“HERMES TRISMEGISTUS, ‘the thrice greatest Hermes.’ The name given by the Greeks to the Egyptian god Thoth or Tehuti, the god of wisdom, learning, and literature. Thoth is alluded to in later Egyptian writings as ‘twice very great’ and even as ‘five times very great’ in some demotic or popular scripts.--ca. third century B.C. To him was attributed as ‘scribe of the gods’ the authorship of all sacred books which were thus called ‘Hermetic’ by the Greeks. These, according to Clemens Alexandrinus, were forty-two in number and were sub-divided into six portions, of which the first dealt with priestly education, the second with temple ritual, and the third with geographical matter. The fourth division treated of astrology, the fifth of hymns in honor of the gods and a text-book for the guidance of Kings, while the sixth was medical. It is unlikely that these books were all the work of one individual, and it is more probable that they represent the accumulated wisdom of Egypt, attributed in the course of ages to the great god of wisdom.
As ‘scribe of the gods’ Thoth was also the author of all strictly sacred writing. Hence by a convenient fiction the name of Hermes was placed at the head of an extensive cycle of mystic literature, produced in post-Christian times. Most of this Hermetic or Trismegistic literature has perished, but all that remains of it has been gathered and translated into English. It includes the ‘Poimandres’--virgin of the world--, ‘the Perfect Sermon,’ or the ‘Asclepius’ excerpts by Stobacus, and fragments from the church fathers and from the philosophers, Zosimus and Fulgentius. Hitherto these writings have been neglected by theologians, who have dismissed them as the offspring of third century Neo-Platoism. According to the generally accepted view they were eclectic compilations, combining neo-Platonic philosophy, Philonic Judaism and Kabalistic theosophy in an attempt to supply a philosophic substitute for Christianity. The many Christian elements to be found in these mystic scriptures were ascribed to plagiarism. By an examination of early mystery writings and traditions it has been proved with some degree of certainty that the main source of Trismegistic Tractates is the wisdom of Egypt, and that they ‘go back in an unbroken tradition of type and form and context to the earliest Ptolemaic times.’
The ‘Poimandres,’ on which all later Trismegistic literature is based, must, at least in its original form, be placed not later than the first century. The charge of plagiarism from Christian writings, therefore, falls to the ground. If it can be proved that the ‘Poimandres’ belongs to the first century, we have in it a valuable document in determining the environment and development of Christian origins.
Mr. G. R. S. Mead, author of ‘Thrice Greatest Hermes,’ says in an illuminating passage: ‘The more one studies the best of these mystical sermons, casting aside all prejudices, and trying to feel and think with the writers, the more one is conscious of approaching the threshold of what may well be believed to have been the true adytum of the best in the mystery traditions of antiquity, Innumerable are the hints of the greatnesses and immensities lying beyond that threshold--among other precious things the vision of the key to Egypt's wisdom, the interpretation of apocalypsis by the light the sun-clear epopteia of the intelligible cosmos.’”