Numerics of Hebrews worldwide distribution around 1170 AD according to Binyamin of Tudela

Prof. Emilio Spedicato

We present data on the world distribution of the Hebrews around 1170 AD as found in the book Itinerary of Binyamin of Tudela. The data show about half of the Hebrews living in the Yemen region, in agreement with the recent thesis of Kamal Salibi that the original land of the Hebrews was the western-southern Arabian peninsula.

In three recent monographs Prof. Kamal Salibi, a leading historian of the Arab world, a Christian professor at the American Lebanese University in Beirut, on mainly geographical reasons has claimed that the land where the Hebrews lived between the time of Abraham and the deportation to the East by Assirians and Babilonians, was not Palestine but a territory in present day Asir, i.e. on a high plateau of south-western Arabian peninsula, a region well watered and fertile. According to him only a fraction of the Hebrews went to Palestine when they got from Cyrus the Great the freedom to dwell where they liked, while most of them returned to their original land. The reason why some Hebrews settled in Palestine is given by Salibi as related to the commercial importance taken by Palestine during Persian empire, such land being located on the way between the main economical centers of Egypt and Mesopotamia.

Around 1170 AD. the rabbi Binyamin of Tudela began a three years travel to visit many of the Hebrews communities in the world. In his travel report he lists the numbers of Hebrews living in the cities he visited. In this paper we provide such numbers, whose analyses fully corroborates Prof. Salibi thesis on the ancient location of the Hebrews. Indeed less than 3% of the Hebrews are listed by Binyamin to live in Europe of Africa, almost 50% are attributed to Arabia and Yemen, and the remaining are found in Mesopotamia, Persia and India. It appears therefore that possibly about half of the Hebrews returned to their original land, while most of the remaining settled in the eastern part of the Persian empire, when given by Cyrus freedom choosing their dwelling place.