Tuesday, September 20, 2005

Lactantius, Thoth and Hermes

As demonstrated earlier, the pre-Nicenes universally espoused belief in divine innominability based on certain metaphysical assumptions and the thornbush account in Exodus. Lactantius undoubtedly familiarized himself with select pre-Nicene writings and certain portions of Scripture.[1] Furthermore, the apologist also intimately knew and deeply respected the Corpus Hermetica.[2] The Lactantian reliance on the quasi-inspired work of Hermes in all probability accounts for the strand of Egyptian notions found throughout the Divinae institutiones and his insistence on divine anonymity. For instance, Lactantius notes that Thoth (Hermes) eponymously bequeathed Egyptians the name of their first month, September.[3] According to legend, Thoth additionally built the town of Mercury (the Greek Hermopolis) and thus received honor and reverence there.[4] Religion associated with Hermes Trismegistus (“thrice greatest Hermes”) consequently had its inception in Hellenized Egypt.[5] In that geographical region, worshipers forged a conceptual link between Hermes and Thoth, the preeminent well-received deity of Egypt’s pantheon.[6] Johnson demonstrates that some Egyptians viewed Thoth as the god of wisdom and the scribes. As a result, devotees of the god believed that he invented both languages and alien culture in conjunction with its diverse mores.[7] Not only did certain Egyptians regard Thoth as a divine copyist, however, but some members of the Egyptian clergy ultimately attributed to Thoth, the role of demiurge in creation. This god therefore assumed the role of creator, the entity who brought the universe into existence by means of verbalized articulations.[8] Here one clearly witnesses eastern antiquity’s stress on verbal communication and magic.[9] More importantly, motifs indigenous to the aforementioned eastern narratives appear to find their way into the Lactantian corpus.[10] The data from Divinae institutiones supports the proposal that the writings of Hermes formally influenced Lactantius’ treatises.

[1] See Library of Lactantius; Bowen and Garnsey, Divine Institutes, 14-17; Monat, Lactance et la Bible, 20.

[2] Bowen and Garnsey, Divine Institutes, 16-17.

[3] DI 1.6.3.

[4] DI 1.6.3.

[5] Carabine, The Unknown God, 66.

[6] Fowden, Egyptian Hermes, 22.

[7] Johnson, Civilization of Ancient Egypt, 86.

[8] Thorleif Boman, Hebrew Thought Compared with Greek, 59.

[9] Fowden, Egyptian Hermes, 23.

[10] DI 1.6.3-4.

No comments: