Planets, Potions, and Parchments

Planets, Potions, and Parchments: Scientifica Hebraica from the Dead Sea Scrolls to the Eighteenth Century

B. Barry Levy
Copyright Date: 1990
Pages: 152
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  • Book Info
    Planets, Potions, and Parchments
    Book Description:

    More than 200 rare scientific manuscripts, books, maps, amulets, and magical texts have been brought together from renowned collections in Europe, Canada, Israel, Great Britain, and the United States specifically for this exhibition. The most famous among these is a fragment from the Dead Sea Scrolls containing chapters 81 to 85 from the Book of Psalms: fragments from the scrolls have been in Canada on only two other occasions. The exhibition will have an Assyrian cuneiform tablet from the seventh century BCE that describes treatments for eye ailments, a first edition Copernicus, and several texts by Maimonides, including one with marginal notes by Martin Luther. Also featured, in a rare Latin translation, is an Arabic medical book written by a Jew, demonstrating the international and inter-faith nature of the medieval scientific endeavour.

    eISBN: 978-0-7735-6266-0
    Subjects: History of Science & Technology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-v)
  3. Illustrations
    (pp. vi-vi)
  4. Foreword
    (pp. vii-vii)

    This beautiful publication will have a unique appeal for every individual who looks at it. Some readers will appreciate it as a memento of a pleasurable aesthetic experience. For others it will satisfy their intellectual curiosity about a previously unexplored area of knowledge. For Jews, it may be a catalyst to achieving a new perspective on their own religion’s history. For non-Jews, it may offer a more focused vision of a strand in the densely woven fabric of western civilization.

    For myself and others at the Jewish Public Library who have been involved inPlanets, Potions and Parchmentsfrom its...

  5. Preface
    (pp. viii-viii)
  6. Acknowledgments
    (pp. ix-xii)
  7. Introduction: Of Whirlwinds and Crucibles
    (pp. 1-7)

    Job, the pious hero of the biblical book that bears his name, was challenged by Satan (with God’s approval) in a test of his faith. After seemingly endless tragedy, including loss of his wealth, the deaths of his children, and continuous physical suffering, Job demanded that God reveal to him his sins, the justifications of his presumably divinely ordained torture. Unmoved by appeals to justice or by the psychological needs of His devoted servant, God declined to answer Job’s request. Instead, He confronted him from a whirlwind (a tornado or a storm) with a lengthy series of taunts, including:


  8. Chapter One God and Nature in Ancient Times
    (pp. 9-17)

    Widely known as one of the most engaging books in the Bible, Job is also at the pinnacle of the ancient wisdom literature, exemplified as well by the “Babylonian Theodicy” and the Akkadian wotkLudlul bel nemeqi.Its hero’s attempts to understand his plight have stimulated hundreds of explorations of the righteous sufferer and have captured the minds and souls of well over twenty centuries of readers and scholars. The history of the book’s interpretative literature is, to a large extent, the record of the greatest Jewish and Christian thinkers’ attempts to confront this baffling aspect of human existence.


  9. Chapter Two Astronomy
    (pp. 19-37)

    Hellenistic Egypt was a centre of scientific learning. It was home to, among others, Ptolemy, Archimedes, and *Euclid; it housed the best library in the world; and it provided excellent opportunities for scholars to study, organize, and assimilate the vast scientific legacies of the Greco-Roman and Mesopotamian civilizations. A tradition recorded by Josephus (Antiquities I‚167) and by several other writers credited Abraham with teaching Eastern mathematics and astronomy to the Egyptians. This notion has little to commend it as history, but it does reflect the fact that much Eastern scientific and mathematical knowledge was available in Egypt and that...

  10. Chapter Three Mathematics and Geometry
    (pp. 39-49)

    As is true for many ancient scientists, almost nothing is known of Euclid’s life. His reputation is based on hisElements, a thirteen-part study of number theory and geometry, but the version in use for well over one thousand years was a later adaptation of his work. The edition produced by Theon in the fourth century became the version known throughout the world, and only in the nineteenth century did scholars discover what is believed to be the earlier recension.

    *Galen, *Hippocrates, and *Ptolemy all became known through translations, which is a tribute to their universally recognized contributions to knowledge;...

  11. Chapter Four General Science
    (pp. 51-63)

    Attributed to the biblical patriarch Abraham but composed, in all likelihood, during the talmudic era (the date has been pushed back from the eighth to somewhere between the third and sixth centuries),Sefer Yetzirais one of the earliest and most famous works of Jewish cosmological and cosmogonical speculation. It contains esoteric wisdom about a series of issues, including the ten Seflrot, the alphabet and its mystical creative powers, and the months and signs of the zodiac. The work exists in two forms, and its extremely laconic and suggestive style, as well as the highly cryptic contents, invited further speculation....

  12. Chapter Five Medicine
    (pp. 65-93)

    Hippocrates, a famous Greek physician of late biblical times, is the reputed author of a collection of works that, in all likelihood, contains much that originated with others. Accordingly, it is more appropriate to speak of theCorpus Hippocraticumthan of Hippocrates’ personal writings. This collection of over one hundred compositions covers a wide variety of medical fields; diagnosis, prognosis, anatomy, physiology, surgery, therapy, gynaecology, mental illness, and medical ethics. Perhaps most famous is the Hippocratic oath, still administered to many physicians upon completion of their studies, though in some places it has been replaced by one of the versions...

  13. Chapter Six Science and Religious Ritual
    (pp. 95-107)

    Most medieval works of science included full discussions of related religious issues; in the case of astronomy books, the fixing of the religious calendar was an important topic. The history of the calendar is fascinating and complex, and leads through the mythological and scientific literatures of Mesopotamia, Egypt, Greece, and Rome, as well as through medieval and modern attempts to understand and apply them. Having evolved in tandem with many of these other calendars, the Hebrew calendar is almost as complex and no less engaging.

    The commonly used names of the biblical months (Tishrei, Adar, etc.) appear only in exilic...

  14. Chapter Seven Geography and Cartography
    (pp. 109-132)

    Some ancient thinkers believed that the earth was shaped like a sphere, but the popular belief that it was disk-like was more influential, and only in the late fifteenth century did the spherical configuration gain popular support in the West. Even so, a number of early rabbinic sources refer to the spherical form. The Palestinian Talmud, for example, states that “the world [i.e., the earth] is shaped like a sphere [kadur].” And a legend reports that Alexander the Great went aloft into the sky until he saw “the world [again, the earth] like a sphere [kadur]” (Avodah Zarah 42c).


  15. Postscript
    (pp. 133-134)

    By the nineteenth century, the human race had made great strides toward understanding Job's whirlwind and a myriad of other natural phenomena, but was no less awestruck by their presence nor less helpless to respond to many of them. Confrontation with natural forces that we are incapable of thwarting or controlling underscores our frailty and our inability, despite constant technological advances, to progress far beyond the attitude of Job.

    In many ways this merely re-emphasizes human weakness, even – perhaps especially – with respect to forces that we ourselves have set in motion. And many frustrated people have responded by retreating from...

  16. Glossary
    (pp. 135-135)
  17. Bibliography
    (pp. 136-137)
  18. Index
    (pp. 138-139)
  19. Back Matter
    (pp. 140-140)