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The Arabic Hermes: From Pagan Sage to Prophet of Science (Oxford Studies in Late Antiquity) 1st Edition

4.7 out of 5 stars 3 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 978-0195376135
ISBN-10: 0195376137
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Editorial Reviews

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"I suggest that his work has the great potential to become a classical reference book for both late antiquity and the study of Hermetism. --Journal of Semitic Studies


"Kevin van Bladel addresses a significant gap in our knowledge. The author should be commended for such a competent artisanship.... The author has done a great service to the profession by clearing the field for himself and for other scholars so that they can build on a solid groundwork."--Hayrettin Yucesoy, Journal of World History


"A veritable treasure trove of information, well-indexed and with an extensive bibliography. It should thus be indispensable on the shelves of anyone interested in Hermes Trismegistus, Late Antiquity, Sasanian Iran, and early Arabic translations and intellectual life. No small feat!"--Christian H. Bull, Numen


"A wonderfully solid historical masterpiece that greatly contributes to our understanding of certain strands of intellectual transmission in the late antique Near East, as well as disabuses us of many a myth about the presence of Hermes and hermeticism in classical Islamic learned culture." --The American Journal of Islamic Social Sciences


"Kevin van Bladel has produced an admirable study of the Arabic Hermetic tradition, fleshing out in considerable detail the evolution of Hermes' image, his identification with Qur'anic prophet Idris as well as the forces driving this transformation, and his connections, real, imagined, and still controversial, with the Harranians, the last organized group of astrolators to continue functioning within Islamic civilization.... This brief recap does not do justice to the many separate and meticulous investigations that van Bladel has carried out and pieced together in order to provide this account.... this is a very good book, all the more impressive as it is the product of a young scholar."-- Y. Tzvi Langermann, Bryn Mawr Classical Reviews


About the Author


Kevin van Bladel is Assistant Professor of Classics, University of Southern California.
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Product Details

  • Series: Oxford Studies in Late Antiquity
  • Hardcover: 296 pages
  • Publisher: Oxford University Press; 1 edition (August 26, 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0195376137
  • ISBN-13: 978-0195376135
  • Product Dimensions: 9.3 x 1.1 x 6.1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (3 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,758,377 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
One source of knowledge which has often been described as part of the 'occult' sciences is hermeticism. Hermeticism is a set of philosophical and religious beliefs attributed to the mythic character known to us as 'Hermes Trismegistos'

Much of what the medieval West knew of Hermes and Hermeticism came to it through The Islamic world. This book discusses how the figure of Hermes was adopted and adapted by the early Muslim Arabs, and how his teachings were accepted and he came to be viewed as a true prophet.

The Arabic hermetic works claimed to explain the secrets of the universe, laws governing nature and how to make elixirs which could prolong one's life. Therefore, they were much sought after and collected in great quantities throughout the vast libraries of the Islamic world.

Indeed, the hermetic tradition was a living one until only comparatively recently, with the onset of colonialism.

All in all, a very interesting book on a subject that deserves to be much more widely known.
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Format: Hardcover
I had this book on my radar for months before it finally reached print. The Historical reception of the the Hermetic Corpus and the history of Hermes as patron of Science, Medicine, Astrology and Magic is a bit of an obsession of mine. One of the key dark areas in the study of the life and times of Hermes is just how it was that a Hellenistic hybrid of an ancient Egytptian deity became such a key figure in the heart and literature of the Islamic Golden age. I must say that I was hoping for a bit more when I first cracked open the book and read the introduction, that Van Bladel is planning another, follow-up work called "The Arabic Hermetica," that will cover more of the actual Arabic texts that bear Hermes name. Kevin sir, if you happen to read this, I am eagerly awaiting your follow-up study!

That being said however, this book is an essential read for anyone looking to get a better grasp on the historic transmission of the character of Hermes into first Persian, and later Islamic culture. This book could be of interest to amateurs and scholars alike; it offers insight into the historical developments of Medicine, Astronomy,Mathematics and Magic within the Arabic Golden age. I came into the study of Hermes first in the writings of Dame Frances Yates in her "Giordano Bruno and the Hermetic Tradition," the legacy of the Arabic Hermes upon the rise of Renaissance though in 15th century Europe has been woefully neglected and in this way, Kevin Van Bladel is fulfilling a very serious need.

There are a number of reasons why I would recommend this book.
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Format: Hardcover
It's hard to know how to rate an academic book's accuracy when I'm not familiar with the previous work on the subject. A lot of what Van Bladel is doing, though, seems to be entirely new. His goal is to show how the elements of the Islamic legends about Hermes originated. To do that, he traces how texts from multiple cultures about Hermes copied from and influenced each other, an especially difficult task because some of the most important texts are lost today.

Van Bladel first describes the origins of Hermeticism in ancient times, as well as the way early Islamic culture picked up texts and ideas from Greco-Roman and Persian cultures. He then looks at two avenues that traditions about Hermes Trismegistus took to enter Islamic culture. One is Sasanian Persia, into which some of the Greco-Roman ideas about Hermes had filtered before the Islamic conquest. (In Greco-Roman tradition, Egypt and Persia had competing claims to be the oldest culture and greatest source of knowledge, so it's interesting to see the Persians themselves buy into that tradition and twist stories of Egyptian knowledge to assert Persia's superiority.) The other avenue was the "Sabians" of the city of Harran in northern Syria, who were pagans but came to be treated as "people of the book" under Islamic rule by exploiting a confusing reference in the Quran and claimed Hermes Trismegistus as their prophet. Their history and culture is very murky and has given rise to a lot of speculation, which Van Bladel carefully examines and largely debunks. The only certain Harranian contribution to the Islamic tradition of Hermes is the idea that he was a prophet.

In the next two chapters the tracing of texts gets really dense and detailed.
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