1 Enoch and the Origins of Alchemy

1 Enoch was a popular text with Egyptian alchemists in the second and third centuries CE, and some Hermetic authors use the Enochian tale of the fallen angels, who teach humans all kinds of magical and technological arts, as the source text for their descriptions of the origins of alchemy. This paper closely examines two alchemical re-workings of the Enochian myth of the fallen angels—one called "Isis the Prophetess to her Son Horus," and the other from a work by Zosimus of Panopolis, "On Tin"—and argues that 1 Enoch was being used in the context of professional debates over alchemical methods. Divine power and wisdom, revealed through nature, is an important theme in 1 Enoch, where it is contrasted with the wisdom gained from fallen angels. These ideas helped the alchemists frame their debates, in which natural vs. daemonic forms of revelation played a part. Secondly, this paper raises the question of how 1 Enoch (and other Jewish pseudepigraphical texts) text came to be popular with Hermetic alchemists, and makes a case that Hebrew and Egyptian alchemists were coming together in craft guilds to share metallurgical techniques, and that the Egyptian craft guilds were also important sites of religious exchange. The prominence given to 1 Enoch as the origin myth of alchemy seems to parallel the Egyptians’ adoption of new metallurgical techniques that involved distillation, which were allegedly invented by Hebrew alchemist known as Maria the Jewess.