hermetism

De Nag Hammadi Geschriften (dundrukeditie) * Jacob Slavenburg & Willem Glaudemans (isbn 9020219642)

I already reviewed the earlier pressing of this translation, but here we have a completely new edition. The earlier pressings came in two 6cm thick books, this one is printed on super thin paper which resulted in one book of about 3,5 cm thick. This looks pretty strange indeed! Besides a new kind of printing the general intro, introductions to the texts, the translations and the notes are completely revised. Some intros and translations came out quite different, others remained more or less the same. There is again more information which is of course updated with the newest finding and there is now a massive index made by Henk Spierenburg. Therefor the order of the texts could now be the original order the texts were found in the codices and no longer sorted by subject. So the conclusion: even if you have the previous version, this new transation is worth the money too!

Nag Hammadi geschriften I & II * Jacob Slavenburg + Wim G. Glaudemans (isbn 9020219499 + 9020219502)

In two books of about 500 pages each, you get the complete translation of all the texts that were found in a jar near the Egyptian village Nag Hammadi in 1945 (completed by the so called “Berlin Codex”). I suppose most of you know about that discovery? Because they are mostly gnostic writings, the Nag Hammadi scriptures are often called “the Gnostic Library”. Slavenburg and Glaudemans are two Dutch gnostic experts and especially since they made this translation, they seem to almost know the scriptures by heart and refer to them a lot.

The first book opens with a short but very nice introduction to the gnostic worldview and history. Also the most probable explanation for the amount of scriptures in one jar is given. Around 367 BC Theodorus, abbot of the Pachomius-monastry of Tabannasi was ordered to translate the 39th “Easter Letter” into the local language Coptic and spread it. In this Easter Letter the determination is made what scriptures would later become the New Testament. All not-mentioned scriptures were from then on forbidden and the possession of them penal. Monks therefor decided to hide their beloved scriptures to prevent them from being burnt. They hid 52 scriptures in 13 codices (leather bindings) in a jar and burried it to be found by an Egyptian farmer 1500 years later. The farmer and other inhabitents of his village, recognised the scriptures as Christian and found them of no value. Some were used to light stoves, others sold, others hidden and many were put away and forgotten. Nobody in the West cared about the discovery and only a handfull were bought by investigators. One codex was bought by the Jung society and now this codex is known as the “Jung codex”. The Dutchman Gilles Quispel also got his hands on a few scriptures.
When the value of the discovery was finally acknowledged, investigators had a hard time to get all the scriptures together, both because many got lost, but also because the Egyptian government obstructed the process. When finally photos could be made of all available scriptures, different people in different parts of the world started to make translations. Unfortunately these were only available to experts. Later seperate writings filtered through to the larger audience and in the early 90’ies, Slavenburg and Glaudemans thought that it was time for a complete translation available for everyone.

Each scripture is introduced and explained, then given in a readable translation and then elucidated in notes. The translations are based on existing translations in other languages, but also on the different versions of the Coptic translations when the translators had their doubts. The scriptures were most likely originally written in Greek, but almost none have been found in their original form. Fortunately in most cases, Coptic copies Greek quite accurately. Some scriptures were found in the jar in different versions and the translators made the best possible translation of these. Since there are quite some pages missing, blind spots on the scriptures, etc. the text had to be completed here and there, which results in text that have a lot of [ ]’s, ()’s, etc. Overall everything turned out pretty readable, especially when reading the introduction first.

Slavenburg and Glaudemans have divided the texts in sections, like Jezus of Nazareth, Hermes Trismegistos, creation-myths, to put texts that somehow go well with eachother can be read together.

So, getting these books will give you access to a lot of apocryphical gospels, like “The Gospel Of The Thruth”, “The Gospel Of Thomas”, “The Gospel Of Philip” or “The Gospel Of Mary (Magdalene)”. Also more esoteric works like “The Secret Book Of Jacob”, “The Secret Book Of John”, “The Testimony Of Thruth”. But also Hermetic writings and typical Gnostic writings all with explanations and in a good translation. Everybody interested in early Christianity, Gnosticism, Hermeticism or the esoteric traditions of the West in general should make a small investment and get these classics for their bookshell!

And to those non-Dutch-speaking having read this review, in 1977 the first complete English translation was made under the title “The Nag Hammadi Library In English” (by James M. Robinson), so I am sure the complete works are available in English too.

De Hermetische Gnosis * Frank van Lamoen (bph * 1990)

Every now and then the magnificent Dutch library “Bibliotheca Philosophica Hermetica” has an exposition of a part of her own collection and that of others, based around one theme. Over ten years ago the subject was “the Hermetic Gnosis” which then was still fairly unknown. The exposition was composed by Frank van Lamoen and as things to at the BPH, Lamoen also made the exposition-book which is still available.

