In the Hall of the Double Truth (cont)
A Quest for Knowledge
According to Clemens Alexandrinus (Stromata VI) there were 42 books of Thoth, a number that provides a curious sense of balance with the "first truth" - the "weighing of actions" - examined by means of the 42 Negative Confessions. These books of the "second truth" - the "weighing of words" - were thought to be divided into seven categories covering, amongst other subjects, cosmography and geography, the construction of temples, the history of the world, the worship of the gods, medical matters, the hidden meaning of hieroglyphics, and treatises on astrology and astronomy including "the ordering of the fixed stars, the positions of the sun, moon and planets, the conjunctions and phases of the sun and the moon, and the times when stars rise".
The tradition of the books of Thoth persisted well into the Christian era, associated with Graeco-Egyptian temples such as Deir el Medina, Dendera, Edfu and the Temple of Isis at Philae where the ancient Egyptian hieroglyphs continued to be used and understood until as late as the fourth century AD. It is therefore hardly surprising that Clemens (AD 150215) should have been aware of this tradition which was, indeed, set down afresh in writing in his adopted city of Alexandria at about this time. These writings, the so-called Corpus Hermeticum, repeatedly describe Thoth (the "Hermes Trismegistus" of the Greeks) as "he who won knowledge of all". He:
saw all things, and seeing understood, and understanding had the power both to disclose and to give explanation. For what he knew he graved on stone; yet though he graved them onto stone he hid them mostly, keeping sure silence [so] that every younger age of cosmic time might seek for them ...
A quest, then, appears to have been envisaged for these stone tablets, or "books", of Thoth/Hermes. Indeed the Corpus Hermeticum leaves us in no doubt about this matter, telling us that the wisdom god used magic to postpone for as long as possible the rediscovery of his treasures of knowledge:
Ye holy books ... which have been anointed with the drug of imperish-ability ... remain ye undecaying through all ages, and be ye unseen and undiscovered by all men who shall go to and fro on the plains of this land, until the time when Heaven, grown old, shall beget organisms worthy of you.
Walter Scott, the translator of this passage into English, appends the following explanatory note concerning the term "organisms": "Literally 'composite things'; that is, men composed of soul and body. After long ages there will be born men that are worthy to read the books of Hermes."