the Twelve Lost Tribes of Ishmael
Copyright 2002 CanBooks
Web Site The Nabataeans
Most of us are familiar with the ancient story of Abraham and his desire to have a son. In the Biblical account of his story, Abraham first has a son through his 'handmaiden' Hagar. This son is named Ishmael and is Abraham's first born son. When Abraham's second son is born, this son, named Isaac, is declared the 'son of promise.' The Jews today claim decent from Abraham through this second son, Isaac. Few people today, however, know what happened to the descendants of Ishmael. It is often assumed that they simply became the Arabs of the Middle East, but to most of us, our knowledge of them stops there.
The Biblical record of Ishmael tells us that God promised Abraham that Ishmael would have twelve sons and that he would become a great nation though them. (Genesis 12). Later, in Genesis 25 we are presented with a list of the descendants of Ishmael, which does indeed include twelve sons. This list is repeated in I Chronicles 1:29-33.
Ishmael's sons are listed as:
Below we will examine the twelve sons of Ishmael, and try and determine what might have happened to them.
In the Bible, Qedar and the tribe of Nebayot were renown for sheep raising. Isaiah 60:7. Their names are frequently found together in Assyrian records.
is specifically mentioned by the Jewish historian Josephus, who identified the
Nabataeans of his time with Ishmael's eldest son. He claimed that the Nabataeans
lived through the whole country extending from the Euphrates to the Red Sea, and
referred to this area as 'Nabatene,' or the area that the Nabataeans ranged in.
Josephus goes on to say that it was the Nabataeans who conferred their names on
the Arabian nations. (Jewish
Previous to this, Assyrian records tell us of King Ashurbanipal (668-663 BC) who was fighting with the 'Nabaiateans of Arabia.' Then in 703 BC a group of Chaldaeans and neighboring tribes rebelled against Sennacherib, the Assyrian ruler. The ancient records of Tiglath Pilezeer III list, among the rebels, the Hagaranu (possibly the descendants of Hagar, the mother of Ishmael), the Nabatu (very possibly the descendants of Nebayoth, the eldest son of Ishmael) and the Kedarites (descendants of Ishmael's second son). According to the records, these tribes fled from Assyria into the Arabian Desert and could not be conquered.
The Assyrian kingdom eventually broke into two as two brothers began to rule, one the King of Babylonia and the other the King of Assyria. In 652 BC conflict broke out between these two brothers, and in support of the Babylonian king, the Kedarites invaded western Assyria, were defeated, and fled to Natnu the leader of the Nabayat for safety. (As described in the records of Esarhaddan) Later the Kedarites and the Nabayat attacked the western boarders of Assyria but were defeated. After their defeat, Natnu's son, Nuhuru was declared the leader of the Nabatu.
Three hundred years later the Nabatu surface again, this time in the Zenon papyri which date from 259 BC. They mention that the Nabatu were trading Gerrhean and Minaean frankincense, transporting them to Gaza and Syria at that time. They transported their goods through the Kedarite centers of Northern Arabia, Jauf, and Tayma. Early Nabataean pottery has also been found in locations on the Persian Gulf, along the coasts of Saudi Arabia and Bahrain. (Tuwayr, Zubayda, Thaj, and Ayn Jawan) There are also ancient references to the Nabatu, as living along the western edges of the Arabian Peninsula and in the Sinai. These Nabatu were also pirates who sailed the Red Sea plundering trading vessels. Later they established bases in a number of seaports, including the port city of Aila (modern day Aqaba), which is only some 120 km from present day Petra.
While most of us think of the Nabataeans as people who transported goods in the desert by camel caravan, it has become increasingly evident that the Nabataeans were also a sea trading people.
It is quite clear from the historical records that in 586 BC, as the Edomites began a gradual migration north, into Jewish lands that had been emptied by Nebuchadnezzar, the tribes of Arabia also began to move northward. From their port city of Aila, (Aqaba) it was only a short move inland for the Nabatu to occupy the quickly emptying land of the Edomites, eventually making it the heart of the Nabataean Empire.
