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The Legacy of Thoth in the West (part 5)

"An analysis of the discourse on Moses and Egypt brings to light a phase in the reception

of ancient Egypt which has up to now remained neglected...{It} consists mainly in the discovery of alleged "Egyptian texts", such as...the 'Corpus Hermeticum'.  {Writers of the Italian Renaissance} reconstructed Hermetic philosophy as ancient Egyptian theology and wisdom.  These authors deemed themselves able to fill out the Classical image of Egypt ...with the cosmological, theological, and philosophical content which they were able to extract from the Hermetic writings.  By combining the Hermetic tradition and the Classical image of Egypt, Ficino was able to give a name to a founder and master of what to him appeared to be the content of Egyptian wisdom...The {Italian} [Renaissance revival of ancient Egypt branches out into several differnt discourses:


       1.  The "Hermetic" discourse - Egypt as the source of wisdom

       2.  The "Heiroglyphic" discourse - ...

       3.  The historical discourse or the discovery of time - Egypt as the civilisation

            whose documented history stretches well beyond Biblical chronology {direct-

            ly opposing Biblical and Classical chronology}...


The Renaissance is generally held to be the Golden Age of Egyptophilia...


{The Napoleonic expedition to Egypt also} sparked an Egyptian revival...Egyptian

religion was described as containing an esoteric and original monotheism or pantheism.  This was not simply a return to Kircher, who modeled his uncritical image of Egypt on the 'Corpus Hermeticum'.  On the contrary, it did full justice to Casaubon's textual criticism and late dating of Hermetic texts.  Kircher has to be seen as the last of the Renaissance Egyptolo-

gists, while the new phase of Egyptology belongs within the frame of the Enlightenment and its method of historical critique.  The wisdom of Hermes Trismegustus seemed to have fallen from favor after 1614, when Casuabon exposed the 'Corpus Hermeticum' as a late compilation and a Christian forgery.  Since then, the Hermetic tradition seemed to have survived only in the form of occult undercurrents such as Rosicrucianism, alchemy, theosophy, and so forth...{But this} was premature.  Hermes Trismegustus had a triumphant comeback in the 18th century...In rescuing Hermes Trismegustus from Casuabon's devastating critique, Cudworth initiated a new phase of Egyptophilia...The names associated with this phase besides those of Spinoza and Cudworth, are those of the French and English Deists, the Cambridge Platonists, the free-thinkers, and the Freemasons...The object of the esoteric monotheism, or the "mysteries" of the ancient Egyptians came to be identified as "Nature".  In the idea of Nature as the deity of an original, nonrevealed monotheism, which survived in Egyptian religion under the almost impenetrable cover of symbols and mysteries, the Hermetic, hieroglyphic, and Biblical discourses on Egypt merge."


'Moses the Egyptian", Jan Assman


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