(Arabia arid tract). The Arabah, originally restricted to one wady, came to be applied to all Arabia. (See ARABAH.) Bounded on the N. by Israel and Syria, E. by the Euphrates and the Persian Gulf, S. by the Arabian Sea and strait of Bab-el-Mandeb, W. by the Red Sea and Egypt. 1700 miles long by 1400 broad. Designated Genesis 25:6 "the east country," the people "children of the East" (Genesis 29:1; Judges 6:3), chiefly meaning the tribes E. of Jordan and N. of the Arabian peninsula. "All the mingled people" is in Hebrew ha ereb (Exodus 12:38; Jeremiah 25:20; Ezekiel 30:5), possibly the Arabs. The three divisions are Arabia Deserta, Felix, and Petraea. The term Kedem, "the East," with the Hebrew probably referred to ARABIA DESERTA, or N. Arabia, bounded E. by the Euphrates, W. by the mountains of Gilead. Jeremiah (Jeremiah 2:6) describes its features, "a land of deserts and pits, a land of drought and of the shadow of death, that no man passed through, and where no man dwelt."
Tadmor or Palmyra "in the wilderness" was on its N.E. border (1 Kings 9:18). Moving sands, a few thorny shrubs, and an occasional palm and a spring of brackish water, constitute its general character. The sand wind, the simoom, visits it. Hither Paul resorted after conversion for that rest and reflection which are needed before great spiritual enterprises (Galatians 1:17). Moses' stay of 40 years in the same quarter served the same end of preparatory discipline. Its early inhabitants were the Rephaim, Emim, Zuzim, Zamzummim (Genesis 14:5); Ammon, Moab, Edom, the Hagarenes, the Nabathaeans, the people of Kedar, and many wandering tent-dwelling tribes, like the modern Bedouins, succeeded. The portion of it called the Hauran, or Syrian desert, abounds in ruins and inscriptions in Greek, Palmyrene, and an unknown tongue.
ARABIA FELIX or happy, S. Arabia, bounded on the E. by the Persian Gulf, S. by the Arabian Sea, W. by the Red Sea. Yemen, famed for its fertility ("the right hand", so the south, compare Matthew 12:42); and Hadramaut (Hazarmaveth, Genesis 10:26) were parts of it. Sheba answers to Yemen (Psalm 72:10), whose queen visited Solomon (1 Kings 10:1). The dominant family was that of Himyer, son of Sava; one of this family founded the modern kingdom of the Himyerites, now called el Hedjaz, the land of pilgrimage, on account of the pilgrimages to Mecca the birthplace, and Medina the burial place, of Mahomet. The central province of the Nejd is famed for the Arab horses and camels, "the ships of the desert."
Joktan, son of Eber (Genesis 10:25), was the original founder, Ishmael the subsequent head, of its population. The Hagarenes, originally the same as the Ishmaelites, subsequently are mentioned as distinct (1 Chronicles 5:10; 1 Chronicles 5:19; 1 Chronicles 5:22; Psalm 83:6). The people of Yemen have always lived in cities, and practiced commerce and agriculture. It was famed for gems and gold, spices, perfumes, and gums (1 Kings 10:10; Ezekiel 27:22). Many of the luxuries attributed to it, however, were products of further lands, which reached Israel and Egypt through Arabia.
ARABIA PETRAEA, called from its city Petra, the rock, or Selah (2 Kings 14:7), now Hadjar, i.e. rock. Between the gulfs of Suez and Akabah; Israel and Egypt are its northern boundary. The desert of mount Sinai (Burr et tur Sinai), where Israel wandered, Kadesh Barnea, Pharan, Rephidim, Ezion Geber, Rithmah, Oboth, Arad, Heshbon, were in it. The wady Leja (perhaps the valley of Rephidim), near jebel Mousa, and the wady Feiran (Paran, Numbers 13:3), are most luxuriant. Hawarah (Marab, Exodus 15:23) is 33 miles S.E. of Ayoun Mousa (the fountain of Moses); 7 miles S. of this is wady Gurundel, perhaps the Elim of Exodus 15:27. Precipitous bore rocks, void of herbage, form the southern coast. Cush, son of Ham, originally peopled Arabia (the ruins of Marib, or Seba, and the inscriptions are Cushite; in Babylonia too there are Cushite traces); then Joktan, of Shem's race (Genesis 10:7; Genesis 10:20; Genesis 10:25; Genesis 10:30).
