In the tenth chapter of Genesis Sheba is one of the sons of Joktan, the ancestor of the south Arabian tribes. Foremost among them is Hazarmaveth, the Hadhramaut of to-day; another is Ophir, the port to which the gold of Africa was brought. But the same chapter also assigns to Sheba a different origin. It couples him with Dedan, and sees in him a descendant of Ham, a kinsman of Egypt and Canaan. Both genealogies are right. They are geographical, not ethnic, and denote, in accordance with Semitic idiom, the geographical relationships of the races and nations of the ancient world. Sheba belonged not only to south Arabia but to northern Arabia as well. The rule of the Sabaean princes extended to the borders of Egypt and Canaan, and Sheba was the brother of Hazarmaveth and of Dedan alike. For Dedan was a north Arabian tribe, whose home was near Tema, and whose name may have had a connection with that sometimes given by the Babylonians to the whole of the west.
Such, then, was Arabia in the days of the Hebrew writers. The south was occupied by a cultured population, whose rule, at all events after the time of Solomon, was acknowledged throughout the peninsula. The people of the north and the centre differed from this population in both race and language, though all alike belonged to the same Semitic stock. The Midianites on the western coast perhaps partook of the characteristics of both. But the Ishmaelites were wholly northern; they were the kinsmen of the Edomites and Israelites, and their language was that Aramaic which represents a mixture of Arabic and Canaanitish elements. Wandering tribes of savage Bedawin pitched their tents in the desert, or robbed their more settled neighbours, as they do to-day; these were the Amalekites of the Old Testament, who were believed to be the first created of mankind, and the aboriginal inhabitants of Arabia. Apart from them, however, the peninsula was the seat of a considerable culture. The culture had spread from the spice-bearing lands of the south, where it had been in contact with the civilisations of Babylonia on the one side and of Egypt on the other, and where wealthy and prosperous kingdoms had arisen, and powerful dynasties of kings had held sway. It is to Arabia, in all probability, that we must look for the origin of the alphabet—in itself a proof of the culture of those who used it; and it was from Arabia that Babylonia received that line of monarchs which first made Babylon a capital, and was ruling there in the days of Abraham. We must cease to regard Arabia as a land of deserts and barbarism; it was, on the contrary, a trading centre of the ancient world, and the Moslems who went forth from it to conquer Christendom and found empires, were but the successors of those who, in earlier times, had exercised a profound influence upon the destinies of the East.
[Footnote 6: 2 Sam. xvii. 27.]
[Footnote 7: Jer. xl. 14.]
[Footnote 8: Rehoboam is an Ammonite name, compounded with that of the god Am or Ammi. Rehob, which is the first element in it, was also an Ammonite name, as we learn from the Assyrian inscriptions.]