Category Archives: Ancient South Arabia

Solomon and Sheba in Sīrat Sayf ibn Dhī Yazan

A new article has been published in the online journal, Mizan.  This is “Solomon Legends in Sīrat Sayf ibn Dhī Yazan” by

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Introduction

 Sīrat Sayf ibn Dhī Yazan (“The Adventures of Sayf b. Dhī Yazan”) is a late-medieval Egyptian popular epic that recounts the story of the life and adventures of King Sayf b. Dhī Yazan, son of the Yemenite king Dhū Yazan.1 Set against the background of a war with the king of Ḥabash,2 Sayf Arʿad, it tells the story of how Sayf b. Dhī Yazan (henceforth “Sayf”) leads his people into Egypt, diverts the Nile to its current course, and then goes on to conquer the realms of men and jinn in the name of Islam. Set in legendary pre-Islamic time, it rewrites history to present Egypt as born out of a “reverse exodus” led by a proto-Islamic, Yemeni king.3 As is common in Arabic popular literature, Sīrat Sayf draws much of its material from a pool of popular and folkloric story patterns, motifs, and tropes, which are pieced together in a unique way so as to tell its story. It also makes intertextual reference to stories, legends, and other narratives in ways that enrich the thematic subtext and convey meaning. From this perspective, references to the Islamic qiṣaṣ al-anbiyāʾ (“tales of the prophets”) play a significant role in the text. Not only do they anchor the proto-Islamic world of Sīrat Sayf in Islamic legendary world history, but the associations they bring into the text also nuance the characterization of Sīrat Sayf’s main protagonists and help to create subtextual and thematic complexity.

This article investigates a number of direct references made to legends about the prophet Solomon within Sīrat Sayf in order to explore how this particular sīrah uses the “Solomon” intertext and to what end.4 It focuses primarily on two particular episodes in the sīrah, during both of which stories about Solomon and the Queen of Sheba are recounted by characters within the text. After introducing these stories in the first section of this article, the second section assesses the intertextual relevance of the Islamic Solomon legend to Sīrat Sayf. It analyses how these stories, and the episodes in which they are embedded, relate to the Solomon legends as found in premodern qiṣaṣ sources, and how Sīrat Sayf uses intertextual reference to Solomon legends to express its own thematic agenda. In a previous study, I have argued that Sayf is, at its core, a discussion of kingship, fitness to rule, and the importance to society of keeping the forces of order and chaos in balance, and that it expresses this struggle largely through the literary use of gender (according to which, broadly speaking, the female embodies the forces of chaos, and the male the forces of order).5 The use of intertextual reference to other narratives is a key element of this discussion. The final section explores the intertextual relevance of the Ethiopian story of Solomon, Bilqīs, and their son Menelik found in the Kǝbrä Nägäst to the Sayf text.

For the full article, click here.

AIYS at MESA

AIYS held two well-attended panels at MESA in Boston last week.  Here are some of the photos from the panel organized by Dan Mahoney on the destruction of Yemen’s cultural heritage:

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Dr. Lamya Khalidi, Dr. Krista Lewis and Dr. Dan Mahoney at MESA

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Dr. McGuire Gibson at the heritage panel.  Dr. Gibson was the founder of AIYS in 1978.

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Dr. Lamya Khalidi, who also provided a video of Dr. al-Sayani, the current Director of the General Organization of Antiquities  and Museums in Yemen.

And here are photos from the panel organized by Dr. Marieke Brandt:

Continue reading AIYS at MESA

Yemen’s World Heritage in Venice

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Dr. Alessandro de Maigret (1943-2011)

Announcing an Exhibition and Conference

Yemen’s World Heritage. Archaeology, Art and Architecture
Museum of Oriental Art in Venice
October 20 – December 16, 2016

A joint initiative of:
Museums of the Veneto – Museum of Oriental Art , Veneto Institute for Cultural Heritage, Italian Archaeological Mission in Yemen, Monumenta Orientalia, Rome

The Oriental Art Museum, the Veneto Institute for Cultural Heritage and the Italian Archaeological Mission in Yemen want to promote a series of events to make known in Venice’s the historic and artistic heritage of Yemen. Since March 2015 Yemen has been in a conflict in which the bombing violated numerous protected sites both nationally and internationally recognized, and destroyed museums and monuments of the rich cultural past of the country.
Recently, UNESCO reiterated its condemnation of the destruction perpetrated against the world heritage of Yemen and initiated a campaign # Unite4Heritage, the Yemeni Heritage Week: Museums United for Yemen for 2016, involving the major museums of Europe (the British Museum, Musée du Louvre, Hermitage, etc.).

