Page:Catholic Encyclopedia, volume 1.djvu/746

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Aphtonios, wrote in Greek an elegy on the Najranite martyrs and their chief, Harith. Bishop Sergius of Rosapha, the head of the embassy, wrot« also a very detailed account of the same events in Greek. Even in the Koran (Surah Ixxxv) the event is men- tioned, and is universally alluded to by all subsequent Arab, Nestorian, Jacobite, and Occidental historians and writers.

The news of the massacre weighed hea^nly on Elesbaan, King of Abyssinia, who is said to have now become a very fervent Christian. He determined to take revenge on Dhu Nuwas, to avenge the mas- sacre of the Christian Najranites, and to punish the Yemenite Jews. Accordingly, at the head of seventy thousand men and a powerful flotilla, he descended upon Himyar, invaded Yemen, and with relentless fury massacred thousands of Jews. Dhu Nuwas, after a brave fight, was defeated and slain, and his whole army routed. The whole fertile land was once more a scene of bloodshed and devastation. The churches built before the days of Dhu Nuwas •were again rebuilt on the sites of their ruins, and new bishops and priests were appointed in the place of the martyrs. An Abyssinian general, Esimephffius, ■was appointed King of Himyar, and during his reign a certain Dhu Giadan, of the family of Dhu Nuwas, attempted to raise the standard of revolt, but was defeated. A few years later the Himyarites, under the leadership of Abramos, or Abraha, a Christian Abyssinian, revolted against Esimephaeus, and in order to put down the revolution the King of Abys- sinia sent an army under the command of one of his relatives, Arethas, or Aryat. The latter was slain, however, by his own soldiers who joined the party of Abramos. A second Abyssinian army took the field, but was cut to pieces and destroyed. Abramos became King of Himyar, and from Procopius we know that he, after the death of Elesbaan, made peace with the Emperor of Abyssinia and acknowl- edged his sovereignty.

During the reign of Abramos Christianity in South Arabia enjoyed great peace and prosperity. " Pajing tribute only to the Abyssinian crown, and at peace with all the Arab tribes, Abraha was loved for liis justice and moderation by all his sub- jects and idolized by the Christians for his burning zeal in their religion. " Large numbers of Jews were baptized who were said to have been converted to Christianity by a public dispute between them and St. Gregentius, the Arabian Bishop of Dhafar. In this dispute the Jews were represented by Herban, one of their most learned rabbis, and Christ is said to have appeared in Heaven. Many idolaters sought admis- sion to the Church; new schemes of benevolence were inaugurated, and the foundations w'ere being laid for a magnificent catliedral at Sanaa, where is said to have existed a picture of the Madonna, afterwards moved by the Quraishites and placed in the Caaba, at Mecca (Margoliouth, op. cit., 42).

In short, South-Arabian Christianity, during the reign of Abramos, i. c. in the first half of the sixth centurj', "seemed on the eve of its Golden Age" (Zwemer, Arabia, the Cradle of Islam, 308). The king is also said to have framed, with the assistance of Bishop Gregentius, his great friend, admirer, and counsellor, a code of laws for the people of Him- yar, still extant in Greek, and divided in twenty-three sections. The authenticity of this code, however, is doubled by many, as it is more a.scetic and monas- tic in character than social. The whole career, in fact, of St. Gregentius and his relations with Elesbaan, Abramos, and Herban are interwoven with legend (l)uclicsne, op. cit., 334-330). In 550, Abramos's glorious reign came to a disastrous end. According to Arab historians, the event took place in 570, the year of Moliamnied's birtli; but, as Niildeke has ehown, this is simply an ingenious arrangement in

order lo connect the rise of Islam with the overthrow of the Christian rule in Yemen; for the latter event must have taken place at least twenty years earlier (Tabar, I, 205). Abramos's defeat is reported by all Mohammedan historians with great joy and satisfac- tion, and is known among them as the "Day of the Elephant ". Mohammed liimself devoted to it an entire surah of liis Koran. This defeat forms the last chapter in the history of South-Arabian Chris- tianity and the preface to the advent of Moliammed and Islam. It was brought about as follows.

Towards the first half of the sixth century the temple of Caaba, in Mecca, had become, as of old, the Eleusis of Arabia. It was sought and annually visited by thousands of Arabs from all parts of the peninsula, and enriched with presents and donations of every kind and description. Its custodians were of the tribe of Quraish, to which Mohammed be- longed, and which had then become the most powerful and illustrious one of Hijaz. Abramos, the Christian King of Himyar, beheld with grief the multitudes of pilgrims who went to pay their superstitious devo- tions to the heathen deities of the Caaba, and, in order to divert the attention and worship of the heathen Arabs to another object, he resolved to build a mag- nificent church at Sanaa. The edifice was completed, and far surpassed the Caaba in the splendour of its decorations. To attain his object, Abramos issued a proclamation ordering the pilgrims to relinquish their former route for the shorter and more convenient journey to the Christian church of Sanaa. The object was attained, and the Quraish found themselves re- duced to a precarious financial and politico-religious condition. To avenge themselves and to depreciate in the eyes of the Arab tribes the Christian church of Sanaa they hired a certain man of the Kenanah tribe to enter the church and defile it by strewing it with dung, wluch was enough to make the Arabs look at the place with horror and disgust. The desecra- tion was successfully effected, and its criminal agent fled, spreading everywhere in his flight the news of the profanation of the Christian church. The act was a signal of war and vengeance, and Abramos determined to destroy the tribes of Kenanah and Quraish, and to demohsh the Caaba. Acconlingly, at the head of a powerful army, accompanied by numerous elephants, he invaded Hijaz, defeated all the hostile tribes in his way, and approached Mecca.

The chief of the tribe of Quraish and the guardian of the Caaba was then the venerable .-^bdul-Mutta- lib ibn Hashim, the grandfather of Mohammed. This cliief, at the news of the approach of the Him- yarite army, sought peace with Abramos, offering him as a ransom jfor the Caaba a third part of the wealth of Hijaz; but Abramos was inflexible. De- spairing of victory and overwhelmed with terror, the inhabitants of Mecca, led by Abdul-Muttalib, took refuge in the neighbouring momitains that overhung the narrow pass through which the enemy must advance. Approaching the city by way of the narrow valley, Aoramos and his army, not know- ing that the heights were occupied by the Quraishites, fell beneath the numberless masses of rock and other missiles incessantly poured upon them and their elephants by the assailants. Abramos was ilefeated and compelled to retreat. Ilis army was almost an- nihilated, and the king liimself returned a fugitive to Sanaa, where he died soon after, as much of vexa- tion as of his wounds.

Mohammedan writers attribute the defeat of Abramos and the victory of Quraish to supernatural intervention, not unlike that which defecated the army of Sennacherib under the waUs of Jerusalem. Be this as it may, by the defeat of the Ilimyarite army Quraish became supreme in command and authority. In the meanwliile, Yak.sovnn and Ma-s- rouq, sons of Abramos, had succeeded him in turn,