I. Early History.
Documentary Testimony (§ 1).
Racial Affinity (§ 2).
II. History from 312 B.C.
Till the Roman Period (§ 1).
Under the Romans (§ 2).
Significance, Language, Religion (§ 3).
I. Early History
1. Documentary Testimony.
The Nabataeans were a Semitic
people known at least as early as 312 B.C.,
inhabiting the region so long identified with the
Edomites between the Dead Sea and
the eastern arm of the Red Sea.
Whether they can be traced to a still
earlier time depends upon the
interpretation of certain passages which
are by most scholars taken as referring to this
people. The passages in question are, first, those in
the Old Testament which mention Nebajoth
(first-born of Ishmael; Gen. xxv. 13, xxviii. 9, xxxvi. 3;
I Chron. i. 29; cf. Isa. lx. 7, where the connection
is with Kedar, both peoples being pastoral, while
the relationship is wholly congruent with the
implications in the Genesis passages). It is to be
noted that if the Nabataeans are meant in these
passages, Arabic affinity is implied. The second
class of passages are from the cuneiform
inscriptions. Under the form Na-ba-ai-te
is mentioned a
pastoral people, associated with Kedar, on a
cylinder inscription of Asshurbanipal; their "king"
Natnu had taken part in an Arabic revolt against
Assyrian overlordship, and they had been punished
by the Assyrian monarch. The inscription describes
them as living in a remote region. Other
notices of them appear from the same general period
in inscriptions made under Tiglath-Pileser, Sargon,
and Sennacherib; but in these cases they are assigned
to the Aramean stock. After these references the
Nabataeans (if they are the people meant) are lost
to sight, so far as reference to them goes, until
312 B.C., after which notices become frequent. Thus
Diodorus Siculus (Bibliotheca
, xix. 94-100, cf. ii.
48-50, iii. 41-43) speaks of them as mostly nomadic
Arabs, well-to-do through their command of
commerce in myrrh and incense. It is significant that
Diodorus, though he calls them Arabs, notes that
they use Syriac (Aramaic) characters in writing,
and this undoubtedly explains the classification
made in the Assyrian inscriptions referred to above.
By Strabo ("Geography," xvi. 18-26) Nabatea is
described as a populous country not far from the
Elamitic Gulf, rich in pasturage. There seems to
be a probability, however, that Strabo did not
distinguish clearly between Nabataeans and Idumeans.
Pliny ("Natural History," v. 12, xii. 17) calls the
Nabataeans Arabian neighbors of the Syrians, and
connects them with Kedar (cf. Isa. lx. 7). I Macc.
v. 25 reports that Judas the Maccabee on a
trans-Jordanic expedition when three days beyond the
Jordan met the Nabataeans, who were friendly and
gave information concerning the situation of the
Jews who were in Gilead. According to I Macc. ix.
35, Jonathan, when in flight from Bacchides, left his
baggage with the Nabataeans so as not to be
encumbered with it, and those Nabataeans were not
far from Medeba (q.v.). Josephus (Ant.
, XIII., i.
2) retells the story of I Macc. ix. 35 in a slightly
variant form, and (I., xii. 4) makes the name
Nabatene cover the region between the Euphrates and
the Red Sea (cf. Strabo, above). Further frequent
references are made by Josephus to incidents in
their history, as in Ant.
, XIII., xiii. 5, XIV. v. 1,
XX., iv. 1, etc. In Ant.
, I., xii. 4, Josephus
evidently means to connect the Nabataeans with the
Nebajoth of Genesis, and so to make the people
2. Racial Affinity.
There are two apparent difficulties in this
identification. The first is philological, Nebajoth being
spelt with a tau (t), while in the inscriptions and on
the coins the word is written with teth
(t). On this ground Glaser (see
Bibliography) refuses the identification.
While such a transmutation is rare, it
is not without parallel, especially under the
influence of Hellenism. The second difficulty is the
matter of race affiliation. By Nebajoth in Genesis
Arabic connections are clearly implied, and with
this agree Diodorus, Strabo, Pliny, and Josephus
(inferentially). But the fact that in their writing
the Nabataeans used Aramaic seems at first sight to
justify those Assyrian inscriptions which speak of
them as Arameans. The reconciliation is not difficult,
however, since Aramaic was the language of
commerce and intercourse in quite early times (cf.