Although the chronology is not yet clear, it appears that some Edomites remained behind. Those that emigrated into Judeah became known as "Idumaeans." These were some of the people that opposed the Jews during the rebuilding of the temple at Jerusalem under Ezra; and the rebuilding of the city walls of Jerusalem under Nehemiah.
In time, the Nabataeans built an impressive civilization based on merchant trade. Their capital was originally the city of Petra, located deep in the sandstone mountains of southern Jordan. Later, Bostra, in southern Syria also functioned as a royal city. The Nabataeans also built a number of other cities, many of them in the Negev, while others were located in Northern Saudi Arabia today, and in other parts of modern Jordan. In 106 AD they seceded their empire to the Romans and eventually their Nabataean distinctiveness disappeared.
During history, the Kedarites were in constant conflict with the Assyrians. The Assyrians, Neo-Babylonians, Persians and even the Roman realized the importance of taking control of the commercial routes in northern Arabia that were under the dominion of the Kedarites (and later the Nabataeans).
Nehemiah's opponent, 'Geshem the Arab' has been identified as one of the kings of Kedar from the mid fifth century BC. (based on a number of North Arabian inscriptions)
Regarding their religion, Assyrian inscriptions tell us that Sennacherib captured of several Arabian deities in the Kedarite city of Dumah. The chief deity was Atarsamain, or the morning star of heaven. (the counterpart of Mesopotamian Ishtar). The tribal league led by the Kedarites was known as "the confederation of Atarsamain, and their cult was led by a series of queen-priestesses in Dumah. The rest of their pantheon of gods consisted of Dai, Nuhai (Nuhay), Ruldai (Ruda), Abirillu, and Atarquruma. Rock graffiti in the Thamudic language reveals that Ruda was known as the evening star, and Nuhay was the sun-god, and they were worshiped in addition to Atarsamain 'the morning star.' Herodotus, in the fifth century BC identified two deities worshiped among the Arabs, as a fertility god called Orotalt (perhaps Ruda, as identified by Macdonald in North Arabian in the First Millennium BC, 1360), and a sky goddess know as Allat. (Herodotus III,3.) Later Allat became referred to in the masculine form as Allah)
The Kedarites are mentioned in a number of places in the Bible, and always referred to as nomads.
Psalm 120:5 This Psalm is a cry of distress, as the writer has fled and lives in a place called Meshech in the tents of the Kedarites.
Isaiah 42:11 Kedar is mentioned in a song of praise.
Jeremiah 2:10 The children of Israel are advised to check with Kedar and see if it is an ordinary thing for a people to forsake their gods and turn to others.
Jeremiah 49:28 This passage presents us with a prophecy against Arabia (Hazor and Kedar) foretelling that Nebuchadnezzar a king of Babylon will destroy them.
Ezekiel 27:21 In this lament over the city of Tyre, it is mentioned that Arabia, and the princes of Kedar traded lambs, rams, and goats with Tyre.
In the middle of the fourth century BC, the Kedarites seem to fade from history and the Nabataeans then come to the forefront.
It is thought that these two tribes may have intermarried with the Simeonites (I Chronicles 4:24-27) and disappeared from history as a separate entity.
Dumah is generally identified by historians with the Addyrian Adummatu people. Esarhaddon related how, in his attempt to subdue the Arabs, his father, Sennacherib struck against their capital, Adummatu, which he called the stronghold of the Arabs. Sennacherib captured their king, Haza'il, who is called, King of the Arabs. Kaza'il is also referred to in one inscription of Ashurbanipal as King of the Kedarites.
From a geographical standpoint, Adummatu is often associated with the medieval Arabic Dumat el-Jandal, which was in ancient times a very important and strategic junction on the major trade route between Syria, Babylon, Najd and the Hijaz area. Dumat el Jandal is at the southeastern end of Al Jawf, which is a desert basin, and often denotes the whole lower region of Wadi as Sirhan, the famous depression situated half way between Syria and Mesopotamia. This area has water, and was a stopping place for caravan traders coming from Tayma, before proceeding on to Syria or Babylonia.