From Prehistory to the present day the extreme tip of the Arabian Peninsula, Yemen has preserved unique features in the production of their material culture, whose forms are as native as the result of exchanges and synergies with Africa, Asia and the Mediterranean. Historians of Greek and Roman classicism used to talk about Yemen using the nickname Arabia Felix, as a land of prosperity and wealth, not only material but also geographical and territorial. Yemen was, in fact, at the center of an important caravan and maritime trade axis: here met traders from India and the Horn of Africa with those who would later traced to the north of the Peninsula to enrich the courts of the various empires in Mediterranean with products such as incense, myrrh, spices, pearls and precious stones.
The deep bond of man with the settlement territory is expressed in through the remains of south Arabian kingdoms – the most notable of which is the Kingdom of Sheba – which were already using the house typology commonly referred as Yemen “tower house”.
With the start of Islam then, the Yemeni architecture has been enhanced with new forms and stylistic paradigms, and many temples of the pagan tradition turned into mosques. Archaeological studies conducted in Yemen have shown a slow and lasting osmosis between pre-Islamic and Islamic civilization.

The initiative promoted at the Museum of Oriental Art in Venice will go right to investigate this union, to raise awareness of an almost unknown cultural heritage in the West, whose origins are lost in the often muffled contours of myth.

The initiative also wants to highlight some Italian experiences, namely that of the Italian Archaeological Mission in the Republic of Yemen (MAIRY), began in 1980 and that of the Veneto Institute for Cultural Heritage began in 2005. Both have as their purpose the protection and enhancement of Yemeni heritage and both have been accomplished in total synergy with local counterparts, thus becoming moments of much scientific as human enrichment.

A series of seminars and meetings, by national and international experts at the Oriental Art Museum, will bring the public closer to the peculiarities of the history and culture of the country. In the room which will host the conference there will be some photo-descriptive panels on display that will illustrate some aspects of archeology, art and architecture of Yemen as  direct testimony of both the Italian Archaeological Mission and  the Veneto Institute for Cultural Heritage.

Continue reading Yemen’s World Heritage in Venice

AIYS MESA Roundtable on Destruction of Yemen’s Heritage

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The following roundtable will take place at the annual MESA meeting in Boston on November 18.

[R4434] The Destruction of Cultural Heritage in Yemen and Current Preservation Efforts

Created by Daniel Mahoney
Friday, 11/18/16 10:00am
Participants: McGuire Gibson, David B. Hollenberg, Krista Lewis, Lamya Khalidi

SUMMARY:
This roundtable, sponsored by the American Institute for Yemeni studies, will discuss the destruction of cultural heritage in Yemen, in light of the Saudi coalition air strikes as well as the ensuing internal conflict and rising Islamism, in order to assess the extent of damage and solutions for current protection and future preservation. Since March 2015, Saudi coalition air strikes have been conducted in Yemen under the stated purpose of countering Houthi rebels who had taken control of the capital Sanaa and a large part of the country. This offensive has left over 6,000 dead, over 30,000 wounded, and 2.5 million internally displaced. Another result has been the continuous destruction of over 47 archaeological sites and monuments, as confirmed by Mohannad Al-Sayani, director of the General Organization for Antiquities and Museums of Yemen. These include not only historical mosques and citadels, but also 3 UNESCO World Heritage sites including the celebrated vernacular architecture of old Sanaa, the pre-Islamic cities of Baraqish and Sirwah, and the famed Marib dam, all of which have already previously undergone significant restoration efforts. Additionally, more than six museums have been damaged by aerial shelling, among them the regional museum of Dhamar and the National Museum of Sanaa. This extensive destruction clearly provokes further questioning into the motivations of these campaigns which seem to target highly valued places of cultural heritage. The pattern becomes further complicated by the confirmation that, while the U.S. State Department (and UNESCO) had given the Saudi coalition a list of specific sites to avoid and their location, they also provided it with logistical support and intelligence for their military offensive. Conversely, other efforts have are being made to try to preserve and document Yemeni heritage before it is lost, such as the Yemeni Manuscript Digitization Initiative, wherein a team of scholars from inside and outside of Yemen are working together to create a digital library of manuscripts taken from private collections in Yemen. By addressing current damage, this round table is organized with the intention of raising awareness regarding the destruction of priceless world heritage and finding current and future solutions for its protection and preservation by local authorities and specialists.

