Babatha was a Jewish woman who lived in the province of Roman Arabia in the first half of the 2nd century ce. Her documents were found wrapped up in a leather purse in the Cave of Letters, near the Dead Sea. Babatha’s archive is multilingual and dates from before and after the annexation of the region in 106 ce. It consists of legal and administrative documents, including marriage contracts, deeds of gift, land registrations, and two cases of litigation that were aimed at the court of the Roman governor. The archive therefore sheds light on various aspects of the life of one particular Jewish family in this era, particularly on everyday legal transactions in the newly annexed province and “on the ground” reactions of imperial inhabitants to the new ruling power.Babatha was a Jewish woman who lived in the province of Roman Arabia in the first half of the .
The beginning of the Ḥimyari kingdom is reckoned at 110 bce, when the tribe of Ḥimyar split off from the Qatabān kingdom in the western Ḥaḍramawt, located in the southern Arabian Peninsula, and established its own capital in Ẓafār, located in southeast of our time Yarim. Starting in the 1st century ce, there were incessant conflicts between the kingdom of Ḥimyar and the kingdom of Sheba, whose seat of government was Ma’rib, until the year 175, when the Ḥimyarites completely conquered the kingdom of Sheba. They had taken over Qatabān some hundred years earlier. The religion of the kingdom, as in all other kingdoms in South Arabia at the time, was polytheist, but during the 4th century, the effects of monotheism began to take hold. No later than 384, King Malkīkarib Yuha’min (r. 375–400) had adopted Judaism as the state religion. The kingdom of Ḥimyar remained in a state of constant war with the Christian kingdom of Axūm in Ethiopia, on the western shore of the Red Sea, while the Ethiopians succeeded in even occupying militarily the city of Ẓafār for a short time. The tension between the two kingdoms reached its peak during the time of As’ar Yath’ar’s reign (more commonly known as Yūsuf Dhū Nuwās) (517–525), who acted ruthlessly against the Christians in his kingdom, especially those in Najrān. Because of this action, the army of Axūm invaded Yemen in 525 at the request of the Christian Byzantine emperor, bringing an end to the Jewish kingdom of Ḥimyar. In 531, Abraha the Ethiopian took over the reins of government in Yemen and expanded his kingdom’s realm of influence further north towards the central part of the Arabian Peninsula. A short time following his death, Persia wrestled control of the kingdom, with the assistance of Sayf Dhū Yazan, who, according to tradition, was one of the descendants of Joseph Dhū Nuwās. In 629, Yemen fell entirely to the armies of Islam.