II Kings, xviii. 26); the Nabataeans were carriers
of commerce and therefore employed that language.
It is corroborative of this conclusion that the names
in the Nabataean inscriptions are clearly Arabic,
though the language is Aramaic. Still further, while
the identification of this people with the Nebajoth
of the Old Testament can not be a matter of
demonstration, there is justification for the identification.
One ground is the well-known tenacity of existence
of tribal names in the Arabic sphere. A second
wine there is discerned the survival of a prehistoric
puritanic conception of the Semites which held the
enjoyment of wine and like luxuries to be hindrances
in the way of perfect service of the deity. The
abstinences of the Rechabites (Jer. xxxv.), of the
Nabateans (Diodorus Siculus, xix. 94), and of Mohammedans
are examples of the survival of this
conception. In the case of the nazirite there is a
connection with the priesthood found in the prohibition
of contact with the dead, even of participation
in the mourning ceremonies for his own kin, showing
the sanctity of the nazirite; this is illustrated by the
fact that the Talmudic tract Nazir
(vii. 1) places the
nazirite and the high priest on the same footing.
But the naziritic vow did not necessarily involve
special service at the sanctuary. The prohibition
to cut the hair arises from the fact that the hair is
sacred to Yahweh. Many peoples regarded the
growth of the hair as a divine energy which was not
to be assailed or weakened by contact with a tool
of man's workmanship; the full growth of hair exhibited
by a nazirite was, therefore, a sign of consecration,
and with Samson was a condition of his
divine power. Illustrative of this is the fact that
the term nazir
was applied to the untrimmed vine of
the Sabbatical and Jubilee years. If during the
period of his consecration the nazirite incurred
pollution, his hair was shorn, the term of consecration
was begun anew, and certain expiatory offerings
were made (Num. vi. 9 sqq.). The Talmudic tract
(vi. 4) prescribes that the hair of the polluted
nazirite be not burned but buried; the implication
is therefore that when the hair was burned
in the sanctuary, the ceremony was constructively
a sacrifice, and this is illustrated by ethnic usage
like that of Mohammedan pilgrims who leave their
hair unshorn from the time of taking the vow of
pilgrimage until they reach Mecca and then cut the
hair and burn it on holy ground. In the case of the
nazirite who assumed the vows for a period only
and not for life, the end of the term was marked by
several kinds of sacrifices--burnt offering, sin-offering,
peace-offering, with their accessories (Num. vi.
13 sqq.). Not to be overlooked is the difference in
spirit between this institution and similar observances
among Hindus and even Christians; in the
latter case the object is suppression of sensual inclinations,
in the Hebrew institution the purpose was
to conserve the full vigor of the body for the service
Postexilic Judaism employed the naziritic vow
in case of illness or misfortune (Josephus, War, II.,
xv.), when undertaking a journey (Nazir, i. 6), and
on like occasions; it even furnished a form of oath
which gave rise to Pharisaic casuistry and brought
naziritism into disrepute. Paul seems to have a
casual relationship to naziritism in the incident
mentioned Acts xviii. 18, though there is doubt
whether the vow referred to Paul or Aquila, and
indeed whether the vow was actually naziritic.
On the other hand, Paul assumed the not inconsiderable
expenses attending the completion of the
vows of four indigent Jews (Acts xxi. 23 sqq.).
This was a friendly service often rendered by the
wealthy (cf. Josephus, Ant. XIX., vi. 1; Mishna,
I>Nazir, ii. 6).
Consult: the commentaries on the passages
cited; H. Vilmar, in TSK, xxxvii (1864), 438 eqq.; H.
Ewald, Antiquities of Israel, pp. 84-88, Boston, 1876;
J. Grill, in JPT, vi (1880), 645 sqq.; J. B. Gray, in
Journal of Theological Studies, i (1900), 201 sqq.; C. Grüneisen, Der Ahnencultus, pp. 46, 71, 92, 112 sqq., Halls, 1900;
Bensinger, Archäologie, pp. 361-362; Nowack, Archäölogie, ii. 134-138; Vigouroux, Dictionnaire, xxviii. 1515-20;
DB, iii. 497-501; EB, iii. 3362-64; DCG, ii.
237-238; JE, ix. 195-198.