As much confusion has been introduced by the variety of meanings which the name Saboeans has been made to bear, it may be proper to specify in this place their distinctive derivations and use. In our Authorized Version of Scripture the term seems to be applied to three different tribes.
1. The Sebaim (סבָאַי ם, with a samech), the descendants of Seba or Saba, son of Cush, who ultimately settled in Ethiopia. SEE SEBA.
⇒See also the International Standard Bible Encyclopedia.
2. The Shebaim (שׁבָאַי ם, with a shin), the descendants of Sheba, son of Joktan, the Saboei of the Greeks and Romans, who settled in Arabia Felix. They are the "Sabaeans" of Joe 3:8, to whom the Jews were to sell the captives of Tyre. The unpublished Arabic Version, quoted by Pocock, has "the people of Yemen." Hence they are called "a people afar off, "the very designation given in Jer 6:20 to Sheba, as the country of frankincense and the rich aromatic reed, and also by our Lord in Mt 12:42, who says the queen of Sheba, or "the south, "came ἐκ τῶν περάτων τῆς γῆς, "from the earth's extremes." SEE SHEBA.
3. Another tribe of Shebans (Heb. sheba', שׁבָא, also with a shin), a horde of Bedawin marauders in the days of Job (Job 1:15); for whether we place the land of Uz in Idumoea or in Ausitis, it is by no means likely that the Arabs of the south would extend their excursions so very far. We must therefore look for this tribe in Desert Arabia; and it is singular enough that, besides the Seba of Cush and the Shaba of Joktan, there is another Sheba, son of Jokshan, and grandson of Abraham, by Keturah (Ge 25:33); and his posterity appear to have been "men of the wilderness, "as were their kinsmen of Midian, Ephah, and Dedan. To them, however, the above- cited passage in the prophecy of Joel could not apply, because in respect neither to the lands of Judah nor of Uz could they be correctly described as a people "afar off." As for the Sabaim of Eze 23:42 (which our version also renders by Sabaeans"), while the Keri has Sabaiyam', סָבָאַיָ ם, the Kethib has Sobeim', סוֹבאַי ם, i.e. "drunkards," which better suits the context. SEE SHABA.
4. Yet, as if to increase the confusion in the use of this name of "Sabaeans," it has also been applied to the ancient star worshippers of Western Asia, though they ought properly to be styled Tsabians, and their religion not Sabaism, but Tsabaism, the name being most probably derived from the object of their adoration, tseba', צבָא, the host, i.e. of heaven (see an excursus by Gesenius in his translation of Isaiah, On the Astral Worship of the Chaldoeans, and SABAOTH).
5. The name of Sabaeans, or Sabians, has also been given to a modern sect in the East, the Mandaites, or, as they are commonly but incorrectly called, the "Christians" of St. John; for they deny the Messiahship of Christ, and pay superior honor to John the Baptist. They are mentioned in the Koran under the name of Sabionna, and it is probable that the Arabs confounded them with the ancient Tsabians above mentioned. Norberg, however, says that they themselves derive their own name from that which they give to the Baptist, which is Abo Sabo Zakrio; from Abo, "father;" Sabo, "to grow old together;" and Zakrio, e.g. Zechariah. "The reason they assign for calling him Sabo is because his father, in his old age, had this son by his wife Aneshbat (Elizabeth), she being also in her old age" (see Norberg's Codex Nasaroeus, Liber Adami Appellatus, and Silvestre de Sacy, in the Journal des Savans for 1819). SEE SABIANISM.