There is so much about the first centuries of the Christian era that remains little known and obscure. Some historical studies suggest that Judaism was much more widespread and influential at that time than we might assume from today's perspective. A short article by Glen W. Bowersock, Professor Emeritus of Ancient History at the the Institute for Advanced Study paints a fascinating picture of a Jewish kingdom in the southwest corner of the Arabian peninsula in what is now Yemen.
The Rise and Fall of a Jewish Kingdom in Arabia
Pre-Islamic Arabia seems to have have had significant populations of both Christians and Jews. Rival kingdoms from each religion each had a turn dominating the area, and oppressing the other.
In the southwestern part of Arabia, known in antiquity as Himyar and corresponding today approximately with Yemen, the local population converted to Judaism at some point in the late fourth century, and by about 425 a Jewish kingdom had already taken shape.
We can now say that an entire nation of ethnic Arabs in southwestern Arabia had converted to Judaism and imposed it as the state religion.
The Jewish kingdom of Arabia came to an end in 525, when the Ethiopians replaced it with a Christian kingdom of their own...
It was out of this mix of Jewish and Christian influences that Islam was born. The interaction between ancient near-east Jewish and Christian communities is far more complex and interesting than we might imagine if our understanding of history skips immediately from the the New Testament period to Byzantium and then Europe and the Roman Catholic Church.
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