(desert, barren), a country known in the Old Testament under two designations:
Divisions—Arabia may be divided into Arabia Proper, containing the whole peninsula as far as the limits of the northern deserts; Northern Arabia (Arabia Deserta), constituting the great desert of Arabia; and Western Arabia, the desert of Petra and the peninsula of Sinai, or the country that has been called Arabia Petraea.
Inhabitants—(Arabia, which once ruled from India to the Atlantic, now has eight or nine millions of inhabitants, about one-fifth of whom are Bedouin or wandering tribes, and the other four-fifths settled Arabs.–Encyc. Brit.). The descendants of Joktan occupied the principal portions of the south and southwest of the peninsula, with colonies in the interior. The principal Joktanite kingdom, and the chief state of ancient Arabia, was that of the Yemen. The Ishmaelites appear to have entered the peninsula from the northwest. That they have spread over the whole of it (with the exception of one or two districts on the south coast), and that the modern nation is predominantly Ishmaelite, is asserted by the Arabs. Of the descendants of Keturah the Arabs say little. They appear to have settled chiefly north of the peninsula in Desert Arabia, from Palestine to the Persian Gulf. In northern and western Arabia are other peoples, which, from their geographical position and mode of life are sometimes classed with the Arabs. Of these are Amalek , the descendants of Esau, etc.
Productions—The productions are varied. The most noted animal is the horse. Camels, sheep, cattle, asses, mules, and cats are common. Agricultural products are coffee, wheat, barley, millet, beans, pulse, dates, and the common garden plants. In pasture lands Arabia is peculiarly fortunate. In mineral products it is singularly poor, lead being most abundant.–Encyc. Brit.)
Religion—The most ancient idolatry of the Arabs we must conclude to have been fetishism. Magianism, an importation from Chaldaea and Persia, must be reckoned among the religions of the pagan Arabs, but it never had very numerous followers. Christianity was introduced into southern Arabia toward the close of the second century, and about a century later it had made great progress. It flourished chiefly in the Yemen, where many churches were built. Judaism was propagated in Arabia, principally by Karaites, at the captivity. They are now nominally Muslim.
Language—Arabic, the language of Arabia, is the most developed and the richest of Shemitic languages, and the only one of which we have an extensive literature. It is, therefore, of great importance to the study of Hebrew.
Smith's Bible Names Dictionary (1866)