DISCOURSE ON THE EIGHTH AND NINTH, sixth tractate in Codex VI of the NAG HAMMADI LIBRARY. The name of the tractate is derived from its contents, since its ancient form has not been preserved at the opening or ending of the text, although titles for parts of the treatise may appear in 53, 24-26 ("The Discourse on the Eighth and the Ninth") and in 61, 21-22 ("The Eighth Reveals the Ninth"). The interest of the document rests on the soul's arrival in the divine realms that lie beyond the seven malevolent spheres surrounding the earth. It is through these latter that the departed soul must pass before coming to regions controlled by the God who gives life.
The Coptic text, doubtless a translation from a Greek original, constitutes a rite of initiation into the mysteries of HERMES TRISMEGISTUS and employs the technique of teaching through ritual. In a formal sense, the piece consists of a dialogue between a teacher or mystagogue, who represents Father Hermes, and a pupil who is termed a son, an exchange that leads the latter to an ecstatic experience of the divine. The liturgical character of the document appears in a number of features such as the avowed goal of divine rebirth; the titles "father" and "son," which are joined to other "brothers" and "citizens" in the ogdoad, or eighth realm; a ritual embrace (57, 26-27); the pattern of prayer (55, 23-57, 25, which may be a literary intrusion); and the final oath sworn by initiates to guard the secrets of Hermes.
The text exhibits several links to Egypt. Among them, the Egyptian god Thoth, whose functions included serving as scribe for the divine child Horus-Harpocrates, had become identified with Hermes as early as Herodotus. Thoth was associated with magic, medicine, writing, and various other technologies. For Greeks, Hermes was the guide for departed souls as well as scientist and interpreter of the mysteries. Second, the numbers eight and nine display ties to Egyptian theology, for pantheons typically were made up of eight or nine deities (ogdoad or ennead). The interest in preserving the text in hieroglyphic characters illustrates a third point of contact.
The tractate is plainly bonded to the larger religious literature derived from the veneration of Hermes. But it embodies a hitherto unknown liturgy that may stand independent of other Hermetic documents. In addition, the text exhibits affinities with dualistic ideas that may be gnostic, as well as with other mystery religions.
S. KENT BROWN
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