Bridgeway Bible Dictionary 
Only rarely does the Bible mention Arabia by name. It usually refers to the peoples of the region by the family or tribal groups to which they belonged. Often it refers to Arabia simply as the east’ ( Genesis 10:30; Genesis 25:6; Judges 6:3; Isaiah 2:6; Ezekiel 25:4).
Many of the people descended from Noah (Genesis 10), Abraham (through his concubine Keturah; Genesis 25:1-6), and Esau (Genesis 36) settled as tribal groups in Arabia. They were wandering shepherds rather than farmers, since most of the land was not suitable for cultivation and some of it was desert. Among the better known tribal groups were Joktam and Sheba in the south ( Genesis 10:25-29; 1 Kings 10:1-13; Psalms 72:10; Psalms 72:15; Isaiah 60:6) and Dedan and Kedar in the north ( Isaiah 21:13-17; Isaiah 42:11; Jeremiah 25:23-24; Jeremiah 49:28; Ezekiel 25:13; Ezekiel 27:21).
Watson's Biblical & Theological Dictionary 
A vast country of Asia, extending one thousand five hundred miles from north to south, and one thousand two hundred from east to west; containing a surface equal to four times that of France. The near approach of the Euphrates to the Mediterranean constitutes it a peninsula, the largest in the world. It is called Jezirat-el-Arab by the Arabs; and by the Persians and Turks, Arebistan. This is one of the most interesting countries on the face of the earth. It has, in agreement with prophecy, never been subdued; and its inhabitants, at once pastoral, commercial, and warlike, are the same wild, wandering people as the immediate descendants of their great ancestor Ishmael are represented to have been.
Arabia, or at least the eastern and northern parts of it, were first peopled by some of the numerous families of Cush, who appear to have extended themselves, or to have given their name as the land of Cush, or Asiatic Ethiopia, to all the country from the Indus on the east, to the borders of Egypt on the west, and from Armenia on the north to Arabia Deserta on the south. By these Cushites, whose first plantations were on both sides of the Euphrates and Gulf of Persia, and who were the first that traversed the desert of Arabia, the earliest commercial communications were established between the east and the west. But of their Arabian territory, and of the occupation dependent on it, they were deprived by the sons of Abraham, Ishmael, and Midian; by whom they were obliterated in this country as a distinct race, either by superiority of numbers after mingling with them, or by obliging them to recede altogether to their more eastern possessions, or over the Gulf of Arabia into Africa. From this time, that is, about five hundred and fifty years after the flood, we read only of Ishmaelites and Midianites as the shepherds and carriers of the deserts; who also appear to have been intermingled, and to have shared both the territory and the traffic, as the traders who bought Joseph are called by both names, and the same are probably referred to by Jeremiah , 25, as "the mingled people that dwell in the desert." But Ishmael maintained the superiority, and succeeded in giving his name to the whole people.
Arabia, it is well known, is divided by geographers into three separate regions, called Arabia Petraea, Arabia Deserta, and Arabia Felix.
The first, or Arabia Petraea, is the northwestern division, and is bounded on the north by Palestine and the Dead Sea, on the east by Arabia Deserta, on the south by Arabia Felix, and on the west by the Heroopolitan branch of the Red Sea and the Isthmus of Suez. The greater part of this division was more exclusively the possession of the Midianites, or land of Midian; where Moses, having fled from Egypt, married the daughter of Jethro, and spent forty years keeping the flocks of his father-in-law: no humiliating occupation in those days, and particularly in Midian, which was a land of shepherds; the whole people having no other way of life than that of rearing and tending their flocks, or in carrying the goods they received from the east and south into Phenicia and Egypt. The word flock, used here, must not convey the idea naturally entertained in our own country of sheep only, but, together with these or goats, horned cattle and camels, the most indispensable of animals to the Midianite. It was a mixed flock of this kind which was the sole care of Moses, during a third part of his long life; in which he must have had abundance of leisure, by night and by day, to reflect on the unhappy condition of his own people, still enduring all the rigours of slavery in Egypt. It was a similar flock also which the daughters of Jethro were watering when first encountered by Moses; a trifling event in itself, but important in the history of the future leader of the Jews; and showing, at the same time, the simple life of the people among whom he was newly come, as well as the scanty supply of water in their country, and the strifes frequently occasioned in obtaining a share of it. Through a considerable part of this region, the Israelites wandered after they had escaped from Egypt; and in it were situated the mountains Horeb and Sinai. Beside the tribes of Midian, which gradually became blended with those of Ishmael, this was the country of the Edomites, the Amalekites, and the Nabathaei, the only tribe of pure Ishmaelites within its precincts. But all those families have long since been confounded under the general name of Arabs. The greater part of this district consists of naked rocks and sandy and flinty plains; but it contained also some fertile spots, particularly in the peninsula of Mount Sinai, and through the long range of Mount Seir.
The second region, or Arabia Deserta, is bounded on the north and north- east by the Euphrates, on the east by a ridge of mountains which separates it from Chaldea, on the south by Arabia Felix, and on the west by Syria, Judea, and Arabia Petraea. This was more particularly the country first of the Cushites, and afterward of the Ishmaelites; as it is still of their descendants, the modern Bedouins, who maintain the same predatory and wandering habits. It consists almost entirely of one vast and lonesome wilderness, a boundless level of sand, whose dry and burning surface denies existence to all but the Arab and his camel. Yet, widely scattered over this dreary waste, some spots of comparative fertility are to be found, where, spread around a feeble spring of brackish water, a stunted verdure, or a few palm trees, fix the principal settlement of a tribe, and afford stages of refreshment in these otherwise impassable deserts. Here, with a few dates, the milk of his faithful camel, and perhaps a little corn, brought by painful journeys from distant regions, or plundered from a passing caravan, the Arab supports a hard existence, until the failure of his resources impels him to seek another
oasis, or the scanty herbage furnished on a patch of soil by transient rains; or else, which is frequently the case, to resort, by more distant migration, to the banks of the Euphrates; or, by hostile inroads on the neighbouring countries, to supply those wants which the recesses of the desert have denied. The numbers leading this wandering and precarious mode of life are incredible. From these deserts Zerah drew his army of a million of men; and the same deserts, fifteen hundred years after, poured forth the countless swarms, which, under Mohammed and his successors, devastated half of the then known world.
The third region, or Arabia Felix, so denominated from the happier condition of its soil and climate, occupies the southern part of the Arabian peninsula. It is bounded on the north by the two other divisions of the country; on the south and south-east by the Indian Ocean; on the east by part of the same ocean and the Persian Gulf; and on the west by the Red Sea. This division is subdivided into the kingdoms or provinces of Yemen, at the southern extremity of the peninsula; Hejaz, on the north of the former, and toward the Red Sea; Nejed, in the central region; and Hadramant and Oman, on the shores of the Indian Ocean. The four latter subdivisions partake of much of the character of the other greater divisions of the country, though of a more varied surface, and with a larger portion capable of cultivation. But Yemen seems to belong to another country and climate. It is very mountainous, is well watered with rains and springs, and is blessed with an abundant produce in corn and fruits, and especially in coffee, of which vast quantities are exported. In this division were the ancient citrus of Nysa, Musa or Moosa, and Aden. This is also supposed to have been the country of the queen of Sheba. In Hejaz are the celebrated cities of Mecca and Medina.
Arabia Felix is inhabited by a people who claim Joktan for their father, and so trace their descent direct from Shem, instead of Abraham and Ham. They are indeed a totally different people from those inhabiting the other quarters, and pride themselves on being the only pure and unmixed Arabs. Instead of being shepherds and robbers, they are fixed in towns and cities; and live by agriculture and commerce, chiefly maritime. Here were the people who were found by the Greeks of Egypt enjoying an entire monopoly of the trade with the east, and possessing, a high degree, of wealth, and consequent refinement. It was here, in the ports of Sabaea, that the spices, muslins, and precious stones of India, were for many ages obtained by the Greek traders of Egypt, before they had acquired skill or courage sufficient to pass the straits of the Red Sea; which were long considered by the nations of Europe to be the produce of Arabia itself. These articles, before the invention of shipping, or the establishment of a maritime intercourse, were conveyed across the deserts by the Cushite, Ishmaelite, and Midianite carriers. It was the produce partly of India, and partly of Arabia, which the travelling merchants, to whom Joseph was sold, were carrying into Egypt. The balm and myrrh were probably Arabian, as they are still the produce of the same country; but the spicery was undoubtedly brought farther from the east. These circumstances are adverted to, to show how extensive was the communication, in which the Arabians formed the principal link: and that in the earliest ages of which we have any account, in those of Joseph, of Moses, of Isaiah, and of Ezekiel, "the mingled people" inhabiting the vast Arabian deserts, the Cushites, Ishmaelites, and Midianites, were the chief agents in that commercial intercourse which has, from the most remote period of antiquity, subsisted between the extreme east and west. And although the current of trade is now turned, caravans of merchants, the descendants of these people, may still be found traversing the same deserts, conveying the same articles, and in the same manner as described by Moses!
The singular and important fact that Arabia has never been conquered, has already been cursorily adverted to. But Mr. Gibbon, unwilling to pass by an opportunity of cavilling at revelation, says, "The perpetual independence of the Arabs has been the theme of praise among strangers and natives; and the arts of controversy transform this singular event into a prophecy and a miracle in favour of the posterity of Ishmael. Some exceptions, that can neither be dissembled nor eluded, render this mode of reasoning as indiscreet as it is superfluous. The kingdom of Yemen has been successively subdued by the Abyssinians, the Persians, the Sultans of Egypt, and the Turks; the holy cities of Mecca and Medina have repeatedly bowed under a Scythian tyrant; and the Roman province of Arabia embraced the peculiar wilderness in which Ishmael and his sons must have pitched their tents in the face of their brethren." But this learned writer has, with a peculiar infelicity, annulled his own argument; and we have only to follow on the above passage, to obtain a complete refutation of the unworthy position with which it begins: "Yet these exceptions," says Mr. Gibbon, "are temporary or local; the body of the nation has escaped the yoke of the most powerful monarchies: the arms of Sesostris and Cyrus, of Pompey, and Trajan, could never achieve the conquest of Arabia; the present sovereign of the Turks may exercise a shadow of jurisdiction, but his pride is reduced to solicit the friendship of a people whom it is dangerous to provoke, and fruitless to attack. The obvious causes of their freedom are inscribed on the character and country of the Arabs. Many ages before Mohammed, their intrepid valour had been severely felt by their neighbours; in offensive and defensive war. The patient and active virtues of a soldier are insensibly nursed in the habits and discipline of a pastoral life. The care of the sheep and camels is abandoned to the women of the tribe; but the martial youth, under the banner of the emir, is ever on horseback and in the field, to practise the exercise of the bow, the javelin, and the scimitar. The long memory of their independence is the firmest pledge of its perpetuity; and succeeding generations are animated to prove their descent, and to maintain their inheritance. Their domestic feuds are suspended on the approach of a common enemy; and in their last hostilities against the Turks, the caravan of Mecca was attacked and pillaged by four score thousand of the confederates. When they advance to battle, the hope of victory is in the front, in the rear the assurance of a retreat. Their horses and camels, who in eight or ten days can perform a march of four or five hundred miles, disappear before the conqueror; the secret waters of the desert elude his search; and his victorious troops are consumed with thirst, hunger, and fatigue, in the pursuit of an invisible foe, who scorns his efforts, and safely reposes in the heart of the burning solitude. The arms and deserts of the Bedouins are not only the safeguards of their own freedom, but the barriers also of the happy Arabia, whose inhabitants, remote from war, are enervated by the luxury of the soil and climate. The legions of Augustus melted away in disease and lassitude; and it is only by a naval power that the reduction of Yemen has been successfully attempted. When Mohammed erected his holy standard, that kingdom was a province of the Persian empire; yet seven princes of the Homerites still reigned in the mountains; and the vicegerent of Chosroes was tempted to forget his distant country and his unfortunate master."