This strategic location effectively made Dumah the entrance to north Arabia. This oasis was the center of rule for many north Arabian kings and queens, as related to us in Assyrian records.
Those holding to the theory that the Children of Israel crossed the Red Sea into Arabia proper, identify El Maser as the place where the Israelites murmured. (Exodus 17:7, Deut 6:16,9:22,33:8)
Tiglath Pileser III received tributes from Tayma, as well as from other Arabian oasis. The Assyrian recorded recall how a collation headed by Samsi, queen of the Arabs was defeated. The coalition was made up of Massaa, the city of Tayma, the tribes of Saba, Hajappa, Badana, Hatti, and Idiba'il, which lay far to the west. Once defeated, these tribes had to send tribute of gold, silver, camels and spices of all kinds.
The Assyrian king, Sennacherib even named one of his gates in the great city of Nineveh as the Desert Gate, and records that "the gifts of the Sumu'anite and the Teymeite enter through it." From this we can recognize Teyma as being an important place.
Around 552 BC, the Babylonian king, Nabonidus (555-539 BC) the father of biblical Belshazzar (Daniel 7:1) made the city of Tayma his residence and spent ten of the sixteen years of his reign there.
During the Achaemenid period, the city probably became a seat of one of the Persian emperors.
However, by the first century BC, the Nabataeans began to dominate Tayma and it slowly became a part of their trading empire.
Isaiah 21:13-14 Invites the people of Tayma to provide water and food for their fugitive countrymen, in an apparent allusion to Tiglath Pileser's invasion of North Arabia in 738 BC.
Jeremiah 25:23 A prophecy against the oasis city
Job 6:19,20 Job laments at his fall from wealth, and comments that the troops of Tema and the armies of Sheba (Yemen) had hoped for plunder, but now Job had nothing.
A large number of the Itureans converted to Judaism under John Hyrcanus I around 126 BC (Josephus Ant. xiii 9.1) and later a section of Iturea joined the Jewish faith under Arisobulus around 103 BC. (Josephus Ant. 13.11.3)
W.W. Muller proposed that a city of the people of Hagar would have become 'han-Hagar' when Aramaicized and possibly 'Hagara.' When Helenized it would have become 'Gerrha.' H. von Wissmann proposed that the term 'Hagar' could be used to describe a walled city with towers and bastions. Based on these ideas, archeologists have speculated that the east Arabian kingdom of the Gerrhaeans can be attributed to the descendants of Hagar. If this is true, then history tells us much more of the Hagarites, who would have been known as the Gerrhaeans in the Greek world.
The third century BC writer, Nicander of Colophon mentions the 'nomads of Gerrha and those who plough their fields by the Euphrates.' (A.S.F. Gow and A.F. Scholfield, Nicander, The poems and Poetical Fragments, Cambridge, 1952, p. 111 L. 244. On the date of Nicander, see page 6-8)
The historian, F. C. Movers suggested in 1856 that it was Nebuchadnezzar who exiled the Chaldaean Gerrhaeans as part of a policy to protect the country from menacing Arab tribes. (F. C. Movers, Das phonizische Alterthum, Berlin 1856, iii. 308)
H.G. Rawlinson on the other hand, dated the Chaldaean exodus to the Neo-Assyrian periond, (H. G. Rawlinson, Intercourse between Indian and the Western World from the Earliest Times to the Fall of Rome, Cambridge, 1926, 6). He suggested that after Sennacherib had exterminated the Chaldaeans in 694 BC he sent them to dwell in Gerrha. Perhaps Rawlinson was inspired by the accounts of Sennacherib's campaigns against Merodach-Deladan. (Cf. W. E. James, On the Location of Gerra', AAW v/2(1969),39) who follows this explanation.
