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The Sabeans are widely acknowledged to be of Semitic or south Arabian origin. Historical sources like Josephus Flavius and sections of the Bible seem to create conflicts about their origin.

map of medieval Nubia

There is a city bearing a similar name in modern Sudan.

Soba is the former capital of the medieval Nubian kingdom of Alodia . E. A. Wallis Budge identified it with a group of ruins on the Blue Nile, where there are remains of a Meroitic temple that had been converted into a Christian church. This would place Soba in the modern-day Sudanese state of Al Jazirah. Ibn Selim el-Aswani described the city as large and wealthy Wikipedia

Below are excerpts from Book II and VIII of Josephus' Antiquities of the Jews

ANTIQUITIES OF THE JEWS by Josephus Flavius (Book II chapter 10:2)

The Ethiopians were in danger of being reduced to slavery, and all sorts of destruction; and at length they retired to Saba, which was a royal city of Ethiopia, which Cambyses afterwards named Mero, after the name of his own sister. The place was to be besieged with very great difficulty, since it was both encompassed by the Nile quite round... for the city was situate in a retired place, and was inhabited after the manner of an island, being encompassed with a strong wall, and having the rivers to guard them from their enemies, and having great ramparts between the wall and the rivers, insomuch, that when the waters come with the greatest violence, it can never be drowned; which ramparts make it next to impossible for even such as are gotten over the rivers to take the city.

Below is an excerpt of Josephus' writings about the Queen of Sheba.

The Works of Flavius Josephus, Antiquities of the Jews Book VIII – CHAPTER 6

” … There was then a woman queen of Egypt and Ethiopia; she was inquisitive into philosophy, and one that on other accounts also was to be admired. When this queen heard of the virtue and prudence of Solomon, she had a great mind to see him...

So when this queen of Ethiopia had obtained what we have already given an account of, and had again communicated to the king what she brought with her, she returned to her own kingdom. …”

For clarity please note that I am the one linking Sheba, Soba and Saba using all of these historical sources.

Genesis 10:6-7 The sons of Ham were Cush, Mizraim, Put, and Canaan. The sons of Cush were Seba, Havilah, Sabtah, Raamah, and Sabtechah; and the sons of Raamah were Sheba and Dedan.

When all these separate bits of information are put together, it all becomes very intriguing. I need to make sense of all these historical and contemporary connections surrounding Soba, Saba, Sheba and the Sabean people.

  1. I want to know if the Sabean people truly existed (archaeological evidence)

  2. Where are their descendants today?

  3. Why does modern archaeology attribute a Semitic, Arabian and Yemeni origin to these people.

  4. Whether or not there is any evidence for their Ethiopian origin as Josephus Flavius suggests.

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    Pls don't mention Ethiopia as historical place because you are misleading people from knowing the true history. Ethiopia mentioned in Bible indicates today's Sudan.
    – Dawit
    Dec 5, 2022 at 15:23

8 Answers 8

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tl; dr

Are the Sabean people of Ethiopian origin?

No. The evidence suggests that they originated in the region now known as South Arabia.

Did the Sabean people truly exist?

We have the remains of their cities, including at Ma'rib in modern Yemen, so we can be pretty sure that the Sabean people really did exist.

Where are their descendants today?

After perhaps 2500 years, does that question actually have any meaning? Given 100 generations or so for their descendants to disperse, the Sabean people probably have descendants spread across the globe.

Why does modern archaeology attribute a Semitic, Arabian and Yemeni origin to these people?

Because that is what the evidence tells us. Specifically, the earliest examples of inscriptions in the Sabaean language (which belongs belongs to the South Arabian subgroup of the Semitic branch of the Afro-Asiatic language family) have been found on archaeological sites in Yemen, in South Arabia.

Is there any evidence for their Ethiopian origin, as Josephus Flavius suggests?

No.


The Sabaean language

We can be reasonably certain that the Sabaean language was an Old South Arabian language. It belongs to the South Arabian subgroup of the Semitic branch of the Afro-Asiatic language family.

