Only rarely does the Bible mention Arabia by name. It usually refers to the peoples of the region by the family or tribal groups to which they belonged. Often it refers to Arabia simply as the east’ (Gen 10:30; 25:6; Judg 6:3; Isa 2:6; Ezek 25:4). Many of the people descended from Noah (Gen 10:1-32), Abraham (through his concubine Keturah; Gen 25:1-6), and Esau (Gen 36:1-43) settled as tribal groups in Arabia. They were wandering shepherds rather than farmers, since most of the land was not suitable for cultivation and some of it was desert.

Among the better known tribal groups were Joktam and Sheba in the south (Gen 10:25-29; 1 Kings 10:1-13; Ps 72:10,15; Isa 60:6) and Dedan and Kedar in the north (Isa 21:1317; 42:11; Jer 25:23-24; 49:28; Ezek 25:13; 27:21). These people camped at different places and lived in tents while looking after their flocks of sheep and goats (2 Chron 17:11; Ps 120:5; Isa 13:20; 60:7). Many of them were merchants who carried on profitable trading in gold, precious stones, cloth, spices and other goods (Gen 37:25,28; 1 Kings 10:1-2,10-15; Job 6:19; Jer 6:20; Ezek 27:20-22; 38:13). They were also well known for their raiding and plundering of farms and villages (2 Chron 21:16-17; 22:1; Job 1:15; Ezek 25:4-5).

In New Testament times northern Arabia was occupied by an Arab tribe called the Nabateans, who at various times extended their power west to the Mediterranean and north to the Syrian capital, Damascus. They are mentioned once in the New Testament. After Paul’s conversion, the Jews in Damascus opposed him violently. At the time of the unsuccessful attempt to capture him in Damascus, the city was under the control of the Nabateans (Acts 9:1-8,23-25; 2 Cor 11:32-33).

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