Most writers, however, have favored a date either in line with the fall of the Chaldaean supremacy a the hands of Achaemenids (eg. A.H. L. Heeren, A manual of Ancient History, (Oxford 1833); O. Blau 'Altarabische Sprachstudien: 2 Theil' ZDMG 27 (1873), 328; H. Kiepert, Lehrbuch der alten Geographie' Berlin, 1878, 188; S. Genthe, Der Persische Meerbusen; Geschichte und Morphologie, Inauguraldiss. (Marburg, 18896), 10; A.W. Stiffe, 'Ancient Trading Centres of the Persian Gulf, iii: Pre-Mohammedan Settlements", GJ9 (1897), 311; Tkac, Gerrha, 1271) or else at some point in the Achaemenid era, (e.g. Kennedy, The Early Commerce of Babylon", 271 and n. 5 believed that the Chaldaeans left Babylon after Darius I re-conquered the city in 488 BC. Cf Shiwek, 'Der Persische Golf', 64) who suggested that the expulsion of the Chalaeans took place during the reign of Xerxes following the brutal repression of the revolt in Babylon of Megabyzus in 482 BC. Because Gerrha is not mentioned by Herodotus, M. Amer proposed an even later foundation in 'The Ancient Trans-Peninsular Routes of Arabia," 135
Strabo 16.4.19 tells us that "from their trafficking both the Sabaeans and the Gerrhaeans have become richest of all (the Arabians). "
Strabo 16.3.3 records: "The Gerrhaeans import most of their cargo on rafts to Babylonia and thence sail up the Euphrates with them, and then convey them by land to all parts of the country." and "The Gerrhaeans traffic by land for the most part, in the Arabian merchandise and aromatics..."
Agatharchides (200 - 131 BC) tells us "... Petra and Palestine where the Gerrhaeans and Minaeans and all the Arabs who live in the region bring incense from the highlands, it is said, and their aromatic products."
Juba (25 BC - 25 AD) and Pliny (AD 77)(NH 12.40.80) records: "For this trade (with Elymais and Marmania) they opened the city of Carra (Gerrha) where their market was held. For they all used to set out on the twenty-day march to Babba and Syria-Palestine. According to Juba's report, they began later for the same reason to go to the empire of the Parthians. It seems to me that still earlier they brought their goods to the Persians rather than to Syria and Egypt," which Herodotus confirms, who says "the Arabs paid 1,000 talents of incense yearly to the kings of Persia."
The location of Gerrha has long been a mystery, and many scholars have guessed at it's location. The list of these would be too long to mention here. Needless to say, the in 1990, D.T. Potts, in his two volume series entitled The Arabian Gulf in Antiquity, (Volume II, From Alexander the Great to the Coming of Islam, Clarendon Press, Oxford, 1990) suggests and well defends a suggestion that Gerrha would have been located in the region of the modern port of al-Jubayl in eastern Saudi Arabia. He bases this on Strabo's description that Gerrha was located two hundred stadia distant from the sea, and 2,400 stadia from Teredon (which would have been located near modern day Basra). It is Potts suggestion that there was both a city of Gerrha and also a port of Gerrha and that they were located some twenty miles apart.
The Hagarites are also mentioned in the Bible in: I Chronicles 5:10,19,20 and Psalm 83:6.
