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T z v i L a n g e r m a n n
An Alchemical Treatise Attributed to Joseph Solomon Delmedigo
1. The Manuscript
The treatise is found in New York JTS, MS 2320, fols. 17b-20b. I am planning to publish the entire text, having been granted permission to do so by the library of the Jewish Theological Seminary; I am grateful for their cooperation. I first identified the treatise while cataloguing scientific manuscripts for the Institute of Microfilmed Hebrew Manuscripts in Jerusalem; as far as I know, I was the first to notice it. Note that the other items bound together with this treatise have nothing in common with it; MS 2320 is not a true codex, that is, a collection of works copied by the same scribe, and/or dealing with related topics, but a very diverse collection of texts that were bound together purely for the sake of preservation and convenience. The alchemical tract, written in a late Italian hand, is ascribed to Joseph Solomon Delmedigo. It certainly is not Delmedigo’s autograph, as Delmedigo’s name is followed by a traditional Hebrew R.I.P. I shall discuss the very problematic ascription to Delmedigo in the final section of this paper. According to the table of contents at the beginning, the treatise has ten chapters; however, only five are to be found in the unique copy. The incipit and table of contents are as follows:
© Al e p h 13 . 1 (2 0 1 3 ) p p . 7 7 - 9 4
237–242 and the literature cited there. Chapter One: On knowing the quiddity of the stone from which the elixir of the philosophers is generated. Here is the evidence. Chapter Three: On the quality of the stone and what is unique to it as far as the species of quality are concerned.P. 1972). al-ʿanbar. indeed. on p.. the Egyptian ʿIzz al-Dı̄n Aydamar bin ʿAlı̄ al-Jildakı̄ (d. Chapter Five: On the fire of the stone. meaning “medicinal powder. As we shall see. al-lakh. the elixir derives its name from its property of “breaking up the deficient forms and restoring them to their perfection” (fol. its species and the individuals belonging to its species. 258 n.2 Signposts for Locating MS JTS 2320 within the History of Alchemy In my view. Die Natur.und Geheimwissenschaften in Islam (Leiden: Brill.” “to break up. wishing to ̣ adut. there are other strong links between the treatise under examination here and the system of al-Jildakı̄. ʾitah ̣ adut. 18a). [with regard to?] that which is called weight in the words of the philosophers. and in it are ten parts. until it is cleansed from the filth of its impurity. he writes in Hebrew אתאחדות. the honorable rabbi Joseph Solomon Delmedigo.” Scholars now believe that the term “elixir” derives from the Greek ξηρίον. ca. The tract exhibits clear traces of the author’s knowledge of Arabic. Chapter Nine: On purifying the parts of the stone. of the maṣ dar in the eighth conjugation. ̣ ā d. The name of the semi-legendary alchemist Jābir bin Hayyān is transcribed accurately ()גאבר בן חיאן. as well as the following notes in this paper. use the term for unification.I. Chapter Seven: On liquefying the stone and molding it. ̄ see Manfred Ullmann. Elsewhere. 1342). in fact.” Osiris 2 (1936): 220–405. exactly the same etymology that our author proposes is found in later Arabic alchemists. Chapter Six: On the root of the stone. it seems that he not only read Arabic. 291. According to him. and by means of what thing its parts are made smaller. R. Chapter Eight: On raising the dry part of the stone and separating its thin from its thick. Chapter Ten: On compounding the elixir and the beginning of its generation and perfection. In Arabic this makes sense. Many Arabic names for ittih material substances are recorded in the tract: al-ʿū d. “An Alchemical Manuscript by Arnaldus of Bruxella. Of special interest is the etymology that our author suggests for the critical technical term “elixir” (Arabic: al-iksı̄r)—though we must also point out that he writes it in Hebrew with a qū f rather than a kā f.”1 However. Chapter Four: On the weights of the stone that is sought after. but it seems that the The correct Hebrew form is of course hitah 78 author was thinking in Arabic. Wilson. T z v i L a n g e r m a n n This book comprises ten parts. Ullmann cites this same etymology from one of the works of al-Jildakı̄ (p.Y. since the verb kasara means “to break. 9). Chapter Two: On the oneness of the stone and its distinction from other units [monads?]. which he then Hebraized as אתאחדות. pp. al-misk. On al-Jildakı. ʿuṣ fur. 79 . the first task to be undertaken in the study of this text is identification of the distinctive characteristics that may serve to 1 2 William J. but thought in Arabic. most notably in the work of their most important representative. and so on. zaʿfrā n. It was written by the comprehensive scholar. including each one of the long vowels—a rare phenomenon.
