ROBERT W. BROCKWAYTHE ROOTS OF NEW AGE
light of the moon reflected from the marble. However, the most amazing feature of Alexandria was its underground labyrinth of cisterns, some of them five or six stories deep. Many of these have been excavated by archaeologists. These conduits connected with the Nile and Lake Mareostis, the two sources of the city’s water supply. In effect, the city was on an island surrounded by water.
Another famous feature of Alexandria was the huge library containing some 40,000 scrolls. All incoming ships were obliged to lend any scrolls they had aboard for copying. This treasurehouse of literature was unfortunately burned to the ground during the early Christian Era.
Alexandria attracted a multi-cultural and multi-ethnic population of a half million, made up of Macedonians, Greeks, Persians, Armenians, Syrians, Phoenicians, Jews, and, of course, indigenous Egyptians. Most lived by choice in quarters of their own. All except the native Egyptians embraced Hellenistic civilization, and, as mentioned, spoke Koine.
There were many temples and shrines in the city. Because of the mixing and mingling of people, comparisons were made between the natures of their various deities, and these were synthesized in new religions in which, for example, the Egyptian god Thoth was assimilated to the Greek deity Hermes, and the cult of Isis and Osiris became the cult of Isis and Serapis, a Hellenized mystery religion. Ptolemy, the general who founded the dynasty of which Cleopatra was the last incumbent, built a huge temple dedicated to the latter, the Serapeum. While the doctrines and rituals of this cult have been lost, we can get some idea of them from wall paintings in Pompeii and Herculaneum near Naples in Italy, two cities destroyed by the eruption of Vesuvius and excavated more or less intact. Wall paintings found show flaggelation scenes, which suggest that this may have been part of the initiation rites of the cult. Those who became initiates died to the old self and were reborn to the new. As such they became immortal.
Hellenistic Philosophy, Religion, and Esotericism
The roots of modern Western esotericism can be traced directly to Hellenistic philosophy, as, in part, can modern Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. Indeed, Esotericism with a capital “E” should probably be recognized by historians of religion as one of the Western religions. As is true in all four of these religious traditions, the component elements are chiefly Jewish, Greek, Mespotamian, Persian, Syrian, and Egyptian, which is exactly what we should expect. The difference between Esotericism and the other religions is the absence of founders. What is more, Esotericism was inchoate, amorphous, and unstructured. Perhaps the best parallel is with Hinduism, which is essentially what an Indian is if not actually the adherent of some other religion. Indeed, the parallels are even closer, because both of these traditions are monistic or pantheistic, and like amoebas, they absorb everything into themselves. While there are specific leaders and movements within both, Esotericism and Hinduism themselves are not movements.