An Essay on the Age and Antiquity of the Book of Nabathæan Agriculture/Chapter I
|←Preface||An Essay on the Age and Antiquity of the Book of Nabathæan Agriculture by , unknown translator
AGE AND ANTIQUITY
OF THE BOOK OF
There is no longer any doubt in the present age, that a Babylonian literature did exist, composed of works connected with the arts and sciences, which are nearly always written in a religious form. The age and the character of the intellectual labours of the Chaldæans are uncertain; but there are many evidences, more especially in the monuments that have descended to our days, to prove that Babylon was, from the most remote antiquity, the centre of civilization for all the East. Indeed, although it might appear at the first glance that the literature of Babylon had disappeared; although there is no original text remaining of writings composed by the different schools of Chaldæa; still, the literature of neighbouring nations, which met with a better fate, has preserved to us considerable remains of the culture it replaced. Without mentioning those Greek authors who have written Ἀσσυριαϰά and Βαβυλωνιϰά from original sources; or Armenian writers, especially Moses Chororensis, who frequently mentions Chaldæan writings; or the Syrian Christians, whom we continually find, during the fourth, fifth, and sixth centuries, waging never ending controversies against the Chaldæans; or the Talmud, and kindred writings, which contain large portions of astronomical, and possibly of medical principles borrowed from Babylon; or the Cabbala, of which both the principles and the most ancient forms, although under many transformations, can be traced to Chaldæa; or Gnosticism, which, in one of its branches, shews the degree of influence that Babylonian doctrines possessed in the midst of that vast chaos of ideas into which the East was plunged during the first centuries of our era,—we have still, in three or four forms, writings of Babylonian origin. And first, Berosus, although of the epoch of the Seleucides, was not the less a purely Babylonian writer, and the fragments which have come down to us of his works, although they require to be treated with the greatest caution, are, with the cosmogonies preserved by Damascius and by the author of the Φιλοσοϕούμενα, invaluable remains of Chaldæan philosophy. Secondly, a class of writings—very contemptible certainly if we only regard the depth of their ideas,—the writings composed in Greek and Arabic on astrology, magic, oneirocriticism, such as the Cyranides, the works of the false Zoroaster, the books attributed to Seth, and to Noah, the fragments of Paxamus, of Teucer the Babylonian, and of Lasbas the Babylonian, are frequently translations or copies of Chaldæan works. Thirdly, the works of the sect known as Mendaïtes, Nazoreans, Christians of St. John, who must be classed generally under the name Sabians, represent to us, to a certain degree, in their method of thought, and possibly in their language, the remains of Babylonian literature; though the flights of imagination from which the ancient Chaldæans never appear to have been wholly exempt, assume in them such a point of extravagance, that it would be with reluctance that we would acknowledge these fanciful wanderings to be the actual remains of an intellectual cultivation which has exercised so considerable an influence on the mind of man.
A source more fertile, however, than any which we have hitherto pointed out, has been opened to us in these last few years. Ingenious criticism has shewn that it is in the heart of Arabian literature that we must seek for the most precious collection of Babylonian writings. Independently of the numerous facts which can be deduced from Arabian historians and general writers on ancient Babylon, there exists in Arabic a series of writings translated from the Babylonian or Nabathæan language. All these translations were the work of one man. Towards the year 900 of our era, a descendant of those ancient Babylonian families who had fled to the marshes of Wasith and of Bassora, where their posterity still dwell, was struck with profound admiration for the works of his ancestors, whose language he understood, and probably spoke. Ibn Wahshíya al-Kasdani, or the Chaldæan (such was the name of this individual), was a Mussulman, but Islamism only dated in his family from the time of his great-grandfather; he hated the Arabs, and cherished the same feeling of national jealousy towards them as the Persians also entertained against their conquerors. A piece of good fortune threw into his hands a large collection of Nabathæan writings, which had been rescued from Moslem fanaticism. The zealous Chaldæan devoted his life to their translation, and thus created a Nabathæo-Arabic library, of which three complete works—to say nothing of the fragments of a fourth—have descended to our days. The three complete works are, first, كتاب الفلاحة النبطية “The Book of Nabathæan Agriculture;” second, كتاب السموم “The Book of Poisons;” third, كتاب تنكلوشا البابلي “The Book of Tenkelúshá the Babylonian.” The incomplete work is كتاب اسرار الشمس والقمر “A work on the Secrets of the Sun and Moon.” Of these four books, “The Book of Nabathæan Agriculture” is by far the most important and the most interesting. It is this one which will now principally occupy our attention.
