The earliest known reference to the Nabateans as a group of people dates back to 647 BC. They were mentioned among the enemies of the last great Assyrian king Ashurbanipa. The Nabateans were known as exceptionally skilled people, facilitating commerce between China, India, the Far East, Egypt, Syria, Greece and Rome. They traded such goods as incense, medicines and perfumes. In Genesis (25:13-16) they are described as a group of nomadic Bedouin group, under the leadership of the Khedar tribe, of the tribes of Ismael (Ishmael).
Much of what is now known about the Nabatean culture comes from the writings of the Roman scholar Strabo. Strabo was a historian, geographer and philosopher, most famous for his 17-volume work Geographica, which presented a descriptive history of people and places of the world known to his era. He recorded that the Nabatean community was governed by a Royal family, but that a strong spirit of democracy also prevailed. According to Strabo, there were no slaves in Nabatean society, and all members shared work duties. The Nabatean contracts with traders were written in Aramaic.
The Nabateans built their spectacular city known today as Petra in the fourth century B.C. It was during a time when mystery religions were dominant and flourishing all over the Arabian Desert and the Mediterranean.
The city of Petra was annexed by the Romans in AD 106 and ultimately declined with the fall of the Roman Empire. At some point, probably during the fourth century C.E, the Nabateans left their capital at Petra. No one really knows why. It seems that the withdrawal was an unhurried and organized process, as very few silver coins or valuable objects have been unearthed at Petra.
By the time of the Arab-Islamic conversion of the area in the seventh century, Petra was abandoned altogether. In the twelfth century, Crusaders from European countries such as France and England conquered Jerusalem and set up a Christian kingdom in the region. In order to protect Christian interests in the region, various orders of knights were founded. One of those was the Knights Templars, who briefly occupied the ruined city of Petra. As it is well known, the Templars were obsessed with searching for treasures of the past, and in particular the Lost Ark and the Holy Grail.
Nabatean Mystery Religion
An element of this early mystery religion makes its first appearance in Genesis (14:18) during the time of Abraham, with the mysterious wine rites. Genesis tells that Melchizedek presented Abraham with bread and wine - a ritual that became enshrined into later ceremonies. As such, the ritual of communion was of particular significance to the Nabateans. Belonging to the larger tribal alliance of the Abrahamic confederation of tribes, the Nabateans-Ismaelites probably regarded themselves as a Royal tribe, with authority to carry on the Abrahamic-Melchizedek mystery rites.
It is evident that the Nabateans, who had noble bloodlines from Ismael, son of Abraham and Hagar, were part of the Abrahamic-Noah tradition in which Melchizedek was a prominent figure. It should be noted that the Midianites were also related to Abraham through Keturah - Abrahams last wife.