The Tradition of Hermes Trismegistus

The Egyptian Priestly Figure as a Teacher of Hellenized Wisdom


In The Tradition of Hermes Trismegistus, Christian H. Bull argues that the treatises attributed to Hermes Trismegistus reflect the spiritual exercises and ritual practices of loosely organized brotherhoods in Egypt. These small groups were directed by Egyptian priests educated in the traditional lore of the temples, but also conversant with Greek philosophy. Such priests, who were increasingly dispossessed with the gradual demise of the Egyptian temples, could find eager adherents among a Greek-speaking audience seeking for the wisdom of the Egyptian Hermes, who was widely considered to be an important source for the philosophies of Pythagoras and Plato. The volume contains a comprehensive analysis of the myths of Hermes Trismegistus, a reevaluation of the Way of Hermes, and a contextualization of this ritual tradition.

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Christian H. Bull, Ph.D. (2014), University of Bergen, is a Marie Curie research fellow at the University of Oslo and Princeton University. He has published several articles on the Hermetica and the Nag Hammadi Codices, as well as a book of Norwegian translations of the Corpus Hermeticum. He co-edited Mystery and Secrecy in the Nag Hammadi Collection and Other Ancient Literature (Brill, 2012).
"Bull’s work represents an accessible yet profound and thoughtful introduction and handbook to the Hermetica, providing both a fair and thorough summary of previous work and a lucid approach to understanding them, and it is likely to become an invaluable reference work and source of further ideas in years to come."
- Korshi Dosoo, Würzburg, Bryn Mawr Classical Review 2020.02.23.

1 Introduction
 1.1 The Status Quaestionis
 1.2 The Aim of the Present Contribution
 1.3 Theoretical Considerations

Part 1: Who is Hermes Trismegistus?

2 The Myth of Hermes Trismegistus
 2.1 The Egyptian Pre-History of the Thrice-Greatest Thoth
 2.2 Greek Sources for the Egyptian Hermes

3 The Primordial Egyptian Kings in the Hermetica
 3.1 SH XXIII (Korê Kosmou): An Egyptian Account of Creation
 3.2 SH XXIV: The Emanations of Royal Souls
 3.3 SH XXV: Cosmology and the Location of the Royal Souls
 3.4 SH XXVI: Hermes as a Royal Soul
 3.5 CH I: Poimandres the King
 3.6 Kmeph and Protology in the Hermetica
 3.7 De Anima: The Creation of the Souls and the Primal Human
 3.8 The Bronze Age in CH I: Erroneous Love and Its Remedy
 3.9 The Hermetic Transmigration of Souls
 3.10 Hermes, Nature, and the Royal Souls in Manilius’ Astronomica
 3.11 Hermes, Nature, and the Royal Souls in Petosiris and Nechepsos
 3.12 The Importance of Myth in the Hermetic Tradition

Conclusion to Part 1

Part 2: What is the Way of Hermes?

4 Introduction to the Way of Hermes
 4.1 Testimonies to the Existence of a “Way”
 4.2 The Way of Thoth
 4.3 The Order of the Tradition
 4.4 Conversion
 4.5 First Stage: Knowing Oneself
 4.6 Second Stage: Becoming a Stranger to the World

5 The Ritual of Rebirth
 5.1 CH XIII: General Remarks
 5.2 The Phase of Separation
 5.3 Limen: The Threshold Phase
 5.4 The Aggregation or Incorporation Phase
 5.5 Concluding Remarks on the Rebirth

6 Heavenly Ascent: The Discourse on the Eighth and the Ninth (NHC VI,6)
 6.1 Introduction: The Sequence of the Tradition (52,1–13)  6.2 Explanation of Spiritual Generation (52,14–55,23)  6.3 The Visionary Ascent (55,24–61,17)  6.4 Epilogue: Erection of a Votive Stela (61,18–63,32)
Conclusion to Part 2

Part 3: Who Were the Hermetists?—Situating the Way of Hermes

7 The True Philosophy of Hermes
 7.1 The Way of Hermes as a Philosophical School
 7.2 Philosophy as a Hermetic Self-Designation
 7.3 The Hermetic Science of the Stars
 7.4 Priestly Philosophers

8 The Magician and the Temple
 8.1 On the Term ‘Magic’
 8.2 The Thebes-Cache
 8.3 Hermetism in the Thebes-Cache?  8.4 Thessalos and Thebes
 8.5 Vision and Divination
 8.6 Rebirth and Ascent: The Mithras or Pšai-Aion Liturgy

9 The Egyptian Priesthoods and Temples
 9.1 Egyptian Priests as Purveyors of Native Tradition
 9.2 The Idealized Priests of Chaeremon and the Perfect Discourse
 9.3 The Temple as a Dwelling-Place of Priests and Gods
 9.4 Egypt as the Temple of the World and The Twilight of Its Gods
 9.5 The New Law
 9.6 The Hermetic Sitz-im-Leben: A Suggestion

Everyone interested in Hermetism, ancient astrology, Greco-Egyptian magic, Late Egyptian religion, and the Nag Hammadi Codices.