“The Book of Nabathæan Agriculture,” first referred to in Europe by St. Thomas Aquinas, was first known among Christian scholars, thanks to the quotations made from it by Jewish writers of the middle ages, particularly by Moses Maïmonides in his “More Nevochim.” The impression formed of it, from this source of information, was, however, very imperfect. Some supposed that the book treated of the religion of the Nabathæans, the word עבודה, by which the Hebrew translator of Moses Maïmonides rendered فلاحة, permitting the double sense of cultus, or cultura. Others supposed there were two distinct works, one on Nabathæan Agriculture, and one on the Religion of the Nabathæans. Moreover, by a confusion easily made between the name of the Copts (قبط) and that of the Nabathæans (نبط), the title of Egyptian Agriculture was frequently substituted for Nabathæan Agriculture, and the editor of the Greek Geoponica, J. N. Niclas, even supposed, in 1781, that “The Book of Nabathæan Agriculture” was nothing but a translation of the work of which he published the original text.
A more exact idea was given of “The Book of Nabathæan Agriculture,” when Don Josef Antonio Banqueri published at Madrid, in 1802, the Treatise on Agriculture of Ibn-el-Awwam, which is a kind of abridgment from “The Nabathæan Agriculture.” But the historical interest of the original work entirely disappeared in the abridgment of Ibn-el-Awwam.
It was my learned brother, M. Quatremère, who first studied in its original text the work which now engages our attention. Unfortunately, out of the nine parts or books into which “The Book of Nabathæan Agriculture” is divided, the Paris manuscript (Ancien Fonds Arabe, No. 913), only contains two, being about one-third of the entire work. By examining the portion thus at his disposal, M. Quatremère ascertained the various features of the work. He saw that “The Book of Nabathæan Agriculture” was a translation from a Chaldæan author. He fixed, with much hesitation however, the name of the original author as Kúthámí. He gathered from the treatise in question much curious information as to the civilization of the Nabathæans. He shewed that “The Agriculture” contained much more than its mere title promised, and threw most valuable light on the ancient literature of Babylon. Finally, he promulgated an opinion as to the epoch of the composition of the work, which appeared at first sight altogether paradoxical. Surprised at the omission, in the midst of ample information as to the religions of Asia, of one word which directly or indirectly bore reference to Christianity; struck by the perfection of the agricultural theories which are developed in every page; and not being able to find any one period in Babylonian history after Alexander where such prosperity could correctly be placed,—remarking: 1st, that the author speaks of Babylon as being, in his own day, a flourishing city, and the seat of the principal religion of the East; 2nd, that he speaks of Nineveh as a city still in existence; 3rd, that among the cities situated in Babylon and the neighbouring provinces, he makes no mention of Seleucia, Apamea, Ctesiphon, and other cities founded by the Seleucides, the Arsacides, the Sassanides; and not recognising the possibility that, at a time when that vast cyclopædia of agriculture was written, Babylon could be under a foreign yoke, M. Quatremære finds himself compelled to fix the composition of “The Book of Nabathæan Agriculture” at an extremely early date.
“It is,” he says, “very probable, if I am not altogether mistaken, that this book was written during the period which elapsed between the emancipation of Babylon from the Median yoke, by Belesis, and the taking of Babylon by Cyrus. Perhaps even one might venture to fix the exact date as in the reign of Nebuchadnezzar the Second. It is a very natural hypothesis, that a great prince, who carried his victorious arms to such remote lands; who embellished his capital by immense works; who ordered the construction of numberless canals, destined to spread fertility and abundance over the most distant parts of his hereditary states; should wish to complete and perpetuate his work by ordering the composition of a vast library, which should comprise all that the experience of many centuries had taught, as to the productions of Chaldæa, and the means of developing and increasing its natural resources.”
