THE CORPUS

HERMETICUM
BY
B. H. STRICKER
When
presenting
to the
Literary Faculty
of
Leyden University
my paper
on The Division of the
History
of the
Egyptian Language,
Friday
the 5th of October
1945,
I colilld
defend,
amongst
the six
required by
the Academic
Statute,
a thesis on the Hermetic
literature,
running:
"The Hermetic
writings
contain,
in a
presentation
com-
prehensible
to the Greek
reader,
expositions
of the
system
of
philos-
ophy
and
science,
developed,
or at least
professed, by
the
Egyptian
priesthood during
the last millennium before the
beginning
of
our era".
By courtesy
of the Editors of this review I am enabled to
publish
this thesis here in a somewhat more elaborate form.
I The Hermetic literature is of autochthonous
Egyptian origin.-
The Hermetic doctrine is the esoteric doctrine of the
Egyptian
priesthood
as it has
developed
in the course of the
Old,
the
Middle
and the New
Kingdom. Relationship
to
Orphism, Pythagorism
or
any
of the other Greek
systems
of
religion
or
philosophy,
exists
only
in so far as these latter are
dependant
on the
Egyptian.
On the other
hand,
the
literary
methods of
Hermetism,
its
terminology, composi-
tion and
argumentation by dialogue,
have been
conscientiously
copied
from the Greek.
II The Hermetic treatises form
part
of an extensive
Corpus
dedi-
cated to
theology.-The
treatises are all
equal
in rank and were
edited
simultaneously.
There exists no difference between a
higher
and between a lower Hermetism. To
theology
in
Egypt belonged
not
only
what we call
theology proper,
but also
philosophy,
science and
'
magic.
Each treatise
gives
in a concentrated form a
survey
of the
whole of its
subject,
and the entire
Corpus,
in the same
manner,
gives
a
survey
of the whole of
Egyptian theology. __
III The
Corpus
Hermeticum has been
composed by
the
Egyptian
priesthood
at the command of
king Ptolemy
I Soter.-After the
80
establishment of the
dynasty,
the
Ptolemies,
with the
purpose
of
furthering
the
unity
of their
empire,
created a new
god, Serapis,
Egyptian
in nature
(O.siris),
Greek in form. At the same time a
registration
of the
religions professed by
the non-Hel'lenic residents
was decided
upon.
The
Egyptian priesthood
under Manetho was
ordered to have the contents of the treatises
prepared by specialists
from its midst. Its
draughts
were translated and
rearranged by
Greek
men of
letters,
recruited
possibly
from the
newly
erected
Museum,
thereupon adopted
and
deposited
in
copy
in the several
Serapea.
The
Jews,
settled in the
country
and
especially
at
Alexandria,
were
enjoined
in their turn to transl,ate their
scriptures,
and
they produced
what we know
nowadays
as the
Septuaginta.
IV The commission was intended as a measure for
checking
the
Egyptian
nationa!lism.- There were for the
Egyptian priesthood
certain
advantages.
The
Corpus
could be considered as a re-edition
of older
codifications,
such as that of
king Cheops.
It formed a
religiously inspired counterpart
of the
purely
humanistic Aristotelian
Corpus,
which was
only
a few decennia older. It demonstrated in a
convincing way
the
priority
of the
Egyptian
civili,sation with
regard
to the Greek. But all this served to conceal a bitter
reality. By
.abandoning
the secret of its
dogmas
and
committing
itself to an
infallible and irrevocable
interpretation,
the
Egyptian
Church had
to
dispose
of its
sovereignty
in matters of creed
and, therewith,
of
its
mastery
over the
population.
After the introduction of the
Corpus
Hermeticum,
Egyptian theology
was
automatically transposible
in
Greek,
the Government could
replace indigenous
cult
by
Greek at
discretion,
and could strike down and treat as unlawful
any
utter-
ance of nationalism it
thought
troublesome.
LEIDEN,
Museum van Oudheden.

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