Eliphaz of the Saracens

Part of elementamundi.com by author Mark David: Twitter @authorMarkDavid

When Job’s three friends, Eliphaz of Teman, Bildad of Shuah, and Zophar of Naamah, heard of all these calamities which had overtaken him, they left their homes and arranged to come and condole with him and comfort him. Of these, Eliphaz was a Saracen.

This is the name Eliphaz introduced into book 1 in The Elements, a name that will have repercussions for the characters working for MI6 as they struggle to uncover the identity of a victim of mutilation, uncovered preserved in a woodland bog in the grounds of a residence of nobility in Denmark.

Eliphaz is a name that comes from the Bible, from the fifth book of Job:

The fool is destroyed by his own angry passions and the end of childish resentment is death. I have seen it for myself, a fool uprooted, his home in sudden ruin around him, his children past help.

Eliphaz the Temanite was chief of the comforters of Job (2:11). The manner in which the city is mentioned by the prophets, now by itself, and again as standing for Edom, shows how important it must have been in their time. According to bibleatlas.org and author W. Ewing, Teman or te’-man (תימן) means “on the right,” i.e. “south” (Thaiman) and it is the name of a district and town in the land of Edom, named after Teman, the grandson of Esau, the son of his firstborn, Eliphaz.

The First speech of Eliphaz is:

The fool is destroyed by his own angry passions and the end of childish resentment is death. I have seen it for myself, a fool uprooted, his home in sudden ruin around him, his children past help.

Eliphaz: The Saracen

Eliphaz came from Teman: 

In the Book of Ezekiel (25:13) desolation is denounced upon Edom:

“From Teman even unto Dedan shall they fall by the sword.”

From this it has been argued that Dedan (modern Arabic Al-`Ula) being in the south, Teman must therefore be in the north. But this does not automatically follow. Dedan is in fact in northern Arabia, being related to the peoples of Asshur or Assyria and other northern tribes (Gen 25:3). It is mentioned in proximity to Teman (Jer 25:23); and when judgment is pronounced on Edom, the people of Dedan are warned to stay back; that is, to retreat into the desert (Jer 49:8). This understanding of Dedan is consistent with a southern Teman.

EusebiusOnomasticon knows a district in the Gebalene region called Theman, and also a town with the same name, occupied by a Roman garrison, 15 miles from Petra. Unfortunately no indication of direction is given. No trace of the name has yet been found. It may have been on the road from Elath to Bozrah. The inhabitants of Teman seem to have been famous for their wisdom (Jeremiah 49:7).

Edom and Tel Es-Sakan

Teman was a clan of a people called the Edomites, coming from an ancient place called Edom, a kingdom located east of the coastal town of Gaza and the Tel Es-Sakan, an ancient coastal harbour settlement on the Wadi El-Arish where Karl Oskar Eklund and Joachim Agard became entrapped in the Second Battle of Gaza in WWI 1917.

Called Arabia Petraea, or the Provincia Arabia or simply Arabia, this region extended, according to Eklund, from the Tel Es-Sakan in ancient times eastwards, with Assyrian domination, to eventually become a frontier province of the Roman Empire. Founded at the beginning in the 2nd century, the Roman possessions consisted of the former Nabataean kingdom in Jordan, southern Levant, the Sinai Peninsula and northwestern Arabian peninsula. Its capital was Petra. It was also home to the native Saraceni, the Saracens of old. So who were the Saracens?

The name “Saracen” was not indigenous among the populations so described, but was applied to them by Greco-Roman historians based on Greek place names. It wasn’t until the 12th century, that Medieval Europeans used the term “Saracen” for people of Islam as en ethnic and religious term.

Wikipedia has this to say:

Ptolemy‘s Geography (2nd century CE) describes “Sarakene” as a region in the northern Sinai peninsula. Ptolemy also mentions a people called the “Sarakenoi” living in north-western Arabia (near neighbor to the Sinai). Eusebius of Caesarea refers to Saracens in his Ecclesiastical history, in which he narrates an account wherein Dionysius, Bishop of Alexandria, mentions Saracens in a letter while describing the persecution of Christians by the Roman emperor Decius: “Many were, in the Arabian mountain, enslaved by the barbarous ‘sarkenoi’.” The Historia Augusta also refers to an attack by “Saraceni” on Pescennius Niger‘s army in Egypt in 193, but provides little information as to identifying them.

Both Hippolytus and Uranius mention three distinct peoples in Arabia during the first half of the third century: the “Saraceni”, the “Taeni” and the “Arabes”. The “Taeni”, later identified with the Arabic-speaking people called “Tayy“, (possibly lined with the Arab clan the Abu Tayi) were located around the Khaybar oasis north of Medina, and also in an area stretching up to the Euphrates River.

The “Saraceni” were placed north of them. These Saracens, located in the northern Hejaz, were described as people with a certain military ability who were opponents of the Roman Empire and who were classified by the Romans as barbarians.


The Saracens of old. It was the next passage however, that caused him to sit up straight.

Mischief does not grow out of the soil, nor trouble spring from the earth; man is born of trouble.

In this illustration from a Byzantine manuscript, the methods of torture are made explicit: From being hanged farthest to the left, to being tied to a pole and having the back cut open, almost in Viking fashion of the blood eagle. To being arrowed to death and finally, being boiled alive in a boiling vat: It doesn’t require much imagination to relive some of the horrors of the past.

Featured image: Job and his friends. Fresco from the Cathedral of the Annunciation.