Archaeologists Discover that Earliest Known Arabic Writing Was Penned by a Christian

The oldest known Arabic writing found in Saudi Arabia, from ca. 470 AD belong to a Christian context and predates the advent of Islam with 150 years.

In December 2015, researchers from a French-Saudi expedition studying rock inscriptions in southern Saudi Arabia published a 100-page-long report in France’s Académie des Inscriptions et Belles-Lettres that reported that the oldest Arabic text, carved on a large rectangular stone that was found in Saudi Arabia, is simply of a name, “Thawban (son of) Malik,” decorated with a Christian cross. The same cross systematically appears on the other similar stelae dating more or less to the same period.

The discovery is sensational since it shows that the origins of the Arabic alphabet used to write the Koran belongs to a Christian context. This pre-Islamic alphabet is also called Nabatean Arabic, because it evolved from the script used by the Nabateans, the once-powerful nation that built Petra and dominated the trade routes in the southern Levant and northern Arabia before being annexed by the Romans in the early 2nd century.

Example of Nabatean script to the god Qasiu. Basalt, 1st century AD. Found in Sia in the Hauran, Southern Syria. ( Public Domain )

The ancient text is a legacy of a once flourishing Christian community in the area also linked to the rise of an ancient Jewish kingdom that ruled over much of what is today Yemen and Saudi Arabia. The Nabatean Secret (A... JC Ryan Best Price: $22.67 Buy New $15.99 (as of 12:35 EST - Details)

Christians in the Desert

The Muslim tradition preserved in the book of Koran portrays the pre-Islamic region as chaotic and filled with unrest that Mohammed manages to unify with the help of the powerful message of Islam

However, the Islamic text makes no mention of the numerous Christian and Jewish communities across the Saudi peninsula that flourished during the days of Mohammed.

Recent studies of works by ancient Christians and Muslim records have re-shaped our image of the societies that existed in the region and shed new light on the complex history of the region before the advent of Islam. One of the important kingdoms in Arabia at the time was the Jewish kingdom of Himyar.

A bronze statue of Dhamar Ali Yahbur II, a Himyarite King who probably reigned in late 3rd or early 4th century AD. Displayed in Sana’a National Museum. ( CC BY 2.0 )

The kingdom was founded in the 2nd century AD, and around 380 AD the elites of the kingdom of Himyar converted to some form of Judaism. By the 4th century.

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