1856 Chwolsohn, Die Ssabier und der Ssabismus, passim.

1925 Scott, Hermetica pp. 97-111.

1927 Stapleton, H.E., R.F. Azo and M. Hidayat Husain, "The Religious Beliefs of the Sabians (Harranians or Chaldeans): and the Bearing of these Beliefs on the Ideas of Ar-Razi," Memoirs of the Asiatic Society of Bengal, VIII, no. 6 (1927) pp. 398-403.

1970 Dodge (trans.), The Fihrist of al-Nadim, pp. 745-773

1980 Pingree, "Some of the Sources of the Ghayat al-Hakim," Journal of the Warburg and Courtauld Institutes, xliii (1980) pp. 1-15

1986 Tardieu, "Sabiens Coraniques et 'Sabians' de Harran," Journal Asiatique 274 (1986) pp. 1-44

1989 Pingree, "Indian Planetary Images and the Tradition of Astral Magic," Journal of the Warburg and Courtauld Institutes, lii (1989) p. 4 and pp. 8-11.

1994 Baigent, From the Omens of Babylon, pp. 181-197.

1994 Gündüz, The Knowledge of Life, (JSS Suplement 3), pp. 125-191.

Situated in a desolate corner of southeast Turkey, about 50km north of the Syrian border, are the ruins of Harran. Until the invading Mongol Hulagu destroyed it in 1260, this city was the last stronghold of the indigenous religion of the ancient Near East, specially devoted to the moon-god Sin, and for nearly 500 years it was also the home of an academy devoted to Hermetic studies. Together with Baghdad, this obscure city had the last formative influence on the Hermetic Corpus (HC) before its transmission to Constantinople and thus into Europe. In this paper I shall present an overview of the particularly Harranian contributions to the HC, among which are astral and talismanic magic, the synthesis of Assyrian and Babylonian traditions, and most importantly, possibility that the Harranians were the first to compile the Hermetic literature into the form we know as the HC.


Harran is most famous as the biblical home of Abraham, who settled there with his father Terah after they had left "Ur of the Chaldees" (Genesis 11:31). It is interesting that these two cities were the centers of Moon worship in Mesopotamia. The earliest record of Harran goes back much further than the Bible, however (although both may be referring to the same period), to the reign of King Zimrilim of Mari, around 1777-1746 b.c.e. (according to the "middle chronology"). At this time Zimrilim, the Harranian King Astidakim, and several others ratified a treaty in Harran with the amorite Tribe of Benjamin, who were invading the region. During this and the subsequent Assyrian period, as well as during times of independence, Harran was an important strategic and economic center, as the meaning of its name indicates (harranu, "caravan-station, business capital). After Babylon and Media defeated Assyria in 612, Harran became the seat of the nominal Assyrian Kingdom, which then faded into obscurity.

The last King of Babylon, Nabonidus (555-538 b.c.e.) was a native of Harran, where his mother, the long-lived Sumua-damga (104 years) was a priestess of Sin. After the fall of Babylon (538 b.c.e.), Harran passed into Persian hands, and then into Greek hands under Alexander the Great (331 b.c.e.). Harran became a Persian city under the Parthian empire (122 b.c.e.-224 c.e.), and remained so under the successors to the Parthians, the Sassanians (224 c.e.-639 c.e.), although during the early part of this period it was frequently captured by the Romans for strategic reasons. In 639 c.e. the Muslim general 'Iyad ibn Ghanam captured the whole of Mesopotamia peacefully, including Harran. Although Harran's neighbor Edessa was entirely Christian, Harran itself remained fiercely loyal to its ancient traditions under pressure from both Edessa and the Muslims.

In 830, the Caliph al-Ma' mun came through Harran on one of his campaigns and threatened to massacre the Harranians unless they adopted one of the religions "which Allah mentioned in the Qu' ran." He gave them until his return from the campaign to decide. Although he died before he could return to fulfill his threat, the leaders of the Harranians decided that they would henceforth be known as Sabaeans, one of the "religions of the Book" mentioned in the Qu' ran. As their Holy Book, they adopted the Corpus Hermeticum.

Subsequent Caliphs were tolerant of the Harranians' religion and Harranian scholars were famous under both the Umayyad and Abbasid dynasties, frequently working in the palace of the Caliph. This peace generally prevailed until 1259-60, when the Mongols under Hulagu first took the city without bloodshed, and then, after some continued resistance, razed it.

Religion and Philosophy

For the purposes of Hermetic studies, the most interesting thing about Harran is that when threatened, the Harranians adopted Hermeticism as their religion. The name they chose, Sabaean, mentioned in Suras 2:62, 5:69, and 22:17 of the Qu' ran, is also known as the Mandaean religion, practiced in southern 'Iraq. But the religion of Harran was not Mandaean.