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669

ARABIA


069


ARABIA


During liis reiKn the Kingdom of Hira rose to great power and celebrity, for his domain extended over all the Arabs of Mesopotamia, over Babylonia, along the Kuplirates down to the Persiati (iiilf, and as far .sovith as the islands of Bahrein, lie caused great an<l nuiniiiticent buildings to be erected, among which were tlic two famous castles of Kha- warnig and Siilir, celebrated in Arabic poetry for their unsurpassed splendour and beauty. The city of Hira was then, as afterwanls, called after his own narne, i. e. "the Hira of Nu'mAn", or "tlie city of Nu'm.1n", and his deeds and exploits are justly celebrated by .Vrab writers, historians, and poets. Before and during the reign of this prince, the Per- sian monarchs, from Shapor to Koljnd. had relent- lessly persecuted the Christians, ami their hatred for the new religion was naturally imi^arteil to their va.ssal kings and allies, principal among whom was Nu'man.

In 410 St. Simeon the Stylite, who was in all probability of Arab descent, retired to the Syro- Arabian desert. There tlio fame of his sanctity and miracles attracted a great many pilgrims from all Syria, Mesopotamia, anil northern Arabia, many of whom were N'u'inan's subjects. The pious example and eloquent exliortations of the Synan hermit in- duced many of these heathen Arabs to embrace Christianity, and Nu'man began to fear lest his Christian subjects miglit be led by their religion to desert to the service of the Romans. Accordingly, he forbade all pilgrimages to the Syrian saint and all intercourse with the Christian Romans, under penalty of instant death. On the night of the issue of the cthct, St. Simeon is said to have appeared to him in a dream, threatening him with death if he did not revoke the eilict and allow his Christian subjects absolute religious freedom. Terrifieil antl humbled, Nu'nidn revoked the order and became himself a sincere admirer of Christianity, which his fear of the Persian King did not permit liim to embrace. When the change of sentiment that had taken place in their prince was publicly known, the Arabs of his kingdom are said to have flocked in crowds to receive the Christian faith. This memorable event seems, to all appearances, to be historical; for it is related by Cosmas the Presbyter, who assures us that he heard it personally from a certain Roman general, An- tioclius by name, to whom it was narrated by Nu'nidn him.self (.\s.semani, Bibliotheca Orientalis, I, 247; anil Wright, op. cit., 77). Ilamza, -Vbul-Faraj of Isfahan (the author of Kitab-al-.\ghiini), Abulfeda, Nuwairi, Tabari. .-ind Ibn Klialdun (quoted by Caussin de Perceval, Histoire des Arabcs, etc., Ill, ■J.'M) relate that Nu'mAn abdicated the throne and retired to a religious and ascetic life, although he is iiowliere expressly .said to have become a Christian. (See also J. K. .\.s.semani, Acta Martyrum Oriental- ium. II, and Bibl. Orient., I, '270-278.)

The greatest obstacle to the spread and success of Christianity in Hira was the immoderate hatred of the Sas,sanian monarchs towards the Christians of their empire and the fierce persecutions to which tliesc were subjected. I'jieouraged and incited by tliese .suzerains, the princes of Hira persecuted more tliaii once their Cliristian subjects, destroyed their cliuri'hes, and .sentenced to death their bishops, priests, and con,secrateil virgins. One of thc-ie nrinces, Mundhir ibn Imru'ul-CJais, to whom Dim Kuwas .sent the news of the massacre of the Christians of Najran, in .southern Arabia, sacrificed at the altar of the goddess Ouzza, the Arabian Venus, four hundred consecrated Christian virgins (Tabari, ed. Niildeke 171). His wife, however, was a fervent Christian of the royal family of Gha.ssan, Hind by name. She founded at Hira a famous monastery after her own name, in which many Nestorian patriarchs and bish- ops resided and were burieil. Yaqut, in his "Geo-


graphical Dictionary" (ed. Wiistenfeld), reproduces the dedicatory in.scription which was placed at the entrance of the church. It runs as follows: "This church was built by Hind, the daughter of Harith ibn .Vmr ibn llujr, the nueen daughter of Kings, the motlier of King .\nir ibn Mundhir, the .servant of Christ, the mother of His servant and the daughter of His servants [i. e. her son and her ancestors, the Cliristian kings of Gha.s.san], under the reign of the King of Kings, Khosroe .\noushirwan, in the times of Bishop Mar Eplirem. May God, to Whose honour she built this ciiurch, forgive her sins, and have mercy on her and on her son. May He accept him and admit him into His abode of peace and truth. That He may be with her and with her son in the centuries to come. " (See Duchesne, Les (^glises .s(5par(5es, 3,")0-.'J5 1 . )

The inscription was written during the reign of her Christian .son, Ainr ibn Mundhir, who reigned after his idolatrous father, from .').J4 to 509. After him reigned his brother Nu'mdn ibn Qabus. This prince is said to have been leil to embrace Christian- ity by his admiration of the constancy and punctual- ity of a Christian Syrian whom he had designed to put to death. "In a fit of drunkenness lie had wantonly killed two of his friends, and when sober, in repentance for his cruelty and in remembrance of their friendship, he erected tombs over their graves, and vowed to moisten them once every year with the blood of an enemy. One of the first victims intended for the fulfilment of his vow was this Christian of Syria, who entreated the Mundhir to allow liim a short space of time to return home for the purpose of acquitting himself of some duty with wliich he had been entrusted; the boon was granted on his .solemn promise to return at an appointed time. The time came and the Cliristian Syrian was punctu.il to liis word, and thus saved his life." (Wright, op. cit. 143, from Pococke, "Specimen Historia- Arabuni", 75). After his conversion to Cliristianity, Qabus melted down a statue of Venus of sohil gold, which had been worshipped by his tribe, and distributed its gold produce among the poor (Evagrius, Hist. Eccl., VI, xxii). Following his example, many Arabs became Christians and were baptized.

Qabus was succeeded by his brother, Mundhir ibn Mundhir, during whose reign paganism held sway once more among his subjects, and Christianity was kept in check. After him reigned Nu'mdn ibn Mundhir (.5SO-,')9o), who, towards the year 594, was converted to Christianity. His granildaugliter. Hind, who was a Christian anil of exceptional beauty, was married to the .\rab poet 'Aili ibn Zayd. He saw lier for the first time during a Palm .Sunilay procession in the church of Hira, and became in- fatuated with her. Nu'mdn was one of the hi.st kings of his dynasty that reigned at Hira. One of his sons, Muiulhir il)ii S'u'iiian. lived in the time of Mohaniiiied, whom lie oppo.sed at the head of a Christian .\rab army of Bahrein; but he fell in battle, in 033, while fighting the invading .Moslem army.

The Christians of llira professeil both the Nes- torian and the Monophysite heresies; both sects having had their own bishops, churches, and monas- teries within the .same city. Bishops of Hira (in Syriac, Ilirtha ilc Tayyniie, or "Hira of the Arabs") arc mentioned as jtresent at the various councils held in 411), 430. 4.S5, 499, and b»ii. Towards the year 730 the Diocese of Hira was subdivided into three dioceses with three distinct bishops bearing the re- .spective titles of Bishop of Akula, Bishop of Kufa, antl Bishop of the Arabs, or of the tribe of Ta'lab. From 08(>-724. Georgius. the famous Bishop of the Arabs, was .still entitled Bishop of the Tanukhites, of the Tayyaites, and of the Akulites. i. c. of the tribe of Tanoukh, of Tay. and of the district of .\kula [.\sseinani, Bibl. Orient., II, 459, 419; Lequion,