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egyptian temple origins claims


Those who practiced alchemy claimed it was a science and speculative philosophy which aimed to change base metals into gold, discover a universal cure for disease, and prolong life indefinitely. The earliest al-chemical texts claim an origin in ancient Egypt. In fact, the oldest known alchemical text was written by Zosimus of Panopolis, who lived in the fourth century C.E. in a town in central Egypt now known as Akhmim. Zosimus claimed as his sources Persian and Jewish writers in addition to certain Egyptians named Peteese, Phimenas, and Pebechius. The best identified of his Egyptian sources was Bolus of Mendes who live in the third century B.C.E. In addition to these claims for the Egyptian origins of alchemy, a text called Physika kai Mystika written by Psudo-Democritus claims that alchemy was taught in Egyptian temples. He even attempted to derive the word “alchemy” from one of the ancient Egyptian names of the country, Kemi.


The Egyptologist François Daumas believed that Ptolemaic Egypt would have been an intellectual milieu that would be conducive to the development of alchemy. Yet all early texts about alchemy, even when they have origins in Egypt, were written in Greek. The Greek sources, however, claim Egyptian origins and refer to the Egyptian gods Isis, Osiris, and Horus. They even claim that Khufu (2585–2560 B.C.E. ), a king of the Fourth Dynasty who built the Great Pyramid, wrote an alchemical work.


Daumas’ claims for an Egyptian origin for alchemy are based on Egyptian views of stone and stone’s relationship with alchemy. The proper use of the philosopher’s stone was for alchemists the key to reaching their goals. Alchemists believed that this imaginary stone, properly used, could transmute base metals into gold. Daumas notes that the Egyptians understood stone to be dynamic. In Pyramid Text 513—a spell from an Old Kingdom (2675–2170 B.C.E. ) royal funeral—lapis lazuli grows like a plant. In the Middle Kingdom (2008–1630 B.C.E. ) an expedition leader to the Sinai commented on the constantly changing color of turquoise. The Egyptians believed that the weather could change the color of turquoise and that the best color was only available in the cool months. In an inscription at Abu Simbel carved in the reign of Ramesses II (1279–1213 B.C.E. ) the god Ptah describes how mountains actively bring forth stone monuments and the deserts create precious stones. This view of stone as dynamic rather than inert is basic to alchemy.


The Egyptologist Phillippe Derchain connected the “House of Gold,” a section of the Temple of Hathor at Dendera, with the origins of alchemy. The room was used to prepare cultic instruments. The god in charge of this room was Thoth—whom the Greeks associated with Hermes—who was the god of knowledge and philosophy. The king was represented on the doorway of the room with the epithet “Son of Thoth.” Part of the mystery performed while making the cultic material here symbolically transformed grain into gold. Derchain believed that the border between symbolism and later alchemy that sought to transform materials into gold was still maintained here.


The temple of Horus in the town of Edfu also dates to the Ptolemaic Period. The walls of the treasury of this temple depicts mountains offering gold, silver, lapis-lazuli, turquoise, jasper, carnelian, hematite, and other semi-precious stones. The ointments prepared at this temple for use in the ritual utilized these materials. They were prepared over long periods, with particular actions required on each day. The description of the preparations closely resembles alchemy with repeated heating and cooling of these stones in order to create something different. These second-century B.C.E. activities might be the origins of Egyptian alchemy.


Two texts in Arabic highlight the connection between alchemy and Egyptian cult. They are the Risalat as-Sirr (Circular Letter of Mystery) and the Ar Risala al-falakiya al kubra (Great Circular Letter of the Spheres). In the Arabic tradition, alchemy was the science of the temples, and Egyptian temples were the places where its secrets were located. Zosimus had previously associated the hieroglyphs on temple walls with the secrets that Hermes and the Egyptian priests knew. The Risalat as-Sirr maintains that it too came from a temple in Akhmim. It had been hidden under a slab of marble in the crypt of a woman, perhaps a reference to the Egyptian goddess Isis. This text places its own finding in the ninth century C.E. The Ar Risala al-falakiya al kubra claims for itself a find spot under a statue of Isis-Hathor in the temple located in Dendera. It claims that Hermes wrote it at the instruction of Osiris. Both texts seem to have origins in the Ptolemaic Period, though such stories are similar to ancient Egyptian lore. The Book of the Dead in one tradition was discovered under a statue of Thoth. Thus it is possible that the Arabic tradition preserves some knowledge of Egyptian practice.


Thus ancient Egypt’s heirs, both Greek and Arabic speaking, practiced alchemy. They attempted to connect this practice to Pharaonic knowledge with varying degrees of success. It is possible that both traditions preserve some aspects of Egyptian thought though it is not clear that alchemy truly was an Egyptian area of knowledge or philosophy.


F. Daumas, “L’Alchimie a-t-elle une origine égyptienne?” in Das römisch-byzantinische Ägypten (Mainz, Germany: Twayne, 1983): 109–118.

P. Derchain, “L’Atelier des Orfèvres á Dendera et les origins de l’Alchemie,” in Chronique d’Egypte 65 (1990): 219–242.

Erik Hornung, The Secret Lore of Egypt: Its Impact on the West (Ithica, N.Y.: Cornell University Press, 2001).

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almost 6 years ago

I wanted to know what jewels ,Hermes god of science, was associated with. But this page doesn't help me not even a bit does anyone else know?