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Astronomy and Astrology in the Works of Abraham ibn Ezra*

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  24 October 2008

Bernard R. Goldstein
Department of History and Philosophy of Sciences, University of Pittsburgh, RS/2604 CL, Pittsburgh PA 15260, U.S.A.


Abraham ibn Ezra the Spaniard (d. 1167) was one of the foremost transmitters of Arabic science to the West. His astrological and astronomical works, written in Hebrew and later translated into Latin, were considered authoritative by many medieval Jewish and Christian scholars. Some of the works he translated from Arabic are no longer extant in their original form, and on occasion his treatises provide information about earlier sources that is otherwise poorly preserved, if at all. Ibn Ezra seems to be the earliest scholar to record one of the seven methods for setting up the astrological houses, and this method was subsequently used by Levi ben Gerson (d. 1344) in southern France.

Abraham ibn Ezra d'Espagne (m. 1167) fut l'un des plus importants savants ayant contribué à la transmission de la science arabe à l'Occident. Ses ouvrages en astrologie et en astronomie, rédigés en hébreu puis traduits en latin, étaient considéréd comme faisant autorité par de nombreux savants juifs et Chrétiens. Parmi les ouvrages qu'il a traduits de l'arabe en hébreu, certains sont perdus dans leur langue originale et ses propres ouvrages renferment certaines informations concernant des sources anciennes mal ou pas du tout connues par ailleurs. Ibn Ezra semble être le premier a avoir consigne l'une des sept méthodes pour dresser les maisons astrologiques. Cette méthode avait par la suite été utilisée par Lévi ben Gershom (m. 1344) dans le Midi de la France.

Research Article
Copyright © Cambridge University Press 1996

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1 See, for example, Simon, U., Four Approaches to the Book of Psalms from Saadiah Gaon to Abraham ibn Ezra (Albany, 1991), which has a useful bibliography; for biographical details and a discussion of Ibn Ezra's non-conformist attitudesGoogle Scholar, see Graboïs, A., “Le non-conformisme intellectuel au XIIe siècle: Pierre Abélard et Abraham ibn Ezra,” in Yardeni, M. (ed.), Modernité et non-conformisme en France à travers les âges (Leiden, 1983), pp. 313.Google Scholar

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15 I am most grateful to Dr. Langermann for bringing this argument to my attention.

16 Goldstein, , Muth., p. 150Google Scholar; cf. Vallicrosa, J. M. Millás, El libro de los fundamentos de las Tablas astronómicas de R. Abraham ibn Ezra (Madrid/Barcelona, 1947), p. 76, where a similar list, with the notable addition of Ibn Yūnus (d. 1009), is to be foundGoogle Scholar; Kennedy, E. S., A Survey of Islamic Astronomical Tables, Transactions of the American Philosophical Society, vol. 46.2 (Philadelphia, 1956).Google Scholar

17 Goldstein, , Muth., p. 149.Google Scholar

18 This text has been analyzed in Pedersen, F. S., “Alkhwarizmi's astronomical rules: Yet another Latin version,” Cahiers de l'Institut du moyen-âge grec et latin, Université de Copenhague, 62 (1992): 3175.Google Scholar

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20 Ibid., p. 209.

21 Ibid., p. 206; cf. Pingree, D., “The Indian and Pseudo-Indian passages in Greek and Latin astronomical and astrological texts,” Viator, 7 (1976): 141–95, esp. p. 150.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

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23 Millás, , Tablas, p. 130.Google Scholar

24 Goldstein, , Muth., p. 176.Google Scholar

25 Millás, , Tablas, p. 119; for details, seeGoogle ScholarBenjamin, F. S. Jr, and Toomer, G. J., Campanus of Novara and Medieval Planetary Theory (Madison, 1971), p. 375.Google Scholar

26 Hogendijk, J., “Al-Khwārizmī's table of the ‘sine of the hours’ and the underlying sine table,” Historia Scientiarum, 42 (1991): 112.Google Scholar

27 Goldstein, , Muth., p. 82, cf. pp. 207 f; Millás, Tablas, pp. 157 f: Hogendijk, “Sine table,” does not refer to this latter passage.Google Scholar

28 See Neugebauer, O., The Astronomical Tables of al-Khwārizmī (Copenhagen, 1962), p. 57.Google Scholar

29 Goldstein, , Muth., pp. 104 ff, cf. pp. 229 f; Millás, Tablas, p. 166; Pingree, “Indian and Pseudo-Indian passages,” p. 164.Google Scholar

30 Pingree, , “The Indian and Pseudo-Indian passages,” p. 165.Google Scholar

31 Toomer, G. J., “The solar theory of az-Zarqāl: A history of errors,” Centaurus, 14 (1969): 306–36.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

32 Millás, , Tablas, pp. 79–83Google Scholar; cited in Toomer, , “Solar theory,” pp. 317 ff.Google Scholar

33 Goldstein, B. R., The Astronomical Tables of Levi ben Gerson (New Haven, 1974), p. 81.Google Scholar

34 North, J. D., Horoscopes and History (London, 1986), p. 25.Google Scholar

35 Goldstein, B. R. and Pingree, D., Levi ben Gerson's Prognostication for the Conjunction of 1345, Transactions of the American Philosophical Society, vol. 80.6 (Philadelphia, 1990), p. 6.Google Scholar

36 Goldstein, and Pingree, Prognostication, p. 46.Google Scholar

37 Ibid.; cf. Levy, The Beginning of Wisdom, Heb. text, p. xli.

38 Freudenthal, G., “Sur la partie astronomique du Liwyat Ḥen de Lévi ben Abraham ben Ḥayyim,” Revue des études juives, 98 (1989): 103–12CrossRefGoogle Scholar; Goldstein, and Pingree, Prognostication, p. 3.Google Scholar

39 Goldstein, and Pingree, Prognostication, p. 32.Google Scholar

40 Ibid., pp. 35–9.

41 Ibid., p. 37.

42 Boudet, J.-P., “Simon de Phares et les rapports entre astrologie et prophétie à la fin du moyen âge,” Mélanges de l'École Française de Rome, 102 (1990): 617–48.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

43 Cf. Sarfatti, G. B., Mathematical Terminology in Hebrew Scientific Literature of the Middle Ages [in Hebrew and English] (Jerusalem, 1968), p. 145.Google Scholar

44 Goldstein, , Muth., Hebrew section, pp. 126 ff; cf. Millás, Tablas, pp. 130 ff, where the term algeib is used for sine in the Latin version of Ibn Ezra's text.Google Scholar

45 Sarfatti, , Mathematical Terminology, pp. 77, 136; Goldstein, Muth., Hebrew section, pp. 136–7.Google Scholar

46 Goldstein, B. R., “Star lists in Hebrew,” Centaurus, 28 (1985): 185208, esp. pp. 196–7.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

47 Goldstein, , “Star lists,” p. 188; for additional star lists in HebrewGoogle Scholar, see Fischer, K., Kunitzsch, P., and Langermann, Y. T., “The Hebrew astronomical Codex MS. Sassoon 823,” Jewish Quarterly Review, 78 (1988): 253–92CrossRefGoogle Scholar; and Goldstein, B. R. and Chabas, J., “Ibn al-Kammad's star list,” Centaurus (in press).Google Scholar

48 Goldstein, , “Star lists,” p. 197.Google Scholar

49 Goldstein, B. R., “The Hebrew astrolabe in the Adler Planetarium,” Journal of Near Eastern Studies, 35 (1976): 251–60CrossRefGoogle Scholar; Goldstein, B. R. and Saliba, G., “A Hispano-Arabic astrolabe with Hebrew star names,” Annali dell'Istituto e Museo di Storia della Scienza di Firenze, 8 (1983): 1929CrossRefGoogle Scholar; Maddison, F., “Description of a unique Judaeo-Arabic astrolabe,” in Christie's Sale Catalogue: “Important Judaica 15 December 1988” (Amsterdam, 1988), pp. 8895.Google Scholar

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