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Ahmad Al-Jallad @Safaitic
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< Part 4 – the Yaʿbūb ‘the swift horse’, of Tweet Mini-Series: The archaeology of the Book of Idols> The Yaʿbūb, a horse deity, was said to have been worshipped by the Tayyiʾ. Did the ancient Arabians worship animal gods? pic: Safaitic rock art, 2017 Badia expedition.
Yaʿbūb is found in the Classical Arabic dictionaries meaning primarily a tall and fast horse. Here is an excerpt from Lisān al-ʿArab, ibn Manẓūr. At face value, al-yaʿbūb would appear to be a deified horse or perhaps a god of horses.
But there is so far no evidence for a horse god, as such, in the epigraphic record. Horses do, however, appear frequently in the rock art.
Consider this beautifully carved image of a horse from N. Central Arabia, courtesy @mash10000 . The inscription beside it is presumably the signature of its author – by l-srq h-rhwy, ‘By Sāriq, the Rahawite’.
Members of tribe of Rahaw were especially fond of carving horses. Another drawing is by Naqm, the Rahawite, with @mash10000 for scale. .
This carving of a mounted rider is by one named Guhaf, the Rahawite. Near this text is a short, anonymous prayer ‘hā kahl, simaʿ lanā’ ‘O Kahl, hear our prayer’ (lit. listen to us). Kahl was an ancient Arabian god, patron deity Qaryat al-Fāw. (from: )
Does this imply that the image of the horse had a religious function? While both of these texts are written in the same script, Thamudic B, there is no evidence to suggest they are by the same person or even connected.
Were these horses depictions of a deity, religious acts, or simply drawings of a high-value commodity (like taking a picture with a fancy car today)?
With the Thamudic B inscriptions it is truly impossible to say. Of the hundreds of drawings of animals, mostly camels, none tells us what motivated authors to spend time and energy on these images.
The Safaitic inscriptions on the other hand offer a clue. In a number of inscriptions, drawings of camels are dedicated to various gods. They appear to be offerings to the deities in exchange for favor.
Here is a nice example I’ve tweeted before as part of another thread: . The author carves an image of a she-camel and writes that it is "dedicated" <qaṣiyyat> to the god Nuhay.
It is possible that the Thamudic B images of camels and horses reflect a similar practice, although it is never explicitly stated in the inscriptions. Despite the vast number of gods attested, only 1 so far seems to be a deification of an animal, nasr ‘the eagle’.
Nasr will have his own thread soon, and as we shall see, he is very much the exception. In general, there is no evidence for the deification of animals or totemic practices. Here is a good article on the subject.…
Given this, how are we to understand al-Yaʿbūb? We could assume that (yet again) ibn al-Kalbī recorded an unknown deity, one quite strange in light of the epigraphic evidence.
But in my opinion, it is more likely that Islamic-period nomads assumed the existence of a horse god based on the same rock art I posted above.
These images are out in the open and anyone moving through would notice them. The Islamic-period nomads could have assumed that the large, skillful carvings of horses were depictions of ancient idols.
Most of these drawings come from central and north Arabia, well within the territory of Ṭayyiʾ, perhaps explaining why yaʿbūb was attributed to them.
The deity Yaʿbūb may therefore reflect a folk interpretation of ancient rock art in the Islamic-period, suggesting again the mixed nature of the accounts of pre-Islamic Arabia collected by Islamic-period antiquarians.
For other tweets belonging to the series, see…
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