These stand out in being different from the usual run of ideas I have seen in the alchemical texts that I have studied. for example. It is not in the color of saffron or al-ʿuṣ fa. 1989]). The elixir dyes as well. when other metals are transformed into gold. It cannot be the case that the stone possesses many different arts from all of which the desired request is attained.” ̣ ad (‘one’) is used ambiguously. the dye saffron. and the like that I have extracted from the text. Nevertheless. p. one that singles out the salient features of the alchemies practiced or studied in different cultural settings and in different epochs. Moreover. as the stupid. • The definition of the subject (nosē ʾ) of the art. but He gave to them intellect and understanding. Paris: Belles Lettres. p. vol. it is in the course of discussing these points that our author (again. Hildesheim: Olms.” Ph. For the natural action in one thing can only be one.Y. since gold has already attained the ultimate degree and there is no need to inquire as to what prevents it from getting there. It is like dyeing cloth—and this is an ancient analogy. too. incenseofferers(? meqaṭ ṭ erim) think. Therefore. Delmedigo. I hope that these items will serve as signposts towards the eventual contextualization of the tract. since an elixir acts upon substances in order to “restore” them to gold. and for that reason Galen’s dictum applies. 1986. Jābir rejects this very same maxim. Their intellect is like that of beasts.” • Wisdom’s quest “to restore the deficient metals to the silvery and golden form” means the same thing as the saying of Galen (whose name is given in the standard Arabic form. 1945 [repr. blind. and thus seem promising for the task that I have set for myself. “Galens Traktat ‘Dass die Kräfte der Seele den Mischungen des Körpers folgen’ in arabischer Übersetzung. Jālı̄nū s). 45) (Cairo. which is the status of gold. Galen wrote a whole book on this doctrine: See Hans Hinrich Biesterfeldt.5 Another indication: “I say that its art is one and its works are natural. University of London. beasts are better than they are. Taslimi. Only an active dye can do this. T z v i L a n g e r m a n n place the text in its proper historical setting. 4 In fact. but gold has no capacity to transform other materials into gold.” From this it follows that gold is a subject for alchemy only accidentally. supposedly) launches a severe attack on those who think otherwise: 80 “For this reason they said that color and perfection are the same.”4 Here is one indication among many that the author regards alchemy as one of the natural sciences. 1953. Jā bir et la science grecque (= Mémoires présentés à l’Institut d’Egypte. “that the soul always follows upon and is subsequent to the temperament of the body. “An Examination of the Nihayat al-Talab and the Determination of its Place and Value in the History of Islamic Chemistry. The best that I can do now is to provide a list of opinions. statements. not by means of matter. 81 .” Abhandlungen für die Kunde des Morgenlandes 40(4) (1973). In this enterprise I sense strongly the lack of any comprehensive history of alchemy. Their presentation as bullet-points is meant only to highlight the preliminary nature of my report. there is an important distinction between the action of the elixir and the action of a dye. the theory of our text agrees with that of al-Jildakı̄. for the Blessed Creator determined that it be so [for beasts]. in order that they intellectualize and represent well the truth to their intellects. Contribution à l’histoire des idées scientifiques dans l’Islam. But they corrupted themselves. In this very distinctive claim as well. Interestingly enough. gold is not an elixir. 5 Paul Kraus. 330. which is “to look into the accidents that prevent” metals from attaining “the ultimate degree. tracing back to the beginnings of the art: a dyed cloth cannot dye another piece of cloth. and transformed themselves from human to beastly. [being • “Know that the noun ʾeh 3 See the invaluable thesis by M. as does. Indeed.D. 549. their color changes.3 Interestingly. The elixir “dyes” by means of form. dissertation. there is no connection between the power of the elixir and its volume. Jā bir Ibn H ̣ ayyā n.
