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(fl. 1st. Cent. BCE/CE). 

Mary [Maria, Miriam] the Jewess or Prophetess (fl. 3rd. Cent. CE?). In the Background a diagram of the Conjunctio or the Union of the "Upper" and the "Lower".

Stephen N. Lambden

Last revised 25-12-2005 + 2006 - Under revision and completion.

 Mary the Jewess or Copt [Egyptian] (3rd cent. CE?) has for long been regarded as the key founding  mother figure of Hellenistic or ancient Egyptian alchemy.  Her wise utterances and practical alchemical equipment have for many centuries been referred to in both ancient Hellenistic sources and later Islamic alchemical tracts. Aspects of her alchemical legacy has also been studied by a few western academics and other esoterically minded mystagogues. For a late European text ascribed to her as "Mary the prophetess",  following the supposition of the Greek alchemist Zosimus of Panopolis (fl. early 4th cent. CE., who also considered  her an elder "sister of Moses"! cf. the Jewess) refer : 

"Mary said, O Aros, by God, if thy senses or understanding were not solid, you should not hear these words from me, untill the Lord should fill my Heart with the grace of his divine Will. Nevertheless take the Allum of Spain, the white gumm and the red gumm, which is the Kibric of the Philosophers, and their Sol and the greater Tincture, and marry Gumm with Gumm togeather with a true Matrimony. Mary said, make them like a running Water, and vitrify this water which has been laboured or wrought upon for one day, out of the two Lubechs, upon the fixed body, and liquefy them by the secret of Nature in the Vessel of Philosophy. Did you understand us?
Yes Lady.

        Note in the above the words referring to the "white gum" and "red gum" and their relationship with "sulphur" and the "Sun" and compare the Tablet of Bahā'-Allāh at III:2 :

 "[2] The foundation (aṣl) of the [alchemical] work (`amal) of Mary concerns the white gum (al-samghat al-bayḍa) and the red gum' (samghat al-ḥamrā')."
        The concrete, practical legacy of this Mary (known to the general public and all culinary experts) is seen in the  name of the (French) Bain-Marie  (Latin balneum Mariae = bath of Maria, `Mary's Bath'), loosely, a kind of water-bath or `double boiler' which is rooted in her practical formulations for alchemical equipment. She is also credited as the inventor of various other technical  alchemical devices including the hot ash box (for steady heat) and the dung box (for prolonged heat).

 The writings of Mary the Jewess, prophetess or alleged sister of Moses are cited with respect by Zosimus of Panopolis (Akhmim, in Upper Egypt; see, for example : Add here ) and various other early compilers of alchemical texts.  In the Hellenistic  alchemical tradition, Mary the Jewess  or prophetess became an authority figure.The fifth and sixth chapters of Raphael Patai's recent, weighty volume The Jewish Alchemists, A History and Source Book  (Princeton Univ. Press, 1984) are entitled `Maria the Jewess' (Ch.5 = pp.60-80) and `Zosimus on Maria the Jewess' (Ch.6 = pp. 81-91). The former chapter commences,

Chapter Five


"THE FIRST nonfictitious alchemists of the Western world lived, as far as can be ascertained, in Hellenistic Egypt. And the earliest among them was Maria Hebraea, Maria the Hebrew, or Maria the Jewess, for whom our chief source is Zosimus the Panopolitan. Zosimus is the first Greek alchemical author whose actual writings have survived. He lived in Hellenistic Egypt, about 300 C.E., and wrote an impressive number of works; twenty-two treatises of his were published in the Greek original and in French translation by Marcellin Berthelot.  He also wrote, together with his sister Eusebeia, a chemical encyclopedia in twenty-eight books, of which only fragments survived, also published by Berthelot. Nothing is known of Zosimus's life, but it is generally assumed that he was originally from Panopolis in Thebais, and lived in Alexandria.