Such a deduction was certain to excite astonishment. It was contradicted first by the learned historian of botany, Prof. E. H. F. Meyer, of the University of Königsberg. Prof. Meyer refused to acknowledge the remote antiquity of a composition so scientifically arranged, so diffuse, and bearing the marks of science rather in its decay than in its early rise. Various peculiarities appeared to him to add great weight to this theory. For instance, one of the works quoted in “The Agriculture” was written in rhyme; now rhyme is never found among the Shemitic nations, till from the end of the fifth to the sixth century of our era; many names of plants in the translation of Ibn Wahshíya are taken from the Greek; the whole theory of the book bears a strong resemblance to that of the Greek and Latin agriculturists; the astronomy which it promulgates contains notions which were not popular till the Roman epoch; and finally, the perpetual boastings of Kúthámí, his national vanity, his jealousy of foreign nations, traits which recall to mind forcibly the tendency of the spirit of the East at the opening of our era, convince Prof. Meyer that the author had consulted Greek authors, but that he designedly ignored their names, in order to secure for the Babylonians the credit of priority in all scientific and industrial inventions. Prof. Meyer declares that, if he were obliged to fix a date for “The Book of Nabathæan Agriculture,” he should fix it in the first century of our era, consequently seven or eight centuries after the period in which M. Quatremère has placed it.
It seems natural, in such a state of things, to split up the question, and apply to it a method, generally successful, when the great works of antiquity are subjected to it. It might be possible that, in regarding “The Book of Nabathæan Agriculture” as a composition of the materials of different ages—modern in its latest form, but ancient as regards its source, the apparent contradictions of the work could be reconciled. It was in pursuance of this idea that I ventured to throw some doubt on the antiquity of the compilation of “The Book of Nabathæan Agriculture,” while willingly admitting that it might contain a certain amount of very ancient matter. Professor Ewald agrees with me in thinking that the book might be considered as the work of successive hands and many revisions. It is, he contends, the sole method of defending the antiquity of some parts of the book against the overwhelming objections which arise from some others where the influence of Alexandrian Hellenism cannot possibly be ignored. As to the conjecture of M. Paul de Lagarde, formerly hazarded by M. J. Niclas, according to which “The Nabathæan Agriculture” was nothing but a translation of the Greek Geoponica, of which there is a Syriac version in the British Museum, being founded on a misunderstanding, it may be dismissed at once.
A scholar, already known by one of the most important works which Oriental learning has produced of late years, Prof. Chwolson, of St. Petersburgh, the author of a work on the Sabian Religion and the School of Harran, has just taken a decisive step towards the solution of the question which occupies us. Having had access to and consulted all the manuscripts of “The Book of Nabathæan Agriculture” which exist in the various libraries of Europe, Dr. Chwolson has made the most perfect copy of it possible, and, in order to quiet the impatience of the literary world till the publication of this revised text, he has embodied in a memoir an abstract of the results of his researches. There is reason to regret, however, that this eminent Oriental scholar, instead of giving us a treatise on the text, which he alone has consulted, should not have rather first published the text itself. The position of a critic is extremely painful when he is obliged to combat the opinions which a conscientious scholar has formed on a work which he alone has read in its entirety, and from which he only gives extracts which bear out his own theory. Until “The Book of Nabathæan Agriculture” is published in its full integrity, the judgment brought to bear on the subject must be received with great allowance. Nevertheless, so great is the interest of the question, that thanks are due to Dr. Chwolson for having forestalled the tedious delay inseparable from a publication so voluminous as that of “The Book of Nabathæan Agriculture.” Besides, so strong is the conviction of Dr. Chwolson; so great the sincerity with which he lays bare the objections which may be made to it, that his work furnishes the means of criticising his own opinions. It is needless, to add, that to dissent from him on such a subject cannot diminish those sentiments of acknowledgment and esteem which are due to a scholar who was the first to open up such a series of investigations. Dr. Chwolson, in turning the attention of critics to facts and texts too much disregarded before, fully merits to be called their originator; and it would be unjust to forget, that if his opinions are combatted, it is with weapons which he himself has furnished, and on ground which he himself has prepared. And even if his opinion as to the age of the Nabathæan books should hereafter be given up, it will be no more a discredit to him than is a similar bold opinion a stain on the glory of the great Indian scholars of Calcutta, regarding the antiquity of works, which they had the rare merit of first making known to Europeans.
The statement of the opinion of Dr. Chwolson as to the period of the composition of “The Book of Nabathæan Agriculture” will, no doubt, excite the greatest astonishment among persons who have already been startled by the less bold hypothesis of M. Quatremère. It resolves itself into two propositions: firstly, that Kúthámí, the Babylonian, is the sole author of the work in question; that the work itself is not the compilation of various hands; and that it has received from the Arabian translator only alterations of very little importance; secondly, that Kúthámí could not have written it later than the beginning of the thirteenth century before Christ.
