In his lecture, Joseph Montville covered topics such as: the Arabs in history, the origins of Jews in Arabia, theories and legends about the relationship of Arabs and Hebrews, the Nabateans and their history in Arabia, the early Jewish settlements in southern Arabia or Yemen, including reference to the Judaized kingdom of Himyar and its last king, Dhu Nuwas. He pays particular attention to the Jews of Hijaz, their different tribes or clans and their socioeconomic status on the eve of Islam. He concludes by stating that Judaism, and the Jews as people, were doing well in Arabia, particularly in Hijaz on the eve of the rise of Islam. He cites scholarly works that see the process of conversion to Judaism in pre-Islamic Arabia as resembling the pattern of conversion to Islam during the lifetime of the Prophet when entire tribes became Muslim as the political and military influence of the Muslims increased. He also attributed the conversions to the attraction of the message of monotheism and the rejection of the polytheism of Mecca.
Joseph Montville is is a retired Foreign Service officer who served in the Middle east, North Africa and the Department State’s Bureau of Near East and South Asian Affairs and the Bureau of Intelligence and Research as Chief of Near east division. Currently, he is a Distinguished Diplomat in Residence at the American University and Chair of the center for World Religions, Diplomacy and Conflict resolution at George Mason University. His edited book, History as Prelude: Muslims and Jews in the Medieval Mediterranean, is scheduled for publication this year by Lexington Books.