The ancient occult texts that Dan Brown is paying to digitize and make free for all

Image: Courtesy Ritman Library
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Some of the world’s rarest documents will soon be available online for everyone.

Dan Brown, author of The Da Vinci Code and Angels & Demons, announced last week (June 16) that he’s donating €300,000 to digitize a collection of ancient books. The 4,600 pre-1900 texts on alchemy, astrology, magic, and theosophy are housed in Amsterdam’s Bibliotheca Philosophica Hermetica, also called the Ritman Library.

They include extremely precious texts on Hermeticism, an occult tradition that began roughly in the second century AD, and early printed editions of the Bible and the Quran:

  1. Corpus Hermeticum (1472): the source work on Hermetic wisdom. Says Ritman, when the manuscript arrived at the de’Medici court in 1463, scholar Marsilio Ficino was told to stop his translation of all the works of Plato, in order to translate this immediately.
  2. Jakob Böhme’s works in English (1764-1781): Böhme was a shoemaker who became a seminal figure of German Christian mysticism.
  3. Giordano Bruno’s Spaccio de la bestia trionfante (1584): Bruno, who lived during the Italian Renaissance, was burned at the stake for refusing to recant his ideas on the infinite universe.
  4. the first printed version of the tree of life (1516): A graphic representation of the sefirot, the 10 virtues of God according to the Kabbalah.
  5. an early Quran printed in Arabic (1694): The fourth edition of the printed Quran in Arabic, printed in Hamburg, Germany.
  6. a copy of a first-edition Quran in Latin (1542-1543): Printed in Basel, Switzerland.
  7. a hand-colored version of the Bible (1568-1573): A hand-inked version of the Bible printed for King Philips II of Spain, which appeared with four side-by-side translations, in Greek, Latin, Hebrew, and Chaldaic.
The world according to Jakob Böhme.
The world according to Jakob Böhme.
Image: Courtesy Bibliotheca Philosophica Hermetica

One particularly important text that will be digitized is the first English translation of the works of Jakob Böhme, a 17th-century German mystic. Says Esther Ritman, the library’s director and librarian, “When I show this book in the library, it’s like traveling in an entire new world.” Once the work is available online, she says, “We can take everyone along the journey of this book digitally.”

The bulk of the collection is expected to be online and available for free to the public by spring 2017.