It is not, however, a priori that such an opinion can be combatted. In the field of historical criticism, all should be admitted as possible. Civilization and literature flourished in Babylon at a very ancient period. Entire systems of civilization have disappeared without leaving any traces; literatures of high antiquity are only represented by shreds, passed through a thousand transformations, and are scarcely recognisable. I willingly admit that Babylon may have had books and schools fifteen centuries before Christ. The title of “The Book of Nabathæan Agriculture” to the high antiquity which Dr. Chwolson attributes to it, must be sifted without bias of any kind.
Dr. Chwolson’s principal argument is derived from the information furnished by “The Book of Nabathæan Agriculture” as to the political condition of Babylonia at the time when the work was composed. He agrees with M. Quatremère, that it contains no trace of the existence of Christianity, or of the existence of Arsacidan, Seleucidan, and Sassanidan rule. Twenty Babylonian kings are enumerated in “The Agriculture,” and of these twenty names, there is not one which coincides with that of a king of any known Babylonian dynasty. In the chapter on Canals (Canalisation), there is not a single allusion to Nebuchadnezzar, who did so much for the irrigation of the country; not one word of the Jews, who, in the beginning of that monarch’s reign, filled so important a part in the East. A Canaanite dynasty, resulting from some recent conquest, reigned in Babylon in Kúthámí’s time. Kúthámí frequently alludes to this main point. The founder of this Canaanite dynasty was Númrúda, whom Dr. Chwolson considers identical with the Nimrod of the Book of Genesis. The Canaanites are represented as a people originally inhabiting the South of Syria and the country of Jordan. The author speaks of these conquerors with marked reserve; at times he even appears to wish to flatter them, and to soften the prejudices which his own countrymen entertain against them. He gives the names of the Canaanite kings, Númrúda, Zahmúna, Súsikyá, Salbámá; he quotes Canaanite authors, Anúhá, Thámithri, etc. At what epoch, then, must this Canaanite dynasty be placed, which, pretty much as the Hyksos did in Egypt, must have interrupted the series of native dynasties of Chaldæa? For various reasons Dr. Chwolson has concluded to identify it with the fifth of Berosus, composed of nine Arabian kings, of which he fixes the commencement between the years 1540 and 1488 before Christ. Kúthámí appears to have written one or two hundred years after the Canaanite invasion; the year 1300 is therefore the latest which can be suggested as that of the composition of the work which bears his name.
The astonishment excited by this conclusion is heightened by the circumstance that the author of “The Book of Nabathæan Agriculture” quotes a great number of works, which themselves, again, have quotations from other authors; thus suggesting whole centuries of culture and civilization before the time of Kúthámí. Professor Chwolson considers that a culture of some 3000 years must be admitted before his author flourished. In separating into their respective classes the quotations which are mingled together in the “Agriculture,” he finds at Babylon a rich and varied literature, fully equal to that which was developed among the Greeks one or two thousand years later; a matured literature, full of controversies of schools, of sects, and of disputes between religion and philosophy. It is not here a question, in fact, as to one of those primitive literatures, which do not discover the identity of an author, and where an abstract genius seems to wield the pen for an entire nation. The writers of Babylon must have been thinkers with distinct views, discussing step by step, and in the minutest details, the opinions of their adversaries. The founders of Babylonian religions must have been philosophers gifted with clear perceptions, amicably opposing each other, and debating one and all, like academical professors. The work of Kúthámí is, in this wise, not a first book, but a work of recapitulation and criticism. In the foreground appears the chief personage of Babylonian literature, a certain Yanbúshádh, founder of natural sciences and originator of a kind of Monotheism. He is separated from Kúthámí by four or five centuries. Some ages before Yanbúshádh, appears Daghrith, founder of another school, which had some disciples, even after Yanbúshádh. This Daghrith lived, according to Dr. Chwolson, two thousand years before Christ; and speaks of various persons of Babylonian tradition in a manner which shows that he then considered them as men of early antiquity. Indeed, long before Daghrith, there is another age of literature, of which the representatives are Másí the Suranian, his disciple Jernáná, and the Canaanites, Anúhá, Thámithrí, and Sardáná (towards 2500). All these sages appear at once as priests, founders of religions, moralists, naturalists, astronomers, agriculturalists (agronomes), and as universally endeavouring to introduce a worship freed from idolatrous superstitions. A short time before them Ishíthá flourished, the founder of a religion which Kúthámí vehemently opposes, though he acknowledges that it exercised, in his own time, a salutary influence. Before Ishíthá, Adamí appears as the founder of agriculture in Babylon, acting the part of a civilizer (civilisateur) and hence named “The Father of Mankind.” Before him we find Azada, the founder of a religion which the higher classes persecuted, but which was cherished by the lower; Ankebúthá, Samáï-Nahari, the poet Húhúshi, whose attention was already directed to agricultural science; Askúlebíthá, a benefactor of mankind and the earliest astronomer; and finally Dewánáï, the most ancient lawgiver of the Shemites, who had temples, was honoured as a god, and was called “Master of Mankind.” The age of Dewánáï is, according to Dr. Chwolson, strictly historical, and Babylon was already, at that time, a completely organised state. There are indications, before Dewánáï, of great efforts towards civilization; and it is in that distant period that Professor Chwolson places Kámásh-Nahari, the author of a work on agriculture; the saints and favourites of the gods, Aámi, Súlina, Thúlúni, Resáï, Kermáná, etc.; and finally the martyr Tammúzi, the first to found the religion of the planets, who was put to death, and afterwards lamented by his followers. Dr. Chwolson stops here: he acknowledges that before that period all fades into the mist of fabulous antiquity.
