Pre-Islamic Christianity on the Arabian Peninsula
The Christian-Jewish as well as old Arabic and pagan environment in which early Islam arose is to a great extent without significance for Muslim historiography, since the historical writers subsume the epochs before Mohammed under the JÃ¢hiliya — the time of darkness and barbarism. In his time, Julius Wellhausen pointed out that the Christianity that had penetrated as far as Arabia was not the official, orthodox Christianity of the imperial church. We are sufficiently informed about the various Christianities on the Arabian peninsula by literary (Syrian and Greek sources) and archaeological evidence. Before Islam, we encounter a Christian population predominantly in three regions:
— The Ghassanids, who were allied with Byzantium, ruled the Syrian-Palestinian area and covered — in approximately the old Nabataean territory — Syria up to the Euphrates. While the Palestinian Arabs, whose spiritual needs had been met since the Council of Nicaea (325) by the so-called “tent bishops,” remained true to the Chalcedonian majority faith of the empire, because of their proximity to the monasteries of the Holy Land and Sinai, the BanÃ» GhassÃ¢n adhered in great part to the Miaphysite faith. Their tribal chief, al-Mundhir, had an occasionally tense relationship with Emperor Mauricius.
— The Lakhmids, who were allied with the Persians, settled in the Northeast of the Arabian Peninsula, on the fertile bend of the Euphrates in the oasis al-HÃ®ra (Syrian HirtÃ¢). Although the Zoroastrian Sassanids did not encourage Christianity in their empire, the individual Christian communities were vibrant; various bishops and doctors even rose (to be) advisers to the Great King. In their faith, the East Syrians demonstrated an extreme Diphysitism — that is, they rejected the Councils of Ephesus and Chalcedon. HirtÃ¢ had been the seat of the bishopric since 410, and its numerous cloisters served as a refuge for the upper clergy during the not infrequent persecution of Christians in the Sassanid empire. Also, several catholicoi of Seleucia-Ctesiphon are interred there among the Arabs.
— Further support for Christian life is at the end of the Incense Road in the south, with the provinces Himyar and Hadramaut — present-day Yemen. Greek Christianity existed on the Gulf of Aden from the fourth century. It consisted largely of merchants and spice dealers with contacts to India. In the great trading metropolises of the south like ZafÃ¢r, San”Ã¢ and NajrÃ¢n, there were great churches and basilicas for the varied sects of the Ethiopians, Romans and Persians.
Beyond that, we come upon individual Arab tribes which were Christian in various ways, for instance, the TanÃ»kh, the Taghlib and the IyÃ¢d as well as the federations of the QudÃ¢”a and the RabÃ®”a. The TanÃ»kh, who were settling in the fruitful Syrio-Mesopotamian land, had an industrious pastor in the philosophically trained Bishop Georgius (died 724). For the longest time, the Taghlib resisted Islamization and remained Christian to the time of the Abbasids. They produced several martyrs at the beginning of the eighth century under the Islamic pressure to conform. They refused as Arabs to pay the head tax and were slandered by Islamic propaganda as “wine-bibbers.”
Archaeological evidence in the form of representative churches, inscriptions, bronze or mother-of-pearl crosses are found in the Northeast of the Arabian Peninsula, especially in the oasis al-HÃ®ra whose population was one-third Christian TanÃ»kh; in Qatar and Bahrain, as well as on the road from Hormuz to Oman (MazÃ»n), where Syrian and Persian merchants established a station on the way to India. Impressive church buildings, three-aisled basilicas in cross- or T-form with articulated adjoining rooms stood in Yemeni San”Ã¢. Although their sectarian affiliation between Chalcedonian and anti-Chalcedonian was debatable, they were productive from the prosperity and piety of their builders, who felt themselves to be superior to their relatives in the northwest of the Arabian Peninsula. The highly developed south was distinguished religiously and culturally in no small way from the paganism of northwest and central Arabia. Aside from the few exceptions — like Queen Hind, wife of Aretha (HÃ¢rith), who funded a cloister — the Kinda in the central part of the peninsula, as well as their cousins in the HijÃ¢z, with the centers of Mecca and Yathrib (later Medina), remained pagan.