 For the most part, Zosimus's writings consist of extensive quotations from older alchemical authorities. The ones whom he quotes most frequently are (Pseudo-) Democritus, to whom he refers as "the philosopher," and Maria the Jewess, whom he calls in most cases simply Maria, although occasionally he styles her "the divine Maria."  [Fn.2 = Berthelot,  Grecs. 3:172-73, 236)

 Despite the frequent references Zosimus makes to Maria, his writings contain practically no clue as to when and where she lived. In his tract on "The Divine Water," however, Zosimus says: "The operation of burning [is] one which all the ancients extolled. Maria, the first, says, 'The copper burnt with sulphur."' [fn.3 = ibid., 180) Elsewhere Zosimus refers to a treatise, On Furnaces and Apparatuses (Peri kaminon kai organon), which seems to have been written by Maria, as a writing of "the ancients." He does this while refusing to comply with the request of his sister Theosebeia, who asked him for information on the subject: he concedes that he is unable to treat it more authoritatively than was done in that ancient treatise. From these references to Maria as the first of the ancient authors one can conclude that she must have lived at least two generations before Zosimus himself. We can thus tentatively assign her to the early third century C.E. at the latest." 


The Alchemical Epistle of Baha'-Allah

Expository of an Utterance Ascribed to Mary the Jewess.

Translated Stephen Lambden 2006 from the text in Ishrāq Khavarī (ed.) Mā'ida-yi āsmānī vol. 4:26-45 and corrected in the light of INBMC vol. 66:187-205.


[1] The missive (kitāb) was received at the Court of Oneness and its contents perused. [2] Unto God be praise that you were  illumined, in this Merciful Dawn (fajr-i raḥmānī), with the splendors of the lights of the Sun of Gnosis. [3] Yet, from the True One,  exalted be His Characteristics, you did request to be everlastingly adorned with the Ethiopian ornament [robe] (ṭarāz-i ḥabashī) and be related to that sanctified shade (nush?) since it is  the Divine Cause (amr-i ilāhī) that is [likewise] related thereto.

        [4] The Might of the Everlasting One (ṣamadānī) is superlatively great! Nay rather, He is above everything great and supremely great. [5] Greater is He than every [messianic] Qā'im ("Ariser") and Qayyūm ("Deity Self-Subsisting"). [6] Naught can one vision in Him save the mystery of Divinity (al-uluhiyya) and the absolute expression of Oneness (al-aḥadiyya).

        [7] We beseech God that he cause worldly eyes (?) to be opened in order that they might come to understand and bear witness that there is no God except Him. [8] Eternally was He, in the Oneness of His Essence, sanctified above even His Own Being. [9] Everlastingly is He, in the Self-Subsistence of His Own Self, sanctified above the mention of aught besides Himself for He is the One Absolutely Pure by virtue of His Transcendent Existent Being  [10] Exalted is the depiction of the mere possibilities of the Singularity of His Essence above the characterization of the created things. [11] Sanctified is He by virtue of His Personal Identity ("I-ness" bi-aniyya) from the befitting mention of the inhabitants of the earth and the heavens. And this relative to both the Cause and the creation, (amr wa'l-khalq) and to everything bounded by both Origins and Terminations. 

        [12] He, verily, is King of Names and Attributes and the Establisher of the benefits  and whatsoever may be intimated in symbolic fashion (al-ishārāt). [13] Blessings and peace be upon He Who establishes Himself upon a Throne, One Powerful, Most Magnificent. [14] Through Him were the Splendors of Glory cleft asunder for He is  One Transcendent above signs and likenesses [similitudes] (al-ishāra wa'l-amthāl); [15] [He is indeed]  the Cupbearer of the Pure Water which wonderfully flows forth, [16] the One withdrawn from the people of error,  [17] One lowly (?) both in the beginning and at the end [return] and  One exalted above such as have turned unto Him, who have broken the shackles  of their idle fancies (?) and who reside within the tabernacle [pavilion] of Grandeur [18] (.. text unclear ???)