Yemen was the only Arabian province which had the appearance of submitting to a foreign yoke; but even here, as Mr. Gibbon himself acknowledges, seven of the native princes remained unsubdued: and even admitting its subjugation to have been complete, the perpetual independence of the Ishmaelites remains unimpeached. For this is not their country. Petra, the capital of the Stony Arabia, and the principal settlement of the Nabathaei, it is true, was long in the hands of the Persians and Romans; but this never made them masters of the country. Hovering troops of Arabs confined the intruders within their walls, and cut off their supplies; and the possession of this fortress gave as little reason to the Romans to exult as the conquerors of Arabia Petraea, as that of Gibraltar does to us to boast of the conquest of Spain.
The Arabian tribes were confounded by the Greeks and Romans under the indiscriminate appellation of Saracens; a name whose etymology has been variously, but never satisfactorily, explained. This was their general name when Mohammed appeared in the beginning of the seventh century. Their religion at this time was Sabianism, or the worship of the sun, moon, &c; variously transformed by the different tribes, and intermingled with some Jewish and Christian maxims and traditions. The tribes themselves were generally at variance, from some hereditary and implacable animosities; and their only warfare consisted in desultory skirmishes arising out of these feuds, and in their predatory excursions, where superiority of numbers rendered courage of less value than activity and vigilance. Yet of such materials Mohammed constructed a mighty empire; converted the relapsed Ishmaelites into good Musselmen; united the jarring tribes under one banner; supplied what was wanting in personal courage by the ardour of religious zeal; and out of a banditti, little known and little feared beyond their own deserts, raised an armed multitude, which proved the scourge of the world.
Mohammed was born in the year 569, of the noble tribe of the Koreish, and descended, according to eastern historians, in a direct line from Ishmael.
His person is represented as beautiful, his manners engaging, and his eloquence powerful; but he was illiterate, like the rest of his countrymen, and indebted to a Jewish or Christian scribe for penning his Koran. Whatever the views of Mohammed might have been in the earlier part of his life, it was not till the fortieth year of his age that he avowed his mission as the Apostle of God: when so little credit did he gain for his pretensions, that in the first three years he could only number fourteen converts; and even at the end of ten years his labours and his friends were alike confined within the walls of Mecca, when the designs of his enemies compelled him to fly to Medina, where he was favourably received by a party of the most considerable inhabitants, who had recently imbibed his doctrines at Mecca. This flight, or Hegira, was made the Mohammedan aera, from which time is computed, and corresponds with the 16th of July, 622, of the Christian aera. Mohammed now found himself sufficiently powerful to throw aside all reserve; declared that he was commanded to compel unbelievers by the sword to receive the faith of one God, and his prophet Mohammed; and confirming his credulous followers by the threats of eternal pain on the one hand, and the allurements of a sensual paradise on the other, he had, before his death, which happened in the year 632, gained over the whole of Arabia to his imposture. His death threw a temporary gloom over his cause, and the disunion of his followers threatened its extinction. Any other empire placed in the same circumstances would have crumbled to pieces; but the Arabs felt their power; they revered their founder as the chosen prophet of God; and their ardent temperament, animated by a religious enthusiasm, gave an earnest of future success, and encouraged the zeal or the ambition of their leaders. The succession, after some bloodshed, was settled, and unnumbered hordes of barbarians were ready to carry into execution the sanguinary dictates of their prophet; and, with "the Koran, tribute, or death," as their motto to invade the countries of the infidels. During the whole of the succeeding century, their rapid career was unchecked; the disciplined armies of the Greeks and Romans were unable to stand against them; the Christian churches of Asia and Africa were annihilated; and from India to the Atlantic, through Persia, Arabia, Syria, Palestine, Asia Minor, Egypt, with the whole of northern Africa, Spain, and part of France, the impostor was acknowledged. Constantinople was besieged; Rome itself was plundered; and nothing less than the subjection of the whole Christian world was meditated on the one hand, and tremblingly expected on the other.
All this was wonderful; but the avenging justice of an incensed Deity, and the sure word of prophecy, relieve our astonishment. It was to punish an apostate race, that the Saracen locusts were let loose upon the earth; and the countries which they were permitted to ravage were those in which the pure light of revelation had been most abused. The eastern church was sunk in gross idolatry; vice, and wickedness prevailed in their worst forms; and those who still called themselves Christians trusted more to images, relics, altars, austerities, and pilgrimages, than to a crucified Saviour.
About a hundred and eighty years from the foundation of Bagdad, during which period the power of the Saracens had gradually declined, a dreadful reaction took place in the conquered countries. The Persians on the east, and the Greeks on the west, were simultaneously roused from their long thraldom, and, assisted by the Turks, who, issuing from the plains of Tartary, now for the first time made their appearance in the east, extinguished the power of the caliphate, and virtually put an end to the Arabian monarchy in the year 936. A succession of nominal caliphs continued to the year 1258: but the provinces were lost; their power was confined to the walls of their capital; and they were in real subjection to the Turks and the Persians until the above year, when Mostacem, the last of the Abbassides, was dethroned and murdered by Holagou, or Hulaku, the Tartar, the grandson of Zingis. This event, although it terminated the foreign dominion of the Arabians, left their native independence untouched. They were no longer, indeed, the masters of the finest parts of the three great divisions of the ancient world: their work was finished; and returning to the state in which Mohammed found them three centuries before, with the exception of the change in their religion, they remained, and still remain, the unconquered rovers of the desert.
It is not the least singular circumstance in the history of this extraordinary people, that those who, in the enthusiasm of their first successes, were the sworn foes of literature, should become for several ages its exclusive patrons. Almansor, the founder of Bagdad, has the merit of first exciting this spirit, which was encouraged in a still greater degree by his grandson Almamon. This caliph employed his agents in Armenia, Syria, Egypt, and at Constantinople, in collecting the most celebrated works on Grecian science, and had them translated into the Arabic language. Philosophy, astronomy, geometry, and medicine, were thus introduced and taught; public schools were established; and learning, which had altogether fled from Europe, found an asylum on the banks of the Tigris. Nor was this spirit confined to the capital: native works began to appear; and by the hands of copyists were multiplied out of number, for the information of the studious, or the pride of the wealthy. The rage for literature extended to Egypt and to Spain. In the former country, the Fatimites collected a library of a hundred thousand manuscripts, beautifully transcribed, and very elegantly bound; and in the latter, the Ommiades formed another of six hundred thousand volumes; forty-four of which were employed in the catalogue. Their capital, Cordova, with the towns of Malaga, Almeria, and Murcia, produced three hundred writers; and seventy public libraries were established in the cities of Andalusia. What a change since the days of Omar, when the splendid library of the Ptolemies was wantonly destroyed by the same people! A retribution, though a slight one, was thus made for their former devastations; and many Grecian works, lost in the original, have been recovered in their Arabic dress. Neither was this learning confined to mere parade, though much of it must undoubtedly have been so. Their proficiency in astronomy and geometry is attested by their astronomical tables, and by the accuracy with which, in the plain of Chaldea, a degree of the great circle of the earth was measured. But it was in medicine that, in this dark age, the Arabians shone most: the works of Hippocrates and Galen had been translated and commented on; their physicians were sought after by the princes of Asia and Europe; and the names of Rhazis, Albucasis, and Avicenna are still revered by the members of the healing art. So little, indeed, did the physicians of Europe in that age know of the history of their own science, that they were astonished, on the revival of learning, to find in the ancient Greek authors those systems for which they thought themselves indebted to the Arabians!
The last remnant of Arabian science was found in Spain; from whence it was expelled in the beginning of the seventeenth century, by the intemperate bigots of that country, who have never had any thing of their own with which to supply its place. The Arabians are the only people who have preserved their descent, their independence, their language, and their manners and customs, from the earliest ages to the present times; and it is among them that we are to look for examples of patriarchal life and manners. A very lively sketch of this mode of life is given by Sir R. K. Porter, in the person and tribe of an Arab sheik, whom he encountered in the neighbourhood of the Euphrates. "I had met this warrior," says Sir R. K. P., "at the house of the British resident at Bagdad; and came, according to his repeated wish, to see him in a place more consonant with his habits, the tented field; and, as he expressed it, ‘at the head of his children.' As soon as we arrived in sight of his camp, we were met by crowds of its inhabitants, who, with a wild and hurrying delight, led us toward the tent of their chief. The venerable old man came forth to the door, attended by his subjects of all sizes and descriptions, and greeted us with a countenance beaming kindness, while his words, which our interpreter explained, were demonstrative of patriarchal welcome. One of my Hindoo troopers spoke Arabic, hence the substance of our succeeding discourse was not lost on each other. Having entered, I sat down by my host; and the whole of the persons present, to far beyond the boundaries of the tent, (the sides of which were open,) seated themselves also, without any regard to those more civilized ceremonies of subjection, the crouching of slaves, or the standing of vassalage. These persons, in rows beyond rows, appeared just as he had described, the offspring of his house, the descendants of his fathers, from age to age; and like brethren, whether holding the highest or the lowest rank, they seemed to gather round their common parent. But perhaps their sense of perfect equality in the mind of their chief could not be more forcibly shown, than in the share they took in the objects which appeared to interest his feelings; and as I looked from the elders or leaders of the people, seated immediately around him, to the circles beyond circles of brilliant faces, bending eagerly toward him and his guest, (all, from the most respectably clad to those with hardly a garment covering their active limbs, earnest to evince some attention to the stranger he bade welcome,) I thought I had never before seen so complete an assemblage of fine and animated countenances, both old and young: nor could I suppose a better specimen of the still existing state of the true Arab; nor a more lively picture of the scene which must have presented itself, ages ago, in the fields of Haran, when Terah sat in his tent door, surrounded by his sons, and his sons' sons, and the people born in his house. The venerable Arabian sheik was also seated on the ground with a piece of carpet spread under him; and, like his ancient Chaldean ancestor, turned to the one side and the other, graciously answering or questioning the groups around him, with an interest in them all which clearly showed the abiding simplicity of his government, and their obedience. On the smallest computation, such must have been the manners of these people for more than three thousand years; thus, in all things, verifying the prediction given of Ishmael at his birth, that he, in his posterity, should ‘be a wild man,' and always continue to be so, though ‘he shall dwell for ever in the presence of his brethren.' And that an acute and active people, surrounded for ages by polished and luxurious nations, should from their earliest to their latest times, be still found a wild people, dwelling in the presence of all their brethren, (as we may call these nations,) unsubdued and unchangeable, is, indeed, a standing miracle: one of those mysterious facts which establish the truth of prophecy." But although the manners of the Arabians have remained unaltered through so many ages, and will probably so continue, their religion, as we have seen, has sustained an important change; and must again, in the fulness of time, give place to a faith more worthy of the people.
