Friday, November 25, 2011

Was Israel in Arabia?

Kamal Salibi wrote three books advocating the controversial "Israel in Arabia" theory. In this view, the place names of the Hebrew Bible actually allude to places in southwest Arabia; many of them were later reinterpreted to refer to places in Palestine, when the Arabian Hebrews migrated to what is now called Eretz Israel, and where they established the Hasmonean kingdom under Simon Maccabaeus in the second century B.C. In this new Israel, they switched from Hebrew to Aramaic. It was this switch in language that created the confusions which lead to the distortion of the immigrants' stories.[15] He also argued that 'Lebanon' itself in high antiquity was a place in the Southern Arabian peninsula-[16]

The (literally) central identification of the theory is that the geographical feature referred to as הירדן, the “Jordan”, which is usually taken to refer to the Jordan River, although never actually described as a “river” in the Hebrew text, actually means the great West Arabian Escarpment, known as the Sarawat Mountains. The area of ancient Israel is then identified with the land on either side of the southern section of the escarpment that is, the southern Hejaz and 'Asir, from Ta’if down to the border with Yemen.

The theory has not been widely accepted anywhere, and embarrassed many of his colleagues.[17] and several academic reviewers[18][19][20] criticised Cape for having accepted “The Bible Came from Arabia” for publication. Salibi argued that early epigraphic evidence used to vindicate the Biblical stories has been misread. Mesha, the Moabite ruler who celebrated a victory over the kingdom of Israel in a stone inscription, the Mesha stele found in 1868, was, according to Salibi, an Arabian, and Moab was a village 'south (yemen) of Rabin' near Mecca. The words translated 'many days' actually meant 'south of Rabin'.[21]

He shared the view of such scholars as Thomas L. Thompson that there is a severe mismatch between the Biblical narrative and the archaeological findings in Palestine. Thompson's explanation was to discount the Bible as literal history but Salibi's was to locate the centre of Jewish culture further south.[22]

His theory has been both attacked and supported for its supposed implications for modern political affairs, although Salibi himself has made no such connection. Tudor Parfitt wrote “It is dangerous because Salibi's ideas have all sorts of implications, not least in terms of the legitimacy of the State of Israel”.[20] Since the theory casts no doubt on the existence, location or legitimacy of the Hasmonean kingdom, nor rewrites in any way the history of Palestine in the last 2200 years or more, it can only have that implication for those who take literally the divine award of the Promised Land to Abraham and his successors.[citation needed]

The location of the Promised Land is discussed in chapter 15 of “The Bible Came from Arabia”. Salibi argues that the description in the Bible is of an extensive tract of land, substantially larger than Palestine which includes a very varied landscape, ranging from well-watered mountain-tops via fertile valleys and foothills to lowland deserts. In the southern part of Arabia there are recently-active volcanoes, near to which are, presumably, the buried remains of Sodom and Gomorrah.

Read more about Kamal Salibi here.

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