HERMES, BOOKS OF:
By: Kaufmann Kohler
Hermes (the Greek Mercury), in popular belief the leader of souls to Hades, was in later times identified in Egypt with the local god Thot, who was also the messenger of the gods and the heavenly scribe and inventor of writing. Forty-two sacred books, containing all the wisdom and secret lore of the Egyptians, were ascribed to Hermes-Thot (see Plutarch, "De Iside et Osiri," Parthey's ed., 1850, lxi. 154, 255, notes; Clement of Alexandria, "Stromata," vi. 4). Necromancers and Gnostics also ascribed their magic and mystic lore to Hermes (Dieterich, "Abraxas." 1891, pp. 63-70, 165). The names of Moses, Thoth, andHermes served as pseudonyms for many a writer of magic books or hymns. As many as 2,000, and even 36,525, books on mystic lore were said to have been written by Hermes (lamblichus, "De Mysteriis," viii. 1). Lactantius ("Institutiones Divinæ," iv. 6, vii. 18) quotes the Λόγος Τέλειος, a dialogue of Hermes with Æsculapius, along with the Sibylline and the Hystaspes oracles, as containing Messianic prophecies; which goes to show that the Books of Hermes were used like the Jewish pseudepigrapha in religious arguments.
What share the Jews had in the composition of the Books of Hermes has not yet been fully ascertained; certain it is that Christians composed some of the later ones. It was these Books of Hermes (, corrupted into ) that were always on the lips of Elisha ben Abuyah or fell from his lap (Ḥag. 16b), and that were (declared not to possess the character of holy writings which make the hands that touch them unclean (Yad. iv. 6; Yer. Sanh. x. 28a [a passage corrupted by negligent copyists; see Joël, "Blicke in die Religionsgesch." 1888, i. 70-75]; Ḥul. 60b, uncensored ed.; Midr. Teh. and Yalḳ., Ps. i.). Geonic tradition was still aware of the fact that the "Sifre Homerus," as it spelled the words, were heretical books (see Hai Gaon to Yad. l.c.; R. Hananeel to Ḥul. l.c.; the 'Aruk, s.v. ), and this alone explains why they were contrasted by the Sadducees (Yad. l.c.) with the sacred Scriptures.
Various other suggestions have been made as to the meaning of these words. They are interpreted as "Books of Homer" () by Mussafia in his notes to the 'Aruk, by Derenbourg in his "Palestine" (p. 133), and by Krauss in his "Lehnwörter" (ii. 230); as "Pleasure Books" (? "Himeros") by Cassel in his edition of "Me'or 'Enayim" (p. 84); as "Chronicles" (Βιβλια Ἡμηρήσια), "Daily Books," or "Journals," in "Monatsschrift" (1870, p. 138). But these are certainly not of such a character as to come into discussion as "sifre minim," or heretic writings. According to Jewish writers there existed under the name "Hermes" a number of works in Arabic literature also (see Steinschneider, "Hebr. Bibl." 1861, p. 675; 1862, p. 91; idem. "Hebr. Uebers." 1893, p. 514).
- Kohler, in J. Q. R. v. 415;
- Perles, in R. E. J. iii. 114 (comp. Kohut, ib. iii. 546);
- Kohut, Aruch Completum;
- Levy, Neuhebr. Wörterb.;
- Jastrow, Dict. s.v. ;
- Krauss, Lehnwörter, ii. 230;
- Schürer, Gesch. 3d ed., iii. 482;
- Friedmann, Ha-Goren, iii. 33;
- Zöckler, Apokryphische Bücher des Alten Testaments, 1891, pp. 485 et seq.