It is necessary to understand the origin of certain spiritual texts, to the extent possible, so that we can frame ourselves in who is passing down the knowledge we seek.

During the 15th century in Florence, Italy, an ancient manuscript was unearthed called The Hermetica. Jubilation and excitement commenced as all who got their hands on the text thought it was written by the Pharaoh’s of antiquity and predated the Torah. For two hundred years the concepts spread over Europe leading to some great thinkers turning into alchemists. This continued until it all came crashing down in 1614 when a scholar analyzed the text and found that not only was it not written in ancient Egyptian hieroglyphics – as one would think a spiritual text of ancient Egypt would be – but in Greek. Further, the Greek itself wasn’t ancient (i.e. B.C.E.). The syntax, vocabulary, and grammar led the scholar to date The Hermetica at around 200 C.E. and was written by various authors. But who?

The opening lines of the Emerald Tablets as translated by Maurice Doreal are: “I, Thoth, the Atlantian…”

In Timothy Freke & Peter Gandy’s translation, the speaker identifies himself as: “I, Thrice-Great Hermes…”

Two translations apparently authored by different people. But were they?

It is widely accepted that Thoth, the patron scribe god of ancient Egypt, was used as an inspiration for the Greek god, Hermes. Maurice Doreal claims that Thoth was a priest-king who fled mythical Atlantis before it was demolished, arriving to bestow his knowledge onto the ancient Egyptians. Doreal goes on to claim that this all happened 36,000 years ago and that Thoth, the Atlantian priest-king, ruled ancient Egypt as a god for 16,000 years. Unfortunately, none of this is backed up by any scientific evidence so we’ll leave that theory alone.

Another explanation for who this Thrice-Great Hermes was or Thoth the Atlantian is posed by Jacob Slavenburg in his book The Hermetic Link: From Secret Tradition to Modern Thought. Slavenburg writes: “In the third century B.C.E., Manetho, an Egyptian high-priest historian, wrote about several Hermes.”

The first “Hermes” was the Egyptian scribe-god, Thoth, who wrote down the secrets to the universe and the power of the Creator god, Atum, on stone tablets.

The second “Hermes” was a flesh and blood man, who took these tablets and translated them into ancient Greek. His name was Trismegistus.

The third “Hermes” was a Greek scholar, Agathodaimon, who compiled the Greek translations into 18 “books” known as the Corpus Hermeticum.

The reality is that we don’t know for sure. A lot of people have a hand in the “Who was Hermes/Thoth?” question including Plato. Several academics, historians, and spiritual seekers have gone over this quagmire and the answers we’ve come up with are: 1) the Corpus Hermeticum was most assuredly written by multiple people; 2) it has gone through countless translations; 3) it is undeniably a philosophy of ancient Egyptian spirituality that was passed down orally before committed to writing.

Okay, now that we have that settled (or not), we can move on again.

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About Joshua G. Silverman

As a child, Joshua has always been an amateur historian, focusing on ancient Egypt, Greece, and Roman civilizations.