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Nabatean Agriculture

20,000 BCE to 20,000 BCE

New Theory

  • A Nabataean magician who succeeded in creating an artificial man
  • Ibn Wahshiyya claimed that he translated it from a 20,000-year-old Mesopotamian text.

Nabatean Agriculture, also referred to as “Falaha Nabatiya,” is an ancient agricultural text that is often attributed to the Nabateans, a civilization that thrived in what is now Jordan and surrounding areas around the first centuries BCE and CE. This text is considered one of the oldest known works on agriculture, detailing farming techniques and practices that were advanced for its time.

The Nabateans were renowned for their innovative approaches to agriculture, especially in arid environments. They developed advanced water management techniques, including dams, cisterns, and aqueducts, to maximize the utility of available water resources. These innovations allowed them to thrive in desert regions, supporting not only agriculture but also facilitating their role as traders and merchants along key trade routes.

The actual text of “Nabatean Agriculture” is traditionally attributed to a figure named Quthama, but its precise origins and authenticity are subjects of scholarly debate. The manuscript is believed to have been translated into Arabic in the early Islamic period, preserving a wealth of pre-Islamic agronomical knowledge. It covers a broad range of topics, from soil treatment and crop rotation to the cultivation of specific crops and the use of astrological signs to guide farming practices.

This work is considered significant not only for its agricultural content but also for its contributions to the broader cultural and scientific heritage of the ancient Middle East.

It provides insights into the ways ancient peoples interacted with their environment and adapted to their ecological conditions, making it a valuable document for historians and archaeologists studying ancient agricultural practices and environmental management.

The philosophical views of the author are similar to those of the Syrian Neoplatonist school founded by Iamblichus in the 4th century.

The author believed that through the practice of esoteric rituals, one could achieve communion with God.

However, the worldview of the text contains contradictions and reflects an author that is philosophically “semi-learned”.

One of the key philosophical passages is a treatise on the soul, in the section on vineyards, in which the author expresses doctrines very similar to those of Neoplatonism.


The author often describes magic in a negative light (“All the operations of the magicians are to me odious”) and sometimes identifies magicians with a rival religious group, the “followers of Seth“.

Magic for the author consists of prayers to the gods, the creation of talismans, and manipulation of the special properties of things.

These special properties depend on the configuration of the astral bodies and can produce effects such as making someone invisible or attracting goats and pigs to someone.

The effects are specific to certain items, so broad beans can cure “agonizing love,” ten dirhams of ground saffron mixed with wine will cause anyone who drinks it to laugh until they die.

Some magical procedures rely on sympathetic magic instead of astrology, such as the technique for restoring a spring that is running dry by having young, beautiful women play music and sing near the spring.

The most spectacular instance of magic is the case of a Nabataean magician who succeeded in creating an artificial man, in a story similar to the golem traditions of Kabbalistic Judaism.

They say, for example, that a farmer woke up on a moonlit night and started singing, accompanying himself on the lute. Then a big watermelon spoke to him: “You there, you and other cultivators of watermelons strive for the watermelons to be big and sweet and you tire yourselves in all different ways, yet it would be enough for you to play wind instruments and drums and sing in our midst. We are gladdened by this and we become cheerful so that our taste becomes sweet and no diseases infect us.”

In “Nabatean Agriculture,” as well as other similar ancient works, spells could involve elements such as:

Incantations and Prayers

Words spoken or chanted to invoke divine protection or blessing over the crops. These could be directed at local deities, spirits of nature, or celestial bodies.

Ritual Acts

Specific actions performed at certain times, including planting seeds in a particular pattern, using specially prepared soils, or performing rituals at certain phases of the moon or planetary alignments.

Amulets and Symbols

Objects believed to carry protective or enhancing powers could be buried in the fields or hung around the area. These amulets might bear inscriptions and symbols or be made from materials possessing certain energies.

Herbal Mixtures

The use of various plants and herbs, not only for their physical properties but also for their supposed magical qualities. These could be incorporated into the soil, used in concoctions sprinkled over crops, or burnt as part of a ritual.