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Imagining the ArabsArab Identity and the Rise of Islam$
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Peter Webb

Print publication date: 2016

Print ISBN-13: 9781474408264

Published to Edinburgh Scholarship Online: September 2017

DOI: 10.3366/edinburgh/9781474408264.001.0001

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Imagining Ancient Arabs: Sources and Controversies

Imagining Ancient Arabs: Sources and Controversies

(p.23) 1 Imagining Ancient Arabs: Sources and Controversies
Imagining the Arabs

Peter Webb

Edinburgh University Press

The study of Arab identity begins with the foundational question: when did people begin to call themselves Arabs and form an Arab community? The process of Arab community formation is much debated, and this chapter re-evaluates theories of Arab origins via critical survey of the ancient epigraphic and literary evidence about Arabia before Islam. The wealth of texts, spanning ancient Assyrian records, Greek/Latin literature and South Arabian inscriptions, give intriguing indications about pre-Islamic Arabian societies alongside enigmatic references to ‘Arab’-sounding words, but these sources have not yet been interrogated via theories of ethnicity and identity. Chapter 1 revisits the sources through a critical theoretical lens to offer a fresh interpretation of Arabian identities before Islam and a resolution to difficulties scholars face when trying to identify ‘Arabs’ in ancient history. The findings prompt us to question long-held theories of Arab origins and invite a wholesale rethink of Arabs and Arabia before Islam.

Keywords:   Arab origins, Arab identity, pre-Islamic Arabia, Late Antiquity, ethnicity, ethnogenesis

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