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Kitto's Popular Cyclopedia of Biblical Literature


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Nebai´oth or Nebajoth, the first-born son of Ishmael (; ), and the prince or sheikh of one of the twelve Ishmaelitish tribes, which, as well as the territory they occupied, continued to bear his name in after times (; comp. ). One of Esau's wives, Mahalath, otherwise called Bashemath, is expressly designated as 'the sister of Nebaioth' (; ); and by a singular coincidence the land of Esau, or Edom, was ultimately possessed by the posterity of Nebaioth. In common with the other Ishmaelites, they first settled in the wilderness 'before' (i.e. to the east of) their brethren, the other descendants of Abraham; by which we are probably to understand the great desert lying to the east and south-east of Palestine (;;; and see the article Arabia). From various references in Scripture it is evident that the tribe of Nebaioth for ages followed the nomadic life of shepherds.

The successful invasion of Western Asia, first by the Assyrians and afterwards by the Chaldeans, could not but affect the condition of the tribes in Northern Arabia, though we possess no record of the special results. The prophet Isaiah, after his obscure oracle regarding Dumah (), introduces a 'judgment upon Arabia,' i.e. Desert Arabia, which some suppose to have been fulfilled by Sennacherib, while others think it refers to the later events that are foretold by Jeremiah () as befalling 'Kedar and the kingdoms of Hazor,' in consequence of the ravages of Nebuchadnezzar. Be this as it may, we know that when the latter carried the Jews captive to Babylon, the Edomites made themselves masters of a great part of the south of Palestine [IDUMEA], while either then or at a later period they themselves were supplanted in the southern part of their own territory by the Nabathæans, though doubtless this general designation included a variety of Arab races who took their common name from the progenitor of the largest or most influential tribe, Nebaioth, the first-born of Ishmael.

The territory occupied by the Nabathæans in its widest sense included the whole of Northern Arabia from the Euphrates to the Elanitic Gulf of the Red Sea; but more strictly taken it denoted (at least in later times) only a portion of the southern part of that vast region. We first hear of the Nabathæans in history in the reign of Antigonus, who succeeded Alexander the Great in Babylon, and died in the year B.C. 301. He sent two expeditions against them; but both were unsuccessful. The Nabathæans were as yet essentially a pastoral people, though they were likewise engaged in commerce, which they afterwards prosecuted to a great extent, and thereby acquired great riches and renown. It was in this way that they gradually became more fixed in their habits; and living in towns and villages they were at length united under a regular monarchical government, constituting the kingdom of Arabia, or more strictly Arabia Petræa, the name being derived not, as some suppose, from the rocky nature of the country, but from the chief city Petra.

The common name of the kings of Arabia Petræa was either Aretas or Obodas. Even in the time of Antiochus Epiphanes (about B.C. 166), we read in , of an Aretas, king of the Arabians; and from that period downwards they came frequently into contact both with the Jews and Romans, as may be seen in the books of the Maccabees and the writings of Josephus. Long before the kingdom of Arabia was actually conquered by the Romans, its sovereigns were dependent on the Roman power. An expedition was sent thither by Augustus, under Ælius Gallus, governor of Egypt, and a personal friend of the geographer Strabo, who has left us an account of it. After various obstacles, he at last reached Albus Pagus, the emporium of the Nabathaeans, and the port of Petra, which was probably at or near Elath. Another friend of Strabo, the Stoic philosopher Athenodorus, had spent some time in Petra, and related to him with admiration how the inhabitants lived in entire harmony and union under excellent laws. The kingdom was hereditary; or at least the king was always one of the royal family, and had a prime minister or vizier, who was styled the king's brother. Another Arabian king of the name of Aretas is the one mentioned by St. Paul (; comp.; Josephus, Antiq. xviii. 5. 1). We find that a former Aretas had been invited to assume the sovereignty by the inhabitants of Damascus: and now, during the weak reign of Caligula, the same city is seized by another Aretas, and governed through an ethnarch, as related by Paul. The kingdom of Arabia Petræa maintained its nominal independence till about A.D. 105, in the reign of the Emperor Trajan, when it was subdued by Cornelius Palma, governor of Syria, and annexed to the vast Empire of Rome.

The Nabathæans had, as we have seen, early applied themselves to commerce, especially as carriers of the products of Arabia, India, and the far-distant East, which, as we learn from Strabo, were transported on camels from the above-mentioned Leuke Komé to Petra, and thence to Rhinocoloura (el-Arish) and elsewhere. 'But under the Roman dominion the trade of these regions appears to have widely extended itself, and to have flourished in still greater prosperity; probably from the circumstance that the lawless rapacity of the adjacent nomadic hordes was now kept in check by the Roman power, and particularly by the garrisons which were everywhere established for this specific purpose. The country, too, was now rendered more accessible, and the passage of merchants and caravans more practicable, by military ways. But as the power of Rome fell into decay, the Arabs of the desert would seem again to have acquired the ascendancy. They plundered the cities, but did not destroy them; and hence those regions are still full of uninhabited, yet stately and often splendid ruins, of ancient wealth, and taste, and greatness. Even Petra, the rich and impregnable metropolis, was subjected to the same fate; and now exists, in its almost inaccessible loneliness, only to excite the curiosity of the scholar, and the wonder of the traveler, by the singularity of its site, its ruins, and its fortunes.'

In the course of the fourth century this region came to be included under the general name of 'Palestine.' It became the diocese of a metropolitan, whose seat was at Petra, and who was afterwards placed under the patriarch of Jerusalem. With the Muhammadan conquest in the seventh century its commercial prosperity disappeared. Lying between the three rival empires of Arabia, Egypt, and Syria, it lost its ancient independence; the course of trade was diverted into new channels; its great routes were abandoned; and at length the entire country was quietly yielded up to the Bedawees of the surrounding wilderness, whose descendants still claim it as their domain. During the twelfth century it was partially occupied by the Crusaders, who gave it the name of Arabia Tertia, or Syria Sobal. From that period it remained unvisited by Europeans, and had almost disappeared from their maps, until it was partially explored, first by Seetzen in 1807, and more fully by Burckhardt in 1812; and now the wonders of the Wady Mûsa are familiarly known to all.





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Bibliography Information
Kitto, John, ed. Entry for 'Nebaioth'. "Kitto's Popular Cyclopedia of Biblical Literature".

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