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Astronomy and Astrology in the Works of Abraham ibn Ezra*

  • Bernard R. Goldstein (a1)

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.

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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 attitudes, 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.

2 Millás Vallicrosa J. M., “El magisterio astronómico de Abraham ibn Ezra en la Europa latina,” in Estudios sobre historia de la ciencia española (Barcelona, 1949), pp. 289347.

3 Levey M., “Abraham ibn Ezra,” in Dictionary of Scientific Biography, vol. IV (1971), pp. 502–3.

4 See Langermann Y. T., “Some astrological themes in the thought of Abraham ibn Ezra,” in Twersky I. and Harris J. M. (eds.), Rabbi Abraham ibn Ezra: Studies in the Writings of a Twelfth-Century Jewish Polymath (Cambridge, Mass., 1993), pp. 2885.

5 Levy R., The Beginning of Wisdom: An Astrological Treatise by Abraham ibn Ezra (Baltimore, 1939), p. 14.

6 Levy R., The Astrological Works of Abraham ibn Ezra (Baltimore, 1927), pp. 62 ff; Thorndike L., A History of Magic and Experimental Science (New York, 1923), vol. II, pp. 926–30.

7 Levy , Astrological Works, pp. 51–3.

8 Goldstein B. R., Ibn al-Muthannâ's Commentary on the Astronomical Tables of al-Khwârizmî (New Haven, 1967); id., “The book on eclipses of Masha'allah,” Physis, 6 (1964): 205–13.

9 For the discovery of a second copy of the anonymous version, see Goldstein B. R., “The Hebrew astronomical tradition: New sources,” Isis, 72 (1981): 237–51, esp. p. 250.

10 Goldstein , Muth., p. 191.

11 Kennedy E. S. and Ukashah W., “Al-Khwārizmī's planetary latitude tables,” Centaurus, 14 (1969): 8696.

12 Goldstein , Muth., pp. 147–8.

13 Pingree D., “The fragments of the works of Ya‛qūb ibn Ṭāriq,” Journal of Near Eastern Studies, 27 (1969): 97125, esp. p. 98; id., “The fragments of the works of al-Fazārī,” Journal of Near Eastern Studies, 29 (1970): 103–23.

14 Pingree , “al-Fazārī,” p. 106.

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

16 Goldstein , Muth., p. 150; 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 found; Kennedy E. S., A Survey of Islamic Astronomical Tables, Transactions of the American Philosophical Society, vol. 46.2 (Philadelphia, 1956).

17 Goldstein , Muth., p. 149.

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.

19 Goldstein , “Masha'allah,” p. 211.

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.

22 Millás , Tablas, p. 19; North J. D., Richard of Wallingford, 3 vols. (Oxford, 1976), vol. II, p. 266.

23 Millás , Tablas, p. 130.

24 Goldstein , Muth., p. 176.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

36 Goldstein and Pingree, Prognostication, p. 46.

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): 103–12; Goldstein and Pingree, Prognostication, p. 3.

39 Goldstein and Pingree, Prognostication, p. 32.

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.

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

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.

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

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

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

48 Goldstein , “Star lists,” p. 197.

49 Goldstein B. R., “The Hebrew astrolabe in the Adler Planetarium,” Journal of Near Eastern Studies, 35 (1976): 251–60; 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): 1929; Maddison F., “Description of a unique Judaeo-Arabic astrolabe,” in Christie's Sale Catalogue: “Important Judaica 15 December 1988” (Amsterdam, 1988), pp. 8895.

* Acknowledgement: An earlier version of this paper was presented at the Fifth International Symposium on the History of Arabic Science that took place in Granada, Spain, from 30 March to 4 April 1992.

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Arabic Sciences and Philosophy
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