We have a large number of inscriptions in the Sabaean language from the Kingdom of Saba, including many from the capital of the ancient kingdom of Saba, Ma'rib in modern Yemen, so we can be pretty sure that the Sabean people did exist.


Josephus

Josephus was simply repeating the Biblical tradition. Meroë certainly existed, and had its origins in the Kingdom of Kush (although, perhaps unsurprisingly, Josephus seems to have been unaware of this). The Queen of Sheba is more problematic. As the Wikipedia page observes:

"Her existence is disputed and can't be confirmed by historians."

In their 2007 book, David and Solomon: In Search of the Bible's Sacred Kings and the Roots of the Western Tradition, Israel Finkelstein and Neil Asher Silberman go even further and state that:

"The biblical thousand-and-one-nights story of Solomon and Sheba is thus an anachronistic seventh-century set piece meant to legitimize the participation of Judah in the lucrative Arabian trade."

  • p171

In any event, we have a pretty good chronology of Egyptian kings right from the Third Intermediate Period to the Greco-Roman period - including for the Kushite '25th Dynasty', and we certainly have no evidence to support Josephus' claim of:

... a woman queen of Egypt and Ethiopia;

There is no evidence for a female ruler of Egypt at any point in that period.


The Kingdom of 'Sheba'

However, the possibility of a Kingdom of Sheba cannot be discounted, and many seem happy to equate it with the Kingdom of Saba.

Now, a great many inscriptions in the Sabaean language have also found in Ethiopia, such as these found at Yeha:

Sabaean inscriptions from Yeha

This has led to speculation that the Kingdom of Sheba may have spanned the Red Sea, encompassing parts of modern Ethiopia and modern Yemen. Of course, an alternative possibility is simply that the Sabaean language was adopted by the Ethiopian kingdoms.


However, it should be noted that the Ethiopian inscriptions all date from contexts much later than the earliest inscriptions from Yemen. Thus, the source of the Sabaean language, and so also -presumably - the Sabaean people, definitely seems to be Southern Arabia.

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  • It seems to me that Josephus's claim of the Queen of Sheba being Queen of Egypt and Ethiopia is a tiny little bit more plausible than you state. 1) The Queen of Sheba is said to have come from South Arabia about 950 BC. 2) There were a number of ruling queens titled Candace or Kandake in "Ethiopia" - actually Kush in northern Sudan - 10 between 260 BC and 320 AD. 3) When Egypt was strong it ruled part of "Ethiopia" in Kush, when Nubia was strong the Kushite or 25th dynasty ruled Egypt from 744 to 656 BC. Possibly Josephus had a source that added 2 and 2 together and got 10.
    – MAGolding
    Oct 2, 2018 at 17:02
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    @MAGolding On the contrary. In fact, the earliest archaeological evidence of a kentake in Kush only dates to the 2nd century BCE (actually ~ 170 BCE). Perhaps early from Josephus' perspective, but hardly relevant to any modern discussion on the subject. We also have detailed Egyptian king lists from the 3rd intermediate period to the Greco-Roman period - including for the Kushite '25th Dynasty' - and there are no female rulers. Whatever 'source' Josephus' claims may have been based on, there is currently absolutely no evidence to support them. Oct 2, 2018 at 19:03
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A few things that I think need to be cleared up here.

First: When the ancients said "Ethiopia", they generally meant the territory directly south of Egypt, what we today call Sudan. They were not talking about the territory we call "Ethiopia" today. That usage didn't start until the 4th century AD, well after the entire Bible was written.

This is important because Sudan has probably been inhabited by Nilo-Saharan people for all of recorded history, while the Ethiopian highlands have probably been inhabited by various flavors of Afro-Asiatic peoples that entire time. These are very different people. Ancient "Ethiopians" were Nubians, not Ethiopians. Do not get the two mixed up.

