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Ancient Source of Alchemical Knowledge

Believe it or not, alchemical societies are alive today and dedicated toward the study of alchemy and early chemistry. I located a subscription to one of their journals, Ambix, in the collections of both the Butler Library of Columbia University and the New York Public Library. Amazon even sells some of its issues.

But the earliest encyclopedia of alchemical lore—28 volumes, mind you—was compiled by Zosimos of Panopolis in about 300 CE, more than 200 years after Maria Hebrea’s (Miriam bat Isaac’s) time. He defined alchemy as the study of “the composition of waters, movement, growth, embodying and disembodying, drawing the spirits from bodies and bonding the spirits within bodies.” Like Maria Hebrea, he believed that the spiritual and physical aspects of being are intertwined, and that G-d is the source of all alchemical knowledge.

In fact, he cites Maria Hebrea frequently, crediting her with the development of a broad range of apparatus and techniques, including a method of gentle heating using a bath of hot water instead of an open flame. To this day, her name remains attached to the bain-marie and bagno maria of French and Italian cooking.

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