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 Arabs.

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


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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 Temurah (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 of God.

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).


BIBLIOGRAPHY: 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.


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