“weight.” Discussions of the different meanings of “one” are found in medieval philosophical literature. T z v i L a n g e r m a n n employed] for separate things. and is its hiding place. its special property is the color.” The term is mentioned in the French version of the Turba Philosophorum and in Epistola Rasis. After it.9 6 See Y. and stories circulated about his curing every illness with it. play a much more significant role in our text. or forces. as when you say Reuben and Simon. … After it. Rémi Brague (Hildesheim: Olms. Alchemie. I am very grateful to one of the referees of this paper for this reference. and Mar Rey Bueno (Newcastle upon Tyne: Cambridge Scholars. or an artificial ‘one. In addition to the four (Empedoclean) elements that are found in all composite bodies.’ [i. Ruth Glasner.” pp. Apokryphen im frühen Islam: Gesammelte Aufsätze. One is from the soul. but it is also (and presumably. and the concept behind it.” repr. the decision that the “one” applied to the philosopher’s stone is the generic one.Y. Didier Kahn.’ as when you speak of a camp. 70–114. a discussion of this sort.” in Chymia. or a congregational ‘one. pp. 2011). most remarkably. the general public thinks that the term refers only to the stones. on 103–104. Our author summarizes. “A Different Hue to Medieval Jewish Philosophy: Four Investigations into an Unstudied Philosophical Text. “For this reason they said that whoever does not know the art should go and learn the art of soap [production]. 9 Paul Kraus. They erred in ̣ ayyā n and others. and the fourth chapter is devoted to its exposition. Reimund Leicht. • Making the elixir is similar to the manufacture of soap. which is body (gešem) and matter.’ like the limbs of an animal. According to the author. since the four elements are also called angles. ̄ 7 This is an additional and significant point of contact between our tract and the alchemy of al-Jildakı̄. Sirr al-khalı̄ qa wa-ṣ anʿat al-ṭ abı̄ ʿa (Aleppo. an inert and inanimate material undergoes a chemical change that transforms it into an active agent. on. more significantly) used to denote equality or balance. it reaches to the ends of the minerals. Ketzerei.’ as when you say ‘man’. 1979). the second angle. in idem.?] an animal. 82 and it is the matter and angle of the elixireal form. the philosophers’ stone has seven angles. [understanding] the words of Jā bir bin H many have thought that Jā bir regarded the elixir as a panacea.e. and. Sometimes “the philosophers” do use “weight” when speaking of quantities. 253–256.” In fact. a Tribute to Gad Freudenthal. • Another term possessing a variety of meanings is mišqal. pp. 1994). the philosophers’ stone has three additional components. pp.” In fact. and other sorts of ‘one. “The Turba Philosophorum and its French Version (15th c. 2010).’ However.” in Studies in the History of Culture and Science. this is one of the most important technical terms in the treatise. it seems that the term.). “Studien zu Jā bir ibn H ̣ ayyā n. or a relative. Tzvi Langermann. 61–63. ed. which is the spirit that bears the soul. ed. or a natural ‘one. 71–89. Science and Nature in Medieval and Early Modern Europe. and one speaks of a generic ‘one. 7 8 See Taslimi. In both processes. the same word may also be used to refer to an active form. relational (?) ‘one. 83 . The Arabic text has been edited by Ursula Weisser. but they are wrong. 11. Here are some of the ways in which it is used. is found in the work of al-Jildakı. as the fools think. an alchemical work attributed to Abū Bakr al-Rā zı̄ that circulated with the Turba. and Giuseppe Veltri (Leiden: Brill.” • The elixir is not a panacea: “It is not possible that the elixir heals every deficient thing in the world. In the art of alchemy. the third angle.” Indeed. Didier Kahn. “angle.’ like the theriac. “An Examination of the Nihayat al-Talab. and the additional references in n. Resianne Fontaine. which are called “angles”: “It possesses three additional forces. the term has other meanings. • Another very important but highly idiosyncratic term is zawit. coins.6 however.8 However. and other things used to weigh out materials in other arts. the oneness of the stone is nothing if not generic. Miguel López Pérez. ed. 76–77.