St. Paul first preached the Gospel in Arabia, Galatians 1:17 . Christian churches were subsequently founded, and many of their tribes embraced Christianity prior to the fifth century; most of which appear to have been tinctured with the Nestorian heresy. At this time, however, it does not appear that the Arabians had any version of the Scriptures in their own language, to which some writers attribute the ease with which they were drawn into the Mohammedan delusion; while the "Greeks, Syrians, Armenians, Abyssinians, Copts, and others," who enjoyed that privilege, were able to resist it.
Fausset's Bible Dictionary 
(Arabia arid tract). The Arabah, originally restricted to one wady, came to be applied to all Arabia. (See Arabah .) Bounded on the N. by Palestine and Syria, E. by the Euphrates and the Persian Gulf, S. by the Arabian Sea and strait of Bab-el-Mandeb, W. by the Red Sea and Egypt. 1700 miles long by 1400 broad. Designated Genesis 25:6 "the east country," the people "children of the East" ( Genesis 29:1; Judges 6:3), chiefly meaning the tribes E. of Jordan and N. of the Arabian peninsula. "All the mingled people" is in Hebrew Ha Ereb ( Exodus 12:38; Jeremiah 25:20; Ezekiel 30:5), possibly the Arabs. The three divisions are Arabia Deserta, Felix, and Petraea. The term Κedem , "the East," with the Hebrew probably referred to Arabia Deserta or N. Arabia, bounded E. by the Euphrates, W. by the mountains of Gilead. Jeremiah ( Jeremiah 2:6) describes its features, "a land of deserts and pits, a land of drought and of the shadow of death, that no man passed through, and where no man dwelt."
Tadmor or Palmyra "in the wilderness" was on its N.E. border ( 1 Kings 9:18). Moving sands, a few thorny shrubs, and an occasional palm and a spring of brackish water, constitute its general character. The sand wind, the simoom, visits it. Hither Paul resorted after conversion for that rest and reflection which are needed before great spiritual enterprises ( Galatians 1:17). Moses' stay of 40 years in the same quarter served the same end of preparatory discipline. Its early inhabitants were the Rephaim, Emim, Zuzim, Zamzummim ( Genesis 14:5); Ammon, Moab, Edom, the Hagarenes, the Nabathaeans, the people of Kedar, and many wandering tent-dwelling tribes, like the modern Bedouins, succeeded. The portion of it called the Hauran, or Syrian desert, abounds in ruins and inscriptions in Greek, Palmyrene, and an unknown tongue.
Arabia Felix or happy, S. Arabia, bounded on the E. by the Persian Gulf, S. by the Arabian Sea, W. by the Red Sea. Yemen, famed for its fertility ("the right hand", so the south, compare Matthew 12:42); and Hadramaut (Hazarmaveth, Genesis 10:26) were parts of it. Sheba answers to Yemen ( Psalms 72:10), whose queen visited Solomon ( 1 Kings 10:1). The dominant family was that of Himyer, son of Sava; one of this family founded the modern kingdom of the Himyerites, now called el Hedjaz, the land of pilgrimage, on account of the pilgrimages to Mecca the birthplace, and Medina the burial place, of Mahomet. The central province of the Nejd is famed for the Arab horses and camels, "the ships of the desert."
Joktan, son of Eber ( Genesis 10:25), was the original founder, Ishmael the subsequent head, of its population. The Hagarenes, originally the same as the Ishmaelites, subsequently are mentioned as distinct ( 1 Chronicles 5:10; 1 Chronicles 5:19; 1 Chronicles 5:22; Psalms 83:6). The people of Yemen have always lived in cities, and practiced commerce and agriculture. It was famed for gems and gold, spices, perfumes, and gums ( 1 Kings 10:10; Ezekiel 27:22). Many of the luxuries attributed to it, however, were products of further lands, which reached Palestine and Egypt through Arabia.
Arabia Petraea called from its city Petra, the rock, or Selah ( 2 Kings 14:7), now Hadjar, i.e. rock. Between the gulfs of Suez and Akabah; Palestine and Egypt are its northern boundary. The desert of mount Sinai (Burr et tur Sinai), where Israel wandered, Kadesh Barnea, Pharan, Rephidim, Ezion Geber, Rithmah, Oboth, Arad, Heshbon, were in it. The wady Leja (perhaps the valley of Rephidim), near jebel Mousa, and the wady Feiran (Paran, Numbers 13:3), are most luxuriant. Hawarah (Marab, Exodus 15:23) is 33 miles S.E. of Ayoun Mousa (the fountain of Moses); 7 miles S. of this is wady Gurundel, perhaps the Elim of Exodus 15:27. Precipitous bore rocks, void of herbage, form the southern coast. Cush, son of Ham, originally peopled Arabia (the ruins of Marib, or Seba, and the inscriptions are Cushite; in Babylonia too there are Cushite traces); then Joktan, of Shem's race ( Genesis 10:7; Genesis 10:20; Genesis 10:25; Genesis 10:30).
The posterity of Nahor, of Abraham and Keturah (Genesis 25), of Lot also, formed a part of the population, namely, in Arabia Deserta. Then Ishmael's, then Esau's descendants, for Esau identified himself with Ishmael by his marrying Ishmael's daughter ( Genesis 28:9). The head of each tribe is the sheikh; the office is hereditary in his family, but elective as to the individual. The people are hospitable, eloquent, poetical, proud of ancestry, but predatory, superstitious, and revengeful. The wandering and wild Bedouins are purest in blood and preserve most the Arab characteristics foretold in Genesis 16:12; "He will be a wild" (Hebrew a wild donkey of a) "man; his hand will be against every man, and every man's hand against him" (marking their incessant feuds with one another or with their neighbors), "and he shall dwell Tent in the presence of all his brethren."
The image of a wild donkey untamable, roaming at its will in the desert (compare Job 39:5-8), portrays the Bedouin's boundless love of freedom as he rides in the desert spear in hand, despising town life. His dwelling in the presence of his brethren implies that Ishmael would maintain an independent nationality before all Abraham's descendants. They have never been completely subjugated by any neighboring power. Compare Job 1:15; Jeremiah 49:8; Jeremiah 3:2; 2 Chronicles 21:16. From their dwelling in tents they are called Scenitoe. Their tents are of goats' hair cloth, black or brown ( Song of Solomon 1:5), arranged in a ring, enclosing their cattle, each about 25 feet long and 7 high. The town populations by intermarriages and intercourse with foreigners have lost much of Arab traits. Mecca, in their belief, is where Ishmael was saved and Hagar died and was buried.
The Kaaba or Square was built by Seth, destroyed by the flood, and rebuilt by Abraham and Ishmael. Sabeanism, or the worship of the hosts, the sun, moon, and stars, was the first lapse from original revelation ( Job 31:26-27); but just before Mahomet they were divided between it, Judaism, Magianism, and corrupted Christianity. Mahometanism became the universal faith in A.D. 628. The Wahabees are one of the most powerful sects, named from Abd el Wahab, who in the beginning of last century undertook to reform abuses in Mahometanism. To the Arabs we owe our arithmetical figures. They took the lead of Europeans in astronomy, chemistry, algebra, and medicine. They spread their colonies from the Senegal to the indus, and from Madagascar to the Euphrates. The Joktanites of southern Arabia were seafaring; the Ishmaelites, more northward, the caravan merchants ( Genesis 37:28).
The Arabic language is the most developed of the Semitic languages. in the 14th or 13th century B.C. the Semitic languages differed much less than in later times. Compare Genesis 31:47; Judges 7:9-15; Phurah, Gideon's servant, evidently understood the Midianites. But in the 8th century B.C. only educated Jews understood Aramaic ( 2 Kings 18:26). In its classical form Arabic is more modern than Heb., in its ancient form probably sister to Hebrew and Aramaic. The Himyeritic is a mixture with an African language, as appears from the inscriptions; the Ekhili is its modern phase. Monuments with Himyeritic inscriptions are found in Hadramaut and the Yemen. There was a Cushite or Ethiopian Sheba, as well as a Shemitic Sheba ( Genesis 10:7; Genesis 10:28).
The Himyerites had a Cushite descent. The Arabic is one of the most widely spoken languages. The Hebrew literature dates from the 15th century B.C, the Arabic only from the 5th century B.C. For this reason, and the greater simplicity of Hebrew modes of expression, it seems probable the Hebrew is the elder sister. A few Arabic forms are plainly older than the corresponding Hebrew The Book of Job in many of its difficult Hebrew roots receives much illustration from Arabic. The Arabic is more flexible and abounding in vowel sounds, as suits a people light hearted and impulsive; the Hebrew is weightier, and has more consonants, as suits a people graver and more earnest. The Arabic version of the Scriptures now extant was made after Mahomet's time. That in the London Polyglott was in part by R. Saadias Gaon (the Excellent).
Hastings' Dictionary of the New Testament 
Arabia (Ἀραβία, from עֲרָב), which now denotes the great peninsula lying between the Red Sea and the Persian Gulf, was in ancient times a singularly elusive term. Originally it meant simply ‘desert’ or ‘desolation,’ and when it became an ethnographic proper name it was long in acquiring a fixed and generally understood meaning. ‘Arabia’ shifted like the nomads, drifted like the desert sand. It did not denote a country whose boundaries could be defined by treaty, shown by landmarks, and act down in a map. Too vast and vague for delimitation, it impressed the imagination like the steppe, the prairie, or the veldt, while it had a character and history of its own. To the settled races of Mesopotamia, Syria, and Palestine, it meant any part of that hinterland, skirting the confines of civilization, which was the camping-ground of wandering tribes for ever hovering around peaceful towns and spreading terror among their inhabitants. It was the dim border region, not so wholly unproductive as to be incapable of supporting life, interposed between cultivation and the sheer wilderness. So uncertain was the application of the term, that there was no part of the semi-desert fringe extending from the lower Tigris to the lower Nile which was not at one time or another called Arabia. To the prophets of Israel the word had one meaning, on Persian inscriptions another, and to Greek writers (Herod. ii. and iii.; Xenophon, I. v. 1, VII. viii. 25) still another. Every one used it to denote that particular hinterland whose tribes and peoples were more or less known to him; that was his Arabia.
But by the 3rd cent. b.c. the Arab tribe of the Nabataeans had become a powerful nation, with Petra as their capital, and from that time onward Arabia began to be identified, especially in the Western mind, with the Natataean kingdom. While 1 Mac. still distinguishes the Nabataeans from other Arabs ( 1 Maccabees 5:25; 1 Maccabees 9:35), 2 Mac. speaks of Aretas, the hereditary king of the Nabataeans, as ‘king of the Arabs’ ( 2 Maccabees 5:8). In the time of Josephus this people ‘inhabited all the country from the Euphrates to the Red Sea’ ( Ant . I. xii. 4). Soon after taking possession of Judaea , the Romans sent an expedition, under Marcus Scaurus, against the Nabataeans (59 b.c.); and, though their subjugation was not accomplished at that time, it must have taken place not much later. From the days of Augustus the kings of the Arabians were as much subject to the Empire as Herod, king of the Jews, and they had the whole region between Herod’s dominions and the desert assigned to them. To the north ‘their territory reached as far as Damascus, which was under their protection, and even beyond Damascus, and enclosed as with a girdle the whole of Palestinian Syria’ (Mommsen, Provinces 2, Lond. 1909, ii. 148f.). The Arabians who were present at the first Christian Pentecost ( Acts 2:11) were most likely Nabataeans, possibly from Petra.