Second, there is no real kinship between modern and ancient societies, other than cultural. The best way to track that is language. So if you want to know who are the descendants of an ancient people, the only real meaningful way to do that (in less than 5-volume novel form) is to find what language they spoke, then go talk to the linguists.

In the case of the Sabeans, their language went extinct with no successors in favor of Arabic (which is fairly closely related) around the 6th Century AD. The closest living language is Razihi, which is spoken by about 60,000 people in northwest Yemen. Razhi is the sole survivor of the South Arabian languages. It is sort of a cousin language, while Arabic is more like a third or fourth cousin.

Here's a map showing the historical distribution of the Semitic languages. It shows Sabean and some of its close cousins as dead (with little x's through them) languages in Yemen. If Razihi was on there, it would be a non-xed light blue dot quite near Minean.

enter image description here

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There are two different types of “Sabeans”. The first is the Soba descended from Ham that are native to Sudan which the Persians later conquered and changed to Meroe. And there is the Saba of Yemen who is an Arab man that had 10 children; 4 of which went to Syria and 6 of which stayed in Yemen; and they all formed major tribes. I’ll call the first Sobas and the second Sabeans.

  1. I want to know if the Sabean people truly existed (archaeological evidence)

Soba in Sudan - Look up Meroe Saba in Yemen - Too much left behind there. The Musnad and Zabur script are attributed to them, and a theory suggests that the Zabur script, which was developed by them as a cursive form of the Musnad script, was the foundation of the Syriac script; you can actually see it just by looking at the pictures. After the Mar’ib Dam collapsed many Sabeans migrated to Syria and mixed with the Assyrians there, and in due time they developed the Syriac script by mixing the Aramaic and the Zabur, and this script was fully functional by the first century AD. Many scholars claim the Peshitta Bible was the origin of scriptures because it was written in Syriac, and some linguists say the Arabic script was developed from the Syriac as well.

  1. Where are their descendants today?

Soba - In Africa & other places. Saba - In Yemen, Ethiopia, Syria, Iraq, & other places.

  1. Why does modern archaeology attribute a Semitic, Arabian and Yemeni origin to these people.

Naturally, historians are just a bit confused. Soba of Sudan - Descendants of Ham. Saba of Yemen - Descendants of Sam native to South Arabia yet many live in Ethiopia.

  1. Whether or not there is any evidence for their Ethiopian origin as Josephus Flavius suggests.

This is a tricky question... The Sabeans of Yemen would cross to Ethiopia frequently and indeed there are some of their writings left behind from the 8th century BC around Yeha temple and many historians have hypothesized about the reasons why. The best explanation I’ve found for this is in these two videos below. The whole YouTube channel is quite useful for your inquiry if you’d like to do further research, “Revisionists - official channel” www.revisionists.org .

Biblical Archeology in Ethiopia - Intro part 1 https://youtu.be/fPFEiBKrBdE

Biblical Archeology in Ethiopia - Intro part 2 https://youtu.be/srBWW50YlxA

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The Sabaeans were scattered when the Marib dam collapsed in the 6th C. One contingent ended up in what is now Abu Dhabi (Sheik Zayed restored the dam a few years ago) and another lot ended up in the Hauran, the fertile plain south of Damascus. They were then uprooted in the 1850s by a massacre by the Druze (armed by the British) and ended up just north of the Lebanon border in what was called the "Wadi al Nasiri" (valley of the Christians). A lot are still there. Many, including my grandfather (Abdul Karim Abu-Saba) emigrated to the US at the end of the 19thC and the first decade of the 20thC. A few decades ago the Syrian government, determined to keep Syria secular, changed the name of the valley to Wadi-al-Nadiri, which means nothing.

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    This doesn't really answer the question of where they originated.
    – Steve Bird
    May 30, 2022 at 12:40
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The origin of the Sabeans is without a doubt in today's Eritrea. The languages Tigrinya, Tigre, and Geez originated from the Sabean language. I belong to these 3 languages and i can read ancient Sabean scripts.

