The Drought That May Have Led to the Fall of a Jewish Kingdom in Arabia, and Paved the Way for Islam

By analyzing stalagmites in a cave in northern Oman, a team of scientists have found evidence of a severe draught that struck the southern part of the Arabian Peninsula in the beginning of the 6th century CE. Reading the data they collected in the context of the historical record, they concluded that lack of rainfall contributed to the demise of the Jewish kingdom of Himyar that once dominated the region, thus creating a geopolitical vacuum that facilitated the rise of Islam. Ariel David writes:

The Himyarite kingdom was founded in the late 2nd century BCE in today’s Yemen. It gradually extended its control over most of southern Arabia by conquering neighboring states, including Saba (or Sheba), the ancient kingdom whose queen of biblical fame supposedly visited King Solomon. During the 4th century CE, the Himyarite elite abandoned its ancestral polytheistic beliefs and converted to Judaism, followed by an unknown percentage of the broader population.

The choice of Judaism as a state religion may have been a way to maintain neutrality among various rival regional powers: the Christians of the Byzantine empire and of the kingdom of Aksum in Ethiopia, as well as the Zoroastrians of the Persian empire. All these powers eyed the lucrative spice trade of Arabia that enriched Himyar and they eventually played a part in the kingdom’s demise.

Until the 6th century, Himyar managed to fend off foreign encroachment, but around 525 it suddenly fell to an invading Ethiopian force. . . . With Himyar definitely out of the geopolitical picture, the Byzantine and Persian empires were now free to vie for influence over southern Arabia and its rich trade in myrrh and frankincense. But very quickly these two powers would also cripple each other in a long and bloody conflict that lasted from 602 to 628.

With the economic turmoil and political fragmentation of the period it was only a matter of time until the tribes of Arabia united under a new leadership, which they ultimately found in the prophet Mohammad and his successors from the 620s onward.

Read more at Haaretz

More about: Ancient Near East, Arabia, Islam, Jewish history, Yemen


How to Save the Universities

To Peter Berkowitz, the rot in American institutions of higher learning exposed by Tuesday’s hearings resembles a disease that in its early stages was easy to cure but difficult to diagnose, and now is so advanced that it is easy to diagnose but difficult to cure. Recent analyses of these problems have now at last made it to the pages of the New York Times but are, he writes, “tardy by several decades,” and their suggested remedies woefully inadequate:

They fail to identify the chief problem. They ignore the principal obstacles to reform. They propose reforms that provide the equivalent of band-aids for gaping wounds and shattered limbs. And they overlook the mainstream media’s complicity in largely ignoring, downplaying, or dismissing repeated warnings extending back a quarter century and more—largely, but not exclusively, from conservatives—that our universities undermine the public interest by attacking free speech, eviscerating due process, and hollowing out and politicizing the curriculum.

The remedy, Berkowitz argues, would be turning universities into places that cultivate, encourage, and teach freedom of thought and speech. But doing so seems unlikely:

Having undermined respect for others and the art of listening by presiding over—or silently acquiescing in—the curtailment of dissenting speech for more than a generation, the current crop of administrators and professors seems ill-suited to fashion and implement free-speech training. Moreover, free speech is best learned not by didactic lectures and seminars but by practicing it in the reasoned consideration of competing ideas with those capable of challenging one’s assumptions and arguments. But where are the professors who can lead such conversations? Which faculty members remain capable of understanding their side of the argument because they understand the other side?

Read more at RealClearPolitics

More about: Academia, Anti-Semitism, Freedom of Speech, Israel on campus