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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.

The Discourse on the Eighth and the Ninth (nhc vi,6) is a dialogue between Hermes Trismegistus and his son, during which they experience visions of the eighth and ninth spheres, above the seven planetary spheres. The paper aims to show that such experiences were not merely literary fiction, but actively pursued and allegedly obtained by those who followed the course of spiritual formation known as the Way of Hermes. A comparison with the Greek and Demotic magical papyri shows that these texts all show signs of “ritual realism,” meaning that correct ritual performance necessarily provides direct access to the divine realm, which should be experienced as real. It is furthermore argued that the Coptic translation of the text, and its presence in the Nag Hammadi codices, might be explained by the interest of Egyptian monks in visions of the divine.

In: Gnosis: Journal of Gnostic Studies
In: Gnosis: Journal of Gnostic Studies

The Hermetic treatises have played a considerable role in the history of Western Esotericism. However, according to the influential definition of Antoine Faivre, Western Esotericism is a historical phenomenon originating from the fifteenth century, when Marsilio Ficino translated the Greek Corpus Hermeticum into Latin. The question, then, is if the term “esotericism” has any utility for understanding the original context of the Hermetic treatises, in the first centuries of the Common Era. The present contribution aims to give a summary account of research into ancient Hermetism, and consider the Hermetic treatises in light of the six elements of Faivre’s conception of Western Esotericism. These six elements can serve as heuristic tools to single out certain salient features of the treatises, but do not really help us gain a deeper understanding of them or the greater phenomenon of Hermetism. However, recalling the work of Hugh Urban, it will be suggested that we should use “esotericism” as an analytical term designating a social strategy, characterized by the creation of a closed social space, a claim to possess a superior faculty of knowledge, and rites of initiation to obtain this faculty and become a new human. The advantage of this second approach is that it permits us to compare the social strategies operative in the Hermetic treatises with those of other esoteric traditions, including those that do not have any historical affiliations with Hermetism.

In: Aries
In: Mystery and Secrecy in the Nag Hammadi Collection and Other Ancient Literature: Ideas and Practices
In: Women and Knowledge in Early Christianity