Sunday, February 14, 2010

The Arabic Hermes

The Arabic Hermes: From Pagan Sage to Prophet of Science by Kevin van Bladel. New York: Oxford University Press, August 26, 2009. Hardcover, 290 pages. $74.00.

Kevin van Bladel, the author, notes:

There are probably more works attributed to Hermes surviving in Arabic than in any other language, and the majority of them are still unknown and unpublished. Some of them definitely derive from ancient Greek sources through translation. Others, like many of the Latin Hermetica, are later works originally composed in Arabic. Yet even where the texts themselves are not of ancient origin, the idea of Hermes is. The problem then is to establish the means and continuity of tradition from the ancient Hermetica, and what people thought about Hermes, to the time of their attestation in Arabic.

The book continues on like this for over 200 pages. HPB featured the text of the Emerald Tablet in her first book, Isis Unveiled, and though she quoted other Hermetic texts throughout her writings, remained somewhat ambivalent. At the end of volume 1 of The Secret Doctrine, referring to the Hermetic texts that were circulating at her time, she says, “those texts are not the original Egyptian texts. They are Greek compilations, the earliest of which does not go beyond the early period of Neoplatonism.”

Though The Arabic Hermes mentions the early ninth century work of Pseudo-Apollonius, Sirr al-haliqa, where the text of the Emerald Tablet appears, no further information is given or exegesis or even a new translation of the most widely known piece to come out of the Arabic Hermetica. If one is interested in Harranian Sabian doctrines, this book is for you, for the rest, it is an opportunity to save $74.00.

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