The Pantheon of Qedar

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Qedar, a tribe or confederation which existed between about the 8th to 5th centuries BC, is only scantily understood, but may in fact be the first known exercise in Arab history in forging a unity larger than the kinship-based tribe. This unity was formed around a center of cultic pilgrimage and worship; Dumat, in the north of the peninsula, sacred to a number of tribes. It became the seat of their confederation and the base of their religion. Later on other centers of pilgrimage would be founded such as Sia', Khirbet Et-Tannur, Mecca and Petra. The Gods worshipped at Dumat are mentioned in the Esarhaddon Prism from the 7th century BC:

For the return of his gods he prayed me and I showed him favor and the gods Atarsamain, Dai, Nuhai, Ruldaiu, Abirillu, Atarkuruma, the gods of the Arabians, their ruined [effigies] I restored and the might of Ashur, my lord, and the writing of my name upon them I wrote and gave them back to him.

The reduced phonology of Akkadian resulted in loss of information when the deities' names were transliterated. Therefore reconstructing the original Arabic names can be tricky and error prone.


The worship of Atarsamain was widespread among Arab tribes except in Nabataea. Atarsamain ("Morning Star of Heaven" عثتر سمين), which I will now call by the more accurate Arabic ʿAṯtart Samay (عثترة السمي/السماء), is associated with Venus. Some have proposed that Athtart Samay could be equivalent to Allat but this identification is difficult because under Hellenistic influence Allāt was identified with Athena/Minerva and not Aphrodite/Venus. But before the Hellenistic era Herodotus does identify Her with Aphrodite: "They believe in no other gods except Dionysus and the Heavenly Aphrodite... They call Dionysus, Orotalt; and Aphrodite, Alilat." (Histories, Book 3) Herodotus also associates Astarte with Heavenly Aphrodite saying: "The great goddess (Mother of Heaven and Earth) worshipped by Eastern nations under various names—Mylitta in Assyria, Astarte in Phoenicia: called Heavenly Aphrodite, or simply the Heavenly One, by the Greeks." (Histories, Book 1) The identification of Allāt with Astarte and thus Heavenly Aphrodite is found in Palmyra where Arab families would sometimes invoke their patron deity as Allāt, and sometimes as Astarte/Ishtar.

The worship of a Venusian deity by Arabs is further confirmed by the remark of Jerome that Saint Hilarion "arrived at Elusa on the very day that a solemn festival had brought all the people of the town to the temple of Venus; for the Saracens worship this Goddess as the Morning Star and their race is dedicated to Her cult." The Arabs also worshipped a male deity associated with Venus known as Azizos/ʿAziz. ʿAziz was identified as Ares by emperor Julian in his work 'Hymn to King Helios'. He says: "The inhabitants of Emesa, a place from time immemorial sacred to Helios, associate with Helios in their temples Monimos and Azizos. Iamblichus, from whom I have taken this and all besides, a little from a great store, says that the secret meaning to be interpreted is that Monimos is Hermes and Azizos Ares, the assessors of Helios, who are the channel for many blessings to the region of our earth." This might explain why Allāt was identified with Athena instead of Aphrodite in the Hellenistic era; the Arabs understood the personification of Venus to have a warrior aspect. It also explains what happened to ʿAṯtarat Samay, She was simply referred to as "the Goddess" which is what Allāt means.

The second deity mentioned is Da'y (دأي، أي الغراب) most likely to mean crow. Da'y occurs only three times in personal names in Sabaean inscriptions and is a bird deity according to Knauf. They occur in the names hyt'd'y and whbd'y, the latter following the same formula found in the name WahbAllat. The terms d'y and d'yt are also found in Safaitic inscriptions in Wadi Ramm and in Qatabanian inscriptions where d'yn seems to be a clan name. It's difficult to say anything about the nature of this God.

Nuha is mentioned in inscriptions found in the vicinity of Dumat, written in a similar language and script to those of Tayma, which offer prayers to Nuha and a number of divinities. One requests "help in the matter of my love" from Ruḍaw, Nuha and ʿAṯtart Samay, all three known to the Assyrians as Gods of Qedar. None are dated, but they most likely belong to the period of Qedar’s prosperity in the 8th to 5th centuries BC. In Nejd we have inscriptions that point out that emotions are a gift of the Gods, some from Nuha and Ruḍaw: "by Nuha is the flying into a rage", "by Nuha is the jealousy of a lover", "by Ruḍaw is weeping." The name Nuha/NHY seems to mean "the wise" or "the ultimate." One early Thamudic B inscription mentions Nuha with the epithet "the elevated sun" thus Nuha could be associated with the Sun. The word could, however, also refer to a divinity connected with a special kind of wisdom. In the Old Testament there are traditions of wisdom in Teman, which may be a region south of Edom, such as Tayma, and Nuha could have some connection with these traditions.