The posterity of Nahor, of Abraham and Keturah (Genesis 25), of Lot also, formed a part of the population, namely, in Arabia Deserta. Then Ishmael's, then Esau's descendants, for Esau identified himself with Ishmael by his marrying Ishmael's daughter (Genesis 28:9). The head of each tribe is the sheikh; the office is hereditary in his family, but elective as to the individual. The people are hospitable, eloquent, poetical, proud of ancestry, but predatory, superstitious, and revengeful. The wandering and wild Bedouins are purest in blood and preserve most the Arab characteristics foretold in Genesis 16:12; "He will be a wild" (Hebrew a wild donkey of a) "man; his hand will be against every man, and every man's hand against him" (marking their incessant feuds with one another or with their neighbors), "and he shall dwell tent in the presence of all his brethren."
The image of a wild donkey untamable, roaming at its will in the desert (compare Job 39:5-8), portrays the Bedouin's boundless love of freedom as he rides in the desert spear in hand, despising town life. His dwelling in the presence of his brethren implies that Ishmael would maintain an independent nationality before all Abraham's descendants. They have never been completely subjugated by any neighboring power. Compare Job 1:15; Jeremiah 49:8; Jeremiah 3:2; 2 Chronicles 21:16. From their dwelling in tents they are called Scenitoe. Their tents are of goats' hair cloth, black or brown (Song of Solomon 1:5), arranged in a ring, enclosing their cattle, each about 25 feet long and 7 high. The town populations by intermarriages and intercourse with foreigners have lost much of Arab traits. Mecca, in their belief, is where Ishmael was saved and Hagar died and was buried.
The Kaaba or Square was built by Seth, destroyed by the flood, and rebuilt by Abraham and Ishmael. Sabeanism, or the worship of the hosts, the sun, moon, and stars, was the first lapse from original revelation (Job 31:26-27); but just before Mahomet they were divided between it, Judaism, Magianism, and corrupted Christianity. Mahometanism became the universal faith in A.D. 628. The Wahabees are one of the most powerful sects, named from Abd el Wahab, who in the beginning of last century undertook to reform abuses in Mahometanism. To the Arabs we owe our arithmetical figures. They took the lead of Europeans in astronomy, chemistry, algebra, and medicine. They spread their colonies from the Senegal to the indus, and from Madagascar to the Euphrates. The Joktanites of southern Arabia were seafaring; the Ishmaelites, more northward, the caravan merchants (Genesis 37:28).
The Arabic language is the most developed of the Semitic languages. in the 14th or 13th century B.C. the Semitic languages differed much less than in later times. Compare Genesis 31:47; Judges 7:9-15; Phurah, Gideon's servant, evidently understood the Midianites. But in the 8th century B.C. only educated Jews understood Aramaic (2 Kings 18:26). In its classical form Arabic is more modern than Heb., in its ancient form probably sister to Hebrew and Aramaic. The Himyeritic is a mixture with an African language, as appears from the inscriptions; the Ekhili is its modern phase. Monuments with Himyeritic inscriptions are found in Hadramaut and the Yemen. There was a Cushite or Ethiopian Sheba, as well as a Shemitic Sheba (Genesis 10:7; Genesis 10:28).
The Himyerites had a Cushite descent. The Arabic is one of the most widely spoken languages. The Hebrew literature dates from the 15th century B.C, the Arabic only from the 5th century B.C. For this reason, and the greater simplicity of Hebrew modes of expression, it seems probable the Hebrew is the elder sister. A few Arabic forms are plainly older than the corresponding Hebrew The Book of Job in many of its difficult Hebrew roots receives much illustration from Arabic. The Arabic is more flexible and abounding in vowel sounds, as suits a people light hearted and impulsive; the Hebrew is weightier, and has more consonants, as suits a people graver and more earnest. The Arabic version of the Scriptures now extant was made after Mahomet's time. That in the London Polyglott was in part by R. Saadias Gaon (the Excellent).