Mary the Jewess

Mary the Jewess
Engraving depicting Maria Prophetissa from Michael Maier's book Symbola Aurea Mensae Duodecim Nationum (1617)

Maria the Jewess (or Maria Prophetissima, Maria Prophetissa, Mary Prophetissa, Miriam the Prophetess) is estimated to have lived anywhere between the first[1] and third centuries AD.[2] She is attributed with the invention of several chemical apparatus and is considered to be the first non fictitious alchemist in the Western world.[3]



No tangible details exist of the time or place of her life. She is mentioned by early alchemists always as an authority and with uttermost respect.

The most concrete mention of Maria the Jewess in the context of alchemy is by Zosimos of Panopolis, who wrote in the 4th century the oldest alchemy books known.[4] In the Alexander book (2d part) of the Persian poet Nizami, Maria, a Syrian princess, visits the court of Alexander the Great, and learns from Aristotle (384 BC – 322 BC), among other things, the art of making gold.[5]


Her name survives in a invention of the water-bath or baño maría, extensively used in chemical processes in which gentle heat is necessary.[6] She is said to have discovered hydrochloric acid[7] and perfected the 3-armed distillation chamber, or still. In her writings, she recommends that the copper or bronze used to create the tubes be the thickness of a frying-pan, and the joint between these tubes and the still-head be sealed with flour-paste. Also attributed to her are the invention of the alchemical apparatuses known as the kerotakis and the tribikos.

Several cryptic alchemical precepts have been attributed to Maria Prophetissa. She is said to have spoken of the union of opposites:

Join the male and the female, and you will find what is sought.[8]

The following was known as the Axiom of Maria:

One becomes two, two becomes three, and out of the third comes the one as the fourth.

Psychologist Carl Jung used this as a metaphor for the process of wholeness and individuation.


  1. ^ "Maria the Jewess". World of Chemistry. Thomson Gale. 2006. 
  2. ^ Chemical History Tour, Picturing Chemistry from Alchemy to Modern Molecular Science Adele Droblas Greenberg Wiley-Interscience 2000 ISBN 0-471-35408-2
  3. ^ Patai, p. 60.
  4. ^ José María de Jaime Lorén. 2003. Epónimos científicos. Baño María. María La Judía. Universidad Cardenal Herrera-CEU. (Moncada, Valencia).
  5. ^ Bacher, "Leben und Werke Nizami's," ed. 1871, p. 76
  6. ^ E.J. Holmyard, Alchemy, 1957 (New York: Dover, 1990), pp. 48f
  7. ^ This is not accepted by most science texts, but mentioned in the Jewish Encyclopedia (1901–1906) and Bunch, Bryan; Hellemans, Alexander (2004). "Sci & Tech Chronology". History of Science and Technology. Houghton Mifflin Company. . Others attribute the discovery to Andreas Libavius.
  8. ^ Patai, p. 66.

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