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    Given the other answers, there does appear to be some doubt about their origin. Your answer would benefit from some supporting details.
    – Steve Bird
    Dec 5, 2022 at 15:25
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    While sources would help, we normally accept first person assertions. If @dawit can read these documents, that is evidential.
    – MCW
    Dec 5, 2022 at 15:41
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Yes the Sabaens are Hamite. Sobo is Saba/Sheba… pre Islamic history debunks what this man is saying. There was a war in Arabia where there were two Sabean groups one from across the Red Sea and those in Arabia and they communicated with one another well. Two of their leaders ended up fighting and one went as far as tryna two construct his own Kaaba and Allah SWT messed him up bad and this story still exists till this day. One of the guys name were Ayyub (if I spelled it correct).That’s why the Quran Says “and to the Sabaens who believe in the last messenger”. Those times were filled with ignorance thus when the prophet came, he had to clean up the place.

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    Your answer could be improved with additional supporting information. Please edit to add further details, such as citations or documentation, so that others can confirm that your answer is correct. You can find more information on how to write good answers in the help center.
    – Community Bot
    Feb 1, 2023 at 4:45
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Sabean are an Ethiopian living on both side of redsea in Ethiopia and Yemen .Once again colonial mentality is the reasons to hypothesized Arabian Sabean migrate to Ethiopia and brought civilization there. However this claim has no evidence even from spiritual perspectives. The first bold evidence was forwarded by Robert Holyland who made archeological study and discovered an inscription which describes its ruler lord of Da‗mat its east and its west, its Sabeans and its immigrants, its red and black people. The use of title Mukkrb/ meaning high monarch/ at Dmt could be a genuine statement by powerful Ethiopian based rulers with influence in Arabia. Assume while the indigenous king of DMT Consider Sabean as his nation the European folk told us they are migrant to Ethiopia. This is a desperate attempt to split Middle East in particular Yemen from Africa and Ethiopia. Middle east is a recent creation by European in 1980s.Prior to the excavation of the Suez Canal (1959-69) the entire Arabian peninsula and what todays known as the “middle east” were connected to African Continent.The following subsequent evidence will discuss the issue further.The inhabitant of southern Arabia nearly all are belongs to the race of Himyar and their complexion is almost as black as Abyssinian (Baron Von Maltzan Geography of Sothern Arabia .1872). Ptolemy, the native population of Cush originally inhabited both sides of the Red Sea: on the east, southern and eastern Arabia; and on the west, Abyssinia (Ethiopia-Eritrea). Isidorus of Charax Spasini, writing in the time of Augustus(27B.C-19A.D), mentions a chief of the Omanites in the Incense-Country, named Goaisos (cf. the language of the Habashat, Geez ) who was apparently of the same race(Preplus of Eritrean P.63).Even some European source supports the above history. Hence as per the Encyclopaedia Britannica, “it cannot be doubted that the tribes on both sides of that branch of the sea were kindred/family nations. Further according to Christian Robin, Director of Ancient Semitic Studies at France‘s National Center for Scientific Research in Paris, though the Sabaeans and others in the region are referred today as South Arabians in the geographical sense, they cannot be considered, nor did they consider themselves to be, Arabs, as this implies that they spoke Arabic, which they did not. Mahra and other south Arabian people are related to hamatic race of North east Africa(David Philips People on moves ,2001).Black midinites resemble Somali and N.E Africa(Ibid). The rock art of the region of Yemen shows that populations similar to those across the Red Sea in Nubia and the Horn had been present since the Neolithic period and Paleolithic. The culture of Tehama region which was the original land of the Kenaaniyya or Canaan of the Old Testament in the southern Hejaz of western Arabia and the Central Arabian deserts was also closely linked culturally to that of Nubia and other parts of the African side of the Red Sea(https://www.africaresource.com/rasta/sesostris). Kaldean(Chaldeans) ,Kasdan(Kasdites),Janban,Jaramaqi,Kutharun and Kananun where Nabateans who construct building ,founded city, dug canals and planted trees.They were all Sabeans who worshiped star and Idols.Al Dimasqi(Zakeri,Mohsen Sassanid Soldier in Early Muslim Society ,1995 p148.Al Dimasq 14 century. Chaldeans are Arami in origin , they are the Arameans who are the Nabateans who are just the Akkadians and Imliq(Amorites).Remember According to Indian source the summerian sons of mother-tree and the wholly grove became the black Himyarites Sabean of the Euphratean valley and the souther cost of Arabia the race today known in Assyrian history as Chaldeans who were skilled astronomers are the first ruler of the country after deluge ,86 kinga reigned over 34,080 years are(4&5 ) .The modern representatives are Sabaean Mandaites of once ruler of southern Arabia called saba ,they begin solar-lunar zodiac which measure month and days with the parwe ,the pleides( 6&7). They are proved to have measured time by the Pleiades(an example of an open star cluster )by the calendar of Telloh or Girsu ,the city containing,the oldes akkadian monument and inscription yet found, as their new year festival of the goddess Bau of water abyss are held in the middle of October (6 ).Many Ethiopian new year including famous Irreechaa has been celebrated in the month of October. Further Etymology of of Sabean has similar meaning in many Ethiopian language, Saba’ means “men, people ,humanity,nation,Clan family ” in Sabean,Geez,Amharic,Affan Oromo and Af Somali respectively. Dated between 3500B.C-275) ,the Sabaeans or Sabeans (Sabaean: ( ), s¹bʾ; Arabic: ٱلسَّبَئِيُّوْن, romanized: as-Sabaʾiyyūn; Hebrew: סְבָאִים, romanized: Səḇāʾīm) were an ancient group of South Arabians(British Museum).The etymology of Sabaean in their language are exactly similar with word Abasa (አበሰ). The ancient Egyptian dictionary also indicate similar meaning.

