Massacre at Najran

December 15, 2009

In the year 523, Christianity was not only expanding West into Europe, but also East to Rome’s nemesis Persia and eventually even to China. This was before the rise of Islam. In Arabia Christianity reached present day Yemen, where the Jewish convert and king Dhu Nuwas ruled.

Many of the people living in the town of Najran had become Monophysite Christians around the year 500. Conflict between the Jewish and Christian groups started and quickly intensified: Extortionate taxation was imposed by the Jewish authorities, Christians responded by burning synagogues and Jews burnt churches. The Christian minority even appealed to Christian Aksumite empire for help, who ruled just across the strait in Ethiopia. Despite their successful appeal to their African neighbours the Christians of Najran suffered a series of bloody atrocities.

When Dhu Nuwas invaded the Najran, he demanded the people abandon Christianity. They refused. It is said that the resulting massacre lasted for days. Pits were dug, filled with flammable material, and Christians were thrown into the flames.

The Book of Himyarites reports that one Najran man met the conquering army on the road. When they asked him “Are you a Christian?”, he replied “Yes”. For this offence they cut off his right hand, before asking him again, “Are you a Christian?” Again he replied “Yes” and so they cut off his left hand. “Now, are you still a Christian?” they asked. He replied “Yes, in life and death I am a Christian”. They cut off his feet and left him to die, still a Christian.

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6 Responses to “Massacre at Najran”

  1. Doris Firth Says:

    Good work! This is a good example of what can be done if only time is taken to make the post a quality one.

  2. Mr Z Says:

    Religions are dangerous. There are many stories of massacre and bloodshed on all sides of religious belief. Jews killing Christians, Christians killing Jews and Muslims and on and on and on. If you look at the Cathars [ http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cathars ] and religious beliefs which were wiped out during the crusades, it’s more than plausible to believe that Christendom was hell bent on destroying the beliefs of everyone else, or destroying anyone who did not convert to Christianity. The history of most large religions is filled with war. That’s the kind of fact that is hard to ignore, even in the light of a more civilized world.

  3. Chucky Says:

    One of the things which has really fascinated me recently is the spread of Christianity into Asia. As it did that, Christianity has almost always been the underdog – persecuted by Zoroastrians in Persia, Hindus in India, all the way to Buddhists and atheists in China. It didn’t get to China by war- but by word of mouth among persecuted people. The first European Christian missionaries created the first English-Chinese dictionaries and helped bring learning both ways. In fact they were critisized for being too Chinese. They were often the ones standing against the wars (for example, standing against the opium wars). I should write about some of these guys sometime…

  4. Mr Z Says:

    I’d be interested in that. China was very isolationist, spreading by the sword was not a viable option, and xenophobia so strong that persecution is not really the best way to describe it. All things not Chinese were ‘persecuted’ so Christianity can claim no special place there.

    Why did they stand against the wars is of interest. How involved in trade were those Christian missionaries?

    An objective look at that would be very interesting.

    Thanks

  5. Chucky Says:

    You are right, of course it wasn’t only Christians who were persecuted, even Buddhists were opposed and persecuted at times. You can say that it wasn’t atheism, but nationalism, but you could equally make the same case for Zoroastrianism in Persia.

    I was not only thinking of the Europeans, but also the Nestorian missionaries who arrived during the Tang dynasty, and those that arrived from central Asia.

    The missionaries took the stand they did because it is very hard to tell someone they should be a Christian when supposedly “Christian” people are acting in exactly the opposite to the way – as well as being totally ignorant of Chinese culture. A good book is “A History of Christianity in Asia” by Samuel Moffett, and you’ll want the second volume. It makes a fascinating read.

    I will definitely write more about this.


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