The Nabataean kings made use of Greek official designations, and St. Paul relates how ‘the governor’ (ὁ ἐθνάρχης) of Damascus ‘under Aretas the king’ was foiled in the attempt, probably made at the instigation of the Jews, to put him under arrest soon after his conversion ( 2 Corinthians 11:32 f.). This episode, which has an important bearing on the chronology of St. Paul’s life, raises a difficult historical problem. Damascene coins of Tiberius indicate that the city was under direct Roman government till a.d. 34; and, as the legate of Syria was engaged in hostilities with Aretas till the close of the reign of Tiberius, it is very unlikely that this emperor yielded up Damascus to the Nabataean king. But the accession of Caligula brought a great change, and the suggestion is naturally made that he bought over Aretas by ceding Damascus to him. The fact that no Damascene coins bearing the Emperor’s image occur in the reigns of Caligula and Claudius is in harmony with this theory (Schürer, History of the Jewish People (Eng. tr. of GJV).] i. ii. 357f.). The view of Mommsen ( Provinces 2, ii. 149), following Marquardt ( Röm. Staatsverwaltung , Leipzig, 1885, i. 405), is different. Talking of the voluntary submission of the city of Damascus to the king of the Nabataeans, he says that
‘probably this dependence of the city on the Nabataean kings subsisted so long as there were such kings [i.e. from the beginning of the Roman period till a.d. 106]. From the fact that the city struck coins with the heads of the Roman emperors, there follows doubtless its dependence on Rome and therewith its self-administration, but not its non-dependence on the Roman vassal-prince; such protectorates assumed shapes so various that these arrangements might well be compatible with each other.’
See, further, Aretas,
In the Galatian Epistle ( Galatians 1:17) St. Paul states that after his escape from. Damascus he ‘went away into Arabia,’ evidently for solitary communion with God; but he does not further define the place of his retreat, and Acts makes no allusion to this episode. When he quitted the city under cover of darkness, he had not a long way to flee to a place of safety, for the desert lies in close proximity to the Damascene oasis. Possibly he went no further than the fastnesses of Ḥauran. Lightfoot ( Gal . 87f.), Stanley ( Sinai and Palestine , Lond. 1877, p. 50), and others conjecture that he sought the solitude of Mt. Sinai, with which he seems to show some acquaintance in the same Epistle ( Galatians 4:25). But he could scarcely have avoided specific reference to so memorable a journey, which would have brought him into a kind of spiritual contact with Moses and Elijah. Besides, the peninsula of Sinai was about 400 miles from Damascus; and, as military operations were being actively carried on by the legate of Syria against Aretas in a.d. 37-the probable year of St. Paul’s conversion-it would scarcely have been possible for a stranger to pass through the centre of the perturbed country without an escort of soldiers.
In a.d. 106 the governor of Syria, Aulus Cornelius Palma, broke up the dominion of the Nabataean kings, and constituted the Roman province of Arabia, while Damascus was added to Syria. For the whole region the change was epoch-making,
‘The tendency to acquire these domains for civilisation and specially for Hellenism was only heightened by the fact that the Roman government took upon itself the work. The Hellenism of the East … was a church militant, a thoroughly conquering power pushing its way in a political, religious, economic, and literary point of view’ (Mommsen, op. cit. ii. 152).
Under the strong new régime the desert tribes were for the first and only time brought under control, with the result that no small part of ‘the desert’ was changed into ‘the sown.’ ‘Rome won the nomads to her service and fastened them down in defence of the border they had otherwise fretted and broken.… Behind this Roman bulwark there grew up a curious, a unique civilisation talking Greek, imitating Rome, but at heart Semitic (G. A. Smith, EGHL , London, 1894, p. 627).
Literature.-E. Schürer, History of the Jewish People (Eng. tr. of GJV).] i. ii. 345ff.; J. Euting, Nabatäische Inschriften aus Arabien , Berlin, 1885; H. Vincent, Les Arabes en Syrie , Paris, 1907; G. A. Cooke, North-Semitic Inscriptions , London, 1903; and the article‘Arabs (Ancient),’ by Th. Nöldeke, in Encyclopaedia of Religion and Ethics . i. 659.
Smith's Bible Dictionary 
Ara'bia.' (Desert, Barren). A country known in the Old Testament under two designations: -
1. The East Country, Genesis 25:6, or perhaps The East, Genesis 10:30; Numbers 23:7; Isaiah 2:6, and Land Of The Sons Of The East, Genesis 29:1. Gentile name, Sons Of The East, Judges 6:3; Judges 7:12; 1 Kings 4:30; Job 1:3; Isaiah 11:14; Jeremiah 49:28; Ezekiel 25:4.
From these passages, it appears that Land Of The East and Sons Of The East indicate, primarily, the country east of Palestine, and the tribes descended from Ishmael and from Keturah; and that this original signification may have become gradually extended to Arabia and its inhabitants generally, though without any strict limitation.
2. Arab and A'Rab , whence Arabia. 2 Chronicles 9:14; Isaiah 21:13; Jeremiah 26:24; Ezekiel 27:21. (Arabia is a triangular peninsula, included between the Mediterranean and Red seas, the Indian Ocean and the Persian Gulf. Its extreme length, north and south, is about 1300 miles, and its greatest breadth 1500 miles. - Encyclopedia Britannica).
Divisions. - Arabia may be divided into Arabia Proper, containing the whole peninsula as far as the limits of the northern deserts; Northern Arabia (Arabia Deserta), constituting the great desert of Arabia; and Western Arabia, the desert of Petra and the peninsula of Sinai, or the country that has been called Arabia Petraea,
I. Arabia Proper, or the Arabian Penninsula consists of high tableland, declining towards the north. Most of it is well peopled, watered by wells and streams, and enjoys periodical rains. The moist fertile tracts are those on the southwest and south.
II. Northern Arabia, or the Arabian Desert, is a high, undulating, parched plain, of which the Euphrates forms the natural boundary from the Persian Gulf to the frontier of Syria, whence it is bounded by the latter country and the desert of Petra on the northwest and west, the peninsula of Arabia forming its southern limit.
It has few oases, the water of the wells is generally either brackish or unpotable and it is visited by the sand-wind called Samoom. The inhabitants principally descended from Ishmael and from Keturah, have always led a wandering and pastoral life. They conducted a considerable trade of merchandise of Arabia and India from the shore of the Persian Gulf. Ezekiel 27:20-24.
III. Western Arabia includes the peninsula of Sinai, See Sinai , and the desert of Petra; corresponding generally with the limits of Arabia Petraea. The latter name is probably derived from that of its chief city, not from its stony character.
It was mostly peopled by descendants of Esau, and was generally known as the land of Edom or Idumea, See Edom, Idumaea or Idumea . , as well as by its older appellation, the desert of Seir or Mount Seir. See Seir .
Inhabitants. - (Arabia, which once ruled from India to the Atlantic, now has eight or nine millions of inhabitants, about one-fifth of whom are Bedouin or wandering tribes, and the other four-fifths settled Arabs. - Encyclopedia Britannica).
3. The descendants of Joktan occupied the principal portions of the south and southwest of the peninsula, with colonies in the interior. The principal Joktanite kingdom, and the chief state of ancient Arabia, was that of the Yemen.
4. The Ishmaelites appear to have entered the peninsula from the northwest. That they have spread over the whole of it (with the exception of one or two districts on the south coast), and that the modern nation is predominantly Ishmaelite, is asserted by the Arabs.
5. Of the descendants of Keturah , the Arabs say little. They appear to have settled chiefly north of the peninsula in Desert Arabia, from Palestine to the Persian Gulf.
6. In northern and western Arabia are other peoples, which, from their geographical position and mode of life are sometimes classed with the Arabs, of these are Amalek , the descendants of Esau , etc.
( Productions - The productions are varied. The most noted animal is the horse. Camels, sheep, cattle, asses, mules and cats are common. Agricultural products are coffee, wheat, barley, millet, beans, pulse, dates and the common garden plants. In pasture lands Arabia is peculiarly fortunate. In mineral products it is singularly poor, lead being most abundant. - Encyclopedia Britannica).
Religion. - The most ancient idolatry of the Arabs we must conclude to have been fetishism. Magianism, an importation from Chaldaea and Persia, must be reckoned among the religions of the pagan Arabs; but it never had very numerous followers.
Christianity was introduced into southern Arabia toward the close of the second century, and about a century later it had made great progress. It flourished chiefly in the Yemen, where many churches were built. Judaism was propagated in Arabia, principally by Karaites, at the captivity. They are now nominally Mohammedans.
Language. - Arabic, the language of Arabia, is the most developed and the richest of Shemitic languages, and the only one of which we have an extensive literature; it is, therefore, of great importance to the study of Hebrew.
Government. - Arabia is now under the government of the Ottoman empire.
Holman Bible Dictionary 
1 Kings 10:15 2 Chronicles 9:14 2 Chronicles 17:11 2 Chronicles 21:16 2 Chronicles 22:1 2 Chronicles 26:7 Nehemiah 2:19 Nehemiah 4:7 Nehemiah 6:1 Isaiah 13:20 Isaiah 21:13 Jeremiah 3:2 Jeremiah 25:24 Ezekiel 27:21 Acts 2:11 Galatians 1:17 Galatians 4:25
Old Testament The Arabian peninsula, together with the adjoining lands which were home to the biblical Arabs, includes all of present-day Saudi Arabia, the two Yemens (San'a' and Aden), Oman, the United Arab Emirates, Qatar, and Kuwait, as well as parts of Iraq, Syria, Jordan, and the Sinai Peninsula. The vast Arabian peninsula was divided into two distinct economic and social regions. Most biblical references to Arab peoples or territory are to the northern and western parts of this whole, but sometimes includes both the northern and southern portions.
In the northern portion of Arabia the mountains of the Anti-Lebanon, the Transjordanian Highlands, and the mountains of Edom flank the desert on the west. The mountains continue all the way down the western edge of the Arabian Peninsula bordering the Red Sea and are actually much higher and more rugged in the south. The central and northern portions of the peninsula, and extending north into Syria and Iraq, are vast expanses of sandy and rocky desert, including some of the driest climate in the world.
The name Arab comes from a Semitic root which in Hebrew is arab , probably meaning “nomad” or bedouin. This refers to the people of the northwestern parts of the Arabian territory, whom the Old Testament writers knew as nomadic herders of sheep and goats, and later, of camels. Sometimes arab simply refers to the economic status of nomads without geographical or ethical reference. Proper understanding of Scripture includes determining the specific meaning of Arab in each context.
The Arabs are also called in the Bible “the sons (or children) of the east.” Furthermore, many of the names of the Old Testament refer to people or tribes who were ethnically and linguistically Arab. These include the Midianites, the Ishmaelites, the people of Kedar, the Amalekites, the Dedanites, the Temanites, and others. The Israelites recognized their blood relationship with the Arabs. Most of these groups are linked with Abraham through his son Ishmael or through his second wife Keturah ( Genesis 25:1 ).
The inhabitants of southern Arabia, in the mountains fringing the Red Sea and the Indian Ocean, were town-dwellers with a sophisticated system of irrigation. They possessed considerable wealth from incenses and spices which they grew, from gold, silver, and precious stones, which they mined in their own territory, and from these and other products which they transported and traded to the Mediterranean world and Mesopotamia from as far away as East Africa, India, and China.
New Testament The New Testament references to Arabia are fewer and less complex. The territory of the Nabatean Arabs is probably intended in each instance. The Nabateans controlled what is today southern Jordan and the Negeb of Israel; for a time they controlled as far north as Damascus. Arabs heard the gospel at Pentecost ( Acts 2:11 ). Paul went to Arabia after his conversion ( Galatians 1:17 ).