The early Yemenite Rahawiyyin or Ru'wayn (also the tribe in Somalia called Rahawayn or Rahanwayn ) of Himyar.Al Sama and Sama'al are names of an ancient Arabian clan of the Sabaeans (batn Himyar) mentioned in Islamic Yemenite sources and earlier sources. (Mad'aj p. 91). The names may very well refer to the same tribe and be the root of the name Sam whom the Somaali (or bin Sama'al) and Shammar claim descent from. confused with the Sab lineage), of which the Yibir (known as Yahhar in the South) constitute a small one, have an uncertain origin (Nelson 1982, 93). According to Medieval scholars, the Ethiopian (Abyssinian) faction denominationally identified its community as ‘Chaldean’ indicating that the term was neither exclusive to the East Syriac Christian converts, nor was it employed to designate an ethno-political identity. The Ethiopians call themselves Chaldeans and Sabeans are the Chaldeans. – Joseph Justus Scaliger (c.1540 CE).The Chaldeans, that lived towards the foot of the river Euphrates, were called Sabeans by the Arabians and Jews. – George Mackenzie (c. 1711 CE)The Kasdim, the Chaldeans and the Sabeans, are only different names successively given to the same people. In the time of the Bible they were called Kasdim; in the age of the Talmud they were the Chaldeans, and later they received the name of the Sabeans. – Michael Friedlander (c. 1890 CE).

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    Big blocks of text are difficult to read and comprehend. This answer would benefit from some reformatting. Mar 24, 2023 at 11:47
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    Please reformat to clarify which portions are quoted and which portions are your own.
    – MCW
    Mar 24, 2023 at 13:21
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I'm a Soba, a people directly related either to king David or the Levites, My ancestors then were known as Abasuba(Throwers like king David sling) or Makuria(Feed/farmers) or Kuraiza(Feeders) from Jerusalem/Palestine(Suba/Tsuba city) renown for pottery, earthware, spices,deviners, brew making, rain makers and different stuff. First our ancesters fled west to AKsumah-Burahida-Khayaba-Saudi Arabia then stayed in Medina until Prophet Mohammed happened and exiled them to Egypt to a place called Serra through Kurru to Senna(which means Step/Temporary) and passed through various places to reach Uganda what is today Western-Kenya, and throughout our ancestors didn't change their names! We are still AbaSuba,Kuria,Avarimi,Sweta or Maragoli's.