Christianity trickled in here only sparsely and seems to have left no lasting traces. In Khaibar and Yathrib, Judaism was especially strongly represented — perhaps a reason for the weak presence of Christianity in this region. Nothing is known of any bishops or bishops’ sees. One looks in vain for large church buildings, as in the south or northeast. Wine merchants, traveling surgeons and tooth-pullers, now and then Christian as well, mostly “Nestorian” monks settled for a short time in these regions, only to disappear again soon after. One of the classical poets of the JÃ¢hiliya, al-A”shÃ¢, is supposed to have been a Christian: “Where did al-A”shÃ¢ get his Christian ideas? From the Horensian wine dealers from whom he bought wine. They taught them to him.” However the history of the tradition may have proceeded in individual cases, the Koran author could not possibly have gained dogmatically precise information about Christianity in this milieu. However, a superficial knowledge of Christian customs, rites and doctrines, especially the stories of the Bible, was current in Mecca at the time of Mohammed. Meccan merchants gathered their knowledge of Jewish and Christian religion on their long trips to Yemen, Abyssinia, Syria (Bosra) and Mesopotamia (HirtÃ¢).
Peter Bruns is Professor at the Zentrum fÃ¼r Mittelalterstudien, Otto-Friedrich-UniversitÃ¤t, Bamberg, Germany. This article appeared in German in Forum Katholische Theologie, 26 (2010) 1., pp. 1-23.
 Cf. GOLDZIHER, Muhammedanische Studien I, 219-228.
 Cf. Julius WELLHAUSEN, Reste des arabischen Heidentums (Berlin 1972, reprint SaarbrÃ¼cken 2007), 230-234, here p. 232. It is vexing that the editor neglected to add the reprint bibliography and index.
 Finally, cf. Theresia HAINTHALER, Christliche Araber vor dem Islam. Verbreitung und konfessionelle ZugehÃ¶rigkeit (LÃ¶wen 2007). — The author touches only casually on the problem of Jewish Christians.
 Cf. Nina PIGULEWSKAJA, Byzanz auf den Wegen nach Indien. Aus der Geschichte des byzantinischen Handels mit dem Orient vom 4. bis 6. Jahrhundert (Berlin 1969).
 For instance, an alleged statement of Ali, son-in-law and cousin of Mohammed, cf. HEINTHALER, Christliche Araber, 144, note 4.
 Cf. HAINTHALER, Christliche Araber, 145, note 8. The excavations did not begin in Saudi Arabia before the 1970s. The interest of local Muslim monarchs in pre-Islamic history is understandably not very pronounced since it is still stereotypically connected with the aspect of JÃ¢hilÃ®ya.
 Cf. Daniel T. POTTS, Nestorian Crosses from Jabal Berri, in Arabian Archaeology and Epigraphy 5 (1994) 61-65.
 Cf. the statements by FIEY in HAINTHALER, Christliche Araber, 95.
 Cf. the plans for the church of Abraha by Barbara FINSTER in HAINTHALER, Christliche Araber, 130-131. After the destruction of the Jewish empire, the Ethiopians considered themselves rulers on the Horn of Africa and demonstrated their claim with massive representational church buildings.
 Henri LAMMENS, L”Arabie occidentale avant l”HÃ©gire (Beyrouth 1928).
 The BahÃ®ra legend contains as a historical nucleus a dim memory of the mission of Nestorian monks to the Arabian Peninsula. However, it is completely fictitious when it puts the names of Allah’s daughters into the mouth of Mohammed’s Christian interlocutor, cf. ROTTER, Leben des Propheten 36-38. It follows the apologetic tendency to derive a proof of prophecy for Mohammed from Christian tradition.
 Quoted according to WELLHAUSEN, Reste 231. Unfortunately, the author makes no comment on the origin or intention of this quotation. It cannot conceal a pejorative connotation.
 Cf. Heinrich SPEYER, Die biblischen ErzÃ¤hlungen im Koran (Breslau 1931, repr. Hildesheim 1988), XIII: “Moreover, most tales of earlier or later Islam represent branches of the Jewish-Christian Haggada, the history of which has not yet been written.” Speyer collects a plethora of parallels from rabbinical and Christian-Syrian literature (Aphrahat and Ephrem). He does not probe further the textual history of the Koran.
 The SÃ®ra too, proceeds from the assumption that Mohammed did not leave the Arabian Peninsula during his lifetime. He reached Bosra on the Incense Road where he is said to have met the monk BahÃ®ra, cf. ROTTER, Leben des Propheten, 36.