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Abraham the Jew and Flamel

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From: Jon Marshall
Date: Tue, 10 Oct 1995 09:27:29 -0700

I'm trying to write brief biographies of 'famous alchemists' for a project run by some friends, and I gather that the standard line now is that Nicholas Flamel the man, has nothing to do with the author of the exposition of the Hieroglyphicall figures (les figues hieroglyphiques,Paris 1612) and the Summarium Philosophicum (also 1612 I believe, but in a different book- published in the German areas' of Europe).
The question then is Are there any Manuscripts of the 'figures of Abraham the Jew' which can be dated before 1612?
And who now is the main suspect for the author of the Flamel tracts?


From: Adam McLean

Dear Jon,

On checking through my database of alchemical manuscripts, I note there are about 100 manuscripts with the name of Flamel mentioned in the contents.
Of these 23 appear to contain coloured drawings of the figures of Abraham the Jew. None of these is earlier than the 17th century, and for the most part they are of 18th century origin. There was a revival of interest in alchemy in France in the 18th Century and, of course, the legend of Flamel was rediscovered and reworked. I have not been able to personally examine more than a handful of these, and am not sure if the text in French is consistent across the various copies. Nothing seems to appear under the name of Flamel before the printed book of 1612, except this reference in a 15th Century manuscript, which I have not seen and have no knowledge of except this entry in the catalogue.

Bourges MS. 335 (276).
538 folios. in 2 col. Parchment. 406x286 mm. Bound in Parchment. 15th Century.
Joannis Balbi Januensis Catholicon.
Incomplet du commencement: '...beat mihi. De nichilum dico... - ... in secula seculorum. Amen. Explicit liber Catholicon.'
Au fol. 1, de la main de Nicholas Flamel, on lit : 'C'est le grand Catholicum, escript de lettre de forme, lequel est à Jehan, filz de roy de France, duc de Berry, d'Auvergne, conte de Poitou, d'Estampes, de Bouloingne et d'Auvergne - N. Flamel.' (Saint-Chapelle de Bourges.)

Here a list of all the manuscripts with coloured illustrations.

1. London, Wellcome Institute MS. 2288.
2. London, Wellcome Institute MS. 2381.
3. London, Wellcome Institute MS. 2383.
4. London, Wellcome Institute MS. 3123.
5. London, Wellcome Institute MS. 3936.
6. Glasgow University Library MS. Ferguson 17.
7. Glasgow University Library MS. Ferguson 129.
8. Glasgow University Library MS. Ferguson 154.
9. St. Andrews University Library MS. 38189 [Read].
10. St. Andrews University Library MS. 38190 [Read].
11. Manly Palmer Hall [P.R.S.] MS. 3.
12. Manly Palmer Hall [P.R.S.] MS. 137.
13. Mellon Collection, Yale University Library MS. 100.
14. Mellon Collection, Yale University Library MS. 146.
15. Paris, Bibliothèque Nationale MS. Français 14765 [Supp. Fr. 680] ]
16. Paris, Bibliothèque L'Arsenal MS. 3047 (153 S.A.F.)
17. Paris, Bibliothèque L'Arsenal MS. 6577 (173 bis. S.A.F.)
18. Grenoble MS. 824 [Ex libris A. Blanc - nouv. acq.]
19. Vatican. Bybl. Rossiano 903 (XI.56)
20. Biblioteca Philosophica Hermetica MS. 123.
21. Biblioteca Philosophica Hermetica MS. 306.
22. Biblioteca Philosophica Hermetica MS. 307.
23. Biblioteca Philosophica Hermetica MS. 312.

[Regarding the Vatican manuscript, which is in Latin, one of the subscribers to the alchemy forum has recently ordered a microfilm of this item and hopefully can in due course give us some more details of this manuscript.]
[There is also a Flamel manuscript in Latin of the hierogliphic figures, in the masonic library in Bthska Palatset, Stockholm. The document was bought by Carl Gustaf Tessin in Paris in 1739 and is almost identical to the French version published in 1612, but with a beginning prayer and with different illustrations. The document is being edited for publication by Kjell Lekeby. - This information from Susanna Akerman. Susanna also mentions in her unpublished article 'The Doubted Role of J. V. Andreae' that Claude Gagnon is of the opinion that Beroalde de Verville (author of Tableau des riches inventions, 1610) was the author of the Flamel Figures hieroglypiques. SeeClaude Gagnon, Nicolas Flamel sous investigation, suivi de l'edition annote du Livre des Figures Hiroglyphiques, Loup de Gouttire: Quebec, 1994, p. 26-27, 54, 65ff.]