People's Dictionary of the Bible 
Arabia ( A-Râ'Biah ), Arid, Sterile. A peninsula in the southwestern part of Asia, between the Red Sea, the Indian Ocean, and the Persian Gulf. Its extreme length from north to south is about 1300 miles, its greatest breadth about 1500 miles, though from the northern point of the Red Sea to the Persian Gulf is only about 900 miles. It has the sea on all sides except the north. Its area is estimated at 1,030,000 square miles; and of the three ancient divisions of the country, that known as Arabia Felix was by far the largest and most important. Its main features are a coast range of low mountains or table land, seldom rising over 2000 feet, broken on the eastern coast by sandy plains; this plateau is backed up by a second loftier range of mountains in the east and south. The Sinaitic peninsula is a small triangular region in the northwestern part, or corner, of Arabia. See Sinai. The ancients divided it into Petræa, Deserta, and Felix; or the stony, the desert, and the happy or fertile. The principal animals are the horse, famed for its form, beauty, and endurance; camels, sheep, asses, dogs, the gazelle, tiger, lynx, and monkey; quails, peacocks, parrots, ostriches; vipers, scorpions, and locusts. Of fruits and grains, dates, wheat, millet, rice, beans, and pulse are common. It is also rich in minerals, especially in lead. Arabia in early Israelitish history meant a small tract of country south and east of Palestine, probably the same as that called Kedem, or "the east." Genesis 10:30; Genesis 25:6; Genesis 29:1. Arabia in New Testament times appears to have been scarcely more extensive. Galatians 1:17; Galatians 4:25. The chief inhabitants were known as Ishmaelites, Arabians, Idumeans, Horites, and Edomites. The allusions in the Scripture to the country and its people are very numerous. Job is supposed to have dwelt in Arabia. The forty years of wandering by the Israelites under Moses was in this land. See Sinai. Solomon received gold from it, 1 Kings 10:15; 2 Chronicles 9:14; Jehoshaphat flocks, 2 Chronicles 17:11; some of its people were at Jerusalem at the Pentecost, Acts 2:11; Paul visited it, Galatians 1:17; the prophecies of Isaiah and Jeremiah frequently refer to it. Isaiah 21:11-13; Isaiah 42:11; Isaiah 60:7; Jeremiah 25:24; Jeremiah 49:28-29. The Minnaean country to which Moses fled, according to recent discoveries, was among the most cultured of ancient times, having alphabetic writing and literary works earlier than the Phœnicians. It has been said, that if any people in the world afford in their history an instance of high antiquity and great simplicity of manners, the Arabs surely do. Of all peoples, the Arabs have spread farthest over the globe, and in all their wanderings have preserved their language, manners, and peculiar customs more perfectly than any other nation.
Easton's Bible Dictionary 
The whole land appears ( Genesis 10 ) to have been inhabited by a variety of tribes of different lineage, Ishmaelites, Arabians, Idumeans, Horites, and Edomites; but at length becoming amalgamated, they came to be known by the general designation of Arabs. The modern nation of Arabs is predominantly Ishmaelite. Their language is the most developed and the richest of all the Semitic languages, and is of great value to the student of Hebrew.
The Israelites wandered for forty years in Arabia. In the days of Solomon, and subsequently, commercial intercourse was to a considerable extent kept up with this country ( 1 Kings 10:15; 2 Chronicles 9:14; 17:11 ). Arabians were present in Jerusalem at Pentecost ( Acts 2:11 ). Paul retired for a season into Arabia after his conversion ( Galatians 1:17 ). This country is frequently referred to by the prophets ( Isaiah 21:11; 42:11; Jeremiah 25:24 , etc.)
Copyright Statement These dictionary topics are from M.G. Easton M.A., DD Illustrated Bible Dictionary, Third Edition, published by Thomas Nelson, 1897. Public Domain.
Bibliography Information Easton, Matthew George. Entry for 'Arabia'. Easton's Bible Dictionary. https://www.studylight.org/dictionaries/eng/ebd/a/arabia.html. 1897.
Morrish Bible Dictionary 
A very large country is embraced by this name, lying south, south-east, and east of Palestine. It was of old, as it is now by the natives, divided into three districts.
1. Arabia Proper, being the same as the ancient Arabia Felix, embraces the peninsula which extends southward to the Arabian Sea and northward to the desert.
2. Western Arabia, the same as the ancient Arabia Petraea, embraces Sinai and the desert of Petra, extending from Egypt and the Red Sea to about Petra.
3. Northern Arabia, which joins Western Arabia and extends northward to the Euphrates.
1 Kings 10:15; 2 Chronicles 9:14; Isaiah 21:13; Jeremiah 25:24; Ezekiel 27:21; Galatians 1:17; Galatians 4:25 . See ARABIANS.
American Tract Society Bible Dictionary 
Is a country of Western Asia, lying south and east of Judea. It extends 1,500 miles from north to south, and 1,200 from east to west. On the north it is bounded by part of Syria, on the east by the Persian Gulf and the Euphrates, on the south by the Arabian Sea and the straits of Babelmandel, and on the west by the Red sea, Egypt, and Palestine. Arabia is distinguished by geographers into three parts-Deserta, Petraea, and Felix.
Cyclopedia of Biblical, Theological and Ecclesiastical Literature 
Kitto's Popular Cyclopedia of Biblial Literature 
Ara´bia, an extensive region occupying the south-western extremity of Asia, between 12° 45´ and 34½° N. lat., and 32½° and 60° E. long., from Greenwich; having on the W. the Isthmus of Suez and the Red Sea (called from it the Arabian Gulf), which separate it from Africa; on the S. the Indian Ocean; and on the E. the Persian Gulf and the Euphrates. The boundary to the north has never been well defined. It is one of the few countries of the south where the descendants of the aboriginal inhabitants have neither been extirpated nor expelled by northern invaders. They have not only retained possession of their ancestral homes, but have sent forth colonies to all the adjacent regions, and even to more distant lands, both in Africa and Asia.
With the history of no country save that of Palestine are there connected so many hallowed and impressive associations as with that of Arabia. Here lived and suffered the holy patriarch Job; here Moses, when 'a stranger and a shepherd,' saw the burning, unconsuming bush; here Elijah found shelter from the rage of persecution; here was the scene of all the marvelous displays of divine power and mercy that followed the deliverance of Israel from the Egyptian yoke, and accompanied their journeyings to the Promised Land; and here Jehovah manifested Himself in visible glory to His people. From the influence of these associations, combined with its proximity to Palestine, and the close affinity in blood, manners, and customs between the northern portion of its inhabitants and the Jews, Arabia is a region of peculiar interest to the student of the Bible; and it is chiefly in its relation to subjects of Bible study that we are now to consider it.
In early times the Hebrews included a part of what we call Arabia among the countries, they vaguely designated as 'the East,' the inhabitants being numbered among the 'Sons of the East,' i.e. Orientals. But there is no evidence to show that these phrases are ever applied to the whole of the country known to us as Arabia. They appear to have been commonly used in speaking of those parts which lay due east of Palestine, or on the north-east and south-east; though occasionally they do seem to point to tracts which lay indeed to the south and southwest of that country, but to the east and southeast of Egypt.
International Standard Bible Encyclopedia 
a - rā´bi - a ( ארב , ‛ărābh , Ἀραβία , Arabı́a ):
I. Name and Situation
2. Situation and Configuration
II. Physical Features
1. The Desert
5. Oases and Wells
III. Political Divisions
1. Ancient Divisions
2. Modern Divisions
3. Political Situation
4. Chief Towns
IV. Flora and Fauna
2. Extinct Tribes
3. South Arabian Tribes
4. Migration of Tribes
5. North Arabian Tribes
6. Other Tribes
7. Foreign Elements
2. The Ka'bah, Pilgrimages and Fairs
I. Name and Situation
The Hebrew word ‛ărābh always denotes, strictly speaking, not the country, but the people of Arabia taken collectively, and especially the nomadic Arabs. The name of the country does not occur in the Old Testament, but in the New Testament it is used to denote the Syrian desert or the peninsula of Sinai.
2. Situation and Configuration
Surrounded as it is on three sides by the sea - by the Indian Ocean on the south, and its two branches, the Red Sea on the west and the Persian Gulf on the east - and on the fourth side by the desert of Syria, the country of Arabia is to all intents and purposes an island; and it is named by its inhabitants and by those who speak their language "the Island of the Arabs." In configuration the country is roughly of the form of a parallelogram, about 1,000 miles in length by 500 or 600 miles broad. This parallelogram is not of uniform altitude, but the generally even surface is tilted to one corner in such a way that the most southerly point contains mountains rising to 10,000 feet in height, whilst the Northeast corner is almost on a level with the sea. The altitudes of the intervening portions are in proportion to their situation with respect to these extremes. Thus the mountains of the Southeast corner have an altitude of from 5,000 to 6,000 feet, those of the Northwest of 4,000 or 5,000, whereas those which are situated near the middle of the West coast rise to 8,000 feet, and the plateau which forms the northern half of the interior of the peninsula is between 3,000 and 4,000 feet above sea-level. In consequence of this configuration the main watershed of the country runs parallel to the West coast at a distance of between 50 and 100 miles from the sea, with a subsidiary watershed running along the south; and the principal outlets for the drainage run in a Northeast direction. The whole of Arabia stretches from about 13 degrees to about 36 degrees north of the equator, and it lies between 33 degrees and 60 degrees east of Greenwich. Its area is about eight times that of the British Isles, or nearly 1,000,000 square miles.
II. Physical Features
1. The Desert
Although Arabia is considered by geographers as part of the continent of Asia, it belongs in almost every respect to Africa. The great bulk of the country is desert, of fine sand in the southern part, but consisting of coarse sand (the nefūd ), gravel and flints in the northern. It is in fact an offshoot from the great African Sahara. Of the southern half little is known, and it has never been crossed by the foot of European. The northern has been traversed in many directions; it has numerous caravan routes, and some important towns are situated in the heart of it. Arabian fancy has peopled the desert with strange creatures not of human kind (compare Isaiah 13:21; Isaiah 34:14 ), and fancy has been justified by the common phenomena of the mirage and the Fata Morgana ( Isaiah 35:7; Isaiah 49:10 ). To the keen sight of the nomad the glowing desert heat is visible as a fine gossamer ( Isaiah 18:4 ). Perhaps this is the meaning of shārābh in Isaiah 35:7; Isaiah 49:10 also. It is quite certain, however, that the whole of Arabia and especially the northern borders in the neighborhood of the Sinai peninsula and eastward to the south of Palestine and the country of Edom, were at one time very much better watered than they are at the present day. For centuries a constant process of desiccation has been going on. Indeed, persons now living can remember the existence of wells one or two generations ago, where now there are none. It follows that this district must formerly have supported a very much larger population that it does at present.