These books of the BPH are simply, but nicely printed, and always extremely informative. After some introductionary texts, you will get all information you could possibly want about every single book from the exposition. This time these are Bibles from the 16th century, Plato-translations by Marsilio Ficino and others, other Greek classical texts, the Atalanta Fugiens of Michael Maier (1618), different versions and translations of the Corpus Hermeticum, theological writings such as those of St. Augustine or the pseudo-Dionysius, writings of mystics such as Tauler, De Cusa or Boehme and renaissance writings like those of Ficino, Pico, Agrippa and Reuchlin. Of each text you can see which version was present and read some of the content and context of the texts. Through the book you get to see the different influences and efficacies of Hermetism and Hermeticism and all that for the more than reasonable price of E 5,- (excluding shipping). Of several books there are versions in different languages, so be sure to check out ritmanlibrary.nl to find out more.

Langs Hermes’ Wegen

“Along Hermes’ Paths” is the latest exposition that the Italian Biblioteca Nazionale Marciana and the Dutch Bibliotheca Philosophica Hermetica had. Long after I had visited this exposition in Amsterdam, I ran into the little book accompanying this exposition. You will get some nice information about Hermetic history, a hermetic chronology and then detailed information about the exhibited books. Always good to lay my hands on a BPH-publishing!

Hermes Trismegistus – pater philosophorum * Frank van Lamoen (bph * 1990)

Every now and then the magnificent Dutch library “Bibliotheca Philosophica Hermetica” has an exposition of a part of her own collection and that of others, based around one theme. Over ten years ago the subject was the textual history of the Corpus Hermeticum.

These books of the BPH are simply, but nicely printed, and always extremely informative. After some introductionary texts, you will get all information you could possibly want about every single book from the exposition. This time you can read about Asclepius and Corpus Hermeticum editions in handwritten and printed editions in Greek and in translations and some information about other texts ascribed to Hermes. Lamoen did a splendid job giving interesting informations about -for example- editions used for modern translations and is highly informative about the older editions as well. Should you be interested in not only the texts of Hermes, but also the history of these texts and their translations, this is the book to get.

And that for the more than reasonable price of E 7,50 (excluding shipping). Of several books there are versions in different languages, so be sure to check out ritmanlibrary.nl to find out more.

Hymns Of Hermes * G.R.S. Mead (isbn 155818144X)

I have been paging through this book when I saw a copy in ECCAARTH, the European Library of the Brittish Arktion foundation when I was on holidays there, so I don’t own a copy myself. I noted that it was released by Phanes, but I can’t find it on their page….

Anyway, Mead was a Theosophical writer with a huge interest in Hermeticism and Gnosticism in the time that there were not much translations and texts available. He was often the first to translate Hermetic and Gnostic texts such as the Pistis Sophia, Poimandres, an introduction to Marcion who founded a Gnostic form of Christianity around 150 AD, etc. Mead’s translations are still highly regarded and used for nowadays translations. Several of his writings have been rereleased in a series of small books of which this is one. A6 in size and not even a hundred pages with a very nice introduction to Hermes and Hermeticism including translations of Hermetic hymns to God. Very nice!
(16/6/02)
Read Hermetic quotes here.

Hermetica, vol. 1 * Walter Scott (isbn 1570626308)

What a wonderfull book! Fully intitled “Hermetica, vol. 1: the ancient greek and latin writings which contain religious or philosophic teachings ascribed to Hermes Trismegistus”. I already had a great Dutch translation with excellent commentaries of the Corpus Hermeticum and another of the Asclepius, but I was looking for translations of the Stobaeus fragments. There are a few books that have them, usually the more scientific publishings like Nock/Festugière and the like. In the Bibliotheca Philosophica Hermetica in Amsterdam I have been paging through a few of those, and they also had the book of Walter Scott (1855-1925) which to my delightenment contains the Corpus and the Asclepius, but also the Stobaeus and Tertulianus fragments and all this in one book. More even! This book printed both the Greek text of the Corpus and the fragments and the Latin text of the Asclepius. These original texts are printed on the left pages and the translations on the right. However I can’t read Greek and not much Latin, these double texts proved extremely helpfull, since now I can see for myself which words are used for different concepts like ‘Deus’ for ‘God’, ‘demiurgos’ for ‘Maker’, ‘pneuma’ for ‘life-breath’ or sometimes ‘vital-soul’, ‘nous’ for the ‘mind of God’ and the ‘mind/spirit of man’, ‘hyle’ for ‘matter’, etc. or in Latin ‘psyche’ for ‘soul’ and ‘Theos’ for ‘God’. Scott’s translation is most of the time very literal, so words like these can even be found by people like myself who don’t know much of different languages (fortunately I have a girlfriend who is able to read book Greek and Latin). Sometimes Scott comes to different translations than my Dutch books and in most cases, I agree with Scott’s versions. Unfortunately Scott sometimes leaves parts untranslated and Asclepius is totally mixed up (he gives the right counting though). I suppose even more manuscripts than those were known to Scott have been found in the last 80 years. He didn’t live to know the Coptic Asclepius in the Nag-Hammadi library for example.