I hope this is of some help,

With my best wishes,

Adam McLean

From: "Jon Marshall"
Date: Tue, 10 Oct 1995 21:06:05 -0700

Thank you Adam for the most useful information on the Flamel and Abraham the Jew Mss, and I look forward to possibly hearing more on the Vatican Ms from 'anonymous subscriber' ;)
Just to add to the confusion about dates for the author of the Flamel tracts; looking in Ferguson just now I note that he maintains that in Gerard Dorn'sTrevisanus de chymico miraculo, published in 1583 and 1600 there is a section'Annotata quaedam ex Nicolao Flamello Actuore Gallo'.
There appears by Ferguson's account to be some confusion as to whether these notes were annotations on Denis Zacaire (which Ferguson dismisses as Flamel was an earlier writer- but what if he wasn't?) and he further writes "a great many 'annotationes' by other writers- not having any connection with Zacaire at all- have simply been slumped by the editor, or printer, under Flamel's name" (Vol.2: 562). These then made their way into the Theatrum Chemicum in the 1602 and subsequent editions.
Now of course we cannot assume that these annotations are by the writer of the hieroglyphic figures, but this at the very least shows that there was an association of Flamel with alchemy almost 30 years before the publication of the better known works.


From: Adam McLean

Jon Marshall writes:-

>Just to add to the confusion about dates for the author of the Flamel tracts;
>looking in Ferguson just now i note that he maintains that in Gerard Dorn's
>Trevisanus de chymico miraculo, published in 1583 and 1600 there is a section
>'Annotata quaedam ex Nicolao Flamello Actuore Gallo'.

I have access to both of the Dorn editions in Glasgow, and will have a look at them for the Flamel reference in the next few days.


Date: Tue, 10 Oct 1995 08:04:43 -0700 (MST)


I wonder whether you've seen Raphael Patai's book "The Jewish Alchemists", published by Princeton University Press in 1994. Patai has found no Flamel manuscripts before the seventeenth century, but he has studied two fourteenth-century alchemists from Spain: Abraham Eleazar and Abraham ben Simeon. (See chapters 15, 17, and 21.) Patai, an outstanding scholar trained in Europe before W.W. II, gives reason to think that "Flamel" was quite ignorant of Hebrew, but also reason to think that there may be a real manuscript tradition for the Book of Abraham the Jew.


From: Adam McLean

Following up upon Jon Marshall's request, I had a look today at the Gerard Dorn book 'Trevisanus de chymico miraculo,…' Basle, 1583.

The pages 117-198 are headed 'Nicolai Flamelli Annotationes', however the text is divided into a number of sections, and it is not clear whether the whole work is to be seen as by Nicolas Flamell, or only the initial section of 3 pages.
p117 [Heading] Annotata quaedam ex Nicolao Flamello autore Gallo.
p119 [Sub-heading] Fons Chemiae.
p121 [Sub-heading] Io. Mehunnius de Lamentationibus naturae.
p124 [Sub-heading] Responsio.
p125 [Sub-heading] Autoris incogniti.
p126 [Sub-heading] Testamentum Arnaldi Villanovi.
p127 [Heading] Aliae quaedam annotationes ex variis autoribus.
p127 [Sub-heading] De solutione & coagulatione materiae Chimicae.
[This section continues to p152 and consists of quotations from various
ancient alchemical authors and works. These include Scala Philosophorum,
Arnold of Villanova, Avicenna, Lullius, Clangor Buccinae, Rosarius, Calid,
Turba, Bernardus, Alphidius, Geber, Semita semitae,]
p152 [Heading] Collectanea quaedam ex antiquis scriptoribus.
p167 [Sub-heading] Quae ex Democrito collegimus apponere visum est, quo res
dilucidior fiat, ex multorum opinionibus autorum.
p194 Summaria declaratio eorum, quae dicta sunt hactenus ex Democrito, per

[The first section p117-119 which the book seems definitely to assign to Flamel, deals primarily with the twofold nature of mercury - its masculine and feminine seeds, how it can be pictured as two serpents. Mercury is imperfect but is congealed in the veins of the earth by the seeds of the metals. The metallic seeds are like the fruits growing on the tree of mercury. This seems to present a familiar set of late 16th century ideas on the formation of the metals from mercury, through the different mixture and balance of the four elements. There is nothing here of the Flamel we know, or the images from the book of Abraham the Jew (excepting the rather general references to the two serpents).]

[This collection was reprinted in the Theatrum Chemicum, 1602.]

I am not sure what to make of this work. It is not the Flamel familiar to us from the figures hieroglyphique. Does anyone have any ideas on this?

Adam McLean

Date: Sat, 28 Oct 1995 11:34:09 +0000
From: Adam McLean

Yesterday I had a more detailed look at the Gerard Dorn book 'Trevisanus de chymico miraculo,…' Basle, 1583..
I read over the Flamel piece and some of the images seemed a bit familiar and I suddenly realised that this was a rather condensed precis of 'Le sommaire philosophique de N. Flamel', probably taken from the Jean de LA FONTAINE de Valenciennes 'De la transformation metallique, trois anciens tractez en rithme Françoise', published in 1540? 1546, 1561, 1590 and 1618. Also included in the Musaeum Hermeticum of 1678.

With best Wishes,

Adam McLean