The Lehites and Arabia

The Lehites and Arabia January 4, 2020


In Arabia, with camels
In the Arabian Peninsula, with camels (Wikimedia CC public domain photo by Mohammad Nowfal)


A passage that I’ve extracted from Gordon Darnell Newby, A History of the Jews of Arabia: From Ancient Times to Their Eclipse under Islam (Columbia, SC: University of South Carolina Press, 1988), 8-9:


When we think of Arabia, we imagine natura maligna at its worst.  Even the ancient geographers who called the southern cultivable portion of the peninsula Arabia Felix (Fortunate Arabia) did so with knowledge of the  considerable irony of the name.  Arabia is a land of extremes.  It is a quadrilateral plateau with a spine of mountains on its western side.  These mountains are 5,000 feet in average height, with the highest peak, at 12,336 feet, in Yemen.  The center of the peninsula is hard desert with numerous oases, but not extant permanent water courses.  Around this is a soft, sandy desert that has acted as an effective barrier for the interior. . . .

Little rain falls on Arabia, the greatest amount being in the highlands of Yemen.  The average rainfall is less than three inches a year, which falls in just four or five days.  Temperatures have been recorded over 120 degrees Fahrenheit and below zero and can range from freezing to over 100 in a single day.

Malignant Nature has also been a protection.  For much of its history, Arabia was never successfully occupied by foreign troops.  The desert, the climate, and the sea defended it.  And so Arabia became a land of refuge, of retreat, and of mystery.  But the desert barrier was permeable by tiny bands, and the interior of Arabia was never cut off from contact with the Mediterranean world or with the Far East.  Caravan traffic passed through Arabia to all parts of the world.  Missionaries from the Mediterranean came to Arabia singly and in small groups.  Refugees passed through the desert barriers to settle in the oases and fertile valleys and were always drawn into the culture of the peninsula, becoming like the Arabs among whom they lived.


Reading this passage, I can’t help but think of Lehi and his party, a “tiny band” from “the Mediterranean world” that sought refuge in Arabia when Jerusalem was threatened by Nebuchadnezzar II during the early sixth century BC.  They carefully avoided the area that would eventually be known as Arabia Felix, going due east from Nahom to the Old World area that they called Bountiful, traveling behind the mountains that separate Yemen from inner Arabia.



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