        [1] As for that which thou hast asked about the discourse [statement] (qawl) of Mary [the Jewess].  [2] The foundation (aṣl) of the [alchemical] work (`amal) of Mary concerns the "white gum" (al-samghat al-bayḍa) and the "red gum" (samghat al-ḥamrā'). [3] The red gum [ is what] emerges from the white gum. And he who attains unto it hath attainted the Furthermost Extremity (al-ghāyat al-quswā). [4] It is the Oil of the [Alchemical] Sages (duhn al-ḥukama') and their  sulphur  (kibrī) and also the reddish egg' (al-bayḍat al-shaqrā'). [5] This is the meaning of Our saying:

لو لاالقمرلم تكن الشمس ولو لا الفضة لايكن الذهب

If it were not for the moon (al-qamar) there would be no sun (al-shams) and if it were not for the silver (al- fidda) there would be no gold (al-dhahab)."

 [6] By the "silver" We intended the "white Earth" (al-arḍ al-bayḍā'). And it is [thus also] the "white gum" (al-samghat al-al-bayḍā'). [7] We caused the "Gold" to emerge from it and We named it the "red gum" (al-samghat al-ḥamrā'). [8] It [gold] has innumerable names which none none has comprehended save such as are in possession of the knowledge of the [Archetypal] Book (`ilm al-kitāb). [9] And with thy Lord is the knowledge of all things. [10] In His grasp are the keys (mafātiḥ) of the Treasuries of [existing things]. [11] He is Bountiful unto whomsoever He wills and holds back from whomsoever He wills. He, verily, is the Mighty, the Munificent.


                    [1] And as regards that which she hath stated:

خذ من فرع الحجرلا من اصله ولا من الحجر

"Take from the branch [subsidiary aspect] (far``) of the [philosophers' [Stone'l (al-ḥajar) and not from the root [basis] of the Stone" (aṣl al ḥajar)" [certainly] not from the Stone [and so on].

            [2] Know thou that the [fundamental] basis of the attaining of  this noble [alchemical] endeavor [art] is the true knowledge [gnosis] (ma`rifat ) of the illustrious [philosophers'] `Stone' (ḥajar-i mukarram). [3] The taking of the "branch" (far`) of the [philosopher's] "Stone" (ḥajar) is dependent on the real knowledge of the root of the Stone' (aṣl-i ḥajar). [4] Every soul who truly knows the root [of the philosopher's Stone] on the basis of the aforementioned similitudes (amthāl) relating to the [alchemical] work [task] (al-`amal), will attain wealth and self-sufficiency because such a person will be able to perform mighty deeds.


 [1] All the Sages (hukamā') have concealed the root [foundation] of the Stone (aṣl-i hajar) with the utmost secrecy. [2] That which they did set forth of the [alchemical] operations, whether relating to the knowledge of its initial, final or middle stages, they never expounded in a systematic manner. [3] That which they [the Sages] expounded about the external (barrāniyyih) [alchemical] operations was with a view to diverting attention from the basis [`root'] of the internal (javvāniyyih) [alchemical] work. [4] Inasmuch as they found similitudes between the internal (javvāniyyih) [alchemical] operations and those external (barrāniyyih) they expounded them. [5] Wherefore is the [alchemical] exposition of matters external (barrāniyyih) an expression of the ciphers, signs, allusions, metaphors and similitudes of the [alchemical initiates] sages (hukamā').

 [5] They, for example, made mention of "gold" (dhahab ). [6] Gold [normally] signifies the kind of gold which exists in a particular [earthly] mine (ma`dan-i makhṣūṣ). [7] But since there is analogy and likeness in terms of color and nature between internal gold (dhahab-i javvāniyya) and external gold (dhahab-i barrāniyya) they simply spoke about "gold". [8] Inasmuch as the people never discovered the real intention [of the sages] they wasted years of their lives occupied with their own idle fancies. [9] In regret they lived and in regret they went about for they never did attain the [alchemical] goal. [10] Their [ the sages] "gold" both  is gold and it is not gold. [11] Their moon is the moon and it is not the moon. Thus they [ the Sages] said: `Our gold is not ordinary gold and it is likewise with silver.' [12] In spite of this most of the servants [of God] wasted their lives in darkness about the [true sense of the] external (barrāniyya) [alchemical] operations and failed to attain the authentic daybreak.


