BIBLICISTS AND ARABS
The ancient Israelites were keenly aware of their geographic, linguistic, and cultural kinship with Arab peoples, and they set forth a fascinating accounting for that affinity in the genealogical tables of the tenth chapter of Genesis. According to this anthropology, the great grandson of Noah's son Shem had two sons, among whose descendants a great portion of the world was divided. One, Joktan, was the progenitor of thirteen tribes, some with clear Arabic names, whose ". . . settlements extended from Mesha as far as Sephar, the hill country to the east" ( Genesis 10:30). The other son, Peleg, is described in the following chapter as fathering the line that would result in Nahor, Terah, and finally, Abraham, the forefather of the Israelite people. 1.
The striking biblical consciousness of affinity between Israelites and Arabs is tempered, however, by its attempt to maintain a separation. Abraham's son Ishmael, who would father twelve Arabian tribal groupings living to the east of Canaan ( Genesis 25:12-18), was forced to leave the patriarchal home in favor of his younger half-brother, Isaac ( Genesis 21:9-21). When Abraham took a second wife after Sarah's death and fathered sons with Arabic names, he made certain to send them off eastward as well in order to remove any threat to Isaac's future destiny ( Genesis 25:1-6). In the following generation, Esau, who took an Arab wife ( Genesis 26:34), also moved to the east of the future Land of Israel. He and his clan dwelt in the land of Edom across the river Jordan ( Genesis 31:4, chapter 36). 2
Peoples with Arabic names or even identified specifically as Arabs in later biblical works such as Isaiah (13:20) and Jeremiah (3:2) continued to interact with the Israelites, although they are inevitably portrayed with little love lost. In the biblical book attributed to Nehemia, for example, an Arab named Geshem (rendered gashmu in Nehemia 6:6, with the nominative case ending still found in classical Arabic but lost to Hebrew) joined up with the enemies of Israel to oppose those who returned from Babylon to rebuild the Temple in Jerusalem ( Neh. 2:19; 4:1; 6:1-6).