The 12 Tribes of Ishmael



More information is known about the dependence of Ishmael's eldest son, Nabajoth than any of the others. In the Bible, Qedar and the tribe of Nebayot were renown for sheep raising. Isaiah 60:7. Their names are frequently found together in Assyrian records.

Nabajoth is specifically mentioned by the Jewish historian Josephus, who identified the Nabataeans of his time with Ishmael's eldest son. He claimed that the Nabataeans lived through the whole country extending from the Euphrates to the Red Sea, and referred to this area as 'Nabatene,' or the area that the Nabataeans ranged in. Josephus goes on to say that it was the Nabataeans who conferred their names on the Arabian nations. (Jewish Antiquities I.22,1) Josephus lived and wrote during the time that the Nabataeans were in existence, and supposedly, he obtained his information directly from the Nabataeans themselves. These Nabataeans spoke and wrote an early form of Arabic and thus they were often referred to as 'Arabs' by Greek and Roman historians.

Previous to this, Assyrian records tell us of King Ashurbanipal (668-663 BC) who was fighting with the 'Nabaiateans of Arabia.' Then in 703 BC a group of Chaldaeans and neighboring tribes rebelled against Sennacherib, the Assyrian ruler. The ancient records of Tiglath Pilezeer III list, among the rebels, the Hagaranu (possibly the descendants of Hagar, the mother of Ishmael), the Nabatu (very possibly the descendants of Nebayoth, the eldest son of Ishmael) and the Kedarites (descendants of Ishmael's second son). According to the records, these tribes fled from Assyria into the Arabian Desert and could not be conquered.

The Assyrian kingdom eventually broke into two as two brothers began to rule, one the King of Babylonia and the other the King of Assyria. In 652 BC conflict broke out between these two brothers, and in support of the Babylonian king, the Kedarites invaded western Assyria, were defeated, and fled to Natnu the leader of the Nabayat for safety. (As described in the records of Esarhaddan) Later the Kedarites and the Nabayat attacked the western boarders of Assyria but were defeated. After their defeat, Natnu's son, Nuhuru was declared the leader of the Nabatu.

Three hundred years later the Nabatu surface again, this time in the Zenon papyri which date from 259 BC. They mention that the Nabatu were trading Gerrhean and Minaean frankincense, transporting them to Gaza and Syria at that time. They transported their goods through the Kedarite centers of Northern Arabia, Jauf, and Tayma. Early Nabataean pottery has also been found in locations on the Persian Gulf, along the coasts of Saudi Arabia and Bahrain. (Tuwayr, Zubayda, Thaj, and Ayn Jawan) There are also ancient references to the Nabatu, as living along the western edges of the Arabian Peninsula and in the Sinai. These Nabatu were also pirates who sailed the Red Sea plundering trading vessels. Later they established bases in a number of seaports, including the port city of Aila (modern day Aqaba), which is only some 120 km from present day Petra.

While most of us think of the Nabataeans as people who transported goods in the desert by camel caravan, it has become increasingly evident that the Nabataeans were also a sea trading people.

It is quite clear from the historical records that in 586 BC, as the Edomites began a gradual migration north, into Jewish lands that had been emptied by Nebuchadnezzar, the tribes of Arabia also began to move northward. From their port city of Aila, (Aqaba) it was only a short move inland for the Nabatu to occupy the quickly emptying land of the Edomites, eventually making it the heart of the Nabataean Empire.

Although the chronology is not yet clear, it appears that some Edomites remained behind. Those that emigrated into Judeah became known as "Idumaeans." These were some of the people that opposed the Jews during the rebuilding of the temple at Jerusalem under Ezra; and the rebuilding of the city walls of Jerusalem under Nehemiah.

In time, the Nabataeans built an impressive civilization based on merchant trade. Their capital was originally the city of Petra, located deep in the sandstone mountains of southern Jordan. Later, Bostra, in southern Syria also functioned as a royal city. The Nabataeans also built a number of other cities, many of them in the Negev, while others were located in Northern Saudi Arabia today, and in other parts of modern Jordan. In 106 AD they seceded their empire to the Romans and eventually their Nabataean distinctiveness disappeared.













 Who were the Nabataeans?  The Muslim Invasion
 Arabia in Ancient History  The Crusades
 Early History  Rediscovery
 Middle History  The Hagarites/Gerrhaeans
 Late History  The Twelve Tribes of Ishmael
 The Fall of Petra
Nabajoth, Mibsam, Kedar, Adbeel, Mishma, Dumah,
Massa, Hadad, Tema, Jetur, Naphish, Kedemah