Click to donate today!
Holman Bible Dictionary
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 ).
These dictionary topics are from the Holman Bible Dictionary, published by Broadman & Holman, 1991. All rights reserved. Used by permission of Broadman & Holman.
Butler, Trent C. Editor. Entry for 'Arabia'. Holman Bible Dictionary. https://www.studylight.org/dictionaries/eng/hbd/a/arabia.html. 1991.