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A photo showing some stelae found with Arabic inscriptions.

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

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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

argument over this article isn't worth the minutes spend figuring out what to say then typing it..it's an interesting article..i have my opinions too but they aren't going to change yours..normally i don't reply to articles but i really have to know why it's so worthwhile to argue?

That's obvious because many Arabs were Cristian before Islam. The language belong to Arabs either they were Cristian or Muslim. When Islam came the Quran came in Arabic the language of the people first received Islam and the gods messenger (Mohammad) P. Was Arabic

Your Quran claims that the God of Islam is the same God as the God of Christians and Jews Sura 29-46. The Gospels written by eye witnesses to Jesus' teaching and miracles state that Jesus said He is one in being with the Father, that "No one's comes to the Father but by Me." and that "You have seen me, you have seen the Father". When Jesus asks Peter "Who do you say that I am?", Peter responds with "You are the Messiah, he Son of the living God" and Jesus accepts that answer. Your Quran, which is Muhammad's claim of revelations he supposedly received from the allah god via the angel Jibril (no witnesses)(in a cave), states that he, the allah god, has no sons and that Jesus was only a prophet and that Jesus did not die on the cross. Your allah god may not have any sons, but the statements on Jesus divinity and death on the cross are lies against Jesus' words in the Gospels, written by eye witnesses at least 600 years before the Quran was compiled. Jesus tells the Jews that Satan is the father of all lies (Gospel John 8:44). Using Jesus words in the Gospels, I come to the logical conclusion that the allah god of Islam and Muhammad is Satan. I urge you to read the Gospels and come to true faith in Jesus Christ, the Son of God, One in Being with the Father, and the only way to the Father, and leave Islam and save your eternal soul. Ever wonder why Muhammad called for death for those who leave Islam? Death for apostasy is the glue that holds people in your false religion. Sura 2-193 calls for fighting untill Islam is supreme. This is a recipe for eternal fighting among mankind. Satan should be pleased with his religion.

Islam : 1400 years of the most misogynistic hate filled political ideology on the face of the earth - ever.

This is really HILLARIous how a wiki-zombie accuses academics, who in his imagination represent Trump, of their incompetence. However science has to do with something more than Wikipedia and political engagement. First of all, I would advice the wiki-zombie to study Arabic and read Abu Musa Al-Hariri's "Priest and Prophet: story on origin of Islam" (قس ونبی - بحث فی نشأة الاسلام - ابو موسی الحریری) where one can find the summary about the cross-religious dialogue/connections between X-nity and S-lam. Learn about Waraka Bin Nawfal. Second, if one really likes to investigate, start with the Prophet MHMD's genealogical tree, and pay special attention to the connection of MHMD's great-great-grandfather Qusay Bin Kilab Bin Murra to the Tubba Abu Karib As'ad Kamil, Al-Kahinan, Hulail Bin Hushbiya and the shrine of Ka'aba. Third, learn some linguistics and the evolution of the Arab script, horouf and harakat. Fourth, I recommend to read Kees Versteegh's "Arabic in the Pre-Islamic Period". And finally remember A. Schopenhauer's “Clio, the muse of history, is as thoroughly infected with lies as a street whore with syphilis”.

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