It will be obvious that the climate of Arabia must vary greatly in its different parts, the temperature and rainfall depending not so much upon latitude as upon latitude, so that within a few miles the greatest extremes co-exist. In the southern angle where the mountains are highest there are two rainy seasons, one in spring the other in autumn, so that this province well deserves its Grecian name of Arabia Felix. In the higher reaches of this province, for example, at its capital San'a, snow falls in December; while on the coast of the Red Sea at Loheia, scarcely 100 miles distant, thermometer rarely falls below 80 degrees. In the Red Sea 93 degrees is a common reading in the shade in summer, while the heat of the Persian Gulf, owing to its steep shores and great evaporation, is hardly endurable by a European. In the Northwest province, in which are situated the two sacred cities of Mecca and Medina, the rainfall is unreliable and takes the form of heavy thunder showers which occasion frequent floods in the former town, and are, owing to the arborial denudation of the country, of little use for the purpose of agriculture or irrigation. These winter rains may commence as early as September, and by December at latest the new pasture will have covered the ground. Hence the true spring in northern Arabia, or in Syria, falls in our autumn, but there is not the distinction of former and latter rain (compare Hosea 6:3 ) which obtains in Palestine. The climate of the northern central plateau is described by Palgrave as one of the most salubrious in the world.
As has been indicated above, the backbone of the peninsula is the mountain range which runs down its western side. In its northern parts this is said to be an extension of the limestone ranges of the Lebanon and Anti-Libanus. In its midmost reaches it attains an elevation of between 8,000 and 9,000 feet, and at its southern extremity it spreads out into the plateau of Arabia Felix, where its highest peaks have an altitude of as much as 11,000 feet. In the Southeast corner of the peninsula the range of Jebel Akhdar runs parallel to that on the West, and is connected with it along the South coast by a range of less elevation. In the interior the northern plateau is intersected by numerous irregular mountain ranges of moderate length, of which the most frequently mentioned are Jebel Aja and Jebel Selma, which face one another in the Shammar country.
The course of the rivers is determined by the direction of the mountain ranges. As has been said the drainage is mainly from West to East, but the fact is that Arabia is a land almost without rivers. The only quarter in which perennial streams are found is Arabia Felix, and to some extent they occur along the South coast. The rest of the peninsula is destitute of rivers and lakes. The scour ( seyl ) from the winter thunder showers cuts out for itself a torrent bed ( wādı̄ ), which, however, may be filled only once or twice in a generation, and even so dries up as soon as the rain ceases. The most important of these wadis is the West Sirhan, which runs from the Hauran in a Southeast direction to the Jauf (see Dumah ), the West el-Kora to the North of Medina, the West el-Hamth between Medina and Mecca, and the West Duweisir to the South of Mecca. Larger than any of these however is the West er-Rumma, which extends from the neighborhood of Medina to the head of the Persian Gulf. It has never been explored, and is filled with water only at long intervals.
5. Oases and Wells
In these circumstances the Arabs have to seek their water supply elsewhere than in their rivers. In many places the surface of the country sinks into a depression down to the level of permanent water, thus forming an oasis, which word is probably none other than the Arabic wādı̄ . The best known of these occur at Kheibar and Teima (see Tema ) to the North of Medina, and also at Tabuk to the Northwest. The West Duweisir is itself practically an oasis of a length of three days' journey. In addition to these natural depressions there are also dotted over all the inhabited parts of Arabia and along the caravan routes numerous wells, these routes following naturally the course of the wādı̄s . These wells are plentiful in the West Sirhan, and a number were sunk by command of Zubeida the wife of Harun al-Rashid, along the Pilgrim way from Persia to Mecca; but the most famous of all is the well of Zemzem in the Holy City itself. It is said that the water in it flows, so that it is probably one of those subterranean rivers which are not uncommon in Arabia. Its water, however, is heavy and brackish and causes indigestion, and the sweetest water obtainable in Mecca for drinking purposes was originally brought by Zubeida from a source some 15 miles distant. The purest water of all is that which collects after rain in the hollows of the numerous outcrops of lava which occur at frequent intervals and in great masses along the western mountain ranges. A spot where lava predominates is called a harrah (from the Arabic verb "to be hot"), and several of these volcanic regions still show signs of activity.
III. Political Divisions
1. Ancient Divisions
The peninsula of Arabia was divided by the ancient geographers into three parts: Arabia Petrea, Arabia Deserta and Arabia Felix. The first of these names, which is found in Ptolemy, means, not Arabia the Rocky, but that part of Arabia in which is situated the city of Petra (see Sela ), and it also includes the peninsula of Sinai. It is identical with the desert of the Wanderings. Arabia Deserta is a translation from the Greek Arabia érēmos of Strabo (circa 24 ad). It denotes the extreme north of the continent of Arabia which is thrust in like a wedge between the fertile lands which drain into the Euphrates on the East and into the Jordan valley on the West. It is thus equivalent to the Syrian Desert. The third term, Arabia Felix, is also a translation from the Greek - Arabia eudaı́mōn ̌ - which is again a translation, or rather a mistranslation of the Arabic El-Yemen. This last name denotes the country to the right hand, i.e. the S, just as the Arabic Es-Shem (Syria) means the country to the left hand, or to the North El-Yemen, however, was interpreted as equivalent to El-Eyman, the Fortunate or Happy, a name which the district truly deserves.
2. Modern Divisions
Since before the time of Mohammed (6th century) Arabia has been divided into seven or eight tribal or political states, the boundaries of which are for the most part clearly defined by intervening deserts or uninhabited tracts. The most important of these from a religious point of view is the Hijāz , which may be described as the northern half of the western coast, stretching from the Red Sea to a distance of between 100 and 200 miles inland. The whole of the coast line, indeed, where the land is low lying is called the Tihāma . This may, however, be considered as belonging to the adjacent high land beneath which it lies. Hijāz means "Barrier," and the district is so called because it consists mainly of the mountain ranges which separate the great northern central plateau from the Tihāma . This last name is connected with a root meaning "to be unwholesome." Whether the district gave its origin to the verb, or the verb gave its denomination to the district, the name is equally appropriate. The chief importance of the Hijāz arises from the fact that in it are situated the two holy cities of Mecca and Medina - the cradle and the grave of the Prophet. It is thus the religious center of the Islamic world. The Yemen forms the southern corner of the peninsula. It is identical with Arabia Felix, and its physical characteristics have been described above. The Hijāz often fell to the sovereign of Egypt, but for the last four centuries it has, like Egypt, been subject to the Turk. It is only within the last fifty years, on the other hand, that the sultan has attempted to enforce his sovereign rights in the Yemen. The southern coast of Arabia is generally designated as Hadramaut , although in strictness that appellation is properly applicable to a section of it only. The eastern corner of Arabia is taken up by Omān , a state which has generally claimed and secured a position of independence. Both it and the southern states are now under the protection of the Indian government. The country adjacent to Omān toward the North formed the province of El-Bahrein ("the Two Seas"), but this name is now restricted to a large island at the western end of it and some smaller islands famous for their pearl fishery. The remaining province of El-Hasa is occupied by practically independent tribes. From many points of view the most interesting province of Arabia is the great northern central plateau called Nejd , that is, "high land." From its situation it is least susceptible to foreign influence. It contains some fairly large towns, but the bulk of its population live, as their fathers have done from time immemorial, the life of the Bedawi. Two small provinces remain to be noticed. Between the Yemen and the Hijāz lies the district of ‛Ası̄r , which largely resembles the first-named province in its physical features. To the East of Nejd lies the district of Yemāma , which used to be the territory of an important tribe.
3. Political Situation
On the whole the political situation in Arabia today bears a considerable resemblance to that which obtained immediately before the mission of Mohammad. At that time (about 600 ad) the Northwest parts of the peninsula were more or less subject to the Byzantine emperor, while the whole East and South coasts were under the sway of Persia. Today the West coast of Arabia is again subject to Constantinople, and the East and South coasts are under the protection of an eastern power - in this case the government of India.
4. Chief Towns
The principal towns of Arabia and the other centers of population owe their existence to the natural features of the country and have probably remained the same in all ages, just as those of Palestine have, and even their population does not seem to have altered much. Thus Mecca owes its existence to the presence of the famous well Zemzem; Teima, Kheibar and Tabuk to their oases; Mascat, the capital of Omān , to its natural harbor; and so on. An exception is the ancient town of Saba (see Sheba ) or Marib, which probably sprang up as the result of the building in prehistoric times of a gigantic dam for the purposes of irrigation. When the dam burst in the 2nd or 3rd Christian century, the population dispersed. Owing to the absence of a census it is not possible to make accurate statements regarding the population of an eastern town, and estimates by European travelers always vary greatly. Speaking generally, the cities of Arabia of the first magnitude appear to have some 35,000 inhabitants, though Mascat is said to have as many as 60,000.
IV. Flora and Fauna
The peninsula of Arabia belongs, as has been said, in its physical features to Africa, and its flora and fauna are those of that continent. Of all the products of the soil by far the most important is the date palm. It flourishes in every oasis. In the Wadi Duweisir alone it is said one may ride straight on for three days without leaving the shelter of the palm groves. The dates, which are the staff of life of the Arab, differ in quality in each locality, each district producing a variety of its own. In the Yemen, with its varied altitudes, almost every kind of fruit and vegetable known in temperate latitudes is cultivated on the terraced mountain sides. Vines are grown, as Ibn Khaldun remarks, for the sake of the berry, not for the purposes of wine making. The vine is common to Arabia and Palestine, whereas the date palm has almost gone out of cultivation in the latter country. On the other land the olive, which is so important in the northern country is almost unknown in the southern. The olive is constantly referred to in the Bible ( Judges 9:8 and often), the date never. From the South coast especially are exported frankincense, balsam, myrrh and other aromatic plants; and cotton is cultivated in the province of Omān . Cereals flourish in the Yemen and tobacco is grown wherever possible in Arabia The coffee of the Yemen is famous; it is exported to Constantinople and named from the port of export Mokha coffee; but the bulk of it is consumed within Arabia itself. Coffee and tobacco are the only two articles of consumption which are used in Arabia today, and which have not been used from time immemorial. Coffee was probably introduced into Arabia from Gallaland on the African mainland two or three centuries ago. The Arabs are most inveterate coffee drinkers. Tobacco was probably first brought from English ships at Constantinople in the reign of James I. It is cultivated in every oasis, unless in the interior in Nejd, where its use is discouraged on religious grounds. There is only one other point in regard to which the Arabs of today differ from the Arabs of Mohammed's time - the use of gunpowder. Except in respect of the three commodities just mentioned, everyday life in the desert today goes on exactly as it did 1,600 years ago. Forest trees are extremely rare in Arabia, but a species of tamarisk called ghada which grows in the northern nefūd is proverbial for the quality of charcoal it affords and is a favorite food of the camel. An acacia called katād is likewise a by-word on account of its long spines. The wood is used for making camels' saddles; it grows in the Tihāma . As in Palestine and in most countries which have been inhabited for many thousands of years, the larger trees have long been cut down for fuel or for building purposes.
