Tub'a Abu Kariba As'ad
Tub'a Abu Kariba As'ad
|Other names||Abu Karib|
|Years active||390–420 CE|
|Known for||Conversion to Judaism (per legend)|
|Religion||Judaism (convert; per legend)|
|Children||Sons Hasan, Amru, and Zorah (Yussuf)|
Tub'a Abu Kariba As'ad (Abu Kariba) was the Himyarite king of Yemen. He ruled Yemen from 390–420 CE. Abu Kariba is commonly cited as the first of several kings of Arabia to convert to Judaism.
Fifth century Arabia was located between the two competing empires of Christian Byzantium and Zoroastrian Persia. Prized Indian spices were delivered over Arabia’s trade routes. Some historians believe that conversion to Judaism was a means by which the inhabitants of Arabia at the time could remain neutral vis-a-vis the neighboring powers, in order to grow their prosperity. Some others say that the simplicity and philosophy of Judaism was attractive to the pagans of Arabia.
While most sources agree that Abu Kariba was the first of the Himyarite kings to convert to Judaism, the circumstances of his conversion are immersed in myth and legend. According to the traditional account, Abu Kariba undertook a military expedition to eliminate the growing influence of Byzantium in his northern provinces. His forces reached Medina, which was then was known as "Yathrib". Not meeting any resistance, they passed through the town, leaving one of the king’s sons behind as governor of the town. A few days later, however, the people of Yathrib killed their new governor, the king's son. Upon receiving the news, the king turned his troops back to avenge his son’s death, and destroy the town. He ordered that all palm trees around the town be cut down, because the trees were the main source of the town's inhabitants' income, and then laid siege to the town.
The Jews of Yathrib fought alongside their pagan Arab neighbors, trying to protect their town. During the siege, Abu Kariba fell ill. Two local Jewish scholars, named Kaab and Assad, took the opportunity to travel to his camp, and persuaded him to lift the siege. The scholars also inspired in the King an interest in Judaism, and he converted in 390, persuading his army to do likewise. Kaab and Assad later returned with Abu Kariba to his kingdom, where they were tasked with converting the population. However, while some scholars say the population converted on a wholesale basis, others opine that only about half became converts, the rest maintaining their pagan beliefs and temples. Among those who converted to Judaism was Harith Ibn-Amru, a nephew of Abu Kariba, whom Abu-Kariba appointed Viceroy of the Maadites on the Red Sea, and headed the government of Mecca and Yathrib.
Tub'a Abu Kariba As'ad is said to have been killed by his own soldiers, who tired of his constant military campaigns. He left three sons: Hasan, Amru, and Zorah (Yusuf). His youngest son Zorah (who as a strong follower of Judaism gave himself the Jewish name Yusuf) took over as king in 515.
One dissenter from the view that Abu Kariba was a convert to Judaism is author J. R. Porter. Writing in the 1980s, Porter argued that the accounts of Kariba's conversion first appear much later in the historical record and are therefore unreliable. Porter nonetheless acknowledged that a move toward Judaism on Kariba's part would be "entirely credible", given the presence of powerful Jewish tribes in Yathrib. Porter states that a later Himyarite King, Dhu Nowas (517–525 CE) was "certainly" a convert to Judaism.
Although the last Jewish king of Yemen, Dhu Nuwas, was overpowered in 525 CE after he was defeated by Christian Ethiopian invaders, other Jewish kingdoms continued in Arabia up until 620 CE. The last of them were destroyed with the rise of Islam. Archeologists have discovered inscriptions from the fifth and sixth centuries containing Jewish religious terms such as: "Rahman" ("the Merciful," a divine epithet), "the God of Israel", and the "Lord of Judah".
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