Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Religious Sciences


B.F. Meyer


Among the writings ascribed to Hermes Trismegistus, the most interesting are those which deal with topics of a religious or philosophical nature. These writings, once believed to be the wisdom of ancient Egypt, are now more commonly thought to have originated within the Greek speaking part of the Roman Empire, put at a date which, as we shall see, remains in dispute. Thus we have in the movement responsible for these writings one of the competitors of Christianity.

This dissertation deals with two sources for these religious or philosophical Hermetic writings, the Corpus Hermeticum and the fragments given in Stobaeus' Anthology. These two collections form a natural starting point, since it is the Corpus Hermeticum which has attracted the most attention from students of the Hermetic movement, and since many of the Stobaean fragments overlap to a large degree with the documents of the Corpus Hermeticum. The question discussed in this dissertation is basic to any further discussion of the material: How reliable are these collections both as witnesses to the text of the writings of the Hermetic movement and as witnesses to the movement which gave us those texts? Any discussion of these writings must presuppose an answer to this question. As this question has not previously received disciplined treatment, it is hoped that the results of this dissertation will provide a sounder basis for future studies in these writings.

The answer given in this dissertation is somewhat complicated. Neither collection is in itself a reliable witness to the Hermetic movement. The Corpus Hermeticum, it will be seen, is a late compilation, and is to be dated between the ninth and the eleventh century. The quality of the transmission of the text of the documents included in the Corpus Hermeticum is very uneven; moreover, some of the documents were wrongly included. There is, however, no deliberate attempt to give a false picture of these writings. Therefore, if the Corpus Hermeticum, is used critically, it is possible to gain a reasonably accurate picture both of the text of these writings and of the movement which produced them. The tractates which are useful in that respect are ii, iv, v, vi, viii, ix, x, xi, xii, xiv, and (with reservations) xiii.

The Stobaean fragments, on the other hand, seem to be quite unreliable in both respects. Not only do they have their share of manuscript errors, but it would appear that certain Hermetic doctrines, notably the doctrine that apotheosis is the proper goal of man, are systematically excluded. In addition, there is good reason to believe that the style of the Hermetic writings is emended in the Stobaean fragments. The most probable explanation of these facts is that Stobeaus was using a Christian anthology of Hermetic writings. Therefore the Stobaean fragments must be used with great caution as evidence for the writings of the Hermetic movement. In tractates in which these two sources overlap, it is the Corpus Hermeticum which is the more trustworthy, apart from manuscript errors. Accordingly, Nock's edition of tractates ii, iv, and x needs revision.

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