T z v i L a n g e r m a n n • We have already taken notice of two authorities acknowledged in our treatise. there is a partial overlap between the theories of Apollonius and Aristotle. on the basis of the elements and natural forces that are at play within them. Jābir and Galen. including the theories of Copernicus. Questions of this sort did trouble Isaac Barzilay. and other bodies of knowledge. this work is attributed to Aristotle: “The discourse on this was completed by the scholar Aristotle in his book which is called The Secret of Creation. which is always attributed to Apollonius of Tyana. such that only those practicing the same art can understand them. lovers (h ̣ ošeqot) have strange and odd hints. one may question his interest in kabbalah.” One ought to add that Sirr al-khalı̄ qa offers a comprehensive series of explanations of natural phenomena. “The Study of Wretched Subjects. Galileo. pp. As Kraus points out.11 • Like so many other alchemists. I refer to the short. The lover must know the meaning of each thing. or Bālı̄nās as his name appears in Arabic. and Paul Kraus devoted a whole chapter of his landmark study to him. Others will not understand their words.14 I have 10 Kraus. chapter four. I will skip over the question whether or not the historian of science ought to pay attention to the so-called pseudo-sciences. and the additional details are noteworthy. al-misk. and a clear consensus has emerged that no body of knowledge should be excluded from the historian’s gaze simply because today that body of knowledge is considered by most to be frivolous nonsense.10 But in our treatise. Ruderman. How many arts are there whose items and tools (?) have hidden and closed names for those who employ them. he specifies just what sort of secret he has in mind. According to him. the secret language of the alchemists is like the codes used by other artisans when communicating with members of the same profession. Karaism. and messages that they send we-h to one another. and others. but David Ruderman has responded to them adequately. Aristotle. 276. However. I see no intrinsic or strong historical connection between kabbalah and alchemy.” Isis 42 (1951): 11. and coal.13 Nor shall I take up the problem (at least some scholars viewed it as problematical) of squaring Delmedigo’s (should he prove to be the author) enthusiasm for alchemy with his involvement in the new science of his period. for example. 85 . Jā bir. or (by implication the same sort of thing). the secret language used by lovers between themselves. This Apollonius is one of the godfathers of alchemy. Looking at the issue from the other direction. strong. Here are his words: “Look and see ̣ ošeqim [how codes are used] for something else.Y. salt. our author often calls the art “a secret” (sō d). However. al-ʿanbar. From these strange words they understand their meaning and what is in their hearts. 1995). In the same vein. our author ascribes to Aristotle a book called “The Secret of Creation” (Sod ha-yeṣ irah). That issue has been dealt with adequately. al-ʿū d. it seems necessary to address as briefly as possible the extremely difficult question of the proper approach to the history of alchemy. p. Otto Neugebauer. so Delmedigo’s interest in kabbalah does not in any way argue for his authorship of the tract under study here. 270–303 11 Ibid. 12 וראה והביט לזולת זה כגון החושקים והחושקות איך יש להם רמזים זרים ורחוקים ודברים שישלחום זה לזה ומהדברים הזרים ההם יבינו מה שבלבם ורצונם כגון האלעוד (!)ואלענבר ואלמסך והתפוחים והמלח והפחם וצריך החושק לידע הרצון מכל דבר ודבר כמה מלאכות שיש לדבריהם ולכיליהם (!) המשתמשים בהם שמות נסגרים ונסתרים שלא יבינום אלא בעלי אותה המלאכה 13 By way of example. especially in connection to the history of astrology. This seems to be none other than the book known in Arabic as Sirr al-khalı̄ qa. A third one is mentioned as well. apples.”12 84 In Search of the Proper Context Before we even attempt to suggest a proper context or contexts. for example. Jewish Thought and Scientific Discovery in Early Modern Europe (New Haven and London: Yale University Press. 14 David B. and no-nonsense statement on the part of the greatest historian of ancient astronomy and astrology.