All ancient Jewish evidence in Ethiopia point directly to the Abasuba and many others scattered through out Africa. Since Ethiopians claim they are a descendant of Menelik the son of Solomon and not DIRECTLY related to any of the tribes, even their own city name "GONDAR" is Maragolis ancestral name and was a priest clan that is in Kenya today, they also named Aksumah, and Aksum to AKISUMU where they lived as farmers and Barter trade and at times they used MASANA/MASENO/MUSENO which in Hebrew means "angered".

I know most people won't believe that the original Jews were Black, but it's real and very true, the last ever known relative of king David in Egypt during our exile was called "Shikanda" same name we used to this day. You can Google Shikanda! Same root name that became "Uganda" or Ganda people, also there were another Jewsish tribe called Qaysii which if you replace Arabic "Q" with Swahili "K" is Kisii.

All the major names found Along Nile are Abasuba's name.... example; Singa, Kisala(Under small tree/shed), sennar Karima(dig/farmer), Aswan, Matara(village), Serra(Fry), Kaher(Priest)! https://www.scribd.com/doc/114580376/Kenyan-Tribal-Culture

They all prove my ancestors passed through those places to Uganda which was then coalesced into British "East African protectorate" then our side chopped off from Eastern Uganda into Western Kenya so we can be their farm-laborer's!

We were exiled as five clans and 8 subtribes; Meru, Maragols, Kuria, Gisii and Muranga, all this were known as AbaSuba or Tsoba people of Makuria. Our ancestors built THIMLICH OHINGA ruins that are same as ZIMBABWE STONES, we are also associated with Bull sacrifices on several hills found in Uganda and Nubi Mountains in Sudan.

enter image description here

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  • Welcome to History:SE. Your answer would be greatly improved if you edit to include citations from reputable sources to support your assertions. Feb 15, 2020 at 14:17
  • Hi, I did add a reputable link/book and a picture, is those enough?
    – Mhnat
    Feb 15, 2020 at 14:25
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    Did you read the book? If so, perhaps you can explain why you think it supports your assertions (or, indeed provides an answer to the question asked). Similarly, I am fairly familiar with Thimlich Ohinga, having visited the site twice, but I am uncertain why you think a picture of the remains would support your assertion that you are descended from the builders of the complex, or that those builders were in any way related to biblical characters? Feb 15, 2020 at 14:36
  • Well to begin, I'm not fighting or just posting for fame, I'm telling based on our very old history, first of all, how did we get all those names among us? all names found in Saudi Arabia,Egypt,Sudan,Ethiopia and even Eritrea are Suba and Maragoli clan! and yes I read the book but I found nothing new cause I already know our history! we are the tribes that Prophet Mohammed chased down from Saudi Arabia to Uganda! Thimlich Ohinga was built by Suba clans and Maragoli,Sweta,Kisii,Kuria are all Suba clans from Israel. the Blue beads found at Maragoli Hills matched ones found in Israel and Greece.
    – Mhnat
    Feb 15, 2020 at 17:54
  • Same Lungoma drum that was found among Lemba/Shona Jew was also found at Maragoli hills/shrine, but unfortunately was stolen by Friends Quakers church missionaries who forcefully converted Maragoli's to Christianity, those who refused were forcefully evicted and taken to Bunyoro-Uganda! The surviving priest clan that was forcefully evicted from Vihiga to Uganda and now found in Bunyoro speak same script as we do, about Saudi-Arabia and Suba-Jerusalem origin' watch this video especially from 0.21 it has a English subtitle so you can read; youtube.com/watch?v=jNSNOudOBhA&t=46s
    – Mhnat
    Feb 15, 2020 at 18:07

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