Ruldaiu, could be identified with the god Orotalt mentioned by Herodotus. The theory goes that at the time of Herodotus (5th century BC) the ض in Ruldaiu/Ruḍaw was pronounced by Greeks as Rodl which then became Rodal then Rotal and finally Orotalt. Ruḍaw appears together with Allāt in Thamudic B and Safaitic inscriptions. In the latter, Allāt and Ruḍaw appear together as the main divinities, invoked more than any other deity, and invoked together frequently. Interestingly, Ruḍaw is absent from Hismaic, Dadanitic and Nabataean inscriptions and is not associated with Allāt in Thamudic B inscriptions, this is perhaps because Allāt was called by Her original name, Athtart Samay. Ruḍaw's identification with Dionysus by Herodotus is a clue to the nature of His cult among the Arabs. According to Herodotus, the Arabian Dionysus had his hair cropped. This is a ceremony performed on bridegrooms in many parts of the Middle East to this day, and it's also well documented among modern Bedouin as an initiation into adulthood. It's likely that the cropping of hair, like circumcision, originally belonged to the rites of puberty, wedding and entrance into adult society. Dionysus was not only the god of wine, there is also a myth about his birth. The story of Dionysus’ second birth from the thigh of Zeus hints at an initiation ritual, and it might have a connection with the Sacred Band of Thebes. This makes the connection between Arabs and Dionysus more understandable and it should be kept in mind that the role of Dionysus as the God of wine isn't a complete picture of his true nature in the 5th century BC.

Ḏušarē was also associated with Dionysus. Knauf assumes that Ruḍaw and Ḏušarē were two names for the same God but Ḏušarē's connection to Dionysus has more to do with Dionysus as a vegetation God while Ruḍaw's/Oratalt's identification with Dionysus has more to do with Dionysus as an initiatory God. Additionally, the two Gods are linked to different locations. Ḏušarē, as the name suggests, was linked to the Shara (Seir) mountain range and was also called the "God of Gaia," Gaia being an area in modern-day Wadi Musa. Dushara was also said to be mn rqm "from Petra," while Ruḍaw was given the epithet "from Chaldea." Here we seem to have two cults, that of Dushara and Alʿuzza in the core Nabataean area and that of Ruḍaw and Allat. Ruḍaw's cult originated in the southern extremity of Babylon, where Arab settlements are reported in cuneiform sources, and later spread to Dumat. In Dumat, Ruḍaw became associated with ʿAṯtart Samay and understood to be Her father, and the cult further spread around the region, particularly to the Hawran. The astral significance of ʿAṯtart Samay may also imply that Ruḍaw was also astral and some have proposed a connection between Ruḍaw and the divine astral pair ʿZZ/ʿAziz/Azizos and 'RSW/Arsu/MNʿM/Munʿim/Monimos found in Palmyra and Emesa. Here Ruḍaw is identified as Arsu/Munʿim and would be paired with ʿAziz, representing the evening and morning stars respectively. It thus seems that the Arabs were linked to the cults in Syria through the God Ruḍaw as the guardian of ceremonies of initiation and passing from one state to another. The Arabs were also linked to the cults in Mesopotamia with Ruḍaw and Allat paralleling Ishtar and Sin.

The Islamic tradition is ignorant of Ruḍaw's nature. We are told that "Ruḍaw" belonged to the clan of Rabiʿa bin Saʿd of Tamim. Verses are given attributed to a certain Mustawghir of this clan referring his "destruction of Ruḍaw." The importance of Ruḍaw's cult is indirectly stressed by Al-Mustawghir's rage, though the idea of the Muslim tradition being a reliable reference point to inscriptions has been challenged. We are further told that "some of the narrators" have reported that Ruḍaw was a sanctuary or stele (baeytl). Ruḍaw seems to play no part in the stories about Muhammad or the "jahiliyya" and little can be gleaned from the verses about Ruḍaw's nature. It is not obvious whether "Ruḍaw" in Islamic-period texts refers to a deity, a sanctuary, a statue or even a person. It seems unlikely that Ruḍaw was actually worshipped on the even of Islam and inscriptions in West Arabia written in the centuries prior to Islam show no trace of Ruḍaw's cult and he is not mentioned in the Quran. There is nothing to suggest the survival of Ruḍaw's worship past the 4th century AD. There is, in fact, no evidence of any sort of paganism surviving past the 5th century in the epigraphic record. It is of course possible that Ruḍaw remained venerated among marginal groups who did not write any inscriptions, or none that we've found yet.

The nature and identity of the two remaining Gods of Dumat, Abirillu and Atarkuruma, are difficult to grasp. We don't even know what the name Abirillu looked like in Old Arabic. Knauf has speculated that Abirillu might be a deified king but admits that it's difficult to say anything about them. Atarkuruma might be a second local manifestation of ʿAṯtart Samay. Kuruma might come from quram قَرَم meaning camel calf or qarm قَرْم which refers to a horse that's left to graze freely. Finally, there's qorm قُرْم which is a mangrove tree found in the Arabian Gulf.

The Pantheon

  • ʿAṯtarsamain/ʿAṯtarsamay/ʿAṯtart Samay: Her name means Morning Star of Heaven and She is associated with the planet Venus. She is more commonly known as Allāt who had a warrior aspect that linked Her with Athena.
  • Dai/Da'ay: Not much is known about this obscure deity
  • Nuhai/Nuha/Nuhay: Her name means "wise" or "ultimate" which might allude to some sort of wisdom tradition She is associated with. Nuha is also associated with the sun and is called the "Elevated Sun" or the "Ever-Exalted Sun."
  • Ruldaiu/Ruḍa/Ruḍay/Ruḍaw: The father of Allāt/ʿAṯtarsamay, the pair form the main divinities of the Safaitic-writers representing the Moon and Venus like Sin and Ishtar in Mesopotamia, which is where His cult originated.
  • Abrillu: Like Dai, not much is known about this deity
  • ʿAṯtarkurma/ʿAṯtarquruma: Might be a manifestation of ʿAṯtarsamay

See also