and drew boundaries between them. 18 William R. Atoms and Alchemy: Chymistry and the Experimental Origins of the Scientific Revolution (Chicago: University of Chicago Press. over the ages. Jung came to alchemy almost by accident. Alchemy took on many different and diverse forms in the ancient world.16 Scholars are not always forthcoming in their praise for the contribution of nonspecialists. as far as I can see. Mircea Eliade. 2nd ed. T z v i L a n g e r m a n n never seen there to be a real issue here.17 More recently. Byzantium. that chapter in his thought is of no help in determining whether he is the author of the tract under discussion. a science whose task is to develop techniques for the transformation of materials. the transformation of metals is a metaphor for the transformation of the person’s inner self. one way of acknowledging the 86 inherent difficulties of the history of alchemy and the need for some new perspectives. However. These two features—experimentalism and atomism—distinguish alchemy from Aristotelianism and award it a place of honor on the “Scientific Revolution. he went on to study unpublished manuscripts. 1994) which. Newman. India. Others see it as a branch of philosophy or religious thought.15 Suffice it to recall the important contributions to the history of alchemy by two leading intellectuals of the twentieth century. and the alchemical literature. 17 In retrospect. and his work in this field is still not without value. that is. especially ChristianLatin alchemy. China. I have never had any reason to think that Delmedigo (or other thinkers of an earlier epoch and different culture) necessarily classified bodies of knowledge. the problems with the history of alchemy do not end with the recognition of its legitimacy as a field of study. Newman has been working hard to get the history of alchemy (or “chymistry” as he sometimes prefers to call it) onto an entirely new footing. even though his approach is very different from theirs. Budapest.Y. 16 Mircea Eliade. Eliade voices his satisfaction that his work was wellreceived by historians of science. Department of Medieval Studies) 16 (2010): 166–190. My research has never set itself such lofty targets.” Annual of Medieval Studies at CEU (Central European University. the way many people do today. aiming to flesh out 15 The present discussion is based largely on the very fine survey by George-Florin Cal ̆ ian. is still a useful compendium. Eliade for his part approached the field as an anthropologist studying the sacralization of techniques that gave to humankind power over natural substances. Newman views alchemy as an experimental science founded on an atomistic. This motivated him to carry on his own investigations into the history of alchemy. for all of its shortcomings. The opinion of scholars concerning its characterization is no less diverse. The Forge and the Crucible: The Origins and Structures of Alchemy.”18 These are some of the great issues that must be grappled with by anyone wishing to construct a new “narrative” for the history of alchemy and to find for it a new and hopefully more suitable place within the collective human cultural achievement. when he noticed a similarity between the structures of dreams that he heard from his patients.” Newman scoffs at the view that alchemy is “spiritual. Some see it as proto-chemistry. “Alkimia Operativa and Alkimia Speculativa: Some Modern Controversies on the Historiography of Alchemy. neither of whom was a historian of science: the psychologist Carl Gustav Jung and the historian of religion. the warm acceptance given to Eliade’s book is. on the one hand. (Chicago: University of Chicago Press. I think that for the same reason scholars—myself included—might have been more receptive to the book by Raphael Patai. William R. on the other. 87 . medieval Islam. so I think. my much more modest project has been to study each alchemical treatise separately. In a forthcoming study I examine Delmedigo’s engagement with atomism. 1978). The Jewish Alchemists: A History and Source Book (Princeton: Princeton University Press. In the introduction to the second edition of his widely read monograph on alchemy. and medieval and early modern Europe. or corpuscular. 2006). theory of matter.