New Book by Kenneth Cline

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Kenneth Cline, who visited Yemen in the 1980s has a new e-book out called Tracking the Queen of Sheba: A Travel Memoir of Yemen.

The author’s account of a journey of exploration he took with a group of archaeologists to one of the most remote and exotic regions of the world, Yemen. In ancient times, Arabia Felix, or “Happy Arabia,” was home to a wealthy and advanced civilization that sent one of its rulers, the Queen of Sheba, on a famous expedition to visit King Solomon, her camels laden with gold and spices. Today, the country is an impoverished backwater, riven by civil war and tribal feuds. In this memoir, the author recounts the trip he took in 1984 to the Wadi al-Jubah, in the far eastern part of Yemen bordering Saudi Arabia’s “Empty Quarter” Desert. The archaeologists were on a quest to discover more about the ancient civilization known as Saba, which was almost certainly the equivalent to Biblical “Sheba.” Come along on the journey as the group struggles to conduct their research among heavily armed tribesman notoriously suspicious of outsiders — to the point where village boys will pursue a lone foreigner with a hail of rocks. And learn too what conclusions the group reached about the power of ancient Saba (Sheba) and the story of its famous queen. Highlighting the contradictions and ambiguities in the existing archaeological data, contrast the very different interpretations reached by two of the most eminent South Arabian scholars of their day, Albert Jamme and Gus Van Beek, regarding the identity and role of the mysterious queen. And learn too how this particular group of archaeologists was directly following in the footsteps of explorer Wendell Phillips, author of Qataban and Sheba, whose legendary 1950-52 excavations in Yemen could have served as the plot for an Indiana Jones movie. Things had calmed down a bit by 1984, but Yemen still remained a place where westerners ventured at their own risk.

More AIYS at MESA 2016

AIYS will be sponsoring a second panel at MESA in Boston, as follows:

[R4434] The Destruction of Cultural Heritage in Yemen and Current Preservation Efforts

Created by Daniel Mahoney
Friday, 11/18/16 10:00am

SUMMARY:

This roundtable, sponsored by the American Institute for Yemeni studies, will discuss the destruction of cultural heritage in Yemen, in light of the Saudi coalition air strikes as well as the ensuing internal conflict and rising Islamism, in order to assess the extent of damage and solutions for current protection and future preservation. Since March 2015, Saudi coalition air strikes have been conducted in Yemen under the stated purpose of countering Houthi rebels who had taken control of the capital Sanaa and a large part of the country. This offensive has left over 6,000 dead, over 30,000 wounded, and 2.5 million internally displaced. Another result has been the continuous destruction of over 47 archaeological sites and monuments, as confirmed by Mohannad Al-Sayani, director of the General Organization for Antiquities and Museums of Yemen. These include not only historical mosques and citadels, but also 3 UNESCO World Heritage sites including the celebrated vernacular architecture of old Sanaa, the pre-Islamic cities of Baraqish and Sirwah, and the famed Marib dam, all of which have already previously undergone significant restoration efforts. Additionally, more than six museums have been damaged by aerial shelling, among them the regional museum of Dhamar and the National Museum of Sanaa. This extensive destruction clearly provokes further questioning into the motivations of these campaigns which seem to target highly valued places of cultural heritage. The pattern becomes further complicated by the confirmation that, while the U.S. State Department (and UNESCO) had given the Saudi coalition a list of specific sites to avoid and their location, they also provided it with logistical support and intelligence for their military offensive. Conversely, other efforts have are being made to try to preserve and document Yemeni heritage before it is lost, such as the Yemeni Manuscript Digitization Initiative, wherein a team of scholars from inside and outside of Yemen are working together to create a digital library of manuscripts taken from private collections in Yemen. By addressing current damage, this round table is organized with the intention of raising awareness regarding the destruction of priceless world heritage and finding current and future solutions for its protection and preservation by local authorities and specialists.

