The Ptolemaic Books, Lost Mystery Literature of Chaldaean, Parthian, and Median Traditions

by Esteban

“That, moreover, the Anthrōpos-doctrine, to the spirit of which the whole commentary of our S. exegete is accommodated, was also fundamental with the adherents of the Trismegistic tradition, may be clearly seen from the interesting passage (which we give in the Fragments at the end of the third Volume) of Zosimus, a member of what Reitzenstein calls the Pœmandres Community, who flourished somewhere at the end of the third and beginning of the fourth century A.D. 1

The sources of Zosimus for the Anthrōpos-doctrine, he tells us, are, in addition to the Books of Hermes, certain translations into Greek and Egyptian of books containing traditions (mystery-traditions, presumably) of the Chaldæans, Parthians, Medes, and Hebrews on the subject. This statement is of the very first importance for the history of Gnosticism as well as for appreciating certain elements in Trismegisticism. Though the indication of this literature is vague, it nevertheless mentions four factors as involved in the Hebrew tradition; the Gnostic Hebrews, as we should expect, were handing on elements from Chaldæan, Parthian, and Median traditions. Translations of these books were to be found scattered throughout Egypt, and especially in the great library at Alexandria.

There is, in my opinion, no necessity precisely, with Reitzenstein (p. 106, n. 6), to designate these books the “Ptolemaic Books,” and so to associate them with a notice found in the apocryphal “Eighth Book of Moses,” where, together with that of the Archangelic Book of Moses, there is mention of the Fifth Book of the “Ptolemaic Books,” described as a book of multifarious wisdom under the title “One and All,” and containing the account of the “Genesis of Fire and Darkness.” 1

Another source of Zosimus was the Pinax of Bitos or Bitys, of whom we shall treat in considering the information of Jamblichus.

From all of these indications we are assured that there was already in the first centuries B.C. a well-developed Hellenistic doctrine of the descent of man from the Man Above, and of his return to that heavenly state by his mastery of the powers of the cosmos.”

G.R.S. Mead, Thrice-Greatest HermesVol. 1, 1906, pp. 196.

From Hippolytus, Philosophumena; or, Refutation of All Heresies.