Between Alchemy and Pietism

Wilhelm Christoph Kriegsmann’s Philological Quest for Ancient Wisdom

Mike A. Zuber

A minor figure undeservedly forgotten, Wilhelm Christoph Kriegsmann (1633–1679) has received only limited attention from historians of alchemy and church historians. He is known chiefly either for his idiosyncratic Phoenician reconstruction of the Tabula Smaragdina, a foundational text of alchemy attributed to Hermes Trismegistus, or alternatively for writing one of the earliest sustained defenses of Pietist conventicles to appear in print. In an attempt to bridge this unsatisfactory segregation, this paper argues that the notion of ancient wisdom (prisca sapientia) provided a crucial link between these seemingly disparate areas. First, Kriegsmann’s largely philological works on alchemy published between 1657and 1669 are discussed, with particular emphasis on how they framed the relationship between alchemy and religious piety. As Kriegsmann joined the cause of the first Pietists in the early 1670s, he was inspired to announce a whole range of books, some of which were never published. In the year 1676, he made the transition from an occult reading group to a Pietist conventicle. In its explicit combination of complete knowledge and practical piety, Kriegsmann’s call to restore the Bible wisdom (bibliosophia) of the ancient Jews is considered and placed in the context of other spiritualist and Pietist appropriations of ancient wisdom.

Wilhelm Christoph Kriegsmann; Tabula Smaragdina; Hermes Trismegistus; Plato; alchemy; ancient wisdom; Pietism