Page:Catholic Encyclopedia, volume 1.djvu/745

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ARABIA


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A&ABIA


siastical history. It is not improbable that the tes- timony of Ibn Ishaq, the earhest and most author- itative biograpliiT of Mohaninieil (d. 770), according to whioli the first apostle of Cliristianity in Yemen was a poor Syrian mason naineil I'heniion, who with a companion named Salih were captured by an Arab caravan and sold to a prominent Xajranite, refers to this Silvanus. One of his first converts was a certain Abdallah ibn Thaniir, who became a great miracle-worker and thus succeedeil in converting the town of Najran to the religion of Christ (Ta- bari, ed. Noldeke, 178). .\ccording to Hal6vy (.Vrchives des missions, VII, 40), even at the present time there is still a mo.st^ue in Najran dedicated to this .\bdallah ibn Thamir. Ibn Khaldun, on the other hand, a.s.serts that as early as the latter half of the third century, a certain .\bd-Kelal, son of Uhu-1 .\wail, who wa.s King of Himyar antl Yemen from 1273 to 297. became a Christian tlirough the teaching of a Syrian monk, but, on being discovered by his people, was kille<l (Caussin de Perceval, His- toire des .\rabes avant I'lslamisme, III, 234). .\sse- mani, followed by Caussin de Perceval, thinks that Christianity first entered Najran in the time of Dim Nuwa.s (sixth century). This king, he says, w.is so alarmed by its advance that he ordereil a general massacre of the Christians if they refu.seil to embrace Judaism, to which he and his whole dynasty belongetl. He identifies Harith, or .\rethas, the Christian prince and martyr of Najran, with the above-men- tioned .-Vbdallah ibn Thamir, whose tribe's name was, according to him, Harith or -\rethas. This, however, is improbable, for at the time of Dhu Nuwas's acces-sion to the throne, Christianity was already flourishing at Najran, with its own bishop, priests, and churches.

What was the exact condition of Christianity in southern .\rabia during the fifth and sixth centuries, we do not know; but from the episotle of the martyrs of Najran it clearly appears that its spread was con- stant and steady. The principal anil most powerful obstacle to the permanent success of Cliristumity in Yemen was undoubtedly the ninnerous conununities of Jews scattered in that section of the peninsula, who had acquired so great a religious. |K)litical, and monetary influence that they threatened for a while to become the dominant ix)wer. They had their own poets and orators, synagogues, scliools, princes, anil even kings. Their power was constantly used to keep in check the progress of Christianity, and they were the direct cause of the almost entire annihilation of the Christians of Najran. "Like other religious communities which preach toleration when oppressed, tlicy [the Arab Jews] became persecutors when tliey hail ac(iuiretl .sovereignty." — Margoliouth, .Mohammed and the Ri.se of l.sfam (I^)ndon. 190.^), 3(). This persecution, which occurred in .')23. and in which the Jews piled faggots and lit fires, and the Cliristians were bumetl, happened as follows.

About the beginning of the sixth centurj', the Kingdom of Himyar and Y'emen was subject to .■Vbyssinian rule. Kalib, King of .\by.ssinia. known by the Greek historians under the name of Elesbaan, or Hellesthaios. had succeeded, after a desperate struggle, in subjugating Himyar to the throne of Ethiopia. Tlmugh not a Christian, he was favourably inclined towards Cliristianity, as he was on friendly terms with the Romans. lie is said to have vowed to become a Christian in the event of his conquering Himyar, a vow he in all probability fulfilled. Rab- iah ibn Mudhar. the defeated Himyarite king, who, like all his predeces,sors of the .same dynasty, was a Jew, was compelleil to seek shelter in Ijira. and was succeeded by a certain Yusuf Dhu Nuwas, likewi.se a Jew, but vassal to the Negus of .\byssinia. .MKiUt the year 523 (not JOO, as the majority of Arab his-


torians believe), and as soon as the victorious Abys- sinian army had retraced its steps, Dhu Nuwas revolte<l against IClesbaan and, instigated by the Jews, resolved to wreak his vengeance on the Chri.><- fians. .\11 who refu.seil to renounce their faith and embrace Judaism were put to death without re-siiect to age or sex. The town of Najran, to the nortii of Y'emen, and the bulwark of South-.Vrabian Christian- ity, sulTerwl the most. Dhu Nuwas marclied against the latter city and, finding it impregnable, treacher- ously promised the inhabitants full amnesty in the case of their surrender.

On entering the city, Dhu Nuw^as ordered a general ma.ssacre of all the Christians. "Large pits were dug in the neighbourhood and filled witli burning fuel, and all tho.se who refu.sed to abjure their faith and embrace Judaism, amounting to many thous- ands, including the priests and monks of the surround- ing regions, with the con.secrated virgins and the matrons who had retired to lead a monastic Ufe, were committed to the flames. The chief men of the town, with their prince, Arethas [called by -some -■Vrabian writers .Vbdallah ibn Athamir], a man distinguished for his wis<lom and piety, were put in chains. Dhu Nuw;is next .sought their bishop, Paul, and when informed that he had been .some time dead, he ordered his bones to be disinterred and burnt and their ashes scattered to the wind. Arethas and his companions were conducted to the side of a small brook in the neighbourhood, where they were beheaded. Their wives, who had shown the same constancy, were afterwards dragged to a similar fate. One named Ruma, the wife of the chief, was brought with her two virgin daugliters before Dhu Nuwa.s; their surpassing lieauty is fa\d to have moved his compas.sion. but their constancy anil devotion provoked in a still greater degree his vengeance; the daughters were put to death before the face of their mother, and Ruma, after having been compelled to taste their blood, shared their fate. When he had thus iwrpetrated the tragedy of Najran, Dhu Nuwas returned with his army to Sanaa." — Wright, op. cit., 54-.55.

From here Dhu Nuwas hastened to inform his friends and allies, Kabad, King of Persia, and .\\- Mundhir, Prince of Hira, of the event, urging them to imitate his example and exterminate their Chri.s- tian subjects. Dhu Nuwas's messengers arrived 20 January, 524, at Hufhu'f (El-IIassa), near the Persian Gulf, where Al-Mundhir was then entertain- ing an embas.sy sent to him by the Emperor Justin ami composed of Sergius, Hishop of Rosapha, the priest .-Vbramos, and many other ecclesiastics and laymen, among whom was the Monophysite Simeon, Hishop of Heth-.Vrsam. in Persia. .\l-.\Iundhir received and commimicated the news of the ma.ssacre to the members of the emba.s,sy. who were horrificil. .Vccording to Ibn Ishaq. the number of the ma.ssacred Christians was 20.0(JO. while the letter of the Hishop of Beth-.Vrsam said there were 427 priests, deacuiis, monks, and consecrated virgins, and more than 4.(KH) laymen. This Monoplij-site Bishop of Persia, imme- diately after his return to Hira, wrote a circumstan- tial account of the sufferings of the Christians of Najran and sent it to Simeon, .\bbot of Gabula. near Chalcis. In it he asks to have the news communi- cated to the Patriarch of Alexandria, to the King of Abys.sinia, to the Bishops of .\ntioch. Tarsus, Ca-.sarea in Cappadocia, and Edes.sa, and urges his Roman brethren to pray for the afflicted Najranites and to take up their cause. A certain Dhu Thalcban. who escaped the ma.ssacre, fled to the court of Constanti- nople and implored the emperor to advocate the cau.se of his jx'rsecuted countrymen. In the mean- while the news of the ma.ssacre fiad spread all over the Roman and Persian Empires; for in that s;iine year, John the Psalmist, .-Vbbot of the Monaster}' of Beth-