The most famous of his teachers there was without doubt the great Galileo Galilei. 89 . Joseph Solomon Delmedigo (Yashar of Candia): his Life. and others that unmistakably convey a metaphor for human spiritual transformation. paying attention to those points that are of particular importance for the identity of the author of the alchemical treatise. allowing the elements to recombine into a more fortuitous grouping. external factors may (most usually do) prevent them from reaching the maximum of their entelechy. then. or its submission to laws of natural processes. I have in fact seen alchemical tracts that contain nothing more than chemical or metallurgical techniques. dilate. unknown. “the stone” will dissolve an unsuccessful compound. Joseph Solomon Delmedigo. we need devote our attention to two issues of his biography: his attitude towards alchemy and his knowledge of Arabic. let us look at one such passage. 107). seen as an integral part of natural philosophy.” Christ Church Library Newsletter 6(3) (2010): 1–6. In 19 The only comprehensive study is still Isaac Barzilay. even though the contents of his literary legacy have yet to undergo close scrutiny. in 1591. 20 Barzilay. from which we learn that Delmedigo also taught alchemy. we may say that the view that gold is the highest realization for a metal is not out of harmony with the Aristotelian view that material objects will seek to actualize their potential. or nearly so. Isaac Barzilay already noted Delmedigo’s enthusiasm for alchemy. certainly not in any radical fashion. The collected reports of the Institute of Microfilmed Hebrew Manuscripts (Mi-ginzei ha-makon. When necessary. ed. Delmedigo was born in Candia. melt. Yashar of Candia. T z v i L a n g e r m a n n its distinguishing characteristics. widening his horizons and expanding his knowledge. eastern Europe. 139. our treatise does not propose an atomistic theory of matter. 1974). The purpose of “the stone” is to remove those factors preventing the metal from realizing itself as gold. pp.k. on the island of Crete. and finally Prague. All of this is natural and orderly.19 In keeping with the limited goals of this note. nor does its author wish to break with Aristotle. 261–262. For the question of Delmedigo’s purported authorship of the alchemical treatise.a. is a theoretical work on the transformation of metals.Y. “Authorship in a Hebrew Codex. some of his writings remain entirely 88 by the present writer on p. see Jeremy I. Pfeffer. which is all that survives. Christ Church] MS 199: Tracing Two Lost Works by Delmedigo. 1996]) include short descriptions in Hebrew of newly discovered treatises by Delmedigo on medicine (described by Benjamin Richler on pp. Constantinople. Hamburg. but Delmedigo studied much more than physics. In 1613 he returned to Candia. We should also notice that there is not a single technical description of a chemical or metallurgical procedure in the entire treatise—or at least in the first five chapters. I shall first quickly review Delmedigo’s biography and oeuvre. or roast. but after three years in his hometown he began a series of travels that took him to Egypt. ascribed to Delmedigo? I have already called attention to the author’s insistence that the art is an inseparable part of natural philosophy. and the Low Countries. nor are any of the famous alchemical instruments mentioned. The treatise. The tract emphasizes the regularity of (what we would call) chemical transformation. Works and Times (Leiden: Brill. a. Recently we have been enriched with writings by Delmedigo in the sphere of halakhah (Jewish rabbinic law). 23–24) and astronomy (described Joseph Solomon Delmedigo and Alchemy The name and fame of Joseph Solomon Delmedigo. providing numerous references to the relevant portions of Delmedigo’s published writings. Between 1606 and 1613 he studied at Padua. So how to characterize the alchemical text under examination here. are well known.20 By way of example. where he died in 1655. In brief. [Oxford. Abraham David [Jerusalem: The Jewish National and University Library. Pressing this line of inquiry. There are no instructions to mix.
