The Chaldean Oracles
Translated by: Thomas Taylor
Read by: Dan Attrell
[From Wikipedia:] The Chaldean Oracles are a set of spiritual and philosophical texts widely used by neoplatonist philosophers from the 3rd to the 6th century CE. While the original texts have been lost, they have survived in the form of fragments consisting mainly of quotes and commentary by neoplatonist writers. They were likely to have originally formed a single mystery-poem, which may have been in part compiled, in part received via trance, by Julian the Chaldean, or more likely, his son, Julian the Theurgist in the 2nd century CE. Later neoplatonists, such as Iamblichus and Proclus, rated them highly. The 4th-century Emperor Julian (not to be confused with Julian the Chaldean or Julian the Theurgist) suggests in his Hymn to the Magna Mater that he was an initiate of the God of the Seven Rays, and was an adept of its teachings. When Christian Church Fathers or other Late Antiquity writers credit “the Chaldeans”, they are probably referring to this tradition.
An analysis of the Chaldean Oracles demonstrates an inspiration for contemporary gnostic teachings: fiery emanations initiate from the transcendental First Paternal Intellect, from whom the Second Intellect, the Demiurge comprehends the cosmos as well as himself. Within the First Intellect, a female Power, designated Hecate, is, like Sophia, the mediating World-Soul. At the base of all exists created Matter, made by the Demiurgic Intellect. The matter farthest from the Highest God (First Father / Intellect) was considered a dense shell from which the enlightened soul must emerge, shedding its bodily garments. A combination of ascetic conduct and correct ritual are recommended to free the soul from the confines of matter and limitations, and to defend it against the demonic powers lurking in some of the realms between Gods and mortals.
The Chaldean Oracles were considered to be a central text by many of the later neoplatonist philosophers, nearly equal in importance to Plato’s Timaeus. This has led some scholars, beginning with Franz Cumont, to declare the Oracles “The Bible of the Neoplatonists”.
The essence of Hellenistic civilization was the fusion of a Hellenic core of religious belief and social organization with Persian-Babylonian (“Chaldean”), Israelite and Egyptian cultures, including their mysterious and enthusiastic cults and wisdom-traditions. Hellenistic thinkers philosophized the mythology and cults, as well as foreign oracular utterances and initiatory lore. Philosophy originating from these two areas, or simply attributed to them, was regarded as possessing knowledge transmitted from the most ancient wisdom traditions.
In Egypt, the attempt to philosophize and synthesize ancient religious content resulted in part in the writings conventionally attributed to Hermes Trismegistus. The Chaldean Oracles are a parallel endeavour, on a smaller scale, to philosophize the wisdom of Chaldea. However, rather than the prose writings that came out of Egypt, the Chaldean Oracles originated from the fragments of a single mystery-poem, which has not been entirely preserved. By far the greatest number of the poem’s known fragments are found in the books of the later Platonic philosophers, who from the time of Porphyry, and probably that of Plotinus, held these Oracles in the highest estimation. Iamblichus of Syria referred frequently to the Oracles and mingled their ideas with his own.