November 18, 2020
Episode 107: M. David Litwa on Deification in the Hermetica
[Corrigendum: In this interview both Dr. Litwa and I casually mention that both Clement and Origen fail to mention Hermes. However, Clement never lets us down: Strom. VI.4 refers to ‘forty-two books of Hermes’, including astrological works. These are probably not ‘theoretical Hermetica’, though.]
We discuss Litwa’s recent book Hermetica II (Cambridge 2018), which brings into English ancient and later Hermetic material left out by Copenhaver’s Corpus Hermeticum translation (Cambridge 1992), his take on the ‘unitarian’ reading of the Hermetica, what we mean by ‘deification’ and ‘divinisation’, and the vast range of ways in which this basic descriptive category is formulated in different traditions (Orphic, Jewish apocalyptic, certain Greek magic papyri, and more).
We then turn to the Discourse on the Eighth and the Ninth, the Poimandres/C.H. I, the Korê Kosmou, and other texts, looking at the ways in which deification is conceived (quite differently) in each case. In this context, we engage in a wide-ranging discussion of themes and theories of divinisation. Among other topics discussed are:
- The reception of Hermes and the Hermetica in Clement and Origen of Alexandria, Augustine, Lactantius, Cyril of Alexandria, and Ficino,
- The Hermetic idea of the pre-existence of the human being before we become human beings as we know them,
- Litwa’s take on the many terms used for higher cognitions in the Hermetica,
- The rôle of the sciences and the observation of nature in the Hermetica,
- The divinisation of matter, and god-making in the Hermetic Asclepius,
- The ‘corporeal’ approach to higher realities found in many Hermetica, to be contrasted with the ‘hard immaterialism’ found in Late Platonism,
- And much more.
M. David Litwa is Research Fellow in Biblical and Early Christian Studies at the Australian Catholic University in Melbourne. He has published widely – see the bibliographies below, and more on his website – in particular contributing a number of incredibly useful translations from the Greek and book-length studies on divinisation in multiple historical contexts.
Works Cited in this Episode:
- Augustine cites the Asclepius: De civ. dei books 8-10.
- Heraclitus: fr. 62 DK: ἀθάνατοι θνητοί, θνητοὶ ἀθάνατοι, ζῶντες τὸν ἐκείνων θάνατον, τὸν δὲ ἐκείνων βίον τεθνεῶτες.
- Jesus on postmortem angelification: Matt. 22:30; cf. Mark 12: 25, Luke 20:35-36.
- Plato’s Theætetus on assimilation to god insofar as is possible: 176b. Cf. Laws X, 904d (postmortem deification).
- Christian H. Bull. The Tradition of Hermes Trismegistus: the Egyptian Priestly Figure as a Teacher of Hellenized Wisdom. Brill, Leiden, 2018.
- M. D. Litwa. Becoming Divine: An Introduction to Deification in Western Culture. Cascade, Eugene, OR, 2013.
- Idem. Desiring Divinity: Self-deification in Ancient Jewish and Christian Myth-making. Oxford University Press, Oxford, 2016.
- Idem. Hermetica II. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, 2018.
- Idem. Posthuman Transformation in Ancient Mediterranean Thought. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, forthcoming 2021.
- M. A. Williams. Rethinking Gnosticism: An Argument for Dismantling a Dubious Category. Princeton University Press, Princeton, NJ, 1999.
Dr Litwa has done an interview on personal deification for the Gnostic Wisdom Network which you might want to check out. See Litwa 2012 (cited above) for a history of scholarship on divinisation. Along with the books by David Litwa cited above, the following texts may be of interest:
- Spencer Cole, Cicero and the Rise of Deification at Rome (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2013).
- Jeffrey J. Kripal, Secret Body (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2017), pp. 312-58.
- Ron Kangas, Becoming God, Affirmation & Critique 7 (2002): 3 – 30 [and see the other articles in this issue].
- Christopher Morray-Jones, Transformational Mysticism in the Apocalyptic-Merkabah Tradition, Journal of Jewish Studies 43 (1992), pp. 1–31.