22 Mikhtav ʾaḥ uz is printed in A. as one may see in the 21 Sefer ʾElim (printed by Manasseh ben Israel. On 90 the other hand—and in sharp contradistinction to Delmedigo’s other writings—there are no words at all taken from European (principally Romance) languages. p. in his Maʿayan ̣ atum. 24 Mikhtav ʾaḥ uz. and which I gathered from the works of the great philosophers. There he records the Mikhtav ʾah following: “I told myself to first approach the Arabic language. 33. but abandoned it [lit. notes in one of his queries to Zeraḥ ben Natan (a Karaite correspondent of Delmedigo) “the secrets of nature and the alchemical processes (peʿullot) that I learned from my teacher. Indeed.”24 Isaac Barzilay understood this passage to mean that Delmedigo thought at one time to learn Arabic. and the definitions as well. on the basis of my experience in studying texts. Melo ḥ ofnayim (Berlin. the alchemical manuscript that bears Delmedigo’s name draws upon Arabic sources. As we have seen. On the other hand.יער הלבנון שקבלתי מרבותי ושקבצתים מספרי הגדולים הפילוסופים והרבה סודות וסגולות נפלאות טבעיות כלולים בו ובפרט על טבע הזהב והמתכות והשתנותם ותהפוכתם זה לזה מאמר נכבד קראתיו חפש מחופש. p. natural special properties”. 91 . erected tombstones for it] after I saw that every worthwhile thing in it is taken from the books of the Greeks. Delmedigo describes that book as follows ̣ uz: “Yaʿar ha-levanon. their alteration and transformation from one ̣ ē feṣ meh ̣ uppas. the Hebrew text reads: והוא ע”ד שאלות ותשובות נפש משיבות שיחות ובו הכנסתי והכללתי כל דבר חפץ. especially concerning the nature of gold and the [other] metals. and other signs that the author had a good command of the language. 25 Barzilay. 1840). the short tract entitled ̣ uz that we have already cited. T z v i L a n g e r m a n n Sefer ʾElim (a book that also contains correspondence of Delmedigo and his students). Geiger. are of cardinal importance for the present study. conversations in which I inserted and included every precious thing that I received from my teachers. Delmedigo has left us an autobiography. Delmedigo refers to a book on mathematics in Arabic that h he did not like: “And so Yusuf the Ishmaelite sought to explain the proofs. p. 23 However.”22 These to another. The title H ̣ ē feṣ meḥ uppas comes from Psalms 64:7.”21 It seems to be the case that alchemy featured prominently in Delmedigo’s great composition. p. a worthy chapter that I called H passages may serve to confirm Delmedigo’s positive attitude towards alchemy and thus argue in favor of his authorship of the treatise. the author insists that alchemy is one of the natural sciences. and they [the Arabic writers] change things by adding or detracting. but gave up on the idea after he came to the conclusion that the Arabic writers did not correctly understand the Greek philosophers. Mikhtav ʾah the form of questions and answers. I would like to call attention to two additional points.Y. which is in in his autobiography. this means only that the text of the unique manuscript is not a part of the lost Yaʿar ha-levanon. which unfortunately is lost. Of course. but he was not able to produce anything worth paying attention to. revitalizing the soul. Yaʿar ha-levanon.23 There are some Arabic words written out in Hebrew characters. Joseph Solomon Delmedigo.25 I do not necessarily challenge his interpretation. in the text of the manuscript under discussion here. Delmedigo’s sojourn in Egypt. I submit that the style and diction of the Hebrew argue strongly against this being a direct translation from an Arabic text. and the possibility that during this period he acquired a good knowledge of Arabic. still. Many secrets and wonderful. 24. Moses Metz. of that treatise. 1629). 50. natural special properties (segullot) are included there. Amsterdam. it may still well be an authentic work of Delmedigo. First. in the passage just cited Delmedigo refers to (what we would certainly call) alchemy as having “wonderful. Delmedigo’s pupil. nor can I find any hint of the title H ̣ ē feṣ meh ̣ uppas. 27. it seems to me that Delmedigo must have made some progress in reading Arabic before terminating his studies. the alchemical text is not in the form of questions and answers.