Among beasts of prey panthers, wolves, hyenas, jackals and (it is said) even lions are found in Arabia Many of the tribes are named after these and other animals. The wild ox or oryx (see Unicorn ) is rarely seen, but gazelles are plentiful. Apes abound in the Yemen, as they do all along the North of Africa, and are kept as pets (compare 1 Kings 10:22 ). By far the most important domestic animal is the camel. Without it many parts of the country would be uninhabited. It is commonly supposed that the best breed of horses comes from Nejd, but this appears to be an error. In Nejd the camel is the indispensable beast of burden and mount; horses are comparatively useless there. The best Arabian horses are reared in Mesopotamia. Studs are, indeed, kept by the emirs of Nejd, but the horses are small and of little use. The pedigrees of the best horses go back, according to tradition, to the time of Solomon ( 1 Kings 10:28 ). Dogs are trained to hunt the wild ox, to tend sheep and to watch the camp. All domestic animals - dogs, horses, mules, asses - receive names as with us. The ostrich is rarely met with, but is found as far north as the Jauf; it no doubt found its way into Arabia from Africa. A common bird is the kata or sand grouse. It is noted for going straight to its watering place. "Better guided than a kata " is a common proverb. Hawks and falcons are found, and falconry among the Arabs was a favorite sport. In Arabia the locust, so far from being a scourge wherever it appears, is a valuable article of food. It is eaten not only by human beings ( Matthew 3:4 ), but also by dogs, horses and even beasts of prey. As might be expected in a rocky and sun-scorched land like Arabia, scorpions and various sorts of serpents abound. The chameleon ( Leviticus 11:30 ) is common here. It is used as a simile for fickle people and those who do not fulfill their promises. It may be regarded as a substitute for thermometer, as on very hot days it ascends trees or any high places. Another sign of extreme heat is that the vipers writhe on the ground.
The Persian Gulf, especially the Bahrein archipelago, is famous for its pearls, while the Red Sea is noted for its coral reefs, which have caused many a shipwreck. It is believed that in the interior of Hadramaut there are many mineral deposits including gold.
The inhabitants of Arabia are divided into three classes. There are in the first place a number of tribes which became extinct, and which are not connected genealogically with those which survived. The latter are divided into two great stems, the south Arabian and indigenous branch descended from Kahtan, and the north Arabian or immigrant tribes descended from Ishmael, the son of Abraham. There is naturally a good deal of inconsistency in the various traditions of the origins of these tribes and their subsequent history.
2. Extinct Tribes
Of the extinct tribes the most familiar name is that of Amlāk or Amlı̄k ( Amalek ). By the Arabian genealogists he is variously described as a grandson of Shem and as a son of Ham. In Genesis 36:12 he is a son of Esau's son, Eliphaz, by Timna. They are said to be first met with in Chaldea, from which they were expelled on the rise of the Assyrian power under Nimrod. They migrated into Ar, occupying in turn the Bahrein, Omān , the Yemen, and finally the Hijāz , where they are said to have been the first settlers at Yathrib (Medina) and also to have occupied land round Mecca and Kheibar. In the time of Abraham they were expelled from Mecca on the arrival of two new tribes from the South, those of Jurhum and Katūra ( Genesis 25:1 ). Later, it is said, David, during the rebellion of Absalom, took up his quarters in Kheibar and ruled over the surrounding districts. According to another tradition Moses sent an expedition against the Amalekites in the Hijāz , on which occasion the Israelites, disobeying his orders, spared their king Arkam (compare Rekem, Numbers 31:8; Joshua 13:21 ) - a reminiscence of the incident in the life of Saul (1 Sam 15). In any case the Amalekites were supplanted in the northern Hijāz by Jewish tribes, who continued there until the time of Mohammad. The Amalekites migrated into Egypt and southern Palestine. The Pharaohs of the time of Abraham, Joseph and Moses are represented to have been Amalekites. Finally, broken up by Josh, they fled into northern Africa, where they are said to have grown into the Berber races. The rest of the tribes which became extinct like the Amalekites are of less interest for the present purpose, being unconnected with the Bible narrative. They are mentioned in the Koran, in which book their destruction is attributed to their idolatrous proclivities and to their rejection of the monotheistic prophets. The best known and most important are ‛Ad and Thamūd . ‛Ad is variously named the son of Amalek and the son of Uz ( Genesis 10:23 ). The tribe dwelt in the deserts behind the Yemen. They became polytheists; the prophet Hūd was sent to them; they rejected him, and were destroyed by a hurricane. The remnant grew into a new tribe, whose chief, Lokmān , built the great dam at Marib. In the end they were conquered by a tribe of Kahtan. Thamūd was closely related to ‛Ad , being a son of Aram the father of Uz. They were driven out of the Yemen and settled in the northern Hijāz ; they rejected their prophet Salih and were destroyed by an earthquake accompanied by a loud noise. The rock-cut sepulchral monuments of Medain Salih in the Wadi el-Kora are still pointed out as their dwellings. They were, therefore, considered to have been troglodites like the Horites of the Bible. A second pair were the brother tribes of Tasm and Jadı̄s , grandsons of Aram. Tasm oppressing Jadı̄s , the latter rose and almost exterminated the former, only to be in turn destroyed by a king of the Yemen. Their home was Yemāma .
3. South Arabian Tribes
The southern Arabs claim to be descended from an ancestor called Kahtan son of 'Abir, son of Shalikh, son of Arfakhshad, son of Shem, son of Noah. Kahtan is undoubtedly the Biblical Joktan ( Genesis 10:26 ), and the names of his descendants reappear as Arabic place names. Indeed the tenth chapter of Gen throws much light on the earliest history of Arabia and the movements of the tribes. Thus the fact that Sheba and Dedan appear as grandsons of Cush, that is, as Abyssinian tribes descended from Ham, in Genesis 10:7 and again as descendants of Keturah and Abraham in Genesis 25:3 points to the fact that parts of these tribes migrated from the one country to the other. Havilah in Genesis 10:7 may similarly be connected with Havilah in Genesis 10:29 , the intercourse between Southwest Arabia and the opposite coast of Africa being always very close. Among the sons of Joktan are mentioned Almodad, Hazarmaveth, Uzal (Izal), Sheba, Ophir, Havilah. In Almodad we have probably the Arabic El - Mudād , a name which occurs among the descendants of Jurhum, son of Yaktan (Joktan). Hazarmaveth is obviously Hadramaut. Uzal is the ancient name of San'a, the capital of the Yemen. Sheba is the Arabic Saba or Marib. Ophir and Havilah were probably in South or East Arabia. In Genesis 10:30 it is said that the camping grounds of these tribes stretched from Mesha as you go toward Sephar, the mountain of the East, that is, probably from the North of the Persian Gulf to the center of South Arabia, Sephar being Zafār , the capital of the South Arab kingdom near to the present Mirbat.
4. Migration of Tribes
Many of the most illustrious tribes are descended from Kahtan, and some of them still survive. A constant stream of migration went on toward the North. Thus the tribe of Jurhum left the Yemen on account of drought and settled in the Hijāz and the Tihāma , from which they drove out the Amalekites, and were in turn driven out by Koda'a, another Kahtanite tribe. After that they disappear from history and are reckoned among the extinct tribes. Koda'a was a descendant of Himyar. The Himyarites founded, about the 1st century bc, a kingdom which lasted for five centuries. The king bore the title of Tubba', and the capital was successively Marib (Saba), Zafār and San'a. One of their monarchs was the queen Bilkı̄s whom the Arabian historians identify with the queen of Sheba who visited Solomon, though she must have lived much later. The story of the meeting is given in the Koran, chapter 38. A chief occasion on which many of the tribes left the district Northeast of the Yemen was the bursting of the great dam, built by Lokman at Marib, about the 2nd century ad. A section of these grew into the Arabian kingdom of Ghassan, whose capital was Damascus and many of whose kings bore the name Al-Harith (Aretas, 2 Corinthians 11:32 ). This kingdom lasted till the time of Mohammad (7th century) and was in alliance with the Roman and Greek empires. On the opposite side of the Syrian desert the Lakhmid kingdom of Al-Hira on the Euphrates (also of Kahtanite origin) was allied to Persia. The two Arabian "buffer-states" were almost constantly at war with one another.
5. North Arabian Tribes
Among the Arabs Ishmael holds the place occupied by Isaac in the Hebrew tradition. It was to the valley, afterward the site of the town of Mecca, that Abraham conducted Hagar and her son, and that Ishmael grew up and became the father of a great nation. The locality is full of spots connected by tradition with his life history, the ground where Hagar searched for water, the well Zemzem of which Gabriel showed her the place, the mount Thabı̄r where Abraham would have sacrificed his son (Ishmael), and the graves of Hagar and Ishmael. The Jurhum, among whom Ishmael grew up, gave him seven goats: these were the capital with which he began life. He married a woman of Jurhum. He had twelve sons ( Genesis 25:16 ) of whom Kaidar and Nabat are the best known, perhaps the Cedrei and Nabataei of Pliny; other sons were Dumah and Tema (which see). The subsequent history of the Ishmaelites is lost for several generations until we come to ‛Adnān , who is said to have been defeated by Nebuchadnezzar, when the latter invaded Arabia. All the Ishmaelite tribes are descended from ‛Adnān . They are the north Arabian tribes, as opposed to the Kahtanite or south Arabian. One of them, Koreish, under their chief, Kosay, became master of Mecca, driving out Koda'a. Later, as the tribe of the Prophet, they became the rulers of Arabia and the aristocracy of the Muslim empire; and the descendants of Mohammad remain to this day the only hierarchy known to Islam.
6. Other Tribes
There are one or two other branches which are not included in the above classification: such are the Nabateans (see Nebaioth ), and the descendants of Esau and Keturah. The Nabateans are not generally reckoned among the Arabian tribes. They were an Aramean stock, the indigenous inhabitants of Mesopotamia, and spoke not Arabic but Aramaic. They founded a kingdom in Arabia of which the capital was Petra (see Sela ). This was the most famous of their colonies, and it endured, at first in alliance with the Romans and later in subjection to them, for 500 years - from the 2nd century bc to the 3rd century ad. Petra was an important trading emporium, but, when the trade left the overland routes and was carried by way of the Red Sea, it quickly fell into poverty and oblivion. The descendants of Esau are named in Genesis 36:1; they were allied to the Hittites and Ishmaelites. Among the tribes descended from Keturah are Jokshan and Midian, Sheba and Dedan ( Genesis 25:2 ).
7. Foreign Elements
In Arabia there was and still, in spite of religious disabilities, is a large Jewish population. Before the age of Mohammad they lived chiefly in the Northwest, the two best known tribes - An - Nadı̄r and Koreiza - occupying Yathrib (Medina). After the rise of Islam they were expelled from Arabia; but at the present time there are probably some 60,000 Jews in the Yemen alone. There has always been a close connection between the South and West of Arabia and the opposite African coast. Especially in the 6th century there was a large influx of Abyssinians into the Yemen, as there still is into the western districts. A like intermixture of population went on between Zanzibar and Omān .
The religion of the greater part of the Arabs before the time of Mohammad consisted of a vague deism combined with a primitive form of stone-worship. This is chiefly true of the Ishmaelite tribes descended from Modan, a great-grandson of ‛Adnān , and among them it is especially true of Koreish. The origin of this stone worship may have been that as each family was forced to hive off from the main stock and quit the sacred territory around Mecca, it carried with it a stone as a monument of the homeland. This stone soon became a fetich. It was worshipped by stroking it with the hand. Before setting out on a journey a man would perform this religious duty, and also immediately on his return, before even visiting his wife and family. The best known idols of the pagan Arabs, from the mention of them in the Koran, are Al - Lāt , Al - Ozza and Al - Manāt (Kor 53 19.20), worshipped by the Thakı̄f at Taïf, by the two tribes of Medina, the Aus and the Khazraj, and by Koreish, in a shrine near Mecca, respectively. Koreish had also a great idol named Hubal in the "house of God" at Mecca, which contained other idols besides. The deity in each case was probably at first a large boulder of stone, then a portable image was made, apparently in human form. They were regarded as feminine and called the daughters of God. Indeed, Al - Lāt is apparently merely the feminine of Allah (God). The deities mentioned in the Koran (71:23), Yaghūth , Ya‛uk and Nesr , were worshipped in the Yemen. It is certain, however, that the idolatry of the Arabs of "the Ignorance" ( Jāhilı̄yah , "roughness," "ignorance"; compare Acts 17:30 ) - so native writers name the ages before Mohammad (Koran 3 148, etc.) - has been greatly exaggerated by Mohammadan historians. It is remarkable that the words denoting an idol, sanam and wethen , are not Arabic roots, and the practice of idolatry seems also to have been an importation from without. Even the idolatrous Arabs believed in a supreme deity, whose daughters the idol deities were, and with whom they had powers of intercession. They therefore were rather images of saints than of gods. As Renan has said, the desert is monotheistic; it is too empty to give birth to a pantheon, as the fruitful plains of India could do. At the present day the desert Arabs are more strictly monotheistic than the Muslims themselves. Their religion consists in nothing save a vague belief in God.
