A photo showing some stelae found with Arabic inscriptions.

Archaeologists Discover that Earliest Known Arabic Writing Was Penned by a Christian


The oldest known Arabic writing found in Saudi Arabia, from ca. 470 AD belong to a Christian context and predates the advent of Islam with 150 years.

In December 2015, researchers from a French-Saudi expedition studying rock inscriptions in southern Saudi Arabia published a 100-page-long report in France’s Académie des Inscriptions et Belles-Lettres that reported that the oldest Arabic text, carved on a large rectangular stone that was found in Saudi Arabia, is simply of a name, “Thawban (son of) Malik,” decorated with a Christian cross. The same cross systematically appears on the other similar stelae dating more or less to the same period.

The discovery is sensational since it shows that the origins of the Arabic alphabet used to write the Koran belongs to a Christian context. This pre-Islamic alphabet is also called Nabatean Arabic, because it evolved from the script used by the Nabateans, the once-powerful nation that built Petra and dominated the trade routes in the southern Levant and northern Arabia before being annexed by the Romans in the early 2nd century.

Example of Nabatean script to the god Qasiu. Basalt, 1st century AD. Found in Sia in the Hauran, Southern Syria.

Example of Nabatean script to the god Qasiu. Basalt, 1st century AD. Found in Sia in the Hauran, Southern Syria. (Public Domain)

The ancient text is a legacy of a once flourishing Christian community in the area also linked to the rise of an ancient Jewish kingdom that ruled over much of what is today Yemen and Saudi Arabia

Christians in the Desert

The Muslim tradition preserved in the book of Koran portrays the pre-Islamic region as chaotic and filled with unrest that Mohammed manages to unify with the help of the powerful message of Islam

However, the Islamic text makes no mention of the numerous Christian and Jewish communities across the Saudi peninsula that flourished during the days of Mohammed.

Recent studies of works by ancient Christians and Muslim records have re-shaped our image of the societies that existed in the region and shed new light on the complex history of the region before the advent of Islam. One of the important kingdoms in Arabia at the time was the Jewish kingdom of Himyar.

A bronze statue of Dhamar Ali Yahbur II, a Himyarite King who probably reigned in late 3rd or early 4th century AD. Displayed in Sana'a National Museum.

A bronze statue of Dhamar Ali Yahbur II, a Himyarite King who probably reigned in late 3rd or early 4th century AD. Displayed in Sana'a National Museum. (CC BY 2.0)

The kingdom was founded in the 2nd century AD, and around 380 AD the elites of the kingdom of Himyar converted to some form of Judaism. By the 4th century,

Himyar had become an important player in the struggle for regional power. The Kingdom of Himyar’s headquarters was situated in what is today Yemen, from where its expansionist rulers led a series of campaigns conquering into its neighboring states, including the legendary biblical kingdom of Sheba.

Royal inscriptions found in the Saudi capital of Riyadhand and Bir Hima, north of Yemen, attest how the Himyarite kingdom during the 5th century expanded its influence into central Arabia, the Persian Gulf area, and into the region of Mecca and Medina, known as Hijaz.

Pre-Islamic rock art of Arabia at Bir Hima, carved into the eastern foothills of the Asir Mountains of Saudi Arabia.

Pre-Islamic rock art of Arabia at Bir Hima, carved into the eastern foothills of the Asir Mountains of Saudi Arabia. (CC BY 2.0)

According to ancient Christian sources, the Christians of the nearby city of Najran suffered a wave of persecution by the Himyarites in 470. The name of Thawban son of Malik appears on eight inscriptions, along with the names of other Christians. The French experts believe these inscriptions are a form of commemoration of Thawban and his fellow Christians that were martyred as they refused to convert to Judaism.

The researchers believe that the Christians choice of the early Arabic script to memorialize their comrades was an act of resistance that stood in sharp contrast to the inscriptions left by Himyarite rulers in their native Sabaean. To adopt a new writing system was a way of manifesting a separation from Himyar, and at the same time, a means to approach the rest of the Arabs to unify against their common enemy.

A portion of a war scene from the Himyarite era.

A portion of a war scene from the Himyarite era. (CC BY SA 3.0)

The growing resistance and outside pressure eventually brought down Himyar. In the years around 500, it fell to Christian invaders from the Ethiopian kingdom of Aksum. For the next century, Himyar was a Christian kingdom that continued to exert control over Arabia. During the latter half of the 6th century, one of its rulers, Abraha, marched through Bir Hima, conquering, Yathrib, the desert oasis that 70 years later would become known as Medina – The City of the Prophet.