each with its own distinctive contents. as well as Jews. the public debate he held with a Muslim scholar whom he names as ʿAlı̄ bin Raḥ madan. …”28 We are not concerned with the details of the contest. but I have not been able to locate a work bearing that title. and we fixed a period of four weeks. … But we met one day. He adds. was held in the Arabic language. perhaps even half a year. geographical loci. and Samaritans. and other characteristics. but I ignored him. In the book Basemat I will elaborate. the strongest evidence for Delmedigo’s command of Arabic is his relatively long stay in Egypt and. 41. kabbalah. it is quite clear that this contest. Therefore. As we shall soon see.27 Here follows Delmedigo’s account of the debate. On the assigned day I found a large gathering of Ishmaelite officials. alchemy had an important place in Basemat. which I described briefly above. this is not to say that some books do not display characteristics of more than one tradition. and to which tradition the treatise under study here can be connected. authorities. 28 Sefer Sod ha-yesod (printed together with Sefer ʾElim). just as in philosophy. it is thus not unreasonable to speculate that he may have consulted Arabic sources for the section on alchemy as well. in particular. I submit. God willing. 29 Ibid. For the solution of the first problem that Delmedigo posed. p. This issue is all the more acute when we are dealing with alchemy. given the serious differences of opinions between scholars concerning the definition of alchemy and the proper way of approaching its history. One final remark. carrying on for three hours. “But after he was finished speaking. 26 Maʿayan ḥ atum is printed together with Sefer ʾElim. to establish that the encounter could not have taken place had Delmedigo been ignorant of Arabic. 27 Just how long Delmedigo stayed in Egypt is not known. In my opinion.Y. of which Delmedigo was so proud. The classification of alchemy as one of the natural sciences is important for our study. and not just for the question of the ascription of the alchemical treatise to Delmedigo.”26 Basemat is yet another major writing of Delmedigo’s that is not extant. who taught in the academies (yeshivot) in the great city of Cairo. terminology. 54) suggests that he was there for several months. ʿAlı ̄ bin Raḥ madan. he himself testifies that such copies were readily available. When I arrived there. Karaites. the citation is from p. we would like to know which alchemical tradition Delmedigo belongs to. it is far from sufficient to decide whether Delmedigo was “for” or “against” alchemy. I opened the 92 book and asked him if he had ever read it. but from the passage just cited we are able to learn that Delmedigo made use of Arabic sources for that book. I maintain that a discussion of this sort could have taken place only in the Arabic language: “Just as it happened with the Egyptian. So again. We must never forget that in the sciences. I have not been able to identify “Yusuf the Ishmaelite. the name of ʿAlı’ ̄ s father is clearly not transmitted correctly. after which Delmedigo sent for a copy of Menelaos.” ʿAlı̄ tried for hours unsuccessfully to solve Delmedigo’s problem.”29 Delmedigo must have shown ʿAlı ̄ a copy of Menelaos that was in Arabic. and each one of us posed to the other ten questions. T z v i L a n g e r m a n n tract on ratio and proportionality (ha-yah ̣ as we-ha-hityah ̣ asut) that he composed in Arabic. the passage just cited suffices. a variety of different traditions maintained themselves.” His treatise would surely have been called in Arabic Risā lat al-nisba wa-l-tanā sub. That man was [held to be] great by the Ishmaelite officials and was highly esteemed. But there is more. but the precise identification of this individual is not important for the present discussion. 6. “Everyone in Egypt has the book in Hebrew and in Arabic. one had to consult Menelaos’ book on spherical geometry. I showed the entire gathering that he had erred in the preliminaries and foundations [of geometry]. Barzilay (Joseph Solomon Delmedigo. and other bodies of knowledge. 93 . p. he came to test me with riddles and questions that deal with mathematics (limmudim).
draws on Arabic sources. 94 . why would he avoid using any Romance terms? In short. The alchemical treatise first identified in the present paper. suffice it to sum up and say that Delmedigo was interested in alchemy. which exhibits his name as its author.For now. There is powerful evidence that Delmedigo had a good command of that language. He is to be counted among those who saw alchemy as one of the natural sciences. studying and teaching it. More work needs to be done*. * This research was carried out with the generous support of the Minerva Center for the Humanities at Tel Aviv University. But was his command so good that he could carry on a scientific debate in Arabic with a native speaker? Even if he knew Arabic well enough to make use of Arabic sources. there is no reason why its attribution must be rejected. is Delmedigo the author? At the moment I cannot take a definite stand. but neither can it be confirmed.
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