Thursday, August 04, 2016

Pre-Islamic Jewish sites in Saudi Arabia

HISTORY: In Saudi Arabia, Jewish sites with ancient resonance beckon. For now, Israelis are not allowed into Saudi, and Jews are at best grudgingly admitted. But with ties just possibly warming, a Jewish history dating back millennia might soon be more accessible (Jessica Steinberg, Times of Israel).
Saudi Arabia is not high on the list of Jewish travel destinations.

There has been no organized Jewish activity in the country for 70 years. Even though a Saudi delegation visited Israel last month, anyone with an Israeli passport is banned from entering the country, as the two countries don’t have diplomatic relations. As of 2014, Jews are now apparently, unofficially, allowed to work there, though not to hold prayer services.

Yet 3,000 years ago, around the time of the First Temple, there was a strong, vibrant Jewish community in the area of what is today Saudi Arabia.

And in the sixth and seventh centuries, there was a considerable Jewish population in Hejaz, mostly around Medina, Khaybar and Tayma. Hejaz makes up most of the western part of modern-day Saudi Arabia and is centered on the two holiest Muslim cities, Mecca and Medina.

I don't think we know much about what things were like 3000 years ago, but there were certainly Jewish communities in what is now Saudi Arabia in late antiquity. The article mentions five sites. I'll just refer to one of them here:
4) In Tayma, which was often referred to as a fortified city belonging to the Jews, most travelers stop at the Al-Naslaa Rock Formation, located in the Tayma oasis. It’s considered to have one of the most photogenic petroglyphs, or rock art, depicting the life and times of ancient communities. Al-Naslaa is also known for the perfect, natural slit between the two standing stones. Experts say the cause of this perfect slit could be the ground having shifted slightly underneath one of the two supports.
The caption to a photo of an Aramaic inscriptions reads as follows:
There are also the famous Tayma stones inscribed in Aramaic that are now in the Louvre Museum. Thousands of other Aramaic inscriptions that have been found in the area are stored in the city’s museum.
For more on Jews in pre-Islamic Saudi Arabia, see here and links. And there is more on Aramaic in ancient Saudi Arabia here and links and in Arabia more generally here and links. Cross-file under Aramaic Watch.