Featured Image: A photo showing some stelae found with Arabic inscriptions. Source: Saudi Commission for Tourism and Antiquities (SCTA)

By Sam Bostrom

Comments

Shabda's picture

Both were born in India, long before they ever journeyed to Ur. In India they predate Judaism by thousands of years however. Brahma and Saraswati = Abraham and Sarah. India colonized the world long before any other cultures did. The Vatican (formerly Vatika) is a Shiva Lingam. Hindu culture existed for thousands of years before the first Sumerian city states were built. Indians predated the Aryans. I won’t even get started about Krishna vs. Christ. There is no such being as Jehova as the one member was talking about because Hebrews has no vowels. YHWH would be much closer, however, he is no God, he is the demiurge, a dualistic being, the same as Satan. No difference. These concepts predate all of the Abrahamic religions and are not only firmly rooted in Indian culture, but that culture spread into Aryan culture in Persia, which is where the root of Judaism came from via the Zoroastrians that conquered Jerusalem and brought the inhabitants home with them for many generations. The various dynasties in Persia would never simply conquer a group or a culture, they would then work that culture into their own culture. Another thing that was first done by Indians. The point is that the Hebrews were shown a benefit if they adopted some of the concepts of Zoroastrianism, and they did exactly that. Now, concerning all of the various religious intolerance that is in this thread, it is time to grow up and let it go. Islam exists, and it was actually responsible for a HUGE amount of learning and scientific knowledge that did not exist before its golden age. Europe was centuries behind the Islamic world. Anyone can have any opinion they want about a religion, but when you start calling it and excuse to murder and rape, you have gone completely off the deep end, and there is NO excuse for that! If you have THAT bad of a reaction to it, perhaps you would be better served by seeking out a professional psychologist that you could go to to work out those issues that plague you. Christianity has never been a religion of peace, so pack up that double standard because it simply will not fly here! The history is by no means secret. Every religious grouping has dirty little secrets that they would rather not be spoken of, but this site is based on history, so the historical events will always be brought up regardless of any person’s religious views or opinions.

The lord’s ANGLE speaks again. So your village is older then the birth of the prophet Mohammed. Unlike yourself I will show due respect for others beliefs by insuring the correct spelling.

Christian folks don’t seem to understand that one of the reasons so many people world wide has a ‘thing’ about Christians is for the most part you folks over the centuries have shown complete disregard, no respect, no understanding for the other beliefs world wide.

Anyways, back to your village being so old. Just exactly what is it that you are trying to imply? Perhaps that with the passage of time there has been to much inbreeding which has reduced your fellow villagers over all intelligence?

Again as with any good Christian you are rewritting rewitting history. Those of Arabic speaking cultures have been living in the ‘Levant’ for thousands of years. It is the crusaders who invaded and conquered this area. Taking from the locals their land. Acting like ‘barbarians’ Imposing ‘their’ will. What was the first thing dune by these crusaders once they conquered the Holy City of Jerusalem. Putting everyone and everything to the sword. Creating a ‘blood sacrifice’ all in the name of their Lord and Savior.

Such nice people, no!

My village is older than the entire Muslim religion, predating the birth of Muhamid (I don't care if that's spelling wrong).

Makes sense that Arabic stems from Christians, settling in the areas of the crusade.

Qur'anic Iesa Is Radically Different from Christ,
Qur'anic Isa was revered by both Yahud & NAsara. Qur'an 4:171 People of Book(Jews+Christians) don't exaggerate, Isa son of Marium, he was only a Messenger http://tanzil.net/#trans/en.arberry/4:171

Some evidences of Christ and prophet Isa of the Quran being two different personalities.
"Who Was Jesus?: Conspiracy in Jerusalem" by Kamal S. Salibi, http://goo.gl/zzcAJk
Quran is clear Isa AS was a Makki prophet whose mother move from Makkah to an eastern site for giving him birth see
وَاذْكُرْ فِي الْكِتَابِ مَرْيَمَ إِذِ انتَبَذَتْ مِنْ أَهْلِهَا مَكَانًا شَرْقِيًّا ﴿١٦﴾
And mention in the Book Mary when she withdrew from her people to an eastern place, (16) Chapter 19 Maryam Verse16.
The place became well known later and has been mentined
وَجَعَلْنَا ابْنَ مَرْيَمَ وَأُمَّهُ آيَةً وَآوَيْنَاهُمَا إِلَىٰ رَبْوَةٍ ذَاتِ قَرَارٍ وَمَعِينٍ ﴿٥٠﴾ and We made Mary's son, and his mother, to be a sign, and gave them refuge towards Rabwah, where was a hollow and a spring: (50) Chapter 23 Al-Mu'minun.
Take a look at places just east of Makkah you will find many place names like Rabwa, Rabwah etc

Geez. YES, the Quran does mention Jews and Christians in detail. And the hadiths that go along with it go into much more detail. Of course, if you actually READ the Quran, you also couldn't say nonsensical things about it not sentencing unbelievers to subjugation or death...

It IS interesting, however, that an Arabic alphabet already existed and so Arabic could be written at the time of Mohammed. That means that the surahs could have been written down almost immediately instead of committed to memory. I guess it shows that Arab tribal culture was illiterate rather than aliterate at the time. The same was true of the old Norse epics--they possessed a form of writing but really didn't use it for centuries. Not sure what to make of that other than the fact that neither society had much use for administration at the time.

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