  [1] As for that which they designated internal [gold] (javvāniyyih). [2] This should be viewed in terms of the four elements being hidden in a single reality (sha'y wāḥid) and which they have interpreted as being the [philosophers'] "Stone" (hajar). [3] After differentiation (tafṣīl) on the part of these possessed of insight this same interior [gold] (javvāniyyih) becomes exterior [gold] (barrāniyyih). [4] While the four elements (ṭaba'ī`-yi arba`ih) are concealed in the interior of their own mine [metal] (ma`dan') and are inseparable the term internal [gold] (javvāniyyih) is conferred upon it [the gold? "Stone"]. [5] Then, after outward combination and differentiation the name external [gold] (barrāniyya) is conferred upon it [the gold? "Stone"].

 [6] On this level external [gold] (barrāniyyih) is the essence (`ayn) of internal [gold] (javvāniyyih) and internal [gold] (javvāniyyih) the spirit (nafs) of external [gold] (barrāniyyih). [7] But some among the sages [alchemical initiates] (ḥukamā'), with respect to the four elements and the four elevated and ancient natures which are concealed and treasured up in the essence of the [philosophers'] "Stone" (nafs-i ḥajar), observed and made mention of realities closely related and connected on a surface level and thus named it external [gold] (barrāniyyih). [8] In such summary fashion was that "gold" [philosophers Stone] made mention of [by the alchemical initiates, the sages].


[1] The intention of pre-existence (qidam) is pre-existence in time (qidam-i zamānī) not [that pre-existence which is] essential (dhatī) since priority (masbīq) in this case has a cause (`illat). [3] Exalted be He above that which belongs to the sphere of origination (al-ḥudūth). [4] We bear witness that the Logos-Self of the Pre-Existent [Deity](nafs al-qidam), which has been understood by such as are nigh unto God and by the sincere ones who have been called into being on His [God's] part. [5] He [God Himself] has ever been sanctified above the notion of pre-existence (al-qidam) and origination (al ḥudūth). [6] Supremely Holy is He [God] above being described or elucidated. [7] That [reality] which He [God] hath named His "Logos-Self" (nafsahu) relates to the [Divine] Names and Attributes (al-asmā' wa'l-ṣifāt) [which are originated]. [8] This is an expression of His [God's] Grace unto phenomenal existence (al-akwān). [9] Exalted be the All Merciful [God in His essence] far above that which He hath ordained for phenomenal existence (al akwān). [10] He, verily, is the Mighty, the Munificent.


 [1] Then know O questioner, that the basis of the [alchemical] task is the true understanding of the [philosophers'] Stone (ḥajar) and the differentiation of that which is hidden within it; its purification (tathīr) and unification (tazwīj). [2] The spirit of the Stone (nafs-i ḥajar) ought, through the instrumentality of its own self, to effect the purification (tathīr) and differentiation (tafṣīl) of the Stone (ḥajar). [3] For, if there be external interference the [desired alchemical] blending (mizāj) will prove difficult.


 [1] So take hold of the [philosophers'] Stone and, through the Azrael of torment (`izrā'īl-i `azāb [the Angel of Death], cause the "soul" (al-rūh) and "spirit" (al-nafs) to emerge from it [the "Stone"]. [2] Then strive to purify it ["the Stone"] such that it is cleansed and purified of those impurities that inhibit the alchemical reconstitution (tadbīr-i `amaliyyIih; within the "Stone"). [3] And then return again that which hath been extracted [from the "Stone"] to the body (jasad; or substance [of the "Stone"]) so that, through the confirmations of the Israfil of the Spirit (israfil-i rūḥ), that dead body (jasad-i murdih) is brought to life. [4] [Then] Thou shalt observe a wondrous creation,  "So blessed be God, the best of Creators (ahsan al-khaliqin)" (= Q. 23:14) for the "body" (jasad) cannot receive a contrary "spirit" (rūḥ-i ghayr) nor likewise, the "spirit" (rūh) receive a contrary "body" (jasad). [5] This is the Truth and no doubt is there about it. [6] Although this "soul" (rūḥ) and "spirit" (nafs ) appear to be two realities after the [alchemical] differentiation they are really united in substance (ḥaqīqat) and essence (dhāt) and are but a single reality.


To be corrected and continued....