Abbot, N. Pre-Islamic Arab Queens, American Journal of Semitic Languages 58, 1941
Albright, W. F. Dedan, in Geschichte und Altes Testament, Festschrift A. Alt, ed, G. Eblsing, Tubingen, J.C.B. Mohr, 1953,
Amer M. The Ancient Trans-Peninsular Routes of Arabia
Bartlett, John R. From Edomites to Nabataeans: A Study in Continuity, Palestine Exploration Quarterly 111, 1979
Blau O., 'Altarabische Sprachstudien: 2 Theil' ZDMG 27 (1873), 328;
Brau, H. H. Thamud, in First Encyclopedia of Islam
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Dumbrell, The Tell el-Maskhuta Bowls, Kingdom of Qedar in the Persian Period' Bulletin of the American Schools of Oriental Research 203, 1971
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Genthe, S. Der Persische Meerbusen; Geschichte und Morphologie, Inauguraldiss. Marburg, 1889
Glueck, Nelson, Rivers in the Desert: A history of the Negev, New York, Farrar, Straus and Cudahy, 1959
Glueck, Nelson, Deities and Dolphins: The Story of the Nabataeans, New York, Farar, Straus and Giroux, 1965
Graf, David F. Arabia During Achaemenid Times, in Achaemenid History IV: Centre and Periphery-Proceedings of the Groningen 1986 Achaemenid History Worship, ed Heleen Sancisi-Weeerdenburg and Amelie Kuhrt (Leiden: Netherlands Insituut foor het Nabije Oosten, 1990
Graf, David F. The origin of the Nabataeans, ARAM 2, 1990.
Graf D. Nabataeans in the Anchor Bible Dictionary, 3:970 - 973
Graf, David F., Rome and the Sarcens: Reassessing the Nomadic Menace." in L'Arabie preislamique et son environment historique et culturel: Actes du colloque de Strasbourg, 24-27 juin 1987, ed T. Fahd, 341-400, Universite des sciences humaines de Strasbourg: Travaux du Centre de Recherche sur le Proche Orient et la Grece Antiques, 10, Leiden, E.J. Brill, 1989
Gow, A.S.F. and A.F. Scholfield, Nicander, The poems and Poetical Fragments, Cambridge, 1952
Hammond, Peter. Nabataeans in International Standard Bible Encyclopedia (ed G. W. Bromilley), 3:466-468,
Healey, John F. Were the Nabataeans Arabs? ARAM 1, 1989
Heeren, A. H. L. A Manual of Ancient History, Oxford 1833
Hitti, Philip, History of the Arabs, from the Earliest Times to the Present, London: MacMillan Education LTD, 1970
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James, Cf. W. E. On the Location of Gerra', AAW 1969
Latham, R. Trans. The Travels of Marco Polo, Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1958
Kennedy, The Early Commerce of Babylon"
Kiepert, H. Lehrbuch der alten Geographie' Berlin, 1878
Macdonald, North Arabian in the First Millennium BC,
Milik, Joseph T., Origine des Nabateens, in Studies in the History and Archeology of Jordan, vol. 1 ed. Adnan Hadidi, Amman, Jordan, Department of Antiquities 1982
Millgard, Fergus, The Roman Near East 31 BC - AD 337, Cambridge MA: Harvard University Press, 1993
Moscati, Sabatino, The Semites in Ancient History: An Inquiry into the Settlement of the Beduin and their political Establishment. Cardiff: University of Wales Press, 1959
Movers F. C. Das phonizische Alterthum, Berlin 1856, iii
Muller, W. W. Frankincense, In The Anchor Bible Dictionary, ed David Noel Freedman, Vol 2, New York: Doublday, 1992
Musil, Alois, Arabia Deserta, A topographical Itinerary, Oriental Explorations and Studies, No. 2. New York: American Geographical Society
Mursil, Alois, Arabia Petraea. 3 vols. Kaiserliche Akademie der Wissenschaften. Wien: Alfred Holder, 1907-1908
Mursil, ALois, The Northen Hejaz, A topographical Itinerary. Oriental Explorations and Studies No. 1, New York: American Geographical Society, 1926
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Parr, Peter J. Aspects of the Arhaeology of North West Arabia in the First Millennium BC in L'Arabie preislamique et son environment historique et culturel: Actes du colloque de Strasbourg 24-27 juin 1987, ed. T. Fahd, Universite des sciences humaines de Strasbourg: Travaux du Centre de Recherche sur the Proche-Orient et la Grece Antiquites 10 (Leiden, E. J. Brill, 1989
Patrich, Joseph, The Formation of the Nabatean Art, Prohibition of a Graven Image Among the Nabateans, Leiden: E. J. Brill, 1990
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Shiwek, Cf. 'Der Persische Golf'
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