The panel will be chaired by Dr. Daniel Mahoney. The panelists include:

Passing of Mutahhar al-Iryani

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The much-respected historian, linguistic and poet Mutahhar bin Ali Al-Iryani passed away at 83 years. The Ministry of Culture announced his death on Tuesday, 9 February, 2016. On this sad occasion the American Institute for Yemeni Studies (AIYS) extends its heartfelt condolences to his family members.

The late scholar was one of the most celebrated historians and intellectuals in Yemen. He was really a man of great intellect and ingenuity. He had distinguished himself as a pioneer researcher and accomplished historian by his creative work on Yemen’s ancient inscriptions. He had made great efforts to decipher dozens of ancient inscriptions about Yemen’s history and civilization.
He also made substantial contribution to Yemen’s literature. He had authored several books most important of all: “Musnad Inscriptions and Comments”, in which he decoded old inscriptions written in Yemen’s old alphabetical letters known as Al-Musnad. His second significant book is: “The Yemeni Linguistic Lexicon”, which included thousands of vocabulary of different Yemeni dialects that can’t be found in other Arab dictionaries.

Al-Iryani also contributed along with the two professional historians Dr Yusif Mohammed Abdullah and Dr Husayn Al-Amri to verifying two famous Yemeni books. ” Shams Al-‘Ulum” by Nashwan ibn Sa’id Al-Himyari and “Feature of Yemen throughout ages, from 7th B.C. to 19th A.D”.

The late, Mutahar Al-Irayni has been very famous as a creative poet as well as a historian. He had composed dozens of poems and lyrics considered to be of first-class Yemeni modern poetry. A number of his patriotic and emotional lyrics were put into music by Yemen’s most popular singers. These include” Love and Coffee”, “Al-Balah” and ” He Stood up and Bid Farewell “.

Contributed by Dr. Salwa Dammaj

Arabian Epigraphic Notes

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Arabian Epigraphic Notes (AEN)

Volume 1, 2015 (download the entire volume or individual articles free of charge from our website: http://arabianepigraphicnotes.org/journal/).

In addition to the articles posted in 2015, the final volume contains two new contributions:

L. Nehmé: Strategoi in the Nabataean Kingdom: a Reflection of Central Places?

J. Lundberg: Prepositional Phrases in the Dadanitic Inscriptions

Table of Contents

M.C.A. Macdonald: On the use of writing in ancient Arabia and the role of palaeography in studying them (1-50)

A. Al-Jallad & A. al-Manaser: New Epigraphica from Jordan I: a pre-Islamic Arabic inscription in Greek letters and a Greek inscription from north-eastern Jordan (51-70)

S. Abbadi: New evidence of a conflict between the Nabataeans and the Ḥwlt in a Safaitic inscription from Wadi Ram (71-76)

A.Q. Al-Housan: A selection of Safaitic inscriptions from the Mafraq Antiquities Office and Museum (77-102)

L. Nehmé: Strategoi in the Nabataean Kingdom: a Reflection of Central Places? (103-122)

J. Lundberg: Prepositional Phrases in the Dadanitic Inscriptions (123-138)

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Arabian Epigraphic Notes is a publication of the Leiden Center for the Study of Ancient Arabia.  It is a forum for the publication of epigraphic finds from the Arabian Peninsula and adjacent areas, and for the discussion of relevant historical and linguistic issues. The Arabian Peninsula is broadly defined as including the landmass between the Red Sea and the Arabo-Persian Gulf, and stretching northward into the Syrian Desert, Jordan, and adjacent cultural areas. In order to keep up with the rapid pace of discoveries, our online format will provide authors the ability to publish immediately following peer-review, and will make available for download high resolution, color photographs. The open-access format will ensure as wide a readership as possible.

For more information about the journal, visit:
http://www.arabianepigraphicnotes.org

For submission instructions:
http://www.arabianepigraphicnotes.org/authors/