An Essay on the Age and Antiquity of the Book...


Book Details

Author  M. Ernest Renan
Publisher  Evergreen Books
Publication Date   October 5, 2011
Pages  168


THE BOOK OF NABATHÆAN AGRICULTURE was first introduced to the notice of Europe by St. Thomas Aquinas, towards the middle of the thirteenth century, though it had already been cited by Moses Maimonides in the "More Nevochim" some hundred years previously, from where, no doubt, it had become known to most of the learned Spanish Jews who, at the period, shed so great a lustre upon Hebrew Literature and Biblical Science.

Startling as it is to find in its pages mention of a literature and civilization so far beyond the earliest records of the Bible and other known sources of information, it has ever since been treated, when not passed over in utter oblivion, more as one of the curiosities of literature than as a valuable record of the past; and though slightly referred to by Salmasius, about two centuries ago, in a way which might have opened up a controversy as to the authenticity and date of its supposed antiquity and authorship, the matter seems to have been allowed to fall still-born from the press. This may in some way be accounted for by the ignorance of scholars before our day of the principles of Comparative Grammar, that ingenious art of criticism which becomes the key by which modern philology is enabled to enter the deep recesses of the past, and expose to view records which, for want of it, were inaccessible to the ancient Greeks and Romans and the great scholars of the last three centuries; as, ignorant of it, the former were even unable to decipher the earliest remains of their own language, and the latter could only supply its place by conjectural guesses.


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 Ἀσσυριαχά and Βαβυλωνιχά 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 Chalda; 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.

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