Friends and colleagues alike have reacted with amazement and disbelief when I have told them about the history I have been looking at. 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. For just over a century after that, its kings ruled, with one brief interruption, over a religious state that was explicitly dedicated to the observance of Judaism and the persecution of its Christian population
|Arabia and Vicinity 565 AD (Wikipedia)|
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This is the context in which the Jewish Himyarite Kingdom flourished and eventually fell. Leaving aside a lot of history (mostly known from Byzantine, Syriac, Ethiopian, and early Islamic Arab histories, though there are some Old South Arabian inscriptions and coins confirming the basic outlines), Himyar ruled the region in the fifth and sixth centuries AD; the downfall began after the accession of Joseph or Yusuf, known to history as Dhu Nuwas, as King. Some feel he was a usurper of the rightful Himyarite line. In either 518 or 523 (the chronology is confusing) he attacked the towns of Zafar and Najran, largely Christian towns in southwest Arabia under the control of the Ethiopian Kingdom of Axum, killing the Christian population. King Kaleb of Axum, the Ethiopian Negus, went to war against Dhu Nuwas, with a Byzantine Navy providing assistance in an alliance of Christian states against the Jewish Himyarites.
That was the end of the Jewish Kingdom of Himyar; Dhu Nuwas was killed and Himyar came under Axumite rule. Eventually a Christian viceroy of the Axumite King named Abraha made himself ruler; Islamic tradition speaks of a raid he made against Mecca in the "Year of the Elephant" (570 AD or somewhat earlier), said by some to be the year of the Prophet Muhammad's birth. Abraha's successors eventually lost their independence to Persian rule.
With that little glimpse into pre-Islamic late antiquity, enjoy your weekend.