead the conversion of his total kingdom.

At first, there was quite a lot of resistance; traditionally, individuals typically react badly to being advised what to imagine. Nonetheless, as information unfold of what the Jews had carried out to save lots of their king, increasingly more Himyarites willingly transformed.

Abu-Kariba didn’t reside fortunately ever after nevertheless. His flip to Judaism did little to stem his army ambitions, and his army campaigns continued unabated. This may occasionally have led to his dying. We have no idea for positive how Abu-Kariba died, however some historians level the finger at his troopers.

2nd century Arabic medicine was unable to save Abu-Kariba, and his treatment by Jewish scholars led to his conversion, as well as his troops and kingdom (Public Domain)

2nd century Arabic medication was unable to save lots of Abu-Kariba, and his therapy by Jewish students led to his conversion, in addition to his troops and kingdom ( Public Area )

Himyarite Persecution of the Christians: Warfare with Axum

Though the story of Abu-Kariba changing to Judaism out of gratitude is a pleasant one, it isn’t the entire story. There have been doubtless political causes at play.

Himyarite’s messy historical past with Christianity dates again to 313 AD and the edict of Milan. This granted tolerance to all religions (together with Christianity) throughout the Roman Empire. Shortly afterward, the Kingdom of Axum, which had been Jewish since its inception, transformed to Christianity.

Axum had all the time been the Himyarite Kingdom’s greatest competitor. The Axum Kingdom deserted Judaism in favor of Christianity across the similar time that the push throughout the Himyarite Kingdom in the direction of Judaism started.

It appears doable that the Himyarite Kingdoms wished an excellent motive to proceed their decades-old feud with Axum, and what higher motive than interfaith pressure? Gasoline was added to the hearth when the Roman Empire fell, and the Christian East Empire rose out of the ashes, primarily based in Byzantium.

The Himyarite Kingdom now had two main Christian rivals. These rivals’ incursions into Himyarite lands had been what triggered Abu-Karib’s fateful march on Yathrib.

In brief, the leaders of all three kingdoms had been utilizing their faiths as excuses to increase their borders and choose fights with one another. Nonetheless, in actuality, they had been combating financial and political wars, predominantly over who received to regulate the spice commerce with India.

Control over ancient spice trade may have influenced political and even religious decisions (Wellcome Collection / CC BY 4.0)

Management over historical spice commerce could have influenced political and even spiritual choices (Wellcome Assortment / CC BY 4.0 )

Quickly, Axum and Byzantine started undermining Himyarite affect by sending Christian missionaries into Arabia. Sadly, this led to the spiritual persecution of harmless individuals simply going about their lives. The primary recorded case is that of Azqir, a Christian missionary.

Azqir met his destiny after constructing a Christian church in Najran throughout the late fifth century, throughout the reign of King Shurihbi’il. This was resented by the locals, and he was handed over to some touring Jewish retailers who had been within the space. They took him straight to Zafar to face trial earlier than King Shurubi’il. Unsurprisingly, his trial didn’t go nicely for him and he was sentenced to dying, together with 38 different Christians.

Some sources, similar to Martyrium d’ Azqir, claimed that two rabbis had been a part of the trial. Nonetheless, indigenous sources of the time make no point out of Azqir’s religion throughout his trial. These indigenous sources give attention to the concept Azqir was spreading Byzantine affect by means of his teachings.

It’s almost definitely the reality lies someplace in between. There’s little doubt that Azqir was executed for trying to unfold the Christian religion as a missionary. Nonetheless, the explanation this was an issue had little to do with variations in religion. Azqir’s execution was about stemming Byzantine affect. To the Himyarite king, these missionaries had been no higher than spies despatched by Byzantium and Axum to undermine and destabilize his kingdom.

The execution of Christians gave the dominion of Axum the right excuse to invade. By the late fifth century, the Himyarite Kingdom held many of the Arabian Peninsula, however this didn’t final for lengthy. They quickly misplaced the Arabian Peninsula when Axum swept in, placing their kings in energy and establishing church buildings in Zafar.

Between the years 500-522 AD, there aren’t any Jewish inscriptions in Himyar, the dominion had utterly fallen to the Christians. Throughout this era, Himyar seems to have turn out to be a tributary state of Axum. There are even information suggesting that the dominion allied with Byzantium throughout this era.

The Finish of the Himyarite Kingdom

The Kingdom of Himyarite would see one final bloody resurgence, nevertheless. In 1522, Ma’dikarib Ya’fur, one of many Himyar Christian kings, died. A massacre ensued as Dhu Nuwas (517-527 AD) quickly seized energy, hell-bent on restoring Judaism to the dominion.

Dhu Nuwas quickly started working both burning church buildings or turning them into synagogues. The dominion’s Christian inhabitants was forcefully transformed to Judaism.  Those that resisted had been killed, and a whole bunch of Christians perished in Najran and Zafar.

Dhu Nuwas sought an all-out holy battle towards Christianity. He deliberate to create an alliance with the Persian Empire whereas additionally mobilizing the Jews in Israel. He hoped this coalition would be capable of strike down the Christians of Axum and Byzantium on the similar time.

Unsurprisingly, Dhu Nuwas’s therapy of his Christian inhabitants horrified the Christian world. Retribution was swift and bloody. A battle on the Strait of Bab al-Mandab befell between Jewish Himyarite forces and people of Christian Axum.

It was a bloodbath, and the Himyarite forces had been crushed. As much as 14,000 males died, and at the very least as many had been taken prisoner). This was the tip of the Himyarite Kingdom. It remained below Axum management till round 565 AD when the Persians evicted the Axumites and made the land their very own.

A bronze statue of Dhamar Ali Yahbur II, a Himyarite king who probably reigned in late 3rd or early 4th century AD (Retlaw Snellac / CC BY 2.0)

A bronze statue of Dhamar Ali Yahbur II, a Himyarite king who most likely reigned in late third or early 4th century AD (Retlaw Snellac / CC BY 2.0 )


Like each kingdom earlier than and since, the Himyarite Kingdom was ultimately defeated. It’s one other essential reminder that it doesn’t matter how massive or highly effective a nation is, all of them fall ultimately.

Faith is incessantly blamed for wars, with arguments like with out faith there can be no battle, or that faith has been the reason for almost each battle. At first look, the Himyarite Kingdom’s bloody historical past would appear to assist this idea. The dominion spent most of its existence going to battle with its Christian neighbors.

However after we look nearer, the wars had little or no to do with faith. They had been about increasing borders and affect. Every kingdom was determined to get its hand on the worthwhile spice commerce with India.

To the leaders of Himyarite and their neighbors, faith was solely a instrument, one thing they may use to show their inhabitants towards their enemies and begin bloody wars. Ultimately, this technique was the Himyarite Kingdom’s undoing. Dhu Nuwas’s holy battle was additionally his kingdom’s dying sentence.

High picture: The village and citadel at Thula have their roots within the Himyarite kingdom.                Supply: fotoember/ Adobe Inventory

By Robbie Mitchell


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