And however the book opens with 100 pages with detailed information about Hermetic scriptures and earlier publications of them, this first volume is followed the three others: volume two with notes on the Corpus, volume three with notes on the Asclepius and volume four with “addenda and indices”. I only have volume 1, which is quite sufficient. Anyway, highly recommanded for anyone with (semi-)scientific interests in the Hermetic texts!
addition : some people say that Scott is sloppy in giving the texts and translating them and that you better buy a similiar title

Read Hermetic quotes here.

Corpus Hermeticum + Asclepius * translated and elucidated by Gilles Quispel and Roelof van den Broek (isbn 9071608077 + 9071608085)

This is a review for Dutch visitors. There are also good English versions of the Corpus Hermeticum and Asclepius, but never did I see a version as wonderfull as these Dutch translations by our own expert Gilles Quispel. He made very well readable translations and each of the 17 tractates of the Corpus comes with a lengthy explanation. Further there is a great introduction speaking of the Hermetic tradition and the history of the translations. Asclepius is introduced, translated and elucidated per chapter of this lenghty manuscript.

The Corpus is a collection of tractates that are ascribed to the Egyptian god Tehuti/Thoth that the Greek identified with their own God of Wisdom Hermes. Asclepius is a longer text giving an account of Hermes teaching his student Asclepius. Both texts contain deep and ancient knowledge and are still very helpfull today.
If you want to know more about the Hermetic tradition, please read the article in the series “the Esoteric Tradition(s) from the West” (part III).

(22/8/02)
Read Hermetic quotes here.

The Hermetica * Timothy Freke & Peter Gandy (isbn 0874779502)

I saw this little book in my favourite local bookstore. It is published by a publisher that I didn’t know, which is usually bad news. When I paged through the book quickly it seemed to me that it contained a descent overview of the Hermetic tradition and some texts, so I decided to buy it.
The first part of the book has an overview of the Hermetic tradition and on most points the version of the writers agrees with what I already read about it. On a few occasions the writers believed the official versions too easily, but on most points their short overview is good enough to use for quick look-ups.
Then Freke and Gandy publish some Hermetic texts. They chose for a quite unusual approach. According to the writers, there are only few Hermetic texts that survived history, being:
– The Stobaeus, a text written by John of Stobae in the fifth century;
– The Asclepius, a dialogue between Hermes and his son;
– The Corpus Hermeticum, books 1 to 18 of which book 15 is missing;
– Fragments from several ancient writings. There is no official number of fragments and they number from edition to edition of publications;
– Hermetic texts from the Nag Hammadi scrolls.

The book that is subject of this review is made into a ‘story’ kind of form with twenty short chapters. Each chapter is about a single subject, preceded by a short explanation. The texts themselves are compilations of parts of the mentioned Hermetic books. The texts therefor deal with one subject, but you don’t know if you are reading something from the Corpus Hermeticum or the Ascepius. The sources of the several chapters are noted in the back, but this is not in reference to the different paragraphs.
Also the translations are ‘unorthodox’. For example translations of the Asclepius are not written in dialog form, but as a monolog of Hermes Trismegistus to us readers. That is because the writers think that is clearer and more easily to understand. This is true, but still I find it quite ‘daring’.

With this information you may think that the book doesn’t have too much value. Well, the translations are really well done. The poetic approach is left in the texts. It is easy to find some authentic versions to several questions without having to cross the entire Corpus Hermeticum and the other texts, so in a way this could be a perfect introduction to Hermeticism. But of course, there is just a small part of the texts that are left in this 150 paged book.

For a proper study I think you will need to get yourself translations of the works themselves.
(27/1/01)
Read Hermetic quotes here.

The Hermetic Museum – Alchemy & Mysticism * Alexander Roob (isbn 382288653X)

This is really a magnificent collection of ‘occult art’. If you like what you see in the occult art section of the artpages of Sententia, you definately have to get this book. It counts over 700 pages and is stuffed with Hermetic, Kabbalistic, philosophical, religious, occult and mystic art, forming a wonderfull overview of pieces full of symbolism. From well known artists such as Athanasius Kircher and William Blake, to title pages of ancient occult works and magical diagrams.
Roob managed to divide the book in sections, so the pieces are not in order of artist. These sections are explained and elucidated and most pieces are explained as well.

Between the pictures and accompanying them, you will also read many quotes from alchemical texts, explanations and history.