Certainly, to many persons, the promulgation of such a system would be its surest refutation. Indeed, the assertions of Prof. Chwolson assume an aspect to which persons who adopt the usual principles of criticism are quite unaccustomed. Such, however, is the singular chain of evidence which has led Dr. Chwolson to adopt this system; so great is the authority which his opinion seems to derive from that of M. Quatremère; that it becomes the duty of criticism to examine his assertions step by step, without resting on the improbability which they offer at a first glance. I shall now proceed to place before you the objections which, on a careful perusal of Dr. Chwolson’s Memoir, I have to urge against the position which he endeavours to maintain.
- Fabricii Bibl. Gr. Harles IV. p. 148, 166, etc. See hereafter my conjecture on Teucer. On Lasbas on Μέσλας, and on the book, certainly a Babylonian one, called Σέλεχ βίβλος, see Miller, “Journal des Savans,” October 1839, p. 607, note.
- The first is a cyclopædia of agriculture, containing also remarks and dissertations on subjects incidentally mentioned, and it is these which give it the pre-eminence. The second, which is older than the first, treats of poisons and their antidotes. The third is a genethlialogic work. The fourth treats of plants and metals.—Translator’s note.
- These ancient errors are collected and discussed in Stanley, “Histoire de la Philosophie Orientale,” with notes, by J. Leclerc, pp. 120-121, and Index, at the word Nabateen.
- Geoponica, sive Libri de Re Rustica; 4 vols. Lips. 1781.
- Herbelot had examined the manuscript, but in an extremely superficial manner. See “Bibliotheque Orientale,” at the words Vahashiah, Nabathi, Cothai, Falahat, Democratis.
- “Memoire sur les Nabateens,” inserted in the “Journal Asiatique,” 1835. Since reprinted in the “Melanges d’Histoire et de Philologie Orientale,” edited by M. Barthélemey Saint Hilaire.
- “Geschichte der Botanik,” t. III. (Königsberg, 1856), p. 43 and following.
- “Histoire générale des Lanques Semitiques” (1855), l. III. c. ii. sect. 1; and in the “Memoires de l’Academie des Inscriptions,” t. XXIII., 2nd part, p. 330 (1858).
- “Gœttingen gel. Anzeigen” (1857, Nos. 9 and 10); 1859, p. 1456.
- “De Geoponica vers. Syriaca” (Lipsiæ, 1855), pp. 18, 19 and 24.
- Dr. Chwolson has informed me by a letter, that the lacuma which remained in his copy at the time of the publication of his memoir has been filled up. The existence of four new manuscripts of “The Nabathæan Agriculture” at Constantinople has been announced.
- “Ueber die Ueberreste der Altbabylonischen Literatur in Arabischen Uebersetzungen” (1859), extracted from vol. VIII. of “Memoires des Savants etrangers,” of the Academy of St. Petersburg. Dr. Chwolson has already announced these results in his “Ssabier” (1856), vol. I., p. 705, and vol. II., pp. 910 and 911; and in the “Zeitschrift der Deutschen Morgenländen Gesellschaft,” 1857, pp. 583 ff.