2. The Ka'ba, Pilgrimages and Fairs
Though there were many houses of God in the country, the chief religious resort even before the time of Mohammad was Mecca. The House of God (see Bethel ) here was called the Ka'ba, which is the English word "cube," the building being so called from its shape. It was believed to have been built by Abraham and Ishmael. The honor of acting as guardians of the House was a subject of rivalry among the tribes. The office was held consecutively by the tribes of Jurhum, Koda'a and Koreish, and last by the grandfather and uncles of Mohammad. These, therefore, correspond to the tribe of Levi in Israel. It is said to have contained a large number of images, but it is remarkable that the nearer our authorities get to the time of Mohammad the smaller is the number of images mentioned. The chief of these, Hubal, is not named in the Koran. The worship took the form of circumambulation ( tawāf ), running or marching round the sanctuary (compare Psalm 26:6 ). An annual visitation was and still is made by those living at a distance, and sacrifices are offered. This is the hajj or pilgrimage; the same name is used for the corresponding rite among the Hebrews ( Exodus 10:9 and often). These religious assemblies were combined with fairs, at which markets were held and a considerable trade carried on. Before the time of Mohammad the great annual fair was held at Okāz , a place still pointed out about three days' journey East of Mecca and one day West of Taïf. Here were not only all kinds of commercial transactions carried on - auctions, sales, settling of accounts and payment of blood-wit, but an academy was held at which poets recited their odes, and received judgment upon their merits. These fairs were generally held in the sacred months, that is, the first, seventh, eleventh and twelfth months, in which fighting was forbidden. They had therefore a great civilizing and pacifying influence.
Before the time of Mohammad Judaism prevailed extensively in Arabia, especially in the Hijāz . It began no doubt with the migration of families due to disturbed political conditions at home. The conquest of Palestine by Nebuchadnezzar, by the Seleucids, by the Romans under Pompey, Vespasian and finally Hadrian, drove many Jews to seek peace and safety in the deserts out of which their forefathers had come. Thither Paul also withdrew after his conversion ( Galatians 1:17 ). Two of these emigrant tribes, the Nadir and Koreiza, settled at Medina, first in independence, then as clients of the Aus and Khazraj. In the end they were harried and destroyed by Mohammad. The Jewish colony at Kheibar met the same fate. Several free Arab tribes also professed the Jewish faith, especially certain branches of Himyar and Kinda, both descendants of Kahtan, the former in southern, the latter in central Arabia. Judaism was introduced into the Yemen by one of the Tubbas, probably in the 3rd century ad, but it was not until the beginning of the 6th century that it made much headway. At that epoch the Tubba Dhu Nuwās became a fierce protagonist of this creed. He seems to have attacked the Aus and Khazraj to whom the Jews of Yathrib (Medina) were subject. He instituted against the Christians of Nejran, a territory lying to the Northeast of the Yemen, a persecution which brought upon him the vengeance of the Byzantine emperor and of the Negus of Abyssinia and involved his kingdom and dynasty in ruin.
Judaism did not hold such a large place in Arabia as did Christianity. The apostle Bartholomew is said to have carried the gospel thither. One of the Jurhum kings who may have lived about the beginning of the 2nd century ad is named Abd el - Ması̄h ("Christ's slave"). There is said to have been a representation of the Virgin Mary and her Son in the Ka'ba. The Christian emperor Constans (337-50) sent the Bishop Theophilus into South Arabia in order to obtain toleration for the Christians. The mission was successful. Churches were built at Zafār , at Aden, and on the shore of the Persian Gulf. The emperor's real object was doubtless political - to counteract the influence of Persia in these regions. Most of the Yemenite tribes were at this time pagan: they worshipped the idols mentioned above (Koran 71 23). Some time after we find the Abyssinian sovereign describing himself in the inscriptions at Axum as king of the Himyarites. This supremacy would be favorable to the spread of Christianity. One of the chief seats, however, of the Christian religion, was at the above-mentioned Nejran, the territory of the tribe Harith ibn Ka'b, whom ecclesiastical writers seem to denote by Arethas son of Caleb. It was this tribe that Dhu Nuwās , Tubba of the Yemen, on his conversion to Judaism, attacked. He threw all the Christians who held by their faith into a trench of fire in which they were burned (Koran 85 4). News of this atrocity was either carried by those who escaped or sent by the Lakhmid, king of Al-Hira, to the emperor Justin I, who, in turn, either directly or through the patriarch of Alexandria, invoked the coöperation of the Axumite king. The result was that the Abyssinians invaded the Yemen and overthrew the Himyarite dynasty. Christianity then became the prevailing religion of South Arabia. The Abyssinians were in their turn, however, expelled by the Persians, under whom all religions - C hristianity, Judaism and paganism - were tolerated, until they all disappeared before Islam. Several of the Lakhmid kings of Al-Hira, although they were from circumstances under the influence of the Persian Zoroastrianism, professed Christianity. Nu‛mān I who reigned at the end of the 4th and beginning of the 5th century, perhaps under the influence of Simon Stylites, retired from the world and became an ascetic. Mundhir II, in the middle of the 6th century, seems to have come temporarily under the influence of the Eutychian heresy. Nu‛mān V , one of his successors, was also converted to Christianity. But the kingdom in which Christianity flourished most was naturally that in closest contact with the Byzantine empire - the kingdom of the Ghassanids, although it seems not to have been until after the conversion of Constantine that this was the case. From his reign date the monasteries of which the ruins are still visible in the Ghassanid country. The powerful Ishmaelite tribe of Taghlib, whose settlements were in Mesopotamia was also converted to Christianity through similar influences, but not until the end of the 6th century. Some members of the Kahtanite Koda'a professed the same religion, as did the Kelb in the Jauf.
In the Koran a third creed is bracketed with those of the Jews and Christians as entitled to toleration - that of the Sabians. These are monotheists who also worshipped the stars or the angels. The name Sabian has no connection with Sabean which is derived from the name of the town of Saba. An account of their religion, taken from Abu'l Faraj (Bar Hebraeus), the Jacobite bishop, who wrote about the middle of the 13th century, will be found in Sale's Koran , Preliminary Discourse, section I. Sale, however, identified Sabianism with the primitive religion of the Arabs, which Mohammad sought to supplant. This is impossible, however, in view of the fact that Mohammad tolerated the one and proscribed the other. Since the publication of Chwolson's Ssabier und Ssabismus it has been recognized that under the term Sabians are included two very different groups of people. In the first place the devotees of the old Semitic idolatry which flourished at Harran assumed the name Sabian to enable them to claim the protection afforded by the Koran. It is the tenets of these Harranians of which Chwolson's work contains an exposition. The true Sabians, however, were a survival of primitive Christian Gnosticism; whence they were also called Mandeans. From their frequent ablutions they received their name derived from the Aramaic cebha‛ , to "baptize," the 'ayin being softened to 'ālēph , and connected with John the Baptist.
The Jews, Christians and Sabians are called in the Koran "the people of the book," that is, those to whom a revelation had been vouchsafed, and who were in consequence of this tolerated. In one passage of the Koran (22 17) a fourth religion is added to these - the Magian, or Zoroastrian, introduced from Persia.
6. Seekers After Truth: Islam
Shortly before the appearance of Mohammad a number of thinking persons had become dissatisfied with the old Arabian religion of their ancestors, and yet had not joined the Christian or Jewish faith. They gave up the worship of idols, studied the various sacred books, and sought to find out the true way. They are considered in the Koran as having been of the true faith even before Mohammad had appeared. About a dozen are mentioned by the historians, of whom the most important are four - W araka the cousin of Mohammad's wife Khadija; Othman who became a Christian; Obeidallah who became a Christian and then a Muslim; Zeid who traveled in pursuit of Truth, but did not attach himself to any one faith. The Hebrew prophets and those who accepted their doctrines are regarded as belonging to the same class. A person who is a monotheist, and who yet does not attach himself to any particular creed is called in the Koran a Hanı̄f . This pure religion is called the religion of Abraham. Mohammad claimed to restore this primeval religion in Islam. By John of Damascus Mohammad was regarded as the founder of a Christian sect. It is probable that but for his appearance Christianity would have spread over the whole of Arabia.
Causinn de Perceval, Essai sur l'histoire des Arabes ; Sprenger, Die alte Geographie Arabiens ; Hamdani, ed., Müller, Geographic der arabischen Halbinsel ; Niebuhr, Travels through Arabia ; Burckhardt, Travels in Arabia ; Wellsted, Travels in Arabia ; Burton, Personal Narrative of a Pilgrimage to El-Medinah and Meccah ; Palgrave, Journey through Central and Eastern Arabia ; Blunt, A Pilgrimage to Nejd ; Hurgronje, Mecca ; Doughty, Travels in Arabia Deserta ; Harris, A Journey through the Yemen ; Brunnow and Domazewski, Die Provincia Arabia ; Musil, Arabia Deserta ; Glaser, Skizze der Geschichte und Geographic Arabiens .
The Nuttall Encyclopedia 
The most westerly peninsula of Asia and the largest in the world, being one-third the size of the whole of Europe, consisting of ( a ) a central plateau with pastures for cattle, and fertile valleys; ( b ) a ring of deserts, the Nefud in the N., stony, the Great Arabian, a perfect Sahara, in the S., sandy, said sometimes to be 600 ft. deep, and the Dahna between; and ( c ) stretches of coast land, generally fertile on the W. and S.; is divided into eight territories; has no lakes or rivers, only wadies, oftenest dry; the climate being hot and arid, has no forests, and therefore few wild animals; a trading country with no roads or railways, only caravan routes, yet the birthland of a race that threatened at one time to sweep the globe, and of a religion that has been a life-guidance to wide-scattered millions of human beings for over twelve centuries of time.
- ↑ Arabia from Bridgeway Bible Dictionary
- ↑ Arabia from Watson's Biblical & Theological Dictionary
- ↑ Arabia from Fausset's Bible Dictionary
- ↑ Arabia from Hastings' Dictionary of the New Testament
- ↑ Arabia from Smith's Bible Dictionary
- ↑ Arabia from Holman Bible Dictionary
- ↑ Arabia from People's Dictionary of the Bible
- ↑ Arabia from Easton's Bible Dictionary
- ↑ Arabia from Morrish Bible Dictionary
- ↑ Arabia from American Tract Society Bible Dictionary
- ↑ Arabia from Cyclopedia of Biblical, Theological and Ecclesiastical Literature
- ↑ Arabia from Kitto's Popular Cyclopedia of Biblial Literature
- ↑ Arabia from International Standard Bible Encyclopedia
- ↑ Arabia from The Nuttall Encyclopedia