The study of the Greek alchemists is not very encouraging. An even surface examination of the Greek texts shows that a very small part only was organized according to true experiments of laboratory: even the supposedly technical writings, in the state where we find them today, are unintelligible nonsense which refuses any interpretation.
To form an idea of the historical place of Jabir's alchemy and to tackle the problem of its sources, it is advisable to compare it with what remains to us of the alchemical literature in the . One knows in which miserable state this literature reached us. Collected by from the tenth century, the corpus of the Greek alchemists is a cluster of incoherent fragments, going back to all the times since the third century until the end of the Middle Ages.
In the 19th-century revival of alchemy, the two most seminal figures were and , who independently published similar works regarding spiritual alchemy. Both forwarded a completely esoteric view of alchemy, as Atwood claimed: "No modern art or chemistry, notwithstanding all its surreptitious claims, has any thing in common with Alchemy." Atwood's work influenced subsequent authors of the occult revival including , , and . Hitchcock, in his (1855) attempted to make a case for his spiritual interpretation with his claim that the alchemists wrote about a spiritual discipline under a materialistic guise in order to avoid accusations of blasphemy from the church and state. In 1845, Baron , published his studies on , a concept with some similarities to alchemy, but his research did not enter the mainstream of scientific discussion.